17 June, 2013

17 June 1239: Birth of King Edward I

Today, or rather the night of 17-18 June, marks the 774th anniversary of the birth of Edward II's father King Edward I at the palace of Westminster in 1239.  His father Henry III was then thirty-two and had been king of England since 1216, while his mother Eleanor of Provence was probably about sixteen.  Edward was followed by three siblings who lived into adulthood, as well as at least one other sister who died young: Margaret, born only fifteen months later in September 1240, who married King Alexander III of Scotland; Beatrice, born in June 1242, who married the future Duke John II of Brittany (she was never duchess, as her father-in-law outlived her); Edmund, born in January 1245, who was earl of Lancaster, Leicester and Derby and married Blanche of Artois, niece of Louis IX of France and dowager queen of Navarre; and Katherine, who was born much later than her siblings in November 1253, was deaf and mute, and sadly died at the age of three and a half, to the terrible grief of the king and queen (whatever the many faults of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, there is no doubt that they were loving, devoted parents).

Matthew Paris, the great chronicler of thirteenth-century England, reports that Queen Eleanor had been feared to be barren, which from my perspective is utterly ridiculous; she married Henry in January 1236 and became pregnant in September 1238 two years and nine months later, which hardly seems like an unusually long delay.  Also, Eleanor was extremely young when she married Henry, probably only twelve or thirteen.  As with their grandson Edward II, whose queen Isabella of France was only twelve at marriage and conceived their first child four years later, the delay in conceiving hardly seems a reason to criticise Eleanor for 'failing' to become pregnant sooner, or Henry for failing to do his royal duty or of being incapable (which, given that Eleanor became pregnant at least five times, he obviously wasn't).  As I've pointed out before, recent claims that Henry III was not Edward I's real father can be dismissed as fatuous nonsense.

Edward I was born as heir to the throne of England, and the citizens of London celebrated wildly, dancing in the streets in torchlight with drums and tambourines (as also happened in the city 73 years later when the future Edward III was born in November 1312 as heir to the throne, though not to the same extent when Edward II was born in April 1284, as his ten-year-old brother Alfonso was still alive).  According to Matthew Paris, when Henry III received gifts from his subjects congratulating him on his son's birth, he felt that some were not extravagant enough and sent them back demanding better ones, prompting the acerbic observation "God gave us this child, but the king is selling him to us!".  Henry named his first-born child after his favourite saint, Edward the Confessor, the king of England who died in January 1066.  The name Edward had, like most other Old English names, fallen almost entirely out of use since the Norman Conquest and must have sounded hopelessly old-fashioned by 1239.  Henry's choice, however, and the fact that the three kings of England between 1272 and 1377 were all called Edward, ensured the name's popularity for ever more both in England and in other European countries.  As the son of a thirteenth-century king, Edward of Westminster was not a 'prince', but was called Lord Edward, Dominus Edwardus in Latin or Monsire Edward in French, from birth.  He was christened at Westminster Abbey a few days after birth by the papal legate Otto, in the presence of, among others, his uncles Richard, earl of Cornwall and Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester.

Edward I, 'Longshanks', stood six feet two inches tall, and had fair hair in childhood which darkened as he grew older and turned white when he was old.  From his father Henry III he inherited a drooping eyelid.  The author of the Song of Lewes (a battle Edward and his father and uncle Richard of Cornwall lost to his other uncle Simon de Montfort in 1264) famously likened him to a leopard, brave, proud and fierce, but inconstant and unreliable, making promises but forgetting them.  When he was fifteen, on 1 November 1254, Lord Edward married Infanta Doña Leonor de Castilla, a marriage which lasted for thirty-six years and produced at least fourteen children.  Edward I also had three children with his second queen, Marguerite of France, his first cousin once removed.  He succeeded his father as king of England in November 1272 and died at the age of sixty-eight on 7 July 1307, "fearless and war-like, in all things strenuous and illustrious" (Chronicle of Lanercost).

Other important anniversaries this week:
18 June 1318: Birth of Edward II and Isabella of France's elder daughter Eleanor of Woodstock, duchess of Gueldres.
19 June 1312: Execution, or murder, of Edward II's beloved Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall.
21 June 1377: Death at the age of sixty-four of Edward II and Isabella of France's son Edward III.
23 June 1324: Death probably in his mid-fifties of Edward II's kinsman Aymer de Valence, whose father William was Henry III's half-brother.

10 comments:

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

It probably did not occur to Simon de Montfort that this baby boy, whose christening he witnessed, would bring upon him his end at Evesham twenty-four years later. How very sad.

P.S. I hope you don't mind Kathryn if I post a link to your blog on Sharon Fan Club Page?

Kathryn Warner said...

Kasia, that's a very poignant thought, isn't it? :/ I hadn't seen it from that perspective, but of course, you're absolutely right.

Thank you, that's very kind of you! ;0

Anerje said...

Calling Eleanor barren is ridiculous! Like Edward II and King John, Henry III had a very young bride. Too much to think he was considerate, eh?:>

Gabriele C. said...

Now if only he had left the Scots alone. ;-)

But I admit, he built some splendid castles and was certainly an interesting character.

Sonetka said...

Kasia -- shades (or preview) of Thomas More writing his panegyrics on Henry VIII's coronation, isn't it? Still, happy birthday to Edward. Is there any indication of what made them choose such an old-fashioned name (at the time)? Hearkening back to Edward the Confessor, perhaps? Odd to think that if they'd decided to honour, say, King Canute, my family tree might be filled with Canutes instead of Edwards.

Kathryn Warner said...

Sonetka, the name issue is mentioned in the post ;-) Henry III revered Edward the Confessor.

Sonetka said...

Gah. Reading too fast, does it every time. Sorry about that!

Kathryn Warner said...

No problem at all! :) Thanks for reading the blog and commenting - you're most welcome here!

Carla said...

"Matthew Paris, the great chronicler of thirteenth-century England, reports that Queen Eleanor had been feared to be barren ..."
It's interesting that Matthew Paris says that. He was broadly contemporary with events, wasn't he, not writing centuries later? So presumably he had some reason for saying it. Perhaps he was reporting some rumour that was current at the time. As you say, 2 years and 9 months doesn't seem a very long time, especially if the bride was very young. Could there have been an element of wishful thinking / scurrilous rumour from an enemy faction that Matthew Paris picked up on? Or perhaps some sort of rumour about ill-health?

Kathryn Warner said...

Paris died in 1259, if I remember correctly, and was definitely contemporary - he knew Richard of Cornwall and Simon de Montfort personally. I seem to remember something similar was said about Philip II of France's queen (Isabelle of Hainault?) when she was about 14! Madness. Once Henry and Eleanor did begin marital relations, their children were born close together - only 15 months between Edward and Margaret, then 21 months to Beatrice, then two and a half years to Edmund. Maybe there was a political element to the 'barren' slur, yes.