06 April, 2014

What if Edward I had died in August 1283?

For a change, an alternative history post. :-)

I read (or rather re-read) an interesting story in John Carmi Parsons' Eleanor of Castile (1995, p. 33) the other day.  When Edward I and Eleanor of Castile were staying at Caergwrle Castle, also sometimes called Hope Castle, in August 1283, a fire broke out in their bedchamber one night, and they barely escaped with their lives.  The fire gutted the castle, and it was never rebuilt.

I checked Edward I's itinerary, and he and Eleanor were at Caergwrle Castle on 26 and 27 August 1283.  My first thought was, that was eight months before the birth of Edward of Caernarfon on 25 April 1284, so Queen Eleanor must have been some weeks pregnant with him at the time.  It was fascinating to me to contemplate that Edward II might never have come into existence, if his parents had succumbed to the fire!

This led me further in my thinking: what would have happened if Edward I and Eleanor had indeed died in that fire?  The king's heir in August 1283 was his and Eleanor's only surviving son Alfonso, who was born in November 1273, so was nine years and nine months old at the time.  Alfonso would have succeeded to the throne at that point, and yes, that means that England would have had a child king called Alfonso.  Heh.  But, Alfonso died suddenly on 19 August 1284, still only ten years old, so would only have reigned for just under a year (I'm presuming here that whatever killed him would still kill him in this alternative scenario).  If we assume for a moment that Queen Eleanor survived the fire which in this scenario killed her husband, and assume she wasn't too physically hurt or traumatised and didn't miscarry, she would have given birth to Edward of Caernarfon eight months later (though not necessarily in Caernarfon).  The boy would have succeeded to the English throne on the death of his brother Alfonso, before he was four months old, meaning a very long reign and a long minority.

Assuming now that Queen Eleanor did also die in the fire, on the death of our King Alfonso in August 1284 the male line of Edward I would have expired, as Edward of Caernarfon would have been wiped from existence.  Edward I's two younger sons Thomas of Brotherton and Edmund of Woodstock, born in 1300 and 1301 from his second marriage to Marguerite of France, would never have been born either.  Edward I had five surviving daughters, however, who in August 1284 were fifteen, twelve, nine, five and two.

In real life, shortly before his second daughter Joan of Acre married the earl of Gloucester, on 17 April 1290, Edward I faced the possibility of the extinction of his male line, and declared that in the event of the death of himself, his son Edward of Caernarfon, and any other male heirs of his body or heirs of his son's body, his eldest daughter Eleanor should be queen in her own right.  If Eleanor died without heirs, Edward I's next daughter Joan would be queen, and so on.  Edward I evidently preferred the idea of his throne passing to his female children than to his male Lancaster relatives.

Eleanor was born in June 1269, so was fifteen in August 1284, when I'm imagining that 'King Alfonso' died a year after their father.  Would her rights have been considered as heir to her younger brother Alfonso?  I think it's more likely that Edward I's younger brother Edmund of Lancaster (born in January 1245) would have been preferred, a man in his late thirties, to a girl in her teens.  The usual concerns about a female ruler would have arisen, that she wouldn't be able to defend her country militarily, that England would be ruled by her husband, a foreign king or prince (Eleanor was betrothed for many years to Alfonso III of Aragon).  So England would, most probably, have had a King Edmund, succeeded on his death in June 1296 by his eldest son King Thomas (b. c. 1278), and the Lancastrian dynasty would have been on the throne over a century before they really were (Henry IV in 1399).  Thomas of Lancaster, in real history, married Alice de Lacy, daughter and heir of the earl of Lincoln, in 1294.  As the son of the king, however, he might well have made another match, with the daughter of a European king or duke or count, and had legitimate children, which in real life with Alice, he didn't.  If not, he would have been succeeded as king by his brother Henry (born c. 1281).

In real life, Edward I's daughter Eleanor married Count Henri III of Bar in September 1293 (her long-term fiancé Alfonso III of Aragon having died suddenly in 1291), and had two children born in about 1294/96, Edouard I, count of Bar, and Joan, countess of Surrey.  Eleanor died in August 1298, and her son Edouard, then aged about three, became next heir to the English throne behind Edward of Caernarfon until the birth of Edward I's son Thomas of Brotherton in June 1300 (who was heir to the throne from the death of his father on 7 July 1307 until the birth of his nephew Edward III on 13 November 1312).  If Eleanor had been the eldest surviving child of her father in 1284, and rightful queen of England, presumably she would have made a different marriage.  Who would this have been, and would he have been willing to fight for Eleanor's rights against her uncle Edmund of Lancaster?  Might there have been a civil war in England between the daughters of Edward I, their husbands and their descendants, and the Lancasters?

A world without Edward II and Edward III, and their many descendants.  No Hundred Years War, no Wars of the Roses.  Our history would be unimaginably different.  Thank goodness Edward I and Queen Eleanor escaped the fire in August 1283!


Anonymous said...

The archaeological report for the excavation of Caergwrle Castle - which recorded evidence of the fire - can be found here: http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/med_arch/contents.cfm?vol=38&CFID=16780&CFTOKEN=CCB61B21-20B3-47A7-BB811CA876B53AED

Kathryn Warner said...

Brilliant, thanks!

Anerje said...

I'm sure there would still have been a huge dynastic struggle, akin to the Wars of the Roses. I'm always struck by the irony of that - basically Edward III had too many sons. And what would have happened if the Black Prince had survived? Lots to debate with 'if only' history.

Caroline said...

What is even more worrying is that with 99% of us (Ian Mortimer "The Perfect King") descended from Edward III, we wouldn't exist! I know I wouldn't as my ancestor was Edmund, Earl of Kent.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I wonder what would have happened around the time of the Reformation, if there were not any Tudors (I doubt that they would have come to the throne without the Wars of the Roses)


Gabriele C. said...

Maybe England would have imported kings from Germany earlier then. There was the Welfen line, after all. :-)

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Fascinating post, Kathryn, so many "what ifs". Some time ago I too was toying with the idea of writing a similar post about Henry, but somehow the other way round, "what if Henry survived in 1183" :-)

PS Thank you for your e-mail. I'll try to respond ASAP (meaning when things are back to normal in my family- we have all caught a bad cold).

chris y said...

Alas, I fear that war with France would have happened whoever was king of England. The French kings wanted control of Gascony and they would have found a casus belli one way or another, as they did with Saint Sardos. Now the outcome, of course, is open to speculation...

Anonymous said...

Thomas of Lancaster as king?

Even his biographer describes him as rapacious, grasping, cruel, willing to ride roughshod over the rights of others, unscrupulous, violent, avaricious and (my favourite)"almost repulsive".

It wasn't just Edward I who had a narrow escape in 1283.


Sami Parkkonen said...

I think there would've been a civil war and who knows what would have happened with Wales and Scotland?

Kathryn Warner said...

Sorry, I accidentally hit Reject instead of Accept for Jayne's comment!

Jayne Smith:

Edmund of Lancaster as King would have been fine by me. Not so sure about his son Thomas though !

Great post Kathryn. What if's are fun !

Anne Miller said...

Hi Kathryn , hope your well. I found this article interesting. I also wanted you to take a look at this.
could this be another angle......


I think this is quite interesting and you might also. Prehaps it means nothing.....but have a look and ignore it if you want to because everybody has. .....I cannot reach the people who did the research nor does anybody else answer. as an author, i thought you should know.

Jerry Bennett said...

Hi Kathryn,

This is quite a fascinating post. What would have happened if Edward and Eleanor had been killed, and then Alphonso had died as well? I can imagine a council of Regency for Alphonso led by Edmund of Lancaster, but what would follow?

Was Eleanor the daughter already engaged to Alfonso III at that date, or Joan to the earl of Gloucester? It is not too difficult to imagine the barons and prelates turning to Edmund to become king, but would Alfonso have started a war to enforce the rights of his fiancee? What role would Gilbert de Clare have taken in support of Joan? There could have been a long civil war, similar to the "Anarchy" of King Stephen's reign. Alternatively there might have been a series of wars as Edmund, Alfonso and Gilbert struggled for supremacy, with short periods of peace while an exiled descendent sought support in France or Spain before invading again.

If I were a betting man, I would put my money on Gilbert, earl of Gloucester, at least initially. King Gilbert the First? Interesting thought! But then after many years of civil war we could have had a King Henry of Grosmont. Now that would have been really intersting.

And as to what might have happened in Wales and Scotland... Have you got space for a book on this website?

chris y said...

As to what might have happened in Wales...

Well, no Tudor monarchy for a start, because no John of Gaunt, so no Henry V, which means that if Owain Tudur had wanted to crawl into bed with Catherine de Valois, he'd have had to go somewhere else in Europe to do it.

So, no Henry VIII, probably no Cromwell and perhaps no Laws of Wales Act, meaning that traditional Welsh civil law might still be in force west of the marches, with Welsh courts dispensing traditional Welsh justice in Welsh. For a start.