20 January, 2008

Joan and Elizabeth Comyn

Another post spotlighting the women of Edward II's reign. This one features the sisters Joan and Elizabeth Comyn, born circa 1295 and 1299, relatives of Edward II and close to the throne of Scotland.

Joan and Elizabeth were the daughters of John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, known as the 'Red Comyn' to distinguish him from his father, the Black Comyn. The Comyns dominated Scottish politics in the fourteenth century, holding several earldoms. John the Red Comyn was the nephew of John Baliol, king of Scotland from 1292; his family were the hereditary enemies of the Bruces. He was also the cousin of the earl of Buchan, another John Comyn, who features as a cruel and unpleasant wife-beater in Barbara Erskine's Lady of Hay. By the rule of primogeniture, the Red Comyn had a better claim to the throne of Scotland than Robert Bruce, which he passed on to his children. (The Comyns/Baliols were descended from the eldest daughter of David of Scotland, earl of Huntingdon, while the Bruces descended from the second daughter.)

On 10 February 1306, Robert Bruce stabbed the Red Comyn to death in the Greyfriars church in Dumfries. The truth of exactly what happened is unclear, whether the deed was premeditated murder, or an argument that got out of hand. What is certain is that Robert Bruce could never have become king of Scotland while Comyn was alive, and he was crowned king within weeks of the murder, on 25 March 1306. The woman who crowned him was Isabel MacDuff, wife of John Comyn, earl of Buchan. Pope Clement V excommunicated Bruce for the murder.

Joan and Elizabeth Comyn's mother was Joan de Valence, daughter of Henry III's half-brother William de Valence, and sister of Aymer, Earl of Pembroke in Edward II's reign. They were therefore the second cousins of Edward II. They had a brother, also John. Only Elizabeth's date of birth is known, 1 November 1299; Joan and John were older.

After their father's murder, little John, Joan and Elizabeth were sent to England for safety. John the younger was killed at Bannockburn in 1314, fighting on Edward II's side, naturally, against the man who had murdered his father. The younger John's little son Aymer, who died in 1316, was the last of the Comyns in the male line. John's widow Margaret Wake married Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent eleven and a half years later, and became the mother of the Fair Maid of Kent and the grandmother of Richard II.

Joan Comyn, probably born around 1295, was married to David Strathbogie (or Strabolgi), the Scottish earl of Atholl. His father John had participated in Robert Bruce's coronation, and was hideously executed by Edward I in London on 7 November 1306. He was hanged on a high gallows, and his head stuck on London Bridge.

Despite this, his son David remained loyal to Edward II ("Your dad horribly killed mine! Can I be your friend?"). Through his mother Marjory or Margaret, David was the first cousin of Donald of Mar, another Scottish earl utterly loyal to Edward II. David was the one of the men who condemned Thomas, earl of Lancaster, to death in March 1322.

Joan and David's eldest son David was born on 1 February 1309, and married Katherine Beaumont, daughter of Edward II's cousin Henry, Lord Beaumont. Joan's grandson David, 1332-1369, married Elizabeth Ferrers, granddaughter of Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Clare. Joan Comyn and David Strathbogie both died young in 1326, David on 28 December, shortly after the downfall of his friend and ally Edward II.

Elizabeth, the youngest of the Comyns, is far more famous than her siblings, as a victim of the land-grabbing schemes of Hugh Despenser the Younger. In 1324, the Comyns' uncle Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, died childless. Elizabeth and Joan, and their cousin John Hastings, son of another of Pembroke's sisters, were his heirs. (Primogeniture did not apply to women, so as these cousins were children of Pembroke's sisters, they inherited equally with no precedence given to the male heirs. If Pembroke had had a brother, the situation would have been different).

Historian Natalie Fryde in The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II comments on Elizabeth's 1325 imprisonment by the younger Despenser, but makes a few errors: she confuses Elizabeth's Hastings cousins, and calls Elizabeth a teenager, which she wasn't, being in her mid-twenties. It's rather odd that she was still unmarried at such an advanced age. Fryde speculates that Elizabeth was betrothed to the younger Despenser's youngest son, but as that young man was born in 1308 or 1309 and thus a decade younger than Elizabeth, that seems rather unlikely. I've been discussing the Elizabeth situation lately with Jules of Lady Despenser's Scribery, and she's preparing a post about it all, so I won't discuss it here.

Between July 1326 and February 1327, Elizabeth finally got married, to Sir Richard Talbot, who was several years her junior, probably born around 1302. He fought against Edward II during the Marcher campaign of 1321/22 and was captured at the battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, but was released and made his peace with the king and the Despensers, serving in the younger Despenser's retinue. Richard was in fact a second cousin of Despenser, both of them great-grandsons of Sir William Beauchamp of Elmley.

Elizabeth and Richard's son, Gilbert, was born in 1332 (and was thus the same age as David Strathbogie, grandson of Elizabeth's sister Joan). He married Pernel, or Petronilla, Butler, daughter of Edward II's niece Eleanor de Bohun. Sir Richard Talbot thrived in the reign of Edward III, played a large part in Edward's Scottish and French wars, and served as Steward of the royal household in the 1340s.

Richard Talbot died on 23 October 1356, and Elizabeth Comyn married again, sometime around 1357 or 1360, to Sir John Bromwich. She died on 20 November 1372, at the age of seventy-three. Her great-grandson John Talbot, known as 'the Great Talbot', became the first earl of Shrewsbury, and her great-great-granddaughter Eleanor Butler, née Talbot, was supposedly pre-contracted to Edward IV, according to Richard III in 1483.


Susan Higginbotham said...

There actually is an inquisition post mortem (I forget whose) that claims that Elizabeth Comyn and Hugh the Even Younger were married! So perhaps there was some sort of attempt to marry them that never came to fruition.

Kathryn Warner said...

Interesting! The large age gap makes a marriage seem pretty implausible to me, but maybe Hugh the younger was trying something on, to get hold of some of Eliz's lands, even if he had no intention of actually marrying his son to a woman 9/10 years older.

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating post. My family in Ireland are Comyns. I suppose Comyn must be a Scottish family name then?

Would you be interested in exchanging links. My blog is on creative thinking, arts, media, film, books and travel.

I studied ancient and medieval history at university, by the way.

Eamon - eamon1972@hotmail.co.uk

Also, why are you so fascinated by this period of British history? (no reason why you shouldn't be, just wondering).

Gabriele Campbell said...

"Your dad horribly killed mine! Can I be your friend?"

Sure. My father sucks anyway. He wants to send Piers back to France. It's not fair.

Kevin said...

Interesting post. Elizabeth Comyn Talbot is an ancestress of mine (as is her captor, Hugh the Younger). I am always amused at the fact that, in so many cases, I find familial connections to both protagonist and antagonist in these medieval dramas.

Amongst other valuable considerations (manors, castles, etc.), during her imprisonment Elizabeth was forced to acknowledge a 10,000 pound indebtedness to the Elder Despenser.

I note that E. B. Fryde devotes an entire chapter to Hugh the Younger's deposits with Italian bankers in his work, _Studies in Medieval Trade and Finance: History Series (Hambledon Press), V. 13_. Having ripped off all those defenseless rich women, Hugh probably needed a safe place to put his spoils.

Jules Frusher said...

AhHa! I see you beat me to it on the Comyn thing then ;-) Seriously, I will be posting something similar on my blog when I get round to finishing it, but hopefully it will also explore other interpretations of the 'imprisonment' of dear Liz.

There seem to be lots of pieces of a puzzle missing here. Does anyone know if any will of Aymer de Valence survives as I want to see what he left to Elizabeth in total?

Jules Frusher said...

Susan - I'm fascinated at your comment on the inquisition post mortem about Hugh (the EY) and Liz being married. Please, please can you try and remember where you saw it. Perhaps try hypnotherapy??? ;-) I feel it could be a missing part of the puzzle.

Kevin said...

Regarding Jules' question of the inheritance of Elizabeth Comyn from Aymer de Valence, I hope the following will suffice:

Elizabeth received from Aymer, "as her purparty, in 18 Edward II, an assignation of Castle Goderich, in the Marches of Wales; as also the Mannors of Paynswick, Noyton, and Whaddon, in Com. Glouc. The Mannors of Bampton, in Com. Oxon. Colyngboyne-Valence, and Swynton-Valence, in Com. Wiltes. Hertfordingbury, in Com. Hertf. Polycote, and Doynton, in Com. Buck. Swanescomp, and Nelton, in Com. Cantii, two parts of the Mannor of Shribenham, and certain Tenements in Fernham, in Com. Berks. Arnyng, in Com. Suff. as also the Mannor of Banna, the moytie of two parts of the Mannor of Fernes, the Mannor of Carryk, and moytie of the third part of the Castle and Mannor of Fernes in Ireland." --Dugdale, Baronage 1:686

Susan Higginbotham said...

Hey, Jules! No hypotherapy required, fortunately. I found it in my bird's nest of papers. It appears to be from the Calendar of Inquisitions from 5 Edward III, for Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke. I'll try to scan it on my new scanner, but here's a bit of it:

"Memorandum of errors which were made in the making of the pourparty of the inheritance which was the earl of Pembroke's by Hugh le Despenser, father and son, and master Robert de Baldok, then chancellor, and of their agreement who had assumed to themselves royal power, by reason that Laurence, son and heir of John de Hastygg, married the daughter of said Hugh the son, and the son of the said Hugh married Elizabeth Comyn."

On another page it says in part:

"Whereas the said David and Joan with John de Hastinnges had sued for a moiety of the said inheritance, and for a quarter of the said inheritance to be delivered to the said Joan, because Hugh le Despenser, then earl of Winchester, and Hugh his son who (had married the same) Elizabeth Comyn, another of the heirs of a fourth part, wished to have better castles . . ."

Gabriele Campbell said...

wished to have better castles ...

Yes, with central heating, double glassed windows and a fridge, please. And wireless internet connection. Nothing better than a good website to deal with detractors. :)

Susan Higginbotham said...

Oh, I can just see Hugh's website now!

And for those castles, some showers and a Roomba vacuum for Eleanor's carpets too, please. None of those dirty rushes!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Eamon! I've always understood that the name Comyn derives from Comines, a place in France, and arrived in Scotland after the Norman conquest.
Would love to exchange links and ideas - I'll be in touch very soon, and will try to explain the medieval history fascination. ;)

Gabriele: *grin*. Good point!

Kevin: how great to be descended from both of them. Hugh the Younger certainly did have staggeringly enormous reserves of cash. After his downfall, his Italian bankers fell as well - attacked in the chaos that hit London in the autumn of 1326, and closed operations!

Jules: I'm really looking forward to reading your thoughts on the whole Liz/Hugh thing. ;)
I haven't seen Pembroke's will, though his wife Marie's is in Testamenta Vetusta.

Kevin and Susan: thanks for the very helpful info.

Hugh's 'better' castles no doubt had lots of garage space for all those luxury cars he was 'borrowing' from widows...;)

*Starts imagining Hugh's website*

Kevin said...

Concerning the Cal. of Inquisitions account that Susan quoted re: the purported marriage of Elizabeth Comyn to Hugh III. The illegality of the marriage is evident in the wording of the document, so it appears that a corrective memorandum regarding this "error" meant that such a marriage must have carried no sanction. I searched in vain for a mention of this marriage in the peerage accounts.

I wonder how this might have actually been done? No time is mentioned, but it would seem most logically to have occured during Elizabeth's imprisonment, when she was most vulnerable to any kind of coercive action--including a forced "marriage" to a man nine years her junior.

Susan Higginbotham said...

I doubt there was a marriage between them, though there may well have been some discussion of it. The dispensation that Hugh the even younger obtained to marry Elizabeth de Montacute in 1341 doesn't mention any previous marriage or precontract.

I suspect that Hugh the younger might have considered marrying his son to Elizabeth and perhaps even made preparations toward that end (hence the belief by the jurors that they actually had married), but gave up the idea when he found that he could get her land without having to go to so much trouble.

BTW, Alianore, have you gotten my e-mails?

Jules Frusher said...

Big big thanks to Susan and Kevin for giving me just the info I need to finish my blog piece. And I thought I'd looked everywhere. Must get some better glasses!

Carla said...

"After his downfall, his Italian bankers fell as well - attacked in the chaos that hit London in the autumn of 1326, and closed operations!"
Interesting! Put not your trust in princes (or their favourites). Did it take the whole bank down, or did they just close the London 'branch'? Who did he bank with?

Kevin said...

Susan, I concur with your thoughts re: medieval juror opinion. There is an essay concerning the reliability of inquisitions as historical evidence in Bullough and Storey, eds, _The Study of Medieval Records_ (Oxford, 1971). I highly recommend this text for a good background read into the analysis of ancient documents. When covered in the stain and mildew of centuries, modern eyes sometimes magically imbue these old documents with an unimpeachable truthfulness. This revisionist approach makes for great conspiracy movies!

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla: the bankers were the Bardi and the Perruzzi of Florence. The Perruzzi left London (though may have returned later, after Ed III took power in 1330 - I'm not sure). The Bardi's house in London was sacked and they went into hiding. Isabella rescued them, because she needed them - she and Mortimer's staggering greed meant that the Bardi paid out many tens of thousands of pounds to them for the next four years (goodness knows how much that is in modern money).

Anonymous said...

Hi.I have been told that our family are related to the Comyns via the female linage. Does anyone know of the connection between Comyn and Hodgins of England?

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi! Afraid I don't know the connection between the Comyns and Hodgins - maybe you could try soc.genealogy.medieval, or genealogics.org? They tend to be very helpful sites, and maybe you'll find what you're looking for! Both Comyn sisters had children, so it's quite possible that you're descended from one of them.

Anonymous said...

My first visit to the blog....I'm planning a visit to Scotland to explore my roots !!!Susan Comyns

Anonymous said...

From some notes I had access to the author felt there was a younger son of the red comyn. His name was Jordan and his name appeared on documents alongside his siblings. He ended up in Ireland. Anyone ever heard of a Jordan Comyn from this era?

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I believe my family Cumming ( Comyns ) went to Ireland as part of Cromwells army. Does anyone have any pointers as to any surviving written records from the period which would help in my research. Thankyou.

Kathryn Warner said...

I don't know, David, sorry - I only know about the family in the 13th and 14th centuries.

John D. Massey said...

Hello! My my name is John David Massey and I have a DNA match to a Paul Coman (Comyn) whom traces his line back to a Richard Coman, involved in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. My DNA kit number at Family Tree DNA is B2044 and at ysearch.org is E9NVC. So far I have matches in Haplogroup I1 (M253)>Z58>Z138/Z139+ or subgroup I1a2b according to ISOGG. Names with close DNA matches are: Massey, Lumsden, Weight, Wecht,Waits, Waite, Mason, Palm, Thompson,Gibbs Weisenborn & Babcock. The Wait/ Wecht appears to be German in origin and possible ancient DNA source. Lumsden is Scotland, Massey-England, Weissenborn-German, Gibbs-England. My postulation is that we came from Germany and settled in France or Neustria of which were Marquis of Neustira. The families migrated to northwestern England in Cheshire/ Chester and onto Scotland, Ireland and then the U.S. We are currently at Z1540+ and more DNA testing will need to be done either through the Full Genome Corporation or FTDNA Big Y. Thank you for your time.
David jdmassey73@gmail.com

Deborah said...

This is such a good article; thank you so much! Where can I learn more about the Comyn's? Elizabeth is my 21st Great Grandmother.

Julie Cumming said...

Hello Kathryn, I really enjoyed this article especially as my husband is a Comyn (Cumming). What I find strange is how the Earl of Buchan's wife could crown Robert the Bruce King after what he did to her kinsman. Was there no love lost between these two branches of the family? I think I would have preferred to chop his head off rather than put a crown on it. Can you provide me with any further clarification for this?

Julie Cumming said...

Hello Kathryn, I really enjoyed this article especially as my husband is a Comyn (Cumming). What I find strange is how the Earl of Buchan's wife could crown Robert the Bruce King after what he did to her kinsman. Was there no love lost between these two branches of the family? I think I would have preferred to chop his head off rather than put a crown on it. Can you provide me with any further clarification for this?

Julie Cumming said...

Hi, I also meant to ask what was the significance behind the names 'Red' Comyn and 'Black' Comyn? Is is something as simple as hair colour? Thanks.