21 May, 2008

Sisters of Edward II (1): Eleanor

A series of posts on the five of Edward II's eleven or twelve sisters who survived into adulthood, beginning with Eleanor, countess of Bar.

Eleanor was the fifth or sixth child of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, and the eldest to survive childhood. (Her elder siblings were Katherine, Joan, John and Henry, and possibly a baby girl born very prematurely in 1255.) She was born shortly before 18 June 1269, when her grandfather Henry III granted John de Beaumes, yeoman of Eleanor of Castile, ten pounds worth of lands for bringing him news of the birth. Eleanor of Castile's daughter mentioned in the Patent Rolls in June 1264 was Katherine, not Eleanor, as often assumed. The confusion arises because, in 1302, Eleanor was called Edward I's primogenita. This literally means 'first born daughter', so it has often been assumed that the daughter of Eleanor of Castile and Edward I mentioned in 1264 - the first reference to a daughter of theirs - must be Eleanor. However, in practice primogenita meant 'eldest surviving daughter', and in 1302 Eleanor was meant, not Katherine. Other examples: Eleanor's brother Alfonso (1273-1284) was called Edward I's primogenitus after the deaths of his two elder brothers, and Edward II's queen Isabella was described as Philippe IV's primogenita in the early 1300s, although she had had two elder sisters who died young. Eleanor's date of birth in 1269 is not in doubt.

Eleanor barely saw her parents in early childhood. Edward I and Eleanor of Castile left England to go on crusade in August 1270, when she was a year old, and didn't return until August 1274. For the first fifteen years of Eleanor's life, Eleanor of Castile's almost yearly pregnancies meant that there were frequent additions to the royal nursery, most of whom did not survive (only six of Eleanor of Castile's sixteen children outlived her).

In childhood, Eleanor shared a household with her brother Henry, born in May 1268 and only thirteen months her senior, and their cousin John of Brittany, future earl of Richmond, born in 1266. John was the son of Edward I's sister Beatrice and the duke of Brittany, and was known by the nickname Brito. The fortunate survival of some of their household records gives us some nice information: on one occasion, partridges were bought for Eleanor and Henry, at a cost of four and a half pence each. Eleanor wa given almond and violet oil, "for her own special use" (wonder what she did with it). Young Henry died in October 1274 at the age of six, and their eleven-month-old brother Alfonso became heir to the throne.

Eleanor's next surviving sister, Joan of Acre, who was a little less than three years her junior, didn't arrive in England until 1279, having spent a few years living with their grandmother Jeanne de Dammartin, dowager queen of Castile, in Ponthieu. Eleanor's other surviving siblings were six, ten, thirteen and fifteen years younger than she was - respectively, Margaret, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward II.

Eleanor was a young child when her father Edward I betrothed her to Alfonso, grandson of King Jaime I of Aragon and eldest son of Pedro III, in 1273. Alfonso was a little older, born in November 1265. Although Eleanor must have grown used to thinking of herself as future queen of Aragon, sadly for her, this marriage was destined never to take place.

In June 1282, around the time of Eleanor's thirteenth birthday, Pedro III pressed Edward I to send his daughter to Aragon for the marriage to his son to go ahead. Edward refused, for a very interesting reason: he claimed that his mother Eleanor of Provence and his wife Eleanor of Castile had begged him not to send Eleanor (there are too many Eleanors!) as they thought she was too young. Both Queen Eleanors had been the same age, if not a little younger, when they themselves married - which implies that they thought they had been too young. Having said that, Alfonso was only sixteen himself, and as terribly young as thirteen is, it was a normal age for royal girls/women to marry, and at least Alfonso wasn't forty or fifty.

The Foundation for Medieval Genealogy site says that Eleanor and Alfonso III married by proxy at Westminster Abbey on 15 August 1290, but I'm not sure if this is correct, as I've never seen it anywhere else, and I don't know of any evidence that calls Eleanor queen of Aragon. This was, however, the summer when several of her siblings married - Joan and Margaret, and Edward of Caernarfon was betrothed to Margaret, the Maid of Norway - so it may be correct.

In April that year, Edward I, with three of his four sons dead, faced up to the possibility that his eldest daughter Eleanor might succeed him. This never happened, as Edward II survived and Edward I fathered two more sons many years later, but it's a fascinating 'what if'.

Alfonso III succeeded his father as king of Aragon in November 1285, and was promptly caught up in the endless struggles with the papacy, and with his own nobles. It wasn't until the summer of 1291 that he was in a position to start making plans for his wedding, which he duly did. It was to take place in Barcelona. Sadly, Alfonso died suddenly in June 1291, at the age of only twenty-five, and was succeeded by his brother Jaime II. Eleanor, at twenty-two, had to face the fact that she would never be queen of Aragon.

Edward I arranged another alliance for his eldest daughter, and Eleanor finally married, at the very late age of twenty-four, on 20 September 1293. The wedding took place at Bristol, and the groom was Count Henri III of Bar. Her little brother, nine-year-old Edward of Caernarfon, attended, and Eleanor and Henri subsequently stayed with him for a month at Mortlake, Surrey. Bar lay in northeastern France and was part of the duchy of Upper Lorraine, with Bar-le-Duc as its capital. In May 1294, Count Henri arranged a jousting tournament in honour of his royal bride.

Eleanor bore two children: Édouard, count of Bar, born circa 1294/95, who married Marie of Burgundy. Marie's eldest sister Marguerite was the wife of Louis X and one of the women involved in the notorious adultery scandal of 1314, and another sister, Jeanne la Boiteuse (the Lame) married Philippe VI of France. Count Édouard drowned off the coast of Cyprus in 1336.
Eleanor's other child was Jeanne, circa 1295/96 to 1361, who was unsuccessfully married to John de Warenne, earl of Surrey.

Eleanor's Wiki page gives her a third child, yet another Eleanor, who married Llywelyn ap Owain, lord of Iscoed. I'm very dubious about that. (At least it gets the year of her birth correct. That's pretty unusual.)

At Christmas 1297, Eleanor sent her father a portable dressing-box with a comb, a silver-gilt enamelled mirror, and a silver bodkin, wrapped in a leather case. This was to be her last Christmas, and she died the following August, at the age of only twenty-nine. Her brother Edward of Caernarfon was fourteen. In the spring of 1306, Edward I brought his granddaughter Jeanne de Bar, aged nine or ten, to England and arranged her marriage to the earl of Surrey - which turned out to be a disaster. Count Édouard married in 1310, and had three children.


Carole said...

Very informative! Looking forward to reading your posts on Joan and Elizabeth in particular. I remember Mary of course from reading Susan's book, but I can't remember anything about Margaret (if I ever knew anything in the first place), so will be interesting to read too.

Anerje said...

Very informative post Alianore!Eleanor must have felt like a baby-making machine. I think only Queen Anne had more children than her - 17. The Royal children must have had very little contact with their mother. It would be have been very strange for England to have a King Alfonso.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks! Anerje: it's funny to think that if Alfonso had become king of England, Alfonso would be a common English name!

Carla said...

If it had happened, maybe the name Alfonso would have been Anglicised over the years - does it have an English equivalent?

I didn't know that primogenita/us meant eldest surviving! That must make it really difficult untangling records.

Could the violet and almond oil have been a perfume, or something like a modern bath oil, do you think?

Jules Frusher said...

Lots of good infrmation here about a woman I didn't really know about. It really helps me to join up some of the royal dots - especially with Joan of Bar.

I really feel for Edward I's kids - they musthave felt quite unloved and overlooked by their parents.

Anonymous said...

if Edward II's elder brother had survived, Alfonso would likely have become a Grande Olde British Name, and it's certainly no stranger than Charles or William. Another of Edward and Leonor's children was named Berengaria, but she didn't live past her first year.

It's too bad the Anglo-Saxon names fell out of favor in the British royal family, aside from Edward.

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla: I suppose Alphonse would be the English equivalent. The earl of Oxford had a son, around the same age as Ed II, called Alphonse de Vere. Maybe he was named in honour of Ed I's son. It was often spelt something like 'Auffon' or 'Auphoms' at the time.

Afraid I really don't know what the oil was used for - I like the idea of bath oil, though!

Thanks, Lady D. Ed I was lucky enough to grow up in a loving family - for all their faults, Henry III and Eleanor of Provence were devoted parents. Shame Ed I didn't recreate that for his own children.

Good point, Mipp, and you're right, it is a shame that most Anglo-Saxon names fell out of use.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the Anglicised version of Alphonso just plain Alf? King Alf has quite a ring to it I think.

Kathryn Warner said...


Anonymous said...

Alphonse de Vere might have been named after Prince Alfonso, but he might also have been one of Leonor's godchildren, and she could've selected the name. His name is given as "Aumphons de Veer" on a contemporary roll of arms [Brault, Rolls of Arms Edward I (1272-1307) 2 (1997):

Anonymous said...

Our welsh family tree has Ellinor da. to William Earle of Barre married to Llewelin ap Owen, lord of Iscoyd. The tree was written in 1774