27 September, 2010

Edward II's Castilian Cousins (2)

The second part of my post (the first part is directly below, or here) about some of Edward II's Castilian first cousins.

Juan, lord of Valencia de Campos and Biscay (1264-25 June 1319)

Infante Don Juan was born in Seville in 1264 as the eighth of the eleven children of Alfonso X of Castile and his queen Violante, daughter of King Jaime I 'el Conquistador' of Aragon. (Violante's sister Isabel married Philip III of France, so Juan and his siblings were first cousins of Philip IV as well as of Edward II.) Juan married twice: on 17 February 1281 to Margherita, daughter of Guillermo, marquis of Montferrat by his first wife Isabel de Clare, eldest sister of Edward II's brother-in-law Gilbert 'the Red', earl of Gloucester, and secondly on 10 January 1287 to Doña María Díaz de Haro, heiress of Biscay and daughter of the Don Lope Díaz de Haro whom Sancho IV murdered in 1288.

Juan was knighted at a young age by his eldest brother Fernando de la Cerda (1255-1275), at the latter's wedding to Louis IX of France's daughter Blanche in Burgos in November 1269. Fernando also knighted another brother of theirs, Pedro (d. 1283), but not the second brother the future Sancho IV, then aged eleven, who refused to be knighted by Fernando and declared that only his father could do it; an early indication of the conflict that was to consume their family. [1] When he was older, Infante Don Juan threw himself with great energy into the maelstrom of Castilian politics and his family's power struggles, and spent most of his life switching sides from one relative to another. At first he supported his brother Sancho against their father Alfonso X and their de la Cerda nephews in the matter of the succession to the throne, though was later reconciled to Alfonso, who shortly before death bequeathed him the kingdoms of Seville and Badajoz (which Juan never received). Juan was nineteen or twenty when his father died in April 1284 and - not entirely unexpectedly, in this family - rebelled against his brother Sancho IV soon afterwards, joined by his and Sancho's mother the dowager queen Violante, who supported the rights of her de la Cerda grandsons and fled with them to her homeland of Aragon and the protection of her brother Pedro III. Sancho imprisoned Juan until 1292.

After Sancho IV's death, apparently of tuberculosis, in Toledo on 25 April 1295 - their cousin Edward of Caernarfon's eleventh birthday - Infante Don Juan was one of those who claimed the throne of Castile on the grounds that his nine-year-old nephew Fernando IV was illegitimate, and also, with the support of his ally the king of Granada, unsuccessfully attempted to seize the crown of Leon and the kingdom of Galicia. He temporarily made peace with Fernando in 1300, and a papal bull of 1301 declaring that Sancho IV's marriage to María de Molina had been legitimate also helped to calm the situation somewhat. [2] (Although as late as December 1306, it appears that the magnates of Castile, perhaps sick of all the in-fighting, wished to offer the Castilian throne to Edward of Caernarfon should Fernando IV die without a son.) This was not the end of Infante Don Juan's struggles with his nephew, however. When Fernando unsuccessfully besieged the Moorish-held town of Algeciras in 1309/10 - his son Alfonso XI finally took it in 1344 - Juan and his cousin Don Juan Manuel (from the last post) deserted him. A furious Fernando attempted to kill him in revenge and was only prevented from doing so by the intervention of his mother Queen María de Molina. [3] Juan was appointed one of the regents for his great-nephew Alfonso XI, Fernando IV's baby son, in 1312.

Infante Don Juan was killed at the battle of Vega de Granada on 25 June 1319, when he and his nephew and fellow regent Infante Don Pedro, the late Fernando IV's brother, were surprised by a large Muslim army and foolishly allowed their forces to become separated. Pedro was thrown from his horse during the battle and fatally injured. The panicking Castilian soldiers fled the field; Juan managed to escape but died shortly afterwards. [4] Their deaths left as regents Don Juan Manuel, Infante Don Felipe, another brother of Fernando IV, and various others. Juan's capable widow Doña María Díaz de Haro and their son Don Juan el Tuerto, 'the One-Eyed', rose to take his place. Edward II addressed Juan el Tuerto in letters of April 1324 as 'Sir John, son of the Infant John de Ispania, lord of Biscaye, the king's nephew' (actually they were first cousins once removed). [5] In September 1324, Edward told Infante Don Juan's widow Doña María Díaz de Haro, with reference to the betrothal of Alfonso XI and Eleanor of Woodstock, of his "rejoicing at the clinging together of such progeny sprung from his and her common stock, whilst they applaud each other with mutual honours and cherish each other with mutual counsel and aid." A few months later, he gave £100 from the sale of goods taken from a shipwreck in Cornwall to Lupus Urtyz, servant of María, "the king’s kinswoman." [6] Juan el Tuerto was murdered on the orders of Alfonso XI, who had just turned fifteen, in August 1326; his mother Doña María retired to the monastery of Perales and died in November 1342. Infante Don Juan, killed in battle in 1319, also had a son, Alfonso, by his first wife Margherita of Montferrat (who through her mother was the first cousin of Edward II's nephew the earl of Gloucester). Alfonso's son Alfonso became bishop of Zamora, and his son Fernando married an illegitimate daughter of Afonso IV of Portugal.

Beatriz, marchioness of Montferrat (1254-1286)

Infanta Doña Beatriz was the daughter of Alfonso X by his queen, Violante of Aragon (so was the sister of Infante Don Juan above and of King Sancho IV), and bore the same name as her illegitimate half-sister the queen of Portugal, from the last post. She was born in late 1254 as the second child of Alfonso and Violante; her sister Berenguela, who never married and founded the convent of Santa Clara de Toro, was a year older and was officially recognised as successor to the Castilian throne from May 1255 until the birth of their brother Fernando de la Cerda in October that year.

In 1271, the seventeen-year-old Beatriz married Guillermo, marquis of Montferrat, who had attended the wedding of her brother Fernando de la Cerda to Blanche of France two years earlier. Guillermo was born around 1240 as the son of Boniface II, marquis of Montferrat, and Margaret of Savoy; he was Edward I's second cousin via the Savoy connection (Edward's mother Eleanor of Provence was the daughter of Beatrice of Savoy). Guillermo's only child from his first marriage to Isabel de Clare, Margherita, married Doña Beatriz's younger brother Juan in 1281, in a double marriage alliance: their father Alfonso X of Castile was a very useful ally for Guillermo against his enemy Charles of Anjou, brother of Louis IX of France and king of Sicily from 1266.

Doña Beatriz died in about 1280, still only in her mid-twenties; her husband Guillermo de Montferrat died in Alessandria, Piedmont on 6 February 1292, having been imprisoned in an iron cage by the angry citizens for the previous year. Beatriz and Guillermo's only son, Giovanni, died childless in 1305, leaving as his heir his sister Yolande (or Violante, c. 1274-1317), who married the Byzantine emperor Andronikus II Palaiologus (1259-1332), widower of Anna of Hungary, in 1284. As empress, Yolande was renamed Eirene and bore her husband seven children, including Simonis Palaiologina, who married the decades-older Stefan Milutin, king of Serbia; Theodore, marquis of Montferrat; and Demetrios, whose daughter Irene married the Byzantine emperor Matthaios Kantakouzenos.

In October 1313, Edward II wrote to Empress Eirene, her husband Andronikus, her son Theodore, marquis of Montferrat, and her stepson Michael, co-emperor, asking them to help procure the release of the famous English knight Giles Argentein, being held in prison in Thessalonika. [7] Edward addressed Eirene "his most serene lady, and his dearest lady in Christ, by the grace of God empress of Constantinople." I didn't realise until I researched this post that Eirene and Edward were first cousins once removed!


1) H. Salvador Marta-Nez and H. Salvador Martínez, Alfonso X, the Learned: A Biography, pp. 185-186, 376.
2) Teófilo F. Ruiz, Spain's Centuries of Crisis 1300-1474, pp. 53-55.
3) Simon R. Doubleday, The Lara Family: Crown and Nobility in Medieval Spain, p. 95.
4) Josep-David Garrido i Valls, 'Enemies and Allies: The Crown of Aragon and al-Andalus in the Twelfth Century', in Donald J. Kagay and L. J. Andrew Villalon, eds., Crusaders, Condottieri and Cannon: Medieval Warfare in Societies around the Mediterranean, p. 217.
5) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, pp. 175-176.
6) Close Rolls 1323-1327, pp. 253, 344, 350-351.
7) Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 76; Foedera 1307-1327, p. 229.

23 September, 2010

Edward II's Castilian Cousins (1)

I've already written posts about Edward II's Castilian uncles and cousin Sancho IV, his Castilian grandfather Fernando III and his great-grandmother Queen Berenguela and her siblings - here's the first part of a part about two of his Castilian first cousins.

Juan Manuel, lord of Peñafiel, Escalona and Villena (5 May 1282-13 June 1348)

It's a little-known fact that a first cousin of Edward II was one of the greatest Spanish writers of the Middle Ages, author of, among much else, El Conde Lucanor (available on Amazon), El Libro de los Estados and El Libro del Cavallero et del Escudero. Don Juan Manuel was born in Escalona on 5 May 1282 as the son and heir of Infante Don Manuel, seventh son of Fernando III of Castile and then in his late forties, by his second wife Beatrice of Savoy. Beatrice was the first cousin of Edward II's grandmother Eleanor of Provence, so Juan Manuel was Edward's second cousin once removed through that connection as well as his first cousin. Juan Manuel succeeded his father as a baby - the Infante Manuel died on Christmas Day 1283, several months before the death of his eldest brother Alfonso X - and grew up at the court of his and Edward II's cousin Sancho IV. (On the subject of whom, Edward may have had a vile temper and been vindictive, but he never went nearly as far as Sancho, who in 1286 clubbed to death a royal judge who had disobeyed him and murdered his kinsman and supporter Don Lope Díaz de Haro in a fit of rage in 1288.) [1]

Don Juan Manuel became politically and militarily active at the tender age of twelve in 1294, when the Moors invaded his lands in Murcia, the frontier between the Christian and Muslim kingdoms in Spain. [2] The death of his cousin Sancho IV the following year triggered massive unrest in Castile: Sancho had seized the throne in 1284 from the young sons of his dead elder brother Fernando de la Cerda ('of the Bristle'), for which his father Alfonso X cursed him on his deathbed, and it was said that Sancho's marriage to María de Molina was irregular and that his nine-year-old son and successor Fernando IV was therefore illegitimate; Sancho and María were first cousins once removed and do not seem to have received a papal dispensation for consanguinity. Juan Manuel was one of those who claimed the throne of Castile in the subsequent struggle over the succession, and it was only thanks to the strenuous efforts of Fernando IV's remarkable mother Queen María, one of the great women of the age, that the boy-king kept his throne.

Don Juan Manuel continued to claim the Castilian throne and cause as much trouble for the young king as possible, and an exasperated Fernando IV, at one point, ordered his death. Teófilo F. Ruiz has described Juan Manuel as "an ambitious and perennial troublemaker" who spent more than four decades in open rebellion against his kinsmen Fernando IV and Fernando's son Alfonso XI. [3] In 1303, he allied himself with King Jaime II of Aragon against Fernando, and was betrothed to Jaime's daughter Constanza to seal the alliance. Constanza of Aragon was born on 1 April 1300, so the wedding had to wait for a few years: she married Juan Manuel the day after her twelfth birthday, 2 April 1312. Fernando IV died on 7 September that year, not yet twenty-seven, leaving a thirteen-month-old son to succeed him as Alfonso XI (if you find all these Castilian kings confusing, I wrote a list of them here), which plunged Castile into anarchy. In 1319 Juan Manuel was appointed one of the regents for the young Alfonso, but the regents found it impossible to work together and spent more time fighting each other and engaging in power struggles than ruling Castile. The political situation deteriorated still further in 1321 with the death of the dowager queen María de Molina, Alfonso XI's grandmother.

Edward II wrote to his Castilian relatives fairly frequently in 1324/26; he was then at war with his brother-in-law Charles IV of France and the Spanish kingdoms were useful allies, and Edward's letters demonstrate that he and his advisors had a pretty good handle on the political chaos reigning in his mother's homeland and who was regent at any given time. The king betrothed his elder daughter Eleanor of Woodstock to Alfonso XI, his elder son the future Edward III to Alfonso's sister Leonor, and his younger daughter Joan of the Tower to the future Pedro IV of Aragon, grandson of the reigning king Jaime II, in 1324/25. (None of the marriages went ahead.) Edward addressed Juan Manuel in letters of March 1324 and February 1325 as 'Sir John Manuel, son of the Infant Manuel de Ispania, the king's kinsman'. On the latter occasion, Edward wrote rather effusively "The king has received his [Juan Manuel's] letters with joy, from which the king knows that the due of John's nature is fully acknowledged, since he not only shows himself ready and prepared for the king's will and pleasure, but also asserts that nothing more pleasing or desirable could be offered to him than to perfect and and execute those things that are to the king's advantage or honour, according to the king's desire." In the same letter Edward apologised for not sending to Juan Manuel his 'pupil' Bernard Peregrini, Edward's sergeant-at-arms, "as the king has sent him to other parts for other of the king's affairs." Edward also wrote, rather intriguingly, that he was "sending to John shortly certain of his most special interpreters to explain to John certain of his secrets, to whom John is desired to give credence." [4]

Although Alfonso XI was betrothed to Edward II's daughter Eleanor of Woodstock, Juan Manuel appears to have arranged a match between the young king and his even younger daughter Constanza in 1325; the FMG site says that the couple actually married in November that year and that their marriage was later annulled. (I haven't found any reaction of Edward II's to the news of this supposed betrothal or marriage.) Alfonso XI declared himself of age when he turned fourteen in August 1325, and subsequently, in 1327 or 1328 - so after Edward II's deposition when the political situation in England had altered completely - infuriated Juan Manuel by repudiating Constanza and marrying instead his first cousin Maria of Portugal, with whom he had all four grandparents in common (his father Fernando IV of Castile and her mother Beatriz were siblings; his mother Constança and her father Afonso IV of Portugal were siblings). Juan Manuel, probably understandably, was furious and spent most of the next few years in open rebellion against the king, though they were finally reconciled in 1340 and Juan Manuel led the Castilian army into Algeciras after it fell to Alfonso in 1344. Edward II's kinsman Henry of Grosmont, later the first duke of Lancaster, was with Alfonso during the siege.

Don Juan Manuel died on 13 June 1348, aged sixty-six. Two of his daughters were queens: Juana married Alfonso XI's illegitimate son Enrique of Trastamara, who killed his half-brother King Pedro the Cruel in 1369 and became king of Castile, and Constanza, Alfonso XI's spurned fiancée, married Pedro I of Portugal. (Who preferred his mistress Doña Ines de Castro and supposedly had her dead body dug up and crowned queen of Portugal.) Don Juan Manuel was thus the grandfather of King Juan II of Castile and King Fernando I of Portugal. Somehow he found the time in the middle of all the fighting against his kinsmen to write numerous works of literature, some of which are still widely read today. To quote Clayton J. Drees, many of Juan Manuel's stories "were fantastic farces derived from Eastern (probably oral) sources and reflect the sort of practical morality Don Juan exemplified. Many scholars today consider Don Juan Manuel a precursor of both Geoffrey Chaucer and Niccolò Machiavelli." [5]

Beatriz, queen of Portugal (1242-27 October 1303)

Edward II's first cousin though a whopping forty-two years his senior, Queen Beatriz was the illegitimate daughter of King Alfonso X, Eleanor of Castile's eldest half-brother, and was born in 1242 (so was only slightly younger than her aunt Eleanor) when her father was twenty-one. Her mother was a Castilian noblewoman named Doña María (or Mayor) Guillén de Guzmán. Alfonso X had several other illegitimate children, including the abbot of Valladolid, and a daughter from an incestuous relationship with his half-aunt María, one of the many illegitimate children of his grandfather Alfonso IX of Leon. The daughter was named Berenguela after Alfonso IX's wife, Edward II's great-grandmother.

Beatriz was married, in 1253 when she was only eleven, to King Afonso III of Portugal, who was born on 5 May 1210 and thus was forty-three at the time of the wedding. His first marriage to Mathilde de Dammartin, countess of Boulogne and Mortain and the great-granddaughter of Stephen, king of England, had been annulled earlier that year. (Mathilde's first cousin Jeanne de Dammartin, countess of Ponthieu and Aumale, married Beatriz's grandfather Fernando III of Castile in 1237 and was the mother of Eleanor of Castile.) Beatriz and Afonso III's eldest child Branca, later abbess of Las Huelgas in Castile, was born on 25 February 1259 when Beatriz was sixteen or seventeen, her eldest son Fernando was born in 1260 and died young, and her second son King Diniz I of Portugal was born on 9 October 1261. Beatriz bore eight children in total, of whom at least three died in infancy.

Afonso III of Portugal died in Lisbon on 18 May 1279 in his late sixties, leaving his teenaged son Diniz as his successor. Beatriz, then thirty-seven, returned to Castile for several years, attempting to reconcile her father Alfonso X and her warring brothers. She died on 27 October 1303 and was buried at the monastery of Santa Maria de Alcobaça in central Portugal. King Diniz, who lived until January 1325, is known to history as Rei Lavrador, the Farmer King; something which might have endeared him to his kinsman Edward II, had the two men ever met. Diniz's son Afonso IV (1291-1357) married another Castilian cousin of Edward II, also Beatriz, daughter of Sancho IV and thus Queen Beatriz's niece. Afonso IV was keen to arrange a marriage alliance between his daughter Maria, born in February 1313, and Edward II's son the future Edward III, in 1325/26; Edward had to explain to Afonso and the younger Queen Beatriz in April 1326 that his son was betrothed to Alfonso XI of Castile's sister Leonor, but as he "desires a treaty of perpetual friendship to be established between his house and that of Alfonsus," he was willing to arrange another marriage between their children. [6] Maria of Portugal ended up marrying her first cousin Alfonso XI of Castile, as above.

I'll post the second part of this, with lots more info about some of Edward II's other Castilian first cousins, in a couple of days!


1) H. Salvador Marta-Nez and H. Salvador Martínez, Alfonso X, the Learned: A Biography, pp. 376-377; Malcolm Vale, 'Ritual Ceremony and the 'Civilising Process': The Role of the Court, c. 1270-1400', in Steven J. Gunn and A. Janse, eds., The Court as a Stage, p. 27; Teófilo F. Ruiz, The City and the Realm: Burgos and Castile 1080-1492, p. 144.
2) Clayton J. Drees, The Late Medieval Age of Crisis and Renewal, 1300-1500: A Biographical Dictionary, p. 319.
3) Teófilo F. Ruiz, Spain's Centuries of Crisis 1300-1474, p. 59.
4) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, pp. 175-176, 350-351; Foedera 1307-1327, pp. 549, 587.
5) Drees, Late Medieval Age, p. 320.
6) Close Rolls 1323-1327, pp. 556-557.

17 September, 2010


Ian Mortimer's Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies, a collection of ten essays, came out a few days ago in the UK (and is due out on 18 November in the US) and I'm currently happily immersed in it. The book "examines some of the most controversial questions in medieval history, including whether Edward II was murdered, his possible later life in Italy, the weakness of the Lancastrian claim to the throne in 1399 and the origins of the idea of the royal pretender. Central to this book is Mortimer's ground-breaking approach to medieval evidence. He explains how an information-based method allows a more certain reading of a series of texts. He criticises existing modes of arriving at consensus and outlines a process of historical analysis that ultimately leads to questioning historical doubts as well as historical facts, with profound implications for what we can say about the past with certainty."

Included are Ian's important and thought-provoking article 'The Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle', which was originally published in the English Historical Review and which I'm delighted to see made accessible to a much wider audience. There are other articles about Edward and his survival after 1327, including one about the earl of Kent's plot to free the former king in 1330, one about Edward's reputation as a sodomite and the development of this accusation as a political weapon against him, and one about the Fieschi family (as in Manuele Fieschi, who told Edward II's son in the 1330s that he had survived Berkeley) and their relationship with Edward III. For more info, see Ian's website, and the publishers, Continuum History. If you're at all interested in Edward II, fourteenth-century history and the nature of historical evidence and analysis, you really, really need to read this one.

I'm sure I must have mentioned Seymour (J.R.S.) Phillips' massive new biography of Edward II here before, which I've thoroughly enjoyed - though I can't help wishing that Professor Phillips had been a little more open-minded to the notion that Edward lived past September 1327 and had engaged more with, for example, the archbishop of York's statement to the mayor of London in January 1330 that "my liege lord Edward of Caernarfon is alive and in good health of body." (Professor Phillips is not alone in easily dismissing this piece of evidence: Roy Martin Haines, in his 2009 English Historical Review article 'Sumptuous Apparel for a Royal Prisoner: Archbishop Melton's Letter, 14 January 1330', states that Melton was "misled" and "easily convinced, or should one say deceived?" into believing that Edward II was still alive in 1330, without attempting to explain how a man of Melton's intelligence and experience could have been deceived to the extent that he was willing to commit his belief in Edward's survival to writing.)

Anyway, Professor Phillips' book is a sympathetic portrayal of Edward that doesn't whitewash him, with lots and lots of gorgeous details about him and his life. See this great review by Steve Donoghue. (And from the same site, check out this review of Emma Campion's recent novel about Alice Perrers with its awesome line that Edward III "combined the muscular vitality of his grandfather Edward I and the long-haired sensuousness of his father Edward II.") There's a review of Professor Phillips' biography in The Tablet which says that Edward II "wasn't quite as loathsome or ludicrous as we have always imagined" - hmmmm - one by Nigel Saul in History Today, and one by Chris Given-Wilson in the Times Literary Supplement which I can't link to but which is mentioned here. (There's also a shoddy 'review' I refuse to link to, written by a young man with an enormous talent for self-promotion and questionable taste in friends; any of you who are friends of mine on Facebook or who regularly read my Edward II page there will know who I'm talking about.)

I haven't read or ordered it yet, but Jeffrey (J.S.) Hamilton, biographer of Piers Gaveston, has a book out called The Plantagenets: History of a Dynasty, aimed at a more general audience than his usual academic work. I was extremely disappointed by Professor Hamilton's recent article 'The Uncertain Death of Edward II?' in the History Compass journal - numerous rhetorical questions and airy dismissals of anything that doesn't fit the traditional narrative do not a convincing argument against Edward's post-1327 survival make - but this overview of the fascinating Plantagenet dynasty looks entertaining and worth a read. Nancy Goldstone, who wrote Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe about Edward II's grandmother Eleanor of Provence and her sisters, has Joanna: The Notorious Queen of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem coming out in the UK on 11 November (it was published last autumn in the US; that's quite a delay). Queen Joanna (1326-1382) was a kinswoman of Edward II, a descendant of Edward I's sister Beatrice and also of Eleanor of Provence's sister the queen of Sicily. And finally, I'm looking forward to Helen Castor's She-Wolves: The Women who Ruled England before Elizabeth, which is due out in a few weeks. I hate the title, which is too similar to Elizabeth Norton's She-Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England and Alison Weir's Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England (and can we please stop calling powerful women 'she-wolves'?), but the book looks pretty good.

12 September, 2010

Arthur and Eleanor of Brittany

No, not that Arthur and Eleanor of Brittany - King John's nephew almost certainly killed in 1203, and Arthur's sister the Fair Maid of Brittany, imprisoned until her death in 1241 - but a later generation, Edward II's first cousins Duke Arthur II of Brittany and Eleanor, abbess of Fontevraud.

Arthur and Eleanor were the children of Duke John II of Brittany and Beatrice of England. Beatrice was born in Bordeaux in June 1242 as the third child of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, was the younger sister of Edward I (born June 1239) and Margaret, queen of Scotland (born September 1240), and married John of Brittany in 1260 when she was eighteen, a pretty advanced age by the standards of the time. John was born in 1239 as the son of Duke John I of Brittany, and through his mother Blanche was the grandson of Thibaut I, king of Navarre and count of Champagne. (Duke John I was the son of Alix de Thouars, duchess of Brittany in her own right and younger half-sister of the ill-fated Arthur and Eleanor mentioned above.)

As far as one can tell, Duke John II and Beatrice seem to have had a happy marriage, and John, although he was widowed in his mid-thirties and outlived Beatrice by three decades, never re-married. Beatrice died at the age of only thirty-two on 24 March 1275, less than a month after the death of her sister Queen Margaret, and was buried at her own request at the Franciscan friary in London, where her husband later made many benefactions. Her heart was buried at the abbey of Fontevrault. John and Beatrice's mother Eleanor of Provence were executors of her will. [1] John had to wait until 1286, when he was forty-seven, to succeed his long-lived father as duke of Brittany, and died on 18 November 1305 at the age of sixty-six in possibly the strangest freak accident of the era: a wall fell on him as he was leading the horse of the new pope, Clement V, around Avignon during his coronation (if that's the right word for popes, or do I mean inauguration?). John and Beatrice had six children: Arthur and Eleanor, of whom more below; John, earl of Richmond (died 1334), who spent most of his life in England and was known in childhood by the pet name Brito, which I think is very sweet; Marie, countess of St Pol (d. 1339), mother of, among many others, the countess of Pembroke, the count of St Pol and the countess of Valois; Pierre, viscount of Leon (d. 1312); and Blanche (d. 1327), who married Philippe d'Artois and was the mother of the countesses of Évreux, Fois and Aumale and of Robert d'Artois, of Les Rois Maudits fame. As well as being Edward II's first cousins, the Brittany siblings were second cousins of his wife Isabella of France, also a great-grandchild of Thibaut of Navarre.

Duke Arthur II, John and Beatrice's eldest child, was born on 2 July 1262 (and was possibly the second-eldest grandchild of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence after his cousin Margaret of Scotland). Arthur was married twice: firstly to Marie, viscountess of Limoges (d. 1291), mother of his successor Duke John III and another son, Guy; and secondly to Yolande de Dreux (d. 1330), countess of Montfort in her own right and dowager queen of Scotland as the widow of Alexander III. Arthur and Yolande - who sadly failed to fulfil Scottish hopes in 1286 and bear a posthumous child to King Alexander - had seven children, including Duke John IV.

Arthur was forty-three when he succeeded his father in 1305 following Duke John's unfortunate encounter with a wall, and attended the coronation of his first cousin Edward II at Westminster Abbey in February 1308, with his brother-in-law Guy, count of St Pol. His tenure as duke of Brittany was fairly short, and he died aged fifty on 27 August 1312 - nineteen days after his cousin Edward II sent him a letter requesting that he deal with an assault in Brittany on two English merchants [2] - leaving eight living children, including his twenty-six-year-old eldest son and successor John III. John was then married to Isabel, daughter of King Sancho IV of Castile and, like John himself, a first cousin once removed of Edward II; she had been proposed as a bride for Edward in 1303 by the regent of Castile, Edward's uncle Enrique. John III's first wife, another Isabelle who died in 1309, had been the eldest child of Philip IV of France's brother Charles de Valois, and after Duchess Isabel's death in 1328 John married Joan of Savoy, but was destined to die childless in April 1341. This led to the decades-long War of the Breton Succession between John III's niece Jeanne de Penthièvre - only child of his full brother, Guy - and her husband Charles de Blois (nephew of Philip VI of France) on one side, and John III's half-brother John, who eventually succeeded as John IV. (John III hated his half-siblings, tried to have them made illegitimate by having his father Duke Arthur's second marriage to Queen Yolande retrospectively annulled, and strongly favoured the succession of his niece Jeanne, though he changed his mind at the end of his life and declared his half-brother John to be his heir; on his deathbed he famously muttered "For God's sake leave me alone and do not trouble my spirit with such things.") [3]

Eleanor of Brittany (Alianore/Alienor de Bretagne) was the youngest child of Duke John II and Beatrice of England. She was born shortly before her mother's death in 1275 and was named after her maternal grandmother, the dowager queen of England. When Eleanor of Provence retired to the priory of Amesbury in 1285, she requested, or insisted, that two of her granddaughters accompany her and be veiled as nuns: Eleanor, and Edward I's fourth surviving daughter Mary. Unlike Mary, who had no vocation whatsoever and spent much time at the courts of her father and brother Edward II, Eleanor took well to religious life. She was veiled on 25 March 1285 at the age of ten, her six-year-old cousin Mary following on 15 August that year in a ceremony attended by Edward I, Eleanor of Castile and possibly the baby Edward of Caernarfon. [4] To provide for her granddaughter Eleanor, Eleanor of Provence granted the Berkshire manor of Chaddleworth to Amesbury. [5] The two girls were, however, not fully professed as nuns until late 1291, several months after their grandmother's death (Mary's seven-year-old brother Edward of Caernarfon attended).

At some point, Eleanor transferred to Amesbury's mother house of Fontevraud, where her mother's heart had been buried in 1275 [7] - Mary stayed behind in England - and became its abbess in 1304 when she was not yet thirty. There is much evidence that she was well-suited to the position: Berenice M. Kerr says that Eleanor was "determined to assert her authority" as abbess, and "[w]eak abbesses there may have been in the history of Fontevraud, but Eleanor of Brittany was not one of them. She was not prepared to have her authority or her decisions challenged." [6] Eleanor was, for example, not afraid to hallenge her royal cousin, Mary, who was accustomed as acting as the 'visitor' of Amesbury, the people who travelled around the manors controlled by the abbey to check their issues, audit their accounts, order any necessary repairs, and so on. In 1315, Eleanor appointed two Fontevraud brothers to act as the Amesbury visitors in Mary's place; Mary must have complained to her brother the king, as on 6 May 1317 Edward II wrote to the dean of Angers, saying that he had sent letters to Eleanor "requesting her to commission Mary, the king's sister, a nun of Aumbresbury [Amesbury], to visit and correct the houses of that order in England, and requesting him [the dean of Angers] to induce the abbess to put into effect the king's request, as she has delayed doing so, at which the king is surprised, especially as she has not been wont to make such corrections and visitations in person, and the king does not believe that any other lady of religion of that order in England or anyone else could execute the office more usefully than his sister..." [7] Edward wrote to Eleanor in rather more conventional and amicable fashion in January and March 1322, requesting that she would admit as nuns of Fontevraud women named 'Feidita Pellegrina, daughter of Elias Pelegrin' and Perotta de Beaumond. [8]

Eleanor of Brittany died in 1342 - I don't know on which date - at the age of sixty-seven, having served as abbess of Fontevraud for almost forty years. She was wealthy in her own right, receiving £700 from the estate of her father Duke John II, and bequeathed to Fontevraud numerous precious objects including manuscripts, tapestries, relics, vessels of gold, silver and crystal, and crosses set with precious stones. [9] An illuminated manuscript which she owned, containing chants of the liturgical year, has been set to music: the Graduel d'Alienor de Bretagne.


1) Margaret Howell, Eleanor of Provence: Queenship in Thirteenth-Century England, p. 103.
2) Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-1313, p. 544.
3) Jonathan Sumption, The Hundred Years War: Trial By Battle, p. 371.
4) Howell, Eleanor of Provence, p. 300.
5) Howell, Eleanor of Provence, p. 301; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1281-1292, p. 128.
6) Berenice M. Kerr, Religious Life for Women, c. 1100-c. 1350: Fontevraud in England, pp. 133, 137.

Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 470; Kerr, Religious Life, pp. 136-137.
8) Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 510, 535.
9) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

05 September, 2010

Yet More Edward II Myths

Some myths I've seen posted as 'fact' about Edward II and Piers Gaveston online recently (truly, the crap never stops):

Myth 1) Isabella of France was buried with Roger Mortimer's heart in 1358, and was buried next to him at the Franciscan church in London.

I've seen this repeated at least three times in the last week or two. Mortimer was not buried in London but in Coventry, and Isabella was not buried with his heart but with her husband Edward II's. The queen's tomb, with all the others in the Franciscan church in London, was sold at the time of the Reformation - in the autumn of 1547, to be precise - and its subsequent fate is unclear, and the church itself was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. To quote Professor F.D. Blackley, Isabella's tomb "appears to have been a raised tomb of alabaster situated in the middle of the choir. On it was an effigy in the breast of which was placed the heart of Edward II. About the tomb were four archangels." [1] Isabella's body, lying at Hertford Castle for several months following her death in August 1358, was dressed in the clothes she had worn for her wedding to Edward on 25 January 1308: to quote Professor Blackley again, "The queen's body was clothed with a mantle of red samite lined with yellow sindon in which she had been married. The tunic and mantle, now over fifty years old, had been carefully preserved...It may be that burial in them was the wish of Isabella, as the preservation would suggest." [2] This implies that Isabella's husband was much on her mind before her death. Maybe Roger Mortimer was too, but there is no evidence to suggest it.

Myth 2) Piers Gaveston's mother was burned alive as a witch.

The hoary old chestnut of Piers' Mum The Burned Witch simply refuses to die, with the result that a whole horde of authors have inflicted sensationalist novels where Piers is a Goddess Worshipper and At One With Nature on us. Yaaaawwwn, what a tedious old cliché it's become. Claramonde de Marsan died shortly before 4 February 1287, of natural causes as far as anyone - 'anyone' in the sense of 'people who actually know stuff about the late thirteenth century and have done a lot more research on it than just flicking through a couple of crappy novels', that is - knows. The story first appeared in John Stow's Annales, or a General Chronicle of England from Brute... at the end of the sixteenth century: "that the father of this Piers was a traitor to the king of France, and was for the same executed, and that his mother was burned for a witch, and that the said Piers was banished for consenting to his mother's witchcraft..." [3] Piers' father Sir Arnaud de Gabaston died in England in 1302, also apparently of natural causes, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral; he was certainly not executed for treason against Philip IV. (He was Gascon, and thus not a French subject.) There is no contemporary evidence I know of to suggest that Piers Gaveston was not as conventionally devout as anyone else, and obviously that whole 'being banished for consenting to his mother's witchcraft' story of Stow's cannot be true given that he was probably no more than about five when she died.

Myth 3) Edward II confined Isabella to the Tower in the 1320s.

Can't remember now where I saw this one - probably on one of the forums that endlessly and breathlessly repeat utter crap about poor Edward as though it's fact (see below for more examples) - so I don't have the exact quotation, but this scores a big, resounding 'Huh???' from me. Edward never 'confined' Isabella to the Tower or anywhere else; what a very odd notion. Elizabeth Norton's book She-Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England includes a bizarrely inaccurate story about Isabella being besieged in the Tower by the earl of Pembroke in the summer of 1321. Isabella was then living in the Tower - which lots of people seem to forget was a royal residence as well as a prison - to give birth to her youngest child Joan, Pembroke was her husband's ally and would never have besieged the queen, and - seriously, how on earth did Norton come up with that story? Baffling.

Myth 4) "...Edward II, who within hours of his birth in 1284, was proclaimed as the first English Prince of Wales...in later years, the second Edward proved to be a great disappointment. Edward II was weak, lazy and perverted."

Edward was created prince of Wales and earl of Chester on 7 February 1301, when he was almost seventeen. [4] His ten-year-old brother Alfonso was still alive when he was born in April 1284 and for four months afterwards, so it's hard to see why Edward I would have made a new-born baby the prince of Wales, a vast territorial endowment, rather than the heir to the throne. Weak and lazy? OK, you could make a case for that if you wanted. (Not physically weak, obviously; "one of the strongest men of his realm" [5] was never that.) But 'perverted'? Was Edward a rapist or a child abuser or a sex pest? Er, no. Hmmm, I wonder why someone would call him 'perverted' then? Someone who lives in our supposedly enlightened society in the twenty-first century? I. Just. Can't. Imagine...

Myth 5) "Edward II died as dishonourably as he lived. Spending more time with his lovers (he called his wife, Isabella, the 'she-wolf of France') than he did attending to affairs of state, he was murdered while in captivity."

The epithet 'she-wolf' was invented by Shakespeare for Margaret of Anjou and was first applied to Isabella in a 1757 poem by Thomas Gray.

Myth 6) "Edward III...had his mother sent to a convent for the rest of her life [in 1330]."

Yeah, and she went mad and was a mad evil mad old madwoman locked up at Castle Rising for nearly three decades and her ghost still haunts the castle - no, wait, she wasn't sent there, was she? She was sent to a convent. Hmm, it's tough to keep these contradictory old myths straight, isn't it? In fact, Edward III most certainly did not send his mother to a convent or imprison her at Castle Rising or treat her in any way that was inconsistent with the respect he owed to his mother and the dowager queen. Edward II didn't imprison Isabella and Edward III didn't either, so please, people, stop saying they did.

Myth 7) "The sweet little woman depicted in the movie [Braveheart] is quite unlike the actual Isabella, called the 'She-wolf of France', who personally murdered her husband with a poker so it would leave no marks on the body."

I have no words. None. Frankly it's beneath my and my readers' contempt to even bother to refute that one, so I'll merely point out that Isabella was in Lincoln, about 150 miles away, on the day (21 September 1327) that Edward II was supposedly murdered at Berkeley.

Myth 8) Question: "The story of the 3 Edwards is always fascinating--the second always coming off as weak and (ahem) unmanly. And of course, the 3rd Edward the strong, capable one. Did he have his father killed?"

Answer: "Legend is that Edward II was murdered in a most unpleasant fashion, but not, near as I can tell, by his son. Yet another murder unfairly pinned on Edward III?"

I had no idea that anyone had ever tried to pin Edward's alleged murder on his son. And again, Edward II is said to be 'unmanly'. I think we can all guess why. People really do love to hold onto these old-fashioned, stereotyped notions of sexuality, don't they?

Running a search for Edward II on Yahoo Answers is an amusing, though ultimately depressing, experience. Behold the crapness:

"He was a fairly weak king who seemed to have court favourites (who may have also been his lovers) and did not listen to his regular court. He did have a child with Katherine [sic] of France (afterwords known as the Shewolf of France) and was somewhat estranged from her husband."

(That reads as though Edward was 'estranged from her husband'.)

Q: "Was Edward II of England really gay?
He was known to favour male friends over his child bride Isabella?"

A: "I know that Sir Hugh le Despenser the son was allegedly the ''lover '' of King Edward II. What became of Hugh le Despenser.. I know he died in 1426 [sic] and Isabella of France went to France on a mission to meet her brother Charles de Valois [sic] VI [sic] and negotiate to regain some of the land the French had taken over from Britain [sic].. I know she was in love with Roger Mortimer but that he was later executed somehow... and King Edward II was executed [sic] in 1427 [sic] I believe on orders from the French [sic].. they called Isabella of Spain [sic] the French She Devil [sic] but was she really that bad considering what her husband Edward II had done [huh??]"

"Everyone knows that King Edward II of Great Britian was a very gay closeted man. It has been said through-out history. What if for example, gay-marriage existed in those days. Because of the British Government. That would not be allowed. He could not have a hubby like a Queen and name him a Prince Consort...would he? For example, lets say a man became King in the future. It would not be allowed for him to marry a man. He would have to abdicate the thrown. And loose his HRH status. As well as his peerage? Please help me set my friend straight that the U.K. or any other country would not allow that. She seems to think so."

"Why do english monarchs have the same names (henry, edwards, etc.) b/c if there were direct linage shouldnt edward III follow edward II...y then are there huge gaps between them"

"Isn't it a funny coincidence that the Hundred Years War started when...?
...Princess Isabella of France married King Edward II of England? You know, sort of like in Twilight?"

"Is it possible I inherited the genes from a king that lived hundreds of years ago?
I can trace my royal ancestry back to Edward I. I looked at several paintings of him and I noticed that I look exactly like him. I was more convinced when I watched Braveheart and the actors playing Edward I and Edward II looked like the paintings that I saw, and I realized I looked more like Edward II. I also read about how they acted. I am always ready for a fight like Edward I and I have an extremely quick temper, I am obsessed with military, and I admit I am somewhat dictator-like. How could this be? Could it be because of the DNA we share?"

And if you've ever wondered why I have a blog, a website and a Facebook page about Edward II, the errors above are just some of the many, many reasons...


1) F.D. Blackley, 'Isabella of France, Queen of England (1308-1358) and the Late Medieval Cult of the Dead', Canadian Journal of History, 14 (1980), p. 29.
2) Ibid., p. 26.
3) Cited in Vivien Thomas and William Tydeman, eds., Christopher Marlowe: the plays and their sources, p. 373.
4) Calendar of Charter Rolls 1300-1326, p. 6.
5) Description of Edward II from the Scalacronica ("de soun corps vn dez plus fortz hom de soun realme"): Scalacronica: By Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, knight. A Chronicle of England and Scotland From A. D. MLXVI to A. D. MCCCLXII, ed. J. Stevenson, p. 136.