24 October, 2012

Thomas, Earl Of Lancaster's Illegitimate Son

In which I speculate, maybe wildly and hilariously wrongly, about the identity of the mother of a canon of Lincoln whose father was a really rather important royally born nobleman of the early fourteenth century.

Illegitimate children.  Edward II had one (Adam).  So did Piers Gaveston (Amie).  So, perhaps, did Hugh Despenser the Younger, or perhaps his father the elder Despenser was Nicholas's father?  John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, had lots of them.  I've long wondered whether the Roger Damory mentioned in the 1330s and the Sir Nicholas Damory who had a long distinguished career in the fourteenth century were illegitimate sons of Roger Damory.  And Thomas, earl of Lancaster, Leicester and Derby (c. 1278 - 22 March 1322) also joined the club.  He had no children from his disastrous marriage to Alice de Lacy, and his heir was thus his younger brother Henry, but did however have an illegitimate son named John whose existence is recorded several decades after Thomas's execution, for instance in these letters from Pope Clement VI:

"To John de Lancastria, son of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, M.A. scholar of theology.  The like [provision of a canonry], at the request of his kinsman, king Edward [III], in Lincoln, notwithstanding that he has the church of Vyotoxather [Uttoxeter, Staffordshire]".  (Calendar of Papal Letters 1342-1362, p. 346, dated 4 Nones February 1350.)

And this is the really interesting one, bold mine: "To John de Lancastria, son of the late Thomas, earl of Lancaster, scholar of theology.  Extension of dispensation, at the request of king Edward, whose kinsman he is, on account of illegitimacy, he being the son of a married man and a spinster related in the third degree of kindred, so as to enable him to resign the church of Uxtoxather and accept any other benefice in its place, and hold the same together with any other benefices."  (Ibid., p. 357, same date.)

John of Lancaster is mentioned a few times in the 1350s and 1360s in papal letters and the chancery rolls as a canon of Salisbury and rector of Charing, and was still alive at Michaelmas 1375 [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1374-1377, p. 181].  An entry on the Patent Roll of December 1375 [Ibid., p. 216] mentions that one Alexander Nabelson killed John de Lancastre in self-defence.  I don't know for certain that it's the same John of Lancaster, Earl Thomas's son, however, as there were other men with the same name around at the time.  John, as the son of Earl Thomas, was a first cousin once removed of Edward III, as Edward's mother Isabella of France was Thomas's niece, and was also a second cousin of the king via the Edward II connection (Edward II and Thomas were first cousins).  The existence of Thomas of Lancaster's illegitimate son John and his parentage has been noted before, by Rosie Bevan and Douglas Richardson; it's not my discovery, I hasten to add!  Richardson has found plenty of references to John of Lancaster and mentions him in his book Plantagenet Ancestry, as well as another illegitimate son of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, also named Thomas - whether the younger Thomas was born of the same mother as John is unclear.

Given that John was still alive in the mid-1370s, it seems likely to me that he was born after about 1310, and, given that he was still doing his MA in 1350, perhaps born not long before Earl Thomas's execution in March 1322, when Thomas was in his early or mid-forties.  The most interesting point is the identity of John's mother.  The 'third degree of kindred' in canon law would mean Earl Thomas's second cousins, or second cousins once (or twice) removed.  The immediate problem with this is that Thomas's second cousins seem too highly born to have been his mistress and to have borne him a child, at least without a scandalised chronicler telling us about it.  For example, here are some of the women who were Thomas's second cousins:

- Marguerite, queen of England; Marguerite, queen of Navarre; Jeanne, queen of France; Catherine, titular empress of Constantinople; Margaret, Holy Roman Empress; Eleanor, queen of Sicily; Blanche, queen of Aragon; Marie, queen of Mallorca; Agnes, duchess of Brunswick; Blanche, duchess of Austria; Marguerite, countess of Namur; Blanche, countess of Auvergne; Blanche, countess of Savoy; Marie, countess of Savoy; Elisabeth, countess of Jülich; Elisabeth, burgrave of Nuremberg; Gwenllian, a nun; Anastasia, countess of Nola.

I think it's pretty safe to say that none of these women (or their sisters) is remotely likely to have borne Thomas of Lancaster a child out of wedlock, and given that Thomas spent his entire adult life in England, I think it's reasonable to assume that the mother of his son also lived in England.  Thomas's grandparents were Henry III, king of England; Eleanor of Provence, queen of England; Robert, count of Artois; Matilda of Brabant, countess of Artois.  Most of Thomas's second cousins, that is, the grandchildren of his grandparents' siblings (who, the siblings I mean, included Marguerite, queen of France, Isabella, Holy Roman Empress, Charles, king of Sicily, Marie, duchess of Bavaria and Louis IX, king of France), lived outside England, and it's highly unlikely that Thomas ever met them.  Given that the vast majority of Thomas's female second cousins were very highly born women on the continent whom he almost certainly never met, I think his mistress and John's mother must either herself have been illegitimate, or descended from an illegitimate line.  When looking for people who fit the bill - people who were second cousins of Earl Thomas, lived in England and were descended from an illegitimate child - the ones who immediately sprang to my mind were the descendants of Thomas's great-uncle Richard, earl of Cornwall and king of Germany (5 January 1209 - 2 April 1272), younger son of King John and Isabella of Angoulême, brother of Henry III, and uncle of Thomas's father Edmund, earl of Lancaster.

Richard of Cornwall had two legitimate sons who lived into adulthood (as well as a few other children who died young): Henry of Almain, son of Richard's first wife Isabella Marshal and born in 1235, who was murdered in Sicily by two of his de Montfort cousins in 1271; and Edmund, born in 1249 and the son of Richard's second wife Sanchia of Provence, who succeeded his father as earl of Cornwall in 1272 and died childless in 1300, leaving as his heir his first cousin Edward I, his nearest male relative.  Neither Henry of Almain nor Earl Edmund had any (legitimate) children, so Richard of Cornwall had no grandchildren to carry on his line, and in 1307 Edward II granted his earldom to Piers Gaveston.  Richard of Cornwall also had a number of illegitimate children; the list and most of the information given here come from Douglas Richardson's aforementioned and extremely helpful book Plantagenet Ancestry:

- Philip, a cleric, first mentioned in 1248.
- Richard, a knight killed at the siege of Berwick in 1296, who before 1281 married a woman named Joan, said to be a daughter of John Fitzalan, lord of Clun and Oswestry; Richard and Joan had three sons, Sir Edmund, Sir Geoffrey and a clerk named Richard, and a daughter Joan.  He is sometimes said to have been Richard of Cornwall's legitimate son by Sanchia of Provence, but wasn't.
- Sir Walter of Cornwall, of Brannel, Cornwall, who married a woman whose identity is uncertain and had a son William and a daughter Margaret, and died in 1313.  William had a son John; Margaret married James Peverell in about 1307 and had a son Hugh and a daughter Joan.
- Edmund of Cornwall, a valet in the household of Edward I and acknowledged by him as a kinsman (e.g. Calendar of Patent Rolls 1301-1307, p. 308).
- Geoffrey, granted land by Earl Edmund of Cornwall in the late 1290s.
- Richard, called 'our clerk and cousin' by Edward II (Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, pp. 379, 386).
- Joan, who married Sir John Howard of Wigginhall, East Winch, Norfolk.
- Another Joan, who married 1) Richard Champernoune of Inswork, Cornwall, and had one son, Sir Richard, and 2) Sir Peter Fishacre, with no issue.  Joan was still alive in 1316.

The children of Richard of Cornwall's children would have been second cousins of Thomas of Lancaster (and their grandchildren would have been his second cousins once removed, which would also fit), and although they were still of reasonably high rank, it's far easier to imagine that one of them might have been his mistress than it is for one of his legitimately-born and descended relatives.  It also occurred to me that, although Richard's legitimate sons Henry of Almain and Edmund of Cornwall had no legitimate issue, it's not impossible that one of them had a child out of wedlock.  Henry was killed in 1271, six or seven years before Thomas of Lancaster was even born, so it's basically impossible that any daughter of his would have borne Thomas a child in the 1310s or early 1320s, however.  Other possible candidates for John of Lancaster's mother are the descendants of King John's illegitimate children, and John had a lot of illegitimate children - see here for an excellent list.  One of them, for instance, Richard, who married Rohese of Dover, had several children, and descendants alive in Edward II's time.  (This Richard, incidentally, not to be confused with his half-brother Richard, earl of Cornwall, was the great-grandfather of John de Strathbogie, earl of Atholl, executed by Edward I in 1306, and was also the ancestor of the lords of Berkeley.)  King John was Thomas of Lancaster's great-grandfather, and the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of John's illegitimate children would be related to Thomas within the third degree.

John de Warenne (1286-1347), the aforementioned earl of Surrey who had lots of illegitimate children - nine that I know of, including three daughters - was a second cousin of Thomas of Lancaster (they were both great-grandsons of Isabella of Angoulême), so his children would be in the required degree of kindred to Thomas.  I'm not sure if any illegitimate daughter of John's would have been old enough to have borne Thomas a child in or before 1322, though.  Other descendants of Isabella of Angoulême's Lusignan children were still alive in England in Edward II's reign.  One of Isabella's grandsons was Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke (c. 1270/75-1324), son of William de Valence, a Lusignan half-brother of Henry III, and thus a first cousin once removed of both Edward II and Thomas of Lancaster.  Aymer had no children by either of his two wives, Beatrice of Clermont-Nesle or Marie de St Pol, but is known to have had an illegitimate son named Henry, Thomas of Lancaster's second cousin.  Is it possible that Aymer had an illegitimate daughter as well?  Anyway, these are the possibilities that occurred to me, and probably there are other candidates for John of Lancaster's mother.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were other illegitimate second cousins of Earl Thomas of Lancaster whose existence has not been discovered.  Illegitimate children of this era are generally very obscure; even Edward II's son Adam doesn't appear on record until 1322 when he must have been at least twelve or thirteen, and Amie Gaveston first appears in 1332, when she must have been at least twenty.  The three illegitimate daughters of the earl of Surrey only appear in his 1346 will, to my knowledge, one of them already married and another already a nun.  And we see the same thing with John of Lancaster himself, whom we only hear about decades after his father's execution.

As I said, this is pure speculation and I could be completely wrong.  If you spot any flaws in my logic or arguments, please do feel free to point them out (I won't mind at all, honestly), and if you have anything to add about the possible identity of this mysterious woman, I'd love to hear it.  :-)  One thing I would dearly love to know is the identity of the mother of Edward II's illegitimate son Adam, but sadly I haven't the faintest idea, and it seems well nigh impossible that I could ever find out.  Ah, what a discovery that would be though...!


Cherith said...

Huh, you mention Aymer de Valence, but maybe Aymer's father, William de Valence, had an illegitimate child whose daughter was Lancaster's paramour? Although, considering how many illegitimate children King John had, chances are that the woman in question was the descendent of one of his many conquests.

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, as I pointed out, there were other Lusignan descendants alive in Edward II's reign. One of Henry III's half-brothers who lived in England might have had an illegitimate child.

Anerje said...

I didn't know Lancaster has an illegitimate son. I like your detective work into who the mother might be - hmm, you might inspire a novelist to spin a yarn here!

Cherith said...

Oops, yes, I guess you had William de Valence covered under the Lusignan designation. It's such an intriguing mystery, because it seems like it should be easy to solve: second cousin, spinster, within about a 2-decade timeframe...but there are probably hundreds of possibilities!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Anerje! It would make a good novel, wouldn't it? :)

Exactly, Cherith! I bit off more than I could chew, really, when I realised how many possibilities there were. ;)

Terence Stokes said...


Wikipedia ;-) states as fact that Thomas had two illegitimate sons by the same woman, none of whom are named.

Do you know of any evidence of this? Were there two sons and were they born to the same mother?

Wiki of course gives no footnote in support of this.

Best wishes

Terence Stokes

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Terence, yes, the other son was also called Thomas, was knighted in 1346, but later joined the Church. He's in my 'Blood Roses' book. Not clear if it was the same mother.