04 September, 2015

The Abduction Of Margaret Audley, 1336

Margaret Audley was the only child of Edward II's niece Margaret de Clare (1293/94-1342) and her second husband Sir Hugh Audley (c. 1289/95-1347), and was born sometime between January 1318 (nine months after her parents' wedding on 28 April 1317) and late 1322 (nine months after her father was imprisoned after the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322).  Margaret de Clare was, with her older sister Eleanor and younger sister Elizabeth, one of the three co-heirs to the huge wealth of their brother Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, killed at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314.  Margaret had a daughter, Joan, with her first husband Piers Gaveston, who died probably the day after her thirteenth birthday on 13 January 1325.  Joan Gaveston's death left her younger half-sister Margaret Audley as sole heir to their mother's large inheritance.  This made Margaret an extremely tempting marital prospect, but also, as a female, made her vulnerable.  Her aunts Eleanor and Elizabeth de Clare both left sons as their heirs, respectively Hugh or Huchon, Lord Despenser, and William Donn de Burgh, earl of Ulster, whose daughter and heiress Elizabeth de Burgh married Edward III's second son Lionel.

I'm not sure when Margaret Audley was born, but I would imagine nearer the end of the period given above rather than near the beginning, as she was still unmarried at the start of 1336.  This would make much more sense if she was then fourteen or so than if she was eighteen.  She was a great-niece of Edward II and a first cousin once removed of Edward III.  Shortly before 28 February 1336, Margaret was staying at her parents' manor of Thaxted in Essex, when something terrible happened: she was abducted by a large crowd of several dozen men, nineteen of whom are named and 'others' who are not, and forcibly married to one of them.  He was Sir Ralph Stafford, a widower with two daughters, born in September 1301 and thus twenty or so years her senior.  The wedding took place without her father Hugh Audley's consent and, one assumes, also without Margaret's (though no-one bothered to record this).  Hugh Audley seems to have been present at Thaxted at the time, but could not protect his daughter from the large mob of armed men who had set out to take her from him.  Ralph Stafford's aim was, of course, to force himself into a share of the vast de Clare inheritance by right of his wife.  What happened to Margaret next is best left to the imagination.  Snatched suddenly from from her home and her parents, married against her will, plus what must have come next, must have been a terrifying, traumatic experience.

Hugh Audley complained to Edward III, his wife Margaret de Clare's first cousin, who on 28 February 1336 - presumably shortly after the attack - ordered Robert Bousser and Adam Everyngham to find out what had happened.  At this stage it was still unclear who had attacked Hugh's manor of Thaxted and what had gone on, except that Margaret Audley had been abducted and some of Hugh's goods stolen.  By 6 July 1336, more facts had come out.  Margaret had been married, and the culprit was a friend and ally of the king: Ralph Stafford had taken part in the young king's coup d'état against his mother Isabella and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham on 19 October 1330.  Ralph's chief accomplices are named on the Patent Roll on 6 July 1336 when the king ordered four men to investigate further, not that these investigations were likely to do Margaret any good whatsoever.  She was married now and could not be unmarried; and the king was hardly likely to punish one of his friends.  [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1334-38, pp. 283, 298]  Hugh Audley must have known Ralph Stafford well: on 23 April 1332, both of them received a safe-conduct from Edward III to travel overseas on his business, Ralph accompanying Hugh in his retinue.  [Patent Rolls 1330-34, p. 276]

Ralph Stafford was later made first earl of Stafford and was a founder member of the Knights of the Garter (he was the fifth), and his and Margaret's Stafford descendants became dukes of Buckingham in the fifteenth century.  Just think, Henry Stafford, the duke of Buckingham executed by Richard III in 1483, and his son Edward, the duke of Buckingham executed by Henry VIII in 1521, would never have existed if Ralph Stafford had not abducted - and, let's be frank, raped - a young girl in 1336.  Hugh Audley himself was made earl of Gloucester in 1337, perhaps as a kind of compensation for the abduction, forcible marriage and rape of his daughter.  No-one bothered to compensate Margaret herself, of course.  She and Ralph had six children.  Their elder son Ralph died young and their heir was their second son Hugh, to whom the earldom of Stafford and Margaret's share of the de Clare inheritance passed.  They also had four daughters, Elizabeth, Joan, Beatrice and Katherine (not one of whom was named after their mother or their maternal grandmother Margaret de Clare, which may be revealing, though revealing of what I don't know).  Hugh Stafford, second earl of Stafford, married Philippa Beauchamp, a granddaughter of Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1315) and Roger Mortimer, first earl of March (d. 1330), and they were the ancestors of the later Staffords.

Margaret Stafford née Audley died on 7 September 1349, aged about thirty at most, though probably still only in her late twenties.  Her widower and abductor Ralph Stafford, rewarded with an earldom and membership of the Knights of the Garter, lived a long life and died on 31 August 1372, shortly before his seventy-first birthday.  So that's nice.


Anonymous said...

So much for "chivalry" having something to do with the Order of the Garter. It was always advantageous to be a friend of the king (there are records showing Henry VIII pardoning a Thomas Culpepper after a rape and murder, for example)Unfortunately, the lenient treatment accorded rapists lasted for centuries (the first rape shield laws didn't get passed in CA until the 1970's, for example)


Anerje said...

What a fascinating - if dreadful - story. Poor Margaret. One wonders why Stafford just didn't ask Edward III for her hand in marriage. As such a valuable heiress, shouldn't Edward have been her protector? I had no idea about the Stafford/Dukes of Buckingham connection.

Brad Verity said...

No doubt Stafford asked Audley for his daughter's hand in marriage and was refused. Whatever reason(s) Audley had for resisting Stafford as his heir, we'll never know. Since they served together in 1332, it was likely no more than personal. Stafford could not have taken matters into his own hands and abducted Margaret like he did without prior knowledge that he had the king's support, and that Margaret would be willing enough to accept him.

In the IPMs conducted in 1342 after the death of Margaret de Clare, Margaret Audley was returned as age 18 and more by the jurors in London and Essex, while jurors in Rutland said that she was age 20 years and more, which would appear to be the correct estimate, placing her birth in 1322 or earlier. Hugh de Audley was taken prisoner at the battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, and did not escape confinement until 1325. Margaret de Clare was sent to Sempringham priory in May 1322 and confined there until 1326. So Margaret Audley could not have been born after the end of 1322, or conceived during the four year period (1322-26) that her parents were separated. She could not have been aged 18 in 1342. She was most likely born in 1321, making her age 14 in the winter of 1335/6 when Stafford abducted her.

From Edward III's point of view, he needed to insure that the entirety of the Clare inheritance was in the hands of nobles whom he trusted. It could not become the focal point of rebellion as it had in his father's reign. He had a good relationship with his cousin Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare, who controlled her third of it in the winter of 1335/6, with her heir her three-year-old granddaughter. Another third was in the hands of Eleanor Despenser and her second husband Lord Zouche of Mortimer. The heir was Eleanor's 27-year-old son, Sir Hugh Despenser, still a bachelor. The king seems to have done a good job of reconciling them to his authority, once the regime of Mortimer and Isabella was overthrown. In Oct. 1335, he forgave Eleanor and Zouche 2,000 marks of the huge £5,000 fine they'd been under since January 1331, a good sign that the king was feeling secure enough with the Despenser third of the Clare inheritance.

[Continued in next post]

Brad Verity said...

[Continued from previous post]
That just left the Audley third, and the king was probably relieved to know it would be inherited by Stafford, a knight whom he trusted and had formed a close friendship with. Stafford and Margaret were regular visitors to Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare, and that lady may have joined the king in reconciling her niece and Stafford to Audley. At any rate, Margaret seems to have borne her first child, daughter Elizabeth Stafford, about the end of 1336, and with Stafford now secure in the Audley inheritance having fathered a legitimate child on the heiress, the following spring, in April 1337, Audley was created Earl of Gloucester. It's interesting that after Audley's death, the title of earl of Gloucester was not given to Stafford, who was instead raised to a brand new earldom, that of Stafford, in 1351. It's possible there were grumblings from the Despensers, the senior co-heirs, about the Gloucester earldom being granted to a junior coheir, or maybe Edward III didn't want the Gloucester title, with its powerful past associations, to be granted to a non-royal. Save for a brief two years, 1397-99, when Richard II granted the Gloucester title to the heir of the Despensers, it has remained in the hands of the royal family to this day.

It's worth noting, after Stafford secured the Audley third of the Clare inheritance through his abduction of Margaret, which Edward III sanctioned, the king had Sir Hugh Despenser marry in 1341, Elizabeth Montagu, about 16 and a widow. The Despenser third of the Clare inheritance was now within the family circle of Elizabeth's father William Montagu, earl of Salisbury, another of the king's most trusted nobles and longtime friends. The following year, 1342, the king had his second son marry the Lady of Clare's granddaughter heiress, putting the Burgh third of the Clare inheritance safely under royal influence.

The Clare inheritance brought periods of misery to every lady who in line for a share of it: the three sisters and original coheirs, Eleanor de Clare Despenser, Margaret de Clare Audley, Elizabeth de Clare Burgh, plus Margaret's two daughters Joan Gaveston and Margaret Audley. All of them were at one point or another under some kind of confinement, whether in the Tower or in a nunnery, and three of them suffered through marriages that resulted from abductions. But the two who survived their husbands as landed widows, Eleanor Despenser and Elizabeth de Burgh, managed to create legacies (the Tewkesbury Abbey windows and Clare College Cambridge, respectively) that last to this day. If Margaret Audley had survived her husband Stafford instead of pre-deceasing him in 1349 (a plague year), she may also have had the strength of character to create a lasting legacy as well.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Once again brilliant stuff but also very depressing indeed.

Anerje said...

Interesting comments Brad.

Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

I do agree with Anerje, interesting and pertinent observations, Brad.

What's in a Name? said...

Fascinating. Thank you! Ralph de Stafford and Margaret were two of my ancestors (20x gt grandparents, to be exact) so it's amazing to find out about them.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, really glad you enjoyed the post!

Fran said...

I find it strange that Hugh de Audley and his wife appeared to have too few squires etc to defend them at the time of their daughter's abduction. Wasn't it during this time Hugh was Commander of the Cinque ports? If so, surely it seems somewhat remiss of him to leave himself so vulnerable when there was a possibility of a French Invasion.
The other query:- was anyone charged with the theft of stolen goods from Thaxted?

Kathryn Warner said...

The order to hold the commission of oyer et terminer states that Stafford and his crew 'carried away the goods' of the Audleys as well.