28 February, 2016

Philippa of Hainault's Romanticising

On 27 August 1326, Edward II's queen Isabella of France arranged the future marriage of her then thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor, who became King Edward III of England five months later, and Philippa, daughter of Willem, count of Hainault and Holland and Jeanne de Valois. Philippa was then about twelve, and was her future husband's second cousin: they were both great-grandchildren of Philip III of France and his first queen Isabel of Aragon. They married on or about 25 January 1328, the twentieth wedding anniversary of Edward's parents Edward II and Isabella, and were to be married for forty-one and a half years and to have a dozen children together.

Many years after 1326, Queen Philippa supposedly told the chronicler Jean Froissart that in August 1326, Edward of Windsor preferred her to her sisters and favoured her company over theirs, that she knew him better than her sisters, and that he chose her over them. Froissart says that he heard this romantic tale from directly from Philippa herself, "the good lady who was queen of England" (la bonne damme qui fu royne d'Engleterre), and it has often been repeated in fiction about Edward III and even in some non-fiction as though it is certainly true. What a lovely story, the future king of England, not even fourteen yet (Edward was born on 13 November 1312), spending time with a group of girls, and falling in love with one and choosing her over her sisters as his wife. Awwww. But does it have any basis in reality? Well, not really.

As I pointed out in a recent post, Froissart thought that Philippa was the second of Willem and Jeanne's four daughters, when in fact she was the third of four or the fourth of five. Philippa's older sisters Margareta and Johanna had been married for two and a half years by August 1326: their double wedding to Ludwig of Bavaria and Wilhelm of Jülich took place in Cologne in February 1324. The shadowy other older sister, Sibilla, assuming she had existed at all and was not merely a clerical error in an English document, is highly likely to have been long dead by this point, being only mentioned in 1319. In August 1326, there were two unmarried daughters of the count of Hainault and Holland who could be proposed as future brides for Edward of Windsor: Philippa and her younger sister Isabella, who, given that she later married a man born in the mid-1320s, is unlikely to have been more than a toddler in August 1326. For Edward to prefer the company of a girl close to his own age to that of a toddler or baby is hardly surprising. 

Assuming Froissart recorded Philippa's words correctly, the queen was romanticising later in life when she told him this tale. Either she had genuinely convinced herself that Edward had to choose between herself and her sisters and preferred her, or perhaps she felt she had to make up a pleasant story because the true circumstances surrounding her betrothal could hardly have been less romantic. Given the enormous affection that later grew between the couple and their highly successful marriage of four decades, it is of course not at all unlikely that they did indeed like each other very much and enjoy each other's company in 1326, but Edward of Windsor had no say whatsoever in whom he married, and their betrothal was a hard-headed political decision and had nothing at all to do with the whims and personal wishes of two adolescents. Philippa's betrothal was to do with the provision of ships and mercenaries to carry out an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation, and with the overthrow of her father-in-law by her mother-in-law, and with her fiancé being used as a weapon against his own father. Edward of Windsor and Philippa of Hainault's betrothal was unlawful to boot: Edward at the time was officially engaged to King Alfonso XI of Castile's sister Leonor, and his legal guardian, his father Edward II, stood in firm opposition to the Hainault betrothal and did not consent to it. Philippa's wish to draw a veil over all of this some decades later, and to turn the circumstances around her betrothal into a sweet and pretty romantic fantasy, reveals something of her character. (Again, assuming that Jean Froissart didn't just make it up.) Philippa must have known that her eldest sister Margareta had been proposed as Edward's bride between 1318 and 1321, and that in 1326 she was 'next in line' among the Hainault daughters to marry and of far more suitable age for Edward than her much younger sister Isabella. Queen Philippa rewriting her own past wearing rose-coloured spectacles is all very nice and lovely, but it should be seen for what it is, not repeated as though it's definitely true.

21 February, 2016

Constanza of Castile, Queen of Castile and Leon, Duchess of Lancaster (2)

Second and final part of my post about Constanza; the first part is here.

Far from being ugly or ill-favoured, Constanza of Castile evidently was a very attractive woman: in 1371 at the time of her wedding to John of Gaunt, the author of the Anonimalle chronicle called her 'a very beautiful young lady' (une tresbele damosel). [Anonimalle Chronicle 1333 to 1381, ed. Galbraith, p. 69] The Spanish chronicler Pedro Lopez de Ayala called her mother Maria de Padilla very beautiful and intelligent, and stated that her father Pedro the Cruel was tall and muscular, with very fair hair and skin and blue eyes. So no, Anya Seton, Constanza wasn't some unattractive 'skinny, black-haired' smelly religious fanatic to be contrasted unfavourably to the amazing and fragrant beauty of her husband's mistress Katherine Swynford. (I find that quite revolting, and simply a blatant attempt to manipulate reader sympathy in Swynford's favour.) Judging by the descriptions of Constanza of Castile's father and her daughter Catalina of Lancaster, queen of Castile - Catalina was said to be extremely tall for a woman, and to be 'pink, white and blonde' - it is highly likely that Constanza was blonde-haired, fair-skinned and tall. Henry VIII's first wife Katherine of Aragon was the great-granddaughter of Constanza's daughter Catalina (and was named after her), and also had fair hair. It is often assumed that Queen Katherine must have inherited her fairness from her English ancestors, but as we see here, this is not necessarily the case.

On 9 February 1372, a few weeks after Constanza's arrival in England, her brother-in-law Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales and Aquitaine, duke of Cornwall and earl of Chester, Edward III's eldest son, hosted a ceremony to mark her official entry into London as queen of Castile. The Anonimalle chronicle says that numerous people attended, keen to 'see the beauty of the young lady.' The procession ended at the Savoy, the great London palace which Constanza's husband John of Gaunt had inherited from his first father-in-law Duke Henry, and where Constanza would now make her home, or rather one of her many homes. A few days before this ceremony, Gaunt had officially proclaimed himself king of Castile and Leon, and thereafter was known as monseignour d'Espaigne, 'my lord of Spain' or more accurately, 'my lord of Castile'. As the elder surviving child of King Pedro of Castile, Constanza was the rightful heir to the throne. Her father had been stabbed to death by his illegitimate half-brother Enrique of Trastamara in March 1369 when he was only thirty-four, and Trastamara now sat on the Castilian throne as King Enrique II, supported by Charles V of France. King Pedro is known to history as 'the Cruel', and although it is beyond all doubt that he was indeed capable of cruelty, not least in his appalling treatment of his unfortunate young wife Blanche of Bourbon, he wasn't as black as he was painted by the propaganda of his supplanters. One of Pedro's more attractive traits, to the modern mind if not to the fourteenth-century one, was his religious tolerance: he called himself king of the three faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, had Muslim and Jewish soldiers in his armies, and hired Muslim craftsmen to design and build his great palace in Seville, the Alcazar. The facade of Pedro's building at the Alcazar declaring 'Only Allah is victorious' in Arabic can be seen to this day.

Pedro's building at the Alcazar in Seville (my photo)

John of Gaunt and Constanza of Castile had only one surviving child together: Catalina, born sometime before 31 March 1373, when her grandfather Edward III paid the messenger (none other than Katherine Swynford; see the first part of this post) who brought him news of her birth. Constanza also bore a son who died in infancy, and may have had miscarriages and stillbirths we don't know about. Catalina had three older half-siblings from her father's first marriage to Blanche of Lancaster: Philippa, queen of Portugal; Elizabeth, duchess of Exeter and countess of Huntingdon; and Henry, King Henry IV of England. Extant letters in John of Gaunt's Registers show that he referred to Catalina as nostre tres chere et tres ame file Kateryne, 'our very dear and beloved daughter Kateryne'. Constanza of Castile's younger sister Isabel married Gaunt's brother Edmund of Langley, earl of Cambridge and later duke of York, in 1372, and had three children, who shared all four grandparents with Catalina of Lancaster: Edward, duke of York, killed at Agincourt in 1415; Constance, named after her aunt (and godmother?) Constanza, who married Thomas Despenser, great-grandson of Hugh the Younger; and Richard, father of Richard, duke of York and grandfather of Edward IV and Richard III. If Isabel of Castile was tall and blonde like her father King Pedro and her niece Catalina of Lancaster, as seems entirely probable, this raises an interesting point about the appearance of her great-grandson the very tall Edward IV and from whom he inherited his height and assumed fairness, as Brian Wainwright points out. There is a possibility that Isabel's youngest child Richard was not the son of her husband Edmund of Langley but of Richard II's half-brother John Holland (who was married to Catalina of Lancaster's half-sister Elizabeth), but that's getting beyond the scope of this post, so I'll leave others to discuss it.

Also in the Alcazar, the baths of Constanza's mother Maria de Padilla.

The baths of Maria de Padilla.
John of Gaunt referred to Constanza in letters as nostre tres chiere et tres amee compaigne la Royne, dame Constance, 'our very dear and beloved companion the queen, Lady Constanza', though this is a conventional form of address and doesn't necessarily say very much about their relationship or his feelings for her. Throughout the 1370s he fathered four children with his mistress Katherine Swynford: John, Thomas, Henry and Joan Beaufort. On 15 May 1372, Gaunt wrote a letter confirming a grant of twenty marks a year to Swynford "for the good and pleasant service which she gives and has given to our very dear companion [Constanza]...and for the very great affection which our said companion has towards the said Katherine." [Gaunt's Register, vol. 1, pp. 169-70] So was the 'very great affection' for Katherine Swynford really Constanza's, or was John of Gaunt putting his own affection for her in the mouth of his wife, unwilling to acknowledge her as his mistress in a formal letter? I don't know, but relations between Constanza and Katherine were doubtless much more complex and interesting than one might assume.

Constanza lived through the Great Uprising of 1381, when a London mob destroyed her and Gaunt's home of the Savoy; Gaunt was deeply unpopular. By good fortune Gaunt was not in London at the time, or his head would surely have ended up at the end of a pike, but his fourteen-year-old son Henry was in the Tower of London and only evaded capture when the mob invaded the Tower because a quick-thinking servant hid him in a cupboard.

John of Gaunt never managed to dislodge Enrique of Trastamara or claim the kingdom of Castile in anything more than name, and finally gave up. Instead, a marriage was arranged between his and Constanza's daughter Catalina and the house of Trastamara, which united the two branches of the Castilian royal family. Enrique of Trastamara, King Enrique II, Constanza's half-uncle who had murdered her father Pedro in March 1369, died on 29 May 1379 and was succeeded by his son Juan I. Juan died at the age of only thirty-two on 9 October 1390, leaving his eleven-year-old son Enrique III as king. Enrique had married Catalina of Lancaster, who was five or six years his senior, a little over two years before. Catalina and Enrique's son King Juan II was the father of the great Isabel, queen of Castile in her own right, who married Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and the grandfather of Henry VIII's first wife Catherine of Aragon.

Constanza of Castile was married to John of Gaunt for twenty-two and a half years. For sure she wasn't the love of his life - he chose to be buried next to his first wife Blanche of Lancaster and married his third wife Katherine Swynford in 1396 after she had been his mistress for many years - but that doesn't necessarily mean that they were unhappy together or that Gaunt (or Swynford for that matter) despised his second wife. Constanza knew how things worked; she herself was born illegitimately to her father's mistress while his wife languished in the prison he had put her in, and wouldn't have expected a love marriage or her husband to be faithful to her. She died on 24 March 1394, aged forty or almost, and was buried at the Collegiate Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady in the Newarke at Leicester, which her husband's first father-in-law Duke Henry had founded and where he (Henry) was buried. The year 1394 took a heavy toll on the women of the English royal family: as well as Constanza, Richard II's queen Anne of Bohemia died at the age of only twenty-eight, and so did Mary de Bohun, wife of Constanza's stepson the future Henry IV and mother of Henry V, who was even younger. Personally, I think Constanza of Castile should be remembered as a heck of a lot more than merely the obstacle standing in the way of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford's Amazing Love Affair, who finally does the decent thing and removes herself from the path of True Love by dying and allowing them to finally fulfil their romantic destiny. She was the daughter, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law of kings, queen of Castile in her own right (even if she never sat on the throne because her uncle murdered her father) and was the great-great-great-grandmother of Mary I Tudor, queen of England, and the great-grandmother of the great Isabel la Catolica, also queen of Castile in her own right and one of the most powerful women of the European Middle Ages.

16 February, 2016

The Date of Birth and Siblings of Philippa of Hainault, Queen of England

King Edward III of England married Philippa of Hainault in York on 24 or 25 January 1328, just about exactly on his parents' twentieth wedding anniversary (Edward II and Isabella of France married in Boulogne on 25 January 1308). The young king was fifteen at the time of his wedding, born on 13 November 1312. Philippa's age and date of birth are unknown for certain; here's a post about it, and about her siblings and their birth order.

The first thing to note is that we do not know Philippa's date of birth for certain. The date often ascribed to her online, including on her Wiki page, is 24 June 1314, but this is merely the date of birth of her eldest sister Margareta wrongly assigned to Philippa coupled with an assumption (a reasonable one, admittedly) that she was born in 1314. I repeat: there is no record of Philippa of Hainault's exact, or even approximate, date of birth, so if you see someone claiming she was born on 24 June 1314, either they've stolen a march on all other historians by finding a contemporary document which records the date (highly unlikely) or they haven't done their research properly (infinitely more likely). Neither was Philippa the second daughter of her parents, as is usually stated. This is based on a statement by the chronicler Jean Froissart, who gives the names of the sisters as Margareta, Philippa, Johanna and Isabella, in that order (in the original spelling, Margerite, Phelippe, Jehanne et Ysabiel). Froissart was wrong; Philippa was the third or fourth daughter of her parents. She also had one brother, Willem, as well as several other siblings who died in infancy and whom I won't deal with here.

Before examining the evidence for Philippa's date of birth and the birth order of her and her sisters, I'm going to take a quick look at her background. Philippa's father was Willem, born in about 1286 or 1287 and count of Hainault and Holland in the Low Countries. He inherited Hainault from his father, grandfather and a long family line of counts of Hainault, and Holland from his father, who had inherited it from his cousin Floris V's son Count Jan I when Jan died childless aged fifteen in 1299, having been married to Edward I and Eleanor of Castile's youngest daughter Elizabeth. Philippa's mother Jeanne de Valois was the third child and second daughter of Charles, count of Valois, brother of Philip IV of France, and his first wife Marguerite of Anjou-Naples. Charles and Marguerite's first daughter Isabelle, who married the future Duke John III of Brittany and died when she was seventeen before her husband succeeded his father, was born in 1292, and their first son King Philip VI of France in 1293. Jeanne therefore was probably born in 1294 or 1295, unless she was a twin of Isabelle or Philip. Three more children – the countess of Blois, the count of Alençon and a daughter who died in infancy – followed Jeanne before the premature death of Marguerite of Anjou-Naples (eldest daughter of Edward I's first cousin Charles, king of Naples, and Marie of Hungary), aged about twenty-six, in 1299. Philippa of Hainault, via her mother, was the niece of Philip VI of France and the great-niece of Philip IV. Her mother was the first cousin of Edward II's queen Isabella, Philip IV's daughter, which meant that Philippa and her husband Edward III were second cousins. Jeanne de Valois and Count Willem of Hainault and Holland married at Chauny in Picardy, northern France on 19 May 1305, the year after Willem succeeded his father. Jeanne cannot have been more than thirteen and was probably only ten or eleven; Willem was about eighteen.

Given Jeanne de Valois's youth at the time of her marriage in 1305, she is unlikely to have given birth much before 1310. She and Count Willem had several children, mostly daughters; establishing their exact number, birth order and the date of birth of their daughter Queen Philippa is tricky. They had a son Willem who was their only son to live past infancy and who died childless in 1345, and Margareta must have been their eldest daughter, as she inherited the counties of Hainault and Holland on the younger Willem's death. Margareta was born on 24 June 1310 or 24 June 1311. This date is based on a famous description of her by Walter Stapeldon, bishop of Exeter, when he visited Hainault in 1319 to negotiate for a marriage between Margareta and Edward of Windsor, the future Edward III of England. The girl described was not Philippa, as is often assumed, though the description has sometimes, bizarrely, been used as 'evidence' that Philippa was England's first black queen, which is absolute nonsense. Stapledon wrote that the girl he met being considered as the future king of England's bride, almost certainly Margareta, though it might also have been Sibilla (see below; Stapeldon would have done us all a big favour if he'd bothered to record the girl's name), would become nine years old at the next Nativity of John the Baptist, which is 24 June. Depending on when in 1319 he wrote this, it means that Margareta was born on or shortly before 24 June 1310 or 24 June 1311. [See Ian Mortimer, The Perfect King, pp. 403-4] 24 June or a little before was Margareta's birthday, not Philippa's.

Margareta, as she ultimately inherited the counties of Hainault and Holland on her brother's death, was certainly the eldest daughter (or in the interests of strict accuracy, let's say at least the eldest surviving daughter) of Willem and Jeanne. This is beyond doubt. The second daughter was not Philippa, however, but Johanna, as the chronicle of 'Willelmi, capellani in Brederode' states: it twice calls Johanna the secunda filia of Count Willem. [Willelmi, capellani in Brederode, postea monachi et procuratoris egmondensis chronicon, ed. Cornelis Pijnacker Hordijk, pp. 145, 244] Margareta and Johanna married in a double wedding in Cologne on 26 February 1324; Philippa wasn't betrothed to Edward of Windsor until August 1326 and married him in January 1328, which also makes it virtually certain that she was younger than Johanna. Margareta married Ludwig or Louis von Wittelsbach, duke of Bavaria and Holy Roman Emperor. She was twelve or thirteen at the time of her wedding in February 1324, depending on whether she was born in June 1310 or June 1311, and Ludwig, born in 1282, was much her senior, older than her parents, in fact. The second sister Johanna married Wilhelm, later duke of Jülich, in February 1324. It is possible, though I'm only speculating here, that Margareta and Johanna were twins, with Margareta the elder and her father's ultimate heir. If not, then Johanna must have been born in 1312 or 1313 and been only ten or eleven at marriage (her husband Wilhelm of Jülich was born in about 1300).

Count Willem of Hainault and Holland had, between 1318 and 1321, been involved in negotiations with King Edward II of England regarding the future marriage of one of Willem's daughters and Edward's son Edward of Windsor, the future Edward III. Although Edward III later married Philippa, she was not the daughter in question at this time, as is sometimes assumed. A marriage between England and Hainault was on the cards sometime before 10 December 1318, when Edward II asked Pope John XXII to issue a dispensation for his son Edward and Willem's daughter Margareta to marry; they needed one as they were second cousins, both great-grandchildren of Philip III of France and Isabel of Aragon. [Foedera 1307-27, p. 381] To complicate matters, however, there was apparently another sister, Sibilla, who on 2 November 1319 was named as the potential future bride of Edward of Windsor, not Margareta, in various letters sent by Edward II. Either Sibilla had been substituted for her sister, or this was an error by Edward II's clerk, who carelessly named the count of Hainault as Robert instead of William in the letters (the count of nearby Flanders was called Robert, so presumably he mixed the names up). [Foedera, p. 405] On 9 November 1320, in a further letter about the potential betrothal of Edward of Windsor into Hainault, Margareta was again named as the future bride, though a frustrated Edward II merely referred to 'your daughter', unnamed, in yet another letter to Count Willem about the matter on 30 March 1321. [Foedera, pp. 437, 446] Edward II was still evidently keen on the alliance well over two years after it was first proposed, but Willem had for some reason grown cold on the idea. The king of England gave up and began negotiating with King Jaime II of Aragon for a match for his son (which ultimately also proved unsuccessful). Her proposed English marriage having failed, Magareta married Ludwig von Wittelsbach in 1324.

Sybil or Sibilla could be used as a pet name for women and girls named Isabella in the fourteenth century, rather than being an independent name. Philippa of Hainault certainly had a sister named Isabella, but she must have been considerably younger than Philippa, as she married Robert of Namur, son of John I, count of Namur. Robert was born in about 1323 or 1326, and is thus unlikely to have married a girl born before 1320, an age gap which would have been considered too great given that it would have limited the number of Isabella and Robert's fertile years together. The Sibilla mentioned in English documents of 1319 may therefore have been yet another sister, and she probably died as a child or adolescent as she does not appear again in any other known source of the period and did not marry. (Unless she was simply a figment of an inattentive English clerk's imagination.) Philippa of Hainault therefore had two or three older sisters, Margareta, Johanna and perhaps Sibilla, as well as a younger sister Isabella, born in the 1320s and perhaps named after her dead older sister Sibilla and ultimately after their great-grandmother Isabel of Aragon, first wife of Philip III of France.

As mentioned above, it is possible that there was a set of twins among the sisters, perhaps Margareta and Johanna (as they married on the same day in 1324) or Margareta and Sibilla (as they were both proposed as brides for the king of England's son), with Margareta as the elder twin who inherited Hainault and Holland. But we don't and can't know that for sure. Their brother, called Willem after their father, married Johanna of Brabant, eldest child and ultimate heir of Edward II's nephew Duke John III of Brabant, but had no children with her. The younger Willem's date of birth is not known; presumably in the mid to late 1310s, or even after 1320. His wife Johanna was born in 1322. Margareta, Johanna and Philippa were the only three Hainault siblings who had children (Johanna's daughter Elisabeth of Jülich married Edward II's nephew John, earl of Kent, the posthumous son of Edward's half-brother Edmund of Woodstock).

1314 seems to me a reasonable year of birth for Philippa of Hainault, though when exactly in that year is impossible to say. Jean Froissart says she was 'on the point of becoming fourteen' when she married Edward III, but as he says that Edward was seventeen at the time when actually he was fifteen and gets the birth order of Philippa and her sisters wrong, we shouldn't necessarily place too much weight on that. Anyway, it seems likely to me that Philippa was about thirteen or fourteen at the time of her wedding in January 1328 and fifteen or sixteen when she gave birth to her eldest child Edward of Woodstock on 15 June 1330. Her youngest child Thomas of Woodstock was born on 7 January 1355, when she would have been forty or so, and she died on 15 August 1369, in her mid-fifties.

14 February, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day!

Courtesy of the Valentine Generator, and remembering this post, here is Isabella of France's Valentine card to her husband Edward II in 1313, using words from my forthcoming biography of Isabella.

To my pious postern gate,

You are the destrier of my Greyfriars Church. I want to consolidate with you more than any drought in the whole cherries.

The first time we suckled, I felt predictable in my arm, and I was so distraught that I could barely banish. I knew that we would bribe together for Terce until Vespers.

Whenever you revoke, it makes me conspire amicably and flaunt like a virile discontent.

I will joust with you unspeakably until the rebellion seizes and the Household Ordinance negotiates.

Enamelled Valentine's Day!

Love, your sulky Lucca cloth.

And, because I'm in a silly mood today, some anagrams, from here:

Edward of Caernarfon
forewarned fad acorn
forwarded farce anon
forwarded fear canon
forwarded oaf canner

Edward II, king of England
reawakening find old dig
reawakening fold gin dig
I faded a rekindling gown
on a faded rekindling wig

Isabella of France, queen of England
a conquerable offending fallen sea
a false conquerable offending lane
no conquerable deafening safe fall

Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall
a waterproofing coveralls lens
waterproofing loveless carnal
waterproofing enclave ass roll

Roger Mortimer, earl of March
refrigerator charm room elm
geometrical harm from error
rigmarole retch reform rom
remarriage chloroform term
lightface armorer mom error

Hugh Despenser, lord of Glamorgan
profoundness haggled her glamor
profoundness herd hog germ gall
profoundness harem hag egg droll

07 February, 2016

Constanza of Castile, Queen of Castile and Leon, Duchess of Lancaster (1)

In this post I'm going somewhat outside my usual blog parameters to write about a Spanish woman who was (to link her to the subject of the blog) Edward II's granddaughter-in-law, the second wife of his grandson John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. I'm writing about Constanza basically because I get sick of the way she's so often ignored in favour of the long-term extra-marital relationship between her husband and Katherine Swynford, and because she's a fascinating person who led a fascinating life. Constanza appears in Anya Seton's wildly popular 1950s novel Katherine as a smelly religious fanatic who makes John of Gaunt's skin crawl because she prays to her dead father and rarely washes. Yuck. Surely she deserves a lot better than that. Constanza was, after all, a person and a very important one, a heck of a lot more than the barely even one-dimensional cardboard cut-out who brought Gaunt a claim to a kingdom and who eventually did the decent thing by conveniently dying so that Gaunt and Swynford could fulfil their fabulously romantic destiny and get married, as she so often appears.

Constanza of Castile was probably born in 1354, and was the elder surviving daughter of Pedro 'the Cruel' (also known as 'the Just'), then the reigning king of Castile, and was the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Edward II's grandfather Fernando III. The Castilian royal family of her era had connections to the English one: Constanza's father Pedro would have married Edward III's second daughter Joan in 1348 had she not died of the plague in the south of France on her way to Castile, and Pedro's father Alfonso XI was betrothed to Edward II's daughter Eleanor of Woodstock in 1324, a marriage which failed to go ahead after Edward's forced abdication in early 1327 changed the political situation. In addition, Edward of Windsor, the future Edward III, was betrothed to Alfonso XI's sister Leonor at the same time.

Pedro 'the Cruel' was born on 30 August 1334 as the only son of Alfonso XI, then twenty-three, and his queen Maria of Portugal. Alfonso and Maria were first cousins on both sides - his father Fernando IV of Castile and her mother Beatriz of Castile were siblings, his mother Constanca of Portugal and her father Afonso IV of Portugal were siblings - which means that they had all four grandparents in common and that their son Pedro had only four great-grandparents instead of the usual eight. Alfonso and Maria's marriage was not a success, and he had a mistress Leonor Guzman, with whom he had ten children. Alfonso XI died in March 1350 at the age of only thirty-eight, and was succeeded by his only legitimate son Pedro. One of the fifteen-year-old new king of Castile's first acts was to have his father's mistress Leonor Guzman killed, an act which a few years later was to have profound implications for Pedro himself and for his daughter Constanza.

Joan of England having died on her way to marry him, Pedro of Castile instead married the French noblewoman Blanche de Bourbon, whose mother was a half-sister of Philip VI of France and whose sister Jeanne de Bourbon married Charles V of France and was the mother of Charles VI. Blanche, however, was not Constanza of Castile's mother: her new husband Pedro imprisoned her days after their wedding, and kept her in prison for eight years until 1361, when she died, either by murder or of natural causes is not certain. (The people who love to moan endlessly about what a horribly bad and neglectful husband Edward II was to Isabella of France might like to think about what this other royal woman had to suffer in marriage in comparison.) Pedro went off with his mistress Maria de Padilla, the mother of Constanza and her younger sister Isabel (born c. 1355). The two girls were declared legitimate by the Cortes of Castile in 1362, after the unfortunate Queen Blanche's death, on the grounds that Pedro had secretly married Maria before he went through a wedding ceremony with Blanche. Constanza and Isabel had a younger brother Alfonso, who would have been Pedro's heir but died in infancy. Constanza as the elder daughter was thus their father's heir. Quite honestly, given how inter-bred Pedro's family was, bringing in the blood of a woman entirely unrelated as their mother surely wasn't a bad thing for his daughters.

The eldest surviving son of King Pedro's ten illegitimate half-siblings, his father's children with the murdered Leonor Guzman, was Enrique of Trastamara, also sometimes known as the Bastard of Trastamara or the Bastard of Castile. Enrique was only seven months older than his legitimate half-brother, born in January 1334. Understandably furious at Pedro's murder of his mother, Enrique fled to France, and to cut a very long story short, with the aid of Charles V of France and Pedro's enemy Pedro IV of Aragon, defeated Pedro at the battle of Montiel in March 1369. A few days later Enrique of Trastamara personally stabbed his half-brother to death. Two years before, Pedro had defeated Enrique at the battle of Najera with the help of Edward III's sons Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales and Aquitaine, and John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. In September 1371 near Mont-de-Marsan in the south of France, John of Gaunt married Pedro's seventeen-year-old elder daughter and heir Constanza, and at some point not long afterwards, his younger brother Edmund of Langley married Constanza's sister Isabel. Gaunt proclaimed himself king of Castile and Leon, though his title was in name only: he never managed to shift Enrique of Trastamara, now King Enrique II of Castile, from the throne.

Constanza and Isabel had been raised at the court of Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales and Aquitaine, since 1366, though had spent their early years in their father's kingdom, probably mostly in Seville, where Pedro built a great palace (the Alcazar). Their mother Maria de Padilla died in Seville in July 1361; she was a noblewoman, and was described in a contemporary chronicle as very beautiful and intelligent, small and slender. King Pedro himself was described as about six feet tall and muscular, with very light blond hair, pale skin and blue eyes. This gives us some idea of what his daughter Constanza might have looked like. (Not six feet tall and muscular, obviously.)

Constanza arrived in England with her new husband John of Gaunt in November 1371. It is easy to imagine that damp chilly England in early winter came as something of a shock to a teenage girl used to the climate of Spain and the south of France. The royal couple sent Constanza's father-in-law Edward III valuable Christmas gifts (W. Mark Ormrod, Edward III, p. 532) and at some point Constanza must have met her stepchildren, John's children with the late Blanche of Lancaster: Philippa, future queen of Portugal, born in 1360; Elizabeth, future countess of Pembroke and duchess of Exeter, born in 1364; and Henry, future king of England, born in 1367.

Constanza and John's only surviving child, Katherine or Catalina of Lancaster, was born sometime before 31 March 1373, when the girl's grandfather Edward III paid twenty marks to the person who had brought him news of her birth, Interestingly, this person was none other than Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt's long-term mistress, whose eldest son with Gaunt, John Beaufort, was born in roughly the same time period as his half-sister Catalina. It's also very interesting that Catalina may even have been named after Katherine Swynford, unless Constanza revered Saint Katherine, or her daughter was born on or around Saint Katherine's feast day, 25 November. Katherine was an unusual name in the English royal family, and had previously only been used for Henry III and Eleanor of Provence's youngest child, who was born on 25 November (i.e. St Katherine's day) in 1253, and her niece, the eldest daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. Both these girls died young, so the name was hardly propitious. At any rate, Constanza sending her husband's mistress to the king with news of her child's birth, knowing that the king would generously reward Katherine for it, hardly hints at any conflict between the two women; quite the opposite. On the other hand, Katherine Swynford continued to bear John's children, the Beauforts, throughout the 1370s, whereas Constanza had no more surviving children.