27 August, 2017

Dates of Birth in the Fourteenth Century

With the exception of royal children, whose dates of birth were usually, though not invariably, recorded - we don't know exactly when Edward II's queen Isabella of France or her brother Philip V were born, for example - dates of birth in the fourteenth century were mostly only recorded when someone inherited land. So if a person didn't inherit land, we don't know when they were born, and even when they did inherit land, we still don't always know when they were born. Edward II's first cousins Thomas and Henry of Lancaster, for example, were the greatest landowners in the realm and royal on both sides of the family, but we don't know their dates of birth: 1277/78 and 1280/81 respectively are the best guesses. And they were the sons and heirs of Edward I's brother Edmund and the brothers-in-law of Philip IV of France, hence pretty important. Henry's son Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster was probably the richest man in England in the fourteenth century, or at least the second richest after his brother-in-law the earl of Arundel, but his date of birth can only be estimated as sometime between about 1308 and 1314. Ish. Sometimes you get lucky and an important noble person's date of birth was written down by a local chronicler or monk - the chronicle of Wigmore Abbey is pretty useful for the Mortimer family, for example.

Generally, when a tenant-in-chief died and his or her heir was underage, the heir's age was recorded, either in the tenant's Inquisition Post Mortem or in the heir's proof of age when they reached 14 or 15 (women)* or 21 (men) and could take over their own lands, or both. For example: Henry, Lord Percy died in October 1314, and in his IPM his son Henry was said to have turned 13 at the last Feast of the Purification, which is 2 February (though the jurors of some counties thought he was as old as 15). The younger Henry proved his age after he turned 21, and there his date of birth was specifically recorded as 6 February 1301 - or rather, to be completely accurate, it was recorded as 6 February in Edward I's twenty-ninth regnal year.

We don't know the date of birth of Hugh Despenser the Younger even though he was the most powerful man in the country for much of the 1320s, because he never inherited his father's lands (the Despensers being executed within a month of each other in 1326), but we do know the date of birth of his older half-sister Maud Chaworth because she was the heir of her father Patrick and he died when she was a baby: on or around 2 February 1282. This, again, is the Feast of the Purification. Jurors on IPMs generally just gave the nearest major feast day to the heir's actual birthday, so as with Henry Percy above, Maud Chaworth may not have been born exactly on 2 February. The date of birth of Hugh the Younger's nephew Philip Despenser is known, ditto that of another nephew of his, Amaury St Amand, as their fathers died when they were underage and they inherited their lands. Hugh Despenser the Elder's date of birth is also known, 1 March 1261, because he was the heir of his mother Aline Basset and his father's cousin John Despenser, and they died in 1281 and 1275 respectively before he turned 21. Edward I's eldest grandchild Gilbert de Clare, heir to his father the earl of Gloucester and Hertford, was born between 23 April and 11 May 1291, according to his parents' IPMs.

* 14 if they were already married, 15 if not.

Some other examples: Isabella Verdon, daughter of Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare, was born on 21 March 1317, and proved her age on 20 February 1332; she was one of the four daughters and co-heirs of Theobald Verdon. Her older half-sister Margery Verdon was born on 10 August 1310 and proved her age on 10 March 1327. Philippa of Clarence, only child and heir of Edward III's second son Lionel and the great heiress Elizabeth de Burgh the younger, was born on 16 August 1355 and proved her age on 24 August 1369. Henry Percy, above, was born on 6 February 1301 and proved his age on 26 February 1323. John, Lord Mowbray was born on 29 November 1310 and proved his age on 31 July 1329 (he was allowed to take over his lands several years early as a special favour). Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, was born around 2 or 14 February 1314: the IPM of his father Guy in August 1315 stated that he had turned one at the Purification or the feast of St Valentine last past. Edmund Mortimer, third earl of March, was born around 25 January or 2 February 1352.

Edward II's half-brother Edmund, earl of Kent, had three or possibly four children: Edmund, John, Joan and perhaps (or perhaps not) Margaret. The younger Edmund died in infancy in 1331 and never inherited his father's title and lands, and hence his date of birth was never recorded. John the younger son proved his age when he was 21 in 1351 and demonstrated that he was born on 7 April 1330, nineteen days after his father's execution. He died on 27 December 1352, childless, and his heir was his elder sister Joan, later the mother of Richard II. The jurors on John's IPM stated that Joan had turned either 25 or 26 at the feast of St Michael in 1352, i.e. she was born around 29 September in 1326 or on the same date in 1327. She was not born in 1328; this was a mathematical miscalculation someone made decades ago when looking at John's IPM, which has been repeated ever since. This does at least give an indication as to which historians actually bother to look at the primary source evidence and work out Joan's correct date of birth rather than just endlessly repeating the error or wrongly claiming that there is no evidence for when she was born - in short. Even a new biography of her states that her date of birth is not known. Errrrrm. Joan was either the eldest or the second Kent child, and if she was born in September 1326 she was certainly the eldest and born almost exactly nine months after her parents' wedding. Somewhat curiously, though, Edward II's other half-brother Thomas of Brotherton, earl of Norfolk, left his two daughters Margaret and Alice as his heirs when he died in 1338, but their dates of birth were not recorded. Margaret gave birth to her first child in 1338, so is unlikely to have been born after 1322 or 1323. It's always a bit of a lottery with dates of birth and whether we know them or not. Mostly we don't. We do know when Thomas and Edmund were born as they were sons of a king: 1 June 1300 and 5 August 1301.

As I've pointed out here before, IPMs are incredibly helpful evidence, but they are also often annoyingly vague: Edward I's cousin Aymer de Valence was, according to the evidence of his mother's IPM, somewhere between 24 and 37 in 1307. Haha. He was over the age of 21, so to the jurors, it didn't matter a great deal. Thomas of Lancaster's IPM was belatedly held in 1327 five years after his execution, and his brother and heir Henry was said to be '30 and more' or '40 and more'. He was actually about 46 then. Often jurors would just say that the heir was 'of full age', which ultimately was really all that mattered. The Staffordshire jurors on the IPM of Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster, said confidently in 1361 that his younger daughter Blanche had turned nineteen at the last Feast of the Annunciation, i.e. she was born on or around 25 March 1342, but a year later at the IPM of Blanche's sister Maud said that Blanche was '22 and more' in 1362 and thus contradicted themselves. Oh thank you. (It is impossible for Blanche to have been 22 or more in 1362.)

For the overwhelming majority of the population, dates of birth didn't matter a great deal or make much difference to anything and were never recorded. I love fourteenth-century proofs of age - see here, here, here and here - for the lovely insights into how people remembered things. 

1 comment:

sami parkkonen said...

This is a bit confusing but what I love about this is that all this information provides us a glimpse of the way people saw the life in general: what is important about an individual and what is not.