14 June, 2018

The Dates of Birth of Joan and Elizabeth Comyn

In a post a few months ago about the marriage of the Scottish noblewoman Elizabeth Comyn and the English knight Sir Richard Talbot, I stated that I did not know where Elizabeth's exact date of birth was recorded. I've now found it, and her elder sister Joan's as well.

CIPM 1317-27, no. 697, is an inquisition dated 8 June 1326 into two manors in Northumberland formerly held by Sir John Comyn (d. 1314), son and heir of John 'the Red Comyn', lord of Badenoch (killed by his rival Robert Bruce in 1306) and now rightfully belonging to the younger John's two sisters and heirs, the other two children of John the Red Comyn. It states that Joan de Strathbogie née Comyn, countess of Atholl, was 'aged 30 on 10 May last,' and that Elizabeth Comyn was 'aged 26 at the feast of All Saints, 19 Edward II.' That means that Elizabeth was twenty-six on 1 November 1325 and thus was born on (or around) 1 November 1299, and her sister Joan was three and a half years older, born on 10 May 1296. The date of birth of Joan and Elizabeth's brother Sir John Comyn is nowhere recorded, to my knowledge. Perhaps he came between Joan and Elizabeth in the birth order, and was therefore born in 1297 or 1298, or he might have been older than Joan and thus was born in 1295 or earlier. He and his wife Margaret Wake had a son Aymer Comyn who died in 1316, but Aymer's date of birth isn't known either; he might have been several years old when his father fell at Bannockburn in June 1314, or just weeks or months old, or he might have been posthumous. Elizabeth Comyn's husband Richard Talbot is yet another man for whom we have no date of birth, though he is usually assumed to have been born in the early 1300s, perhaps 1302 or 1305. It seems almost certain that he was some years younger than his wife.

Another inquisition held a few weeks later on 24 July 1326 repeats that Joan de Strathbogie was eighteen when her brother John Comyn was killed at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314 and that she had outlived him by more than eleven years and was now dead, and that Elizabeth was fourteen when her brother died and was now twenty-six. The inquisition of 8 June 1326 states that Joan and Elizabeth 'are' John Comyn's heirs, in the present tense, so this seems to indicate that Joan died after 8 June and before 24 July 1326. Joan's inheritance passed to her son David de Strathbogie, said to be eighteen and a half years old on 24 July 1326. This would place his birth around the beginning of 1308, which would mean that Joan was not even twelve when her son was born. This seems vanishingly unlikely. The IPM of Joan's husband David de Strathbogie the elder, earl of Atholl, was ordered on 25 January 1327 - he died on 28 December 1326 - and records that the younger David was 'aged 20 on the feast of St Hilary last.' [CIPM 1317-27, no. 759] That would put his date of birth as 13 January 1307, i.e. when his mother (b. May 1296) was not even eleven, so that cannot possibly be correct. Other jurors on the elder David's IPM in March 1327 said that the younger David had turned eighteen at the last feast of the Purification, i.e. 2 February 1327, which would mean that David was born around 2 February 1309. His own proof of age, taken 4 April 1330 (CIPM 1327-36, no. 302), also seems to indicate that he was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne on 1 February 1309, though it is somewhat defaced. This still means that Joan de Strathbogie née Comyn was a terribly, painfully young mother, assuming that her age as confidently stated in the inquisitions of June and July 1326 is correct. Maybe it isn't and she was actually somewhat older. I certainly hope so.


Anonymous said...

Great post. Is there any possibility that David was actually not Joan's son? For example, if she married when David was quite young, could she be mistaken for his mother when she was really his stepmother? Also, I know that Lady Margaret Beaufort was also married, widowed and a mother before she was 14; was motherhood so young something more or less common in Joan's era than in Margaret's?


Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Esther! David was Joan's heir, so he must have been her biological son - if she had no children of her own, only step-children, her sister Elizabeth and Elizabeth's Talbot children would have been her heirs.

I can think of a couple of contemporary examples of girls giving birth at fourteen - Edward II's elder daughter Eleanor of Woodstock was one - but not at thirteen. I know Margaret Beaufort did, but she's a very rare example.

sami parkkonen said...

Once again, staggering amount of detailed info.