To mark the publication of my fifth book Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York Before the Wars of the Roses
, due out on Monday 8 October, here's a post about the founder of the House of Lancaster, Edmund of Lancaster. Edmund was Edward II's uncle, his father's only brother, and in fact was the only uncle Edward ever knew (as Queen Eleanor's eleven brothers and half-brothers were either dead by the time Edward was born or far away in Spain).
Edmund of Lancaster was the fourth child and second son of King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, and was born either in London or Westminster on 16 January 1245. He was five and a half years younger than his brother the future King Edward I, born 17 June 1239, and also had two older sisters, Margaret (b. September 1240), later queen of Scotland, and Beatrice (b. June 1242), later married to the eldest son and heir of the duke of Brittany. A younger sister Katherine, born in November 1253 almost nine years after Edmund, died at the age of three and a half, so Edmund was his parents' youngest surviving child. He grew up at Windsor Castle with his siblings, his cousin Marie de Lusignan (daughter of one of Henry III's nine younger half-siblings), and Henry de Lacy, heir to the earldom of Lincoln, whose daughter and heir Alice would marry Edmund's eldest son Thomas decades later.
Like his elder brother, Edmund was named after an Anglo-Saxon royal saint; in this case, the king of East Anglia killed by the invading Danes in 869 (Edward I was named after Edward the Confessor, the king of England who died in 1066 and was made a saint in 1161). Edmund first left England as a nine-year-old in 1254 when his elder brother Edward married Eleanor of Castile in Burgos, northern Spain, and he attended the wedding. On the way back to England, Edmund and his parents visited the French court of King Louis IX and Queen Marguerite, who was Edmund's aunt, his mother Queen Eleanor's older sister. Possibly Edmund met his future second wife Blanche of Artois on this occasion; she was Louis IX's niece. Also present was his maternal grandmother Beatrice of Savoy, dowager countess of Provence, the only grandparent Edmund ever met, and his mother's two younger sisters Sancha (married to his father's brother Richard of Cornwall) and Beatrice (married to Louis IX's brother Charles of Anjou).
In the early 1250s, Pope Innocent IV (born Sinibaldo Fieschi) offered Edmund the throne of Sicily. This was in connection with a long-standing feud the papacy had with Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (1194-1250) long-lasting hostility which continued against Frederick's illegitimate son Manfred, regent and later the king of Sicily. Henry III and Queen Eleanor, delighted at the thought of their second son sitting on a throne even if it was in distant Sicily, pushed very hard for this to come about, but although Henry and Edmund himself referred to Edmund in letters as "king of Sicily" and talked on one occasion about the "second year of his reign" as such, it never happened and Edmund never set eyes on his 'kingdom'. As part of their deeply-felt desire to gain a throne for their son, in April 1256 Henry III and Eleanor of Provence opened negotiations for Edmund to marry the decade-older Plaisance of Antioch, dowager queen of Cyprus and the daughter of Bohemund, prince of Antioch and count of Tripoli. This ultimately did not work out either.
Edmund was overseas during much of 1264/65 when his father King Henry, elder brother Lord Edward and uncle Richard of Cornwall were captured at the battle of Lewes in May 1264 by his uncle-in-law Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester. Edward escaped, raised an army and defeated Simon at the battle of Evesham in August 1265, also without Edmund's participation. A few weeks after Evesham, Henry III granted his second son the late Simon de Montfort's earldom of Leicester, Edmund's first title. In June 1267, the brand-new earldom of Lancaster was created and bestowed on him, and gave his dynasty their name. And in 1269, the earldom of Derby was taken from Robert Ferrers (b. c
. 1239), a man who had switched sides throughout the baronial wars of the 1260s and was trusted by no-one, and was given to Edmund in a piece of unpleasant legal chicanery. Edmund and his sons in fact never called themselves earls of Derby, though they held most of Robert Ferrers' lands, and the next earl of Derby was Edmund's grandson Henry of Grosmont in 1337.
Also in 1269, when he was twenty-four and she only ten, Edmund of Lancaster married the great heiress Aveline Forz. She was the only surviving child of William Forz, earl of Aumale (or Albemarle), who died in 1260 when Aveline was a baby, and Isabella née Redvers, heir of her brother Baldwin Redvers (d. 1262), earl of Devon. This marriage was intended to give Edmund another two earldoms on top of the ones he already had, but sadly Aveline died in November 1274 at the age of only fifteen. Chronicler Nicholas Trivet claims that she bore two children who died, hardly surprisingly given her youth, though there is no other evidence that she did. Before Aveline's death, Edmund of Lancaster had gone on crusade to the Holy Land with his elder brother Edward and numerous English noblemen, though he returned to England well before Edward did and was back home at the end of 1272, a few weeks after his father Henry III died and Edward succeeded him as king. Edward and his wife Eleanor of Castile finally returned to England in August 1274 and were crowned king and queen at Westminster Abbey that month, though Edmund boycotted the ceremony after a row over precedence with his brother. (His sister Margaret, queen of Scotland, did attend.) Edmund and Edward sometimes quarrelled, but Edmund was immensely loyal to his elder brother, remarkably so, given the frequent hostility among royal brothers of the Middle Ages. They had grown up in a close, loving family, and nothing broke the fraternal bond between them as long as they lived, despite occasional irritation on both sides.
At the end of 1275 or beginning of 1276, just over a year after losing Aveline Forz, Edmund married his second wife Blanche of Artois. She was, as noted above, the niece of King Louis IX of France who was Edmund's uncle by marriage, and was the widow of Enrique I, king of Navarre (d. 1274). Her baby daughter Jeanne or Juana (b. 1273) was queen of Navarre in her own right and married the future Philip IV of France in 1284. Edmund and Blanche had three sons. Thomas the eldest, born at the end of 1277 or beginning of 1278 two years after his parents' wedding, would be his first cousin Edward II's nemesis for much of his reign and was executed in 1322. He married the great heiress Alice de Lacy, who brought him the earldoms of Lincoln and Salisbury, in December 1294. Henry, born 1280 or 1281, was the ancestor of all the future Lancastrian dynasty, and died in 1345 at the age of about sixty-five. He married the heiress Maud Chaworth in early 1297 and they had six daughters and one son. John the youngest son of Edmund and Blanche, born sometime before May 1286, lived almost all his life in France and married the French noblewoman Alix Joinville. He died childless in 1317, and his heir was his elder brother Henry.
Via his marriage to Blanche of Artois, Edmund of Lancaster controlled the county of Champagne which was part of her daughter Jeanne's inheritance, and he held it until 1284 and was often acknowledged as count of Champagne in English records. Beginning the late 1270s and continuing until his death in 1296, Edmund spent much time travelling between England and France, and was a respected nobleman on both sides of the English Channel. He supported his brother Edward I loyally in his Welsh wars of the 1270s and early 1280s, and later in Scotland as well. He lost his mother Eleanor of Provence in June 1291, and was one of the executors of her will. Both his sisters, Margaret and Beatrice, had died in 1275, just months after Edmund's first wife Aveline Forz and his nephew Henry, second son of Edward and Eleanor of Castile, had died as well; it was a tragic few months in the English royal family.
In 1294, Edmund of Lancaster's diplomacy failed catastrophically when he was sent to France to negotiate between his brother Edward and the young king of France, Philip IV, whose wife Jeanne of Navarre was Edmund's stepdaughter. The two kings had quarrelled and the quarrel blew up into something very serious. Edmund thought he had found a solution that suited both sides, but Philip IV went behind his back and invaded Gascony, and England found itself at war with France. Edmund was appointed as one of the leaders of his brother's forces to Gascony, but ill health kept him in England long past the time he had wished to sail, and only a few months after he arrived in Bayonne he died there, on 5 June 1296 at the age of fifty-one. Edward I, in Aberdeen, heard of his brother's death on 15 July, and summoned parliament to sit in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk on the feast day of St Edmund, 20 November 1296. This was the king's way of honouring his late brother's memory. Edmund's embalmed remains were taken to England about six months after he died, probably by his widow Blanche of Artois, who certainly returned to England in January 1297 (perhaps just in time to witness her son Henry of Lancaster's wedding to Maud Chaworth). They remained for some time at the convent of the Minoresses without Aldgate in London, a house Edmund and Blanche themselves had founded in 1293.
Edmund of Lancaster was buried at Westminster Abbey on 24 March 1300 - not 24 March 1301 as one chronicler claims - in the presence of his brother Edward I, his widow Blanche of Artois and their sons Thomas, Henry and John, and many English earls, barons and bishops. His tomb, next to his first wife Aveline Forz (1259-74), can still be seen in the abbey. The chronicle of Lanercost in the far north of England called Edmund "a valiant knight and noble, who was genial and merry, generous and pious," and the heralds who wrote a poem of praise to the English knights and lords who took part in the siege of Caerlaverock in 1300 stated that Edmund's second son Henry's objective was to resemble his 'good father' as closely as possible. Edmund of Lancaster never did gain a crown as he and his parents had wished, though he married a queen, and his great-great-great-grandson and heir Henry of Lancaster became king of England 103 years after Edmund's death.