22 February, 2019

Eleanor of Lancaster, Lady Beaumont and Countess of Arundel

Eleanor of Lancaster was the fifth of the six daughters of Edward II's first cousin Henry of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster and Leicester. Here's a post about her.

Eleanor was born around 1316 or 1318 to Maud Chaworth (1282-1322), heir of her father Patrick (d. 1283), and the older half-sister of Hugh Despenser the Younger via their mother Isabella Beauchamp. Eleanor's father was Henry of Lancaster (b. 1280/81), who at the time of her birth was the heir of his older brother Thomas and who became earl of Leicester in 1324 and earl of Lancaster in 1327, after the death of his wife Maud Chaworth. Eleanor's older sisters were: Blanche, who married Lord Wake in 1316; Isabella, who entered Amesbury Priory in 1327 and later became its prioress; Maud, who married the earl of Ulster in 1327; and Joan, who married Lord Mowbray in 1328. Her younger sister was Mary, who married Henry, future Lord Percy in 1334, and she also had an older brother, Henry of Grosmont, who was their father Henry, mother Maud and uncle Thomas's heir. Eleanor may have been born in the year when her uncle Thomas, earl of Lancaster, made a peace settlement with his cousin Edward II in the village of East Leake near Loughborough on 9 August 1318. The seven Lancaster children were widely spaced: Blanche the eldest was born around 1302/5 and married in 1316 - so was almost certainly already married by the time her sister Eleanor was born - and Mary the youngest was born around 1320. Henry of Grosmont, the only boy, was born around 1310 or 1312, in the middle of six sisters. Whether or to what extent Eleanor knew her uncle Thomas is unknown, but she must have been aware that he was the wealthiest nobleman in the country, and she might just have been old enough to remember his execution in March 1322.

Sometime in September or October 1330 - that is, mere weeks before the downfall of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer - Eleanor of Lancaster married. Her new husband was John Beaumont, born on or around Christmas Day 1317 and thus about the same age as Eleanor herself, and twelve going on thirteen years old when they wed. He was the eldest son and heir of Henry, Lord Beaumont, a French nobleman who spent most of his life in England, and Alice Comyn, niece and heir of the earl of Buchan (d. 1308). John Beaumont's father was not in England at the time of his son's wedding; he had been forced to flee abroad after taking part in Henry of Lancaster's brief rebellion against Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer in late 1328/early 1329. He returned in late 1330 after Edward III overthrew his mother and Mortimer and pardoned all the English exiles on the continent. Also in 1330, in June or a little earlier, Eleanor of Lancaster's brother Henry of Grosmont married Isabella Beaumont, sister of Eleanor's husband.

Eleanor of Lancaster and John Beaumont's only child was Henry, born probably in late 1339 nine years after their wedding, when they were in their early twenties. He was named after both their fathers. Little Henry Beaumont was born in the duchy of Brabant, where his parents spent much time with Edward III and his queen, Philippa of Hainault, between 1338 and 1340. Heirs to lands in England, Wales and Ireland had to be born 'within the allegiance of the king of England', but because Edward and Philippa were thoroughly enjoying the company of the young Lancaster/Beaumont couple, when it became apparent in 1339 that Eleanor was pregnant, the royal couple persuaded her to stay on the continent with them rather than returning to England for the birth. This was to cause young Henry Beaumont legal problems in 1349 when his grandmother Alice Comyn died and he should have been returned as her heir (as the only son of her eldest son), but was not because his late father John had no heir of his body born within the allegiance of the king of England, i.e. England itself, Wales, Ireland or Gascony. In 1351, Edward III changed the law and Henry duly came into his inheritance when he was of age.

I wrote a post a few months ago about the death in 1342 of John, Lord Beaumont, who outlived his father by only two years and died at the age of twenty-four when his son was two and a half. Edward III was hugely fond of his cousin Eleanor of Lancaster, and allowed her to hold all the lands her husband had owned (the Beaumont inheritance minus the dower of John's mother Alice, who outlived him) rather than the third of it that was customary for widows. There is much evidence in the chancery rolls of Edward III's high regard and great affection for his kinswoman Eleanor; she interceded with him on many occasions and he granted her appointments and favours. Not only were Edward III and Eleanor closely related - she was the granddaughter of Blanche of Artois (d. 1302) from Blanche's second marriage and Edward was Blanche's great-grandson from her first - but their families intermarried. Eleanor's niece Elizabeth de Burgh, her sister Maud's daughter, married Edward and Queen Philippa's second son Lionel of Antwerp; another of her nieces, her brother Henry of Grosmont's daughter and ultimate heir Blanche of Lancaster, married the royal couple's third son John of Gaunt.

Eleanor married her second husband Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (b. c. 1313) on 5 February 1345 at Ditton in Buckinghamshire in the presence of Edward III and Queen Philippa. Arundel's first marriage to Eleanor's first cousin Isabella Despenser had been annulled a few weeks previously, which made Arundel and Isabella's son Edmund illegitimate. (I wrote a lot more about all this in my book Blood Roses, and there's lots more about Eleanor and her family in there too.) Eleanor was almost certainly already having a relationship with Arundel before his marriage to Isabella Despenser was annulled, but there is no reason to suppose that it began while John Beaumont was alive, as claimed by the Foundations for Medieval Genealogy website (see here and here). In widowhood Eleanor sometimes referred to herself by her first husband's family name, which implies that she remembered him with great affection. Other people, including her second husband, tended to refer to her as 'Alianore de Lancastre'.

Eleanor may already have been pregnant with her eldest child by Arundel in July 1345 when she asked the pope to legitimise their issue, present and future. In apparent birth order, as stated by an entry on the Fine Roll in the early 1400s, her Arundel children were: Joan, countess of Hereford, born late 1345 or early 1346; Richard, earl of Arundel, born before 1 March 1347; Alice, countess of Kent; John, marshal of England; and Thomas, bishop of Ely, then archbishop of York and later of Canterbury, who was twenty years old in August 1373 and was Eleanor's youngest child. Her elder daughter Joan married Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford, Essex and Northampton, a great-grandson of Edward I, and Joan and Humphrey were the maternal grandparents of Henry V. Eleanor's younger daughter Alice married Thomas Holland, earl of Kent, half-brother of Richard II, and they were the ancestors of, well, basically everyone, including Edward IV and Richard III. Eleanor of Lancaster's younger son John had seven children, and although most of them did not have children of their own, his eldest son John (b. 30 November 1364 when his father must have been painfully young) married Elizabeth Despenser, a great-granddaughter of Hugh Despenser the Younger, and their descendants became earls of Arundel. Eleanor's elder son Richard's male line ran out when his only surviving son, Earl Thomas, died without legitimate offspring in 1415, but Richard's daughters Eleanor Mowbray and Joan Beauchamp had plenty of descendants, including the Mowbray and Howard dukes of Norfolk and the earls of Ormond. Eleanor of Lancaster's eldest child Henry Beaumont died before she did, in September 1369, leaving his eight-year-old son John as the Beaumont heir, and the Beaumont line continued for many more generations. Eleanor's daughter Joan de Bohun was the last survivor of her children, living until 1419 when she was over seventy, six years into the reign of her grandson Henry V.

Eleanor of Lancaster, countess of Arundel, died on 11 January 1372, at the age of 54 or thereabouts, and was outlived by two of her older sisters - Blanche, Lady Wake (d. 1380), and Maud, dowager countess of Ulster (d. 1377). The effigies in Chichester Cathedral which can still be seen today and which inspired Philip Larkin's brilliant poem 'An Arundel Tomb' are usually assumed to be Eleanor and her second husband the earl of Arundel.


Carolyn Grace said...

Thank you! I've been wanting to know more about the broad responsible for deligitimizing my ancestor, Edmund Despenser. I'm SURE I'd be an aristocrat today if she hadn't.😉 ;-)

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Carolyn! Sorry to hear that Eleanor deprived you of your rightful aristocratic position! :-D

sami parkkonen said...

Once again a staggering amount of info. These family trees make a wild mangrove forest look like a geometric baroque garden.