12 April, 2019

The Life and Tragic Death of Alice of Norfolk

A horribly distressing event took place in 1351: a brutal assault on Alice of Norfolk, a niece of Edward II, by her husband Edward Montacute and two of his retainers, which resulted in Alice's death. This was difficult for me to research and write, but Alice and her tragic fate should be remembered, so here's a post about her.

Alice was the younger daughter and co-heir of Edward II's half-brother Thomas of Brotherton (1300-38), earl of Norfolk and earl marshal of England, and his first, rather obscure wife Alice Hales (d. 1330 or before), daughter of the coroner of Norfolk. She was probably born c. 1323/24, as she seems to have been at least fourteen when her father died in the summer of 1338; see below. Alice's older sister Margaret, made duchess of Norfolk in her own right in 1397, was born c. 1322, and they had a brother, Edward of Norfolk, who married Roger Mortimer and Joan Genville's daughter Beatrice in 1329 but died as a child in or before 1334. Alice of Norfolk was a granddaughter of Edward I and his second queen, Marguerite of France, and therefore was a great-granddaughter of Philip III, king of France.

In early 1333, Alice of Norfolk was betrothed to William Montacute or Montagu (b. June 1328, d. June 1397), son and heir of William Montacute (1301-44), earl of Salisbury, though ultimately William married her first cousin Joan of Kent, daughter of Thomas of Brotherton's younger brother Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent. [CPR 1330-4, p. 402; SC 8/278/13885] The younger William was four and a half years old when his father and his putative father-in-law Thomas of Brotherton discussed his future marriage in early 1333, and Alice was some years older. Alice ended up marrying Edward Montacute, uncle of her fiancé of 1333 and the brother of William (b. 1301), earl of Salisbury. Their marriage would end in tragedy.

Edward Montacute was the fourth and youngest son of Sir William Montacute, seneschal of Gascony, who died in 1319, and Elizabeth de Montfort (d. 1354), and had six or seven sisters. The eldest Montacute brother John (d. 1317) was born in 1299, the second, William, earl of Salisbury, in 1301, and the third, Simon, bishop of Ely, probably in 1304 (in November 1318, it was said that he had not yet completed his fifteenth year). Edward Montacute was probably named in honour of either Edward I or Edward II, depending whether he was born before or after 1307, and one of the two kings may have been his godfather. His date of birth is not known, though there is a reference in one of Edward II's accounts to a boat he owned in Gascony in 1318/19 called La Peronelle, and he was old enough in September 1321 that his stepfather Sir Thomas Furnival acknowledged that he owed him £300 (and owed another £300 each to two of Edward's sisters, Hawise and Elizabeth). An entry on the Patent Roll of March 1337 implies that Edward Montacute had then only recently been knighted, which seems rather late. [CCR 1318-23, p. 496; CPR 1334-8, p. 401] He was certainly a good few years older than his wife Alice, most probably at least fifteen years older.

Alice of Norfolk and Edward Montacute were married by 25 August 1338 ("Tuesday before the Decollation of St John the Baptist") when "Margaret the wife of John de Segrave and Alice the wife of Edward de Monte Acuto" were named as the heirs of their recently-deceased father Thomas, earl of Norfolk. [CIPM 1336-46, nos. 195-6] Margaret was then seven months pregnant with her daughter Elizabeth Segrave - mother of Thomas Mowbray (1367-99), first duke of Norfolk - and was probably about sixteen. There's no proof of age for Alice, implying that she was at least fourteen when her father died and thus was of age, as she was already married (married women came of age at fourteen). Alice and Edward Montacute had one son, also called Edward, and four daughters, Audrey or Etheldreda, Elizabeth, Maud and Joan. Audrey was the eldest of the four Montacute daughters, and she and her brother Edward had been born by 13 March 1342, when their parents and their uncle the earl of Salisbury negotiated their future marriages to Lord Mowbray's son and heir John and to Lord Mowbray's daughter Blanche, future Lady Poynings. [BCM/D/1/1/9 and 11] Neither marriage took place, and the young John Mowbray (b. June 1340) married the Montacute siblings' first cousin Elizabeth Segrave (b. October 1338) in or before 1349 (their children weren't born until the 1360s).

It is probably very revealing that not one of the four Montacute daughters was named after Alice of Norfolk herself or her mother Alice Hales, or after her paternal grandmother Queen Marguerite and her sister Margaret. Three of Alice's children, including her only son, died in their teens or earlier, her third daughter Maud became abbess of Barking, and her fourth daughter Joan was the only one who had children. Joan Montacute (b. 1349) married William Ufford, earl of Suffolk (1338-82), but none of their five children had any children, and so Alice of Norfolk's line came to an end. When Alice's son-in-law William Ufford died in 1382, all his and Joan's children, and Joan herself, were already dead and he had no grandchildren. This left Alice's elder sister Margaret (c. 1322-99) and her Segrave/Mowbray descendants as the sole Norfolk heirs. William Ufford held a share of the Norfolk inheritance by the 'courtesy of England' after Joan Montacute's death, and Margaret of Norfolk was named as her niece Joan's heir after Ufford's death.

Alice of Norfolk gave birth to the last of her five children in February 1349, when she was probably twenty-four or twenty-five. Two years and some months later, something terrible happened. The Complete Peerage cites, in the original French, an indictment against her husband Edward Montacute [Complete Peerage, vol. 9, p. 85 note c, citing 'Ancient Indictments', file 114, mem. 3; my translation]:

"Item, that the said Sir Edward, William Dunch, and Thomas, parson of the church of Kelsale, with force and arms feloniously beat [baterount] Alice, daughter of Thomas of Brotherton, cousin of our lord the king, and wife of the said Sir Edward, at Bungay, that is, on the Sunday next after the feast of Saint Botolf in the twenty-fifth year of the reign of the present king, of which assault [baterye] the said Alice fell ill unto death and she died within the year and the day."

Bungay and Kelsale are both in Suffolk. Saint Botolf or Botolph or Botwulf of Thorney was an Anglo-Saxon saint, and his feast day was celebrated on 17 June. This would seem to give a date of 19 June 1351 for the attack on Alice; Edward III's twenty-fifth regnal year ran from 25 January 1351 to 24 January 1352, and 17 June fell on a Friday in 1351, so the next Sunday was the 19th. 

The naming of the parson of Kelsale church in Suffolk as 'Thomas' may be an error; on 5 May 1351, the parson of Kelsale was named as William Botevileyn. [CCR 1349-54, p. 361] Unless, perhaps, William Botevileyn died soon afterwards and the 'Thomas' who took part in the assault on Alice, last name not given, was his successor. Interestingly, a 'Thomas son and heir of William Boteveleyn' is referenced in June 1354, holding part of the Suffolk manor of Newton. [CCR 1354-60, 81] This William Boteveleyn can't be the parson of Kelsale, but surely belongs to the same family. I haven't been able to find William Dunch on record, except that Edward III pardoned him for the assault on Alice; see below.

On 16 November 1351, Alice was called "late the wife of" Edward Montacute on the Patent Roll, and "the two daughters and heirs of Alice", not named, were sent to live in the custody of their paternal grandmother Elizabeth née de Montfort (d. 1354, the long-lived widow of Sir William Montacute, d. 1319, and also widow of her second husband, Thomas Furnival; Elizabeth outlived her son the earl of Salisbury and even her grandson-in-law Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser, lord of Glamorgan). [CPR 1350-4, p. 181] In 1359, Alice's daughters Elizabeth, Maud and Joan were still alive and were then said to be fifteen, thirteen and eleven years old respectively. Joan Montacute, future countess of Suffolk and the wife of William Ufford, was born in Bungay on Monday 2 February 1349 (so in fact was only ten in 1359). She was the youngest of Alice's five children, and was only two years old when her father killed her mother. [CIPM 1352-60, no. 564; CIPM 1361-5, no. 545] Elizabeth the second eldest Montacute daughter was perhaps already married to her husband Walter Ufford when her mother was attacked in 1351, and the two daughters of Alice to be sent to their grandmother were probably the younger two, Maud and Joan, aged four and two. Alice's other children Edward and Audrey (or Etheldreda) Montacute - whose future marriages to the Mowbray siblings had been arranged in 1342 - were alive in June 1349 when they were given permission to choose their own confessors, but dead by 1359. [Papal Letters 1342-62, p. 327]

So from this evidence, it appears that Alice of Norfolk was dead by 16 November 1351, five months after the brutal assault on her, and this is confirmed by an entry on the Fine Roll dated 14 November 1351 which ordered Alice's lands to be taken into the king's hands because she was dead. This order, however, was cancelled and a memorandum was added underneath to the effect that "it is testified that Alice is alive." The order to take her lands into the king's hands was repeated on 30 January 1352, and was not cancelled on this occasion, so apparently poor Alice truly was dead by then. A royal order to the sheriff of Norfolk dated 15 January 1352 to pay some money owing to Alice's stepmother Mary, Thomas of Brotherton's widow, refers to the 'assent' to the payment of Alice's sister Margaret and of Alice herself, and their husbands John Segrave and Edward Montacute. [CFR 1347-56, pp. 288, 345; CCR 1349-54, p. 459] It is most unlikely that Alice, probably in a coma or unconscious, was in any position to give assent to anything, but the order does not refer to her as being dead. She did not have much longer to live, however: her lands were taken into the king's hands on 30 January, and on 10 February the escheator in Norfolk and Suffolk was ordered "not to intermeddle with the lands" which Edward Montacute "holds by reason of the death of Alice his wife." Montacute had already performed homage for the lands to Edward III by then. [CCR 1349-54, pp. 411-12; CCR 1354-60, p. 222] An entry on the Patent Roll of 15 February 1352 refers to "Alice wife of Edward de Monte Acuto, deceased." [CPR 1350-4, p. 230]

It would seem, therefore, that the astonishingly violent attack on Alice by her husband, William Dunch and Thomas of Kelsale - who, lest we forget, was a parson and a man of religion - took place on or around 19 June 1351, and that Alice lingered for a few months afterwards. On 14 and 16 November 1351, royal clerks heard that she was dead, which she seemingly was not, and she did not die until a couple of months later. Had she perhaps lapsed into a coma that November? And her husband and attendants wrongly believed her to be dead and informed the authorities, then later realised their error? The wording of the indictment against the three men talks about force et armes, i.e., Montacute and the other two thugs didn't merely beat Alice with their fists, they launched a full-out assault on her with weapons. Alice of Norfolk, from the evidence above, would seem to have passed away sometime between 15 and 30 January 1352, about seven months after this brutal assault.

The reasons for Montacute's assault on his wife are unknown. One would assume that he was furiously angry for some reason. Michael Packe's biography of Edward III published a few decades ago suggests that Alice of Norfolk had an affair with her cousin the king and that her husband beat her to death when she confessed it to him. This is simply a garbled and, in my view, misguided attempt to explain chronicler Jean le Bel's claim that Edward III raped the countess of Salisbury, whom le Bel wrongly calls Alice (her name was Katherine, née Grandisson, the wife of William Montacute, 1301-44). There is no evidence whatsoever that Alice cheated on her husband with Edward III or indeed with anyone else, and to me, this is a deeply unpleasant piece of victim-blaming which maligns the reputation of a woman who suffered a terrible death. Whether intended or not, it comes across to me as "Well, she asked for it." The timing is also massively wrong: the supposed rape of the countess of Salisbury (and I don't believe Edward III actually did rape her) is meant to have taken place early in the 1340s, whereas the attack on Alice took place ten years later. Given the regular pattern of Alice's childbearing throughout the 1340s and that she was still only about twenty-seven in 1351, perhaps she was pregnant again or had recently given birth at the time of the attack, though if so, there was no surviving child. Was Montacute angry that Alice gave birth to a fifth daughter in 1351, when he had hoped for a second son to secure his line? Had their only son Edward perhaps already died before 1351? I can only speculate. It goes without saying, or at least it should, that full responsibility for the assault lies with Montacute and we should not try to find ways of blaming Alice for bringing it upon herself.

Edward Montacute married again at an uncertain date in or before 1358, to a woman called Joan, whose parentage is unknown. Imagine having to marry a man who'd beaten his first wife to death; how horrible. Montacute and Joan had a son in 1361, inevitably also called Edward, Montacute's second son named after himself, and a daughter in c. 1359, called Audrey or Etheldreda, Montacute's second daughter of this name. Edward Montacute, the wife-killer, died on 14 July 1361. I can't help hoping that his death was a slow and unpleasant one. Fortunately for her, his second wife Joan outlived him. Montacute's and Joan's son Edward was his only surviving son and was duly named as his heir, and was only seven weeks old in late July 1361. The little boy died less than three months after his father, on 4 October 1361. Two-year-old Audrey Montacute was named as her brother's heir in his IPM, though her twelve-year-old half-sister Joan Ufford née Montacute, future countess of Suffolk, was heir to her mother Alice's lands which Edward Montacute had held by the 'courtesy of England'. Montacute's two children from his second marriage were not Alice of Norfolk's children, so had no claim to the Norfolk inheritance. [CIPM 1361-5, nos. 140-41] Alice's second daughter Elizabeth, married to Walter Ufford, died around 29 September (Michaelmas) 1361 aged about seventeen, and left no children. [CIPM 1361-5, no. 516] Alice's third daughter Maud "has taken the habit of religion" at Barking Abbey in Essex, and thus Alice's youngest child Joan Ufford was her sole heir. [CCR 1360-4, p. 444; CIPM 1361-5, no. 516] On 14 February 1363, even though she had only turned fourteen years old twelve days before, Joan Ufford née Montacute was said to be pregnant by her almost twenty-five-year-old husband. *sigh* [CCR 1360-4, p. 455] Given that her father beat her mother to death and that her younger sister became pregnant when she was still only thirteen, it's hard to blame Maud Montacute for not wanting to have anything to do with men and marriage, and she entered Barking Abbey in or before 1362. Her mother's cousin Edward III confirmed her election as abbess of Barking on 20 April 1377, two months before he died, and she held the position until her death shortly before 5 October 1393; she followed two of her aunts, her father's sisters Maud and Isabella Montacute, in the role. [CIPM 1361-5, no. 516; CPR 1374-7, pp. 449-50; CPR 1391-6, p. 317]

Despite the indictment cited in the Complete Peerage and translated above, I am unaware of any punishment being meted out to Alice of Norfolk's husband and the other thugs who assaulted her with their fists and with weapons, and killed her. One of Alice's murderers, William Dunch(e) of Bungay in Suffolk, was pardoned by her cousin Edward III on 4 June 1361 "for the death of Alice daughter of Thomas of Brotherton late wife of Edward de Montagu" because of his "good service done in the war of France." [CPR 1361-4, p. 26] So that's nice then. He's a competent soldier so let's just forget that he beat a woman, the king's own cousin, to death. On 15 February 1352, probably just a few weeks after poor Alice finally - and perhaps mercifully - slipped away seven months or so after the vicious attack on her, Edward III granted her widower and killer Montacute the marriage rights of his and Alice's daughters, "as a special grace", as normally such rights belonged to the king. [CPR 1350-4, p. 230] And as noted above, before 10 February 1352 Montacute did homage to the king for his late wife's lands and was allowed to keep all of them. Alice of Norfolk was a first cousin of Edward III, but he willingly did the man who beat her to death a great favour out of his 'special grace'. So there we go. 

Even a woman who was a granddaughter, niece and first cousin of kings could be murdered with impunity by her husband. I'm no expert on medieval law, but I imagine it would have been well nigh impossible to charge a man with the murder of his wife, given that she was basically his property. There are times when I really hate the fourteenth century.


Undine said...

So not only did the SOB get clean away with it, but from what you say, it sounds like the king virtually endorsed the murder. Unbelievable.

And poor Joan. I'll bet she didn't draw one easy breath during her marriage to Montacute.

Kathryn Warner said...

Exactly :( Even if Montacute couldn't legally be punished, he could have been frozen out in some way, but it seems that Edward III almost rewarded him.

sami parkkonen said...

Edward III was not a nice man. He is considered a great king by many but he was a man to whom violence,war etc. were of great interest. If these men had conducted themselves well in the war, he naturally saw them as good guys. It is often forgotten that many a soldier in the medieval armies were outlaws, criminals and murderers who were pardoned once they signed up. Some of the best archers in Henry V army at Agincourt were know criminals and killers and they received their freedom and decent salary once they joined in.

Chris K said...

Hi Kathryn - I've read several of your books and have followed your blog for the last several years. I'm like the majority of your subscribers, i.e., we read and enjoy but hardly comment. One of the aspects of your blogs I really enjoy is the degree of personalization you impart - this was a difficult read for us although not a difficult as it was for you to research and write. Thank you for the tribute to Alice of Norfolk, she deserves to have her history retold as the men around her certainly did her no favors. The great lesson - and one that is as appropriate today as ever - is she was a victim, and regardless of her actions, certainly never deserved her fate. Thank you for bringing her back to life for us - I really look forward to your blog entries appearing in my inbox.

Kathryn Warner said...

Sami, I have to agree. i admire Edward III in many ways but I don't like him.

Chris, thank you so much! So glad you enjoy the blog.

Emőke Kovács said...

I think now I'll appear very insensitive when I say that the most surprising and incomprehensible aspect of this story for me was not the fact that Montacute wasn't punished. Any kind of even slightly political advantage may well have overruled justice, although it is actually surprising that the assault was this well-documented. One would assume if the "incident" was to be overlooked, it would have been easier to hush it up altogether. However, what I can't help wondering is how come there were three (!) men involved in the attack. Alice must have been a mighty opponent...