28 March, 2020

Edward II and Jousting

Most unusually for a medieval king, and most unlike his son Edward III who adored it and often participated, there's no direct evidence that Edward II ever jousted. He does, however, seem to have watched the sport on occasion, though perhaps this demonstrates more of an interest in Piers Gaveston, an excellent jouster, than it does in the sport itself. I do wonder why Edward never showed much of an interest in jousting, and perhaps it was because his father was not keen on him competing as he grew up. When Edward of Caernarfon was just two years old in 1286, an important young nobleman was killed while jousting: William de Warenne, son and heir of the earl of Surrey. (He left a baby son, John de Warenne, future earl of Surrey, and a posthumous daughter, Alice, future countess of Arundel.) Duke John I of Brabant, father-in-law of Edward of Caernarfon's sister Margaret (b. 1275), was also killed jousting in 1294 when Edward was eight.

Edward of Caernarfon was the only living son of Edward I for sixteen years, between 19 August 1284, when he was just four months old and his ten-year-old brother Alfonso of Bayonne died, and 1 June 1300, when his half-brother Thomas of Brotherton was born. Edward I had also lost his sons John (1266-71) and Henry (1268-74) in childhood, and it may be that he did not wish to tempt fate by allowing his only surviving son to compete in a sport that could be truly dangerous. I don't know this for sure and might be wrong, of course; Edward II was the most unconventional of medieval kings and loved digging ditches, thatching roofs, working with metal, swimming and rowing, and perhaps his lack of interest in jousting was part of his defiant unconventionality.

Edward II, as king, often banned jousting tournaments, as indeed other medieval kings sometimes did as well, though (to my knowledge) not nearly as often. This says far more about Edward's turbulent reign than it does about his dislike of jousting. Tournaments allowed large groups of armed men to gather, which could be dangerous, and were sometimes used as a cover for more nefarious activities, such as the tournament held in Dunstable in the spring of 1309 which some of Edward's disgruntled barons used as an opportunity to meet and discuss their grievances against him. The Vita Edwardi Secundi states that Thomas, earl of Lancaster used jousting tournaments in the spring of 1312 as a plausible excuse to move large groups of armed men to the north of England, where Edward and Piers Gaveston were skulking, so that he could capture Gaveston.

The chancery rolls of Edward II's reign are full of proclamations forbidding tournaments, though there are also quite a few pardons to knights who had taken part in them "contrary to the king's proclamation," so they were certainly held on occasion. On 1 January 1319, for example, Edward (then in Yorkshire) sent two of his sergeants-at-arms "to arrest all persons attempting to hold a tournament" in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, and a few months later pardoned Sir Francis Aldham, Sir William Baud and Sir Ralph Cobham for taking part in a tournament, perhaps this one. In the autumn of 1323, Edward II permitted the holding of a tournament in Northampton at the request of his half-brothers Thomas and Edmund, then in their early twenties and evidently keen to prove their mettle as jousters. The king subsequently, however, changed his mind and forbade the tournament. No doubt there was much grumbling and gnashing of teeth.

08 March, 2020

The de Clare Sisters

To mark International Women's Day and the publication of my joint biography of the three de Clare sisters, here's a post about them. See also my recent article about them on the History Hit website.

Joan of Acre was born in the port of Acre in the Holy Land sometime in the spring of 1272, and was the second eldest surviving daughter, after Eleanor born in June 1269, of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. In 1278, Joan was betrothed to Hartmann von Habsburg, second son of the German king Rudolf I, but in late 1281 eighteen-year-old Hartmann drowned, and by then his father seemed to have lost interest in the English alliance anyway; he didn't bother to inform Edward I of his son's demise until the following August. On 30 April 1290, aged eighteen or almost, Joan married Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford, who was born on 2 September 1243 and was thus forty-six at the time of the wedding, just four years younger than his father-in-law Edward I. He had previously been married to Edward I's cousin Alice de Lusignan, and had two daughters: Isabella, Lady Berkeley, born 1262, and Joan, countess of Fife, born c. 1264. Both women were a few years older than their new stepmother, and Countess Joan of Fife had borne a son, Duncan MacDuff, in 1289. Gilbert 'the Red' was therefore already a grandfather when he married the teenage Joan of Acre.

Joan became pregnant within about three months of her wedding, and sometime between 23 April and 11 May 1291 gave birth to a son, Gilbert, who immediately became heir to his father's earldoms and vast landholdings in England, Wales and Ireland. Around 14 October 1292, Joan gave birth to her second child and first daughter in Caerphilly Castle, and named her Eleanor (Alianore in contemporary spelling) after her mother Eleanor of Castile (d. November 1290) and grandmother Eleanor of Provence (d. June 1291). Eleanor de Clare's date of birth is based on a comment by a chronicler that Joan of Acre was churched or purified on 23 November 1292.

Joan and Gilbert the Red's third child was a second daughter, named Margaret either after Gilbert's maternal grandmother Margaret de Quincy (d. 1266), countess of Lincoln, his sister Margaret (d. 1312), countess of Cornwall, or Joan's sister Margaret (b. 1275), the king and queen's third surviving daughter, who became duchess of Brabant in 1294. Margaret is the only de Clare sibling for whom we have no recorded date of birth, but in my opinion she was probably born in the spring of 1294, perhaps in Ireland, where Joan and Gilbert spent a few months in 1293/94. Around Christmas 1294 Joan became pregnant again and gave birth to her fourth child and third daughter, Elizabeth, in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire on 14 September 1295. Elizabeth's date and place of birth are given in the Complete Peerage, on an Addenda and Corrigenda page, though frustratingly no source is cited. Elizabeth was just a few weeks old when her father died on 7 December 1295, aged fifty-two, leaving his four-year-old son Gilbert as his sole heir.

Not much is known about the childhoods of the de Clare sisters; they were mere toddlers when their mother scandalously married her second husband, the squire Ralph de Monthermer, without her father's permission in early 1297. Joan of Acre gave birth to the sisters' four half-siblings between c. late 1297 and 1304. Most confusingly, Marie de Monthermer, eldest of the four, married Duncan MacDuff, earl of Fife, a grandson of Gilbert 'the Red' from his first marriage to Alice de Lusignan; for the de Clare siblings, this meant that their half-sister married their half-nephew.

Eleanor de Clare's grandfather Edward I arranged her marriage to the young nobleman Hugh Despenser the Younger (b. late 1280s), and attended the wedding in the palace of Westminster on 26 May 1306, four days after Hugh was knighted with Eleanor's uncle Edward of Caernarfon, prince of Wales, and several hundred others. Eleanor was aged thirteen and seven months, Hugh about seventeen or eighteen, and Eleanor gave birth to their first child in 1308 or the first half of 1309. This was Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser, Edward I's eldest great-grandchild, and Eleanor bore at least another nine Despenser children between 1310 and 1325. A little over a year after Eleanor's wedding, the de Clare sisters' grandfather died and was succeeded by their uncle Edward II, their mother's much younger brother; the four de Clare siblings were all closer in age to their uncle than his sister Joan of Acre was. Joan had passed away in April 1307, a few weeks before her father, leaving her widower Ralph de Monthermer (d. 1325) and her eight children.

Edward II made his beloved Piers Gaveston earl of Cornwall on 6 August 1307, and on 1 November that year arranged his wedding to Margaret de Clare, probably aged thirteen and a half, the oldest unmarried female member of Edward's family. Piers was much older than his new wife, at least in his mid-twenties, and they were to have only one child or at least one surviving child, Joan, named after Margaret's late mother. Joan Gaveston was most probably the child known to have been born to Margaret in York at the beginning of 1312, and the little girl was only five months old when her father was killed on 19 June 1312.

The de Clare sisters' only brother Gilbert married Maud de Burgh, one of the many daughters of the Anglo-Irish nobleman the earl of Ulster, on 29 September 1308, and the day after, his sister Elizabeth married Ulster's son and heir John de Burgh. Like her older sisters, Elizabeth married at thirteen, though did not move to Ireland until she was fourteen. She gave birth to her son William de Burgh the day after her seventeenth birthday in September 1312, and nine months later was widowed. Her son succeeded his grandfather as earl of Ulster in July 1326, married Maud of Lancaster in 1328, and their daughter Elizabeth, born July 1332, was a great heiress and married Edward III's son Lionel of Antwerp. The elder Elizabeth, born 1295, returned to England in early February 1316, and on the day of her return was abducted and married to Theobald de Verdon, born in September 1278 and the widower of Maud Mortimer, with whom he had three daughters. Their marriage lasted for less than six months as Verdon died in July 1316, but he left Elizabeth a month pregnant, and she gave birth to his daughter Isabella in March 1317.

The de Clare sisters' fortunes changed forever on 24 June 1314, when their elder brother Gilbert was killed at the battle of Bannockburn. His widow Maud claimed to be pregnant - for years! - but ultimately Edward II had to admit that his nephew had died without heirs of his body and that Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth were his joint heirs, in line with contemporary English inheritance law. They all inherited lands across England and Wales, and came into more when the dowager countess Maud died in 1320 and her third of her late husband's lands was divided among her three sisters. Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth each had an income of over £2,000 a year and were wealthier than any other woman in England except Queen Isabella.

In late April and early May 1317, Edward II arranged the marriages of his widowed nieces Margaret and Elizabeth to his two current favourites, or infatuations, Sir Hugh Audley and Sir Roger Damory. Elizabeth had only given birth to her second husband's posthumous daughter a few weeks earlier. Sir Hugh Audley was the second son of Sir Hugh Audley Senior (d. 1326) of Stratton Audley, Oxfordshire, and was born around 1291/93; Sir Roger Damory was the second son of Sir Robert Damory (d. 1285) of Bletchingdon, Oxfordshire, and was born perhaps in the early 1280s, though that's just my best guess. Neither man was their father's heir, and they both did astonishingly well to marry two women who were granddaughters of a king and wealthy heiresses.

The Audley marriage resulted in one daughter, Margaret Audley, born probably in the early 1320s and her mother's sole heir after her half-sister Joan Gaveston died in January 1325. Margaret married Ralph Stafford, later the first earl of Stafford, after he abducted her in 1336, and was an ancestor of the Stafford dukes of Buckingham. The Damory marriage resulted in one surviving daughter, Elizabeth, probably also born in the early 1320s, who married John, Lord Bardolf and was an ancestor of the later Lords Bardolf.

Eleanor de Clare's husband Hugh Despenser the Younger began his meteoric rise in his uncle-in-law the king's affections after he was appointed royal chamberlain in 1318. Whatever the nature of Hugh and Edward II's relationship, it was an extraordinarily close one that was only severed by Hugh's execution in November 1326, and there is no doubt that Eleanor was one of her husband and her uncle's closest supporters during their despotic, greedy regime in the 1320s. Her brothers-in-law Hugh Audley and Roger Damory, formerly the king's great favourites but shunted aside by Hugh Despenser, joined the Contrariant rebellion of 1321/22. Audley fought against the king at the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322, and was imprisoned until he escaped sometime in 1326; Roger Damory died of his wounds after fighting against the royal army a few days before Boroughbridge.

Elizabeth de Clare, still only twenty-six, had been widowed for the third time, and never married again in the remaining almost four decades of her life. Her uncle temporarily imprisoned her at Barking Abbey, though released her in November 1322 and restored her to her lands - though some quasi-legal manoeuvres by her brother-in-law Despenser deprived her of some of them, to her utter fury. Margaret, meanwhile, was sent to captivity in Sempringham Priory in Lincolnshire, and was to remain there for the rest of her uncle's reign.