25 September, 2020

Your Application To Join The Official Victimhood Group Is Rejected

This meeting of the Official Victimhood Rejectees was written jointly by Michèle Schindler and me, and follows on from this post about Isabella of France, the Great Victim. Another person for whom victimhood and enormous suffering is often claimed for multiple reasons is Anne Neville, Richard III's wife and queen. She has, so Michèle tells me, been called a victim for, firstly and most importantly, having an arranged marriage to Edward of Lancaster, a marriage that might, if things had turned out differently, have made her a queen a dozen or so years before she actually did become one. Having one's marriage arranged to a person of similar or higher rank was pretty normal for a person of her status and era, you might think, and Anne's own father Richard Neville was married off to her mother Anne Beauchamp when he was *six* and she was eight, yet he's somehow not a victim or a pawn because of that. Anne is also portrayed as a victim for 2) being crowned queen of England, an exhausting ceremony for someone so terribly frail and sickly; 3) for being terribly frail and sickly, an assumption for which there is no evidence except that she died in her late twenties; 4) for having miscarriages, for which there is also no evidence; 5) for only giving birth once but 6) also for being forced to give birth at all, and 7) for having to be parted from her son for a month at one point when she voluntarily left for London. Numbers 5 and 6 also apply to Isabella of France, who's endlessly pitied for her sporadic sex life (as though we have any way of knowing how often she and Edward had sex) and for the fact that Edward gave her only four children, but who is also pitied for being Edward's 'brood-mare' and for being forced to bear a king's children when this daughter of the king of France and the queen of Navarre was, I dunno, dying to leap into bed with a latrine-cleaner instead or something.

By stark contrast to the frequently-pushed and grossly exaggerated victimhood of Queen/Saint Isabella and Anne, it sometimes seems that suffering endured by others not appointed Official Victims is met with, at best, indifference, and at worst what sometimes seems to be verging on actual callousness. So here is a meeting of the Rejected Applicants for Official Victimhood, some by me and some by Michèle.


Eleanor of Woodstock: Hello, people. I sent off an application a few years ago to be appointed an Official Victim. I pointed out that my brother married me off to a mere count when I wasn't even fourteen yet, after my dad had promised to make me a queen in Spain, and that the count was decades older than me and had four children already. He made me pregnant not long after the wedding and I gave birth to my first son when I was still only fourteen. Then, the git tried to repudiate me on the false grounds that I had leprosy and humiliated me in front of everyone. I thought I had a great case, but I didn't hear anything from the committee for months, so wrote again. Finally they responded by sending me back my application with the words "Rejected because you are not your tragic mother, the victimiest victim who was ever victimised, and therefore nobody cares" written across it.

Joan of the Tower: Same thing happened to me, sis. I applied on the grounds that, as everyone weeps and wails over our mum being betrothed to Dad when she was a little kid, I should be an Official Victim, given that Mum married me off to that horrid brat David Bruce when I'd just turned seven. After we grew up, he cheated on me constantly, and allowed his mistress Katherine to wield so much influence that some of his desperate barons had her assassinated. I pointed out in my application that this was pretty much what happened with Piers Gaveston, and that if my mum is an Official Victim, I should be too, because, well, it's the same situation, isn't it? But no, I was turned down because David is straight, and his cheating on me with women therefore doesn't count and doesn't matter, and also because I'm not my mother and not the most special, important, amazing, beautiful, desirable and tragic royal woman who has ever lived. I'm somehow not a helpless tragic pawn either, despite being sent at the age of seven to live in a kingdom I'd been raised to believe was my country's enemy so that my mum and my father-in-law could make a peace settlement.

Blanche de Bourbon, queen of Castile: When I applied, on the grounds that Pedro imprisoned me, aged fourteen, within days of our wedding while he went off with his pregnant mistress, and that I died having never regained my freedom eight years later, I was also rejected. They told me that Edward II greeted Piers Gaveston with excessive enthusiasm at Dover and soon afterwards only spoke a few words to tragic, long-suffering Isabella of France at their coronation banquet, and that this is clearly the most appallingly cruel and abusive treatment that any human being has ever inflicted on another. By comparison, a representative of the Official Victimhood organisation told me, being kept in solitary confinement for eight years and then murdered is absolutely nothing and there isn't one single iota of sympathy whatsoever left over for me.

"If you need help coping with your dread that a nobleman is wearing a piece of jewellery and laughing, I'm here for you, sis. Thoughts and prayers at this difficult time. Oh wait, I've just remembered, the story that Edward gave your presents to Piers was invented in the nineteenth century and never actually happened. There you go then, sorted."

Constanza of Castile: I was a king's daughter whose marriage to a king's son was arranged in 1371, and when I arrived in England as a teenager, I found that my husband, John of Gaunt, was deeply in love with Katherine Swynford and had four children with her over the next few years. I'm not all that fussed, to be honest, because my own father Pedro - husband of poor Blanche - fathered children with numerous women he wasn't married to, including my mother, but when I heard that Isabella of France has been appointed the Greatest Victim Of All Time because Edward II was in love with Piers Gaveston when she married him, I thought I might as well give it a shot. The Official Victimhood group rejected my application on the grounds that John and Katherine's relationship is one of the greatest love affairs of the Middle Ages and gives lots of people happy warm fuzzy feelz, so it doesn't matter that it was adulterous and it doesn't matter at all if my feelings or sensibilities were hurt. I mean, I'm nothing but a smelly religious fanatic, after all, and people practically cheer when I die because it means that my husband is free to marry his mistress at last. And as Queen Joan said a few minutes ago, the very same people who recoil in horror at the thought of Edward loving Gaveston are all beamingly indulgent and 'awwwww sho shweeeeeeet' when a married man falls in love with a woman.

Michael de la Pole: I feel all your pain. I tried to apply as well, because my wife made me father a child with her when I was barely thirteen and she was twenty. As if that was not traumatic enough, before I even turned of age, me, my father and my next younger brother William were forced to go to fight a war in France, because King Henry V felt he wanted to be King of France. We found only mud, blood and tears, and within a month, my father was dead of dysentery, my brother was injured, and I had to keep fighting. I ended up dying at Agincourt, age twenty, and no one but my family even cared about me dying because the English forces had won such an oh so wonderful, glorious victory, and it just puts a damper on the mood to think of dead minors, right? My application to the group was rejected because I`m a man, and men, apparently, can`t be victims. I only wish I had known this during my lifetime.

Joan Beaumont: I thought my application was really strong. I was married aged five to a thirteen-year-old who grew up so horrible even his own father tried to disinherit him as well as he could. He first impregnated me when I was thirteen years old and he was nearly twenty-two. I had a child and he impregnated me again almost immediately, and I gave birth to twins. I had three children when I was barely fifteen, and had to live with a man who was widely loathed and connected with violence whenever he was mentioned anywhere. I lost my oldest son before he was eight years old. I was finally was free of my husband when he died when I was twenty-three, but just when I thought I had found happiness with another man, I died in childbirth, just after my twenty-fifth birthday. I don`t think anyone even saw my application, I just heard some murmurs about how I was not important enough, and my second son grew up a good man so his father couldn`t really be that bad. But I did get to sit through a long lecture about the victimhood of some girl my son`s age, named Anne Neville. Apparently the poor pet had to marry a boy three years her senior when she was fourteen. He never did anything against her that anyone ever said or even implied, but he might have said something mean as a kid, so that is some real victimhood. Makes me grateful I only ever had to bear an adult man`s kids when I was barely in my teens.

Edward of Lancaster: That kid who said something supposedly bad was me, Joan dear. Supposedly I demanded that two men who had betrayed my father be beheaded, age seven. Never mind that one of them was dead in battle by the time I`m supposed to have said that, it still haunts me. I was sneerily rejected from the Official Victimhood Group because of it, even though I thought that having had my birthright taken from me age seven, chased to exile at the same age, separated from my father for a year, having to live off the charity of my mother`s relatives and then dying age seventeen trying to reclaim my birthright, in a war that was not even remotely my fault, would make my case a pretty good one. Apparently not, because a provably faulty rumour I said something bad as a child makes it all invalid.

Francis Lovell: Hi, I'm Joan Beaumont's son. I don't see myself as a victim, exactly, but I applied because I'm a bit sick of constantly being said to be, and portrayed, as the happy-go-lucky friend with the perfect life. Me and my siblings grew up with a mother young enough to be our sister and a father absolutely loathed for violence. He was so bad, I couldn't stand to even have prayers said for him twenty years after he died, or live in the same quarters he lived. My one-year-older brother died when we were children, not that anyone ever really cares. When my father died when I was eight, it was a relief, but it also meant I was made the king's ward and had to move away from my mother, my twin sister and my baby sister. My mother died when I was ten. My twin sister died before she was twenty-five, my wife lost one baby and then it turned out I couldn't ever have children again. Then my best friend was murdered, and in my quest to have revenge for him, my closest foster brother was also killed. I understand that a lot of that wasn't all that abnormal at the time, but you'd think it would get at least some compassion. But my application was rejected unread. Apparently, I'm lucky, and my best friend Richard's wife, Anne Neville, now she had a proper hard life.

Eleanor of Woodstock: Blimey, the Official Victimhood Group committee really don't have much time for us lot, do they? Maybe if we just try a bit harder, we might be deemed special enough and tragic enough to be appointed Official Victims one of these years. Though I'm not holding my breath, to be honest. It seems that only one person can be made a Tragic Suffering Victim per century, and as Isabella of France has the fourteenth century covered and Anne Neville the fifteenth, I'm really not sure we'll ever get anywhere. Until the next session, folks!

23 September, 2020

A Sneer of Disdain: Isabella of France, the Victim

My friend, the historian and Francis Lovell biographer Michèle Schindler, came up with a fab idea recently. She and I were discussing our astonishment that some medieval women (mostly Isabella of France and Anne Neville) appear to have been sanctified and anointed as Official Victims, whereby every single thing that ever befell them is endlessly wept over, and writers fall over themselves trying to find new ways in which the women suffered more than anyone else, ever. Michèle and I, therefore, have written a Meeting of the Applicants Rejected by the Official Victimhood Group, which I'll post in a day or two; firstly, I just wanted to demonstrate what I mean about Isabella being endlessly portrayed as a victim, with examples.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know the drill. Isabella is a victim because Edward II didn't fawn all over her when she was twelve; she's a victim because there was a perfectly standard delay of a few weeks after her arrival in England before she received her dower lands; because Edward supposedly treated her like a 'brood-mare' or 'begat children on her and not with her'; because having an arranged marriage to one of the most powerful and highly-born men in Europe means she was a helpless, tragic pawn; because Edward failed to show any interest in her in the years between their betrothal and their wedding; because a modern writer invented a nonsense story that her husband stole their children from her; because Edward talked more to a dear friend he'd known for half his life at a banquet than he did to a twelve-year-old he'd only recently met; because Edward didn't love her or didn't love her enough or didn't love her uniquely and she was so so so so so special that she should have instantly become his one true love the nano-second he set eyes on her; and so on, ad bloody nauseam.

Pic 1, non-fiction published in the twenty-first century: A fifteen-year-old 'betrays no interest' in a four-year-old. A four-year-old who, because his previous three betrothals have all fallen through, is his fourth fiancée. A four-year-old whom he might, possibly, one day in the distant future, end up marrying, or then again he might be betrothed to someone else in a couple of years when the political situation and his father's foreign policy change. And where and how exactly would this interest manifest itself? Was the male partner in an arranged royal marriage generally expected to show an interest in his fiancée before their wedding? Did Lord Edward of England send excited letters to Doña Leonor of Castile in 1253/54, telling her 'Gosh, I'm so interested in the minutiae of your daily life, complete stranger'? Did Edward III send letters to Philippa of Hainault between their betrothal in August 1326 and their wedding in January 1328 that demonstrated a deep fascination with court life in Valenciennes? Did Richard II contact Anne of Bohemia saying 'Hey, Annie, what are you up to over there in Prague?' before their wedding in January 1382? If they did, I'm not aware of it. And another thing that occurs to me, given the age difference between Edward and Isabella, would it not be creepy if he did show an interest in her and in their future marriage? A twenty-year-old addressing a letter to a nine-year-old as his future wife? Yikes. But none of this is taken into consideration because those other queens of England aren't super important and super tragic like Isabella is, and the notion that an adolescent should show interest in the child he's been betrothed to as a means of ending a war between their fathers is taken for granted when the child is Isabella, because she's Just. That. Special. The fact that Edward, normally and unexceptionally, doesn't, means that OMG SHE'S SUCH A VICTIM!!!!

Pic 2, same non-fiction as before: The queen's dower lands were held by Edward II's stepmother Queen Marguerite from 1307 to 1318, so alternative arrangements had to be made for Isabella. These took a good few weeks to sort out, and she received her lands in May (not July) 1308 about three months after her arrival in England. (By way of comparison, Gilbert de Clare's widow Maud received her share of his estate six months after his death at Bannockburn, and it took officials another six months to divide up the de Clare inheritance for Gilbert's sisters.) Edward gave Isabella a household of close to 200 people, the largest any queen of England had ever had, and paid all the costs of it himself, but none of this is mentioned, because OMG SHE'S SUCH A VICTIM!!!! And she 'had to accompany Edward'? She had to spend time with her husband in royal palaces?! OMG SHE'S SUCH A VICTIM!!!! You just know that if Edward hadn't taken Isabella travelling with him, the narrative would be that she was abandoned, neglected, alone and unhappy, because the agenda is to portray Isabella as a long-suffering victim at every possible juncture. 

On 14 May 1308, Edward gave Isabella his French county of Ponthieu and its capital of Montreuil-sur-Mer, which he'd inherited from his Spanish mother the queen of England and his French grandmother the queen of Castile and Leon, but we're supposed to believe that 'there is no record of her receiving even petty sums' until July 1308, because OMG SHE'S SUCH A VICTIM!!!!

Pic 3, same non-fiction as before: Between Philippa of Hainault's arrival in England in December 1327 and the downfall of her mother-in-law Isabella in October 1330, only five acts of intercession by the young queen are recorded, so if Isabella managed three in her first few months in England, she was doing pretty well. In the seventeen years from February 1308 to March 1325, from her arrival in England until her departure for France, Isabella managed a total of seventy-nine acts of intercession with Edward II at an average of over four and a half per year. During the forty-one and a half years of Queen Philippa's marriage to Edward III, from her wedding in January 1328 until her death in August 1369, she made a total of seventy-six acts of intercession with her husband at an average of under two per year. On several occasions, Edward II let Isabella promote her clerks to bishoprics in opposition to his own choices, and on at least one occasion changed his mind and promoted her candidate instead. But none of this is mentioned because OMG SHE'S SUCH A VICTIM!!!! 

Pic 4, novel: "I was twelve, 12, as in twelve years old, as in the age that comes between eleven and thirteen, T W E L V E, and the people who were paid to pander to the every whim of the pampered pubescent daughter of the most powerful man in Europe assured me with complete sincerity and truthfulness that I was The Fairest Woman In All France
. Unaccountably, however, they failed to explain to me that 1) a girl of twelve is not a woman, and 2) men in their twenties don't fancy young girls with developing bodies unless there's something seriously wrong with them, and even if they didn't understand that, you'd hope that a writer in the twenty-first century might." 

Incredible though it may seem, this tediously one-dimensional novel published in 2010 invites us to share Isabella's disbelief that a grown man isn't 'struck dumb' at the beauty and desirability of a child, and encourages us in these opening scenes to begin to view her as the tragic victim of cruel neglect and disregard that the novel is desperate to paint her as. Even if Isabella herself as the first-person narrator doesn't understand it, there are plenty of ways to construct a narrative that would make it apparent that a modern reader isn't supposed to share her bewilderment and horror that an adult doesn't find a twelve-year-old desirable. And I'm 99.9% sure that the real Isabella didn't expect Edward to sleep with her, because, contrary to what a lot of people nowadays seem to think, it was not normal and usual in the fourteenth century for men in their twenties to have sex with twelve-year-olds. But the opportunity to write Isabella and Edward with depth and nuance is passed up in favour of the predictable OMG SHE'S SUCH A VICTIM!!!! routine, and in doing so, the novel presents a man as abnormal for feeling no sexual attraction towards a child. The obsession some writers have with turning Isabella into a victim in every possible way they can leads them down pretty dark and disturbing paths sometimes. 

Pic 5, two novels: Fans of the Victim!Isabella school of thought have a creepy tendency to use the word 'ripe' for her, as though she's a piece of fruit rather than a human being, and she's 'matured rich and fertile' too, like a field of crops. I don't think I've ever read a description quite so dehumanising and leering while obviously trying to be highly complimentary. And oh look, there's Edward giving a 'sneer of disdain' like the sneering pantomime villain he is. Because an unwillingness to have sex with a child of twelve can only possibly be the result of disdain or repulsion, and cannot under any circumstances be interpreted as a humane gesture intended to spare an extremely young girl the trauma of experiencing intercourse, pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood before she is physically, mentally and emotionally ready for it. Because that might make Edward sympathetic to readers rather than a cruel disdainful unnatural monster (who, several pages later, starts to 'snivel', because of course he does), and there might be one page of the novel where Isabella isn't a tragic heartbroken neglected victim, and that would never do.

Pic 6, non-fiction published in the twenty-first century: Isabella of France, one of the most awesome and powerful women in medieval English history, is written as a panting heroine from a bad 1950s bodice-ripper who 'surrenders herself' to Our Manly Hero's healing embraces. This is so, so bad it makes me want to bleach my brain. Make it stop make it stop make it stop.

There are of course far more examples of Isabella's super-tragic victimhood both from fiction and non-fiction, but I don't quite have the heart to get into any more now, because picking up books about Isabella of France involves having to read stuff like Edward II was 'too cowardly to become violent' with a woman and 'could not even beat his wife properly', and that raping a human being to death with a burning metal implement is 'ingenious', and I'm afraid I can't, I simply can't.

13 September, 2020

Master Richard of Gloucester and Katherine of St Albans

Master Richard of Gloucester was parson of the church of Stevenage ('Styvenache') in Hertfordshire in the 1320s, and was said to be "learned in the law". [1] In 1323/24, Edward II appointed Richard as one of the three proctors he sent to France to proffer his excuses to his brother-in-law Charles IV for his failure to travel to Amiens to pay homage to Charles as his overlord for his French territories; the other two were Master Richard de Erium, canon of York and "professor of both laws" (i.e. canon and civil), and John de Shordich, "professor of civil law" or "doctor of laws". [2] Richard of Gloucester was perhaps the man of this name presented to the church of Hynton in the diocese of Salisbury in October 1280, and in June 1328 was appointed dean of Tamworth in Staffordshire. [3] According to his inquisition post mortem, Richard did indeed, as per his name, come from Gloucester or close by ("he was born in the parts of Gloucester, as the jurors understand"), though he spent most of his life in the south-east of England, and specifically in London. [4He was one of the twenty-two "priests and clerks" of London and Canterbury who took an oath on 13 January 1327 to "safeguard Isabella, queen of England, and Edward [of Windsor], eldest son of the king of England and heir-apparent" before Edward II's forced abdication. [5Master Richard of Gloucester died shortly before 16 January 1329 when his will was proved, and on 7 February 1329 the writ for his inquisition post mortem was issued. He had held the manor of Woolwich in Kent, also sometimes called Southall(e) Marreys, from the king in chief. Richard's will was dated 24 November 1328 in London. [6] 

Although he was a churchman, Master Richard of Gloucester had a long-term relationship with a resident of London called Katherine, the daughter of Geoffrey and Isabella of St Albans. This relationship produced at least two sons: John, born in the summer of 1317, and Nicholas, born in the autumn of 1319. In October 1329 a few months after Richard's death, the mayor and aldermen of London granted Katherine custody of her and Richard's two sons, then aged twelve and ten. [7In his will, Richard left Katherine his house on Friday Street in London for the rest of her life, and he also mentioned their two sons, though he only called them Katherine's sons and not his. That they in fact were his children is, however, apparent, and this was obviously widely known at the time. In 1342, Nicholas, the younger son, called himself "Nicholas of Gloucester, son of Katherine of St Albans", using his father's last name, and in 1338 John was referred to as "son of the late Master Richard of Gloucester". In his will, Richard bequeathed "to John her [Katherine's] son a certain hall erected on a stage over the street [Friday Street], together with a shop", and "to Nicholas, son of the said Katherine, a tenement in the parish of S. Brigid for life, except a portion sufficient for the maintenance of a chaplain to celebrate for the good of his [Richard's] soul and the souls of others." Richard also left a "certain tenement" to John of Gloucester, whom he called his "kinsman" and who would appear to have been his brother or nephew. 

Richard's inquisition post mortem of 1329 states that he held the manor of Woolwich "with remainder to John, parson of the church of Erdyngton, Adam son of Katherine de Sancto Albano [i.e. of St Albans], and Nicholas brother of the said Adam." The 1332 will of John of Gloucester, 'rector of Herdyngton', also survives, and talks of "the soul of Master Richard of Gloucester", though does not clarify the family relationship. [8] The 'Adam' mentioned here is a bit confusing, as no Adam, son of Katherine of St Albans, is mentioned in Richard's will; possibly this is a clerical error and meant Richard and Katherine's son John (who is not otherwise mentioned in the IPM), or possibly they had a third son together, or possibly Adam was Katherine's son from another relationship. By June 1342, Richard and Katherine's son Nicholas of Gloucester, born c. September/October 1319 and then twenty-two years old, was "lord of the manor of Southall Marreys", i.e. Woolwich. [9] His elder brother John was a bad lot, evidently: in August 1338 at a congregation of the mayor, aldermen and commonalty of London, it was decided that John, openly named as Master Richard's son, "and other incorrigibles should be committed to Newgate to prevent their doing mischief." [10]

I haven't been able to find much about Katherine of St Albans, though there's a reference in the Feet of Fines for London and Middlesex in the eighteenth year of Edward II's reign (July 1324 to July 1325) to "Master Richard de Gloucestr', John de Gloucestr', parson of the church of Herdington, and Katherine, daughter of Isabella de Sancto Albano." [11] Katherine appears on the Close Roll on 24 March 1337: "William de Pilardyngton, lord of Yeddyngg, lately granted by charter to Master Richard de Gloucestr', clerk, Sir John de Gloucestr', parson of Herdyngton church, and Katherine, daughter of Isabella de Sancto Albano, and to Richard her son and the legitimate heirs of his body" properties and fields in the town of Yeddyngg, i.e. Yeading, Middlesex. Although Katherine was still alive then, her son Richard was already dead without heirs of his body. [12]

Katherine of St Albans, therefore, had sons John and Nicholas, who were certainly also the sons of Master Richard of Gloucester, possibly a son Adam (unless he was a clerical error) who was named in Richard's IPM but not in his will, and another son, Richard, whom she presumably named after his father, Master Richard, or in his honour if Master Richard was not the father. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find any other references to Katherine or to her sons except the ones cited in this post. Her relationship with Master Richard evidently was a long and serious one, albeit illicit given his position, and he made sure that she and their sons were well provided for after his death. To my mind, whatever you might think about a parson's affair with a woman, this does him credit. I haven't found any references to Richard being taken to task over having a sexual relationship, perhaps surprisingly given that a good number of people in London seem to have known about it.


1) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-24, p. 352; CPR 1324-27, p. 1.
2) CPR 1321-24, p. 426; CPR 1324-27, p. 1; Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, pp. 548-9; Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, pp. 5-6, 12, 177-8, 189, 191.
3) CPR 1272-81, p. 398; CPR 1327-30, p. 301.
4) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1327-36, no. 223.
5) Calendar of the Select Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London, vol. 1, 1323–64, p. 14.
6) CIPM 1327-36, no. 223; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1327-37, p. 119; Calendar of Wills Proved and Enrolled in the Court of Husting, London, part 1, 1258–1358, p. 342.
7) Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London, Letter-Book E, p. 239.
8) Calendar of Wills Proved and Enrolled, p. 382.
9) Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of LondonLetter-Book F, p. 75.
10) Select Plea and Memoranda Rolls, vol. 1, p. 168.
11) Calendar to the Feet of Fines for London and Middlesex, vol. 1, no. 333.
12) Calendar of Close Rolls 1337-39, p. 115.

06 September, 2020

Isabelle Holland, Mistress of the Earl of Surrey, Aunt of Richard II's Half-Brothers

I've previously written posts about the last de Warenne earl of Surrey, John de Warenne (30 June 1286-29 June 1347)his disastrous marriage to Edward II's French niece Jeanne de Bar (c. 1295/96-1361), and his nine known illegitimate children. Here's a post about the earl's last mistress, Isabelle Holland.

The key piece of evidence identifying Isabelle as Earl John's mistress is his will, dated at his Yorkshire castle of Conisbrough on Sunday, 24 June 1347 five days before he died, wherein John refers to her as Isabelle de Holand, ma compaigne. This literally means 'my consort' or 'my wife'. In point of fact, Isabelle was not and could not have been John's wife, as he had married Jeanne de Bar on 25 May 1306 in the presence of her grandfather, Edward I. He was then nineteen going on twenty and Jeanne was about ten or eleven. King Edward had offered John his granddaughter's marriage on 15 May 1305, and John gladly accepted, though their marriage appears to have failed as early as August 1309, and by August 1310 John already had at least one illegitimate child. [1] In February 1316, having fathered several more illegitimate children in a long-term relationship with his mistress Maud Nerford, John de Warenne began to make strenuous though unsuccessful attempts to annul his marriage to Jeanne de Bar, so that he could marry Maud instead. He and Maud claimed that they had already been pre-contracted to marry when John wed Jeanne in 1306, which of course was nonsense, and failed. By c. 1320, John's relationship with Maud Nerford had ended, and he "removed her from his heart and ousted her from his company". [2] Given the nine illegitimate children named in his will and in other sources, at least one of whom was born in Conisbrough Castle, he must have embarked on another relationship or several.

Earl John's relationship with Isabelle Holland began sometime before early 1344: on 26 February 1344, Pope Clement VI ordered him to "receive and treat with marital affection" his wife Jeanne de Bar, and in April/June that year there are more papal letters indicating that John was attempting, again, to have his marriage annulled. This time, he claimed that a) the 1306 papal dispensation issued to him and Jeanne for consanguinity was invalid, and that b) he had had an affair with his wife's aunt Mary, nun of Amesbury Priory (1279-1332, Edward I's fourth daughter), before he married Jeanne[3] Again, John's attempts failed - the queens-consort of England and France, Philippa of Hainault and Jeanne of Burgundy, lobbied the pope on the countess of Surrey's behalf - and when he died, he was still married to Jeanne de Bar and had been for forty-one years. Given the wording in his will of June 1347, however, John was convinced that Isabelle Holland was his rightful wife, whatever anyone else said. 

Isabelle is not specifically identified in her lover's will, but the names of other people who also appear in the will make it apparent who she was, and an entry on the Patent Roll of December 1346 also identifies her. She was one of the daughters of Sir Robert Holland or Holand (born 1270s), a knight of Lancashire who became the steward and close associate of Edward II's cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster and Leicester. Edward II imprisoned Robert after the Contrariant rebellion of 1321/22, though he escaped from prison in Northampton at an unknown date after 23 July 1326; Queen Isabella pardoned him in 1327; and in October 1328, he was waylaid in a wood in Essex and beheaded by a group of Lancastrians disgruntled at what they saw as Robert's betrayal of Earl Thomas in 1322. They sent his head to Thomas's brother and heir, Henry of Lancaster. Sir Robert Holland's career is fascinating; I'll try to write a post on him at some point. [4] 

Sometime before 13 May 1306, Earl Thomas of Lancaster had arranged Sir Robert Holland's highly advantageous marriage to Maud la Zouche. [5] Maud was the co-heir, with her elder sister Ellen or Elena, of their father Alan la Zouche, who owned lands in a few counties in the Midlands and south of England. Alan was born in 1267 and died in 1314, and his second daughter Maud was born in about 1288 or 1290; in April/May 1314, she was either twenty-four or twenty-six. [6] She was a good few years younger than her husband Robert, and somewhat younger than the man who would become her daughter's lover: John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, was born on 30 June 1286. Maud la Zouche Holland outlived her husband Robert by twenty years and died in May 1349. She was called Dame Maude de Hollande in the earl of Surrey's will of June 1347, and the earl left her four mares (iiij jumentz) from his stud-farm in Sussex and appointed her as one of his executors. [7]

Robert Holland and Maud la Zouche's eldest son and heir was also named Robert, and was said to be sixteen on 1 December 1328 and seventeen or "seventeen and more" in early January 1329, placing his date of birth around 1311/12 (though in July 1349, he was supposedly "aged thirty years and more at Easter last"). [8] Their second son was named Thomas, which might mean that the earl of Lancaster was his godfather, and Thomas Holland (d. late 1360) made a brilliant marriage to Edward II's niece Joan of Kent, later countess of Kent in her own right and princess of Wales; Thomas's children, born in the 1350s, were the older half-siblings of King Richard II. Both Thomas and his younger brother, Sir Otto or Otho Holland, were among the founder members of the Order of the Garter in 1348 (Thomas was number thirteen and Otto was the twenty-second). Robert (d. 1373), the eldest of the Holland brothers and their parents' heir, is more obscure than his younger brothers Thomas and Otto Holland, who both played important roles in Edward III's wars in France and were known as valiant and brilliant knights. Another Holland brother, Alan, appears on the Patent Roll on 15 November 1321 with his older brothers Robert and Thomas. [9] Otto Holland is not mentioned in that entry, and surely would have been, had he been born by then (as it talks of the "heirs male" of Robert Holland Sr and Maud la Zouche), so it would seem that he was born after November 1321 and was the fourth Holland brother. [10] John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, appointed Sir Thomas Holland as one of his executors in 1347, and left items - various pieces of equipment for destriers - to Sir Robert Holland Jr and Sir Otto Holland (Monsire Otes de Holande). Thomas Holland and his brother-in-law Sir John Darcy witnessed a quit-claim of Earl John's on 1 April 1346. [11]

The Genealogics website mentions four daughters of Robert Holland Sr (d. 1328) and Maud la Zouche (d. 1349): Eleanor or Alianore, who married Sir John Darcy and died in or before 1341; Maud, who married firstly John, Lord Mowbray (1310-61) in or before 1319, which was annulled, and secondly Sir Thomas Swynnerton (1313-61); Margaret, who gave birth to her son Roger, Lord la Warre (or Ware or Warr) in November 1326; and Elizabeth, who married Sir Henry FitzRoger (born 1318) before 1340 and had a son John, and died in 1387. The website does not mention Isabelle Holland as one of Robert and Maud's daughters, but an entry on the Patent Roll of 12 December 1346, relating to John de Warenne's attempts to pass on some of his lands to her after his death, calls her "Isabel de Holande, daughter of Robert de Holande, begotten on the body of Maud, late his wife". It could hardly be clearer that she was indeed one of their daughters. [12] An unnamed "daughter of Robert de Holand" is mentioned on 26 February 1322, when she was sent to the Tower of London as a hostage, with the children of other Contrariants. [13] 

I don't know how Isabelle Holland fits into the birth order of the nine Holland/la Zouche children. I did wonder if she might be the same person as her sister Elizabeth FitzRoger, as the names Isabel(le) and Elizabeth were often interchangeable, but Elizabeth married Henry FitzRoger before 1340, so she can't be. Margaret Holland gave birth to her son Roger la Warre as early as 1326, so she must have been one of the eldest Holland children, older than her brother Robert and surely born in or before 1310 (the Holland parents married in or before 1306). Elizabeth's son John FitzRoger was born after 1345 and perhaps as late as the early 1350s, and Elizabeth herself lived until 1387, so she would certainly seem to be one of the youngest Holland children, as was her brother Sir Otto. As Isabelle was not yet married when she began a relationship with the earl of Surrey in c. 1343, she would also appear to have been one of the younger Holland children. Sir Robert Holland was imprisoned in the spring of 1322 and remained in captivity for well over four years, and one assumes he was not allowed conjugal visits, with the result that Maud la Zouche is unlikely to have borne any children for some years after 1322. She may, however, have become pregnant again in c. 1327/28 in the period between her husband's escape from prison in Northampton sometime after 23 July 1326 and his murder. Born c. 1288/90, Maud was in her late thirties or forty years old when Robert was beheaded in October 1328, and although she was already a grandmother to Roger la Warre she was still of an age to bear another child in 1327/28.

Although it is impossible to establish Isabelle Holland's date of birth, she was several decades younger than John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, who was about two or four years older than her mother. Isabelle was also younger than John's oldest illegitimate children, one of whom was born sometime before August 1310, and another two of whom were born before 1316. John's much earlier mistress Maud Nerford was the daughter of Sir William Nerford of Norfolk and the niece of William, Lord Ros of Helmsley in Yorkshire, and Isabelle also had a noble background. She was a great-granddaughter of Nicholas, Lord Segrave (d. 1295) and a great-niece of Gilbert Segrave, bishop of London (d. 1316), and a great-great-great-granddaughter of Roger de Quincy, earl of Winchester (d. 1264). It's impossible to know how many women Earl John had relationships with, and how many mothers his children had, though the two women for whom he attempted to annul his marriage to Jeanne de Bar both came from noble families, and he deemed both Maud and Isabelle of suitably illustrious birth and rank for him to marry.

John and Isabelle's relationship would appear to have been well established by early 1344, when the earl began to entertain serious thoughts of marrying his lover. In 1347 John appointed Isabelle's mother and her brother Thomas as his executors, and left items to her other brothers Robert and Otto, and was evidently on very good and very close terms with the Holland family. He left Isabelle numerous items including all his beds, all the vestments for his chapel, his "gold ring with the good ruby", another five gold rings in a gold eagle, all his vessels of plain silver, and half of his livestock (la moyte de mon estor). Furthermore, she was to receive all of John's goods and chattels except those which went to pay his debts or which he had bequeathed elsewhere. Earl John died on 29 June 1347, five days after making his will and the day before his sixty-first birthday. At his inquisition post mortem held in Sussex on 10 July 1347, the jurors stated that Countess Jeanne "a year and more ago, crossed the sea with the king's licence...whether she is surviving or not the jurors know not." The Wiltshire and Dorset jurors also admitted that they had no idea whether she was still alive, though in fact Jeanne outlived John by fourteen years. She had surely travelled to her native county of Bar in eastern France; her nephew Count Henri IV (b. 1321) died in 1344 and was succeeded by her young great-nephew Edouard II, and subsequently by Henri's second son Robert, the first duke of Bar. [14]

It seems unlikely that Isabelle Holland was the mother of any of Earl John's children, except perhaps Katherine, who appears in his will simply as "Katherine my daughter" (Katerine ma fille). His six known sons were far too old to be Isabelle's children, as was his daughter Isabel, already a nun at Sempringham Priory in Lincolnshire in 1347. John's other daughter was named in his will as Johanne de Basyngg, so either she had married a man called Basing or her mother's name was Basing. In the fourteenth century, people born out of wedlock often used their mother's last name, though having said that, at least five of John de Warenne's sons (Sir William, Prior William, John, Thomas and Sir Edward) used the name de Warenne. 

Sometime before December 1346, John attempted to settle some of his lands on Isabelle, to pass to her after his death: the Yorkshire castles of Conisbrough and Sandal, and eight manors also in Yorkshire, including Wakefield, Halifax and Dewsbury. John's nephew and heir Richard, earl of Arundel, born c. 1313 as the son of John's sister Alice (1287-1338), however, refused to accept these arrangements. He petitioned Edward III complaining that he would be disinherited. Edward III agreed and revoked John's grant, though in fact Conisbrough Castle and John's other Yorkshire lands ended up passing to the king's fourth son Edmund of Langley, later earl of Cambridge and first duke of York (1341-1402). Edmund was almost certainly Earl John's godson; in his will John left valuable items to King Edward, Queen Philippa, their eldest son Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales, and Edmund of Langley. None of the many other royal children were mentioned in it. [15] 

Countess Jeanne, John de Warenne's legal widow despite all his efforts over the decades, was granted her large dower in Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Surrey on 24 August 1347. [16] It probably goes without saying, as John was pretending that he was married to Isabelle, that poor Jeanne de Bar was not mentioned in her husband's will. She was the only daughter of Edward I's eldest surviving daughter Eleanor (1269-98), so was a pretty important person, not that you'd know it from Earl John's treatment of her. They just seem to have been totally incompatible, and given that there was a rift between them as early as August 1309 when Jeanne can't have been more than thirteen or fourteen, I wonder if they ever had an intimate marital relationship at all. They certainly had no children.

Unfortunately, this post peters out lamely at this point, as I have no idea what happened to Isabelle Holland after John de Warenne's death in 1347. She was probably not yet thirty and perhaps a few years younger than that, and if she was conceived and born after Robert Holland's escape from prison after July 1326, she might not even have been twenty years old (!!). She was left many valuable posessions by the earl, and had a noble background and excellent connections: her sister-in-law Joan of Kent became countess of Kent in her own right on her brother's death in late 1352, and in 1361 married Edward III's eldest son Edward of Woodstock. She might therefore have made a good marriage, even if she did not become countess of Surrey, or at least chatelaine of Conisbrough and Sandal, as John de Warenne had wished. Possibly Isabelle does appear on record somewhere after 1347, and if I ever find the time I'll try to research the matter more. I hope she had a long and happy life.


1) Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 296; Calendar of Close Rolls 1302-7, p. 321; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-13, pp. 330, 594; CPR 1313-17, pp. 528-9.

2) CPR 1313-17, pp. 12, 401, 434, 528-9; The National Archives SC 8/87/4348.

3) Calendar of Papal Letters 1342-62, pp. 116, 169, 173.

4) CPR 1345-48, p. 221, identifies Isabelle; CCR 1323-27, p. 592, is Edward II's order of 23 July 1326 to move Robert Holland from imprisonment at Warwick Castle to Northampton; CPR 1327-30, p. 17, is Robert's pardon for breaking prison at Northampton.

5) Feet of Fines, Berkshire, CP 25/1/9/38, no. 10, dated 13 May 1306, talks of "Robert de Holond and Maud his wife" when the manor of Denford was given to them with remainder to Maud's father Alan la Zouche.

6) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1307-17, no. 458. Her younger sister Elizabeth la Zouche, about twenty in 1314, was a nun.

7) John's will is printed in Testamenta Eboracensia, vol. 1, pp. 41-5.

8) CCR 1327-30, pp. 348, 491; CIPM 1327-36, no. 156; CIPM 1347-52, no. 199.

9) CPR 1321-24, p. 40.

10) Sir Otto Holland died in September 1359, and his eldest brother Robert was his heir: CIPM 1352-60, no. 557.

11) East Sussex Record Office, AMS4952/3.

12) CPR 1345-48, p. 221.

13) CPR 1321-24, p. 75.

14) CIPM 1347-52, nos. 54-5, John's IPM; also CPR 1345-48, p. 226.

15) CPR 1345-48, p. 221; CPR 1348-50, pp. 161, 164; Calendar of Charter Rolls 1341-1417, p. 63.

16) CCR 1346-49, pp. 314-17; CIPM 1361-65, no. 215.