21 October, 2020

Alice de Lacy, Countess of Lincoln, and Her Marriages

Alice de Lacy was born on or around Christmas Day 1281, and was the heir of her parents, Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln (c. 1250-1311), and Margaret Longespee, countess of Salisbury (d. c. 1308/09). My previous posts about Alice are here and hereEdward I's brother Edmund, earl of Lancaster and Leicester, arranged Alice's marriage to his eldest son and heir Thomas (b. c. late 1277) in or before late 1292, after a marriage planned for Thomas by the king in 1290, to Beatrice of Avallon, granddaughter of the duke of Burgundy, fell through when Beatrice died as a child. Alice and Thomas's marriage was a long but unhappy one, and ultimately Alice left Thomas in 1317 - a highly unusual action for a medieval noblewoman to take, and a number of contemporary chroniclers viciously maligned her for it. 

Alice had a stepmother who was much younger than she was, Joan MartinJoan married Alice's widowed father Henry de Lacy, who was a good four decades her senior, in or before June 1310, and he died in February 1311. It must have been rather a relief to Alice that the couple had no children; a daughter would have shared the large de Lacy inheritance with her, and a son, her putative decades-younger half-brother, would have been heir to all of it and would have disinherited her entirely. Joan Martin did have children with her second husband, Sir Nicholas Audley.

And talking of children, when researching my book Blood Roses several years ago, I discovered that Alice de Lacy was pregnant in 1307/08. Sometime between Michaelmas (29 September) 1307 and Michaelmas 1308, Alice sent a messenger to her husband's town of Leicester to inform them of her pregnancy, and the mayor and townspeople rewarded the messenger with a shilling. [1] Either Alice miscarried, or the infant was stillborn or died young, as she certainly had no surviving children; although Earl Thomas had two known illegitimate sons called John and Thomas, his heir was his brother Henry (c. 1280/81-1345), father of Henry of Grosmont (c. 1310/12-61), first duke of Lancaster, and grandfather of Blanche of Lancaster (1342-68). Henry of Grosmont was Alice's heir when she died in 1348, his grandfather Edmund having negotiated an excellent deal with her father that the Lancasters would keep the de Lacy inheritance even if Alice and Thomas had no children. I wonder if the couple's childlessness, and the loss of the infant Alice was expecting in 1307/08, contributed to their marital difficulties.

Alice, though separated from Thomas for five years, was still married to him when he was executed in March 1322, and married her second husband, Sir Eble or Ebulo Lestrange of Knockyn, before 10 November 1324 when an entry on the Close Roll talks of "Ebulo Lestraunge and Alice, daughter and heiress of Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, now his wife". An entry on the Patent Roll of 21 December 1324 mentions "Ebulo Lestraunge and Alesia his wife". [2] A younger son and not his family's heir, Eble was much below Alice in rank, and it's well worth noting that he never called himself 'earl of Lincoln' as he had a right to do as Alice's husband. The marriage was almost certainly a love-match and seemingly a very happy one, and after Eble's death Alice called herself 'widow of Eble Lestrange' rather than 'widow of Thomas of Lancaster', despite Thomas's wealth, power and royal birth. [3] 

Eble's mother Alianore or Eleanor de Montz died in 1282, and his father John Lestrange in August 1309. Eble's older brother and their father's heir, John II, was said to be aged "twenty-seven and more" in  John I's inquisition post mortem in the autumn of 1309, but was certainly some years older than that, as he oulived his father by only six months and his son and heir John Lestrange III was said to be fourteen in his father's IPM of 1310. This John died childless in his twenties in 1323, leaving his younger brother Roger, born either c. 15 August 1301 or c24 June 1305, Eble's nephew, as heir to the Lestrange family. Roger was the ancestor of the later Lestranges of Knockyn, and his son and heir Roger the younger was born c. 1326. [4] Given that Eble's mother died in 1282, he was either the same age as Alice de Lacy or older, and like her was in his forties when they married in c. 1324; he might perhaps have been married before, but I haven't found any record of it, and if so, he had no surviving children. Eble apparently received his highly unusual given name from a close relative, as 'Eble de Montz' or 'de Montibus' appears a few times on fourteenth-century record, and I assume was Eble Lestrange's uncle, given that his mother's name was Montz. The IPM of one Ralph Greenham in 1322 talks of "John Lestrange [c. 1296-1323, Eble Lestrange's nephew], kinsman and heir of Ebulo de Montibus" and "John Lestrange, heir of Eble de Montz". [5] Eble/Ebulo Montibus/Montz worked as Isabella of France's steward for a while, and was the man she sent to Edward II in Yorkshire in 1316 to inform him of the birth of their second son John of Eltham. "Elizabeth, late the wife of Ebulo de Montibus" went to France with Isabella and Edward in 1320. [6]

Not only did Eble Lestrange have a curious and extremely unusual first name with several possible spellings, his family name is also rather difficult, and you sometimes see it in medieval documents as 'Extraneus'. Ebulo Extraneus. Weird. Alice de Lacy must have been devastated when Eble died in Scotland on Friday, 8 September 1335, after about eleven years of marriage. His nephew Sir Roger Lestrange, then about thirty or thirty-four, was his heir. [7] Alice was aged fifty-three, going on fifty-four, when she was widowed for the second time, and soon after Eble's death took a vow of chastity, as widows sometimes did. [8] Soon afterwards, however, in late 1335 or early, 1336, a young knight named Sir Hugh Frene or Freyn(e) abducted Alice from her own home, Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, took her the thirty miles to Somerton Castle, and married her against her will. 

Little is known of Hugh Frene; he was knighted in 1327, which implies that he was born after 1300 and thus was many years Alice's junior. He's very difficult to find on record before 1330, except that on 25 August 1327 Edward III granted a favour to an abbey "at the request of Hugh de Frene". [9] The Complete Peerage speculates that he was a son or younger brother of John de Frene, lord of Moccas in Herefordshire, whose father Hugh died in 1303. [10] Hugh Frene the younger, the one who abducted Alice, took part in the famous Dunstable tournament of 1334, and was appointed custodian of Cardigan Castle in 1330 and its custodian for life in 1332. [11] He seems to have had connections to Ireland: Elias Ashburn included him in a list of men to be prayed for daily in a Dublin chapel in 1332, and Fulk Freyn(e), perhaps a relative, was 'lord of the castle of Faytheli' in Ireland in 1334. [12]

Part of Alice's petition, where she talks about son chastel de Bolyngbrok, 'her castle of Bolingbroke'. After her death, Bolingbroke passed to her nephew-in-law Henry of Grosmont, and then to Henry's daughter and heir Blanche, who gave birth to her son Henry IV there in 1367.

Alice sent a petition to Edward III, begging for his help. It's undated, but was perhaps sent in c. early 1336. [13] Near the start of it, Alice talks about the "treachery" (traisoun) of "her brother Sir John de Lacy", who seemingly connived, for reasons she did not explain, at her abduction. Alice was her parents' sole heir, which could have only been the case if she was their sole surviving legitimate child, so the only possible way she could have had a brother called John de Lacy was that he was her father Earl Henry's illegitimate son. I don't know anything else about John except the reference to him here. 

...par traisoun de son frere sire John de Lacy...

The story told by Michael Prestwich in his book The Three Edwards, quoted on Alice's Wiki page, that Alice deliberately fell from her horse during her abduction, is not sourced, and I haven't been able to find this detail in any fourteenth-century documentation (Linda E. Mitchell, in her essay about Alice referenced in this post, also notes that she was unable to find the source). (Edited to add: looking at Caroline Dunn's book Stolen Women in Medieval England, it appears to be from a record of the King's Bench.) The petition Alice sent to Edward III does not mention a fall from her horse, and neither do the various entries about this matter in the chancery rolls. Prestwich adds "it is likely that Hugh was attracted more by her vast estates than by her physical charms" - hmmmmmmm - and also claims that "it is possible that she was not a wholly unwilling victim." 

Alice's petition makes it all too painfully apparent that she was indeed entirely unwilling, and furthermore that she was distressed, frightened and angry. She mentioned her vow of chastity to the king, so the vow was clearly important to her, and she also stated that being forced to break it was contrary to the "law of Holy Church" (ley de seinte eglise). She told the king that Hugh Frene was holding her in such close confinement that neither her friends nor well-wishers (ses amys ne bien voillauntzcould approach her or talk to her, only members of Frene's affinity and retinue, and stated twice that Frene's and her brother John's treatment of her was contre son gree, "against her station (in life)". Alice ended her petition by begging Edward III to find a remedy and to allow her to be free and among her friends once again. These are emphatically not the words of a happily and voluntarily married woman, and the idea that Alice was willing to marry Hugh Frene is completely untenable.

Somewhat astonishingly, Edward III ordered both Alice de Lacy and Hugh Frene's arrest on 20 February 1336: he appointed three men to "arrest wherever found Hugh de Freyne and Alice, countess of Lincoln" on the grounds that Hugh, with a number of armed men, went to Bolingbroke Castle and "took" Alice from there to Somerton, and "entered the castle against his [the king's] will." Anthony Bek, bishop of Durham, had granted Somerton to Edward II in 1309, and it passed to Edward III as Edward II's son and heir, so in 1335/36 was in the king's personal possession. Edward seized Alice's lands as a punishment on the same day that he ordered her arrest, but on 23 March 1336, ordered officials to give Alice and Hugh the lands back. When, and where, Alice and Hugh married, I don't know, but the wedding took place before 23 March 1336. On 27 September that year, there's a reference on the Patent Roll to "Hugh de Freen and Alice his wife". [14]

The royal order to seize Alice's lands on 20 February 1336 states that she and Frene had both "escaped from the castle of Somerton where the king ordered them to be kept separately, because Hugh took her there from the castle of Bolyngbrok and entered the castle of Somerton by force." I very much doubt that Alice minded being "kept separately" from the man who was, assuming Frene consummated the forced marriage, her rapist. Let's face it, rape is exactly what it was. After Alice and Hugh 'escaped' from Somerton, according to Alice's petition Hugh subsequently took her to the Tower of London, and that's where she was being held in close confinement at the time she dictated her petition. That's very odd actually, as, looking at Edward III's intinerary, Edward himself stayed in the Tower and at Westminster for much of March 1336. It seems highly unlikely that Hugh Frene could have kept a noblewoman in confinement in the Tower if the king of England was anywhere near London, and it may be significant that Edward was in Scotland and the far north of England for the last few months of 1335 and until mid-February 1336. The timing of all this, when Frene abducted Alice, when they married, when they were imprisoned in Somerton Castle and escaped, when Edward III first heard about it, and when and for how long Frene imprisoned Alice in the Tower of London - and how did a fairly obscure knight manage to imprison a countess in a royal fortress anyway? - is difficult to work out. Although Alice stated that only Frene's retinue had access to her in the Tower, she must have found a friendly clerk to take down her petition and, one hopes, deliver it to the king. The constable of the Tower at the time was Sir Nicholas de la Beche, appointed for life on 15 October 1335. [15] Did he turn a blind eye to Frene incarcerating Alice in the fortress, or was he away from London at the time? I honestly don't know.

...a la toure de Loundres, 'to the Tower of London'

Sir Hugh Frene died in Scotland in late 1336 or early 1337, only a few months later, so never benefited from his abduction of a wealthy noblewoman. The exact date of his death is not clear, but on 25 November 1336 he was said to be "staying in Scotland" on the king's service, and he was certainly dead by 28 January 1337 when "Hugh de Freyne, deceased" was replaced as constable of Cardigan Castle. On or just after 28 November 1336, a rather confusing entry on the Close Roll begins "The abbot of Revesby and Henry de Halton, executors of the will of Ebulo Lestraunge and Hugh de Frene and Alesia his wife...". It's not clear from that whether Hugh was already dead or not. The Anonimalle chronicle comments on the death of Edward III's brother John of Eltham, earl of Cornwall, in Scotland in September 1336, and in the next sentence states that "Sir Hugh de Frene, earl of Lincoln, also died there" (Aussint illoeqs devya mounsire Hugh de Frenes count de Nichole). [16] 

Hugh's death was not, unfortunately, the end of Alice's woes. In July 1338, Pope Benedict XII ordered the bishop of Lincoln to "warn and compel, by spiritual penalties, Alesya de Lascy, countess of Lincoln", to keep her vow of chastity. The pope claimed that Alice was "aged above sixty" - actually she only turned sixty in December 1341 - and that she had "consented to live with [Frene] in matrimony until his death". As he had abducted and married her against her will, however, her so-called consent was meaningless. [17] And sometime before 4 May 1337, Alice was attacked again at Bolingbroke Castle by her husband's nephew and heir Sir Roger Lestrange, her own half-brother John de Lacy, and more than thirty other men. Poor Alice. They stole twenty of her horses, worth £200, and other goods, imprisoned Alice within the castle temporarily, and assaulted her servants. [18]

Alice herself died on 2 October 1348 at the age of sixty-six, going on sixty-seven. The bulk of her inheritance passed to her nephew-in-law Henry of Grosmont, though a few manors she had held jointly with Eble passed to his nephew Roger Lestrange, who had attacked Alice at Bolingbroke a few years earlier. [19] I can't imagine Alice was delighted about that, but inheritance law was strict, and there was sadly little she could have done about it.


1) Records of the Borough of Leicester, vol. 1, 1103-1326, ed. Mary Bateson (1899), p. 260.

2) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-27, pp. 245-6; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1324-27, p. 63.

3) Linda E. Mitchell, 'Martyr to the Cause: The Tragic Career of Alice de Lacy' in her Portraits of Medieval Women: Family, Marriage and Politics in England 1225-1350 (2003), pp. 116, 121.

4) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1307-17, nos. 211, 264; CIPM 1317-27, no. 453; CIPM 1347-52, nos. 290-91.

5) CIPM 1317-27, no. 388.

6) CPR 1317-21, pp. 447, 449.

7) CIPM 1327-36, nos. 681, 716.

8) Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-41p. 544.

9) Complete Peerage, vol. 5, p. 572; CPR 1327-30, p. 147.

10) CIPM 1336-46, no. 679; CPR 1292-1301, p. 23.

11) Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica, vol. 4, p. 395; CPR 1330-34, pp. 31, 365; CCR 1330-33, p. 104.

12) CPR 1330-34, p. 303; CPR 1334-38, p. 424; CCR 1337-39, p. 243; CPL 1305-41, p. 404.

13) The National Archives SC 8/64/3163. For anyone who can read Anglo-Norman and can decipher fourteenth-century handwriting, Alice's petition is available for free on the National Archives website, here.

14) CPR 1334-38, pp. 282, 319; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1327-37, p. 473; CCR 1333-37, pp. 554, 561-2, 564.

15) CPR 1334-38, p. 171.

16) CPR 1334-38, pp. 379-80, 398; CCR 1333-37, pp. 722, 726, 736; CCR 1337-39, pp. 18-20, 25; The Anonimalle Chronicle 1333 to 1381, ed. V. H. Galbraith, p. 8.

17) CPL 1305-41, p. 544.

18) CPR 1334-38, p. 450.

19) CIPM 1347-52, no. 107.

15 October, 2020

The Murder of Walter Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter, 15 October 1326

Walter Stapledon or Stapeldon was, according to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, born in Devon on 1 February in an uncertain year in or before 1265 and perhaps as early as 1261, and studied at Oxford, where he was a magister by July 1286. He was elected bishop of Exeter on 13 November 1307, very early in Edward II's reign, and served as Edward's treasurer of England in 1320/21 and 1323/25. He founded Stapledon Hall, later called Exeter College, at the University of Oxford in 1314. 

Bishop Walter was sometimes seen in the 1320s merely as a creature of the two Hugh Despensers, which is unfair and inaccurate; in early 1322, he sent Edward II what the king deemed to be the 'wrong' answer regarding the revocation of the Despensers' exile, at which Edward angrily summoned the bishop to him to explain himself. Walter was too intelligent and able to be merely a yes-man of the king and his over-mighty chamberlain Hugh the Younger. He did, however, make the fatal error of offending Queen Isabella, and this was to have tragic consequences. Walter was sent to the French court in the autumn of 1325 and was meant to give the queen money to pay her household, but in the belief that some at the French court meant him harm, he fled back to England disguised as a pilgrim, without giving Isabella her money. On 8 December 1325, she sent him a sternly-worded letter accusing him of being more loyal to Hugh Despenser than to her, and stating that he had inflicted 'great dishonour' on Edward II and herself.

Isabella's invasion force arrived in Suffolk on 24 September 1326; Edward II, staying in the Tower of London, heard of the arrival late in the evening of the 27th or on the 28th; and a few days later, on 2 or 3 October, decided that it was best to leave London. They city exploded into chaos. A convocation of some of the bishops, originally intended to take place in St Paul's, was moved to the other side of the river as this was deemed safer, though even so, the archbishop of Canterbury and several others decided it was prudent to flee from the city altogether. The house of Sir Geoffrey Scrope, chief justice of the King's Bench and an ally of the king, was sacked, though Scrope himself managed to escape unharmed. The London Dominicans (Blackfriars), loyal supporters of Edward II, also fled, and a man named John Marshal or Mareschal, believed to be an ally of Hugh Despenser the Younger, was dragged out of his house and beheaded in the middle of Cheapside. In short, London in mid-October 1326 was a dangerous place in which to be, or at least to be believed to be, an ally of the king or Hugh Despenser and an enemy of the queen.

On 15 October, Walter Stapledon rode into London through Newgate with his squires John of Paddington ('Johan de Padyngtoun') and William atte Walle, intending, according to the French Chronicle of London, to dine at his home on Eldedeneslane (Old Dean's Lane, later called Warwick Lane) not far from St Paul's. He was spotted by a mob, who yelled 'Traitor!' at him and pursued him and his two attendants. The three men rode hard towards St Paul's, hoping to seek sanctuary, and almost made it, but were cornered outside the north door and pulled from their horses, and the two squires were killed. The St Paul's annalist and the Anonimalle chronicle both say only that William atte Walle and John of Paddington were beheaded on the same day as Walter Stapledon, though the French Chronicle gives a more detailed story. It says that William, a 'vigorous man', managed to flee, but was caught at London Bridge, brought back to Cheapside, and beheaded. John of Paddington, who, the chronicler says, was warden of one of the bishop's manors at Holborn outside Temple Bar and was 'held in bad repute', was also beheaded in Cheapside. The Anonimalle states that Stapledon's manor outside Temple Bar was invaded and sacked by a mob on the same day, and the later Leicester chronicler Henry Knighton states that three, not two, of Bishop Walter's men were killed that day, but does not name them. The St Paul's annalist names the murdered squires as J. de Padingtone and W. Walle, and says that Bishop Walter intended to ride to the Tower of London that day, rather than to his own home in the city. I suppose it's impossible to know his intentions for sure, though he might have meant to go to the Tower, where Edward II and Isabella's ten-year-old younger son John of Eltham was. (Incidentally, some modern articles, books and websites give 14 October 1326 as the date of Walter's death, but chroniclers give the 15th, as does an entry on the Patent Roll.)

Bishop Walter Stapledon's death was an appalling one. He was clubbed or hammered over the head (percusserunt in capite) outside the north door of St Paul's and 'cruelly dragged' half-conscious through the churchyard into Cheapside, where a butcher whose name was apparently Robert of Hatfield* beheaded him with a bread-knife. Oy vey. John of Paddington was perhaps beheaded alongside him. The bishop's head was sent to Queen Isabella in Bristol, according to the St Paul's annalist and the Westminster chronicle Flores Historiarum, and his and the squires' bodies lay naked and unburied for several days. The French Chronicle of London states:

"Upon the same day [15 October], towards Vespers, came the choir of Saint Paul's and took the headless body of the said bishop, and carried it to Saint Paul's Church; where they were given to understand that he had died under sentence; upon which, the body was carried to the Church of Saint Clement without Temple Bar. But the people of that church put it out of the building; whereupon certain women and persons in the most abject poverty took the body, which would have been quite naked, had not one woman given a piece of old cloth to cover the middle, and buried it in a place apart without making a grave, and his esquire near him, all naked, and without any office of priest or clerk."

* This may mean William Robert of Hatfield, who qualified as a butcher in London in 1312; Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London, Letter-Book D, p. 175. 

The St Paul's annalist, whom you'd expect to be pretty well-informed on the matter, gives exactly the same explanation as to the fate of the bishop's body. Walter Stapledon was over sixty at the time of his murder, and a few months later was finally buried in Exeter Cathedral, where his gorgeous tomb and effigy still exist. His 1314 Oxford foundation, Exeter College, also still exists and is the fourth-oldest college of the University of Oxford. I don't know where the murdered John of Paddington and William atte Walle were buried, and, as is so often the case with the less politically important people, their existence is often forgotten. But they were human beings and they matter too, and their deaths should be remembered.

Below, Walter Stapledon, bishop of Exeter, c. 1261/65 - 15 October 1326, from his effigy in Exeter Cathedral. His elder brother Richard, who also died in 1326, is buried in the cathedral as well.


Annales Paulini 1307–1340, in Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward and Edward II, ed. W. Stubbs, vol. 1, pp. 316-17

The French Chronicle of London, in Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs of London, ed. H. T. Riley (1863), p. 263

The Anonimalle Chronicle 1307 to 1334, From Brotherton Collection MS 29, ed. W. R. Childs and J. Taylor (1991), p. 128

Chronicon Henrici Knighton, Vel Cnitthon, Monachi Leycestrensis, ed. Jospeh Rawson Lumby, vol. 1, p. 434

Flores Historiarum, ed. H. R. Luard, vol. 3, p. 234

Gwyn Williams, Medieval London: From Commune to Capital, pp. 295-6

Mark Buck, Politics, Finance and the Church in the Reign of Edward II, pp. 220-22

Danna Piroyansky, Martyrs in the Making: Political Martyrdom in Late Medieval England, p. 106

F. D. Blackley, 'Isabella and the Bishop of Exeter', Essays in Medieval History Presented to Bertie Wilkinson, ed. Blackley and M. R. Powicke, pp. 220-35

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 'Stapeldon, Walter'.