29 December, 2020

Thomas of Lancaster's Date of Birth: 29 December 1277?

Thomas of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster and Leicester, was the grandson of Henry III of England, the nephew of Edward I, the great-nephew of Louis IX of France, the brother-in-law of Philip IV of France, and the younger half-brother of Joan I, queen-regnant of Navarre. Given his high birth and illustrious connections, it's perhaps odd that no chronicler recorded Thomas's birth, and as his uncle Edward I allowed him to come into his inheritance early, he didn't have to prove his age when he turned twenty-one and we therefore do not know his exact date of birth. In this post, I offer the evidence that we do have for the birthdate of one of the richest and most powerful Englishmen of the fourteenth century.

Thomas's father Edmund of Lancaster, second son of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, and the only brother of Edward I, was born in January 1245. Edmund's first wife, the great heiress Aveline de Forz, died on 10 November 1274 at the age of only fifteen, and sometime in late 1275 or early 1276, Edmund married Blanche of Artois, whose father Robert (d. 1250) was the brother closest in age to Louis IX of France, and who was the widow of Enrique I, king of Navarre (d. July 1274). Here is the evidence for the birth and age of Thomas of Lancaster, their eldest son:

- The townspeople of Leicester, one of Earl Edmund's towns, gave a gift of five marks (800d) to the "messenger of the Lady Queen of Navarre after her delivery" of Thomas. This gift can only be dated to sometime during Edward I's sixth regnal year, i.e. between 20 November 1277 and 19 November 1278. [Records of the Borough of Leicester, ed. Mary Bateson, vol. 1, p. 178]

-  On 9 September 1298, Thomas's uncle Edward I allowed Thomas to have possession of the vast lands that had belonged to his late father Edmund (d. June 1296), and stated "the king has taken the homage of Thomas, whom he considers as of full age". [Calendar of Close Rolls 1296-1302, p. 174] This proves that Thomas was not yet twenty-one years old on 9 September 1298, and hence was born after 9 September 1277. Edward had ordered on 9 July 1297 that the tenants of his late brother Edmund were to do homage to Thomas, "notwithstanding that Thomas de Lancastre, son and heir of the said Edmund, is a minor in the king's custody." [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1292-1301, p. 291] 

- The inquisition post mortem of Thomas's father-in-law Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, taken between 22 February and 1 March 1311, states that Thomas was then "thirty-two and more" or thirty-three years old. [Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1307-27, no. 279] This implies a date of birth around late 1277 or early 1278. Unfortunately, the inquisition post mortem of Edmund, earl of Lancaster, does not mention the age of his eldest son and heir.

'Thomas' was a highly unusual, even unprecedented, name in the English and French royal families of the thirteenth century, and I wonder if Edmund and Blanche chose their first son's name in honour of St Thomas Becket, murdered in his own cathedral on 29 December 1170, and much revered by the English royal family of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries (Edward II visited Becket's shrine sixteen times in the nineteen and a half years of his reign). I also wonder, therefore, if Thomas of Lancaster was born on or around Becket's feast day, and if we might tentatively place his date of birth on or around 29 December 1277. If so, he was six years and four months older than his cousin and enemy Edward II, four years older than his wife Alice de Lacy, who was probably born on or around Christmas Day 1281, and forty-four years old when he was executed on 22 March 1322. Thomas's brother and heir Henry is usually assumed to have been born in 1280 or 1281, and their obscure youngest brother John of Lancaster was born before May 1286 when the three brothers are mentioned together on record for the first time. [CPR 1281-92, p. 243]

27 December, 2020

The Fourteenth-Century Staffords

The Staffords were a fairly minor noble family of the Midlands who rose to great prominence after Sir Ralph Stafford abducted the great heiress Margaret Audley in early 1336.  

Ralph was the son and heir of Edmund Stafford (b. 1273), and was born in 'Amynton', i.e. Amington, near Tamworth in Staffordshire, on 24 September 1301. The writ to hold his proof of age was issued on 10 May 1322, though it didn't take place until 6 April 1323, and the record of it is defaced and not terribly informative. Ralph, now twenty-two, was granted his lands on 6 December 1323, Edward II having taken his homage. [1] Ralph's mother was Margaret Basset, sister of Ralph, Lord Basset of Drayton (d. 1343), and presumably Ralph Stafford was named after his maternal uncle. A few decades later, the Staffords would become the heirs of the Bassets of Drayton because of this marriage; see below.

Edmund Stafford died before 12 July 1308 when his eldest son was not yet seven years old. On that date, there's a reference on the Fine Roll to "Margaret, late the wife of Edmund, baron of Stafford", and Edward II granted the rights to her second marriage to her brother Ralph Basset of Drayton for 100 marks (£66). [2] By 26 August 1308, Margaret Stafford née Basset had married her second husband Thomas Pype without permission from the king or her brother, and Edward II confiscated their lands. [3] Thomas Pype, Margaret, her sons Ralph Stafford and his younger brother Richard, and several others named Pype and Stafford were "indicted for unlawful assemblies, alliances and confederations" before April 1326. [4] Margaret died on 17 March 1337. Her dower lands from her marriage to the long-dead Edmund Stafford passed to her eldest son Ralph, said in April 1337, incorrectly, to be either "40 years on 17 March last" or "30 years and more at the feast of St Denis last" (the feast of St Denis is 9 October). [5]

Ralph Stafford married Katherine Hastang or Hastings before 9 February 1327. [6] I'm afraid I know nothing at all about her. They had two daughters, Joan and Margaret Stafford, both of whom had children with their respective husbands Nicholas Beke and John Stafford of Bramshill. Katherine Stafford née Hastang died sometime before early 1336 when Ralph Stafford abducted the great heiress Margaret Audley from her home in Thaxted, Essex, and married her. In May 1332, Ralph had been in the retinue of his future parents-in-law Hugh Audley, later earl of Gloucester, and his wife Margaret de Clare, when they accompanied Edward III's teenage sister Eleanor of Woodstock, Margaret de Clare's much younger first cousin, to her wedding in Nijmegen. [7]

Ralph and Margaret Audley's first son, Ralph Stafford junior, was born sometime before 16 March 1339, probably not too long before. [8] Their younger son and ultimate heir, Hugh Stafford, must have been named in honour of his paternal grandfather Hugh Audley, earl of Gloucester, and was born between about 1342 and 1346; he was somewhere between twenty-six and thirty years old in the autumn of 1372. [9] They also had four daughters, of whom three married and had children: Elizabeth married Fulk Lestrange of Blackmere, John, Lord Ferrers of Chartley, and Sir Reynold Cobham; Joan married John, Lord Charlton of Powys; and Beatrice married Maurice FitzGerald, earl of Desmond, and Thomas, Lord Ros. Ralph Stafford also fathered an illegitimate son named Thomas Stafford during his marriage to Margaret Audley. In 1364, Thomas's legitimate half-brother Hugh Stafford petitioned the pope on Thomas's behalf; he was joining the Church, and was granted a dispensation to be ordained and hold a benefice. Hugh called him 'his brother Thomas de Stafford, illegitimate son of a married man'. [10] Margaret Audley died in 1349, aged about twenty-seven; her widower and abductor outlived her by nearly a quarter of a century.

Little Ralph Stafford, born before 16 March 1339, was married on 30 November 1344 to Maud of Lancaster, born on 4 April 1340 as the elder daughter of Henry of Grosmont, earl of Derby, and the granddaughter of Henry of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster and Leicester. [11] Maud was four years old at the time of her wedding and Ralph was about five or six. In 1344, Henry of Grosmont and his wife Isabella Beaumont had two daughters, Maud and Blanche, aged four and two, and Henry surely anticipated having a son who would be his heir. A couple of years later, he arranged a marriage for his younger daughter Blanche with John Segrave, heir to his father Lord Segrave and his mother Margaret of Norfolk. In later years when he realised that his daughters would be the Lancastrian heirs, Henry arranged greater marriages for them: Maud married secondly Wilhelm, duke of Bavaria, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria, and Blanche married Edward III's son John of Gaunt. Young Ralph Stafford was dead by November 1347 when the inquisition post mortem of his maternal grandfather Hugh Audley was held (and as it happened, young John Segrave, who would have married young Ralph's sister-in-law Blanche of Lancaster, also died as a child, in or before 1353). [12] If little Ralph had lived, and assuming that he and Maud of Lancaster had children together, the Stafford family would have come into half of the vast Lancastrian inheritance on Henry of Grosmont's death in 1361. 

Ralph Stafford was made the first earl of Stafford in 1351, and died on 31 August 1372 at the age of almost seventy-one. His heir was his only surviving legitimate son Hugh Stafford, aged somewhere between twenty-six and thirty when Ralph's inquisition post mortem was held. Hugh, second earl of Stafford, married Philippa Beauchamp, daughter of Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1369) and granddaughter of Roger Mortimer, first earl of March (d. 1330) around 1 March 1351 when he was somewhere between five and nine years old. [13] I assume Philippa was around the same age; she was one of sixteen children, and her brother Thomas Beauchamp, their parents' second son and heir, was born about 1338/39. Hugh and Philippa had five sons and three daughters. Their daughter Joan (d. 1442) married Richard II's half-nephew Thomas Holland, earl of Kent and duke of Surrey (d. 1400); their daughter Margaret (d. 1396) married Ralph Neville, later earl of Westmorland (d. 1425); and their daughter Katherine (d. 1419) married Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk (d. 1415). 

Hugh and Philippa's eldest son was named Ralph after his paternal grandfather, and was murdered by Richard II's half-brother Sir John Holland in the summer of 1385 when he was in his late teens or thereabouts. The shock of their eldest son's murder perhaps hastened Earl Hugh's death: he died on the island of Rhodes sometime between late September and mid-October 1386 (his wife Philippa had died sometime before April 1385). On the other hand, Hugh made his will on 6 April 1385, which suggests that he had been ill for some time, and in it he raised the possibility of his dying outside England, so had perhaps already planned a pilgrimage even before Ralph's murder. He added a codicil to the will on 25 September 1385, on Rhodes. [14] His daughters Margaret and Katherine were already married in 1385, and he called them Margaret de Nevill and Katherine de la Pole. Joan Stafford was not yet married and must have been his youngest daughter - she outlived all her siblings by decades and did not die until 1442 - and Hugh added his wish that she "be well and fitly married". He also left bequests to his four younger sons, Thomas, William, Edmund and Hugh; when the earl made his will, his eldest son Ralph was still alive and was his heir to the large Stafford inheritance, so was not left any money or goods by his father.

The Stafford heir in 1386/87 was Hugh and Philippa's second son Thomas, born around 25 March 1369; he was "18 years on the feast of the Annunciation, 10 Richard II". Thomas Stafford was also heir in 1390 to Sir Ralph Basset of Drayton: "Thomas earl of Stafford, aged 21 years and more, son of Hugh son of Ralph likewise earl son of Margaret sister of Ralph father of Ralph his father is his next heir". [15] Thomas married Edward III's granddaughter Anne of Gloucester in c. 1390. Born a little before 6 May 1383, she was a young child at the time, and was the eldest daughter of Edward III's youngest son Thomas of Woodstock, made duke of Gloucester in 1385, and the great heiress Eleanor de Bohun, countess of Essex. Anne had an older brother Humphrey and younger sisters Joan and Isabel, but Humphrey and Joan died as teenagers and Isabel became a nun at the house of the Minoresses in London, and Anne became her parents' sole heir and carried her half of the de Bohun inheritance to the Staffords.

Thomas Stafford died on 4 July 1392, at the age of twenty-three; he of course left no legitimate children, as Anne of Gloucester was still far too young for the marriage to have been consummated. His heir was his next eldest brother, Hugh Stafford and Philippa Beauchamp's third son William Stafford, born on 22 September 1377. William himself died on 6 April 1395, aged seventeen, leaving the fourth brother, Edmund, as the Stafford heir. Edmund was said to be seventeen in November 1395, so was apparently not much younger than William. He was granted his full inheritance on 23 March 1399 even though "Edmund is found not of full age". [16] Not long before 28 June 1398, Edmund Stafford married his former sister-in-law Anne of Gloucester without royal licence, and their son and heir Humphrey, presumably named in honour of his maternal uncle Humphrey of Gloucester (1382-99) and Anne's maternal grandfather Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford, Essex and Northampton (1342-73), was born on 15 August 1402. [17] Less than a year later Edmund was killed at the battle of Shrewsbury, fighting for Henry IV against the Percys. Humphrey Stafford, heir of the Staffords and to his mother Anne's share of the de Bohun lands, became the first duke of Buckingham, and was the grandfather of Henry Stafford, executed by Richard III in 1483, and the great-grandfather of Edward Stafford, executed by Henry VIII in 1521. The fifth and youngest son of Hugh Stafford and Philippa Beauchamp was Hugh, who died childless on 25 October 1420; his nephew Humphrey was his heir, the five Stafford brothers having fathered only son beween them. [18] Edmund Stafford and Anne of Gloucester (d. 1438) were also the parents of Anne Stafford (d. 1432), countess of March and Ulster by her first marriage and countess of Huntingdon by her second.


1) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1317-27, no. 354; Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-27, pp. 60-61, 291.

2) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-19, p. 26; CIPM 1307-17, no. 131.

3) CCR 1307-13, p. 76.

4) CCR 1323-27, p. 467.

5) CIPM 1336-46, no. 126.

6) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1327-30, p. 7.

7) CPR 1330-34, p. 276.

8) CPR 1338-40, p. 213.

9) CIPM 1370-73, no. 210.

10) Petitions to the Pope 1342-1419, p. 491.

11) Knighton's Chronicle, ed. G. H. Martin, vol. 2, p. 30; The National Archives DL 27/36.

12) CIPM 1347-52, no. 56.

13) CPR 1350-54, p. 50.

14) Testamenta Vetusta, vol. 1, pp. 118-20.

15) CIPM 1384-92, nos. 432-54, 963-75.

16) CIPM 1392-99, nos. 196-239, 556-7; CPR 1396-99, p. 456; CCR 1396-99, p. 467.

17) CPR 1396-99, pp. 376, 384; TNA SC 8/221/11020; CIPM 1422-27, no. 369.

18) CIPM 1422-27, nos. 98-101.

06 December, 2020

Fourteenth-Century Festive Traditions: Boy Bishops and Kings of the Bean

 Today is the feast day of St Nicholas, and here's a post I wrote for historian and author Michèle Schindler's Facebook page about the medieval tradition of boy bishops, which took place between 6 and 28 December every year, and about the tradition of the 'King of the Bean'.

In the fourteenth century (and before and after), there was a widespread custom to elect a boy from a cathedral or church choir to act as a ‘boy bishop’. He was chosen on 6 December, the feast day of the patron saint of children, St Nicholas, and remained in the role until 28 December, the feast of the Holy Innocents, which commemorated Herod’s massacre of all male children under two years old in the vicinity of Bethlehem. The boy bishop was not allowed to celebrate the Eucharist, but blessed people, gave at least one sermon, led processions, handed out alms to the poor, and wore an episcopal mitre. The real bishop symbolically stepped down on 6 December and allowed the young chorister to take his place.

Edward II enthusiastically supported the tradition of boy bishops. Edward was staying at his favourite residence of Langley (later Kings Langley), Hertfordshire, on 6 December 1314, and gave two pounds to Robert Tyeis, son of Geoffrey Tyeis of Edwinstowe, who officiated as boy bishop in his chapel on that day. On 6 December 1316, the king was in the Nottinghamshire village of Scrooby, and gave six shillings and eight pence to John, son of Alan of Scrooby, who was elected as boy bishop in his chapel. On 28 December 1316, Edward was in Nottingham, and gave ten shillings to the unnamed child who officiated on the last day of the boy bishop’s ‘reign’ in his presence at St Mary’s Church. Edward II's two young half-brothers, Thomas of Brotherton (b. June 1300) and Edmund of Woodstock (b. August 1301), witnessed the election of a boy bishop in the chapel of Windsor Castle on 6 December 1303, as toddlers. The unnamed ‘boy performing the office of bishop’ (puero … ministranti officium episcopi), accompanied by the constable of the castle, subsequently walked to the royal boys’ chamber, ‘with his companions, singing a canticle’. Thomas and Edmund gave him five shillings in alms to be distributed outside the castle. Two years later, Thomas and Edmund were again at Windsor Castle on 6 December, when William de Clere was elected boy bishop in their presence, and again they gave him five shillings in alms.

The medieval tradition of boy bishops should be viewed in a wider context of festive role reversal and indulging in mildly transgressive behaviour which dated back to Roman times, and another fourteenth-century custom in the same context was that of the King of the Bean. On the ‘day of the Circumcision of Our Lord’, 1 January 1317, Edward II was staying at the royal hunting-lodge of Clipstone in Nottinghamshire. Sir William de la Beche, a knight of the royal household, was the person lucky enough to find the bean that the cooks had added to the food, and therefore became Rex Fabae, King of the Bean, with the right to preside over the festivities. The length of his ‘reign’ is not clarified, but probably lasted until Twelfth Night. William also received a generous gift from Edward II: a ‘silver-gilt basin, with ewer to match’, which cost the king £7 and 13 shillings, or more than most English people alive at the time earned in a year. A year later on 1 January 1318, the royal squire Thomas de Weston found the bean and became Rex Fabae, and also received a costly silver-gilt basin with stand and cover, and a matching pitcher, from Edward II. In later centuries, the King of the Bean would be known as the Lord of Misrule.