Tag Archives: Clement VI

Joan, Princess of Wales

Black Prince

At the end of the last post Joan, Countess of Kent, married the Prince of Wales in secret in the spring of 1361. Why did Joan enter into another secret marriage? Some see it as a bold plan on the part of the Prince of Wales and his father, Edward III, to force the hand of an anti-English pope into granting the necessary dispensation. Because they were closely related, Joan and the Prince needed a papal dispensation to marry.  The Prince was a great grandson of Edward I through his first wife and Joan was Edward I’s granddaughter through his second wife. Others see it as an indication of the disapproval that the Prince knew would be forthcoming from his father when the king found out about the marriage. The first theory might hold true if Clement VI were still pope. He had been so pro-French that he had previously refused the necessary dispensation to allow the Prince to marry a foreign princess because there were other marriages she could make that would be more advantageous to France. Clement VI had, however, died in 1352. His successor, Innocent VI, wanted to promote peace between England and France and was not likely to turn down such a request. In fact, he did not. He also confirmed, at the Prince’s request, the validity of Joan’s marriage to Thomas Holland.

It is more likely that the Prince did not want his father to know about the marriage until he had received the papal dispensation and it was too late to do anything about it. The fear that the Prince’s marriage to Joan might still be declared bigamous was, of course, one of the main reasons for the king’s disapproval. It was also, apparently, a great fear of Richard II’s (son of the Prince and Joan), as he is said to have kept all the papers relating to the validity of his mother’s first marriage close to hand. Had their marriage been declared bigamous, he would have been illegitimate.

Joan did not have to marry again. As a wealthy widow and Countess of Kent in her own right, she had the freedom to choose. It’s probable that she married the Prince in order to secure good marriages for her children.

Edward III’s plan for his son’s marriage, almost from his birth, had been a diplomatic alliance with a foreign princess. Since the Prince was related to most of them to a prohibited degree (which at this time was four degrees), he needed a papal dispensation, which had not been forthcoming. Marriage to someone like Joan, who had no diplomatic value, was not something the king had envisaged.

One potential difficulty for the couple was the Prince’s close personal relationship with the Earl of Salisbury, William Montague, whom Joan had been forced to marry, despite her protests that she was already married. Their marriage does not seem to have affected the Prince’s relationship with his friend and, after the Prince’s death, Joan continued to receive support from her bigamous husband.

The formal wedding took place on 10th October 1361 in the Chapel at Windsor. Joan was 33 and her new husband was two years younger. Incredibly, the marriage not celebrated by the king. The marriages of the king’s other children were celebrated with tournaments and banquets. For his heir, to whom he had always been close, there was nothing.

As part of the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, Aquitaine had been increased in size and made a principality. In 1362 Edward III created his son Prince of Aquitaine and sent him there to rule it.

The Prince and Joan set up a court based around Bordeaux, Angoulême and, later, Cognac. Their first child, Edward, was born in Angoulême in 1365 and Richard, their second, in Bordeaux in 1366, shortly before his father set off for Spain. The Prince was famed for his generosity and it was a splendid court. Some considered it too splendid and fashionable, but, for the first few years, at least, the Prince was popular. After he became ill in Spain, however, he was not able to maintain his hold on Aquitaine. In 1370 their oldest son died and Joan and the Prince returned to England in 1371. On 8th June 1376 Joan was widowed for the second time. The Prince died on the feast of the Trinity, for which he had a particular reverence.

Joan’s youngest son was now the king’s heir. The king’s health was failing and it was clear to everyone that he was going to be succeeded by a minor.

After the Prince’s death his younger brother John of Gaunt became the main counsellor of his son. Despite the ten year age difference between them, the Prince and his brother had been close and John of Gaunt remained close to Joan. He lacked the charisma and ability of his brother, however, and he was unpopular. Rumours began to circulate that he wanted to be king and that he was illegitimate. Joan gave him her support, however, shielding him when a mob attacked his palace in 1377.

This was a difficult time for England. Few people could remember a time when Edward III had not been king. Until his last few years he had been a popular king, but he was now in his dotage. After fifty years as king, Edward III died on 21st June 1377. The new king was ten years old.  Despite the fears of Edward III, no one challenged Richard’s right to rule and he was crowned on 16th July 1377. Joan was now mother to a king.

In April 1378 Joan and her two daughters were made Ladies of the Garter. Two years earlier her eldest son Thomas had been made a Knight of the Garter and it’s interesting that Joan was not made a Lady of the Garter at the same time or earlier.

After years of prosecuting the war in France, England was now at risk of invasion and there were attacks along the south coast. Richard’s council could not maintain control of the country and, when it introduced a poll tax in order to continue an increasingly unpopular war, rebellion erupted. Richard was still very popular personally, however. In June 1381 Joan returned from her annual pilgrimage to the Prince’s tomb in Canterbury to find London in danger from the rebels. She and Richard took refuge in the Tower of London.  Buildings were destroyed, property looted and those seen as traitors killed by the rebels.  John of Gaunt and the council were the main targets, but Gaunt was fighting in Scotland, so his palace was destroyed. Richard’s chancellor, Simon Sudbury, who was also the Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered. Richard’s personal bravery brought the rebellion to an end, and swift retribution against the leaders meant that the immediate danger was removed.

Joan ensured that she had control of the negotiations to find a wife for Richard and he married Anne of Bohemia on 20th January 1382 . There was no financial benefit to the match, since she had no dowry, and Anne’s diplomatic benefit was limited, but Richard and his wife grew to be very close.

Joan retired from court to live at Wallingford Castle.

After the Peasants’ Revolt relations between Richard and John of Gaunt cooled considerably until, in early 1385, John of Gaunt took a small army to London to confront his nephew. Richard was forced into a humiliating apology. Joan intervened and was able to mediate a reconciliation between them.  In August 1385 she failed to reconcile Richard to her son, John Holland, who had murdered Sir Ralph Stafford, one of Richard’s advisers. When news reached her of her failure she collapsed. She died on 8th August.

Joan was buried in Stamford, next to her first husband, Thomas Holland, which probably caused Richard some embarrassment. He had doubtless expected her to be buried next to his father, as the Prince had probably also expected, but, even in death, Joan was still insisting on the validity of her marriage to Thomas Holland.




Filed under Fourteenth Century

Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part Five


Clement VI

If you’ve come across any of the Avignon popes before it would probably have been Clement VI. He was the only one I’d heard of before I started this series. He was the pope who sat between two fires in the attempt to keep the Black Death at bay. He also put an end to the Flagellants when he saw that what they were doing was getting out of hand.

He was born Pierre Roger in 1291 in Corrèze and became pope in 1342. He finished building the Palais des Papes and the palace reflected his efforts more than those of any other pope. This can still be seen today. The extravagance of his papal court was said to rival that of any European monarch.

Pierre Roger studied theology and was made Archbishop of Sens at 28. At 29 he was Archbishop of Rouen. Not long after this he became Philip VI’s chancellor.

When the time came to elect a new pope after the death of Benedict XII, Philip wanted Roger to take the position. Since the cardinals also wanted this, he was elected. The new pope was known for his oratory and preaching. His intelligence also made him a good choice.

Most of the 25 cardinals he created during his papacy were French and, of these, twelve were related to him. It was said that Gregory XI, last of the Avignon popes and made a cardinal by Clement, was his son. Gregory is recorded as being Clement’s nephew, but his birth name was Pierre Roger de Beaufort, which might be considered a clue to his parentage.

In 1348 Clement bought Avignon and the surrounding area, clearly signaling that he had no intention of returning the papacy to Rome. This was also the year in which the Black Death reached the town. Avignon suffered dreadfully. Clement’s extravagance and outrageous nepotism could lead an observer to think that there wasn’t much to him, but his actions during the Black Death showed the kind of man he really was. Many senior clerics fled their posts to sit out the plague in the country, but Clement stayed in Avignon, leaving only for a short period in the summer when it was too hot to remain in the palace between his burning braziers. He returned to Avignon in the cooler weather. He was a charitable man, concerned for those in his care and he created new cemeteries for the dead and arranged for gravediggers to bury them.

Initially he supported the Flagellants, even joining their processions when they came to Avignon, but he soon realised that these processions were helping to spread the plague, not stopping it.  In 1349 he declared the Flagellants heretics, thus effectively making them unwelcome wherever they travelled. When the Jews were blamed for causing the plague and massacres began, he published bulls against the perpetrators and said he would excommunicate those who killed Jews. More than two hundred Jewish communities were wiped out at that time.

Clement was frequently in dispute with Edward III as the king tried to retrieve some of the rights in clerical appointments that previous popes had taken for themselves. The king also complained about the extravagance of the papal court. The biggest problem for Edward was that Clement was French and an open supporter of the French king with whom Edward was engaged in a war. When Edward tried to get back some of the rights over appointments, it was partly out of fears that the money going from those dioceses into the papal coffers was going straight out again to those of the King of France, thus enabling him to continue in the war. This was Edward’s constant fear during the period of the Avignon papacy and it was not without justification.

Clement VI died at the end of 1352.


Filed under Black Death, Fourteenth Century

Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part One

palais des papes

Often when I write these posts I write about things that I know and I just check some of the facts as I write. This post, and the ones that follow, are the result of some specific research that I did so that I would have some background information on the fourteenth century.

When I was much younger I assumed that the Avignon papacy was some kind of rival to a Roman papacy, much in the same way that there were antipopes (in one case three at one time, as we shall see at the end of this series). Gradually I came to realise that the Avignon popes were real popes, were acknowledged as real popes and had, for reasons unknown to me, relocated the papacy to south east France. When I realised that they were not regarded with favour by England, I knew that I had to find out more.

It’s true that what was happening with regard to the papacy would have very little impact on the stories that I’m currently writing, but research is fun and I believe in making the world inhabited by my characters as real as I can. So I knuckled down and started doing the research. The papacy was based in Avignon from 1309 to 1367 and again from 1370 to 1376. The only one about whom I knew anything was Clement VI. He was the pope who warded off the Black Death by spending his days sitting between two fires in the papal palace and refusing to see anyone.

Avignon at the beginning of the fourteenth century was small and dirty. After the papacy was established there the town attracted criminals of all kinds and its taverns and brothels became notorious. Gradually it became larger and more splendid as the cardinals built palaces and the Palais des Papes was finished

The Avignon popes had a reputation for corruption, not only because they seemed to favour the French king, but also because they seemed to be greedy for money and tried to extend their sphere of influence beyond ecclesiastical bounds. It’s not the most edifying period for the papacy, for many reasons, and in order to have any hope of understanding it we need to go back to the end of the thirteenth century.

In 1294 Pope Celestine V was persuaded to abdicate less than six months after he had been crowned. Before his election he had been a hermit and had had no desire to be pope, but two years had passed since the death of the previous pope and the cardinals could not agree on a candidate until someone nominated the reclusive monk. He was completely unworldly and it was easy enough for Cardinal Caetani to talk him into resigning when it became clear that he was not suitable. Not entirely surprisingly, Caetani became the next pope – Benedict VIII – and imprisoned Celestine, afraid that he could be installed as an antipope. Eighteen months later the former pope was dead. Despite his advanced years (he was eighty-one) it was rumoured that Benedict VIII had had him killed. Celestine was canonised by Clement V in 1313.

Boniface VIII was not a popular figure with the European monarchs, because they believed that he interfered too much in secular matters. Despite universal disapprobation, it was Philip the Fair of France (Philip IV) who became his greatest enemy. It should be pointed out that Philp was not called ‘the Fair’ because of his exemplary character, but because of the colour of his hair. Philip wanted to raise a tax so that he could fight Edward I of England in Gascony and the burden of the tax fell on the clergy. This angered Boniface who said that a king didn’t have the right to tax the clergy. This in turn angered the kings, who said that they did. Boniface was ultimately forced to accept their position within certain constraints.

A campaign of rumours was started against Boniface, probably by Philip. It was a ploy he was to use again against the Templars. The pope was accused of nepotism, simony, avarice and sodomy. I had to look up simony and it means the buying or selling of something spiritual or closely connected with the spiritual. In this case it means the selling of ecclesiastical positions.

Matters between Boniface and Philip came to a head in 1301 when the king imprisoned a French bishop, Bernard Saisset. The bishop was accused of treason and insulting behaviour. Needless to say, Boniface demanded the bishop’s release, stating that Philip didn’t have the authority to arrest him. Philip later acknowledged that he did not indeed have the authority to arrest the bishop and released him a few months later. Boniface, however, called the king to appear before him in Rome. Philip refused and responded with accusations against the pope. These included heresy, so he demanded that a General Council be held in France at which the pope could be arraigned. Guillaume de Nogaret, Philip’s right hand man and head rumourmonger, went to Italy to take the pope to France, by force if necessary.

As it turned out it was necessary, but unsuccessful. Boniface was in his home town of Anagni when de Nogaret found him. Boniface was writing a bull to excommunicate Philip, but it went unfinished. He was captured, beaten and nearly executed. Whether he was released or escaped is uncertain, but he managed to get to Rome, where he died a month later. Boniface was very briefly (for eight months) succeeded by Benedict XI.

It might seem odd to write at length about two popes who never, as far as I know, set foot in Avignon, but Boniface’s relationship with Philip set the tone for what was to come later and how he dealt with Celestine shows us something of his character.

After Benedict XI’s short tenure a new pope was elected and this was Clement V (1305-14), the first Avignon pope. Before he became Pope he was Archbishop of Bordeaux. Since he was already in France, he was crowned in Lyon, rather than Rome, at the behest of Louis X, who was very happy to have a French pope. It wasn’t long before it was clear that Clement was little more than a puppet of Louis.

Very quickly a number of Frenchmen were made cardinals, until the majority were French. Clement V didn’t have a settled life. Unable to live in Rome, due to the wars that were constantly being waged in Italy, he moved between Lyon, Poitiers and Bordeaux. It wasn’t until 1309 that he decided to settle in Avignon. The town was in Provence, which was not part of France at that time, but which belonged to a vassal of the French king, Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily and Count of Provence. Nonetheless the papacy was seen for most of the rest of the century as being under the sway of the French kings.


Filed under Fourteenth Century