Tag Archives: Joan of Kent

Books about the Black Prince

Whilst this blog is primarily to record my own research, I acknowledge that some of its readers might be interested in the resources I use for that research. If you’re on Goodreads you can see my library, or at least as much of it as I’ve been able to record there, as well as what I’m reading at the moment.

Today my medieval shelf contains over 100 books, which rather explains why I’m running out of space for books in the house. I’ve read few of them from cover to cover, but I’ve dipped into most of them.

Since I’ve written a number of posts about the Black Prince, or Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine, I thought I’d start with some of the books that I’ve read about him.

 

51fiPOjen6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

I reviewed this book here. It’s very useful, not just because it recounts as many of the details of the Prince’s life as are known, but because it also has some interesting details about the Hundred Years’ War.

 

 

51idRVvgwNL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

Barber has collected source material including campaign diaries, letters and Chandos Herald’s Life of the Black Prince in one place. Only one of these is written by the Prince himself. It is a letter that he wrote to his wife after the battle of Nájera. This gives useful insights into what people of the time thought about events, even if much of it was written for propaganda purposes.

 

51OgJ6LGWKL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_

This book examines aspects of the Prince’s life in relation to events or ideas in the fourteenth century. These themes include politics, the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death and religious heresy. It’s not a particularly useful book if you’re interested in the life of the Prince, but it does have some interesting things to say about the times in which he lived.

 

51iQRNuydaL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_

In death, as in life, Joan of Kent is always associated with the men in her life, in this case her third and last husband. This, together with the books listed above and a couple of others, was the main source of my recent series of posts about Joan of Kent.

This is a worthy attempt at a biography of a woman about whom very little is known. There is more information available about her three husbands and her sons than there is about her, so much of this book is speculation and you might not necessarily agree with the conclusions that Lawne comes to.

12 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century

When is a clandestine wedding not a secret wedding?

Bologna_marriage_women

As demonstrated by the life of Joan of Kent, clandestine marriages were not always invalid marriages, nor were they solely the province of the lower classes. Joan had two clandestine marriages: one to Thomas Holland and the other to Edward of Woodstock, the Prince of Wales. Joan’s difficulty with establishing the validity of the first shows in part why the church frowned on them and tried to stamp them out.

The church had been trying for centuries to control marriages, but all that was needed for a valid marriage was for the two people concerned to say to one another that they were married. There were other conditions, of course. They could not be too closely related, as in the case of Joan and the Prince, and they could not already be married to someone else. They did not need to be married inside a church or by a priest, nor did the marriage need to be recorded officially.

Clandestine marriages were not necessarily secret, although that was so in Joan’s case. The marriage vows themselves were often made publicly. Clandestine simply meant that there was no public betrothal and no solemnisation. The public betrothal allowed anyone who had an objection to the marriage to make it before the wedding itself took place. The church wanted couples to be married with a priest in attendance. The idea was not that the priest married them, for the couple did that themselves when they made their vows to one another. They were not even married inside the church. If the couple were having a ‘church wedding’ it took place in the church porch, with the couple only going inside if a nuptial mass was to be celebrated. If they were not getting married in front of a priest, they could be married anywhere they chose.

Clandestine marriages had the disadvantage that, most often, only the couple themselves knew that it had taken place and either of them could say that there had been no marriage (or claim that they were married to someone when they were not). It happened frequently that a woman would have sexual intercourse with a man she believed to be her husband, only to have him repudiate the marriage later, usually if she became pregnant. This was the course that Joan of Kent’s relatives urged her to take when she told them that she was married to Thomas Holland. She had been young, only twelve at the time, and impressed by an older man (he was probably about twenty-four), but Joan insisted that, not only had the marriage taken place, but that it had also been consummated. It was also not unknown for a woman whose marriage prospects were slim to claim that she was married to a man who had made no such promises.

There were many discussions in the medieval church, as well as in legal circles, about what constituted marriage. Was it the promising to one another of the two people concerned? Was it the consummation? Was it the living together after both of these? In the end it came down to the promising to one another of two people able to do so, which was why it was so difficult to eradicate clandestine marriages.

 

 

 

 

11 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century

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.

 

9 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century

Joan, Countess of Kent

Thomas Holland

In the previous post I looked at the early years of Joan of Kent. She married Thomas Holland in secret at the age of twelve and, a few months later was forced into a bigamous marriage with William Montague.

Once their marriage was confirmed as valid by the pope, Joan and Holland finally started their life together. They were not as wealthy as they had expected to be. Holland’s prisoner had returned to France on parole and been executed, so most of the ransom was unpaid.

Almost immediately Joan conceived and their first son, Thomas, was born in 1350. The Prince of Wales was his godfather. Holland was appointed captain of Calais castle when Joan was pregnant with their second son, John.

At the end of 1352 Joan’s brother, John, Earl of Kent, died and she inherited his title and his estates. The Countess of Kent was one of the wealthiest landowners in England. Joan’s properties were scattered across the country, so there was no ideal place for the family to live in order to manage them. It seems that they settled in Donnington Castle in Leicestershire, which was the only castle that Joan owned. They were not there for long.

In 1353 Holland went to Brittany to take command of the English forces there. He was briefly in England in the autumn, returning to Brittany with Joan. It was unusual for a woman to join her husband on military service. Usually the wife managed her husband’s estates while he was away. There was, however, a truce with France and, now that Joan was very rich and an even more attractive prize than she had been before, Holland might have wanted to keep his wife safe from Montague, should he decide to renew his claim for her. Perhaps Joan, having been separated from her husband for most of their married life, insisted that she accompany him.

They returned to England in late 1355, with Holland having missed out on accompanying the Prince of Wales on his raids in southern France and the king on his campaign in Picardy. Their daughter Maud, was born in 1356, but it’s not known what they were doing or where they were that year. Holland was not mentioned as having taken part in the king’s planned invasion of France. It’s unlikely that he would not have been given an important command if he had. It was intended that English armies would land in Brittany, Normandy and Aquitaine, and Holland knew the first two very well. The best explanation that I can come up with, other than that he had somehow angered the king, was that he was ill or incapacitated in some other way.

Although the invasion was a failure, it did result in the capture of the French king, Jean II. The Prince brought him to London in May 1357 and there were banquets and tournaments to celebrate. Many believe that it was at this point that the Prince fell in love with Joan.

In November Holland was made custodian of Cruyk Castle in Normandy and a month later he became assistant to the king’s lieutenant in Normandy. The following year he took Joan with him to Normandy. By this time they had probably had their fourth child, Joan.

In October 1359 Holland was appointed joint lieutenant in Normandy. At the end of October Edward III arrived in Normandy with another army. His intention, apparently, was to be crowned King of France in Rheims. This campaign was a complete failure, but the resulting treaty would have been a great success for the king, had both sides kept to it. Holland was with him on this campaign.

Holland and Joan returned to England in the spring of 1360. At the end of September he was appointed lieutenant in Normandy and, after many years of being married to the Countess of Kent, made Earl of Kent. He was instructed to make the terms of the peace treaty known in Normandy and to supervise the handing over of English strongholds to the French under the terms of the treaty. He got as far as Rouen, where he was taken ill and died in December.

Three months later Joan was secretly married to the Prince of Wales.

11 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century

Joan: Fair Maid of Kent

Salisbury_1430

Joan of Kent’s story is more fantastic than anything I would dare to make up in a novel. She was the daughter of a traitor who married the Prince of Wales; she knew poverty and great wealth; she had three husbands, two at the same time; and she married two of them clandestinely.

Her life was so full of incident that I’ve had to divide the post into parts. Like her last husband, the Black Prince, Joan was given her nickname after her death. In the light of her story, it’s very possibly ironic, since, as we shall see, she wasn’t a maid for very long. Although little is written or known about Joan herself, her life can be inferred from what the men closest to her wrote or are recorded as doing.

Joan was born in 1328.  Her father, Edmund of Kent, made the mistake of supporting his half-brother Edward II, then supporting Isabella and Mortimer in the rebellion against Edward, then supporting Edward again. Edward II had been deposed by his wife and her lover in 1326, imprisoned and declared dead in 1327. Tricked into believing him to be alive, Edmund tried to rescue his brother from his imprisonment in 1330. In March of that year he was executed as a traitor by Isabella and Mortimer and Joan, her mother and her brothers were made prisoners and all their property taken from them.

Seven months after her father’s death, Joan was taken into the royal household. She was cousin to Edward III, who finally took control of his kingdom in October 1330. Since the king’s first child, Prince Edward, had been born that summer, Joan and her brothers moved into the royal nursery. When the Prince’s sisters were born, Joan’s younger brother stayed with the prince (her older brother having died) while she went with the princesses into the queen’s household.

In 1338 she travelled with the king and queen to Flanders where Edward III tried to gain support for his war with France. In the spring of 1340, at the age of 12, Joan entered into the first of her clandestine marriages. She married Thomas Holland, who was probably twice her age. One of the king’s household knights, he was a good soldier who had served in Scotland and in France. He was not what any of Joan’s relatives had in mind for her and she was a great prize for an ambitious young man, even before she inherited her brother’s wealth. Holland was the second son of a father who had been murdered for changing sides in the earlier civil war. Shortly after they married, Holland took part in the battle of Sluys, fought in Edward III’s disastrous campaign in France and then went off to fight in a crusade against the Tartars, leaving his wife behind, all without anyone knowing that they were married.

Bearing in mind that Joan lived with the young princesses, it is difficult to imagine how Holland managed to court Joan and then get her away from her companions long enough to marry her and bed her, but he did, and their marriage, as we shall see later, was binding.

Later in 1340 Joan returned to England and in early 1341 she was forced into a marriage against her will with William Montague, oldest son of the Earl of Salisbury. In many ways this marriage shows Joan’s importance to Edward III. The Earl of Salisbury had been his closest and most trusted friend during the early years of Edward’s reign and he had led those who arrested Isabella and Mortimer at Nottingham castle in October 1330, enabling Edward III to begin to rule in his own right.  The marriage was advantageous to both Joan and Montague. Montague would be a very wealthy man when his father died and marriage into the royal family confirmed his father’s status.

Joan told her mother about her marriage to Holland, but was either not believed or the marriage was not considered valid. It is not known who knew about Joan’s first marriage, but it’s probable that the groom and his father had been told. It’s also possible that the king and queen were aware of their failure to look after her while she was in their care.

There has been speculation about why Joan didn’t just accept the marriage with Montague, since it was a good match for both of them and her first marriage could have been set aside or forgotten about. She must have loved Holland, but I also wonder, based on nothing but her continued disinclination to be his wife over several years, if she didn’t learn something about Montague that made her dislike him intensely. It’s pure speculation, but so is almost everything written about her.

It’s probable that Joan and her new husband lived apart. Ironically, since Joan had already consummated her marriage to Holland, they were considered too young consummate their marriage.Both Joan and her new groom were 13.

In late 1341 or the beginning of 1342 Holland returned and claimed his wife, but failed to remove her from her new husband. Holland had left her alone for so long that it is believed by many that he didn’t care for her and, on discovering that she was married to Montague, decided that he was willing to be bought off by the Earl of Salisbury. Holland was not bought off and nor did he relinquish his claim on Joan. He was sent back to fight in Brittany with nothing resolved. He later returned to England, but left almost immediately to crusade against the Moors in Spain. If Holland wanted Joan back, he would have to prove that his marriage to her was valid. That would take money, of which he had very little.

Holland returned to England and, since the Earl of Salisbury was also in England, it is believed that serious negotiations took place between them. These were cut short when the Earl of Salisbury was injured in a tournament and died of his wounds. Matters were still not resolved when Holland went to France again. He returned, only to go back to France in 1346 with Edward III. All three of Joan’s husbands were together on this campaign. It was the first campaign of the 16 year old Prince Edward and the 18 year old William Montague.  Holland was now a very experienced soldier in his early thirties.

Holland was promoted to joint commander of the Prince’s division and fought at Crécy beside him. He then went on to take part in the siege of Calais and was one of the king’s negotiators there. During the campaign he captured a French noble whose ransom was literally a fortune (although Holland only received part of it before his captive returned to France on parole and was executed) and when he returned to England in October 1347, Holland could afford to start proceedings in the papal court to establish that he was married to Joan. Partly due to Montague’s delaying tactics, it was two years before the judgment was announced.  The esteem in which Holland was held by the king at this point, is shown by his being honoured as one of the first Knights of the Order of the Garter along with the Prince and Montague.

It is possible, but not probable, that Joan had not seen Holland since he left Flanders in 1340. It is more likely that she saw him at tournaments and in the court as his favour with the king grew.  It may be for this reason that a close guard was put on Joan by Montague, when he forcibly removed Joan from where she had been living and took her into his own house.

On 13th November 1349 the pope confirmed that Joan was married to Holland.

Joan’s story so far raises all kinds of questions. Was she abducted, raped and forced into marriage by Holland? Was she later abducted and raped by Montague? Why did she persist in her marriage to Holland, when Montague was the wealthier man with higher status? Possibly the simple answer is that she fell in love with a dashing older man and, having given her word when she married him, refused to break it.

17 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century

Edward of Woodstock: The Black Prince

Black Prince received Aquitaine

Edward of Woodstock, first child of Edward III was not known as the Black Prince in his lifetime; the nickname was given to him in the sixteenth century. When he was alive he was known as Edward of Woodstock; the Prince of Wales; the Prince of Aquitaine; or simply the Prince.  He had many other titles.

He was born on 15th June 1330 to Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, who were 17 and 15 respectively.  I give their ages because, as we shall see from Edward of Woodstock’s own life, life in the fourteenth century was usually short, and marrying and having children early was usually necesary.

In 1330 Edward III was still trying to gain control of his kingdom after the rebellion against his father led by his mother, Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer.  Edward had been crowned king, but did not rule. A son for his first born child was taken as a very good sign for his reign, which he began in his own right when he ousted Isabella and Mortimer in October of that year.

As his name indicates, the Prince was born at Woodstock, which was a favourite residence of the king and queen. More than one of the Prince’s siblings was born there. Titles and gifts were showered on the young prince and he was made Prince of Wales in 1343.

In the early years of war with France, Edward III had little success and began to lose the support of Parliament for his endeavours.  This changed in 1346.  Whether or not Edward III planned an invasion of France is not known, but he arrived at St-Vaast-La-Hogue on the Normandy coast on 11th July with a large army and marched east.

On 26th August he fought the French king (or the usurper, depending on your point of view), Philippe VI, at Crécy.  The Prince, at 16, was put in charge of the vanguard (the division at the front of the army).  This was a very responsible position.  Even if he didn’t have full control (he was supported by two of his father’s most trusted men), he had enough to demonstrate his not inconsiderable abilities as a soldier.  After the battle, the English army marched on to Calais, and the Prince spent the next year with his father besieging the town.

Two years later, with the Black Death raging in England, the Prince, along with 24 men who had fought with him at Crécy, was made a Knight of the Garter when the order was created.

In 1355 the Prince was sent to Aquitaine with an army.  From there he launched two lengthy and damaging raids on the French.  These were supposed to culminate in the invasion of France, but ended instead in the battle of Poitiers and the capture of the French king, Jean II, and much of the French nobility in September 1356.  The Prince was now widely-acknowledged as a great soldier.  At 26, however, the heir to the English crown was still unmarried.

The capture of Jean II led, eventually, to a peace treaty.  Aquitaine was increased in size and made a principality. The Prince was sent to rule it.  This had many advantages for Edward III.  It kept his heir out of England.  Edward III’s father had been deposed and murdered.  Although this probably played little part in his thinking, Edward was a great politician and the desire to ensure that he did not suffer his father’s fate was a strong motivation throughout his reign.  Settling the Prince in Aquitaine also meant that the French had the great soldier on their doorstep.  It was easier for him to fight them from Aquitaine then it was from England.  It also gave the Prince something to do.  The Prince was unlikely to become king in the near future and there was no war to keep him occupied.  The greatest advantage was that he would learn to rule, preparing him to be king. Aquitaine was to be run as a sovereign state and the Prince had almost complete authority, needing to refer very little to his father.

In 1361 he married his father’s cousin, Joan of Kent, an interesting woman who deserves, and will get, a post of her own, and set off in 1362 for Aquitaine. Their two sons were born there: Edward in 1365 and Richard in 1367.

Edward and Joan kept a flamboyant court which, in later years, was criticised for its excesses.  The court moved between Angoulême, where Edward was born, and Bordeaux, Richard’s birthplace.

Even during this period of peace with France the Prince still managed to find a battle to fight.  He went into Spain in 1367 to support Don Pedro, an ally of the English who had been deposed by his half-brother.  Once again the Prince knew victory, but this one left a bitter aftertaste.  The Prince became ill in Castile and he never recovered.  It took him nine more years to die, during which he was mostly bedridden and in almost constant pain.

Shortly after this the peace came to an end.  Possibly spurred on by the knowledge that the Prince was too ill to do much to stop them, the French made increasing incursions into Aquitaine.  English and Gascon armies opposed them, but most of the great captains from Crécy and Poitiers were dead and no one had risen to take their places. The armies found it more and more difficult to repel the French.

The Prince still had enough strength for one last stand.  In 1370 the town of Limoges surrendered to the French after a siege of three days.  He took the surrender as a personal betrayal, as the bishop who had charge of the town was his son’s godfather.  The Prince had himself carried to the town at the head of a large army.  His siege lasted five days and ended in a storm.  Many of the townspeople were killed as the Prince took his revenge.  Within the rules of siege warfare the Prince could have killed everyone in the town, but he limited the slaughter.  The town itself, however, was more or less destroyed by fire.  It was decades before Limoges was rebuilt.

This was another victory tinged with bitterness for the Prince.  He returned to Angoulême to discover that his oldest son was dead.

Acknowledging his inability to hold Aquitaine, the Prince returned to England in January 1371, leaving his brother, John of Gaunt, to govern the principality as his lieutenant.  He was so ill when he returned to England that it was some months before he arrived in London to meet his father.

The following year, after a great deal of rest had improved his health, he supported another attempt by Edward III to invade France, but it, too, was a failure.  Edward of Woodstock died four years later, a week short of his 46th birthday.

 

 

 

8 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War

A Garter and Chivalry

Edward III and the garter

Edward III was his father’s son and the early years of his reign, at least, were informed by the disastrous end of his father’s. Edward III was at pains to show that he was a different kind of king in the hope of hanging on to his crown… and his life.

Although far from a coward, Edward II didn’t seem to enjoy fighting as much as his son and he certainly possessed none of Edward III’s military genius. Edward II had little in common with his barons, and his wife and her lover found it fairly easy to depose him and then murder him. Edward III wished to escape a similar fate.

The creation of the Order of the Knights of the Garter was an important step in the process of creating a new kind of kingship for England. Edward had been considering ways in which to bind his knights to one another and to him for some time. He had originally considered something similar to the Round Table. Arthurian legends were popular at the time and it wouldn’t hurt the king to be considered a second Arthur.

In the end he decided to create a chivalric order that included an element of the spiritual.

After the surprising military successes of 1346 (victories against the French at Crécy and the Scots at Neville’s Cross) the king was in a position to his ideas into effect and the Order was created on St George’s Day 1349 (probably).

There are only ever 24 Knights of the Garter, plus the monarch and the Prince of Wales. These days they tend to be rather elderly – 4 are in their 90s and the youngest is 64. When the first Knights of the Garter were created they were much younger, mostly in their 20s. The Black Prince was 18 and the king himself was one of the oldest at 36.

The first knights included men who had fought beside the king and the Prince in France, such as the earl of Lancaster (the king’s most trusted general), the earl of Warwick, the Captal de Buch (a trusted Gascon lord) and the Prince’s friends Sir John Chandos and Sir James Audley, as well as Thomas Holland, first husband of Joan of Kent who later married the Prince.

The Knights would meet on St George’s day, usually at Windsor and their meeting would often be accompanied by a tournament. The tournament provided a spectacular entertainment for those in attendance, but it also had a more serious purpose. The Order of the Garter was an order of chivalry and the tournament allowed its members to demonstrate their chivalry by feats of arms.

Orders of knighthood were being formed in other European countries at the time, as the modern methods of warfare were beginning to make their rôle in it less important. Soldiers were being paid rather than providing their services as a feudal duty and had little personal loyalty to those who paid them.

The Garter Knights have a motto ‘Hony soi qui mal y pense’, which probably refers to Edward III’s claim to the French throne. Since one of the objects of the Order was to bind the members to him so that they would support him in foreign wars, this makes sense. It means ‘Shamed be he who thinks evil of it’.

No one knows why the garter was chosen as the emblem, although there are lots of theories, some of them rather salacious. It probably symbolized something relating, again, to the king’s claim to the French throne.

Windsor was important to Edward III as it was his birthplace. It was also his favorite residence outside London, although Woodstock, where three of his children were born, including the Black Prince, was another place where he liked to stay. It was in Windsor that he chose to institute the Order and where he built their spiritual home, which reflected the increasing attribution of English military success to St George and the cross of St George was used to represent the king as much as his own royal standard.

One of the more surprising things about the institution of the Order is that it happened while England was in the grip of the Black Death. It’s easy to imagine that everything just stopped for the time during which Europe was expecting the world to end, but things did continue, although there were some comments from contemporary chroniclers that this might not be the best time for what many considered frivolity. Since he lost one of his much-loved daughters to the Black Death, Edward III was as aware as anyone else of the impact the plague was having on the country.

The kind of kingship he created certainly worked for him. Unlike his predecessor and his successor, he died a natural death and was king for 50 years.

 

6 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, Uncategorized

Chandos Herald and the Life of the Black Prince

arms-ed3

I recently wrote a review of a biography of the Black Prince. One of the main sources for his life is Chandos Herald’s Life of the Black Prince. As his pseudonym implies, the writer was the herald of Sir John Chandos, who had been a close friend of the Prince’s from childhood. The herald’s real name is unknown.

The Life was written in verse in Anglo-Norman somewhere between 1376 and 1387. The poem was originally untitled. Many believe that the Life was written for Richard II, the Black Prince’s son, but the lack of a dedication to him makes it unlikely.

Chandos Herald came from Hainault, as did Edward III’s queen, Philippa, and the other great (English) historian of the fourteenth century, Jean Froissart. When he wrote his own history, Froissart used Chandos Herald as a source.

When Sir John Chandos died in 1370, the herald entered royal service and was made king of arms of England by Richard II at his coronation in 1377. No one seems quite sure what a king of arms was, but it seems to have been some kind of super herald.

Almost half of his poem is taken up with the Spanish campaign of 1367, which included the Prince’s victory at the battle of Nájera. It’s an accurate account, since the herald was present. His account is corroborated by a version from the opposing side. It is possible that Chandos Herald only intended to write about the Spanish campaign and then revised his plan after the death of the Black Prince in 1376. Some of the details of the Prince’s earlier life in the poem are very vague. It’s unlikely the herald was at the battles of Crécy or Poitiers. From his description of the battle of Poitiers it seems that it took place before he was in Sir John’s service.

When Chandos Herald wrote his poem it was already an old-fashioned way of telling history, as he admitted himself at the beginning of the text.

His objective was to write about good and chivalrous deeds, of the kind carried out by the Black Prince who, shortly after his death, became the personification of everything that had once been good about England. This was in contrast to what was going on during his son’s reign. The herald didn’t want to write about shameful deeds and refused to list the French knights who fled the field at Crécy.

In his Life Chandos Herald was at pains to show the real affection that existed between the Black Prince and his wife, Joan of Kent. He describes her fears as the Prince left on campaign and her grief at his death. He is also discreet, neglecting to mention her two previous marriages, one of which was bigamous. It’s another possibility that the Life was written at her behest, but the lack of a dedication counts against it as much as it does against it being written for her son.

Heralds didn’t have a job description and it’s not easy to tell today exactly how the herald served Sir John. Heralds’ tasks seemed to vary depending on the position of the herald’s master and what was going on at the time. Heralds were supposed to be experts in heraldic identification; they could identify knights from their banners alone. This was a particularly useful skill in a battle, when it was the only way of telling the difference between friend and foe. The herald might also be a minstrel, a musician or a barber, some of whom were also surgeons. Heralds were used at tournaments to announce the names of the participants to the crowds. They were frequently used as messengers, carrying letters from their masters, but also word of mouth messages. They were supposed to receive immunity in war, since they carried messages from one side to the other as part of peace or surrender negotiations. Heralds were also criers at public events.

It is very fortunate for us that the herald extended his duties to write about his late master’s friend.

 

6 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century