murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Archive for the tag “Edward III”

Murrey and Blue interviews Michael K. Jones

  • Which of the Black Prince’s military achievements is the most impressive and why?

The main attraction in writing a biography of the Black Prince was to bring to life his martial exploits, for Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III, captured the imagination of fourteenth century Europe. The chronicler Jean Froissart described him as ‘the flower of all chivalry’; the Chandos Herald, who fought with him, saw him as ‘the embodiment of all valour’. Thomas Walsingham wrote: ‘He never attacked a people he did not conquer; he never besieged a city he did not take.’ Even the French were impressed. A Valois chronicler stated: ‘He was one of the greatest and best knights ever seen. In his time, he was renowned the world over and won the respect of all.’

The Black Prince won his spurs at Crécy, on 26 August 1346, aged just sixteen. Edward III’s army used the longbow to deadly effect – annihilating the French nobility – and the Prince fought with conspicuous courage that day. Nine years later he received his first independent command as king’s lieutenant in Gascony, conducting a brutal plundering raid that scorched the earth of Languedoc. But it was at Poitiers, on 19 September 1356, that he won a truly remarkable victory over the numerically superior French, capturing their king, Jean II. In the battle’s aftermath, Jean was forced to accept the terms of a treaty which marked the zenith of England’s dominance in the Hundred Years War.

Edward of Woodstock then became Prince of Aquitaine, ruling – from 1362 – over a vast swathe of territory in southwest France. Five years later, he led an Anglo-Gascon army into northern Spain on behalf of the exiled ruler Pedro of Castile and won his last great success. At Nájera – on 3 April 1367 – he routed the opposing Franco-Castilian army of Enrique of Trastamara and restored Pedro I to the throne.

In purely military terms, the battle of Nájera was the Black Prince’s most impressive achievement. He skilfully reconnoitred the terrain before making a daring night-time march around his opponent’s position, drawn up on a wide plain to the east of the town. As dawn broke, his army made a surprise attack upon Enrique’s left flank. This was instinctive generalship – the Prince deploying his bowmen and dismounted men-at-arms with devastating effect before throwing in his cavalry to pursue and cut down his fleeing foe. The chronicler Henry of Knighton said simply: ‘It was the greatest battle to have taken place in our time.’

Yet, in a broader context, Nájera represented a flawed triumph. The Prince’s conduct of the campaign was on occasions hesitant and lacklustre, and although this was redeemed by a fine victory, its consequences (in which the army succumbed to a dysentery outbreak and Pedro reneged on financial obligations he had promised to repay) left him struggling with sickness and massive debt.

It was the battle of Poitiers that made the strongest impression on contemporaries. Here the Prince showed the full range of his talents: tactical acumen and astonishing courage during the course of the fighting and praiseworthy chivalry – in his treatment of his captured opponent, King Jean II – in its aftermath. It was the summit of his career as England’s warrior-hero.

  •  Do you think the Black Prince would have made a good king?

 The Black Prince passed away on 8 June 1376 – just over a year before the death of his father – after enduring a long and painful illness. His body lay in state in Westminster Hall and his funeral was then held at Canterbury Cathedral, some three and a half months later, on 29 September, amidst an outpouring of national grief. ‘Thus died the hope of the English’, Thomas Walsingham remarked. The poet John Gower hailed the Prince as an exemplar of knighthood: ‘He was never discomfited in a fight…he was a wellspring of courage.’ And in his funeral sermon Thomas Brinton, bishop of Rochester, evoked an era that seemed to be passing: ‘His wisdom appeared not only in his habit of speaking prudently’, Brinton emphasised, ‘but also in his manner of acting, because he did not merely talk like the lords of today but was a doer of deeds.’

Yet an idealised picture was being created. The Prince had, after all, been seriously ill for a long time and it suited contemporaries to remember the glorious victories of his prime rather than his final years in France, which were tarnished by the levying of a hearth tax on his Gascon subjects, the ill-fated resumption of the war and the sack of the French town of Limoges – although here hostile propaganda would play a part in unjustly blackening the Prince’s reputation.

The Black Prince’s generosity towards his fellow fighters left him constantly in debt.  A measure of financial prudence was necessary to be a successful ruler. However, if he had retained his health, his martial standing and easy rapport with the aristocracy would have been considerable assets as king. And at beginning of his rule as Prince of Aquitaine he did indeed show much promise, particularly in his commitment to justice and good government. In contrast, the last days of Edward III’s reign were beset by corruption and mismanagement, making the profound sense of loss at the Prince’s passing only too understandable.

  • Was any part of Richard II’s ‘tyranny’ justified?

Richard II was a very different man from his father. Intelligent and cultivated, he thought carefully about the dignity of kingship, possibly modelling some of his court protocol on what he had learnt of the magnificence of the Black Prince’s rule in Aquitaine. Yet he was no warrior – preferring instead to make peace with France – and his relations with his nobles were marred by distrust and outbursts of petty spite.

The period of ‘tyranny’, a description coined by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, covered the last two years of Richard’s rule, from 1397-9, when the monarch took his revenge on the Appellants (a group of lords who had restricted his royal powers some eight years earlier), created a host of new aristocratic titles, imposed forced loans upon his subjects and strengthened royal power in the localities. In Richard’s eyes such measures were justified by his own concept of kingship, ‘an obligation laid upon him by God’, but political theory did not match practical reality. He ruled in a climate of fear, alienating many around him and ultimately sowed the seeds of his own downfall.

  • In the fifteenth century, did the Yorkists or the Lancastrians have a better claim to the throne?

 The Lancastrian dynasty began when Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, deposed the anointed king, Richard II, forcing him to abdicate. The Lancastrian claim to the throne derived from their descent from John of Gaunt (Henry’s father), the third surviving son of Edward III, through the male line. If the female line was given precedence the House of York had the better claim, through their descent from Lionel duke of Clarence (Edward’s second surviving son), through the marriage of Lionel’s daughter, Philippa, to Edmund Mortimer, earl of March – it was the granddaughter of this union, Anne Mortimer, Richard duke of York’s mother, who brought this claim into his family.

However enmity between the houses of York and Lancaster – founded upon this dynastic fault line – a feature of the drift to civil war in the 1450s, was by no means inevitable. Richard duke of York served Henry VI loyally as king’s lieutenant in France and it was only after his replacement by his hated rival Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset and fears that Somerset might manipulate the king and challenge York’s position within the realm as heir presumptive (evident in his articles against the duke in 1452) that the Mortimer claim, and the family’s descent from Lionel of Clarence, was once more considered. In short, it was Henry VI’s failure to dispense patronage and political influence even-handedly that propelled the house of York towards asserting its own claim to the throne.

  • Did Margaret Beaufort consistently plot to put her son, Henry Tudor, on the throne, or was she – initially at least – trying to engineer his return to England, and a position within the Yorkist realm?

It is a pleasure to see such a resurgence of interest in Margaret Beaufort – one of the great political survivors of the late middle ages – in fiction, non-fiction and TV. When I undertook my 1992 biography, with Malcolm Underwood, The King’s Mother, little was known about her political role and many of the key facts of her life misunderstood. Tudor historians would later insinuate that Margaret was always trying to advance her son’s claim to the throne but the reality was rather different.

Margaret Beaufort was always the pragmatist – and the archives of St John’s College, Cambridge, show her negotiating with Edward IV to secure a title and marriage for Henry Tudor within the Yorkist polity, a course of action that she continued to pursue at the very beginning of Richard III’s reign. It was only later in the summer of 1483 that Margaret began plotting against Richard. In the words of Polydore Vergil she ‘was commonly called the head of that conspiracy’, but whether her intention at this stage was to promote her son’s claim to the throne or merely to support Buckingham’s rebellion is far from clear. An accessible, recent account of these machinations can be found in the book I wrote with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, The Women of the Cousins’ War and in my piece ‘Mother of the Tudors’ in the BBC History Magazine (January 2017).

For Michael Jones’s author website see: www.michaeljoneshistorian.com

Advertisements

James Tyrrell’s Ancestor

You may know or suspect from a previous post in Murrey and Blue, that Sir James Tyrrell, Richard’s henchman, was a direct descendant of Sir Walter Tyrrell, the ‘Killer Baron’, who fled during a hunting expedition with King William II (Rufus) after shooting him with an arrow. It is not known whether this was an accident or murder on the orders of Rufus’ brother, Henry!

But you may not know that he is also a direct descendent of Sir John Hawkwood, through Hawkwood’s daughter, Antiochia, (by his first wife, whose name is unknown for sure but who was probably English). He was Hawkwood’s 2 x great grandson. You can see this on the family tree below (you may have to enlarge it to see clearly).

Tyrell family tree

 

So, who was Sir John Hawkwood? Well, he was reportedly the second son of a tanner from Sible Hedingham in Essex, Gilbert Hawkwood. However, it seems Gilbert was actually a land owner of some wealth. John Hawkwood was apprenticed to a tailor in London, but obviously wasn’t content with that career and became an archer, a longbowman, in the Hundred Years War under Edward III, and it is thought he participated in both the battle of Crécy and the Battle of Poitiers. He may have been knighted by the Black Prince but there are no written records and it is possible he was just styled a knight by convention in Italy at the time.

A little later, when free companies of soldiers began to form, Hawkwood joined the largest, The White Company or The Great Company, a gang of mercenaries who fought for various factions in France and collected bribes, ransoms and booty as they went. After two years, Hawkwood rose to be their commander and proved an expert in pillaging, blackmailing and duplicity. Eventually they arrived in Italy, where there were many city-states who were always in conflict with each other. This proved to be rich pickings for Hawkwood and his Company, as over the next thirty years he fought both for and against the Pope, Florence, Milan, Pisa, Siena and Perugia. He extracted huge bribes from all of them and such was Hawkwood’s military reputation that he never lacked for clients. This was even though over the years he betrayed them all!

Detail of fresco of Sir John HawKwood

(Image – Public domain)

He eventually signed a contract with Florence and remained there in a mainly defensive role for the rest of his career. He died on 17th March 1394, just before he could return to England as he was planning to do. Florence granted him an elaborate funeral and there is still a fresco there which commemorates him.

Fresco of Sir John Hawkwood

Image credit: By Paolo Uccello (Italian, 1397–1475) (Jastrow, own picture) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard II requested that his remains be returned to England and this was agreed, though there is no written record of his remains being actually buried in the Church of St Peter’s in Sible Hedingham, where there is also a monument to him.

Pic of St Peter's Church, Sible Hedingham

Image credit: Robert Edwards [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikim

Hawkwood’s reputation was one of ruthlessness, guile and intelligence. He was obviously a clever tactician as witnessed by his success and he must have been courageous to lead that sort of life. However, he did have a reputation for brutality and deviousness. He was known to have had two wives as well as several mistresses and illegitimate children, as many men did in that occupation. Conversely, he had Mass said before his campaigns. He is also described as showing honesty and fidelity. I wonder whether his 2 x great-grandson inherited any of these traits?

 

 

 

The Black Prince whitened at last….?

BAL2369

On 8th June 1376, Edward, the Black Prince, died. From then until 29th September his body lay in state in Westminster Hall, and then was taken to Canterbury Cathedral to be buried on 5th October at Canterbury Cathedral.

His passing was greatly mourned through the land, and lamented because the elderly monarch, Edward III, was no longer the man he had once been, and the new heir was a little boy, the eventual Richard II. Not a satisfactory situation, with the prospect of a minority rule, with all the dreadful prospects that entailed.

Black Prince - garter

No one knows why Prince Edward was nicknamed the Black Prince (or when) but if something said at the time, by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury, can be taken at face value, it wasn’t because the Black Prince was of dark colouring. Sudbury said that although Edward was dead, he had left behind a fair son, his very image, as heir apparent. Right, before you all rush to draw my attention to the ambivalence of the word “fair”, let me point out that I did mention something about “face value”. So, if Sudbury was speaking of colouring, and linking father with son (Richard II), dark doesn’t enter into it. We all know Richard II was fair, as in blond, with a complexion that flushed easily.

Richard II

Richard II- Wilton Diptych

Edward was idolized in his lifetime, and there was really only one thing that has always marred and dogged (blackened?)his reputation. That was at the sack of Limoges on 19th September 1370, when Edward was the ruler of Aquitaine. He is accused of ordering the slaughter of 3,000 inhabitants, and has always been vilified for this. Yet in every other way he was lauded and admired.

Sack of Limoges - 1370

However, it now seems that new evidence has come to light in France, from a French chronicle, that it wasn’t the English who committed the massacre, but the French themselves, who were enraged because Limoges supported the English.

 

Black Prince book

This new information has been brought to light in Black Prince, a new biography by Michael Jones. To read more about the discovery (and decide whether or not to spend the published price of £30 to read the book itself – cheaper elsewhere, e.g. Amazon) please go here.

Now, having said all that, I am pleased that new sources do appear from time to time, no matter how many centuries pass. So I have not given up hope that old documents, chronicles and rolls will turn up out of nowhere, proving that Richard III wasn’t guilty of all the crimes of which he’s accused. Not least the murder of his nephews. It’s waiting somewhere, folks. Don’t despair!

Unlocking the secrets of the Black Prince’s effigy

Unlocking the secrets of the Black Prince’s effigy

A team of scientists and art historians has been attempting to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the Black Prince’s tomb. In this short video you can find out what they were up to and what they are hoping to discover.

This investigation is one of a number of research papers and talks that are being prepared for The Black Prince: Man, Mortality & Myth conference on 16 and 17 November 2017. You can find out more about the conference here: https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/whats-on/event/blackprinceconference/

There will also be a free #YoungFutures conference in the build up to the event for 16-25 year olds. For more information visit: https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/whats-on/event/youngfutures2017/

#BlackPrince

Canterbury

Interesting roots

“Who do you think you are?” has returned and the third episode of the new series (20 July) featured Clare Balding. After last year’s programmes , this one and this other recent one, it is no surprise that tracing this racing presenter’s royal ancestry is a little easier.

Clare’s great-grandmother was Lady Victoria (hence the middle name) Stanley, who married, secondly, Sir Malcolm Bullock. This links her to the Earls of Derby, the first of whom was that Thomas, Lord Stanley who liked watching battles, although they were not broadcast live in his time. In particular, the 17th Earl married Lady Alice Montagu, who shared “Tudor” descent such that Ferdinando (5th Earl, 1559-94) was regarded as a hypothetical Catholic claimant after Mary of Scotland’s execution. Unsurprisingly, the Derby, one of the events she has often presented, was named for an ancestor (the 12th Earl, above right) from 1780.

Additionally, her uncle is William Hastings-Bass, the 17th Earl of Huntingdon and once the Queen’s trainer, connecting her to the marriage between Francis (2nd Earl, tomb in Ashby de la Zouch to the left) and Catherine Pole, thus to George, Duke of Clarence and Edward III.

I would rather have heard the Huntingdon line mentioned than so much about her Dutch-American forebears at the end.

A History Walk in Wiltshire

Sometimes, in this very old country of ours,  even a simple afternoon’s walk out along the river  can come up with some rewarding historical data relating to the Middle Ages and the Wars of the Roses period. Recently I went for a walk near the Wiltshire Avon, from Figheldean to Netheravon, taking in  two little-known rural medieval churches, which proved to be of some interest.

At the Church of St Michaels and All Angels, where the worn effigies of two unknown 13thc knights lie in the porch, having been brought there from a now-lost nearby church or chapel, the advowsen was held in 1485-1487 by Francis Stourton. Stourton was the son of John Stourton who attended Richard III’s Parliament when attainders were passed on the Duke of Buckingham’s rebels. Unfortunately for Baron Stourton, his brother–in-law, Sir William Berkeley, had actually joined the Duke’s Rebellion. Richard said he would pardon Berkeley as long as John Stourton came up with a bond of 1000 marks. He agreed to pay the bond–but unfortunately, ungrateful William Berkeley promptly shot off to Brittany to join Henry Tudor, leaving Baron Stourton with a hefty bill. In-laws, eh?

One of the local manors, Alton Magna, also happened to belong at one time to the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville. It is not certain  how he aquired it, as it had descended with the Honour of Leicester from Simon de Montfort, to Henry Duke of Lancaster, Henry’s daughter Maud, then her sister Blanche, the wife of John of Gaunt. When Blanche’s son became Henry IV in 1399 the honour of Leicester passed to the Crown.

Going along a pleasant leafy back road from Figheldean church, the traveller eventually comes to the village of Netheravon. Its church of All Saints has some similarities architectural qualities to that in Figheldean, including a very tall, stark tower. There was probably a Saxon  church originally  on site, and there is  visible Norman work that survives, including a carving of beasts on the capital of an exterior pillar.

The church was a prebendal church and one of the prebendaries in the 15th c happened to be Thomas Rotherham,who was first Bishop of Rochester, then Bishop of Lincoln and finally Archbishop of York. He was Keeper of the Privy Seal for King Edward IV and was appointed Lord Chancellor. When Edward died, Rotherham unlawfully handed the Great Seal to Elizabeth Woodville, and hence lost his position as Chancellor. He was present at the council meeting where Lord Hastings was arrested and then executed, and was himself arrested as part of the conspiracy. He went to the Tower, but not for very long; he was soon released and continued to be a player on the scene.

  As at Figheldean, the manor of Netheravon was held by the Duchy of Lancaster, first half of it, then eventually the whole. At one point one of the halves was held by the notorious Hugh Depenser the Elder and his family during  the reign of Edward II.  Upon their downfall, Queen Isabella was granted the estate  for life.  However, when her son, Edward III, captured her and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham in 1330, Edward gave the estate to Edward de Bohun. Later, through Mary, wife of Henry IV, it became part of the Duchy of Lancaster. Other local Despenser lands went to the Earl of Salisbury, which may be how Richard Neville came to own a manor in Figheldean.

Several local estates were also held by Sir William Beauchamp, husband to Elizabeth, suo jure Baronness St Amand; upon his death she held them jointly with her next husband, Sir Roger Tocotes. Sir Roger was a local landowner and sheriff who served George of Clarence for a while, but ended up as one of Buckingham’s rebels.

There is one other interesting feature of Netheravon. As you pass down the lane near the church, you will see the name ‘Beaufort’ clearly affixed  to a gate. The large, rather sombre mansion in the next field was owned by the Dukes of Beaufort -although not in medieval times, but rather from the middle of the 18th century, when the surname (Beaufort) and title (Somerset)  were reversed. Their stately pile, built by one Henry Somerset,  stands close to a Roman villa and is likely on the site of the medieval manor house of the Cormayles family.

 

 

The royal seals of Richard III….

King-John-faces-the-barons-at-the-sealing-of-Magna-Carta-2

King John faces the barons at the sealing of the Magna Carta

According to Ian Mortimer in The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, in the fourteenth century the king’s two great seals were kept by different people; one by the chancellor for sealing Chancery documents, and the other by the treasurer for Exchequer documents. The seals were huge at 6 inches across, and the one for the Chancery used red wax, the Exchequer seal used green.

The king’s own letters were sealed with a much smaller personal seal, the privy seal. In the reign of Edward III the use of the privy seal was increasingly delegated to its keeper, who could deal with routine business as directed by the king.

The king himself had a new ‘secret seal’ or signet made, to authenticate his personal letters and directions. This is kept by his secretary and is the precursor to the seals of office held by today’s Secretaries of State.

So, by 1400 there were four royal seals in operation: the secret seal, privy seal and two versions of the great seal.

Below you will find a selection of illustrations of Richard III’s seals.

You will find out much more about the English Royal Chancery and seals here , although this stops short of the 15th century. Information about seals throughout history, and around the world, is here.

There are seals aplenty here and if you wish to know how they are cleaned, try here.

Edward III’s manor house at Rotherhithe….

EIII's manor house, Rotherhithe.

“King Edward III is remembered in history for starting the Hundred Years War, annexing large parts of France for England, as well as being the reigning king during the period of the Black Death. What he is infinitely less well-known for, is building a small royal residence at Rotherhithe in South East London, the remains of which can still be seen today.

“When the residence was constructed in around 1350, Rotherhithe was a small hamlet set in low lying marshland. The manor house itself was built upon a small island directly next to the River Thames and consisted of a range of stone buildings around a central courtyard.

“There was a moat on three sides of the complex, with the north side being completely open to the River Thames. This allowed the king to arrive by boat and at high tide to moor up against the steps that led from the river to a gatehouse located in a tower. There was also a hall with a large and imposing fireplace, the king’s private chambers, kitchens and other buildings. Further south, on drier land, was an outer court with other buildings surrounded by an earth bank.”

Taken from http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/Edward-IIIs-Manor-House-Rotherhithe/  where more can be learned of this manor house.

 

A tale of John of Gaunt and two sisters….

Chaucer_BellScott - reading to Philippa and Katherine with Gaunt

The above painting by William Bell Scott depicts Chaucer reading to an aging John of Gaunt. The ladies are the two men’s wives, Philippa and Katherine, born de Roët.

Everyone knows that John of Gaunt (1340-1399) had three wives, the last of whom was Katherine Swynford (nee de Roët, 1350-1403), who had been his children’s governess. She then became his mistress (during his second marriage to Costanza of Castile) and finally, in 1396, his third duchess. The last move, was very unpopular at the time, for it was felt Gaunt, a king’s son, had demeaned himself by marrying well below his station…and that she had reached up well above hers.

John of Gaunt

Katherine, married at twelve to a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford, had a sister, Philippa (c. 1346–c. 1387) who was a damoiselle of the queen, and who by the end of 1366 had been married to Geoffrey Chaucer. Yes, the Geoffrey Chaucer, who was a very close friend of John of Gaunt. Was the Chaucer marriage a love match? After all, at the time he was a mere squire, whereas she was relatively highborn, the daughter of a prominent Hainault family of rich landowners, or so I understand the de Roët sisters’ background to be. The Chaucer union is subject to a lot of speculation.

Let us go back before 1366, before Philippa became Geoffrey’s bride. John of Gaunt is renowned for his interesting private life, as described above, and seems to have been a Plantagenet charmer par excellence. By inheriting the huge wealth and status of the Duchy of Lancaster (through his first wife, Blanche) he was the richest, most influential man in England, especially when his father, Edward III, began to descend into senility. Gaunt had an eye for a beautiful woman, and the suggestion is that the de Roët sisters were both beautiful. I don’t know if they warranted the description, but I doubt very much that they were plain, stodgy dumplings. Men like Gaunt are not drawn to the nondescript.

So, Katherine Swynford was governess to his daughters. At this time her sister Philippa was unmarried, and also the queen’s lady. The queen, another Philippa, was from Hainault too, so I imagine this was a very good reason to have Philippa de Roët close to her. And then there was John of Gaunt, master seducer. The suspicion is that his eye fell upon Philippa first. It wasn’t the done thing to deflower unmarried ladies, and maybe this precluded such an affair in his eyes, except that there are suspicious signs that he broke the rule.

John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford

He was not a dishonourable man, and took his responsibilities seriously. Dates fit for him to have bedded Philippa and got her in the family way. In September 1366, before leaving for a campaign in Spain, Gaunt granted Philippa a lifetime annuity. It was very generous, and surely he had no reason for doing such a thing. Some present-day thinking is that Gaunt protected her by paying his good friend Chaucer a great deal to marry her. She was to give birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, the appropriate number of months later. Elizabeth would become a nun and enter the prestigious royal Abbey of Barking.

BarkingAbbey-1500- royal abbey

For the rest of his life, Gaunt was especially kind to Elizabeth, who might well have been his daughter. His particular favour to her suggests he knew she was. There were also more gifts, opportunities and annuities to the Chaucers.

Was Gaunt Katherine Swynford’s lover at the same time he was bedding Philippa? That we’ll never know, just as we will never know the truth about his dealings with the latter. All those gifts and favours are suspicious though. Why would Gaunt bestow such bounty upon Philippa? Why continue to be so concerned about her? She was by then a married women. Did the affair continue after she became Chaucer’s wife? Was Chaucer a complacent husband, paid well enough to say nothing and just let his wife get on with it?

Chaucer

Or, as some of you will no doubt tell me, Gaunt did no such thing. The Chaucer marriage was a love match and Gaunt was merely a generous lord. Possibly. Possibly, too, Elizabeth Chaucer was of royal blood.

 

 

Edward III, slanting eyes and the legend of Melusine…

Melusine

These days, any mention of Melusine might conjure thoughts of Jacquetta of Luxemburg, Elizabeth Woodville, witchcraft and the like. But the story of Melusine was around before then.

On browsing through John Gardner’s Life and Times of Chaucer, I came upon the following anecdote, which begins with Gardner’s rather precise description of Edward himself:

“He was a handsome, fair man with a curly brown beard, gentle eyes and mouth, the eyes just perceptibly slanted like the eyes of all his sons. He was no ordinary mortal, one could see at a glance, and he liked to support the impression with a story…

“…Some hour hundred years ago, Edward III told his friends, the founder of his line, Count Fulke the Black, ruler of Anjou [Fulke III, 970–1040, ancestor of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou] traveled to a distant land and returned with a bride whose beauty was unsurpassed in all the world. The four children she bore him were brilliant and handsome, like all Plantagenet sons and daughters after them, but they carried also a darker heritage. She kept it secret for many years, living a life more secluded than a nun’s. Then one day the count demanded that his wife accompany him to Mass, a thing she’d repeatedly refused to do. She did so this time, pale and trembling. When the priest raised the Host, the countess let out an unearthly shriek, rose into the air, flew out of the chapel window, and was never seen again. The truth was out. She was Melusine, daughter of the Devil!…

“…By the time Chaucer knew him, Edward III at least half believed the story…”

Fulke the Black of Anjou

Fulke III (the Black) Count of Anjou 970–1040

A quick look on the internet soon reveals this story to be widespread, although not necessarily in connection with Edward. Our House of Plantagenet was descended from the children Melusine left behind. Or so Edward III apparently believed.

Two things arouse my interest. Firstly that Edward liked to repeat the devilish tale to his friends, and secondly that he and his sons had perceptibly slanting eyes. Are we to think the eyes came from the Devil, via Melusine? I for one have never heard of this trait in Edward and his sons. Has anyone else? Although, on reflection, there is one monarch who fits this bill, Edward’s grandson, Richard II.

Gilt-Bronze Tomb Effigy of Richard II, Westminster Abbey

 

 

 

 

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: