Sir Simon Burley, childhood friend, tutor and magister of Richard II, was executed today, 5th May, in 1388. He was the son of a Herefordshire knight, was brought up with the Black Prince, and rose to be one of the most powerful men in the land when he ruled the king’s household. Richard adored and revered him; relied on him. But such a dazzling career, built from nothing but his wits and the sheer childhood good luck that thrust him close to the Black Prince, ensured that he had dangerous enemies. Magnates found themselves excluded increasingly from access to young King Richard (unless they went through Simon) and they didn’t like it one little bit. They wanted great changes in the royal household, formed the group that is known to posterity as the Lords Appellant, and eventually succeeded in having Simon beheaded on Tower Hill, even though Richard II and Anne of Bohemia (on her knees) pleaded for mercy.
Whether Simon was a good man and good influence on Richard, or a grasping, over-ambitious example of malignity is rather beside the point for the purposes of this article, because I am concerned with the complexities of his marital affairs. Affairs as in the marriages themselves, not what he may have been up to outside his vows.
Many sources say he wasn’t married at all, and therefore had no children. The first part of that sentence is incorrect, the second part correct, because he doesn’t seem to have left any issue. No legitimate issue, that is. For all I know he could have populated a small village.
I came upon Sir Simon’s private life when deciding to include him in the book I’m writing that’s set around the reign of Richard II. I wasn’t going to feature him too much, but then decided I had to. So I needed to know what was what with him, commencing in 1375. From there it was an uphill toil all the way…. 😕
Nigel Saul covers Simon’s marriages in his biography of Richard II (Yale version, p 114). It seems that when Simon was serving in Aquitaine under the Black Prince, he met a lady named Marguerite de Beausse, widow of the seigneur de Machecoul. At least, I imagine this was when they met, and Saul appears to think so too. It may not be so, of course, but there is a mention of Marguerite in French records of the period. My old French isn’t too good, but the gist appears to be that when Marguerite died, there were problems involving her husband Sir Simon Burley and how/what she bequeathed to whom. This eventually required Charles V to make a judgement in July 1369. So we can be sure that Marguerite was Simon’s wife and that she died before that date.
The next we hear of Simon is that he’s married to Beatrice Stafford, widow of Lord de Roos, daughter of Ralph Stafford, 1st Earl of Stafford.
BUT, hang on there, if you look at the genealogical tree below, you will see that this is an error. Beatrice Stafford wasn’t married to Simon, but to his nephew, Sir Richard Burley. This is certain from other sources, as I will soon show
So, was Simon married to another Stafford lady? It’s also strange that his next supposed wife was a daughter of Lord de Roos. After all, Richard’s Beatrice Stafford was the widow of a Lord de Roos. Maybe uncle and nephew married two Stafford ladies at the same time? Two ladies also associated in some way with this Lord de Roos? Or Simon had one Stafford wife and one de Roos? Whatever, I can only find confirmed references to Beatrice Stafford, widow of Lord de Roos, marrying Sir Richard Burley. It is she who definitely links the names Burley, Stafford and de Roos.
This I know from Dugdale (pp102-103) who gives illustrations of a tomb in old St Paul’s (destroyed in Great Fire) which was erroneously attributed to Simon but was actually that of Richard and Beatrice. She obtained a royal licence to build it, and financed it all, eventually joining her husband there. Another source is the Memorials of the Order of the Garter, Beltz, page 293, which gives details of the same “Simon Burley” tomb and explains that it was actually the resting place of Richard and Beatrice.
So, who were the other ladies who may or may not have married Sir Simon? Did they ever actually exist at all – or are they simply confused with his nephew’s wife? Did Simon only ever marry Marguerite de Beausse?
If you know the truth about the occupants of his puzzling marriage bed, please let me know, because the mystery is driving me to distraction!