ANNA BELFRAGE

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Archive for the tag “Edward I”

The king’s sister – the life of a medieval princess

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Medieval boys playing

In a previous post I have discussed the challenges facing Eleanor of Castile – specifically that of presenting her husband, Edward I, with a male heir. It took some time for that eagerly awaited heir to make his appearance. Not until 1284, after almost thirty years of marriage, did the boy who would one day inherit the throne after his father see the light of the day. Little Edward was a much-desired child, but at the time they already had an heir, Prince Alphonso, and so the new baby was mostly perceived as a good-to-have spare. Things changed when Alphonso died some months after Baby Edward’s birth. Yet another loss, yet more months of grief, of crushed hopes, reinforcing just how fragile life was.

I dare say the fact that they had five thriving daughters was little comfort: a medieval king needed a son to which entrust his kingdom, as God alone knew what would happen with a weak female in charge. (I hasten to add that this opinion was not necessarily shared by Eleanor, who, after all, had some pretty impressive kick-ass female rulers up her family tree. Like Urraca.)

In line with the parenting models of the day, the baby prince did not see all that much of his parents. Edward and Eleanor were joined at the hip, so where Edward I went, there went his wife, and all that travelling was not considered good for a child, which was why Edward grew up in his own household—and with his youngest sisters.

One of those sisters is today’s protagonist (Ha! Fooled you there, didn’t I? You were thinking it would be Edward II) Question is, which sister? Mary of Woodstock or Elizabeth of Ruddlan? Well, Mary is an interesting character in her own right, who spent most of her time with her grandmother. At her grandmother’s behest, Mary was placed in a nunnery at the tender age of seven, was veiled at the age of twelve, went on to become a rather wordly nun in that she travelled a lot, accumulated gambling debts, visited the court as often as she could, and was even dragged into a rather sordid legal case when John de Warenne claimed to have had carnal knowledge of her, thereby making his marriage to his despised wife null and void. All in all, an interesting lady, although I must hasten to add that John’s accusations were made after Mary was dead and therefore incapable of defending herself.

But despite all that potential juiciness, I’m skipping Mary in favour of Elizabeth. Born in 1282 in Wales, Elizabeth seems to have been something of a daddy’s girl—at least to judge from how Edward indulged her. She was also very close to her brother, something that must have caused her considerable anguish later on in her life. More of that later.

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The literate Castilians, represented by Alfonso X, Eleanor’s brother

Now, Eleanor of Castile was a very well-educated lady. She’d grown up in a court that lived and breathed culture, where clerks toiled day and night to translate the literary treasures discovered in the libraries of the Moor kingdoms re-conquered by Eleanor’s father, the very impressive Fernando. Where it is doubtful if Edward I could write with ease, Eleanor most definitely could—in various languages. One would assume such a learned lady would ensure her children were equally well-educated, but we don’t really know just how much of mama’s learning was passed on to her offspring. Maybe the English didn’t put quite as high a value on education as the Castilians did. Maybe Edward considered it sufficient if his children could read—after all, scribing was something one could have clerks do for you.

I still think we should assume Elizabeth was a relatively well-educated girl, if nothing else because she would have benefited from being in the proximity of her brother and his Dominican tutor. She was also a girl that saw little of her parents—Edward and Eleanor spent several years on the Continent during Elizabeth’s early childhood. So when Eleanor died in 1290, I suspect Elizabeth was stricken but that the actual void her mother left behind was relatively shallow.

Elizabeth’s father, however, was devastated by the death of his wife. Maybe this is when a special closeness began to develop between him and his youngest daughter. Children are good at offering undemanding solace, small warm presences that offer shy cuddles.

No matter how grief-struck, Edward was back to running his country three days after the death of his wife. Among the things he had to handle were marriages for his daughters—and for himself (He needed that spare heir, you know). When it came to his daughters, things were mostly sorted, two of them already wed, one betrothed, one promised to the Church, and one with ongoing negotiations now that her intended groom had died.

Elizabeth had been betrothed already in 1285 to John, Count of Holland. Of an age with his bride, the boy was raised in England, so Elizabeth had ample opportunity to get to know her future husband. Whether she liked him all that much is a tad doubtful: the marriage was celebrated in 1297 when Elizabeth was not quite fifteen, and the idea was for the young couple to take ship for Holland. Elizabeth refused to go with him, and somehow wheedled Edward into allowing her to stay in England, with him.

Of course, over time Elizabeth had no choice: as a married woman, her duty lay with her husband. To make things easier (and because it coincided with other matters he had to handle) Edward accompanied her to the Low Countries and even stayed with her for some months before going on to sort out his infected relationship with Philippe IV of France. The outcome of all this sorting was that Edward married Philippe’s much younger sister, which did little to resolve the infected relationship between France and England in the long term, but which had the upside of Marguerite, this rather enchanting young woman whom Edward soon grew to love and cherish. Lucky man: two marriages, both of them notably happy. I guess he did something right 😊

deathElizabeth’s marriage to John never got the opportunity to develop into something long-lasting. The young man died of dysentery in 1299, and Elizabeth was sent back home to England. There, in 1302, she married Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford. A good marriage as per dear Papa, having the benefit of tying one of England’s most powerful magnates to the English king. As part of the contract, Humphrey was obliged to relinquish his titles and lands to his king, who then graciously restored them to Humphrey and his wife, together. What Humphrey thought of all this is unknown, but to judge from the number of children Elizabeth gave him, the happily married couple was, if nothing else, compatible in bed.

Humphrey was some six years older than Elizabeth, and now that Prince Edward was well on his way to becoming an adult, Humphrey was probably one of the prince’s closer companions. When Edward was knighted, Humphrey had the honour of buckling on his spurs, and in general they seemed to get along quite well with each other.

In 1307, Edward I died and Edward II ascended the throne. By then, Elizabeth had already given birth four times to five children of which two remained alive: one little son and one little daughter. As the sister of the new king, Elizabeth would probably have been a frequent guest at court together with her husband—and the new king’s favourite, Piers Gaveston.

Initially, it seems Humphrey de Bohun and Piers got on well. Humphrey witnessed the grant of the earldom of Cornwall to Piers, something that would not have gone down well with Elizabeth, as her step-mother (to whom she was very close) had expected this honour to come to her eldest son—as intended by Edward I.

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Edward and Piers in happier days

Edward II waved away the angry protests of Queen Marguerite and went on showering Piers with gifts and offices. To be fair to Piers, he doesn’t seem to have been as avaricious as Edward was generous, but for the remaining barons, he soon became a burr up their backsides. Who did he think he was, this Gascon parvenu who had the king’s ear in all matters? By 1308, Humphrey had joined the baronial opposition, something which must have put Elizabeth in a difficult position. After all, she was close to her brother—and to her husband.

For some years, thing sort of trundled along anyway. Elizabeth gave birth to one more son, Piers rose to more and more prominence, and Humphrey ground his teeth. In 1310-11, he refused to join the king’s Scottish campaign because of his dislike of Piers. Did not go down well, one could say, and in retribution, Edward II stripped Humphrey of the constableship. A lot of hot air, a distraught Elizabeth caught in the middle, one more baby to take care of, but by the end of 1311 things calmed down, with Humphrey being restored to his hereditary office and Piers forced into exile.

Early in 1312, Piers returned to England. The king was delighted, but his barons had had enough. War broke out, Piers was captured and in June of 1312, Piers Gaveston was summarily executed on the orders of the earls of Warwick and Lancaster. Humphrey was present at the deliberations that resulted in the decision to have Piers killed—murdered might be a better term for what happened, with Gaveston run through by the swords of two Welsh men-at-arms before they beheaded him.

What Elizabeth thought of all this is unknown. She was yet again with child (twins this time)—as was Edward II’s young wife, Queen Isabella. But having grown up with Edward, she probably knew him well enough to realise that no matter how easy-going and affable he could appear to the world, some things he never forgot or forgave. The murder of Piers was one of those things.

Battle_of_BannockburnIn 1313, Edward formally forgave Humphrey. But he didn’t really, which was why when the English army marched north in 1314 to defeat the Scots once and for all, he gave command to his very young nephew, Gilbert de Clare, bypassing Humphrey, who, as Constable of England, should have been in charge. Humphrey was not happy. He and Gilbert had words and supposedly this heated argument indirectly caused some of the confusion that led to the English being trounced. Whatever the case, Gilbert ended up very dead, Humphrey was taken prisoner, and Edward escaped by the skin of his teeth, having to ride so fast he and his men did not even dare to stop to pass water in case the pursuing Scots should catch them.

Elizabeth was distraught. Her husband a prisoner of those barbaric Scots, and here she was, recently delivered of child number ten. I imagine Edward was not exactly inclined to bend over backwards to ransom Humphrey, but de Bohun was an English magnate, family, even. Elizabeth probably agreed. She wanted her husband home, and so Humphrey was exchanged for Robert Bruce’s wife and daughter.

There seems to have been some sort of rapprochement between Humphrey and Edward after this. A potential happily ever after hovered in the air. In 1315 Elizabeth yet again became pregnant. I’m not entirely sure she was delighted by the news – essentially she’d been with child for seven years of the last 13 years. All those births had so far resulted in seven living children, and in difference to her mother Elizabeth had more than delivered when it came to male heirs, with five of her brood being boys. She and Humphrey didn’t need more children, but they must have enjoyed making them…

childbirthHaving so many children comes with risks. In May of 1316, Elizabeth went into labour. Neither she nor her daughter survived and were buried together at Waltham Abbey. She was thirty-four years old – a very short life as per us. But like any life it contained glimmers of absolute joy, moments when the sheer joy of being alive had her blood singing. Well, at least I hope it did. The alternative would have been very depressing.

As to Humphrey, the loss of his countess sank him into a deep depression. Without his wife’s moderating influence, his relationship with the king was destined to deteriorate to the point where Humphrey joined Lancaster and Mortimer in rebellion. In March of 1322, Humphrey met his death at the Battle of Boroughbridge, reputedly having been impaled on a pike. A painful and gory death, leaving his many orphaned children at the mercy of their uncle, the king.

Brought to bed of a daughter? Try again!

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One of the things a medieval queen was expected to provide her husband with was a male heir – and preferably a spare. For a medieval king to have only female heirs caused a number of problems, primarily that of convincing the male barons to swear allegiance to a woman. Plus, from a purely dynastic perspective, whatever children the female ruler had would belong to their father’s house.

So when, in 1254, the heir to the English throne, Edward, married Eleanor of Castile, one of the expectations on the (very) young bride was that she ensure a continuation of the Plantagenet dynasty – a dynasty she herself belonged to through her great-grandmother and namesake, Eleanor of England. (Yet another young bride, this daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine married Alfonso VIII in 1174)

I’d have liked to present you with some wedding pics, but seeing as all this happened close to 800 years ago, there aren’t any. In fact, there aren’t any reliable likenesses of Edward and Eleanor. We know he was uncommonly tall. We know he lisped and had a droopy eye-lid. We know nada about her, but I imagine her as small – especially standing side by side with her lanky groom.

“Who is that?” Eleanor whispered, shrinking back behind a pillar.
“That?” Her maid peeked out. “Ah, that is your intended, my lady.”
“Him?” Eleanor pressed her cheek against the cold stone. So tall, so handsome – what would he see in her? 

As always when it came to royalty, the Eleanor-Edward union was political. Edward’s father, Henry III, needed to sort an ongoing feud with Eleanor’s brother, Alfonso X, and stop him from invading Gascony. And so, the fifteen-year-old Edward was sent off to Burgos, there to do his duty and wed the  Castilian princess. At least they met some days before tying the knot. Two tongue-tied teenagers peeking at each other on the sly, cheeks that heated when their eyes met. A shared smile, and then Edward was off to do other things (like being knighted by his future brother-in-law Alfonso) and Eleanor could go back to embroidering an elegant E on the shirt she was making for her soon-to-be husband.

The little bride, Eleanor, came with a good pedigree. Her mother, Jeanne de Dammartin, had once been considered by Henry III as a wife for himself, but due to political reasons this was not to be. Instead, Jeanne was wed to Fernando III of Castile (the future St Fernando) as his second wife.

The thirteen-year-old Eleanor not only had a saint for a father. She also came from a notably fertile family. Her mother had given Fernando five children, four of whom were sons. Her paternal grandmother, Berenguela, had produced five children during seven years of marriage. And as to her great-grandmother Eleanor of England, well she had presented her husband with twelve children – one every other year or so. However, very few of the sons survived – in fact, once the youngest was killed by a falling tile, the Castilian crown passed through Berenguela to Fernando. (More on Berenguela here)

With all these fertile females up her family tree, no one was particularly worried about the mandatory male heir. In the fullness of time, Edward’s new wife would surely present him with a healthy, squalling son.

valentine-dicksee-romeo-and-juliet-on-the-balconyAs an added bonus, the young couple seem to have taken an immediate liking to one another. This resulted in a stillborn (or dead shortly after its birth) baby in 1255, the first of sixteen (or at least fourteen) children. At the time, Eleanor was not yet fourteen, so I imagine this was a traumatic experience. There was a gap of some years – years in which the affection and love between Edward and Eleanor grew, making them almost inseparable. Whether or not there were miscarriages, we don’t know, but in 1261 Edward and Eleanor welcomed a daughter, Katherine, into this world.

Little Katherine died at three, and one year later, in 1265, Eleanor was delivered of yet another daughter, Joanna, who died some months later. I imagine that by now, Eleanor and Edward were beginning to become quite concerned. More than ten years married, and no living children – that did not bode well.

In 1266, little John arrived, and he was miraculously healthy. Prayers of gratitude rang in the royal solar, even more so when in 1268 yet another son, Henry, saw the light of the day. Two boys, albeit that little Henry was sickly. To round things off, a healthy daughter, Eleanor, was born in 1269.

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“Better leave them at home than carry them with us.”

In 1270, Edward took the cross. As a matter of course, Eleanor decided to accompany him, leaving her babies in the care of their grandmother and, in the case of the precious heir, their great-uncle. For a modern person, this seems somewhat callous: what sort of mother leaves her children to gallop off on adventure with her husband, hey? Well, first of all it is important to remember that royal children were quite often brought up in a separate household so as to give them some sort of stability. Being a medieval king – or royal heir – meant being constantly on the move, the entire court ambulating back and forth across the country.

Also, in the case of Edward and Eleanor, I do believe her first love was always her husband – he and his needs came first. And Edward seems to have been as genuinely in love with his wife, so maybe it was a symbiotic thing: he couldn’t go anywhere without her. Or maybe that is me being ridiculously romantic, seeing as we’re talking about a man with a very ruthless streak, as demonstrated by how he crushed the Welsh and attempted to subjugate the Scots. On the other hand, all men have multiple sides to them, and…Stop, stop, stop! Back to today’s topic – the quest for a male heir.

In 1271, there was a stillborn child. In 1272, while in Palestine, Edward and Eleanor welcomed yet another daughter, Joan. By then, they would have heard that their son John had died and what little joy they experienced at the birth of their daughter soured into fear when Edward was almost murdered. Clearly, they weren’t welcome in the Holy Land, and they set off for home. On the way, they learnt Henry III was dead. Edward was now king, and the pressing matter of a male heir became even more pressing – little Henry was not expected to live long.

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“Look, a son, an heir!”

In 1273, son number three, Alphonso, was born. A fine, lusty son, and Eleanor must have wept in relief. The little boy even survived his first few months, and it was therefore with great happiness Edward and Eleanor celebrated their coronation in 1274. By then, they’d been married almost twenty years, and even if little Henry died some months later, they did have their lovely Alphonso – and two healthy little girls. Does not seem much, given that Eleanor had given birth nine times. Nine. As she was only thirty-three, she could look forward to several more pregnancies. I wonder if there were times when this thought filled her with trepidation.

1275, 1276, 1277, 1279 – four pregnancies, four births, resulting in four little girls of whom two died. But at least Alphonso, this apple of his parents’ eyes, still thrived.

1281 – a little boy came and went like a shadow in the night. But still, they had Alphonso.

1282 – Elizabeth of Rhuddlan was born. A healthy child, and now there were five daughters – plus the precious Alphonso.

In April of 1284, a heavily pregnant Eleanor accompanied her husband to Wales.
Maybe you should stay at home,” he might have said to her, patting her on her swelling stomach. Not that he meant it, not really.
Stay at home? I accompanied you to the Holy Land – what is a jaunt to Wales compared with that?” she puffed, giving him a bright smile.

Royal 20 C.III, f.15So off they went, and there, in the building site that was Caernarvon Castle, Eleanor was delivered of a boy. A boy! Yes, a miracle baby, a strong little prince, and Eleanor smiled and wept as she presented her husband with the much-desired, if not so necessary, spare. After all, their sweet son Alphonso was now old enough to wed, and a marriage had been arranged for him with Margaret, daughter of the Count of Holland. For a little while there, everything was perfect in the Eleanor-Edward household. Until Alphonso fell ill, dying in August of 1284.

Alphonso lived the longest of all those children who died. Long enough for his parents to pin hopes on him, long enough to grow from an anonymous baby into an adored boy. And then, just like that, he died. It must have been utterly devastating. Yes, they had Prince Edward, but both Eleanor and Edward knew just what frail things children were – after all, with Alphonso they buried a tenth child. Even by the standards of the time, they were singularly unlucky as parents.

Eleanor was not to have any more children. After sixteen births, I guess she was worn out, and besides, her health was failing. So all hopes for a surviving male heir now rested on Edward, and even if he was a robust child, there were concerns that he too would die young.Just like with all her other children, on a daily basis, Eleanor did not see much of her youngest son. But despite not being with her son and daughters 24/7, Eleanor was a conscientious mother, ensuring her children were in good, competent hands. Did she love her children? I’d say yes – as much as she dared to. But no matter that she loved them, she loved her husband much more. It was with him she wanted to be, it was at his side she belonged.

In 1290, Eleanor died. Edward was numb with grief – so much so that for three whole days all royal business was suspended. But life goes on, and Edward had a duty to the crown – and his dynasty – to ensure there was more than one little boy in line to the throne. So in 1299, Edward married a second wife, the pretty and vivacious sister of the king of France. At the time, he was sixty and she was twenty – and fertile enough to present him with two beautiful and healthy sons.

In the event, these little spares would not be needed. In 1307, Eleanor’s last-born, Edward of Caernarvon, became king after his father. I daresay she would have been mightily pleased. She had done her duty by her husband and his family – she had birthed the next king.

Ba, ba, black sheep

wool 50px-PipeandbelldavidI seem to be on a woolly streak of late. First a post about tartan some days back, and today a post about sheep. Well: it’s not about sheep, it’s about wool, and seeing as no sheep equals no wool, that per definition means you cannot talk about one without mentioning the other.

Sheep have a reputation for being incredibly stupid. Not that I can boast of any in-depth relationship with a sheep, but what interaction I’ve had rather indicates that they couldn’t care less about us humans, they’re more into grazing and staring unstintingly at us if we get too close. I can also tell you they weigh a lot. With or without their fleece, lifting a sheep requires serious arm muscle.

Sheep are one of those animals that were domesticated very early on. Originally, mainly as meals-on-hooves, but over time as a source of wool, our forebears having discovered that wool is quite the thing if you want clothing that retains warmth even if it is damp. I imagine those nomads from whom we all descend quite often found themselves at the mercy of the weather, ergo damp clothes were probably a recurring event in their lives.

Wild sheep tend to be brownish. Domesticated sheep quickly went white, seeing as it is far easier to dye white wool brown than brown wool white, if you see what I mean. It was something of a lucky coincidence that white is a dominant trait – at least for our forebears who were doing their first forays into genetics – and so sheep are mostly depicted as being white. Except for the black sheep, that is. The scapegoat, if you will, the one who does not conform. (Incidentally, in Sweden the nursery song is Bä,bä vita lamm – Ba,ba, white lamb. Obviously, us Swedes don’t rate black sheep all that much…)

wool British LibraryAnyway: man ambled about with his sheep, his goats. At some point, man domesticated cows and pigs, and pigs aren’t that much for ambling really. I mean, they like a good day out in the forest eating acorns, but walking long, long distances to graze isn’t quite a piggy thing. Besides, man had discovered how to sow crops, and wheat and stuff does not go walk-about, which is why man eschewed the nomadic existence to instead become a farmer. Well, not all men. Some preferred to hunt and trade their meat for whatever the farmer produced.

Over time, man began amassing wealth. Lots of land was wealth. Lots of sheep, cows, goats were wealth. Lots of wives…yes, also a sign of wealth, but hopefully even that ancient male distinguished between his sheep and his women. And I guess most men weren’t rich enough to have more than one wife, which probably markedly upped the potential for domestic bliss. Women are somewhat possessive when it comes to their men.

1899-43305Civilisation picked up speed, and we’re going to whizz by huge chunks of it, and suddenly we are in medieval England. At the time, sheep were everywhere, one could say. Sheep were the mainstay of English wealth, the English sheep having quite the reputation for their high quality wool. Monasteries financed their human flock by keeping huge flocks of sheep, the man of the manor did the same, the income generated by the wool adding that little extra to a life mostly dominated by a lot of pea-soup and porridge. Wool was used to pay the ransom for Richard Lionheart (50 000 sacks of high-quality wool were put forward to contribute. To put into perspective, approximately 40 000 sacks of wool were exported during the peak years of the wool trade in the 14th century).

Effectively, England was a raw material producer. English sheep were sheared, the fleeces were washed, skirted, picked and bundled and transported abroad where others carded and spun after which the wool thread was woven into high quality cloth by Flemish or Italian weavers. Eventually, some of all this high quality stuff found its way back to England where it was bought by the well-to-do. The added value in this financial operation remained in other than English hands, with Flemish and Italian cloth merchants growing very fat and happy.

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El buen pastor, Murillo (and that’s a Merino)

BUT. No wool, no cloth, no income. Obviously, there was more than English wool around – specifically a lot of Spanish wool. Truth be told, Spain was the leading supplier of high quality wool, even more so since they cross-bred English sheep with their own native breeds in the 12th and 13th century, thereby creating that jewel among sheep, the Merino. Merino wool was of superior quality to anything else on the woolly planet, and prior to the 18th century attempting to smuggle a Merino out of the country was punishable by death. Before Spain “discovered” all that gold in the New World, their primary source of wealth, just as for England, were their sheep.

So imagine you were the purchaser for a Tuscan mill. Off you went to scour the various markets for high quality fleece, and in this case you decided to skip the expensive Spanish stuff and look for a bargain elsewhere. England was full of sheep – and other merchants swooping down to buy up what they could. Chances were you might end up with no wool unless you got there early or offered a premium price. Alternatively, a new approach was needed to ensure constant supply.

The Italians, being a savvy people with an innate aptitude for trade, had already in the early 13th century developed some sort of rudimentary financial market. Initially, it was more a question of advancing money to a farmer with the future crop as collateral, but soon enough these agrarian “futures” spread to other things. Like wool. That monastery out in the wilds really, really needed a new church, but at the rate of their annual income it would take them twenty years to finance it. Enter the creative wool-buyer:
“I tell you what: I’ll advance you the amount you need, and instead you sell me your wool for the coming twenty years at a fixed price.”
“What, all my wool?” the abbot said, and then they’d haggle for a while, before agreeing on fixed quantities and fixed prices.

As a financial professional, I must admit to being quite fascinated by these very early “futures” – goes to show that trade in medieval times was, in its own way, far more innovative than we generally give it credit for. The transactions were documented – several hundreds of these contracts survive, detailing the seller, the buyer, the price and delivery schedules. Advances have been recorded, there are contractual consequences should the seller not deliver, and all in all, these are quite sophisticated financial instruments. I would imagine that in some instances these contracts were sold on, but in general the purpose was not to speculate on the price in wool, but rather safeguard its supply.

Now the English kings were fully aware of how important the wool trade was for their economy. At times, desperate times required desperate measures, which was why in the 1290s Edward I confiscated all the wool from foreign merchants in England. He then sold it again and lined his coffers with the money required to continue his bellicose efforts. Wool was also taxed, creating a nice steady revenue – soft, fluffy stuff financing hauberks and swords, war-steeds and crossbows.

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Edward III, early 15th c depiction

Edward I’s high-handedness was quite the blow to the advance contracts on wool. And in 1337, his grandson, Edward III, attempted to create a wool monopoly, the Wool Company, with designated buyers purchasing all English wool and selling it on as it benefited the crown. Not only did Edward “borrow” the income generated by all this wool to finance his armies, he also took the opportunity of starving the Low Country textile mills of wool, thereby causing substantial unrest and poverty among the former textile workers. This was Edward’s way of punishing the Flemish rulers for their support of the French King in what was soon to escalate to the Hundred Years’ War.

Ultimately, the Wool Company was not successful, but it was definitely the death-knell to the innovative structure of the wool future, seeing as the number of new advance contracts declined sharply afterwards.

wool 07-5376373England’s wool export, however, continued to thrive, and throughout the 14th century wool remained the single most important source of wealth for England, which is why Edward III ordered that his Lord Chancellor should sit on a bale of wool, the “Woolsack”, a constant reminder to all those present that without those little critters that went ba-ba, England would plunge into obscurity and poverty.

These days, Australia is the world’s biggest wool producer, followed by the US, China and New Zealand. Together, they produce 60% of the total world production, while the UK, once such a dominant player, delivers 2% or so. And Spain is no longer on the top-ten list, although indirectly it is, seeing as the Merino remains one of the most important sheep breeds around.

P.S. Should you want to know more about the wool trade and those advance contracts, I recommend “Advance Contracts for the sale of wool in medieval England: an undeveloped and inefficient market?” by Bell, Brooks & Dryburgh (University of Reading)

Pulling the wool over Papa’s eyes

Marriage love Manesse1I have a good friend who has a most prosaic approach to life. On one occasion, we were discussing marriage, and my friend causally said that he was convinced a successful marriage had more to do with how you approached it than who you were married to.
“Eh?” I said, somewhat taken aback.
“I’m just saying I could probably have had as good a life with another woman – and you with another man.”
“I love my husband,” I said – rather stiffly.
“And I love my wife.” He smiled slowly. “But I could have loved another wife just as much.”
Well, the conversation degenerated into a heated discussion for a while, but by the time we’d finished our respective tea and coffee, I had to grudgingly admit he was right. There is no single Mr Right or Ms Right for any of us. There are multiple alternatives, and it is how we work with our relationship that will define its long-term viability – however unromantic that sounds.

Of course, most of us prefer to see marriage/relationships as something pink and fluffy. Us modern Western people are suckers for romance and therefore marry for love. Us modern Western people divorce each other when the love runs out – not an option only some generations back.

ISOTS launch picIf your expectations of marriage include sizzling passion and everlasting romance you will obviously be disappointed three years into your relationship when hubby clambers into bed with his socks on, mumbles “God, I’m tired” for the eighth night in a row, and turns his back on you. (Contrary to some beliefs, men are just as good as women at complaining about “headaches”) As a modern person who considers love and passion to be a mandatory ingredient in your relationship, chances are you’ll feel seriously short-changed. Chances are you’ll conclude the love is gone and so the relationship is terminated. Onwards and upwards to new, greener pastures… Good luck!

Historically, those new greener pastures were out of reach for most people. And if you belonged to the noble, wealthy classes no one would consider love a relevant aspect when discussing a marriage. Children – both sons and daughters – were useful assets to cement alliances and increase wealth. To us, this all seems very dreary. I am sure it could be, but I am also certain quite a few of these arranged marriages were quite happy. After all, it is all about expectations – and your approach to things.

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Edward & Eleanor

One example of an arranged marriage that by all accounts developed into a strong, loving relationship is that of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. They were wed for political reasons – Henry III needed to shore up his Spanish alliance – and no one was all that concerned about the feelings of the fifteen-year-old groom or the thirteen-year-old bride.In this case, the bride and groom took a liking to each other, and over the thirty-six years of their marriage were rarely apart – Eleanor accompanied her husband wherever he went. While fortunate in love, they were less fortunate when it came to their children. Eleanor was brought to bed of fourteen to sixteen children, of which only six reached adulthood, five daughters and one son.

His own happy marriage should have made Edward eager to consider such things as compatibility and potential for future happiness when arranging his daughters’ marriages. Not so much. Like his contemporaries, he used his daughters to create relevant alliances.

cr-GuillaumeVrelant-TheMarriageOfArthur-Guinevere 15th centuryOne of his daughters, Joan of Acre, he married off to Gilbert de Clare, earl of Hertford and Gloucester. The earl was one of the richest and most powerful men in England, and Edward hoped to tether him to the throne by wedding him to his daughter. That Gilbert was thirty years older than Joan was neither here nor there – at least not to Edward. What Joan thought of all this we don’t know, but Gilbert seems to have gone to some lengths to woo his young bride.

They were married in 1290 – the bride was eighteen, the groom pushing fifty. Five years and four children later, Gilbert was dead. Joan, however, had done her duty, giving her husband a precious son and heir as their firstborn.

One would have thought Edward would give his daughter a break: recently widowed and with four young children, maybe she could be allowed to find her second spouse on her own. Edward did not agree. Joan was still young and obviously fertile, which made her even more of a marital asset. Edward cast a beady eye over the prospective suitors and nodded approvingly at one Amadeus, Count of Savoy, a man more than twenty years Joan’s senior.

medieval sexJoan, however, had other ideas. A year or so after her husband died, she found herself attracted to a certain Ralph de Monthermer. Ralph was no great catch, he’d been one of Gilbert de Clare’s squires and had no major future prospects. But he was only two years older than Joan, young and fit, and I dare say she preferred the idea of wedding him to being sent off to please Amadeus of Savoy. Besides, it didn’t matter that Ralph was poor. Under the marital contracts drawn up between Gilbert de Clare and Joan, Joan was more than well off, Countess of Hertford and Gloucester for life.

Edward, unaware of his daughter’s infatuation with strapping Ralph, continued with his negotiations. A marriage date was tentatively set for March of 1297. Somewhat desperate, Joan decided to preempt her father, and after convincing him to knight Ralph, she married her newly-belted knight in secret. (No matter how in love, it seems Joan had certain standards: her husband had to be at least a knight. At least)

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To marry without the king’s approval was not wise. To marry without the king’s approval when said king was presently negotiating your marriage with someone else was more along the lines of crazy. I guess Joan felt she had no choice. What Ralph felt I had no idea, but there must have been moments when his guts tied themselves into knots. Edward I was not exactly known for his mild temperament.
Meanwhile, Amadeus expressed he was more than happy to wed Joan and Edward was thrilled at how the negotiations were proceeding, so I imagine he decided to inform his daughter that soon enough she’d be the new countess of Savoy.
“Umm,” said Joan, “thing is, I can’t marry him.”
“Don’t be silly, of course you can. You’ll take to your new country like a fish to water.”
“Err…Well…Papa dearest, promise you won’t be mad, but…umm…I’m already married.”

Explosion. Major, major explosion. It probably did not go as far as having Edward frothing at the mouth (so undignified!), but I dare say his droopy eyelid twitched like mad. In his rage, Edward stripped Joan of her lands and threw poor Ralph into Bristol Castle. This beautiful love story seemed headed towards a tragic ending – not that Edward cared. On top of having to deal with his rebellious daughter, he suffered the humiliation of having to apologise to Amadeus. The Count of Savoy, however, was not one to dwell on lost opportunities and I am happy to say he found another bride within some months. Whether the bride was as thrilled I have no idea, being yet another of those young girls of impeccable lineage married to a man decades her senior.

Fortunately for Ralph and Joan, Edward calmed down. Besides, Joan was already pregnant, and several people urged him to be lenient. So in August of 1297 Ralph was released from Bristol Castle and reunited with his happy wife, by then big with child.

Joan and Ralph went on to have four children together. The relationship with Edward I was never to rise above lukewarm, but Ralph proved himself capable and loyal, qualities Edward valued. There is, however, a little anecdote regarding Ralph that I do not thing Edward would have appreciated: it is said that in 1306, while Robert de Bruce was at the English court, Edward planned to arrest the Scotsman. Ralph overheard something and chose to warn Robert by sending him 12 silver pennies and a set of spurs (and it is dead obvious that this means “Flee! Ride like the devil for home!”) Robert set off at speed, which is why he was around to crush the English at Bannockburn in 1314. Somehow, this little story has Ralph climbing high in my affections – and Robert obviously agreed, seeing as when Ralph was captured at Bannockburn he was invited to dine with Robert before being released with no demand for ransom.

Back to our heroine of the day: In 1307, Joan died, not yet thirty-five. Ralph would go on to marry again, this time the sister of a certain up-and-coming Hugh Despenser, Isabel. Interestingly enough, this was also a clandestine marriage. Yet again, Ralph would be on the receiving end of a king’s anger for wedding without royal permission, but seeing as this king was Edward II, I dare say his displeasure was easier to bear.

marriage loving-coupleJoan’s son with Gilbert de Clare died young at Bannockburn. Her sons by Ralph were not exactly long-lived either. And as to Joan’s many daughters, they would, just like their mother, be married off as it best suited the interest of their relatives – in this case the English king. In difference to their mother, none of them would contract a second marriage based on such an irrelevant aspect as love. Poor them.

Love – not always pink and fluffy

Edward Gal_nations_edward_iEdward I comes down through history to us as a man not much given to romantic gestures. This after all, is the man who implemented being hung, drawn and quartered for treason, who expelled the Jews in 1290, and who spent a considerable part of his life hammering the Welsh and the Scots into submission (wasted effort when it came to the Scots). He also hung women in cages from the battlements of Berwick castle, and supposedly (as per one rather fanciful story) left instructions that his body be boiled until the flesh fell off his bones and for those bones to be carried along with the English army when yet again they went after the Scots. His son, understandably, preferred to bury daddy as he was…

Edward I was undoubtedly one of the more capable English kings.  A devoted and loyal son, a man who took his responsibilities seriously and who set about reforming government so as to include Montfort’s ideas about regular parliaments, he is also at times a controversial king – it suffices to read the first paragraph to understand why. But whatever people may think of him, I’d wager no one would accuse Edward I of being a softie. Nope, not for him hearts and flowers. Or?

When Edward was fifteen, he married Eleanor of Castile. She was thirteen at the time, and the wedding was essentially a political alliance to safeguard English interests in Gascony. Fortunately, the married couple took to each other like a house on fire. They would spend the coming thirty-odd years or so mostly together, with Eleanor accompanying Edward more or less wherever he went, despite giving birth to at least sixteen children.

Images-of-medieval-love-e1392230695284-560x500One gets the impression of a happy marriage – of two intellectual equals that took great pleasure in each other’s company. Eleanor was well-educated and no push-over. She was an active business woman, amassing considerable wealth during her life – something that did not exactly endear her to her subjects, who were somewhat intimidated by their determined queen. Edward, however, appreciated her hard-nosed qualities – but there was plenty of love and flirtation as well, as demonstrated by the fact that even after her death, Edward continued to pay her women Lent money, the “bribe” required to get him through the door to his waiting queen after the impossed celibacy of Lent.

And then Eleanor up and died. Okay, not unexpected, because she had been ailing for quite some time, but Edward was devastated. So much did he love his wife, that he ordered a magnificent stone cross to be built at every point in which her coffin rested on its way to London. These Eleanor crosses, in total 12, are mostly gone by now, but some remain standing, a silent reminder of a king and his great love for his wife. Sort of romantic, hey?

Edward I may have been griefstruck. Yes, he was probably for some time not quite himself. But Edward was a king, and his duties required him to pull himself together and get on with things – including sorting the matter of the rather precarious situation when it came to his heirs. No matter all those babies, Eleanor and Edward only had six children survive childhood. Of those, only one was a son – the future Edward II. So, just in case, Edward married again, by all accounts as devoted a husband to his new bride as he had been to his first.Edward I, it seems, was blessed in his marriages, finding love and companionship with both his wives.

Through history, however, there are various examples of royal spouses who never got over the loss of their dear one. For them, the love that had once been a blessing became an affliction, grief dragging them into the dark and never quite letting them back up into the light.

Juana-la-locaOne of the more classic examples is that of Juana of Castile – interestingly enough a distant relation to Edward’s Eleanor. Extraordinarily beautiful, this the second daughter to Isabel of Castile and Fernando of Aragón, was not only considered drop-dead, she was also highly intelligent and extremely well-educated. Unfortunately for Juana, both her parents belonged to the Trastámara family – Isabel and Fernando were second cousins – and mental instability popped up here and there in her family tree. Not that there were any indications that Juana was so afflicted – the girl was quite the catch on the marital market, despite being nowhere close to inheriting a crown, having both an elder son and an elder sister.

15th-century_unknown_painters_-_Portrait_of_Philip_the_Handsome_-_WGA23598Anyway, in 1496, Juana married Philip the Handsome. To judge from what portraits there are, he wasn’t that gorgeous, but maybe the paintings don’t do him justice. Whatever the case, Juana and Philip were sufficiently attracted to each other to produce a half a dozen of very attractive children. Juana was smitten with her handsome husband – and quite devastated when he strayed. Which, by all accounts, he did quite often. Despite his behaviour, Juana developed something of an obsession with her husband, an open adoration that had people snickering behind her back.

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Absolutely gorgeous, don’t you think? Philip and Juana, by Master Abtei from Afflighem

Through a series of unfortunate deaths, Juana ended up as the heir to both Castile and Aragón. And in 1504, when her mother died, Juana became Queen of Castile – her handsome hubby became King Philip I, something that by all accounts pleased him. Two years later, Philip died in a sudden fever, this as a consequence of over exertion on the tennis court followed by too much cold water. Or typhoid – take your pick.

At the time Juana was pregnant. Her husband’s unexpected death was a blow that literarily felled her, and days of weeping, of not eating or drinking in her despair, drove her over the edge. Juana became Juana la Loca (Juana the Mad) as the people around her watched with mounting concern how she sank deeper and deeper into the black sludge of her grief.

Philip was embalmed and placed in a  coffin. Juana wasn’t about to have him buried – not yet. She simply couldn’t bear to be parted from him. Some months after his death, Juana set out with the coffin, destined for Granada. Every day she had the coffin opened so that she could inspect the corpse and ensure no one had touched it. All women were forbidden from being anywhere close to the coffin, Juana’s jealousy spiraling into skrieking bouts of madness if she saw as much as a female servant.

In Torquemada, the journey ground to a temporary halt. Juana’s baby was about to be born, and she ordered Philip’s coffin to be placed in the chapel, surrounded by guards and so many candles the men doing guard duty emerged “as black as moors” due to all the soot.

The baby, a little girl, was born on a cold and icy January day. As if mirroring Juana’s despair, Castile was afflicted by famine and the plague – not that Juana noticed, immured in her own mental prison. Come spring, she set off again, refusing to travel by day. So instead Juana, the coffin, her baby and all their entourage travel by night, surrounded by torches.

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Juana and the coffin, 19th century by Pradilla. He got some things wrong, what with all those women sitting about, but it’s so atmospheric…

One day, or so the story goes, Juana saw a group of building outlined against the lightening eastern sky. A place to stay, she hoped, but upon being informed it was a nunnery, she collapsed in yet another bout of jealousy. She ordered the coffin opened and stood for a long time staring down at the sorry remains of her once so handsome husband. The lid was replaced, and the procession swung into motion, with no idea of where they were headed. Granada no longer seemed to be the intended destination.

Finally, Juana’s father decided things had to stop. Concerned for her health – and the state of the government, he came upon her in the midst of the Castilian hinterland. Somehow, he convinced her to return to Burgos. Fernando rode with his men during the day, Juana and the coffin travelled by night. At this point, Juana no longer washed or changed her clothes.

In 1509, Fernando had Juana brought to the convent of Tordesillas. She was 28 years old, mother of six, and all she could think of was her husband – once so handsome, now slowly rotting in his as yet uninterred coffin. Fernando had her locked away – together with her youngest daughter. He did do her the kindness of placing Philip’s coffin so that she could see it from her window. The door closed. Juana was to remain within for 47 long years, released only by death.

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Juana in Tordesillas, late 19th century by Pradilla

In the meantime, her father was to die, deeply depressed. Juana became the titular ruler of both Castile and Aragón, but the actual ruling was done by her young and gifted son, who showed little inclination to have his mother released from her prison. Truth be told, maybe she preferred to remain within, sitting always by the window that allowed her to see what little remained of Philip the Handsome: his coffin.

After her death, Juana was reunited with her husband. They were buried in Granada, together. I suspect they were both beyond caring…

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