Royal history shows younger sons to be hit or miss. Some of them demonstrate commendable loyalty, but all too often there is resentment over losing the birth order lottery, scrapes with rebellion, ill-advised treks abroad in the hopes of finding glory or private lives that caused embarrassment. Edmund Croucback, Earl of Leicester and Lancaster was the good sort and his life and career demonstrated the ideals of Medieval brotherhood.
Eleanor of Provence came in the middle of a string of unpopular queen consorts. Her mother-in-law, Isabelle of Angouleme, deserted her English children after King John’s death and married her daughter’s betrothed, Hugh X of Lusignan. Her daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Castile, married the future Edward I as a young teenager but never bothered to learn English and despised interacting with her husband’s subjects. Back a generation further and you have Eleanor of Aquitaine who never believed the English were as sophisticated or interesting as the French, and a generation down you have Isabelle of France who staged a coup against Edward II with her lover.
Before Margaret Tudor married James IV of Scotland in 1503, there was another English Margaret who married a king of Scotland. And while this marriage didn’t bring about Great Britain, it did put the wheels in motion for what would lead to the wars between England and Scotland during the reign of Margaret’s brother, Edward I, solidifying centuries of tension between the two countries.
On November 28, 1290, Eleanor of Castile, Queen of England and wife of Edward I died at the age of 49. Her widower erected 12 statues to mark the procession of her body from Nottingham where she died to Westminster Abbey in London where she was buried. Edward’s marriage to Eleanor was arranged, but over the years it solidified into a love match and when she died, he genuinely mourned her. Had he not been king, he likely wouldn’t have married again.
As it was, despite 16 pregnancies over the course of their marriage, Eleanor only produced one son who reached maturity, Prince Edward. Given the mortality rate, particularly for children (Prince Edward was only six when his mother died), it was in the national interest that Edward take a second wife. He did just that nine years later when he married Marguerite of France, sister to King Philip IV of France.
One item on the itinerary for the state visit of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia is a visit to Westminster Abbey that will include a stop at the tomb of Eleanor Castile, wife of Edward I and queen of England from 1272 to 1290. Eleanor’s memory is actually commemorated well outside the Abbey – “Charing Cross” is no doubt familiar to most; the location is one of the more famous spots in London, if for no other reason than it’s a Tube stop. Just south of Trafalgar Square, it’s unofficially noted as the very center of London and its site is now marked by a large statue of Charles I on a horse.
The statue has been there since 1675 courtesy of his son, Charles II, the very location that one of the “Eleanor crosses” used to stand. In fact, it was ninth in a series of 12 lavish monuments built in her memory by Edward I after her death. Three of the memorials still survive today, marking the procession her body took when it was transported to London for burial.
Edmund of Woodstock’s trajectory would likely have been familiar terrain to the more famous Beaufort clan of the Wars of the Roses. Brother to a king, Edmund’s fortunes were tied to his relationship with the throne and, as a younger son, he was dependent on his own performance, ability and strategic marital alliance. In many ways, Edmund had the makings of an ideal Medieval prince and his brother, Edward II, was lucky to have him. Unfortunately for Edmund, the same couldn’t be said for the King, who was mercurial, self-interested and failed to understand the enormity of his position.
Loyal to the crown for the vast majority of his life, Edmund’s eventual defection to the coup that would bring his brother down speaks less to his own personal feelings and more to what he believed necessary to maintain England. That he wavered in his last years is tragic and his eventual arrest and execution mark one of the first instances a prince of the blood was put to death on the orders of a family member – its legacy can most closely be seen by the death of George, Duke of Clarence when Edward IV was on the throne and by the arrest of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester by Henry VI.
Earlier this month we examined the case of Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s unfortunate fifth wife, who was accused of adultery and executed in 1542. I highlighted recent scholarship which casts doubt as to whether she was guilty of infidelity during her marriage, however today we will be taking look at a union in which there is little doubt of mutual adultery. The events that transpired during the reign of Edward II in the 14th century, and the role that his wife, Isabelle of France, played in them are so fantastical as to be hard to believe. Put another way, when it comes to rebelling against the edicts of her husband, Isabelle puts her 16th century peers to shame.