14th Century England Part 2

The second half of the century is dominated by Edward III and his infamous children. Edward was married to Philippa of Hainault and together they had five sons to live to adulthood (three that died in infancy), and four daughters to do the same (one died in infancy). 

His daughters were: Isabella of England, Countess of Bedford; Mary of Waltham, Duchess of Brittany; Margaret of England, Countess of Pembroke; and Joan of England, who was supposed to marry Peter I of Castile but died during her travels of the black plague. Only Isabella would have children.

His sons were: Edward, Prince of Wales (Black Prince); Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence; John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; Edmund of Langley, Duke of York; and Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. The lines of these men will eventually cause England to break into the War of the Roses, but for now they are simply brothers of royal lineage with all the glory and pain it brings.

The prince was also the Earl of Chester and Duke of Cornwall; he was the first to ever receive the title ‘Duke’ in England. Edward was barely 16 when he started following his father into battle, and would be present for many of his father’s victories and failures. The older the King gets, the more he seems to rely on his heir. He appeared to match the description of the perfect medieval prince, a skilled soldier on the battle field and beloved in England for his participation in festivals and jousts. He married his cousin Joan, Countess of Kent in 1561, who had been widowed the year prior. She had three children that he became stepfather to, but their own marriage would only produce two sons. Their first passed shortly after birth, and the other named Richard who was born in 1367. In 1362, he had been given the Principalities of Aquitaine and Gascony where he took command of the free companies. Under his command they savagely moved through French territory, ravaging everywhere but Aquitaine until his father demanded he controlled them. In the 1360s he would fight along Peter of Castile in an attempt to restore the Cstillian to his throne after his illegitimate brother usurped it, Henry of Transtámara. 

He returned to Aquitaine the same year his son was born, 1367, with hefty debts and growing illness. He was hot-headed, rude to nobles, and made poor decisions regarding taxes and politics. Jealousy over his vast amount of power was rampant in the English court by this time, and he would not receive assistance from his family over the mounting conflicts until war was declared, and the assistance he did receive came in the form of his brother John of Gaunt, who may or may not have been working against his elder brother. He was met with treachery from allies and significant losses on the battle field that worsened his health and caused his to leave his home in Bordeaux, returning to his father’s court in England in 1371. By 1375 both Edwards were practically bedridden with illness, and the kingdom was left in the hands of John. 

Edward III’s second son was Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence. Like his elder brother, Lionel spent much of his life as a soldier. He participated in the French wars but his main energy was focused on controlling Ireland, though he had little success. He left Ireland in disgust in 1366. In 1368, he traveled to Milsn to marry for the second time to Violante Visconti of Pavia. The prince would not return home; he died in Alba in October 1368 after becoming ill. Nothing was ever proven, but many suspected his father-in-law, Galeazzo, Lord of Pavia, to have had him poison. He left behind a daughter named Philippa, Countess of Ulster, who inherited her title from her mother: Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Ulster. Her line will eventually blend with the line of Lionel’s younger brother, the Duke of York. The connection would be the basis of a claim for the future Edward IV. Every king after Edward IV (except Henry VII) would be descendant’s of Lionel. 

With the passing of Lionel, along the disposition of the King and Prince of Wales, the running of government fell to the third son: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. To say the Duke is a troublemaker is an understatement. He worked vigorously to grow his power, owning land in almost every county of England. He married his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, in 1359, and when she died in 1368, he was given the title of Duke that her father had held. They had two children, Henry and Philippa of Lancaster, who became Queen consort of Portugal in 1387. He married Conastance of Castile, daughter of Peter I of Castile, and through her he tried to claim the throne of Castile. He failed, but his daughter from this marriage, Catherine, would marry Henry III of Castile and be an ancestor of Catherine of Aragon. Constance died in 1394, and John decided to take the opportunity to marry his long-term mistress Katherine Swynford in 1396. He petitioned to have his children legitimized the same year, and while they were barred from the succession, the request was granted and the Beaufort line was created. 

Edward, Prince of Wales would die in 1376, leaving his young son Richard as his heir to Edward III and earning him the title of Black Prince. John would rule for their father overseeing both the Good Parliament of 1376 and the Bad Parliament of 1377. During this period, people became increasingly worried John may try to usurp his nephew should the King die; the concern was enough for the crown to begin to pull some of his territories. The people of London rioted under his policies, and he was unpopular. 

After 50 years of ruling, Edward III finally gave way to his illness and died, leaving his ten-year-old grandson to succeed him. Fears of his uncle’s ambitions were rampant and to avoid a power-grab, Richard was not given a regent, ruling alone instead with a “continual council” that was created to help the young king in his decisions. Men like Simon de Burley and Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, gained control and within three years the council was discontinued. During that time three poll taxes were levied. The people had been discouraged after the Black Death and plague outbreaks that followed, and the taxes were too much to bare. They protested in what is known as the Peasant’s Revolt. The crown did not have the resources to handle the outbreak of violence and decided to negotiate with them instead. The King rode out to them and announced the peace agreement to his people, where the crown had caved to their demands, but it only emboldened the rebels. They were not sure of his sincerity, but it all came to a head on June 15th. They had met once again for the King to plead his sincerity when an altercation broke out and the Lord Mayor of London, William Walworth, pulled the rebel leader, Wat Tyler, from his horse and murdered him. The King reacted calmly and found a way to lead the crowd from the scene. He let the crowd disperse, opting for clemency over cruelty. Rebellions continued throughout the country though, and he was forced to suppress them in a harsher manner. The incident would help shape the type of ruler he would become. The next six years would show little unrest. He married Anne of Bohemia in 1382, which was unpopular despite the money it brought. He also found a favorite in Michael de la Pole who would hold titles including: Chancellor, Earl of Suffolk, and Duke of Ireland. Some chroniclers of the time, like Thomas Walsingham, believed this to be a homosexual relationship, but there is no evidence of that being the case. Instead of focusing on the conflicts relating to France, he instead pushed and launched a “crusade” that failed miserably, and war with Scotland that never saw a battle. He had growing conflicts with his uncles who attempted to undermine him: troublemaker John, and the youngest, Thomas, now Duke of Gloucester. 

Presumably under their command, the Wonderful Parliament commenced. Micheal de la Pole requested an astronomical raise in taxes for defense, and they responded they would not touch taxes until he was removed as chancellor. Richard tried to object and say no, but when they threatened him with deposition, he let de la Pole go. Parliament then set up a commission to review and control his finances for a year, which Richard felt was an affront to his royal prerogatives. He traveled the country mustering support, and when he returned to London he met with an appeal of treason against the leaders he recently rallied from the Duke of Gloucester, Earl of Aundrel, and Earl of Warwick. He attempted to stall negotiations while he waited for reinforcements, but the three had joined forces with John of Gaunt’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby and Thomas de Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham. They formed up the Lords Appellant. Richard was forced to comply and those that did not escape the country were executed. 

In 1389, John of Gaunt returned to England and made peace with the King, who had been working to restore royal authority now that he was older. He blamed past mistakes on poor councilors and this as a new beginning after failed military ventures. He sought peace with France and in 1396 he accepted a truce that included his betrothal to the French princess, Isabella, despite her being much younger than he was and it would be a long time before he had an heir. 

In 1397, we see the beginning of Richard becoming a tyrannical King. He arrests Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick with no apparent reason. Some suggest they may have been plotting against him, but some believe he was simply secure enough in his throne to retaliate against their earlier actions. Arundel was the first to be tried and executed. Gloucester died awaiting trial, likely murdered by the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas de Mowbray. It is believed Richard ordered this attack to avoid executing a prince and his uncle. Warwick was originally condemned to death before  being granted the mercy of a life sentence. He then went through England and levied heavy fines against the men who had been loyal to the men. He then gave the titles taken from the three men and handed them out to nobles and family, including naming his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford. The father and son combo remained Richard’s greatest threat to his power. Henry fought with the Duke of Norfolk and both men were exiled. Norfolk for life and Henry for ten years. Until 1399, when his father, John of Gaunt died, and Richard extended his to life. Instead, Henry returned to England and made his way through England rallying men. Despite the heir being the son of Lionel’s daughter, Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, Bolingbroke was determined to take the throne from his cousin and succeeded. 

Whether by his own volition or by force, Richard II’s reign ended September 30, 1399. Originally he was allowed to live, but after the first plot against now Henry IV, he was starved to death. He died in February 1400. 

Thus, the Lancastrian line of the Plantagenats were created and a precedent set of usurping mad kings. The stage for the War of the Roses has been set, and in the next century we will learn more about what sparks this infamous civil war and the birth of a new dynasty. 

Notable Sources:

  • “Black Prince.” Google Books, Google, books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=LrETDQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT4&dq=black%2BPrince&ots=GwhdKRSjwL&sig=6L6XOJLtJ-T6IFJoBXxfBdfrdMs#v=onepage&q=black%20Prince&f=false. 
  • “The Black Prince.” Google Books, Google, books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=wO8_DwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT3&dq=black%2BPrince&ots=rh-gfFFx5X&sig=AyH-WsMmnrQcPAH3QLZOzHPapuw#v=onepage&q=black%20Prince&f=false. 
  • “John of Gaunt.” Google Books, Google, books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=_HXJAwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=John%2Bof%2BGaunt&ots=ml5abNM8FS&sig=xvS59MgYUjhvLkKoI4OdBATyztk#v=onepage&q=John%20of%20Gaunt&f=false. 
  • “Richard II.” Google Books, Google, books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=eMAJCAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR10&dq=Richard%2BII&ots=RRqz85sQMG&sig=Wc0CrkUZbZnqQ1xyrTNSUQgs07k#v=onepage&q=Richard%20II&f=false. 
  • “Edward III.” Google Books, Google, books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=iqDTn2qmiNAC&oi=fnd&pg=PT7&dq=edward%2Biii%2Bof%2Bengland&ots=hjZyrbHGGu&sig=Fsu2yjUjY6Yqq1vo317sh2pvV1g#v=onepage&q=edward%20iii%20of%20england&f=false. 

Cartwright, Mark. “Edward III of England.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 8 Mar. 2021, http://www.ancient.eu/Edward_III_of_England/.