Anne O Brien
Posted on November 2, 2014
Elizabeth of Lancaster, THE KING'S SISTER. A Fourteenth Century royal family torn apart by rebellion and war.
My Giveaway to celebrate the publication of The King's Sister,
is now closed.
I am delighted to meet up with so many lovers of medieval history and historical fiction.
I will post the two winners in due course.
Here you can still read about:
A Family at War: The Epiphany Rising of 1399
As a close member of the royal family, there was no reason why Elizabeth of Lancaster, after the somewhat scandalous beginnings of her marriage to John Holland, should not have lived a life wrapped in royal approval and luxury centred on the glamorous court of King Richard II. Her marriage to Holland, from all appearances, was a love match. Holland was smiled on by King Richard who created him Earl of Huntingdon, then Duke of Exeter, and gave him land and authority. Holland and Elizabeth were blessed with six children, five of whom lived to adulthood.
We have no portrait or illustration of Elizabeth, but here she is from the effigy on her tomb in the hamlet of Burford, Shropshire, with pale hair and long, fine features.
Blissful harmony was not to be the order of the day for the Duke and Duchess of Exeter, however promising the future seemed. Because of her intricate royal connections, Elizabeth found herself in a hazardous position:
- Daughter to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
- Sister to Henry Bolingbroke, the Lancaster heir.
- Cousin to King Richard II.
- Wife to John Holland, half brother to the King, as they shared the same mother, Joan of Kent.
When England was torn apart by uprising in 1399, family loyalties destroyed any chance Elizabeth might have had of happiness with Holland. It was without doubt a family at war. Furthermore the clouds had been building for some time.
It must have been difficult enough to preserve family goodwill when King Richard banished brother Henry from England for six years on a dubious charge of treason. And then on the death of John of Gaunt, Richard extended the banishment for life at the same time as he snatched the Lancaster inheritance for himself. Where were Elizabeth's loyalties here? I doubt that they were with Richard.
Here is Richard, magnificent in red and gold, from Froissart's Chronicles, in the days before the challenge to his power. Froissart is shown presenting a book to the King.
Even worse for Elizabeth's sense of loyalties was when brother Henry returned from banishment with rebellion in mind and usurped the throne from Richard, imprisoning him in Pontefract Castle.
Here is Henry, crowned King of England while Richard was still incarcerated.
Elizabeth might not have been averse to her brother becoming King, but where would John Holland stand in all of this? Would he support his half-brother or his brother in law? In past years John Holland had been in receipt of grants from John of Gaunt for his military support in the ill-fated expedition to St Malo, so there were undoubtedly a strong connection between Holland and the Lancasters. But in the troubled months of the uprising, when Richard returned from Ireland to find Henry Bolingbroke on English soil with an army at his back, Elizabeth's husband acted as mediator with Henry on Richard's behalf. With no success, and Richard being dispatched to Pontefract, would John continue to oppose Henry, at the cost of being in opposition to the new King of England?
Here is John, as Duke of Exeter, riding between Richard and Henry with his brother, magnificent in a blue patterned houppelande and hat. Another little gem from Froissart.
With Henry holding the reins of power, all was smoothed over, at least on the surface. John Holland gave his allegiance to Henry, taking his part in the celebrations at the coronation of the new king in October 1399. Certainly Elizabeth must have breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief even though she must have pondered on the ultimate fate for her cousin Richard.
But then in December of 1399. All change, and Elizabeth's world must have shattered. On the seventeenth of the month a group of men secretly met in the chamber of the abbot's lodging at Westminster Abbey. Probably the magnificent Jerusalem Chamber as shown below. The plan was to assassinate the new King Henry, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and all four of Henry's sons on the feast of the Epiphany - 6th January 1400 - when Henry planned a great celebratory tournament at Windsor. Richard would be released and restored to the throne. Richard Maudeleyn, a young squire with some superficial resemblance, would be dressed in armour and would impersonate royal Richard and win over the armed support of the people of London until Richard himself could be restored to their midst.
Which ways would John Holland jump here? Henry or Richard?
Holland, demoted from Duke of Exeter to Earl of Huntingdon by Henry, joined the plotters in the Epiphany Rising, sometimes named the Rising of the Earls. He was one of the group of plotters who met together at Westminster to plan Henry's assassination.
What would Elizabeth do? Support Brother or Husband? A terrible choice for her to make.
Read The King's Sister.
What was the outcome of the Rising of the Earls for Elizabeth and her marriage to John Holland?
Read The King's Sister.
Live the emotion with Elizabeth of Lancaster, through rebellion and vicious power struggles, through betrayal and death in The King's Sister, released 7th November, 2014.
Posted on August 25, 2014
Celebration of The King's Sister and Giveaway
My Giveaway to celebrate my completion of The King's Sister,
which will be released in hard back in the UK on 1st November 2014,
is now closed.
Delighted to meet up with so many lovers of medieval history and historical friction.
I will post the two winners in due course.
Here you can still read about my inspiration for telling the remarkable story of
Elizabeth of Lancaster.
My compulsion to write about Elizabeth of Lancaster, younger daughter of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster, was born out of my own initial ignorance about her (for which I am ashamed), followed by a visit to the Church of St Mary, a tiny rural church in the hamlet of Burford, Shropshire, close to where I live. This is the little church, full of interesting memorials, most belonging to the Cornewall family.
It all began when I was invited by a local historical society here in the Welsh Marches to give a talk on Elizabeth's life together with a guided tour to her tomb for society members. Being a recent 'incomer' to the area, I was forced to admit that I knew nothing about her other than her Plantagenet connections, her illustrious parentage, a sister who became Queen of Portugal, and that Katherine Swynford had been employed as her governess. Not enough for an informative or even an interesting lecture.
Some investigation and a personal visit to her tomb were essential.
And there she was at Burford, the heroine of my new novel, in vivid colour. This tomb is very much a 'Hereford type', set low into a wall with a reclining figure beneath a decorative arch. There is one for Lady Joanna de Bohun in Hereford Cathedral, and one for Blanche Mortimer in Much Marcle. But this one immediately took my eye.
I think I knew that I must write about Elizabeth as soon as I saw her effigy. Clad regally in red with a purple cloak trimmed with ermine, she was every inch a Plantagenet Princess (the tomb is referred to locally as the Princess tomb). Her hair is fair, her face oval and her nose long. Plantagenet features, I suppose. She wears a ducal coronet and her hands are raised in prayer, an angel supporting her pillow and a little dog holding the edge of her cloak in its mouth. She is quite lovely, although it has to be said that the tomb was probably repainted when it was given a Victorian overhall in the late 19th Century. Still I imagine that it kept the original colours, and here is the inscription carved around the edge of her tomb:
Here lyeth the body of the most noble Princess Elizabeth, daughter
of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, own sister to Henry IV, wife of
John Holland, Earle of Huntingdon and Duke of Exeter, after whose
death she married John Cornewayle, Kt. of the Garter and Lord
Fanhope, and died in the 4th year of the reign of Henry VI, 1420.
But to write about her as a heroine I needed to discover more. And how little there was, either in contemporary sources or compiled by modern historians. Even the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography grants her little space, and barely more than I already knew, other than that she had three husbands. But one comment, written in 1994 intrigued me when it damned her with the only opinion given about her as 'frankly wanton and highly sexed.' Another historian, of higher repute, dismissed her as 'of less serious temperament' than her siter Philippa who became Queen of Portugal. And yet another had little more to add about Elizabeth other than her 'unseemly conduct' and strong will.
Was there nothing more to say about Elizabeth of Lancaster than this, that she was a feisty women whose morality was open to question? But where was the evidence for the rest of her life which was a long one? Was this simply based on the fact that she had three husbands during her lifetime of fifty years. And that John Holland, her second husband, 'was struck down passionately, so that day and night he sought her out,' while she was still not free to wed him. And, furthermore that she became pregnant with his child before her first marriage was annulled. I expect that such events had a bearing on the judgement but surely there must be more to say about this daughter of Lancaster.
Here is John Holland, youngest son of Joan of Kent, and Elizabeth's second husband, superbly clad in blue, not to mention the hat. This is when he was Earl of Exeter, attempting to negotiate between Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke in the usurpation upheavals in 1399. And here lies the exciting core of Elizabeth's life.
All became clearer for me when I came to appreciate the political setting in which Elizabeth lived. Her first marriage was to a child of 8 years, a political alliance, which was never consummated. Her second marriage and her own family connections took her into the heart of the dangerous events of 1399 and 1400. These were the years of the overthrow of King Richard II by Henry Bolingbroke, Elizabeth's brother, who became Henry IV, followed by the Rising of the Earls in which John Holland, the Duke of Exeter, half-brother to King Richard, was majorly implicated. Elizabeth was in the very centre of this maelstrom. First cousin to Richard, sister to Henry, wife to John Holland, how difficult were family loyalties for her within that setting. What would be her role in the dynamics of this vital Plantagenet family?
Here is Richard in happier days, receiving a book from the chronicler Froissart.
What a marvelously emotional story this would make, mapping the pressures of blood and loyalty and duty within a family torn apart by noble ambition and a wayward king.
This was to be the story of Elizabeth of Lancaster in The King's Sister.
My thanks must go to the local historical society for highlighting my initial ignorance and presenting me with the opportunity to discover more about Elizabeth. How much I enjoyed the experience. I hope that you, eventually, enjoy the reading of it.
I am giving away a copy of either:
The Scandalous Duchess ( the iconic love story of Katherine Swynford and the Duke of Lancaster)
or The Forbidden Queen (my tale of Katherine de Valois, wife of Henry V and Owen Tudor).
If you are interested and wish to leave a comment, click on
Click here to read comments below,
And leave a message, and tell me which historical novel you would prefer if you are the lucky winner.
Posted on December 31, 2013
New Year Gift Giving in the House of Lancaster 1392.
New Year Gift Giving in the House of Lancaster 1392
Jewels all the Way
What value do we put on a man who is more than happy to buy gifts for the members of his family? A man generous with the amount he spends, and with exquisite taste?
John, Duke of Lancaster and his son Henry, Earl of Derby (later to become Henry IV after the deposition of Richard II), were both open-handed and generous gift givers, and were also fairly meticulous record keepers.
My interest in this family developed through my novel of Katherine de Swynford, The Scandalous Duchess, and my present writing about Elizabeth of Lancaster, Henry's sister. Henry plays a major role in Elizabeth's relationship with John Holand, Duke of Exeter.
So to return to gifts ...
In the late fourteenth century, the time for exchanging gifts was New Year's Day rather than Christmas, and the giving of gifts by an important man was more than simply a way to mark the special day. One purpose of it was of course to bind the lucky recipient in an unbreakable bond of loyalty with the giver. Another was to exhibit the power of the giver through the value and ostentation of the gift. But some gifts were simply to give pleasure and show affection to a loved one.
And how open-handed Earl Henry was on New Year's Day in 1392 when a large number of the Lancaster family had met to celebrate Christmas at Hertford, Duke John bringing his own minstrels with him to swell the musical offerings.
These are Henry's gifts on record:
- To the King, Richard II, Henry's first cousin - who was not at Hertford - a gold brooch in the style of a panther with sapphires and pearls.
- To his father the Duke of Lancaster, a gold swan with a ruby and pearls.
- To Mary, his young wife of years, a golden hind covered in white enamel with a gold collar.
- To Dame Katherine de Swynford (not yet married to the Duke but who clearly had a very close association with the whole family and was present at Hertford) a gold ring set with a diamonds.
- To Joan Beaufort, daughter of Dame Katherine and the Duke, a pair of paternosters - rosary beads - of coral and gold.
Jewels were also given to Constanza, the Duchess of Lancaster, who was not one of the party.
Also to Eleanor, the Duchess of Gloucester, Mary's sister.
And to Elizabeth, Countess of Huntingdon, Henry's sister.
Of all these gifts, from an aesthetic point of view, the white enamelled hind is the most interesting. The use of white enamel was rare in jewellers' art, requiring great skill, and although there is no trace of Mary's golden hind, we have the famous and absolutely exquisite Dunstable Swan jewel which is made in the same manner. In the same account of these New Year's Gifts is a reference to Henry paying Ludwing the Goldsmith for the mending and enamelling of a gold swan of his own, which he had broken. Was this the Dunstable swan jewel? Or something very like it? The swan was one of the heraldic symbols of the Bohuns, Mary's family. It may be that the swan brooch too belonged to Henry.
Henry continued to give generously. In future years - such as 1393 - he ordered the making of two suits of armour which were then sent on to Hertford for himself and Thomas Beaufort, the youngest son of Katherine and Duke John. Tournaments were part and parcel of the celebrations for this family and the new armour was to be displayed in the jousts.
In that same year, Mary and Dame Katherine were each presented with four lengths of white damask silk for gowns for the celebrations.
What a pleasure it is to see these personal touches, when much of history is taken up with politics, battles and thwarted ambitions. How fortunate that John and Henry kept personal accounts.
The jewels I have included in this post, apart from the Dunstable Swan jewel, are part of the Fishpool Hoard, discovered in Nottingham, and thought to date from the mid 1400s, so they are roughly contemporary and give us an idea of the quality and craftsmanship in the production of such gifts. They can all be seen in the British Museum. The originals noted by Henry have sadly all disappeared. Perhaps they are waiting somehwere to be discovered. How wonderful!
All the above characters appear in The Scandalous Duchess, my novel of Dame Katherine de Swynford, which will be released in the UK in march 2014.
If you are interested and wish to leave a comment, click on
Click here to read comments below.