Today I am pleased to be hosting another fantastic guest post, this time by author Louise Wyatt. Louise has loved history since discovering Dunster Castle in Somerset aged six years old. Reading and writing as soon as school started, Louise has published three local history books between 2017 and 2018 and more recently, A History of Nursing. A registered nurse and author, medieval history is a particular passion, with nursing history from antiquity onwards coming a close second. Her next book, Edward I’s Granddaughters: Murder, Power and Plantagenetstells the story of Edward Montagu, his wife Alice Plantagenet and those around them during the turmoil of the 14th century, and is out on 30th May 2023 with Pen & Sword History. For her post today, Louise is going to tell us a little bit more about Edward Montagu, and why he didn’t live up to the chivalric ideals of his day…

Edward Montagu’s Coat of Arms at Crecy, from ‘Crecy and Calais by George Wrottesley, pV’.

Edward Montagu. Not many people would know this name from the fourteenth century although his older brother, William, has gone down in history as the first earl of Salisbury. There is also more written about his other older brother, Simon, who was the highly esteemed Bishop of Worcester and then Ely. It was Edward’s wife, Alice Plantagenet, that I stumbled across whilst researching the lordship of Chepstow for a local history book I was writing for Amberley Publishing. One of the Marcher lords of this manor in the fourteenth century turned out to be Thomas of Brotherton, Earl of Norfolk and no, I hadn’t heard of him before either.

This piqued my interest and I tumbled headfirst into the Research Rabbit Hole. I had heard of Thomas’ elder daughter, Margaret as she is famous at outliving almost everybody and became Duchess of Norfolk in her own right in 1397, thanks to Richard II, but it was her younger sister, Alice, that jumped off the screen at me and needed to be written about. Which was a tad difficult when there is a dearth of information about her – even the archivist at Arundel Castle didn’t have anything – and all that is recorded in a dusty membrane at The National Archives is the manner of her death. Thanks to her husband Edward Montagu.

Chepstow Castle, Monmouthshire, Wales, which Thomas of Brotherton controlled. WikiCommons.

I think it’s best to discuss his good points first as the bad boy images are vast. Edward would have been the youngest brother after John (died young), William (close friend of Edward III) and Simon (the esteemed Bishop). It was highly possible that Edward was the youngest sibling; his mother, Elizabeth Montfort, had ten, possibly eleven, children by Edward’s father Sir William Montagu. Katherine Montagu is often listed as a daughter but she isn’t mentioned in the St Frideswide Cartulary (a collection of registers) or as a figure carved on her mother’s tomb in Christ Church Oxford.  

The figures engraved on her tomb have been identified as her children, not ‘weepers’ as was originally thought. Simon, as Bishop of Ely, has been identified as the figure in the central panel on the south side, whilst his sister, Maud, is in the central panel on the north side, in Benedictine dress. Within the panel on Maud’s right side is another sister in Benedictine dress, who must be Isabel, and also a young boy in ‘juvenile costume’. This must be Edward Montagu, confirming he must be a much younger – if not the youngest – sibling. On the left of Maud are two sisters, one in Benedictine dress, and therefore surmised to be Elizabeth, prioress of Holywell. The panel on Simon’s right shows two ladies in secular dress and two men in lay attire on his left, one with a long robe, who must be his brother, William, the earl; the other lay figure would be John. That leaves three female figures, who would represent Hawise, Alice and Mary. There is no fourth figure, no Katherine, as in the St Frideswide Cartularly.

(Edward I’s Granddaughters: Murder, Power and Plantagenets, p107)

Edward was a young squire in his brother William’s household retinue in 1330 and was knighted by March 1337 by Edward III. This means Edward must have come of age – 21 – so we can assume he was born around the year 1315/6; his father died in 1319. It is likely that Edward, although young, would have been involved in the Nottingham Coup of 1330, where his brother led the surprise charge against Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella, therefore clearing the way for Edward III to take his rightful place as king of England.

Edward appears to have been a successful soldier and seasoned warrior; he was with the king in Flanders in 1340, defending Montagu property in the Scots wars in 1341-2, fought with the king in the various battles of the Hundred Years War, including having his own retinue at the Battle of Crécy and Calais under the banner of his nephew, William, 2nd Earl of Salisbury and the original betrothed to Edward’s wife, Alice of Norfolk – more on that later. Edward also fought at the Battle of Poitiers, again with his nephew Salisbury. Amidst all of this, he and Alice produced five children throughout the 1340’s.

In 1333, Alice was originally betrothed, aged around nine, to the five-year-old son and heir of William Montagu, 1st earl of Salisbury, also called William (I think medieval nobles ran out of steam trying to name their many children). It must have been a grand affair attended by the crème de la crème of nobility, including the earls of Warenne, Arundel and Warwick but unfortunately, we don’t have much more detail other than it being a protracted betrothal of fifteen years (not too unusual when they were so young). However, by the time of the death of Alice’s father in August 1338, the enigmatic Thomas of Brotherton, Earl of Norfolk, we see in the chancery records that Alice is noted as the wife of Edward Montagu, younger brother of William and not his son. Ooooh, what happened here then? Well, as usual, there is not a lot to go on. Some sources note Alice ‘ran off’ with Edward, her senior by approximately eight to nine years and as she was married, she would have had to been around fourteen at the time of her father’s death. This means both the earl of Salisbury and Norfolk approved the marriage at some point and most likely the king himself. Why would Alice ‘run off’ with Edward, technically a landless (albeit military successful) younger brother of the earl, not his heir, and so not such a favourable match considering Alice was the daughter of an earl, granddaughter of Edward I, niece to Edward II and cousin to Edward III. Very few sources that bother with this simply don’t know or state it could have been for many reasons but … well, not really. What ‘many reasons’? Although her father, as earl of Norfolk, defied his brother Edward II and protocol by marrying a woman far beneath him socially, with no value as heiress in terms of land or money. There is one blatantly obvious reason that seemed to jump out at me during research – Alice had got pregnant by Edward. Conjecture yes, but bear with me!

Alice was four years older than William, her betrothed, and would have matured quicker; as her birthdate is not known exactly, Alice may have been slightly older than fourteen. Perhaps her and Edward were attracted to each other? Although she was young, and even more so in our modern-day eyes, perhaps they fell in love, or lust. And as murky as it sounds, perhaps Edward raped her – as you’ll see in my book, this was not unusual in the fourteenth century. Details of why they married are, to date, non-existent but William the earl seemed to control most of Edward’s life including arranging the marriages of his two elder children with Alice; marrying her to his brother as opposed to his son wasn’t such a bad deal. Alice and her sister Margaret (who was already married and was pregnant by the time of their father’s death in 1338) were extremely valuable co-heiresses as their only brother, and the earl of Norfolk’s only son and heir, Edward of Norfolk, had died by December 1334. If there was something the medieval people were more than aware of, whether you were noble or peasant, was the fragility of life itself.

Bungay Priory, Suffolk, England, where Louise believes Alice was buried. WikiCommons.

Alice and Edward had at least one, if not two children a mere two years later, by 1340, a son called Edward (no surprise there) and Audrey, also known as Etheldreda. They were both definitely born by March 1343 as their uncle, the earl of Salisbury (not their father surprisingly) arranged their marriages to the Mowbray siblings for later that year but the marriages never went ahead for some unknown reason. Another three Montagu daughters had arrived by February 1349, namely Elizabeth, Maud and Joan and it is interesting to note that none of them are named after their mother. Edward’s only son and heir, Edward, and his sister Audrey last appear in records in July 1349 and are not heard of again. Records show that in 1359, the heirs of Alice are Elizabeth aged fifteen (married into the Ufford family but had died by childless by 1361), Maud aged thirteen (became an Abbess) and Joan, aged eleven (married the earl of Ufford and the only child to produce grandchildren).

This, I think, is a possible basis for Edward’s seemingly unusual, fateful attack on his wife Alice in June 1351. By this time, plague had been ravaging the country since 1348, decimating the population and most likely claimed his only son and first daughter in the summer of 1349. As was the all-important signs of lineage, virility and pride, a son was the epitome of the elite classes. Edward had lost his and only had daughters remaining. There are no documented incidences of Edward attacking his wife previously and their marriage was most definitely fruitful; by the time of the attack in 1351 they had been married approximately eighteen to nineteen years.

So what exactly happened on Sunday 19th June 1351? All we know is a reference made to Edward Montagu and two of his retainers (one a priest believe it or not, the other a local military hooligan named William Dunch) attacking Alice, using weapons. This is in the Complete Peerage (volume 9) and the information referenced a dusty membrane buried at The National Archives. The actual document was traced for me and a photo sent – if only I could have got there myself! And there it was, one measly paragraph explaining the attack on Alice. But that’s it, no rhyme or reason, no context, no documented evidence before or after the attack, nothing noted for any cause. In the book, I attempt to break it down into smaller chunks and examine the why’s and wherefore’s – including the fact Alice didn’t die immediately – whilst remembering to draw a line on conjecture. The only other mention of the attack appears to be ten years later; June/July 1361 is when William Dunch is pardoned for the attack on Alice. By coincidence, this is when Edward Montagu died so the book also examines the possibility that William took the blame for the awful incident.

A document from the National Archives recording the attack on Alice – the five lines written under the number 13. Image courtesy of Claire Noble, ©The National Archives, provided by Louise.

There were also more reported incidences of Edward Montagu leading criminal gangs across the Norfolk and Suffolk areas, attacking neighbouring farms and stealing valuable cattle. Violence had risen dramatically due to the societal breakdown caused by the plague epidemic and magnate crime was not unusual. Finances would have been dire, hunger was the norm and trying to get people to work your land was becoming nigh on impossible. Edward had turned to outright crime. It must also be considered that perhaps his son didn’t die in 1349 but died of some other childhood disease that still existed – not every death can be attributed to the plague. The reason Edward Montagu attacked Alice will probably never be known but I stick to my thought he didn’t mean to kill her at that point. Beating your wife was sadly the norm in medieval domesticity but having two of his men partake as well is unusual. Did the only son die in 1351 or did Alice bear another son who died? Or another daughter and Edward needed a son? Anything that the woman could be blamed for at that time unfortunately. Were they financially ruined, was Edward terrified of losing his status, a status that he had purely because of Alice because she was the noble one at the end of the day. By no means am I making excuses for Edward Montagu but examining him and the world he lived in is a must.

Did I let my imagination run away with me whilst researching this? Hell, yeah! How can one not fill in the gaps as you go along? Edward Montagu I imagine similar to the actor James Purefoy playing the Black Prince in a Knight’s Tale, but less smiley. A soldier through and through, loyal to the king and his brother but what on earth made him attack Alice, someone he had been married to for so long? Academic historians will probably be rolling their eyes at this point but I believe history is there for anyone that has a passionate interest in it. I remained professional and stuck to the evidence available writing Edward I’s Granddaughters: Murder, Power and Plantagenets but the seeds for a fictional account have already rooted and sprouted in my notebook.

The Arms of Thomas of Brotherton, 1st Earl of Norfolk, Alice’s father. WikiCommons.

Thank you so much to Louise for giving us a snippet into the research from her book. It really exemplifies the frustration we can feel as historians when tiny pieces of evidence survive through the centuries and we have to try and fill in the gaps of what happened! Edward’s actions both against his wife and as part of a knightly gang also remind us that not every medieval knight was chivalrous, and that men could still succeed in life despite personal failings if they were from good blood and could lead an army well. Please do consider checking out Louise’s book which is out on 30th May 2023!

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