Monday, March 24, 2008

Thomas, Lord Berkeley (1353-1417)

Image credit: Nigel Saul

Monumental brass (1392) of Thomas, Lord Berkeley and his wife, Margaret Lisle. Purbeck marble tomb chest in the north aisle of the church of St. Mary the Virgin, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire.

Thomas Berkeley ("the Magnificent"), son of Maurice, Lord Berkeley and Elizabeth Despencer, at his birth in 1353 brought together the blood of the baronial families of Berkeley, Despencer, Mortimer and Clare--four of the principal dynasties central to the struggle, a generation earlier, between the barons and Edward II. His maternal great-grandmother was Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I. In November 1367 at Wingrave, Buckinghamshire, Thomas married Margaret, Baroness of Lisle & Teyes. Their only child, Elizabeth, married Richard de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1439).

Thomas' resume included an extensive military service, by sea and by land, under Richard II; this service was continued and enhanced under Henry IV. Dugdale says that he was appointed Admiral of the King's Fleet in the 5th year of Henry IV: "He was likewise retained by Indenture to serve the King with three hundred Men at Arms, upon the Sea, for one quarter of a year, himself accounted, with eleven Knights, two hundred eighty five Esquires, six hundred Archers, seven Ships, seven Barges, and seven Ballingers, double manned with Marriners," having command to sail to Bordeaux.

By the terms of his will (1415, cited by Dugdale), Thomas bequeathed "unto the Fabrick of that Church, wherein his body should happen to be buried, a Cross gilt, with all the Relicks included therein. To his Daughter, the Countess of Warick, he thereby gave his best pair of Mattins, as also one gilt Cup with twenty pound contained therein. To James his Nephew (viz. his next Heir-male, being son of James, his brother, already deceased) his best Bed, and great Cup of Jet; as also twenty Coats of Male, twenty Brest-plates, twenty Helmets, and twenty Lances."

About the monumental brass (Monumental Brass Society,

Thomas and Margaret's brass was commissioned in 1392 on the death of Margaret, daughter and heiress of Warin, Lord Lisle. It was conceived as a joint memorial, to the Berkeleys as a couple, although Thomas himself was to live for another 25 years. Thomas’s choice of a brass for his wife is a measure of the high status enjoyed by brasses at this time. Earlier members of his family had all been commemorated by relief effigies – most of them of freestone but in one case of alabaster; and this tradition was to resume under his successors. Brasses, however, enjoyed particular favor with the aristocracy in Thomas’s lifetime.

It is noteworthy that Thomas' sword belt was adorned by a jewel inlay, now lost. Margaret's figure would also have been eye-catching; the crespine headdress had inlaid jewels and the brocade cushions on which her head rest would have had coloured mastic inlay to enhance the design. The collar of mermaids which he is wearing – not a known Berkeley device – may allude to the office of admiral to which he was appointed in 1403. In Thomas’s lifetime the estates of the Berkeley family reached their greatest extent. His wife, an heiress, whom he had married in 1367, brought him the wide Lisle estates in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. On Thomas’s death in 1417 without male issue, however, the Berkeley inheritance was divided between the heir male and the heir general, and the great lawsuit began which was to last for nearly two centuries.


Cockayne, The Complete Peerage, 2:130-31
Dugdale, The Baronage of England, 1:360-61

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare

Pictured: Caerphilly Castle, South Wales, seat of the Clare family in Wales. Built 1270 by Gilbert de Clare, son-in-law of Edward I and father of Elizabeth de Burgh, the castle became the inheritance of Elizabeth's sister, Margaret, countess of Gloucester [picture credit: Jeffrey L. Thomas].

Elizabeth de Burgh (1295-1360), "Lady of Clare" (Domina Clare), niece of Edward II, ranked among the higher nobility. Youngest daughter of Gilbert de Clare and Joan of Acre (daughter of Edward I), she was co-heiress, with her two sisters (Eleanor and Margaret), to one-third of the inheritance of the Clare earls of Gloucester. Married in 1308 to John de Burgh, oldest son of the earl of Ulster, Elizabeth was widowed in 1313. Their son, William, the last earl of Ulster, was killed in Belfast in 1333, leaving a daughter, Elizabeth.

The death at Bannockburn of her childless brother, Gilbert de Clare, meant that Elizabeth came under considerable pressure from fortune hunters as well as her uncle, Edward II, who, under medieval law, controlled the rights to her marriage. This attraction seems to have been the reason for her runaway marriage in 1316 to Thebaud (Theobald) de Verdun, who is alleged to have abducted her from Bristol Castle. Theobald denied this charge, stating that he had been betrothed to Elizabeth in Ireland and that she willingly came out to meet him at Bristol. The marriage lasted five months, Theobald dying in July 1316 at Alton Castle, Staffordshire. Nonetheless, their brief union produced an only daughter (ancestor of this author), Isabel de Verdun, born at Amesbury in Wiltshire in March 1317.

Elizabeth married for a third time to Roger Damory, who, condemned to death as a traitor by Edward II in 1321, though soon pardoned, died in March 1322 without heirs. Elizabeth now entered a period of long widowhood; her status as a widow was assured by her canny decision to take religious vows while still a young woman. This strategy allowed her to escape the fate of another arranged marriage, while at the same time allowing her complete control of her vast estates.

The "Lady of Clare" died in November 1360, age 65, at the Minoresses Convent, Aldgate, London. Some sources erroneously claim that Elizabeth was buried beside her third husband at St. Mary's, Ware, Hertforshire; however, her will shows that she was buried at the Minoresses Convent, originally inside the Abbey Church. By the 16th century, her tomb had been moved to the Cloister [Medieval London Widows, p. 44]. By the provisions of her will, dated 25 Sept. 1355 at Clare, Elizabeth, re-founder of "Clare Hall" in 1338, further endowed the Hall (now Clare College, Cambridge) with money, plate, and books. A year before her death, Elizabeth wrote the statutes of Clare Hall:

Preamble to the Statutes of the Foundress, 1359

Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare, to all children of Holy Mother Church who read these words: greeting and remembrance of our deed! Experience, the universal guide, plainly shows that learning is no mean advantage in every rank of life, ecclesiastical or civil. Though many people seek it in many ways, it is best acquired in a recognised university community; and when its pupils have acquired it and tasted its sweets, it sends them out well qualified to rise according to their merits to different ranks in church and state. But so many men have been swept away by the ravages of the plague that learning has lately suffered a sad decline in numbers. We, therefore, desiring to assist true religion and to further the public good by promoting learning so far as God has put it in our power to do so, have turned our attention to the University of Cambridge in the diocese of Ely, where there is a body of students. Our purpose is that through their study and teaching at the university they should discover and acquire the precious pearl of learning, so that it does not stay hidden under a bushel but is displayed abroad to enlighten those who walk in the dark paths of ignorance. And to enable the scholars residing in our said college to live in harmony under the protection of a firm discipline and so enjoy greater freedom to study, we have with the advice of experts made certain statutes and ordinances, set out below to stand in perpetuity.
[Clare College History,]

Dugdale, in his Baronage of England (London: 1675), v. 1, pp. 474-75, transcribes and extracts portions of Elizabeth's substantial will:

She bequeathed her body to be buried in the Monastery of Nunns, called Minoresses, without Aldgate, in the Suburbs of London; and gave a Legacy of an hundred and forty pounds to pray for the Souls of Sir John de Burgh, and Sir Theobald de Verdon her former Husbands; as also for Sir Roger Damorie, her last Husband; and all her honest servants which were either dead, or should die in her service; and this to be done with all possible speed after her decease. Moreover she gave an hundred marks to five Souldiers, who would be content within seven years next after her decease, to make a journey to the Holy-Land, for the service of God, and destruction of his Enemies. And likewise farther bequeathed to those Minoresses without Aldgate, twenty pounds in money, with a Relique of Christal, a great Chalice of Silver, gilt; and two Cruets; one Vestment of white Cloath of Gold, with what belonged thereunto, three Clasps, with a thousand Pearls; and a Robe of Russet, with its appurtenances. Furthermore, to her Daughter Elizabeth Countess of Ulster, she gave all the debt, due from her Son, Father to the said Elizabeth, at the day of his death. To her young Daughter Isabel Bardulf, a Cup of Gold; To Agnes her Sister's Cross of Silver: And to the Countess of Atholl, her Daughter, two Beds of Tauney.

For further reading:
Barron, Caroline M. & Anne F. Sutton, eds. Medieval London widows, 1300-1500 (UK: Hambledon & London, 2003), pp. 29-45.
Underhill, Frances A. For her good estate: the life of Elizabeth de Burgh (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Lady Margaret Holand and the Poet's Muse

The tomb of the Lady Margaret Holand (1385-1439) and her two husbands, John Beaufort, duke of Somerset (d. 1410) to her left and on her right, Thomas, duke of Clarence (d. 1421). This Canterbury tomb once inspired the great American poet, Emma Lazarus ("give me your tired, your poor..."). Margaret, great-great-granddaughter of Edward I, married for her first husband a descendant of Edward III; her second husband was a son of Henry IV.

The Warrior's Chapel: construction was started on the Chapel between 1428 and 1437, although no exact date is available, and was dedicated to St. Michael on 18 December 1439. The chapel was designed by Richard Beke, who was the Priory’s architect between 1432 and 1458. It is often referred to as the “Holland Chapel” on account of the tomb it was built to house for Margaret Holand and her two soldier husbands. These figures rank among the most accomplished English alabaster effigies of the 15th century.

St. Michael's Chapel (Emma Lazarus)

When the vexed hubbub of our world of gain
Roars round about me as I walk the street,
The myriad noise of Traffic, and the beat
Of Toil's incessant hammer, the fierce strain
Of struggle hand to hand and brain to brain,
Ofttimes a sudden dream my sense will cheat,
The gaudy shops, the sky-piled roofs retreat,
And all at once I stand enthralled again
Within a marble minster over-seas.
I watch the solemn gold-stained gloom that creeps
To kiss an alabaster tomb, where sleeps
A lady 'twixt two knights' stone effigies,
And every day in dusky glory steeps
Their sculptured slumber of five centuries.

"In this same chapel (St. Michael's) is a monument of marble and alabaster, very fine to look upon, to the memory of Lady Margaret Holland and her two husbands. She lies in full-length effigy between her two lords: one, the earl of Somerset; the other, the duke of Clarence. At their feet, as usual, animals are sculptured. These generally indicate the characteristic of the deceased; e. g., an eagle, courage; a hound, fleetness; and a dog, fidelity." [Merrie England: In the Cathedral,]