Edward II & his Siblings (Part Two)

As we saw in part one, Edward had a large group of siblings. He only knew his sisters and half brothers, Thomas and Edmund, his elder brothers perishing long before his birth, or in the case of Alfonso, within a year. His sisters were to remain close to him throughout their lives and these bonds were no doubt forged when Edward was still very young. Some historians have argued that the childhood of Edward II was a lonely one, but I do not think the evidence remotely supports this view. In fact the more you read, the more you realise Edward, then known as Edward of Caernarfon after his place of birth, had a happy childhood, and was no different from that of his contemporaries or indeed his father. His household account survives for 1293 and is littered with entries that give a clear insight into the frenetic world in which he lived. Many of his sisters were a a constant feature of his adolescence, even after they had left the childhood home.

The first to leave was Mary (1279-1332) who had been singled out for the church, entering the convent of Amesbury in Wiltshire on 15 August 1285 at the age of five. Amesbury was the daughter house of the abbey of Fontevraud in Aquitaine which is the burial place of some of Edward’s ancestors including Henry II, the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty as well as his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Richard I and Isabella Angouleme, wife of King John are also buried there. Back in England, Amesbury remained a house fitting enough for extensive royal patronage. On 7 July 1286, Edward’s grandmother, the dowager queen Eleanor of Provence, wife of the late Henry III also entered the convent. Despite her daily absence from court, Eleanor doted on Edward right up until her death on 24 June 1291. Mary was no absent stranger either, and visited her brother often, taking with her a large retinue of servants and even greater amounts of fine wine. Together they would often gamble and badly. In 1305 Edward I paid off £200 of Mary’s gambling debts. Mary it seemed was far from suited to the daily strict rules of her order and was something of a rebel nun. Throughout his lifetime, Edward shared his sister’s devotion to gambling and this passion was no different with his other sisters also. Perhaps they had first discovered such pleasures together.


The eldest of Edward’s surviving sisters was Eleanor (1269-1298), but like many of the children of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, Eleanor would not reach 30 before her own death. Eleanor left the childhood home in 1293, when Edward was 9 years old, marrying Henry of Bar at Bristol on 20 September 1293. She was 24 when she married and within five years had died on the continent whilst giving birth to her second son. What Edward felt at the news of Eleanor’s premature death is unrecorded, but given that they had grown up together one can only assume great sadness. Eleanor’s daughter with Henry, Joan, married the earl of Surrey in 1306 which sadly was to prove an unhappy marriage. Despite their fifteen year age difference, Eleanor had been the oldest family member to remain in England whilst their parents were abroad from May 1286-August 1289. The children remained in England. One imagines Eleanor taking a lead and becoming something of the maternal figure during this time, along with her grandmother, ensconced at Amesbury Abbey.

Joan (1272-1307) was thirteen years older than Edward. On 30 April 1290, Joan married Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester in an extravagant ceremony at Westminster Abbey. Her children would include Gilbert de Clare, the last de Clare earl of Gloucester, killed at Bannockburn in 1314. Joan and her first husband also had three daughters; Eleanor who married Hugh Despenser the Younger, Margaret who would marry Piers Gaveston and later Hugh Audley, and Elizabeth who would marry three times including Roger d’Amory and John de Burgh. Joan was a frequent visitor to Edward’s household throughout his adolescence, and in 1305 gave Edward financial aid when his father had cut him off during an argument in which the prince had allegedly insulted the king’s treasurer Walter Langton. After the death of her first husband, Joan defied her father’s orders and in secret  married for love, in this instance Ralph de Monthermer, who became titular earl of Gloucester whist Joan’s son was still under age. Joan clearly had a core of steel to defy her father. News of Joan’s death, also in childbirth, at the age of 35 came in April 1307 when Edward was escorting Piers Gaveston into his first exile from Dover. It must have been a  particularly hard blow, made worse at such a difficult time for the Prince of Wales.

Margaret (1275-1333) was nine years older than her brother. She to, like her sister Joan, was married in 1290 at Westminster Abbey, only this time on 9 July to John later Duke of Brabant, whom had lived in England since 1285 since they were first betrothed. John and Edward knew each other well throughout their lives until John himself died in 1312, the same year Piers Gaveston was murdered in England. Even after their marriage, Margaret and John remained in England up until 1294 when John then inherited the dukedom, and were regular guests at the household of the heir to the throne. Margaret had a healthy life and successful marriage and lived to the ripe old age of 58. She had only one child. In 1311, when Piers Gaveston had been exiled for the third and last time, it was to Margaret that Edward turned for support, seeking Brabant as a place of refuge for Edward’s royal favourite. Rather poignantly, Margaret and Mary were the only two sisters who lived long enough to see or hear about Edward’s deposition in January 1327, but neither were in no position to help him.

Edward’s youngest sister was Elizabeth (1282-1316), who was only two years older than him and also born in Wales during their father’s conquest of the principality in the early 1280’s. Eleanor may have been Edward I’s favourite, for in January 1297 she was wed at Ipswich to John, count of Holland and Zeeland. She refused at first to leave, and her father did little to encourage her, favouring her company. Only nine months after their wedding and with much pleading from her husband did Elizabeth leave for Holland. Yet sadly, she returned two years later when he husband died unexpectedly. In 1302, the twenty year old widow was married for a second time to Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford & Essex.  Eleanor saw much of the court of Edward II, but sadly like so many of her sisters, she too succumbed to the birthing chamber and died in 1316 at the age of 34.


Of his two sisters who lived into their 50’s, neither had many children. Margaret gave birth to only one child, and Mary the nun at Amesbury of course to none. This appears to have saved them from the risk of a much shorter life, which Edward’s other sisters found out to their peril. But even after their passing, they remained close to his heart. His household accounts are littered with entries in which the king made devotions, marking their anniversaries, birthdays and passings with prayers, candles and paid for masses to be sung to aid the passages of their souls into heaven. Edward, it can safely be said, was very close to his family and his sisters in particular.


Notes & Further Reading

Cockerill, Sara. Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen (Amberley, 2014)

Johnstone, Hilda. Edward of Carnarvon (Manchester, 1946)

Martin Haines, Roy. King Edward II (Mc-Gill Queen’s University Press, 2003)

Phillips, Seymour. Edward II (Yale, 2011)



Main Image – Royal MS 19 B XV, f.20v

Text Body images – MS Bodley 264. Roman d’ Alexandre (Completed in 1344 in Tournai)


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