|Edward I/Eleanor of Castile impalement|
[Image from a window in the Great Hall of Hampton Court Palace]
The battle of Evesham was a decisive victory for Lord Edward, but it wasn't the final one. Resistance to royal administrative and military authority continued throughout the kingdom. The prince and his wife were reunited in September 1265, likely at Winchester, where a parliament had been summoned to deal with the lands and widows of the rebel barons who had been killed and captured at Evesham. In October, the English queen, Edward's mother Eleanor of Provence, made a triumphant return to England in the company of the papal legate, and Dover Castle surrendered to Edward. By Christmas of that year, Eleanor of Castile would be certain she was carrying another child. Lord Edward spent that holiday in the fens and marshes of north Lincolnshire, where the slain Simon de Montfort's son, Simon de Montfort the younger, was holding out with a baronial force on the Isle of Axholme. They came to terms on Christmas Day [*1].
|Kenilworth Castle in the 13th-century|
[Artist: Ivan Lapper, created for English Heritage guidebook]
|St John the Baptist Feast Day|
[Image from early-13th-century psalter, Arundel 157]
The Church had long ago combined pagan celebrations marking the beginning of summer with the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24th. It was one of the most important festivals of the medieval calendar, during which no one, from nobleman to serf, was allowed to work. Huge bonfires were lit on the eve of St. John, for the greater the light of the fire, the greater the harvest. Burning wheels were guided down hills by industrious lads, and if they extinguished in a body of water, rather than burning out beforehand, it was another blessing for the harvest. Dancing and singing accompanied the bonfires, and leaping over one as it burned low was thought to bring good luck. No less than three masses were celebrated on the feast day - it was regarded as a time for cleansing one's soul. Though secluded far from the public eye in a private chamber at Windsor for her lying in and unable to participate in the celebration, Eleanor must still have observed the fires from a distance and overheard the merriment. Another resident of Windsor unable to celebrate personally was Robert Ferrers, Earl of Derby. He had refused to submit to royal authority after Evesham, was captured just a few weeks previous by a royal force led by Edward's first cousin Henry of Almain, and had been taken as a prisoner to Windsor Castle [*3]. Lord Edward and the soldiers surrounding Kenilworth Castle would have kept the festival more guardedly, but still have celebrated. Shortly afterwards, King Henry III himself joined the siege of Kenilworth and the process of negotiation with the rebel garrison inside began again in earnest.
|Norman Gate of Windsor Castle|
To honor the birth of the newest Plantagenet, the Londoners called a holiday and held a procession, terminating at the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey, where offerings were made. Henry III also insured that Eleanor of Castile's churching ceremony, held thirty to forty days after John's birth, took place at the shrine of his patron saint [*8]. The Plantagenets were again a blessed dynasty, further demonstrated when the rebel garrison at Kenilworth, which was beset by hunger and cold as much as by the royal forces surrounding the castle, finally surrendered in mid-December 1266. The stench in the castle was so great, that the royalist besiegers were almost overcome when they finally entered it [*9].
|Wallingford Castle remains|
The five-year-old prince, whose birth had been so celebrated, died at Wallingford Castle three weeks later, on the night of the Invention of St. Stephen (3rd of August) 1271 [*10]. The outpouring of grief over the death of the handsome child was as widespread as the outpouring of joy had been at his birth [*11]. Richard of Cornwall oversaw the funeral arrangements, and five days later, on the 8th of August 1271, young John was buried in Westminster Abbey on the north side of the rebuilt shrine of St. Edward the Confessor [*12], the completion of which had been celebrated by Henry III in a grand ceremony on the saint's feast day three years previous, 13 October 1269.
News of their eldest child's death didn't reach Lord Edward and Eleanor until the autumn of 1272, after they had completed their Crusade, and were wintering at the court of Edward's uncle Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily, at Trapani. In November, the couple received the news of the death of Edward's father King Henry III. A story, which historian John Carmi Parsons, deduces is apocryphal, sprang up about the surprise of King Charles to find Edward extremely upset by the death of his father and unconcerned at the death of his son John, with Edward explaining that it was easy to beget sons but a father was irreplaceable [*13]. It may well have a grain of truth to it, however. One's father symbolizes the past, and one's son the future. The loss of both in such a close timeframe is a reminder of the importance of the present. Edward was now King of England. The past could not be undone, but the future, with the potential for further children, was in the hands of himself, those of his wife, and those, as always in medieval theology, of God.
|Westminster Abbey Tomb thought to contain |
the remains of the young Plantagenets,
children of Henry III & Edward I
A beautiful little tomb in Westminster Abbey, inlaid with Italian mosaic tiles, that lies between the chapels of St. Edmund and St. Benedict, is thought to have been made for John by his father Edward I. It is without inscription and is said to now contain the bones of all the children of Henry III and Edward I (nine in total) that were buried in the Abbey [*14].
[*1] Michael Prestwich, Edward I (Yale English Monarchs Series, 1988), pp. 54-55.
[*2] Ibid, p. 56.
[*3] John R. Maddicott, "Ferrers, Robert de, sixth earl of Derby (c.1239–1279)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). His career will be looked at more fully when I get to Henry Ferrers, 3rd Lord Ferrers of Groby.
[*4] Liber de Antiquis Legibus: Cronica Maiorum et Vicecomitum Londoniarum, edited by Thomas Stapleton, Camden Society Volume 34 (1846), p. 87. The full entry reads, “Eodem anno, ij idus Julii, de nocte, uxor Domini Edwardi peperit filium suum primogenitum apud Windleshores; quibus rumoribus auditus Cives Londoniarum fecerunt proclamare in Civitate, quod in crastino /tota communa solempnizassent nullum opus servile faciendo pre gaudio nativitatis dicti pueri. Unde factum est, quod illa die, omnibus seldis et schopis clausis, omnes viri et mulieres, tam clerici quam laici, pede et equo perrexerunt apud Westmonasterium, gratias agentes Deo pro nativitate pueri et orantes pro salute sua. Et per vicos Civitatis tripudium ducentes et cantilenas facientes pre gaudio, sicut solet fieri annuatim in festo Sancti Johannis Baptiste; cui vero puero impositum est nomen Johannes.”
[*5] Calendar of Patent Rolls 1258-1266 (1910), p. 617. The full entry, dated at Kenilworth 21 July 1266, reads, “Grant to John Ferre, for the delightful news which he brought to the king of the birth of John son of Edward the king’s son, that the king will assign to him 20l. yearly of land out of the first escheats, as soon as an opportunity offer.”
[*6] The Register of Walter Giffard, Lord Archbishop of York 1266-1279, edited by William Brown, Surtees Society Volume 109 (1904), p. 101.
[*7] Prestwich, Edward I, p. 54.
[*8] John Carmi Parsons, Eleanor of Castile: Queen and Society in Thirteenth-Century England (1995), pp. 25, 264 n. 51.
[*9] Prestwich, Edward I, p. 57.
[*10] John Carmi Parsons, “The Year of Eleanor of Castile’s Birth and Her Children by Edward I”, Mediaeval Studies, Volume 46 (1984), pp. 258-259.
[*11] Prestwich, Edward I, p. 126.
[*12] Liber de Antiquis Legibus, p. 141. The full entry reads, "Hoc anno obiit Johannes, primogenitus Domini Edwardi, puer etate quinque annorum et non plene quatuor septimanarum. Cujus corpus in Ecclesia Westmonasterii, ex opposito basilice Sancti Edwardi in parte aquilonali datum est sepulture viij die mensis Augusti.”
[*13] Parsons, Eleanor of Castile.
[*14] Barbara Hervey, Westminster Abbey and its Estates in the Middle Ages (1977), pp. 374-375. She cites "Tombs of Royal Babies in Westminster Abbey" a 1953 article by J.D. Tanner in the Journal of the British Archaeological Association as her source.