Thursday, April 28, 2016

{68} Hiatus Explained: Eleanor (de Bohun), Countess of Ormond (c.1310-1363)

Effigy of Eleanor (de Bohun),
Countess of Ormond 

at St Mary Church, Gowran
[Photo courtesy of Mark Humphrys
It's been three months since my last blogpost. There are several reasons for the hiatus, but I'm just going to go ahead and blame it on Eleanor (de Bohun), Countess of Ormond (c.1310-1363). Work and personal life reduced the amount of time I had for genealogy during the months of February and March. So I had to put aside my database work and focus exclusively on an article for the upcoming issue of Foundations, the Journal of the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy (FMG). I have written a handful of articles for FMG since their existence, all under the editorial talent of Steven Edwards. I was delighted to meet up with Steve last year at Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire. The conversations we had that afternoon have led to my resolve to become more involved with FMG, and I'm looking forward to attending their annual meeting in late October.

As a granddaughter of Edward I who married a newly-created Irish earl, Lady Eleanor de Bohun is, for hundreds, if not thousands, of Irish gentry families, the gateway ancestor to a descent from the Plantagenet kings. Yet little is known about her life, beyond the basic dates provided in the peerage works. She was a very important lady in the reign of her first cousin Edward III, and the details behind the marriages which her children and grandchildren made are fascinating. 14th-century genealogical research is full of challenges, especially where Ireland is concerned, but they just make the reward that much better when a breakthrough occurs. The chancery documents, translated from medieval legalese in Latin or Anglo-Norman French, make dry, dull reading, but often hidden within them are important clues in establishing vital dates of birth, marriage and death. The most important of all surviving documents to genealogy is a will. Jessica Lutkin and Jonathan Mackman have provided a full transcription and translation of the 1363 will of Eleanor, countess of Ormond, for this summer's issue of Foundations. It's the first time this document is being published, and a full reading of it casts much-needed light on the life the countess led.

To complement the will, I provided an article, 'Descendants to the Third Generation of Eleanor, Countess of Ormond', which compiles the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the countess using original chancery documents and contemporary chronicles. It was incredibly time-consuming, but fascinating as well, especially the Irish lines, which I hadn't looked into in any detail beforehand. Hopefully it will prove useful to those studying the families of Butler of Ormond, Fitzgerald of Desmond, Talbot of Herefordshire, and Fitzwalter of Essex.

I also put together a photo essay that will appear in the online edition of Foundations. It tells how Kilpeck Castle came into the possession of the countess of Ormond, as well as the role the castle played in the marriage of her elder daughter, Lady Petronilla Butler, to Gilbert, Lord Talbot. Pictures taken on my excursion to the castle (and other nearby landmarks) in October 2015 complement the text. Following is an extract - the first portion of the photo essay.



The South Wall of Kilpeck Castle
About 9 miles southwest of Hereford, and just 5 miles from the Welsh border, on top of a hill surrounded by farmland, stand the ruins of Kilpeck Castle. This country was once the small Welsh kingdom of Ergyng, later Anglicized to Archenfield. After the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror granted Kilpeck to his kinsman William Fitz Norman, who built the initial timber castle, later extended with stonework. Shortly after the accession of Edward I, Kilpeck Castle came into the hands of the baronial Plugenet family of Herefordshire. The Plugenets held the castle of the king, who was lord of the hundred of Archenfield.[*1]

Kilpeck c.1325
An artist rendering of the area as it appeared in the early 14th century
[from the Kilpeck Castle entry sign]

By 1325, when Sir Alan Plugenet, the 2nd Baron, died childless, Kilpeck Castle and the thriving medieval village which surrounded it, was valued at £62 0s 6d. In the previous century, Kilpeck had been granted a weekly Friday market and an annual fair, and it served as the administrative centre for Archenfield. Kilpeck was very much a Marcher village: Welsh was the primary language spoken by its inhabitants, and its architecture and art contained a strong Celtic influence. Sir Alan Plugenet’s heir was his middle-aged, childless sister Dame Joan Bohun, a Bannockburn widow. Her husband Sir Henry de Bohun had been killed by Robert the Bruce in single combat the day before that battle. Dame Joan travelled to court in October 1325 and performed homage to King Edward II for her brother’s lands, including Kilpeck Castle.

Tomb of Dame Joan (Plugenet) Bohun in Hereford Cathedral
A benefactress of nearby Hereford Cathedral (where her elaborate tomb still exists), Dame Joan Bohun would have been well known to Adam Orleton (d. 1345), the bishop of Hereford who played an instrumental role the following year in the invasion of Edward II’s wife Queen Isabella and her lover Sir Roger Mortimer, and in the deposition of Edward II in favour of his 14-year-old son, now King Edward III. Likely aware of her imminent death, in the last months of her life Dame Joan Bohun, worked, no doubt in collusion with the bishop of Hereford and Queen Isabella, to determine who would inherit Kilpeck Castle and the other Plugenet lands in Herefordshire. Their choice was a kinswoman of Dame Joan’s late husband, and in the early autumn of 1327, while Parliament was meeting in Nottingham, occurred the transfer of Kilpeck Castle from Dame Joan Bohun, who would die just a few weeks later in December, to Lady Eleanor de Bohun, a teenaged noblewoman freshly emerged from a nunnery. [*2]

The approach to the North Wall of Kilpeck Castle
As the elder daughter of the powerful earl of Hereford and Essex, constable of England, Lady Eleanor de Bohun’s early years were mainly spent at Pleshey Castle, the Bohun’s chief seat in Essex. She was orphaned when about age 12, after her father joined the earl of Lancaster in open rebellion against Edward II, and was killed at the battle of Boroughbridge in 1322. Luckily, Lady Eleanor’s mother--who had died in childbirth when Eleanor was only about age 6—had been the king’s sister Elizabeth, countess of Hereford. So after her father’s death, King Edward II entrusted his niece Eleanor to the care of her aunt, his sister the nun-princess Mary (1279-1332), at Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire. The priory was a daughter house of Fontevraud Abbey, a Benedictine institution in Anjou, France, which had been founded by Petronilla of Chemillé (d. 1149), its first abbess, whose feast day on April 24th was celebrated in both Fontevraud and Amesbury. That Amesbury Priory, the Order of Fontevraud, and the education received from her aunt the nun-princess Mary all had a life-long impact on Lady Eleanor, is reflected by her giving her firstborn daughter the name Petronilla, after Fontevraud’s founder, and in her 1363 will, in which she made a bequest for the soul of her aunt Mary (one of only two deceased relations whom Eleanor remembered in her last testament). In 1327 when she received Kilpeck Castle, Lady Eleanor was about age 17, and Kilpeck gave her enough income to maintain a life independent of the court and of her four elder brothers. It also would make for a good marriage portion, and Lady Eleanor was no doubt a leading lady at the court of Queen Isabella and the young Edward III in the first two years of the reign. It would’ve been at court that Lady Eleanor met the Irish knight who became her first husband. [*3]

[*1] Most of the information on the community of Kilpeck and the history of the castle is from the excellent guidebook, The Parish Church of St Mary & St David at Kilpeck, by James Bailey, Berrington Press (Hereford: 2000).
[*2] For details on Dame Joan Bohun and her brother Sir Alan Plugenet, see the Plugenet article in CP Vol. 10 (1945), pp. 554-556.
[*3] Entries regarding the transfer of Kilpeck Castle to Lady Eleanor de Bohun can be found in CPR 1327-1330, pp. 164, 181-182, 230, with Queen Isabella’s involvement specifically mentioned on p. 175. For the type of education, with an emphasis on lineage, that Eleanor would have received from the nun-princess Mary at Amesbury, see Laura Barefield, ‘Lineage and Women’s Patronage: Mary of Woodstock and Nicholas Trevet’s Les Cronicles,’ Medieval Feminist Forum Vol. 33 No. 1 (2002), pp. 21-30.


The full photo essay has been uploaded to the FMG website, here.

I encourage all who are interested in medieval genealogy to become a member of FMG. It sponsors and encourages detailed research in the pre-16th century period, and certainly inspires me to continue my own research and maintain it at the level of academic standard. Anyone wishing to access the full photo essay who is not a member of FMG, let me know, and I'll send you a pdf file of the essay (text only).

At the beginning of this month, I had both the article and photo essay in submittable drafts, and was able to turn my focus back to expanding the Royal Descent database. I'm still in the process of building up the ancestors and descendants of the immediate family of the poet Lord Byron. It's led to some fascinating lines, and I'll be sharing them in the next several blogposts. First up will be the lines of descent from James IV of Scotland to Lord Byron's mother, Katharine (née Gordon).

Cheers,                                   ------Brad

1 comment:

  1. Updated to include the link to the full photo essay on the FMG website.