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Category: Almost Kings

  1. Almost Kings - Edward, the Black Prince

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    One of the most famous losses to the English throne, Edward the Black Prince was extremely popular for most of his life, but ended it a sick, bitter man.

    Born in 1330 Prince Edward was just what the royal family needed. His father, King Edward III, was a puppet king controlled by his mother Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer. Baby Edward was barely four months old before his father led a daring plot, arrested Roger Mortimer and had Isabella put under house arrest. Mortimer was executed and King Edward III now ruled in his own right. Edward the Black Prince

    His family were very close, a fact that is primarily attributed to his mother. Queen Philippa had her children all raised in the same royal nursery together, along with a selection of children and infants from noble families. Other children raised alongside the Royal family included Blanche of Lancaster, who married Edward's brother John of Gaunt, and Joan of Kent.

    At the age of thirteen Edward was officially named as Prince of Wales, and acted as a "symbolic regent" in England while his father was off on military campaigns. He was granted extensive estates in Cornwall, Wales and Chester, which gave him an income suitable for the household of the heir to the throne. As a teenager his father also began to include him in the numerous battles that were fought in France. He helped win victory at the Battle of Crécy, and was part of the naval Battle of Winchelsea, which helped him gain fame as a great leader and future warrior-king. He developed a reputation as a brave prince, talented military commander and a model of chivalry, as well as an excellent jouster taking part in tournaments as an adult. To many at the time he was the epitome of what one expected from a king-in-waiting, and the bonus was that it came without any of the family troubles that Henry II had faced with his brood of sons.

    But in 1361 Edward caused a bit of a scandal by marrying Joan of Kent. Not only did they reportedly not ask King Edward's permission to marry, but Joan was a widow with several children. As the heir to the throne Prince Edward was expected to marry a foreign princess, not an English lady with four children to her name. After a more public wedding ceremony the couple moved to Gascony, where Joan gave birth to Edward of Angouleme and Richard of Bordeaux.

    Sadly for Prince Edward his later years saw the shine of glory wear off as England lost numerous military campaigns, and he developed more of a reputation for brutality. He was persuaded to help King Pedro of Castile regain his throne in 1366, and left Gascony at the head of an army in early 1367. Although they were successful, and Pedro was back on his throne by April 1367, the Prince was ultimately betrayed by his ally. Pedro consistently evaded repaying the English their share of the costs of the campaign (Pedro himself had paid for very little, most of the financial burden had been taken on by the Prince). While waiting in Valladolid for the promised money the English soldiers contracted dysentery. The Prince himself fell dangerously ill and never fully recovered. Eventually they returned to Gascony and Aquitaine, having never been repaid by Pedro. Prince Edward had to raise taxes in Aquitaine as he was now facing serious financial problems. This led to problems in the area as the people saw no reason why they should pay the cost of Pedro's broken promises.

    Naturally the problems in Aquitaine meant that the French could take advantage of English weakness in the region, and they pressed their advantage. When the town of Limoges surrendered to the French after a siege, the Prince was furious. The English retook the town, and on Prince Edward's orders the people of Limoges were slaughtered. Although Edward had taken part in similar actions in the past, it was this in particular that permanently tainted the memory of him.

    Now a sick man who was unable to sit on a horse, Edward's shining reputation for chivalry and an unblemished military record was quickly being forgotten. The prince was in no fit state to try and bring Aquitaine back under control, and so he and Joan arranged to return to England. Their son and heir Edward of Angouleme died shortly before they left, there wasn't even time for the grieving parents to bury their own child.

    On his return to England the Black Prince was largely confined to his bed, occasionally being carried to parliament in a litter. He eventually died on 8 June 1376, a year before his own father, leaving his second son Richard of Bordeaux to become King Richard II in 1377.

    Last month's Almost King was Eustace of Boulogne!

  2. Almost Kings - Eustace of Boulogne

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    At his birth Eustace of Boulogne couldn't have hoped to become anything more than a nobleman, like his father and grandfather. He was due to inherit his mother's county of Boulogne, Stephen himself was a younger brother who had married the heiress Matilda of Boulogne, and had taken title Count of Boulogne through her. As the eldest son Eustace could look forward to becoming Count Eustace of Boulogne in the future. But in infancy he gained a new title and new future – Prince Eustace, heir to the English throne. King Stephen

    On the death of King Henry I of England, Eustace's father Stephen (pictured right) rushed to claim the vacant throne. There had been many years of confusion over whether Henry would name his nephew Stephen (Stephen's mother was Henry's sister Adela), or his daughter Empress Matilda. But when he died Matilda was in Normandy, heavily pregnant and unable to travel far. Stephen seized the opportunity, in much the same way that Henry had many years ago, and secured the treasury and the throne within weeks of the King's death.

    What followed was a period of civil war known as The Anarchy, and as he grew up Eustace had a role to play helping his father. He attended his mother's coronation in 1136 and settled with the court in England, where two of his younger siblings died in relatively quick succession. In 1137 he was in France, where he paid homage to King Louis for his father's lands in Normandy, on King Stephen's behalf. He was back in France again in 1140, this time with his mother, for his betrothal to Louis' daughter Constance. Queen Matilda had played a role in negotiating the marriage, it was only right that she attend the ceremony.

    In 1147 Eustace was officially knighted by his father, and began to play a greater role in the civil war, taking part in battles and sieges around the country. When his rival, Henry Plantagenet, arrived to campaign in England in 1149 Eustace was ready. The pair and their forces were engaged in several small skirmishes around the south west of England, and Eustace reportedly even came close to capturing his rival, but Henry managed to elude him. People were looking to Henry as the next king, as the son of Empress Matilda and grandson of Henry I it was felt that he had a stronger claim than Eustace. They didn't want a woman ruling, but they didn't mind her son.

    To shore up support and legitimacy for their son, Stephen and Matilda tried to arrange for him to be crowned as King while Stephen was alive. This was common in France, but not in England. Even then it might have been possible were it not for the Pope forbidding the Archbishop of Canterbury from carrying out the ceremony. The best Eustace could get an oath swearing ceremony in 1152, during which a number of nobles gave their allegiance to their future king. Several weeks later Queen Matilda died suddenly at Headingham Castle, and Stephen and Eustace both lost their greatest supporter.

    Eustace himself didn't have long to live either. In August 1153 he led a small party on a raid at Bury St Edmunds, where they stole a selection of treasure and other goods from the churches. On the journey home Eustace suddenly took ill and died. It was considered by some at the time to be divine vengeance for his attack on the churches, others claimed that he died of rage after being consistently refused his own coronation. Whatever the cause his death led to King Stephen effectively giving up. Although he had another son still living he came to an agreement with Henry that he would now be his heir.

    Eustace was buried near his mother in Faversham in Kent. The family tomb was desecrated during the Reformation, and his remains were lost.


    Last month's Almost King was Arthur of Brittany!


  3. Almost Kings - Arthur of Brittany

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    A potential King Arthur of England, young Arthur of Brittany was the son of Duke Geoffrey of Brittany and his wife Constance, and thus had Royal blood in his veins. Geoffrey was the son of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, while Constance was descended from Scottish kings. Geoffrey died a few months before Arthur's birth, leaving Constance to protect both their son and the Duchy of Brittany. As the grandson of Henry II, baby Arthur was also a potential claimant to the English throne.

    Of course Arthur's position in relation to England would have been made highly unlikely if King Richard I had had a son or two. But Richard's marriage to Berengaria of Navarre was childless. However Arthur's claim was unfavourable as he was being raised in Brittany by his mother Constance, who was disliked by Eleanor of Aquitaine and who may have been hostile towards her husband's family. Arthur-of-Brittany

    Regardless of Constance's mutual dislike of her in-laws, Arthur was still a nephew of the King of England. Richard even arranged a marriage for Arthur to the daughter of Tancred of Sicily, which came to nothing but does show the influence that the extended family could have over the boy's life. Arthur's older sister Eleanor was also briefly considered as a potential bride for the heir to the French throne as part of an alliance between Richard and King Philip, but again it never came to fruition.

    After several years considering naming John as his heir, or naming Arthur, King Richard began to lean more towards Arthur. In 1196 he named Arthur officially and requested that the boy be sent to him so he could be raised by his Plantagenet family. But on the journey Arthur's mother Constance was captured and imprisoned by her husband, and Arthur was secretly taken to the French court and placed in the custody of King Philip.

    Despite being raised as a French pawn it may have been that Arthur would have remained as Richard's heir, were it not for his uncle's untimely death. Richard was shot by an arrow during a siege in 1199 and the wound soon turned gangrenous. With his mother at his side as witness Richard named his brother John as heir on his deathbed, not Arthur. It may be that Eleanor persuaded him to do so, or it might have been down to the fact that John was a grown man while Arthur was only twelve years old. Richard's deathbed wishes were not enough to stop King Philip, who immediately proclaimed Arthur as the real heir to the Angevin Empire.

    Anjou, Maine and Touraine all declared for Arthur, leading to war in the region as John and Eleanor fought to hang on to the counties. Arthur witnessed several sieges on his behalf, but as John started to gain the upper hand he was moved back to Paris. King Philip treated the boy as a treasured companion for his son and heir Louis and had him educated to the same high standard. But Arthur wasn't the grateful subject that Philip believed him to be. Concern grew that Philip intend to claim Anjou, Maine and Touraine for himself and exclude Arthur from gaining control when he came of age. Instead Arthur fled to the court of King John, once more accompanied by his mother Constance.

    It was not a situation that ended well. Suspicious of John as well as Philip, Arthur and Constance never saw John. When their intermediaries failed to negotiate a favourable audience with John they fled straight back to a very angry Philip. Arthur was virtually excluded from the peace talks that followed. It was agreed that he would do homage to John for Brittany, and Philip and John settled various territorial claims between them, as well as arranging a marriage between one of John's nieces in Castile and Philip's eldest son Louis. Arthur would shine in the tournament thrown to celebrate the marriage a year later.

    Arthur's greatest ally, his mother Constance, died in September 1201 in childbirth, possibly after delivering twins. In recent years Constance had leaned more towards Arthur's paternal family, but without her advice and influence he moved back towards the French court. Encouraged by King Philip he led an invasion against Poitou. His forces even managed to besiege Eleanor of Aquitaine in the Château de Mirabeau in July 1202, but John quickly marched on Mirabeau. Arthur and his forces were taken unawares. Eleanor was freed and Arthur was captured and imprisoned at the Château de Falaise.

    Arthur's ultimate fate is unknown, all that is known is that he was never seen again after 1203. One account is that King John ordered for Arthur to be physically mutilated in some way, either castrated or blinded, and that after his captors refused to carry the act out they killed in fear of what John would do to them for disobeying him. Other accounts state that John himself killed the young man in a drunken rage and had the body thrown in to the Seine. Like the Princes in the Tower several centuries later Arthur's final resting place was never revealed. His older sister Eleanor, also reportedly captured at Mirabeau, would live in to her late fifties and died in captivity in England during the reign of Henry III.


    Last month's Almost King was Henry the Young King.


  4. Almost Kings - Henry the Young King

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     Henry Plantagenet is the only prince in this series that actually had a coronation. Known to history with the epithet "the Young King", Henry spent most of his short life feeling very hard-done by. 


    Born in February 1155, Henry became the the eldest surviving son of King Henry II of England and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine when his older brother William died in 1156. Henry could have expected to inherit the vast Angevin empire, with borders reaching from Scotland to Spain and the Mediterranean sea. But Henry was joined by a whole host of siblings, including his younger brothers Geoffrey, Richard and John. His father, King Henry, wanted to try and ensure a balance of inheritance between his sons. Their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, wanted her lands to go to her favourite son, Richard, who was raised in the duchy with the anticipation that he would become Duke. Meanwhile the King's favourite son John was at the bottom of the pile and would have little to inherit, something that King Henry wanted to prevent.

    Young Henry grew up in his mother's household until the age of six, and then joined the household of Thomas Becket until his downfall. After this he may have spent time in his father's household, before Eleanor appointed William Marshall as guardian and tutor to her eldest son. William would go on to gain a reputation as one of the greatest knights in England's history, and Henry was one of five kings to whom he would show unwavering loyalty and dedication.

    As they grew older Henry was the only one who was firmly kept away from power and responsibility. Geoffrey was married to the Duchess of Brittany and allowed to rule in her name (as long as he followed what his father wanted). Richard was due to be given Aquitaine. But despite his requesting the right to rule Normandy, Henry was sidelined. He was married to Marguerite, a princess of France as the daughter of Eleanor's first husband King Louis, but even this prestigious match (arranged since their infancy) wasn't enough to placate the young prince. Henry-the-Young-King-2

    King Henry tried to mollify his son by having him crowned at Winchester. Crowning the heir to the throne while the current King was still alive was a French custom, not an English one, and led to tensions in the country. Even after the coronation Young Henry was still not given lands to rule and found himself constantly in debt. He was reportedly a handsome young man, with a quick wit, easy charm and a generous hand, the main reason for his debt was that he was keen to be generous to friends and supporters. Unfortunately he was also arrogant, and inclined to take the side of sycophants over his family. It may have been these negative traits that led to his father refusing to give him any kind of responsibility, the King didn't think his son was up to the task of ruling. But it eventually led to a rebellion in 1173.

    Young Henry was joined in the rebellion by Richard and Geoffrey, who despite the inheritances that were granted to them were still chafing under the control of their father. All three were supported by Eleanor, and quickly gained support from the King of France and various groups who were fed up with King Henry's rule. The rebellion was defeated in 1174 and led to the Treaty of Montlouis, where Young Henry was granted an income (but still no responsibility) and his brothers were all confirmed in their previous roles. Eleanor had been captured and was imprisoned in England, none of her sons were able to persuade Henry to release her. Young Henry was also kept very close by until he managed to arrange an “escape” to the continent with his wife Marguerite. In 1177, while in France, Marguerite gave birth to a baby boy, who was named William and died three days later.

    Young Henry spent the last few years of his life making friends in France and taking part in tournaments. He became a friend of King Philip II of France, even taking part in the coronation ceremony and joining in with the celebratory tournament in 1179. But he still wasn't content, and after an appeal for “aid” from a group of disaffected nobles in Aquitaine he led another rebellion, this time against Richard. He was desperately short of money, King Henry sided with Richard and cut off the Young King's allowance. In order to pay his mercenaries Young Henry looted monasteries and shrines, and in June 1183 he and his men stole the treasure from the shrine at Rocamadour.

    Shortly afterwards Young Henry contracted dysentery. He was taken to the village of Martel, and begged his father to come to him so they could make amends. King Henry was persuaded that it was a trap, and instead sent a doctor and a ring to signify his forgiveness. He asked his father to forgive Eleanor and release her, and take care of Marguerite. William Marshall, who had also fallen out with Young Henry, was reconciled with his old friend and agreed to travel to the Holy Land on his behalf.

    Young King Henry died on 11 June 1183 and was buried in Rouen Cathedral. He was the first and last English king to be crowned before the death of his father, and has never been included in the numerical list of Kings. The next King Henry would be the son of his younger brother, King John.

    Last month's Almost King was Robert Curthose.

  5. Almost Kings - Robert Curthose

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    If you consider that in the medieval period, the eldest son was the main heir to his father's estate, then you can't help but feel very sorry for poor Robert Curthose. As the eldest son of William, Duke of Normandy and Matilda of Flanders, he was already due to inherit Normandy in the future. In 1066 his father became King of England, and the teenage Robert would have been able to think of himself as the future King Robert I of England. Robert-Curthose

    Born in the early 1050s (1051 to 1053 tend to be quote most frequently) Robert was named after his paternal grandfather, and King Robert of France who was his mother's grandfather. His nickname “Curthose” seems to have come from his father and was a reference to his short height. Given that his mother Matilda has been rumoured to be relatively small it may be that Robert inherited his height from her. But while he seems to be quite distant from his father, no one could doubt Matilda's devotion to her eldest son.

    Conflict would become a big problem between Robert and his father as the young man got older. Any time William was absent from Normandy he left Matilda in charge, in Robert's name. As he grew in to an adult Robert demanded more responsibility, but William refused. This led to Robert leading a rebellion against his father, during which William was actually unseated from his horse and wounded. Robert had been supported by his mother, which infuriated William, but in the end Matilda managed to arrange a reconciliation between father and son. It appears to have fallen apart on Matilda's death in 1083 as Robert spent several years travelling around Europe and avoiding his father's court. Back in England William the Conqueror was considering disinheriting Robert entirely. Although one son, Richard, was already dead William still had two more sons – William Rufus and Henry.

    Instead on William's death he divided his lands between his two eldest sons. Robert became the Duke of Normandy, but his younger brother William Rufus became King William II of England. Their youngest brother Henry was left some money but not much else. As a result of this division, William and Robert viewed each other with hostility; both wanted to be King of England and Duke of Normandy simultaneously as their father had been. However both of them were also childless, Robert had several illegitimate children but no legitimate heirs, and the two men recognised each other as heir to their respective lands. Robert still held a loose alliance with rebels against William in England, but his attentions were held elsewhere.

    In 1096 Robert joined the First Crusade and travelled to the Holy Land, having mortgaged Normandy to William in return for funds to pay for his trip. He was away for four years, and was still making his way home when news arrived that William had been killed in a hunting accident. Robert was William's acknowledged heir, and as the eldest son he would now surely become King Robert I of England and Duke of Normandy.

    No, the distance between him and home gave his younger brother Henry ample time to seize the English throne and get settled in. Robert botched an invasion, and had to renounce his claim to the throne in the Treaty of Alton. Five years later Henry returned the favour by invading Normandy. Robert was defeated and captured at the Battle of Tinchebray in 1106.

    For the next twenty eight years Robert was imprisoned in a variety of castles around England and Wales. He died at Cardiff Castle on 3 February 1134, having lived to his late seventies or possibly early eighties, an impressive age for anyone let alone a prisoner. Henry, the younger brother who had stolen his Duchy and his throne, died a year later in 1135. With no surviving legitimate sons from either brother the country descended in to the period known as The Anarchy. 

    Last month's almost king was Edward of Angouleme.