On November 29th 1338, Philippa of Hainault, Queen of England gave birth to her third son (1.) in Antwerp, modern day Belgium. When the king, Edward III, received the news of the birth he rewarded the messenger who brought him word with a hundred pounds. The prince was named Lionel, ‘Little Lion’ or ‘Young Lion’ an Arthurian name which Edward III appears to have a specific preference for. In 1329 Roger Mortimer, 1st earl of March presented Edward with a cup bearing the illusory arms of the Arthurian Sir Lionel, a knight of King Arthurs Round Table. This gift, during March’s tournament at Wigmore appears to have been the start of Edward’s interest with the knight and in 1333 Sir Lionels arms were embroidered into cloth for the Kings personal use. (2.) Prince Lionel was born on the eighth anniversary of Roger Mortimers execution and use of the name for his own son, could be seen as Edward putting the past and the spectre of Mortimer firmly behind him for good.
Prince Lionel was christened in Antwerp the following month and was to spend the majority of his earliest years abroad. It was not until around July 1341 that he went to his native England. A year later Lionel was betrothed, aged just three, his future bride Elizabeth de Burgh was nine years old and an Anglo-Irish heiress. Elizabeth was the only child of William Donn de Burgh, the 3rd earl of Ulster and his wife Maude, a daughter of Henry 3rd earl of Lancaster. (3.)
Elizabeth was born at Carrickfergus Castle in Belfast but after the murder of William Donn de Burgh, Countess Maude fled to England taking the infant Elizabeth with her. Maude would marry and be widowed again, eventually taking the veil and leaving Elizabeth a ward in the household of Queen Philippa and she would have grown up alongside her future husband. There was a huge tournament to celebrate the betrothal and a feast. Lionel, despite his young age was given a state bed, decorated with love knots and leaves covered in silk roses and his own personal coat of arms. Both children would remain in the Queen’s household until they were old enough to be married and then live together.
Further details of Lionel’s childhood are scant. He is known to have been left as Keeper of England in 1345 when Edward III went to Flanders and again in 1346 during Edward’s Crecy campaign. This was in name only as Lionel was still only seven years old. Three years later he appeared at a tournament at Windsor following the churching of Queen Philippa who’d just given birth to her seventh son, William. Here Lionel was dressed in azure blue velvet.
In 1351 Lionel was allowed to assume the title of earl of Ulster in right of Elizabeth and the following year on August 15th they were married at the Tower of London almost certainly in the Norman chapel of St Johns. Lionel was three months shy of his fourteenth birthday and Elizabeth had just celebrated her 21st birthday. Perhaps Lionel already looked older than his years, as a full grown man he was supposed to have been nearly seven feet tall, a giant of a man, fair haired and handsome and was described as “beautiful” as a boy.
Despite his age, it appears that Lionel had no problem with the physical side of marriage and Elizabeth may well have fallen pregnant with her first child shortly after marriage. The following year the Kings own doctors were called to attend Elizabeth and this was likely that she had suffered a miscarriage. Elizabeth would give birth to a daughter, named Philippa after her grandmother on August 16th 1355 at Eltham Palace. The Queen sent her personal midwife Margaret Gaunt to deliver the baby, her first grandchild, and the Kings doctor is known to have attended Elizabeth after the birth. A second daughter was born in June 1357 but died shortly after birth, once again the Kings own doctor attending her. Elizabeth may have suffered a further miscarriage in 1361.
In March 1358 Lionel is known to have visited his ailing grandmother the dowager Queen Isabella and took part in her funeral the following November at Grey Friars in London. That same month Edward III sent a message to the dauphin Charles (Later King Charles V of France) that he intended to resume war with France (4.) and the following year saw Lionel serve in France in the army of his Father.
On October 28th 1359 King Edward set sail from Sandwich in Kent in what was to be his last French campaign and landed at Calais the same day. With the king sailed his eldest son Edward, the duke of Lancaster Henry of Grosmont, the earls of Northampton, Stafford, Warwick and March, Sir Walter Manny and for the first time, Edward’s younger sons, Princes Lionel, John and Edmund. In December the English army, divided into three battles under the king, prince Edward and Lancaster marched on Rheims which they laid siege to. This siege was lifted in January when Edward decided to march on Paris. (5.)
Lionel’s first taste of war must have agreed with him, for in March of the same year it was announced that he was to serve as the Lieutenant of Ireland with Sir Thomas Dale serving as his deputy, although Lionel was not formally appointed until July 1st of the following year. This appointment made sense as Lionel held the Irish earldom of Ulster in right of his wife. The Great Council in Ireland which had met at Kilkenny in July of the year before had sent warnings to Westminster that the threat posed by native Irish was severe.
Preparations for Lionel’s departure were well underway by May 1360 when one of Edward III’s clerks travelled to Ireland to announce that Lionel would be the new lieutenant. The former Justiciar of Ireland was Sir Ralph Ufford, the second husband of Maude of Lancaster, Lionel’s Mother in law. (6.) The king and Lionel sealed an indenture at the end of July which made Lionel promise to listen to his council and not act without their advice. Lionel was still only twenty-two, much younger than his older brother Edward was when he was sent to govern Aquitaine and the King clearly felt that his son needed to be guided; whatever Lionel’s personal thoughts on the matter. Throughout the summer preparations were underway, with ships being requisitioned to carry Lionel and his army across the Irish sea. There was a general muster of men in both England and Ireland and July saw a proclamation ordering that all men with lands in Ireland were to go to the country or send others in their stead or face forfeiture.
In early September Lionel crossed to Ireland from Liverpool with his wife and daughter but enough shipping had not been found to transport his army in its entirety. Lionel reached Dublin on the 15th of September and his army gradually caught up with him. With him were are a thousand men, guns, gunpowder, carpenters, stonemasons, and banners of St George the earls of Ulster and the arms of England. (7.) Lionel did not waste any time; before the end of September he’d attacked the native Irish at Wicklow, losing around a hundred of his own men but succeeding in capturing MacMurrough himself. The Irish annals record this capture as “treacherous” and it may be assumed that Lionel was not above underhanded tactics. By the end of the autumn Lionel was back at Dublin Castle where he ordered more repairs for his “pleasure” and after summoning parliament to meet at Drogheda in the New Year. He is recorded as having a “castle” built at Dublin; probably for jousting. The gardens were also redesigned and a barge built at the request of Elizabeth.
Despite the building for “game and pleasure” Lionel did not have an easy task in Ireland. As Lieutenant it fell to him to rule the Anglo-Irish who at this point in time were said to be “more Irish than the Irish themselves.” Just to claim his lands in Ulster, Lionel had to win them by force of arms as the native Irish encroached upon them. The parliament which met at Dublin (rather than Drogheda) in the New Year requested more men from England as so many of Lionel’s original army had perished. Edward III duly sent more men, but the problems Lionel faced were very troublesome. Ireland was wasted by constant fighting, and plague had decimated the populace so much so that revenues due to Edward III from his lands in Ireland were cancelled as the people were quite simply too poor to pay them. More men were sent from England and Wales during intervals over the following year and Edward III eventually appointed a commission to find out exactly what was going on across the Irish sea. It was perhaps not fully appreciated in England that events and warfare in Ireland were nothing like those in France and could not be managed in the same way.
In December 1363 Elizabeth died at Dublin and the following April Lionel left Ireland, taking his eleven-year-old daughter Philippa with him back to England. (8.) In Ireland the earl of Ormond was left as deputy in an increasingly desperate climate and Lionel did not return until December. It is thought that he left his daughter behind in England at this time. Despite a push and a lengthy progress throughout Ireland Lionel knew it was in vain and so did Edward III. Father and son must have had many frank conversations during Lionel’s eight-month sojourn in England and Edward was not unaware. The following year he declared that Ireland was “sunk in wretchedness.” The only lasting achievement of Lionel’s during his time in Ireland were the statutes of Kilkenny (9.) of which he was the primary author and show that he had an aptitude for intricacies of law and shows how very aware he was of the problems faced by Anglo-Irish, the English and the native Irish in Ireland. In December 1366 Lionel left Ireland for good and the situation deteriorated even more. It is often stated that Lionel left Ireland in disgust refusing to stay any longer but this is not true. Edward III withdrew Lionel from Ireland quite simply because he had other plans for him. (10.)
[Third from left; a weeper representing Lionel on the tomb of his Father Edward III at Westminster Abbey.]
By 1367 Lionel had been widowed for four years and it appears that he grieved for his wife deeply, and it may have been her death that prompted the eight-month trip to England in 1364. However, as a prince it was expected of Lionel to remarry and this he duly did at the behest of his Father, but before he remarried he had the marriage of his only child, Philippa, now thirteen to organise. There is some confusion over the betrothal and marriage of Philippa of Clarence to Edmund Mortimer, 3rd earl of March. Dates in 1358, 1359 and 1368 are offered. It is likely that the two were betrothed in May 1358 at Reading Abbey in the Queen’s Chapel at the same time as Lionel’s younger brother, aged eighteen was betrothed to Blanche of Lancaster. Also betrothed were John Hastings, earl of Pembroke to Lionel’s sister Margaret. (11.) The Mortimer family were far removed from the downfall and disgrace of Roger Mortimer, 1st earl of March in 1330, their rehabilitation largely thanks to the military exploits of his grandson and namesake, Roger Mortimer 2nd earl of March who had died in 1360.
The marriage itself took place almost a decade later at Reading Abbey. The Mortimer family were naturally apprehensive of the marriage going ahead after the death of the second earl whom Edward III had been extremely fond of. Edmund had already been promised in marriage to Alice FitzAlan, the daughter of the earl of Arundel with an eye to the Mortimers regaining the lordship and castle of Chirk. This had been broken off in favour of the match with Philippa who is often described as Edward III’s favourite granddaughter. After her Mother’s death and the subsequent return from Ireland Philippa and her betrothed, reminiscent of Lionel and Elizabeth were kept mainly at court where they would have got to know one another. Happy that his daughter’s future was secure; Lionel could turn his attention to his own remarriage.
[Pope Urban V]
Lionel’s second marriage was brought about because of the meddling of the Pope Urban V. Edward III had attempted to gain a dispensation for his fourth surviving son Edmund of Langley to marry Margaret of Flanders. (12.) Urban however decided to provoke the king by granting a dispensation to Charles V of France for Margaret to marry his younger brother Phillipe, duke of Burgundy in April 1367. (13.) The year before, 1366, Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford had travelled to Italy to discuss a potential marriage between prince Lionel and Violante Visconti, the daughter of Galeazzo Visconti, the lord of Pavia, however with the provocation of Pope Urban in April 1367 the marriage was finally agreed upon the following month.
The terms were generous, with a dowry of £15,000 and lands and property worth another £12,000 promised. Lionel made the journey to Italy across land with 457 people and 1280 horses. He was received in Paris by Charles V where a feast was given in his honour. Travelling south to Savoy, Lionel stayed for two days with the count Amadeus who threw lavish entertainment. From then on count Amadeus travelled as part of Lionel’s retinue to Italy. Amadeus’ sister Bianca, once a prospective bride for Lionel’s brother Edward or Lionel himself, was married to Galeazzo Visconti and the Mother of Lionel’s bride Violante. One can imagine that Amadeus spent much of the journey bringing Lionel up to speed about what he could expect in Milan. An English mercenary Richard Musard guided Lionel and his party across the Alps. Travelling with Lionel also were Jean Froissart, Lord Edward Despencer with his son Hugh and Geoffrey Chaucer.
[The modern door to the Cathedral of Milan which was built on the site of Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore where Lionel married Violante Visconti in 1368. This door is likely in the same place as the doorway of the basilica, outside of which the ceremony took place. Photo courtesy of Beata Harrington]
After meeting Bernabo Visconti in Pavia Lionel was taken to Milan in a lively procession. On the 28th of May 1368 he and the fourteen-year-old Violante were married at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore at Milan. Galeazzo spent a fortune laying on lavish celebrations for the marriage including a banquet which reportedly was enough to feed ten thousand people which included dishes such as gilded calf and gilded suckling pig. The newlyweds spent the summer together, although it’s unlikely the marriage was consummated in respect of Violante’s age. It is often to speculated that Lionel spent an idyllic summer but he’d been married to Violante for a specific reason and it was not so that he could have a long honeymoon with a pretty young bride whilst basking under the Italian sun.
[The symbol of the Visconti family which can be found all over Milan. This particular one is located outside of the Archbishops Palace in Milan and may well have existed during Lionel’s lifetime. Photo courtesy of Beata Harrington]
The Visconti family dominated northern Italy during the latter half of the fourteenth century and this often had them at loggerheads with the papacy. The surviving Visconti brothers Bernabo and Galeazzo ruled Milan between them and encroached upon lands, becoming ever more powerful. This alarmed Pope Urban who wanted to remove the papacy from Avignon back to Rome. The 1470’s would see an eruption of outright war between Urban’s successor Gregory XI and Milan. In 1368, with trouble already having flared upon occasion, Edward III was far sighted enough to see a marriage alliance with the Visconti as a means to provoke and frighten the papacy into giving him what he wanted.
Sir John Hawkwood, a famous English mercenary with the famed White Company (who were mostly made up of former soldiers who’d gained their experience in the English-French wars and were the based in Italy) was in Milan for Lionel’s wedding. This was not accidental. Hawkwood had earned himself a fearsome reputation and had fought for and against many of the more powerful noble Italian houses and knew the shifting factions very well and had already fought against papal forces near Avignon earlier in the decade.
In July 1367 Pope Urban, whilst visiting Italy had formed an alliance against the Visconti recruiting support from Milan’s neighbouring states, including Mantua and Padua and enlisting the help of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV who swore that he would go to Italy himself. Unperturbed; Bernabo sent his son Ambrogio on a short sharp campaign which saw him sack the city of Urbino and unleash chaos in Naples. This campaign was brought to an abrupt end when Ambrogio was captured by a papal army who captured and imprisoned him, before executing some three hundred of his men. In early 1368, just prior to Lionel’s wedding, fighting broke out between the papacy and the Visconti with renewed vigour.
Hawkwood was pressured by Edward III to fight for the Visconti and the year prior, during Urbans visit to Italy, Hawkwood had tried to capture him and Bernabo Visconti had written to Edward to thank him for his support. With this in mind, the marriage of Lionel to Violante Visconti must be seen for what it was; an alliance against the papacy. Pope Urban was sufficiently alarmed to moved to Viterbo where he could oversee the defence of Rome and the papal states.
Just days before the wedding the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV arrived in Italy and Urban was already amassing his forces near Ferrara. Together, their troops are supposed to have mounted to around twenty thousand and higher numbers are estimated at around fifty thousand. What Lionel made of the situation that his Father had put him in we cannot know. Nevertheless, he was instructed to gather the Milanese armies of the Visconti and the mercenaries to attack the papal states. This was not idle talk and Urban knew it and let Edward III know of his displeasure in no uncertain terms and Edward, somewhat sarcastically, replied that he had lots of sons who needed wives and added on that Violante was a great heiress and the only other who matched her was Margaret of Flanders who the pope had denied him. The papal army attacked Visconti lands just the day before the wedding and Lionel had to be escorted to Milan with a heavily armed English guard of whom John Hawkwood was surely one of them.
The English and Milanese attack on papal lands never came about for Lionel died suddenly at Alba on October 7th 1368. His men notably Lord Edward Despencer suspected poisoning and we may assume that Lionel’s death was messy and painful. Despencer declared war on the Visconti who denied any involvement and Hawkwood melted away to do battle with the Papal army. It is hard to see what possible benefit Galeazzo or his brother Bernabo Visconti would have gained from Lionel’s death. Bernabo was reliant on Edward III’s help with the English mercenaries and was shown to have been grateful for Edward’s support. The war with the papacy would stretch on until 1375 and the English in the person of Prince Lionel would have been useful for the Visconti as well as Edward III who would have his own battles with Urbans successor Gregory. (14.)
Lionel had fallen ill at the end of September and by the 3rd of October he knew that he was going to die and wrote his will. He shows absolutely no ill will towards the Visconti and appointed his wife Violante as an executrix of his will as well as leaving his “vestments with gold coronets” to her. Lionel also requested to be buried at Clare Priory alongside his first wife Elizabeth which, after a period of interment in Italy was fulfilled. Lionel is thought to have died of food poisoning, but there are no known cases of anybody close to him who would have shared a dish at feast or suchlike suddenly being struck down. His death was convenient, this cannot be doubted, but not for the Visconti. Rather Lionel’s untimely demise at the age of twenty-nine benefitted nobody more than Pope Urban V. With no Lionel, there was no Anglo-Milanese alliance.
Lionel’s daughter Philippa went onto have four children with Edmund Mortimer 3rd earl of March. Elizabeth b.1371 who married Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, Roger Mortimer, later 4th earl of March who married the step-granddaughter of Lionel’s older brother Edward, Eleanor Holland, Philippa b. circa 1375 who married John Hastings, earl of Pembroke and Richard FitzAlan, earl of Arundel and lastly Edmund Mortimer b. 1376 who married Catrin Glyn Dwr, their only son was named after his grandfather, Lionel. Unfortunately, the boy died either during the 1408/09 siege of Harlech or in the Tower of London with his Mother and siblings before 1414.
Lionel’s great granddaughter Anne Mortimer married the son of Lionel’s younger brother Edmund circa 1404/1408 and it is through their son, Richard duke of York that Lionel’s great, great, great grandson Edward the earl of March mounted the throne as Edward IV in 1461. Edward’s younger brother George became the duke of Clarence a title which had become extinct with Lionel’s death, but recreated for the grandson of Lionel’s brother John of Gaunt, Thomas who was the son of Henry IV. Thomas died childless in 1422 and the title thus became extinct again. (15.)
[The presumed site of Lionel’s grave at Clare Priory, Suffolk. Photo courtesy of Find a Grave]
Had Lionel have lived, the possibilities of what could have happened are endless. Would Edward III have disinherited Lionel’s daughter Philippa and her son with his last will settling the throne on his heirs’ male, John of Gaunt? Probably not. Would Henry IV have usurped King Richard II and passed over the Mortimer claim if Lionel was still alive? Probably not. If Lionel had enjoyed a long lifespan (he would have been sixty-two in 1400) it is tempting to consider that the career and eventual fate of his youngest grandson Sir Edmund Mortimer may have also have turned out very differently. But alas, fate is fickle and Lionel was doomed to an early grave.
One may be forgiven that Edward’s great anguish at hearing of his son’s death may have been in part because it was he who placed him in the midst of the Milanese war with the papacy. This was just to further Edward’s plans for his war with France, using the marriage of Lionel and Violante to put pressure on the pope to grant the dispensation for Edmund of Langley to marry Margaret of Flanders so England could gain Burgundy. In this light, Lionel’s death is nothing short of tragic. Despite Lionel’s short life and his single surviving child he is ancestor to every King and Queen of England and later Great Britain since 1461 bar Henry VII. He is also an ancestor of the Percy family and also Jane Seymour, the 3rd Queen of Henry VIII and Mother of King Edward VI.
1. Philippa’s surviving sons were Edward (b.1330 d.1376), Lionel (b.1338 d.1368), John (b.1340 d.1399), Edmund (b.1341 d.1402) and Thomas (b.1355 d.1397).
2. For a fuller explanation see W. Mark Ormrod’s work on Edward III.
3. The house of York in the following century had Lancastrian blood on the side of Richard of York as well as his wife Cecily Nevill. See below;
Henry 3rd earl of Lancaster
Maude, countess of Ulster
Elizabeth, duchess of Clarence
Philippa, countess of March
Roger Mortimer 4th earl of March
Lady Anne Mortimer
Richard duke of York
Edward IV / George duke of Clarence/ Richard III
4. The dauphin Charles refused to acknowledge and later rejected both the first and second treaties of London. These treaties were an agreement between Edward III and his captive since the 1356 battle of Poitiers, King Jean of France. Unsurprisingly in favour of Edward, Jean was forced to agree to grant Edward all of the lands held by the English at the height of the Angevin empire in the halcyon days of Henry II. The dauphin, left to try and retain control in France in the midst of chaos, understandably refused to agree to what was effectively the giving away of his inheritance. Edward III may have foreseen this and use the treaty as an excuse to return to arms as soon as the Treaty of Bordeaux expired.
5. Roger Mortimer, 2nd earl of March died suddenly during this campaign and his first cousin Guy de Beauchamp, the eldest son and heir of Thomas de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, died of illness caught during the campaign the following April.
6. Ufford died in Ireland on April 9th 1346. His widow Maude of Lancaster became a nun so Elizabeth de Burgh at the age of fourteen was effectively an orphan. Maude would outlive her daughter by over ten years, dying in 1377.
7. The English crowns Irish castles were repaired prior to Lionel’s arrival, and the earl of Stafford crossed to Ireland to buy warhorses for the use of Lionel’s retinue. In Ireland itself all exports were banned and important prisoners were all relocated to Dublin Castle ahead of Lionel’s arrival.
8. It was at this time that Elizabeth was interred at Clare Priory in Suffolk.
9. The statutes forbade Englishmen marrying an Irishwoman, wearing Irish clothes, cutting of the hair in Irish style, playing Irish games and suchlike. It was Lionel’s grandson Roger Mortimer, 4th earl of March who flouted these rules better than any. During Lionel’s absence in Ireland he’d been created duke of Clarence in November 1362 and probably became a Knight of the Garter in 1361, shortly before his departure to Ireland. He replaced John de Beauchamp, a younger brother of the earl of Warwick and founding member of the order who had died in December 1360.
10. Edward III had made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to gain the throne of Scotland for Lionel. The Scottish King David was childless and there was talk of Lionel (or his brother John) being adopted as David’s “son” and heir. But this was deeply unpopular and David’s half nephew Robert Stewart eventually succeeded the throne.
11.Blanche of Lancaster was the first cousin of Lionel’s wife Elizabeth de Burgh. Blanche’s Father and Elizabeth’s Mother were siblings. John Hastings, 2nd earl of Pembroke was the first cousin of Edmund Mortimers Father. Pembroke’s Mother was Agnes Mortimer, the aunt of Roger Mortimer, 2nd earl of March.
12. Margaret was the only child and heir of Louis, count of Burgundy. Marriage to Margaret brought the Burgundian lands under the control of her husband and therefore she was a much sought after bride.
13. Phillipe had a special dislike for the English. He’d been captured at Poitiers after refusing to leave his Father King Jean (earning him the nickname ‘the Bold’) and shared the latter’s imprisonment. After Philippe’s brother Charles rejected the Treaties of London, Jean and his son were moved to harsher captivity, their French servants sent back to France. The stress of this caused King Jean to become extremely ill.
14.Edward and Pope Gregory XI locked horns over money drawn from English clergy in the 1370’s. One can sympathise with the English clergy who were put under pressure by King and pope.
Lionel of Antwerp
Philippa countess of March
Roger 4th earl of March
Lady Anne Mortimer
Richard, duke of York
16. Jane Seymour was a descendent of Lionel’s eldest grandchild Elizabeth Mortimer, named after his wife Elizabeth de Burgh.
Some further reading
A History of Medieval Ireland, A.J Otway-Ruthven
The Chronicle of Jean Froissart ed. John Bourchier
Edward III, W. Mark Ormrod
Knightons Chronicle, 1337-1396, ed. G.H Martin
The Chronicle of Adam of Usk, ed. E.M Thompson
The Good Parliament, George Holmes
Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous vols II & III
Royal Taxation in Fourteenth Century France; The Captivity and Ransom of Jean II (1356-1370), John Bell Henneman
Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem vol.VII
The duke of Clarence and the earls of March, Leo Carruthers