Sunday, November 9, 2014

In Search of Eleanor Cobham at Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales

by Tony Riches

Beaumaris Castle
My wife researched her family tree and discovered a direct line of descent from Antigone Plantagenet of Gloucester, her 19th great grandmother. Further research revealed Antigone was the daughter of Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester and the younger brother of Henry V. There proved to be much debate about the identity of Antigone’s mother, although historian and author Alison Weir suggests both Antigone and her brother, Arthur, could have been the children of Humphrey and his mistress Eleanor Cobham, (see Nancy Bilyeau’s post The Duchess and the Necromancers) whom he later married. In her book Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy Alison Weir notes that ‘Eleanor Cobham became Humphrey's mistress sometime before their marriage and might have borne him two bastard children’.

Curious, I looked into this, discovering the tragic details of Eleanor Cobham’s life in the course of my research. It is a fact that Humphrey of Lancaster acted as a father towards Antigone and was definitely with Eleanor Cobham since at least 1425, if not earlier (records were seldom kept of mistresses), marrying her in 1428. Alison Weir’s suggestion is therefore extremely plausible but I found no positive evidence to support it. (Poor Duke Humphrey has quite a hard time of it in most historical fiction, yet Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, A Biography by K.H. Vickers, written in 1907, paints quite a different picture.)

The only sure way to settle the question of whether Eleanor was Antigone’s mother would be if some new documentation comes to light – an idea which led to my latest novel, The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham. In the research for this I discovered many accounts which report important details incorrectly, most notably that Eleanor died at Peel Castle. It is well documented that her final two years were at Beaumaris. For example, In the Welsh History Review Vol. 8, nos. 1-4 1976-77 Richard, Duke of York and the Royal household in Wales, 1449-50, it is stated that:

Anglesey and Beaumaris castle were urgently reinforced in 1449 against both foreign invaders and Welsh dissidents. These reinforcements (of eight soldiers, and then twelve and one priest) were needed that much more speedily once it was decided to transfer Eleanor Cobham to the island. On 10 March 1449 at Man castle, [Peel Castle] she was handed over by John Glegge, Sir Thomas Stanley's representative and janitor of Flint castle (where Stanley was constable), to William Bulkeley, the Cheshire esquire who was serjeant-at-arms in north Wales and lived at Beaumaris. Bulkeley was acting on behalf of Sir William Beauchamp, the constable of Beaumaris castle, whence she was taken forthwith with a great company. Eleanor died at Beaumaris on 7 July 1452 and was buried there (perhaps in the early-fourteenth-century parish church of St. Mary and St. Nicholas) at great cost to Sir William Beauchamp.

My wife and I visited Beaumaris Castle and spent a summer afternoon searching the churchyard of St Mary and St Nicholas, within sight of Beaumaris Castle. Inside the church lie the medieval ornate tombs of Lady Ellen and Sir William Bulkeley.


Unsurprisingly, we found no sign of Eleanor’s grave, although it was fascinating to see that the castle chapel, where she could have prayed, was still intact and regularly used. It is impossible to prove that Eleanor Cobham was, in fact, an ancestor, although in some small way this research should help ensure that she is not forgotten.


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The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham is now available.
Amazon US
Amazon UK

More Information

Tony Riches has a BA Degree in Psychology and an MBA from Cardiff University. He lives with his wife in Pembrokeshire, one of the most unspoilt areas of the UK. His first novel, 'Queen Sacrifice' was written after looking into the early history of Wales and seeing the parallels to a game of chess, with kings and queens, bishops and castles - and the people becoming pawns in their civil wars.

When not writing Tony enjoys sea and river kayaking and has a specialist blog 'Kayak Journeys' about some of his kayaking adventures. He also enjoys hiking and plans to complete the full 186 miles of the Pembrokeshire Coast path which passes fifty-eight beautiful beaches and fourteen harbours.


1 comment:

  1. Good luck in finding the information you want! Though I must say, Antigone is an unusual name for that time and place; there must be an interesting story behind it. :-)

    ReplyDelete