Unyielding Fathers, Rebellious Sons. A Guest Post by Ken John

Today I am very happy to welcome my friend and Henry the Young King’s benefactor, Ken John, who is currently working on his first novel set during the reign of Edward I. Ken has very kindly decided to share with us his ideas concerning respectively the Young King’s and Edward’s situations and give us the glimpse of his book. As we shall see, there was a time in Edward’s life when he was on the verge of rebellion against his father, Henry the Young King’s nephew, Henry III. I think that in the course of reading we shall trace some striking similarities between the Young King and the young Edward. 

                                           Unyielding Fathers, Rebellious Sons

Reading a passage from Ralph Turner’s biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, I was struck by the similarities between the discontent shown by Henry and Eleanor’s sons, leading to their rebellion(s) and that which occurred, albeit to a lesser extent, by Edward I and his father Henry III. The following passage is relevant:

“….In fact, Henry was largely an absent father during his son’s early years, and following aristocratic custom, he was content to leave their upbringing in others’ hands. Once his sons became adolescents, they resented their father’s refusal to share power with them, denying them authority over the lands that he had designated for them in various partition schemes.

The stormy relationship between Henry II and his eldest son is the classic example of relations between medieval aristocratic fathers and their heirs. Among the nobility, an heir could not achieve full adult status or assume governing responsibilities as long as his father held onto the family lands; he was condemned to remain a ‘youth’ for years past adolescence, unable to marry on account of his landless status. Such heirs often joined bands of other landless youths, who were also waiting impatiently to come into their own inheritances, and their frustration and boredom often pushed them towards violence. This is especially true of Henry and Eleanor’s eldest son, who like other heirs saw his father thwarting his attainment of full manhood, forcing him to seek riches and fame in mock combat at tournaments or in serious warfare……….

Henry unwisely assumed that advance arrangements would forestall quarrels among his sons over their inheritances, unable to grasp that once he gave the boys titles, they would expect the power that was associated with them. No doubt he expected his sons to share with him the task of governing his far-flung domains once he grew old, and to continue working together after his death, but the boys were unwilling to wait. Henry’s tinkering with his succession plans fostered in his sons deeper feelings of insecurity and competition with their siblings than were common in princely families, and Eleanor, like other aristocratic mothers, sympathised with her son’s frustration……..

Once he became preoccupied with securing lands for his youngest boy John “Lackland,” his changing plans at the expense of his three other sons were bound to rouse them to anger. The Plantagenet king ignored the biblical injunction, “Let your life run its full course, and then, at the hour of death, distribute your estate” (Ecclesiastes, 33: 21-23………”

Turning to the problems that arose between Henry III and the lord Edward, here is an excerpt from my own masterpiece:

“To ensure Castile did not aid further the rebellious Gascons, Henry resolved to pursue an idea that had been first formulated two years earlier, that of an Alliance between England and Castile through a marriage between Edward and Alfonso’s step-sister Eleanor. The treaty was finally agreed and signed on the 1st April 1254. The king of Castile agreed to renounce all claims on Gascony and Henry undertook to help Alfonso against Navarre and to give consideration to the rights and claims of Gaston de Bearn. The proposition of the marriage had been tentatively accepted by Alfonso, subject to a few prior conditions. He was naturally anxious to see Edward in person, perhaps to test his suitability and, in order to ensure his step-sister would live the life she merited; he insisted that Edward should be endowed with lands worth £10,000 a year.

This sum was much more than Henry had intended for Edward, but he had little option but to agree. While still in Gascony, Henry signed a decree providing Edward with a great appanage. Not only was Gascony now Edwards’, but Henry added royal lands in Wales and Ireland, the castle of Bristol, the earldom of Chester, which had been vacant for some time, and some important manors in the Midlands. Finally, if all was agreed, Alfonso requested Henry to allow him the privilege of knighting Edward……..

……………Bidding his mother and Peter to be seated at table, Edward waited until the servants had laid the food out, poured the wine and departed, before speaking. ‘Well mama, your messenger said you had important news. What is it?’ The queen sipped her wine and smiled at her son. ‘Edward, we finally have some good news from Gascony! Your father and King Alfonso have signed a treaty between our countries and they have also agreed your marriage with Alfonso’s half-sister Eleanor. You knew that was in the offing, so that is not the surprise we have brought you.’ Edward looked quizzically at her and she smiled again. ‘My dear, your father has granted you a great and wonderful appanage. You already have Gascony, but now, before your marriage, you are to be invested with the royal lands in Wales and Ireland, Bristol castle, the honour of Chester and much more! Your father has ordered us to make immediate preparations for a voyage to your duchy of Gascony and on to Castile!’

                                 Edward I returning from Gascony, detail of a miniature.

Edward listened with astonishment. He was a couple of months short of his fifteenth birthday and at a stroke, he had now become the wealthiest landowner in England, second only to the king himself. He stood away from the table and walked across to the window opening. While Eleanor and Peter regarded him with some amusement, he looked down at the inner ward, filled with the hustle and bustle of castle life and felt himself begin to swell with pride. ‘My God,’ he thought, ‘I have finally come into my own. My own lands! And now, I’ll have my independence!’

He turned back to the table; ‘When is all this to happen, mama? When will we leave? When will I see this Eleanor? What of her? How old is she? Is she fair?’ ‘Wait Edward, hold your horses and slow down,’ said Peter. ‘One question at a time. The king has requested your presence and that of the queen and your brother Edmund in Gascony as soon as it can be arranged. We think all that may be possible by mid-May. Much though remains to be organised before then.’……………

……………Edward immediately sent servants to look for and to bring his friends to his rooms. Looking down the list of his new properties, he had a burning desire to share his good news with them and to see their reactions.

They started to arrive one by one anxious to see why they had all been called so urgently. Edward’s household had started to expand over the last year and his close friends now included the two sons of his tutor-in-arms, Bartholomew Pecche. These two called Richard and Henry, now joined Henry of Almain and Othon in Edward’s rooms.

They found Edward pouring over the charter and smiling, his eyes alight with joy! ‘Sit! Sit over there!’ he said. ‘I have news from Gascony that may interest you.’ Joining them at the dining table, Edward laid the charter out for all to see. ‘My father has, at last, made me a true prince of the realm,’ he said. ‘Look what lands he has given me. I am to receive all of Ireland apart from Dublin and Limerick, Athlone and those lands already promised to my uncle Geoffrey de Lusignan and to Robert Walerand. In Wales, I am to receive all of the king’s conquests in the north; the honour of the three castles, for those too dim to know which they are,’ Edward grinned, ‘That means Skenfrith, Grosmont and the White Castle in South Wales, as well as the castles of Montgomery, Carmarthen, Cardigan and Builth! I already have Gascony and the isle of Oleron and my father has now added the Channel Islands to the list. In England I am to have the earldom of Chester; the town and castle of Bristol; Stamford and Grantham; the manor of Freemantle and all those lands which the count of Eu had held. Oh! And I nearly forgot to mention. I am to be married to the fair Eleanor, sister of the king of Castile!’ Edward sat down and grinned at his friends………

……………..It was late in the afternoon and Edward, excused from further training, was awaiting a call to attend upon his parents as they were expecting a very special visitor; Jeanne de Ponthieu, Eleanor of Castile’s mother! Henry had issued safe conducts for Jeanne and her son Ferdinand to cross Gascony on their way north to Ponthieu and she had requested an audience with the king, presumably to cast an eye over her prospective son-in-law. Edward was somewhat bemused that, apparently, she was not to be present at the marriage of her daughter and wanted to know the reason. He would not have admitted it, but he was also anxious to see this legendary beauty as, who knew? Like mother, like daughter?

The call came and Edward made his way to the hall. Henry and Eleanor were sitting at a table and in front of them, sitting with her back to Edward, was a woman, evidently Jeanne, dressed in black. As Henry beckoned to Edward to come forward, Jeanne stood and turned to look at him. Edward had to catch his breath. The stories had not been exaggerated! Jeanne was indeed a great beauty. In her mid-thirties, her pale face was unlined and her hair; lustrous, black and thick, was gathered in coils on both sides of her head above the ears. Her head was covered by a black lace veil which had been lifted to expose her face and Edward found himself looking into the largest, greenest eyes he had ever seen.

Jeanne bent her knee in a short curtsey while looking closely at her future son-in-law. At fifteen, his beard had not yet truly started and his chin was covered in what looked like a fine blond moss. He was taller than she had imagined and she was surprised to notice that his left eyelid drooped exactly like that of his father. How strange, she thought, to share such a blemish. This notwithstanding, she was pleased with his appearance, as by any standards he was a handsome man. She was sure her daughter would approve.

‘Good day, my lord duke,’ she said. ‘I have so looked forward to meeting you.’ Edward was taken aback by her use of that title, but recovered sufficiently to respond, ‘No, my lady, although I hold Gascony, that title is not yet mine but,’ he smiled at his father, ‘I hope my father has taken note! Please call me Edward.’ It still rankled with Edward that although Henry had granted him extensive lands, his father had not resigned his position as the lord of those lands and had retained the titles – lord of Ireland, duke of Aquitaine- that went with them………………”

There then, exactly the same situation experienced by the Young King. Ostensibly the holder of vast lands, but with absolutely no power to govern. This lack of power was to rankle with Edward and cause him to resent his father to the point where he did take up with other disaffected youths, running amok throughout England and tourneying throughout France, in search of an outlet for his energy and ambition. From 1259 to 1263 he was with Simon de Montfort and, I believe, if not for the action of his mother Eleanor of Provence may well have joined him in rebellion.

That probably is the difference between the two scenarios. As Eleanor of Aquitaine became increasingly estranged from her husband during her long sojourn in Poitou after 1168, it had an effect on their children’s feelings, and the couple’s hostility must account at least partially for the boys’ alienation from their father. By contrast, Eleanor of Provence loved her husband and, with the help of Peter of Savoy, turned Edward from the path of open rebellion. Edward’s disenchantment with Simon de Montfort’s cause was partly triggered by the treatment that his mother received at the hands of the citizens of London who pelted her barge with rubbish (and worse) as she tried to escape from the Tower.

Thank you Ken for sharing your ideas with us and for fascinating glimpse of your novel. We are all looking forward to reading the whole book. 


  1. This is the Ottonians all over. :-)

    I'm just doing some rather extensive research on that dynasty after having visited some of their sites in autumn (as if the Romans aren't enough to keep an historian occupied, lol) and they had similar problems with sons and inheritances.

    1. Hi Gabriele.

      Not sure if you will remember me, we used to chat a bit on Historical Fiction on Line and I visited your blog quite often. I know next to nothing about the Ottonians except that they were a formidable race. Did they practice primogeniture as in England?

      I think the problems of leaving all to the eldest son and little or nothing to other sons (or daughters) was a common problem among the royal houses of Europe. Not only were the 'secondary' sons left feeling disinherited, but any attempt by the king or emperor to compensate them with lands of their own was met by the eldest son who would resist any reduction of his own holdings.

      Good luck with your research.

      Ken John


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