28th August 1249. Why we never had a ‘King Arthur’.
One of the constant themes in history is that of the conflict concerning the right to inherit the throne, and none more so than that relating to Eleanor, ‘Pearl of Britanny’, and her brother Arthur.
Born c 1184 Eleanor was the eldest daughter of Geoffrey, Duke of Britanny (1181-86), (the 4th legitimate son of Henry II), and Constance.(1)
Two other sons of Henry, were the later Kings Richard and John. However Geoffrey the father of Arthur and Eleanor, was older than John, but had died, so by strict primogeniture, nephew Arthur the son had a better case to inherit: trouble!
Eleanor was a niece: trouble again, and resulted in her being imprisoned for the rest of her life.
However she didn’t languish in the Tower, and records detail what was done to make her life comfortable, as revealed Today in 1249 in the Bristol Castle code of instructions signed at Berkeley.
This enjoined the Mayor and Bailiff of Bristol: ‘To lengthen three windows…whitewash it throughout, also glass windows are ordered…make an altar to St. Edward…find wages of a certain chaplain…for Eleanor of Britanny, our cousin, to wit 50s per annum’.(2)
Her brother Arthur was a more dangerous threat, being male, had the support of Anjou and Britanny, and indeed King Richard recognized his nephew as heir in 1190, before setting out on Crusade.
However Arthur was captured by King of France, Phillip II in 1196, and in the fog of dynastic war disappears, when John was named as his heir by Richard. In 1199 he was recognised as King by England and Normandy.
Thus John ‘Lackland’ succeeded, and this despite his attempt to take over the throne in Richard’s absence, and taking possession of the mighty Nottingham Castle.
He was removed by force on Richard’s return.
Eleanor died aged 57, after being imprisoned for 39 years and her remains were buried at Amesbury Abbey.
Arthur was presumed murdered in France.
The parallels between these two sad cases and the later ‘Princes in the Tower’, again a matter of inheritance, are obvious.
John’s successor, King Henry III donated the Manor of Melksham to the Abbey of Amesbury, which also served to pray for the souls of Eleanor of Brittany, and her brother Arthur.
(1a) The eldest son, also Geoffrey, was illegitimate, and known as Geoffrey I, later Archbishop of York.
(1b) The second Geoffrey, Duke of Britanny was born in 1158.
(2) However though a ‘state’prisoner her [Eleanor’s] every desire was fulfilled and her weekly shopping bill made for her uncle King John reflected this as a scrutiny reveals that on Saturday she had bread, ale, sole, almonds, butter, eggs; Sunday, mutton, pork, chicken, eggs,;
Then on Monday beef, pork, honey, vinegar; Tuesday, pork, egret, eggs; Wednesday herring, conger, sole, eel, almonds. Eggs; Thursday pork eggs, pepper, honey and on Friday consumed conger, sole, eels, herring and almonds.
Ref: King John, by Shakespeare dramatized the above conflict.
Ref: englishmonarchs.co.uk/Image Ref.
Ref: Annals of Tewksbury IV Id Aug 1241.