Alice Perrers

Alice Perrers
Alice Perrers and Edward III.jpg
Detail of Ford Madox Brown's painting of Chaucer reading to the court of King Edward III, depicting Alice Perrers and Edward III.
Born 1348
Hertfordshire, England
Died 1400 (aged 52)
Gaynes Park, Upminster, England
Resting place Church of St Laurence, Upminster, England
Nationality English
Occupation Lady-in-waiting to Queen Philippa
Mistress of King Edward III
Landowner

Alice Perrers (1348–1400) was an English royal mistress whose lover and patron was King Edward III of England. She met him originally in her capacity as a lady-in-waiting to Edward's consort, Philippa of Hainault. She went on to become the wealthiest woman in the land. However, she was despised by many and was accused of taking advantage of the far older king with her youth and opportunistic character.[1]

Early life and family

Perrers was born in 1348 (exact date unknown). While no direct evidence has been found to identify her parentage, new evidence suggests that she was the daughter of a family named Salisbury.[2] She had at least one brother named John.[3] She married a man named Janyn Perrers around 1360, when only 12 years old. He was a jeweller and died around 1364.[4]

A contemporary account of her background and character, written by Thomas Walsingham, a St. Albans chronicler, described her as follows:

At that same time there was a woman in England called Alice Perrers. She was a shameless, impudent harlot, and of low birth, for she was the daughter of a thatcher from the town of Henny, elevated by fortune. She was not attractive or beautiful, but knew how to compensate for these defects with the seductiveness of her voice. Blind fortune elevated this woman to such heights and promoted her to a greater intimacy with the king than was proper, since she had been the maidservant and mistress of a man of Lombardy. And while the queen was still alive, the king loved this woman more than he loved the queen.[5]

However, this account has been questioned by historians for its validity, as Walsingham was a prominent critic of the royal court, and he despised its many 'indulgences'.[6]

Lady-in-waiting and Edward's mistress

Sometime before 1366, Perrers arrived at court and served as a lady-in-waiting to Philippa of Hainault, the respected and matronly queen of Edward III. Perrers's beauty and charm caught the eye of King Edward III while at court. Shortly after, around 1366,[7] when she was only 18 years of age (the king was 55), she became the king's mistress. Only when Philippa died in 1369 of dropsy[8] did Perrers's affair with the king become more visible. Their affair aroused envy and hatred of Perrers, as she was only 21 years old. Following the queen's death, a devastated Edward leaned heavily on her considerable abilities; her courtly dominance accelerated by his loss. Perrers acquired numerous gifts from the King and she soon became an extremely wealthy woman, amassing a fortune worth more than £20,000 (£6,000,000 in 2016). Dressed in golden garments, Perrers was paraded around London as "The Lady of the Sun" on the king's command, and courtiers were expected to behave respectfully towards her. This caused a great wave of criticism from the public and Edward's Court.

From 1370 to 1376, Perrers's power and eminence became legendary, and it was reported that she instilled fear into the populace, amongst whom no one dared to prosecute a claim against her. To her contemporaries, Perrers was seen as an ambitious, grasping, calculating and cold-hearted opportunist who manipulated the ailing King into granting her unheard-of wealth and status, at a court that brimmed with spite and loathing of her. Towards the end of Edward's reign, Perrers was accused of making his life a misery and of luring him with her charms only to further her own personal ambitions.[9][10]

Marriage and children

According to Charles Cawley, Perrers had three illegitimate children by King Edward, all while their relationship was a secret from his wife, Queen Philippa, and the public. In 1364, aged 16, Perrers gave birth to a son later named Sir John de Southeray (c. 1364–1383). John later married Maud Percy, daughter of Henry Percy, 3rd Baron Percy, and his first wife Mary of Lancaster.

A year later in 1365, Perrers gave birth to Jane (c. 1365-unknown). Jane married Richard Northland.

Aged 18, Perrers gave birth to her third child, Joan (c. 1366-bef January 1431).[11][12] Joan married Robert Skerne, a lawyer who served as a tax official and a Member of Parliament for Surrey.[13]

Due to the king's advancing age and the fact that after his death she would no longer have his protection, Perrers contracted a secret marriage in November 1375 to Sir William Windsor, a Westmorland knight, who was appointed as the King's lieutenant in Ireland.[14] He was 53 and she was 27. As William was a Royal Lieutenant in Ireland, he spent long periods of time absent from England and Perrers, lessening the probability of the King discovering their marriage. William and Perrers were married until William's death on 15 September 1384. He was 62 years old. They had no children.[9]

Lands

Though Perrers was given many gifts and land grants from Edward, her financial success was largely earned. Some contemporaries claimed that she had seduced a senile king to gain property and goods, but most of her acquisitions were owed to her intelligence, business acumen, and use of contacts, and she became a wealthy landowner. So successful was she that at the height of her power she controlled 56 manors, castles and town houses stretching over 25 counties of England from the north to the home counties. Only 15 of these were gifts from Edward.[15] Among other properties, Perrers possessed the manor of Gaynes (at Upminster) in Essex, the place where she would die. When property disputes arose with the abbot of St. Albans in 1374, Perrers, with the King's authority behind her, had the temerity to sit in the law courts to intimidate the judges and ensured that the abbot abandoned his claim due to the overwhelming power she possessed.

Banishment

Prior to King Edward III's death, few had prosecuted or challenged her, but that changed in 1376, when Perrers was subjected to an ordinance that set penalties for all women (but specifically against her) who practiced 'maintenance', the offence of interfering in the due process of the law.[16] A contemporary description of the ordinance is as follows:

Because a complaint was made to the king that some women have pursued various business and disputes in the king's courts by way of maintenance, bribing and influencing the parties, which thing displeases the king; the king forbids any woman to do it, and especially Alice Perrers, on penalty of whatever the said Perrers can forfeit and of being banished from the realm.[16]

She was ultimately tried for corruption and subsequently banished from the kingdom by the Good Parliament, her lands forfeit.[11] She was later able to return to England and work to regain some of her lands.

Later life and death

Alice Perrers died in the winter of 1400/1401 at 52 years old and was buried in the church of St Laurence, Upminster.

Influence in literature

Perrers is thought to have served as the living prototype of Geoffrey Chaucer's oft-married Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales.[17] Her influence on literature may also have extended to William Langland's Lady Mede in Piers Plowman.[18] In that work, the Lady represents, to the dreaming narrator, a woman of high status, one adorned with jewels and fine robes, but also a distraction and diversion from decent morals.

Perrers was also a great influence in Chaucer's life and supported him greatly.[19]

Fictional portrayals

Perrers seated beside King Edward III, as imagined by Ford Madox Brown

Candace Robb features Alice Perrers in her Medieval Mysteries series and Perrers is the main protagonist in Robb's The King's Mistress written as Emma Campion.[20] She appears in Anya Seton's novel, Katherine. Alice Perrers is the main character in Vanora Bennett's novel The People's Queen that was first published in 2010. She is a character in Jean Plaidy's Vow on the Heron. She is portrayed in Rebecca Gablé's Das Lächeln der Fortuna, a historical novel in the German language about the time. She is the protagonist of the 2012 novel The King's Concubine by Anne O'Brien. She also appears in The Traitor's Noose, the fourth novel in the Lions and Lilies series by Catherine A Wilson and Catherine T Wilson.

References

  1. ^ Kingsford, Charles Lethbridge (1896). "Perrers, Alice" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 45. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  2. ^ Tompkins, Laura (2015). "Alice Perrers and the goldsmith's mistery: New evidence concerning the identity of the mistress of Edward III". English Historical Review. 130 (547): cev319. doi:10.1093/ehr/cev319.
  3. ^ Ormrod, W. M. (2008). "Alice Perrers and John Salisbury". English Historical Review. 123 (501): 381. doi:10.1093/ehr/cen011.
  4. ^ Ormrod, W. M. (2008). "The trials of Alice Perrers". Speculum. 83 (2): 369. doi:10.1017/S0038713400013361. JSTOR 20466215. S2CID 154399794.
  5. ^ Ormrod, W.M. (2006). "Who was Alice Perrers?". The Chaucer Review. 40 (3): 219. doi:10.1353/cr.2006.0005. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  6. ^ Tompkins, Laura (2015). "Alice Perrers and the goldsmith's mistery: New evidence concerning the identity of the mistress of Edward III". English Historical Review. 130 (547): 1362. doi:10.1093/ehr/cev319.
  7. ^ "Alice Perrers". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  8. ^ Given-Wilson, C. (January 2008) [2004]. "Perrers, Alice (d.1400/01)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/21977. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ a b "Alice Perrers, Mistress of the King". Historytheinterestingbits.com. 31 July 2015. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  10. ^ Gambier-Parry, T.R. (1932). "Alice Perrers and Her Husband's Relatives". The English Historical Review. 47 (182): 272–276. doi:10.1093/ehr/xlvii.clxxxvi.272.
  11. ^ a b Cawley, Charles. Medieval Lands, England, Kings 1066-1603
  12. ^ "Alice Perrers: Known as Edward III's Extravagent, Powerful Mistress". Womenshistory.about.com. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  13. ^ "Robert Skerne". History of Parliament. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  14. ^ Ormrod, W. M. (2008). "The trials of Alice Perrers". Speculum. 83 (2): 372. doi:10.1017/S0038713400013361. JSTOR 20466215. S2CID 154399794.
  15. ^ Bothwell, James (1998). "The management of position; Alice Perrers, Edward III, and the creation of a landed estates, 1362–1377". Journal of Medieval History. 24 (1): 31–51. doi:10.1016/s0304-4181(97)00017-1.
  16. ^ a b Ormrod, W.M. (2008). "The trials of Alice Perrers". Speculum. 83 (2): 370. doi:10.1017/S0038713400013361. JSTOR 20466215. S2CID 154399794.
  17. ^ Braddy, Haldeen (1946). "Chaucer and Dame Alice Perrers". Speculum. 21 (2): 222–228. doi:10.2307/2851319. JSTOR 2851319. S2CID 161165433.
  18. ^ Rogers, William Elford (2002). Interpretation in Piers Plowman. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. ISBN 9780813210926.
  19. ^ Harley, Marta Powell (1993). "Geoffrey Chaucer, Cecilia Chaumpaigne, and Alice Perrers: a closer look". The Chaucer Review. 28 (1): 78–82. JSTOR 25095830.
  20. ^ Goldsmith, Belinda (4 August 2010). "Book Talk: Candace Robb finds new voice as Emma Campion". Reuters.

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