Chapter 1 : The Beauchamp family to 1369


Sir William, the first earl of Warwick from the Beauchamp family, formally did homage for his lands on 9 February 1268. From the outset, this was unusual; whereas most sons only received their inheritance on the death of their father, it is evident that Earl William's father, William Beauchamp of Elmley, was still alive at the time when his son acceded to the earldom; the will of the elder William clearly refers to his son as the ‘earl of Warwick’, and we also have an undated charter in which the elder William Beauchamp concedes 20 librates of land to his son, ‘William, earl of Warwick’. William Beauchamp of Elmley had the right to assume the title of earl himself, as had happened in similar circumstances a generation earlier, but chose to give the title to his eldest son. Earl William had inherited his title from his uncle, William Mauduit, whose sister Isabel had married William Beauchamp of Elmley, Earl William's father. It was the union between William and Isabel which proved to be the making of the Beauchamp fortunes, changing them from a strong family of regional significance into one of the greatest English families of the later middle ages.

The Beauchamps, up to this time, were essentially a great Worcestershire family. They derived their fortune from the marriage of their ancestor Walter Beauchamp to the daughter of Urse D'Abitot, the ‘Conqueror's notorious sheriff of Worcester’, around the year 1110. D'Abitot, along with his brother Robert, had seized a great part of his land from the church in Worcester during the years of the conquest, and Walter Beauchamp inherited half of D'Abitot's estates, including the castle of Elmley which was their principal centre of power in the period from 1110 to 1268.

From the twelfth to the fifteenth century, the Beauchamps owed much of their pre-eminence to a number of fortunate marriages, and the marriage to D'Abitot's heiress was the first of these. They were of that class of men whose ability and influence made them essential cogs in the administrative machinery of the localities; part of D'Abitot's inheritance was the hereditary shrievalty of Worcestershire and, although free to nominate a deputy to perform the job in his place, only Walter Beauchamp (II), Earl William's grandfather, did not serve as sheriff of Worcestershire, in person, for at least part of his adult life. The shrievalty certainly helped to secure the Beauchamps' status as the most prominent lay landholders in Worcestershire, a county unusually dominated by ecclesiastical landlords.

There is no doubt that the Beauchamp family would have continued to be only of regional historical importance were it not for the marriage between William Beauchamp of Elmley and Isabel Mauduit. The Mauduits were a ‘respectable official family’ in the same mould as the Beauchamps. One of Isabel's ancestors had been chamberlain of the exchequer under Henry I, and the Mauduits inherited that hereditary office from him. What made Isabel such a prized catch, however, was that her brother, William Mauduit, earl of Warwick, lacked legitimate issue, making Isabel his heiress. Mauduit had inherited the title from his mother, a member of the twelfth-century Beaumont earls of Warwick. The inheritance of the earldom can perhaps be viewed as more of a fortuitous accident than a planned marriage; Earl William was said to be between the ages of 26 and 30 in 1268, placing the marriage of William and Isabel in the late 1230s or early 1240s. At this time, the chances of the earldom passing to Isabel must have seemed remote at best: Thomas Beaumont was married to Ela, countess of Salisbury (who nearly lived on until the very end of the thirteenth century), and if their union failed to produce any issue, then it was likely that the marriage of his sister Margery to John de Plessis probably would. It was only on Margery's death in 1253 that it was clear the earldom was going to descend to the Mauduits, and even then any issue from the marriage of William Mauduit and Alice de Segrave would have prevented the earldom coming into William of Elmley's hands. In effect the earldom descended by chance and by default, for it was the failure of both the Beaumont and Mauduit lines to produce male heirs that allowed the earldom to pass into the hands of the Beauchamps in 1268, and not the result of a cunning marriage policy on the part of William of Elmley.

By January 1268, William of Elmley and Isabel Mauduit had produced at least seven children. Of the three sons, all of them were to found important branches of the family which survived into the fifteenth century. William was the eldest of the three, and not only inherited the earldom, but also most of the Beauchamp estates that had been built up in the past 150 years. However, generous endowments were given to the two younger sons, Walter and John: John began the line of the Beauchamps of Holt, who were based in the Severn valley, north of Worcester, and Walter was granted lands in south-west Warwickshire. The Beauchamps, throughout our period, were well known for their military accomplishments: William of Elmley had fought in Scotland and Wales, and all three of his sons appear to have followed in the family's martial tradition. William proved himself on the battlefields of Scotland and Wales; Walter, it would appear, had an ambition to go on a crusade. His father's will describes him as a ‘crusader’, and William left his son a debt of 200 marks in aid ‘of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land for me and his mother’. By the late 1290s he was calling himself the ‘lord of Alcester’, having purchased, in 1271-72, the moiety of the manor of Alcester in Warwickshire, making that place one of his principal seats, alongside Powick in Worcestershire. Walter was also to follow in the family's tradition of administrative service; in Prestwich's words he was ‘well schooled in the established tradition of the household’ and was a highly suitable choice for the post of steward of the royal household, an appointment which suited both his bureaucratic and military skills. Walter was appointed as steward in 1289, became sole steward in 1292, and held this position until his death in early 1303. He served with the king in Flanders and Scotland, fighting alongside Edward in the battle of Falkirk and appears to have been a man much admired for his military prowess, but criticised for his arrogance; the Song of Caerlaverock describes Walter as ‘a knight who would have been one of the best of all, according to my opinion, if he had not been too proud and rashly insolent, but you won't hear anyone talk of the steward without a "but"’.

John Beauchamp of Holt was a lesser figure than his two brothers, although the three of them did fight together in Gascony in 1296/7, and he served the following year in Scotland. It appears that he may have been one of the Beauchamps, alongside Earl Guy, and William, lord of Bergavenny, in succeeding generations, who was inclined to cultured pursuits; for his father bequeathed him ‘that book of Lancelot which I have provided for him’. Whilst John of Holt was not a man of national importance like his brothers, he was of significant standing locally, and the dynasty was to remain loyal to the earls of Warwick until the end of the fourteenth century. James, another male relative of Earl William, deserves mention. Sometimes described as the earl's uncle, at other times the earl's brother, James appears to have been the most intellectually active of the Beauchamps, as well as the most obscure member of the family; in 1283 he was granted royal protection to go overseas ‘for study’.

The fate of Isabel Mauduit, wife of William of Elmley, and mother to Walter, William, and John is much disputed. Cokayne insists that she died at some point before 1268 whilst Dugdale insists that, as the foundress of the nunnery of Cookhill, she ‘betooke herself to a religious life there’. The only evidence for either of these assumptions is the internal evidence contained in William of Elmley's will. Certainly, William does make provision for a chaplain to ‘perform divine service in my chapel without the city of Worcester, next the Friars Minors, for my soul and the souls of Isabella my wife and Isabella de [Mortimer] and all the faithful dead’, endowing the church with property in Droitwich and Witton, and it is this which Cokayne sees as proof that she had died by the time William had written his will, although there is no other reason to suppose that this was the case. Moreover, the same document explicitly states ‘To the church and nuns of Kokeshull [Cookhill] and to Ysabella, my wife, 10 marks’. Admittedly, this does present some problems: Isabella would appear to have become a nun at least several months before the death of her husband, and not after his death as was usual. Also the allocation to her of 10 marks seems remarkably tight-fisted when compared to the 200 marks he gave Walter, or the 100 marks in aid of the marriage of his daughter Sarah. It is possible that Isabel took her vows out of concern for the state of the Warwick earldom. Matriarchs connected to the earldom of Warwick had an unnerving ability to outlive their husbands by a considerable margin; in 1268 there were no less than three of these women, Countess Ela, Angaret, and Alice, who between them soaked up valuable demesne lands in the earl's possession. It has been calculated that, at one point, these dowagers siphoned off around 22% of the earl's income. From the time of the Beauchamp accession in 1268, it was not unusual for surviving widows and unmarried daughters to enter the convent instead of being a potential drain upon the family's resources, and what is certain is that the Beauchamps could not afford a fourth dowager. In the context of this situation, Isabel's entering the convent of Cookhill does seem to be a very likely possibility.

Of the first three Beauchamp earls of Warwick, Earl William is the most shadowy figure. Clearly a great and important figure in his day, no chroniclers have left us any personal picture of the man, in the way which they have for his son and grandson. William was a soldier of considerable importance; he was frequently summoned against the Welsh between 1277 and 1294, and from 1296 to his death in 1298 was involved in the Scottish wars. He was a vigorous and innovative military commander, and it is in this role that he is best remembered by historians and chroniclers; his tactics at the battle of Maes Moydog over the Welsh forces commanded by Madog ap Llywelyn have been credited as anticipating the successful use of crossbow men at Falkirk, although there is some dispute as to how much of the victory can be ascribed to Earl William's strategy. He was also present at the siege of Droselan, and with John, earl of Surrey, helped recover the castle of Dunbar. Apart from his military exploits, William appears to have had a tendency toward hot-headedness; particularly demonstrated by his exhumation of his father's corpse in the middle of the church of the Friars Minor in Worcestershire, because he had given credence to the rumour that someone else had been buried in his stead. After his brothers, who were present and identified their father ‘by certain markings’, the earl was excommunicated for his sacrilegious actions. Despite this episode, and the lifelong enmity between him and Bishop Giffard, William appears to have been a conventionally religious man; he added ‘crosse-crosslets’ to his coat of arms, which Dugdale interprets as possibly implying a ‘testimony of....pilgrimage by him made into the holy land, or a vow to do so’. By the end of his life the earl had resolved any quarrel with the Minorites, and, under the influence of Brother John de Olney, bequeathed his body to their church. The friars, according to a disgruntled annalist at Worcester Cathedral, ‘having got hold of the body of so great a man, like conquerors who had obtained booty, paraded the public streets, and made a spectacle for the citizens’.

It was also William who began to cultivate the association of the Beauchamp earls with the legendary tale of ‘Gui de Warwic’. The tale of Guy de Warwick is an Anglo-Norman romance which has been dated from between 1232 and 1242, and is thought to have been written to flatter Thomas Beaumont, the contemporary earl of Warwick. William's appropriation of the name ‘Guy’ for his eldest surviving son was undoubtedly influenced by the mythical figure of Guy of Warwick. Previously the most common male family names were either William or Walter, with James and John also being used occasionally for younger sons. The Beauchamp family grew increasingly attached to the legend of Guy of Warwick as our period progressed: not only was Guy used as a name for the firstborn son of Earls William and Thomas (I), but Thomas (I) named one of his younger sons ‘Reinbrun’ after the son of the mythical Guy. ‘Un volum del Romaunce du Guy’ is listed in the collection of books which Earl Guy gave to Bordesley Abbey in 1305, and he was reputedly buried there with the relics of his legendary namesake. By the time of Thomas I's death in 1369, the legend of Guy of Warwick was so interwoven into the Beauchamps' psyche that he bequeathed his son ‘the coat of mail sometime belonging to that famous Guy of Warwick’ as the most highly treasured of his possessions; in his will, this mythical relic took precedence over other caskets of gold, and ornate crosses containing pieces of Christ's cross. As McGoldrick points out, ‘the holiest of relics from good kings and venerated public figures were subordinate to symbols of family honour and ancestry’. However the ‘family honour and ancestry’ was an invented one, and William's adoption of the Guy of Warwick legend must, at least in part, have been motivated by shrewd political and practical reasons. He belonged to a family of administrators, and owed his earldom either to good fortune or, as some might suppose, manipulative social climbing. It is no surprise that he should have adopted this legend in 1268, for it provided the family with a noble heritage and a heroic legitimacy. By Earl Thomas' time, the Beauchamps were firmly established amongst the higher nobility, and his attachment to the legend of Guy of Warwick appears to have been fostered by a genuine sense of family honour.

William had married Maud, the daughter of Sir John Fitz-Geoffrey whose lands were concentrated in Surrey and Essex, and was the widow of Sir Gerard de Furnivalle. Furnivalle died in 1261, and it would appear likely that she had married Earl William by the time of his accession as earl; their son Guy is described as ‘30 or more’ in 1301, placing his birth in 1271, and there is no reason at all to suppose that he was among the first born of William and Maud's seven children. In fact it would make sense for Maud to have married William soon after the death of her first husband, well before the succession to the Warwick inheritance had been determined. McFarlane refers to the Fitz-Geoffrey as a ‘very minor baronial house’, and it would seem likely that this marriage was at least arranged before the succession of the earldom of Warwick had been properly secured. The notion, sometimes put forward, that William married Maud for financial gain can also be dismissed. Maud is frequently referred to as an heiress; indeed she was one of four co-heiresses to the Fitz-Geoffrey estates after her brother died without issue in 1297. However it is most unlikely that this chance windfall had been a factor in the arrangement of their marriage thirty years previously.

Whatever the circumstances of the marriage, Earl William was clearly fond of his wife. Judging by his will, William does seem to have possessed a sentimental side; he requests that if he should die oversees, his heart be removed from his body and buried wherever his wife (‘his dear consort’) should choose to have herself interred, and their surviving son Guy was present when she was buried next to her husband. She certainly seems to have suffered from a disabling infirmity toward the end of her life which made travel impossible, but this does not appear to have been a hindrance earlier on, for they had seven children that we are aware of. Of the three sons, Guy was the only one to outlive his father; Robert died in infancy and Dugdale maintains that John ‘died in the life of his father’, although it does not seem likely that he survived long into his childhood. By the time of the earl's death, two of his daughters were nuns at Shouldham in Norfolk, a remote monastery with close links to the FitzGeoffrey family, taking up a cloistered existence like so many women in the Beauchamp family. After Guy, their sister Isabel was the most fortunate of that generation. She firstly married into the Gloucestershire family of Chaworth; Sir Pain de Chaworth had fought with Prince Edward in his crusade and his heir Patrick, whom Isabel married, was a man of reasonable importance, possessing land or property in Berkshire, Wiltshire, Wales and Southampton. This marriage yielded one child, Maud, who went on to marry the king's nephew, Henry of Lancaster. Dugdale reports that, following Chaworth's death in 1286-7, Isabel had four manors in Wiltshire, and two in Berkshire, assigned to her ‘until her dowry should be set forth’ along with the livery of Chedworth in Gloucestershire, and the Hampshire manor of Hartley Mauditt, which had been granted to her and her husband in frankmarriage by her father. Shortly afterwards, she married the elder Despenser, without the king's licence, for which Hugh Despenser was fined 2,000 marks.

The figure of Guy Beauchamp, the second Beauchamp earl, is a much clearer figure than that of his father, largely due to his outspoken political criticism of the failings of Edward II which attracted much attention from contemporary chroniclers. We have already noted that he was born in the early 1270s, but from then we do not know anything until the occasion of his knighthood on 25 March 1296. What is certain is that he enjoyed an unusually broad education for his age. The description of Earl Guy in the Annales Londonienses as ‘bene literatus’ is seized on by McFarlane who reminds us that contemporary prelates were only ‘literatus’ if they possessed a university education. McFarlane refutes the notion that Guy spent any time at Oxford, but insists that the term ‘can hardly have meant less than that he was well grounded in Latin grammar’. It seems likely, however, that he was grounded in much more; Tout, by no means an admirer, admits that the earl possessed an education ‘seldom found in the higher nobility of his age’. Guy's extensive library is well known, and we have a catalogue of what would appear to have been a small selection from it, which the earl presented to Bordesley Abbey in 1306, described by McGoldrick as ‘one of the most interesting book collections of the fourteenth century’. The majority of the works in the list are ‘romaunces’, meaning they were written either in French or Anglo-Norman, and concern such diverse topics as the lives of Titus and Vespasian, physiology and surgery, biblical tales, legends of the holy grail, lives of the saints, and historical stories concerning figures such as Charlemagne and Alexander. One book is mentioned only as ‘un petit rouge livre, en le quel sount contenuz mous diverses choses’. The inclusion of a number of ‘chansons de gestes’, outdated by the early fourteenth century, could betray Earl Guy's conservative literary tastes, or else might simply represent a clear-out of some of the older books in the Warwick library.

Guy was not the only Beauchamp book-owner that we know of in our period. His daughter, Matilda de Say, was to enter the royal household of Edward III, and bequeathed a number of unnamed French and Latin books to John de Harleston. Her sister-in-law, Katherine Mortimer (wife of Earl Thomas [I]) left a book of ‘ch’ to her son Thomas. Perhaps this refers to a book of songs [‘chansons’], but whatever, Earl Guy is perhaps the best example of a cultured and cerebral member of the higher nobility in the early fourteenth century. This was not lost on his contemporaries: the author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi claims that ‘in wisdom and council he had no peer’, and that ‘other earls did many things only after taking his opinion’; the author of the Lanercost chronicle credits him with ‘equal wisdom and integrity’, whilst the Annales Londonienses describes Beauchamp as ‘homo discretus et bene literatus per quem totum regnum Angliae sapienta praefulgebat’. A streak of simple piety, in an age unrenowned for its modesty, is evident in Guy's will, in which he requests that he be buried in Bordesley Abbey in a simple ceremony ‘without any great pomp’, especially when we compare it with the preparations made for the funeral of his grandson, William Beauchamp, Lord Bergavenny, who requested that five tapers be hung about his body from the moment of death, and that twenty-four poor men be cloaked in black, and each carrying torches, before 10,000 masses are said ‘by the most honest priest that can be found’. His affinity for the austerity of the Cistercian order was probably, in part, political. It would be surprising to find him embracing the Benedictines after his father's quarrels with Bishop Giffard. However, there is also the small possibility that Guy was influenced by the Cistercian ideas in the romance The Quest for the Holy Grail. A number of the books which the earl gave to Bordesley Abbey were Arthurian romances, and it is just possible that the earl was influenced by this piece of Cistercian propaganda.

What makes Earl Guy interesting is the contradictory nature of his character, perhaps best summed up by Tout when he compared the earl to the ‘cultivated aristocratic ruffians’ found in the later renaissance. This apparently ‘discreet’ and ‘well-read’ man was also a highly skilled soldier and ruthless politician; he served frequently in the Scottish wars under Edward I, and was present at Falkirk, the siege of Carlaverock and the siege of Stirling Castle. He clearly cut a very impressive figure on the battlefield, and the author of the Siege of Carlaverock claims that:

‘De Warwik le Count Guy

Coment ken ma rime de guy

Ne avoit voisin de lui mellour

Baniere ot de rouge coulour

O feasse de or et croissilie’

in a clear reference to the Beauchamp coat of arms. His single-mindedness can be seen in his activities during the reign of Edward II, when, despite Lancaster's de jure leadership of the baronial opposition, Earl Guy seems to have been the most active opponent of Edward and Gaveston. The Vita Edwardi Secundi sees Earl Guy as the ‘brains behind the Ordinances’, when it claims that it was ‘by his advice and skill the Ordinances were framed’. Earl Guy also merits the distinction of being the only earl to have opposed Gaveston's influence at court consistently from Edward's coronation until Gaveston's death in 1312, which was largely engineered by the earl himself. His nick-name of ‘the black dog of Arden’, reputedly coined by Gaveston, probably refers to more than his swarthy complexion. Indeed the Chronicle of Lanercost claims that ‘when this was reported to the earl, he is said to have replied with calmness: "If he call me a dog, be sure that I will bite him so soon as I shall perceive my opportunity"’.

Guy, it would appear, married twice. He first married Isabella de Clare, daughter of the earl of Gloucester, at some point prior to May 1297. The two were related in the ‘third degree of consanguinity’, and so had to obtain a papal dispensation which was granted to them on 11 May 1297, stating that the marriage had, on an unspecified date, already taken place. How long the marriage survived is not known, but divorce proceedings were in motion by June 1302, and the marriage had probably been dead for some time before that. Perhaps the reason for the failure of the marriage was Isabel's age; she was at least ten years the senior, and in 1302 she would have been in her early forties, making the chances of her producing an heir most unlikely, and the marriage, for however long it survived, does not seem to have produced any children. In 1306, apparently concerned that his lands would be split up if he died without issue, Guy entailed his entire estates to his nephew, Philip Despenser. The earl remarried in 1310, to Alice de Tony, sister and heiress of Ralph de Tony, and therefore the heiress of the Tony inheritance. The value of the Tony inheritance is much disputed, for Alice already had issue by Thomas de Leyburn, her first husband, and McFarlane maintains the earl ‘merely enjoyed her inheritance from their marriage in 1310 until his death five years later’. However, this is patently untrue as a glance at the Inquisitions Post Mortem of Earls Guy and Thomas will demonstrate. The manors of Walthamstow in Essex, Abberley in Worcestershire, Flamstead in Hertfordshire, Stratford Tony and Newton Tony in Wiltshire, Kirtling in Cambridgeshire, and the lordship of Painscastle in the Welsh Marches, were all to become valuable and important parts of the Beauchamp inheritance, although, as Sinclair rightly points out, the presence of a surviving Tony dowager meant that the earldom had only two-thirds of the inheritance until she died in 1340.

The marriage seems to have been successful in more than just the property which it brought into the family; during the time of their marriage, Alice was constantly pregnant, supplying Earl Guy with at least six children in the space of five years, all of whom survived infancy and subsequently married. After Guy's death, Alice went on to marry William Zouche of Ashby, with whom she had more children, and was married to him until her death in 1324.

When Earl Guy died in 1315, which contemporary rumours claimed was from poison administered on the orders of Edward II, Alice was bequeathed a portion of his plate, a crystal cup, and half of his bedding, plus ‘all the vestments and books pertaining to his chapel’, while Thomas, his eldest son, was left a coat of mail, helmet and suit of harness, and John, the younger son, received his second coat of mail. His daughter Maud received a crystal cup, and Elizabeth, another daughter, received the marriage of the Astley heir. However, there was a very serious problem. Thomas, the eldest son, was between one and two years old at the death of his father, meaning that, as was the practice in these circumstances, the estates of the earldom would be taken into the possession of the crown. The abuse of lands taken into the hands of the crown was common at this period, and a lengthy period of minority could have produced long term repercussions for the inheritance, with lands being exploited and neglected by those charged with their maintenance. The dying earl was certainly aware of the dangers which a prolonged minority could bring, and was successful in wringing a very valuable concession from Edward II, that, on the event of the earl's death, the executors of his will should have full custody of his lands ‘until the full age of his heirs’. It was fully in keeping with Edward II's character, that the crown's assurance was soon disregarded, and the Warwick lands were taken into the crown's hands within two years of Guy's death, and remained out of the control of the executors until Thomas came of age.

Possession of the Warwick estates from this point, until 1329, was determined by the whims of royal patronage. The Despensers were the prime beneficiaries in Edward II's reign, with the elder Despenser gaining wardship of all Guy's lands except for a few which had already been granted, for which he agreed to pay 1,000 marks a year, an arrangement soon commuted in Despenser's favour, allowing Despenser the custody of the Warwick estates in consideration of £6,770 which the king owed him. The issue of custody of the Warwick lands was brought up in 1321 in the articles against the Despensers. The agreement that the Warwick earldoms should be handled by Guy's executors is said to have been repealed ‘without reason’ except to deliver to the elder Despenser ‘the wardship of those lands for his own profit, so defeating by [the Despensers'] evil counsel what the king had granted in his parliaments by good counsel with the assent of the peers of the land’. The only long term effect which the events of 1321-22 had on the Warwick lands was to remove Elmley Castle from the hands of the elder Despenser and take it back into the hands of the crown, with the rest of the estates remaining in the Despensers' possession until Isabella and Mortimer's invasion in 1327. Afterwards, the lands passed to Roger Mortimer, who was able to capitalise on his predominance at the royal court by taking custody of Thomas' wardship.

It was at this time that the marriage of Thomas to Katherine Mortimer seems to have finally taken place. The marriage itself was worth 1,600 marks, and had originally been granted to Roger Mortimer as far back as 20 July 1318. There were problems with this arrangement, for the king had arranged a dispensation from the pope, granted 19 April 1319, on account of the two being related ‘in the third and fourth degrees of consanguinity’. The purpose of the union was to put an end to the ‘great discord’ that existed between Earl Guy and Mortimer over the manor of Elvel, in the marches of Wales, although it should be noted that the Mortimers gained more from the arrangement than the Beauchamps, for Katherine did not bring with her any marriage portion. This arrangement seems to have been permanently shelved by Edward, following the troubles of 1321-22, which resulted in Mortimer's dramatic fall from royal favour and imprisonment, and arrangements were made for Thomas to marry one of the daughters of the earl of Arundel, either in 1324 or 1325. Arundel was executed along with the Despensers in the reprisals which followed Isabella and Mortimer's invasion, and with Mortimer back in royal favour, the original plans for the marriage between Katherine and Thomas were back in place, and they were almost certainly married between 1328 and 1330.

Of Guy's other children, the career of John Beauchamp is the most documented, being considered ‘a person of singular note in his time’. Like his father and brother, he was a military man, attending the king into Flanders in 1338, present at the naval victory of Sluys in 1340, and, along with his brother, one of the original knights of the Garter. He had the distinction of carrying the standard-royal at Crecy, and was appointed captain of Calais in 1358. John was raised to the rank of banneret in 1348, having £140 per annum granted to him from the exchequer to help him support the title. John fell out briefly with his king in 1354, who removed John from his post as Constable of the Tower of London, because Edward supposedly gave credence to ‘sinister suggestions’ against Beauchamp. He was swiftly back in favour with the king, and John faithfully served Edward until his death. He was based primarily in the capital, where he built an impressive house which was subsequently bought by the crown and used for the king's wardrobe. By the time of his death in 1360, he had acquired the Worcestershire manor of Frankley, as well as Brockenhurst in Hampshire, and gained the Wiltshire manors of Stratford Tony and Newton Tony from his elder brother. Of Guy's daughters, Elizabeth did indeed marry the heir of the Warwickshire lord, Nicholas of Astley, which her father had granted in his will. Thomas de Astley was in fact Nicholas' nephew, and he founded a chapel for the aid of the souls of him and his wife in 1337. It is not known how long she lived for, but it seems that they produced at least six children, and that he was still alive in 1366. Maud, another of Guy's daughters, led a more colourful life. She firstly married Geoffrey de Say, whose property included manors in Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Kent. Together, they produced at least four children. William was the only boy, and his father's heir. Of the three daughters, Idonea went on to marry John Clinton of Maxstoke. Maud was also very close to Edward III, Queen Philippa, and their daughter Isabel; she was so valued by the royal family that, in 1368, she was awarded an annuity of 100 marks per annum for her long service in the royal household. After Geoffrey's death in 1359, it appears that she married again, for in her will she requests that she be buried in Black Friars, London ‘near Edmund, my beloved husband’, but Edmund's identity remains a mystery.

Earl Thomas has been described as the ‘embodiment of the preux chevalier’, a man apparently uninterested in domestic political machinations, but devoutly faithful to his king. In Dugdale's words, he was ‘scarcely out of some great or memorable imployment’, and was undoubtedly one of the finest soldiers of his age. The reason for his loyalty may lie in the circumstances of his youth. Sinclair is right to point out that there is much we do not know about the circumstances of his minority. What is certain is that he and Edward III were very close in age, Edward being two years Thomas' senior, and that in, January 1328, Joan du Boys, a nurse to Princess Eleanor, was curiously described as ‘keeper of the land and heir of Guy de Beauchamp’. There is a reasonable chance that Thomas may well have spent some of his youth in the royal household, and the chances of a friendship existing at the time of his minority are reasonable, given that the new king did ‘a special favour’ for Thomas by receiving his homage on 20 February 1329, despite the fact that Beauchamp was then still a minor. McFarlane is probably right in assuming that the two young men would have found a common bond in their animosity to the court favourites of Edward II and Isabella when he writes that ‘nor was Edward III likely to be unsympathetic toward those who had suffered at the hands of the Despensers and Mortimer’.

Thomas, like his father and grandfather, served in Scotland frequently during the 1330s, being captain of the army against the Scots in 1337, but is most remembered for his service in France which constantly preoccupied him from 1339 up until his death in Calais thirty years later. Most notably, he was at the battle of Crecy in 1346, where he was one of the two marshals of the army, and held joint command of the Prince of Wales' division. The Complete Peerage provides an effective summary of the earl's exploits, which are far too extensive and of too little relevance to merit inclusion here. Of interest to us are the rewards which Earl Thomas received for his services. His loyalty to the king's cause was certainly very lucrative and he frequently enjoyed one-off payments of cash after major excursions; he obtained £1,000 in June 1340 for his wages following the French campaign the previous year, which saw the withdrawal of the French army at Vironfosse, and a further £610 was earned the following year ‘for the time in which he was beyond the seas as a hostage for the king's debts’. In 1347 he enjoyed a £1,366 11s 8d ‘gift from the king’. Eventually, in 1348, Earl Thomas was retained for life by Edward III, at a cost of 1,000 marks per annum, ostensibly ‘for his fee for his stay with the king with 100 men-at-arms’, but also undoubtedly for his loyal and faithful service. In addition to these monetary rewards, Thomas enjoyed royal patronage with grants of offices and decoration. Alongside his brother John, he was one of the founder Knights of the Garter, and served as Marshal of England from 1343/4 until his death, a post that was held at the discretion of the king. Another grant allowed him to consolidate his hold of the West Midlands; in 1344 he was made sheriff of the counties of Warwickshire and Leicestershire for life, in addition to the shrievalty of Worcestershire which he already held through hereditary tenure. The surrender of royal power was a valuable concession given that the role of sheriff could be a very politically sensitive one. The oath that Thomas' father Guy had to swear when he took up the hereditary post of sheriff of Worcester is preserved in the exchequer, and ‘shows the importance attached to safeguards against a power which was likely to be maintained for a generation’. The actual financial benefit generated by the shrievalty was probably slight: in 1390-91 the shrievalty of Worcestershire yielded a grand profit of £2 6s 6d; this does not show the true value which this award brought, namely an increased political dominance over his local region. In addition to these gifts, we have to add the spoils of war, which appear to have been considerable. In the aftermath of the battle of Poitiers, for instance, we know that Thomas captured the archbishop of Sens who eventually paid £8,000 for his freedom, whilst he also won three-quarters of the ransom of the Bishop of Le Mans, which netted the earl a further £3,000. In the 1960s, debate raged amongst historians as to who, if anyone, gained financially from the Hundred Years' War. McFarlane put forward the hypothesis that the crown and certain members of the nobility did very well out of higher taxes, and ransoms, and Thomas' experience would support this theory. Whilst this notion was famously questioned by Postan, both did agree that, at least, in the first two or three decades of the Hundred Years War, there was a substantial amount of money coming in from abroad. Certainly the earl of Warwick did considerably well out of Poitiers at least, especially when one considers that the earl had fought so long throughout the battle ‘that his hand was galled with the exercise of his sword and poll axe’.

Given that his family's crusading tradition was amongst ‘the longest and the most consistent’ of all the higher nobility, it is hardly surprising that the most martial of our three earls should have chosen to further enhance his family's crusading credentials. In 1365, Thomas took advantage of the lull in hostilities between England and France by embarking on a three year expedition to join the crusades of the Teutonic knights in Lithuania, bringing with him an army of no less than ‘300 horse for his attendants and train; which consisted of knights, esquires, archers, friends and servants’, supposedly returning with a son of the Lithuanian king, who was christened in London with the name Thomas, with the earl acting as godfather. By the time of his death in 1369, Beauchamp had undoubtedly earned a reputation as the most feared soldier in the English army, and it was in this year that he oversaw the devastation of Caux whilst serving as a member of John of Gaunt's expedition. Beauchamp was clearly seen by chroniclers and opponents alike as the most formidable of Edward II's commanders: ‘a man who possessed a military élan of a kind which can never be attributed to John of Gaunt’ who, on arriving at Tourneham, on the French coast, to find a stand-off between the English and French armies, mocked Lancaster and Hereford by asking how long they intended on doing nothing, and boasted ‘that if the French remained as they were for two days, he would have them dead or alive’. Walsingham goes further in his account, claiming that the French were so terrified by reports of the arrival of the earl of Warwick, that they fled even before he had time to disembark.

Earl Thomas died of plague whilst on this expedition, in November 1369. In his will, dated two months previously, he requested that he be buried in the collegiate church of Warwick, the first Beauchamp earl to request this, and bequeathed that his executors build a new choir in the same church which in Dugdale's time still boasted pictures of Thomas' daughters ‘curiously drawn and set up in the windows’. He requested that every church in each of his manors be given ‘his best beast to be found there, in satisfaction of tithes forgotten and not paid’, a distinct sign that he did not trust his own officers, the reeves or bailiffs, who should have paid the tithes. A further demand that his executors ‘should make full satisfaction to every man, whom he had in any sort wronged’ shows that he might well have turned a blind eye to the abuse of power by those who acted in his name. He also asked that his executors cause masses to be sung for his soul and distribute alms for its health, ‘especially at Bordesley, Worcester and Warwick’. The list of Beauchamp's goods which he bequeathed gives some idea of the opulence which he enjoyed: amongst them ‘twenty-four dishes and as many more saucers of silver’, golden rings, ornate crosses and religious relics were all to be distributed. The bequests also give an idea of the supreme social circle in which he existed: his son William inherited a casket of gold with a relic of St George which Thomas of Lancaster had given him at his christening; John Buckingham, bishop of Lincoln, gained a cross of gold, which the Lady Segrave had given him, and reputedly had ‘sometime been the good King Edward's; and his daughter Philippa de Stafford received "an ouche called the eagle" which had been given him by Edward the Black Prince alongside "a set of beads of gold, with buckles" which the queen had given him’.

Thomas, like so many other members of the higher nobility from the mid-fourteenth century attempted to determine how his estates would be handled after his death. He did this on a number of occasions, in order to make provisions for all of his children. In April 1344, he jointly enfeoffed the bulk of his lands to himself, with successive remainders to his son and heir Guy and then his other sons. He set aside lands in South Taunton and Carnanton, and the Cornish manors of Blisland and Helston, to be given after his death directly to his son Thomas, with remainder to Reinbrun. Reinbrun in turn was to receive the Rutland manors of Barrowden and Greetham along with Wrangdyke hundred in the same county. He furthermore settled a group of Worcestershire manors on himself and his wife, thereby providing Katherine with a jointure. As the Beauchamp family circumstances changed, this arrangement was revised; Guy's death in 1360 left Thomas as the main heir, but there were two younger sons who were clearly reaching the age of majority, and these had to be accommodated. Already in 1356, William and Roger were mentioned in the re-enfeoffment of Gower, which was made into a jointure between him and his wife in tail male. The position of Roger, being the youngest of five sons, at this time must have appeared rather tenuous, and so it was probably for this reason that his uncle, John Beauchamp, specified him as his heir to a purchase of a £40 rent in 1360. Meanwhile, from 1358 to 1361, his brother William was at Oxford being groomed for the church; as such he became the first peer known to have a university education. He was already in possession of a canonry at Sarum when the death of two of his elder brothers reduced the potential future pressure on the Warwick estates, and it was safe for him to follow the family's martial traditions and become a knight. In his father's will, provisions were made for Beauchamp's executors to provide William with lands worth 400 marks per annum, a bequest which McFarlane estimates as a capital loss of more than £5,000 from the earldom. Clearly his father's generosity was only possible because, by 1369, William was his only surviving younger son.

In July 1345, Thomas Beauchamp also attempted to make provision for his daughters in the event of his death. He created a trust in which Elizabeth, who was to marry John Beauchamp of Hatch, received £1,200; Matilda, who was to marry Roger Clifford, received 1,000 marks; likewise Philippa, who was to marry Hugh de Stafford; and Katherine, who even at this point might have been destined for a convent, was to receive £200. This presumably expired after the twelve years stated in the agreement, and the future of the daughters in question had been settled. The earl's financial situation had clearly greatly improved by the 1350s, for when Philippa finally did marry Hugh de Stafford in 1353, her portion was £2,000, three times the amount the earl had provided in 1345. For the most part, the earl used his daughters as means of attracting eligible son-in-laws or rewarding his supporters. Philippa's marriage to Hugh, earl of Stafford, served to cement an alliance between two great midland families of national importance. Joan's marriage to Ralph Basset of Drayton was intended to ease relations between the two neighbouring families who had not always been allies, and also secured a jointure for the bride of Buckby, Moulton in Northamptonshire, Olney in Buckinghamshire, and the Staffordshire manor of Walsall, with a reversion to the Beauchamps if the male line expired. Thomas vigorously used his children's marriages as a means of extending his own considerable land holdings. The Beauchamp family's patrimony was the sole consideration in his dealings and the individuals involved in the marriages sometimes suffered harsh consequences as a result of this policy. This is evident in his treatment of his daughter Margaret, and the young family of Guy, his eldest son. Thomas had obtained a highly prestigious wedding for Margaret with Guy de Montfort, a Warwickshire family who had been the Beauchamps' tenants and associates for generations. As part of the marriage settlement, a jointure of the entire De Montfort estate was arranged consisting of five Warwickshire manors, two Nottinghamshire manors, two manors in Rutland and one in Surrey, with reversion back to the earldom if the line should die out. When Guy died in 1361, the estates were then the property of Margaret, who, it would appear, was sent by her father into a religious life at Shouldham, where she was still living when he wrote his will in 1369, allowing the De Montfort estates to be absorbed into the Warwick fief.

Philippa de Ferrers had married Sir Guy de Beauchamp, son and heir of the earl of Warwick, at some point before 1353. She was the daughter of Henry Ferrers of Groby, a lesser noble family with a record of administrative and military service. Guy's portion, like his brother Thomas, who married Philippa's niece, was ‘unlikely to have been large’, at least according to McFarlane. However, by an agreement of 1340, Henry de Ferrers acknowledged that he owed the earl 5,000 marks, as did a certain Thomas de Ferrers, presumably a kinsman, and Ralph de Hastyng, sheriff of York. It is possible that this might be a record of some part of the marriage settlement, but even if this is unrelated, it shows that Henry de Ferrers was able to make financial deals with Earl Thomas involving substantial sums of money, and we should not be so naive as to believe that he married his daughter into the ranks of the higher nobility with a less than appropriate settlement. The result of this union were three children, Margaret, Katherine and Elizabeth, the latter two aged 7 and 1¾ respectively at the time of their father's death in 1359. That Guy should die, leaving a young family, and no male heir, was clearly a cause for concern for the earl. Cokayne points out that Guy's daughter Katherine was entitled de jure to the title of the Warwick earldom, although the estates were not in danger of passing to her because of the 1344 entail discussed above. Doubtlessly at her father-in-law's insistence, Phillippa made a solemn vow of chastity on 11 August 1360, before Reginald Bryan, Bishop of Worcester, at the collegiate church in Warwick, which, it would appear, she kept until her death in 1384. Guy's two daughters were both nuns at Shouldham, and it would appear that Katherine was the only one to survive infancy, living there until at least April 1400. Her titular right to the earldom of Warwick was explicitly recognised in May 1398 by Richard II, when he gave her a life pension of 40 marks per annum. on account of her being ‘a daughter of Guy de Warrewyke and kinswoman and heir of the last earl of Warwick, and because she cannot enjoy aught of her inheritance’.

It would not be unreasonable to say that life was kinder to those members of the family whose actions did not threaten the stability of the Warwick estates. John Atherston, Thomas' illegitimate son, was taken care of after his father's death by his half-brother Earl Thomas [II], who gave him a rent in Worcestershire and probably used his influence to secure a captaincy for Atherston of a castle in the Calais March, whilst Mary, another illegitimate daughter, received respectable gentry status by marring Sir Richard Herthull, a knight and close associate of her father. Reinbrun's daughter Eleanor, probably illegitimate, for there is no record of a marriage or of her mother, likewise married a knight in her grandfather's Buckinghamshire manor of Hanslope, had a daughter called Emma, who, according to Dugdale, married a man named Forster ‘from whom the Forsters of Hanslope owe their descent’. It was the earl's legitimate heirs who were occasionally forced into the priesthood, or a far away nunnery.

There is a common thread that binds the first three earls of Warwick and the century from 1268 to 1369. All were remarkable warriors whose undoubted skill on the battlefield earned them substantial rewards from both Edward I and Edward III. They were, by nature, faithful supporters of the crown; we must remember that Earl Guy opposed Edward II after years of faithful service to Edward I. They were also helped greatly by fortune; invariably the Beauchamp earls had fewer sons than they did daughters, so that Guy was the only son of William's to reach manhood, and Guy and Thomas each produced one surviving younger son who outlived them. Both John Beauchamp and William Lord Abergavenny were notable men in their own right who enhanced the family name and gained lands which eventually were brought back into the family fief. The Beauchamp family escaped the fate of less fortunate families, who broke up their estates in the desire to endow a multitude of sons. Furthermore, by the middle of the fourteenth century, the earl was quick to utilise new legal developments which gave him greater control over how his estates were to be handled after his death. He was able to use enfeoffment to specify how his lands were to be distributed after his death, firstly in order to provide land for his younger sons, and secondly to prevent the possibility of a female heir, following the death of his eldest son. By 1369, the earl was using his will in order to stipulate the settlement he had decided for his younger son. Earl Thomas' use of new legal formulas is remarked upon by Bean who writes that ‘whereas Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, in 1345 employed an indenture with his feoffees to raise dowries for his daughters after his death, twenty-four years later he bequeathed lands to a younger son by means of directions to his feoffees which were incorporated within his testament’. By the only time in our period when there was the possibility of a future drain on the Warwick estates through an excess of younger sons, the earl was using the latest legal solutions available to keep his patrimony secure, and his children provided for.

All in all, the year 1369 seems to mark a temporary watershed in the Beauchamp family's fortunes. With Thomas' death ended the 1,000 marks per annum cash supplement which the family had been used to, and William's endowment deprived Warwick of a further 400 marks per annum. Neither did the second Earl Thomas have the advantage of the shrievalty of Warwickshire and Leicestershire, or indeed the personal qualities of his father and grandfather. Thomas [II] is best remembered by history as Warwick the Appellant, who spent the final years of Richard II's reign imprisoned and with his estates confiscated. It was left to Richard, earl of Warwick, to revive the Beauchamps' fortunes in the fifteenth century.

Back to Home