Edward I Marries Eleanor of Castile: The 16 Children of the King of England

by AlexandriaIngham

On November 1, 1254, Edward I married his first wife, Eleanor of Castile. They had 16 children together but it was their youngest who became the next king!

In the 1200s, England’s place in the world was still on relatively rocky territory. Henry III knew this and realised an invasion of Gascony from Castile was possible. England couldn’t afford this so the king played politics with the King of Castile. He offered his son has a marriage prospect for King Alfonso X of Castile’s half-sister, Eleanor. Alfonso agreed and Edward and Eleanor married on November 1, 1254.

Not only did it stop a possible invasion, it also led to 16 children being born. Surprisingly it was the youngest, Edward, who succeeded Edward I’s throne. Nine of the children died before reaching adulthood.

The Stillbirths/Infant Deaths

The children who died before they turned one year old.

Manuscript of Edward I and Eleanor of CastileUnfortunately, there is no cause for the deaths of six stillborns or infant deaths. The first three children, all girls, of Edward and Eleanor died within their first year. Their first wasn’t even named and it is unknown whether she died at the time of birth or shortly afterwards. Both Katherine and Joan, who were at least three months old, were buried at Westminster Abbey.

The fourth was another daughter, who wasn’t named. She died within her first month and was buried at Westminster Abbey like her sisters. Number five was another daughter, named Juliana, who was just around three months old at the time of her death. She was born and died while the king and queen were on a campaign in Acre, Israel.

The final one to die within the first year of life was a boy—the only boy to die so young. Unlike many other boys born at the time, this one was not named. It is possible that he just died too quickly. However, there is also the possibility that this boy never existed, as there is very little evidence to support him. If he did die, he would have likely have been born somewhere at Westminster Abbey.

The Common Childhood Deaths

Edward I and Eleanor of Castile had four children who survived infancy but didn't last until adulthood.

Henry, Prince of England, on the family treeThe Middle Ages are full of children dying within their childhood years. They would pick up illnesses that they couldn’t recover from and the medical knowledge just wasn’t as good as it is now. This was a reason for people to have so many children, despite the risks to the mother’s life.

Edward and Eleanor were no strangers to this type of loss. Four of their children died within the ages of one and 11 years old.

The first was their first son, John, born on July 13, 1266. His birth would have been a big celebration as he would have been the next in line to the throne after his father—Henry III was still alive at this time—but it didn’t stopped the couple trying for more children, especially after the events of their first three children. John, unfortunately, died while being looked after by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who was also his granduncle, on August 3, 1271.

Their second son, Henry, named after Edward’s father, seemed to be the heir that they had waited for. He lived to see three siblings born until he turned eight years old. Henry was born on May 6,1268, while his older brother was still living. He soon found himself go from the third in line to the second in line to the throne and the heir apparent upon the death of Henry III of England.

Henry was looked after by his grandmother, Eleanor of Province, since his parents were on the crusade at the time. His parents didn’t even return home to spend his last days with him. However, considering his grandmother had always been around, she would have been more familiar and a comfort to him. Henry was simply a sickly boy who died on October 14, 1274, with his grandmother around.

Alphonso's coat of armsThe next child to die before adulthood was Alphonso, named after Eleanor’s half-brother. He was 11 years old at the time of his death on August 19, 1284. At the time of his birth on November 24, 1273, he became heir apparent as the only living boy at the time. It all seemed to go so well. Unlike his brothers, Alphonso was a healthy child and was betrothed to Margaret, Floris V, Count of Holland’s daughter when he was 10 years old. However, Alphonso died of natural causes just a few months before their wedding was due to take place.

The fourth child was a girl, named Berengaria. Very little is known about her, except that she was born in May 1276 and died sometime between June 7, 1277 and 1278. Like the rest of her siblings, she was buried at Westminster Abbey.

The Six Children to Survive

There were six children to go on and live until their adult years--despite some of them dying very young compared to people of today. Only one of those was a boy, Edward II of England.

Six children are left—five girls and one boy.

Eleanor, Countess of Bar

Eleanor, Countess of Bar, on the family treeThe first of those was Eleanor, named after her mother and paternal grandmother. She was born in June 1369 and went onto marry Henry III, Count of Bar in 1293. She grew up extremely close to her grandmother, Eleanor, since her parents spent much time away during the crusades. She was also close to her brother, Henry, who was sickly much of the time but a good companion for the English princess.

Eleanor was betrothed to another before Henry III, Count of Bar, to Alfonso III of Aragon. However, Edward I refused to allow his daughter to marry him while Alfonso’s parents were under a papal interdict. One of his reasons given, though, was that his daughter was too young, at the age of 13, and he wanted to wait longer. Alfonso died before they could be married.

Eleanor and Henry’s children are a cause for debate. While there are two known children, Edward I, Count of Bar, and Joan, there is another disputed daughter called Eleanor. She apparently married a Welshman and was a descendant of Henry VII of England. It is possible that the people during the Tudor years made this daughter up as a way to give Henry VII a royal bloodline and stronger claim to the throne.

Eleanor died at the age of 29 on August 29, 1298 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Joan of Acre

The second to survive adulthood was Joan of Acre in 1272. At the time of her birth, her parents were on the crusade. They took her to Spain where she was then left in the care of Eleanor’s mother, Joan, Countess of Ponthieu. She was raised by her namesake in France and received a good education but was also doted on and spoilt by her maternal grandmother.

She returned to England when she was five so she could meet her betrothed, King Rudolph I of Germany’s son, Hartman. However, she barely knew her parents since she had spent so much time with her grandmother and was distance from them the whole time. Hartman never made it to England, as he died before he had a chance to.

The Earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare, was Edward I’s second choice for a husband. Despite being 30 years older than Joan, they did marry and had four children together. After her husband’s death, Joan married Ralph de Monthermer for love but in secret. It caused a number of problems for the couple as the marriage was not to Edward’s advantage. However, the two did have four children together. Joan died, possibly during childbirth, on April 23, 1307.  Unlike her siblings, Joan was buried at Augustintian priory, Clare.

Margaret, Duchess of Brabant

Daughter number three to survive and marry was Margaret, who was born around March 15, 1275. Margaret had known her husband for some time and they often wrote to each other during their betrothal. You would be forgiven to think that this would set up a good marriage but it didn’t.

After their marriage on July 8, 1290, Margaret found that she didn’t enjoy her life. John II of Brabant took a number of mistresses and had a string of illegitimate children; Margaret simply had to accept that. It took 10 years for them to have a child of their one, a son.

Margaret died on March 11, 1333, 22 years after her husband. She was living in Belgium at the time and was buried at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels. Since her death, her tomb has been destroyed, along with that of her husband’s.

Mary of Woodstock

Mary was Edward I’s seventh named daughter and is the fourth on the list of surviving children. At the time of her birth in March 1279, Mary’s grandmother, Eleanor, had retired to Amesbury priory and wanted Mary to become a nun there. She was dedicated to the priory when she was seven and became a formally veiled nun at the age of 12.

Mary did live in extremely comfortable quarters and had double the allowance of other nuns. It helped that her parents paid £100 annually throughout her life. After the death of Eleanor of Province, many expected Mary to move to Fontevrault but Edward refused to allow that to happen. Instead, he doubled her allowance!

Mary died around 1332, which is when a rumour started by John de Warenne that he had had an affair with Mary. He was attempting to divorce her niece, Joan, at the time. There were papal mandates to inquire into the allegations but there was never any truth to the rumour established.

Elizabeth of Rhuddlan

Just two years older than her brother, Edward, Elizabeth was the closest to him in age and personally. She was just three years old when Edward I decided who she would marry: John I, Count of Holland. Floris V accepted the proposal and John moved to England where he could be educated. The two married on January 8, 1297.

Elizabeth was supposed to move to Holland with her husband but she refused to. She did eventually move to be with him. There were no children and John died within a few years of the marriage. Rumours spread that he was murdered but he most likely died of dysentery.

When Elizabeth returned to England, her mother had died and Edward I had married Margaret of France. Elizabeth instantly became friends with her step-mother and they were inseparable. This possibly helped set up her second marriage to Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford. The two married on November 14, 1302 and had 11 children together. It was their 11th child that contributed to her death. Both mother and baby died shortly after the birth on May 5, 1316.

Edward II of England

Edward II of EnglandFinally, Edward II was born. His older brother, Alfonso, was still alive at the time but he quickly found himself as heir apparent. Unfortunately, Edward didn’t make a very good king, especially when compared to his father. He married his wife, Isabella of France on January 25, 1308, which would prove to be the worst decision he could make.

Despite having four children together, Isabella knew that her husband was a weak king. She left England, along with her children behind. When agreeing to a peace treaty, Edward sent his eldest son, Prince Edward. Isabella used that to her advantage, betrayed her husband and had him deposed with the help of others to place her eldest son on the throne, making him Edward III of England.

Edward was imprisoned for the rest of his life. He died around September 21, 1327; at least that is when Edward III found out about his father’s death. There is no definite cause of death, with many chroniclers not giving one. Some give torturous ways that he was killed and possibly murder by suffocation or strangulation.

There is much more to come about Edward II of England, as I find out much more about him and the events that led to his wife betraying him in such a way.

With 16 children, it may sound surprising that Edward I and Eleanor of Castile only had one boy who survived childhood—and it was a boy who didn’t make a favourable King of England. However, it didn’t bring an end to the House of Plantagenet.

Updated: 11/01/2013, AlexandriaIngham
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AlexandriaIngham on 11/01/2013

I know very little about his reign but from reading the stuff for this peace, I don't think I could remain objective enough to write about him. my heart broke at the thought of poor little Henry dying without his parents caring enough (at least that's the way it seemed) to see him and wee Joan not even feeling close to her parents.

I came across the list of all the children and of course curiosity got the better of me when realising Edward I I was there youngest son. I just had to do some more digging.

You're welcome.

JoHarrington on 11/01/2013

I feel duty-bound to spit at any mention of Edward I. Nasty man. However, I didn't know about all of those dead children. I was too side-tracked by his actions in Wales to notice much about the home-life.

Thanks for the education.

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