by Susan Flantzer
The life of Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent ended with his execution by beheading, but he is rarely mentioned among the beheaded English royals. He was born at Woodstock Palace near Oxford, England on August 5, 1301, the second of the three children of King Edward I of England and his second wife Margaret of France.
Edmund had 14-16 half-siblings by his father’s first marriage to Eleanor of Castile, but only six survived childhood:
- Daughter (stillborn in May 1255)
- Katherine (before 1264 – 1264)
- Joan (born and died 1265)
- John (1266 – 1271)
- Henry (1268 – 1274)
- Eleanor (1269 – 1298), married Count Henry III of Bar, had issue
- Daughter (born and died 1271)
- Joan of Acre (1272 – 1307), married (1) in 1290 Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford, had issue (2) in 1297 Ralph de Monthermer, 1st Baron Monthermer, had issue
- Alphonso, Earl of Chester (1273 – 1284)
- Margaret (1275 – after 1333), married John II of Brabant, had issue
- Berengaria (1276 – 1278)
- Daughter (born and died 1278)
- Mary of Woodstock (1279 – 1332), a Benedictine nun in Amesbury, Wiltshire
- Son (born in 1280 or 1281 who died very shortly after birth)
- Elizabeth of Rhuddlan (1282 – 1316), married (1) in 1297 John I, Count of Holland, no issue (2) in 1302 Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford, 3rd Earl of Essex, had issue
- King Edward II of England (1284 – 1327), married Isabella of France, had issue including King Edward III of England
Edmund had one older brother and one younger sister:
- Thomas of Brotherton, 1st Earl of Norfolk (1300 – 1338), married (1) Alice de Hales, had issue (2) Mary de Brewes, no surviving issue
- Eleanor of England (1306 – 1311), died young
Edmund’s brother Thomas of Brotherton was only a year older and the two grew up in a household together, complete with luxuries as befitted their status as a king’s son. However, they were not the important royal children. That role went to their much older half-brother Edward, Prince of Wales who was the only surviving son of Edward I’s first marriage to Eleanor of Castile.
In the summer of 1307, Edmund’s mother Margaret accompanied his father Edward I on a military campaign in Scotland. On the way to Scotland, the 68-year-old king died on July 7, 1307 at Burgh by Sands in Cumbria, England. Edmund’s half-brother succeeded to the throne as King Edward II. Edmund’s elder brother Thomas was now the heir presumptive to the throne. Edward I had intended to give Thomas the title Earl of Cornwall, but instead the new King Edward II bestowed the title upon his favorite Piers Gaveston along with the lands that brought Gaveston a substantial income. Many people, including Edmund and Thomas’ mother, now the dowager queen, were infuriated that such an important title had been given to a person that was not family. In 1312, Piers Gaveston, the favorite of Edmund’s half-brother King Edward II, was hunted down and executed by a group of barons led by Edward’s uncle Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster and Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick. Eventually, Edward II provided annual grants for his half-brother Edmund and in 1321 gave him the strategically important Gloucester Castle and created him Earl of Kent.
In December of 1325, Edmund married Margaret Wake, 3rd Baroness Wake of Liddell. Edmund and Margaret had four children including Joan of Kent who was the mother of King Richard II:
- Edmund, 2nd Earl of Kent (1326 – 1331), died young
- Margaret of Kent (1327 – 1352)
- Joan, 4th Countess of Kent (1328 – 1385), married (1) Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent, had issue (2) Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince), son of King Edward III, had issue including King Richard II of England
- John, 3rd Earl of Kent (1330 – 1352), married Isabella of Jülich, no issue
Edmund, 1st Earl of Kent played an important role during the reign of his half-brother King Edward II, acting both as a diplomat and a military commander. He accompanied the king on a military campaign to Scotland in 1322 and was instrumental in raising troops for many campaigns. When the marriage of King Edward II’s son, Edward, Prince of Wales, to Philippa of Hainault was being arranged in 1325, Edmund went to Hainault with Queen Isabella and her son to negotiate the marriage contract.
After the execution of Piers Gaveston in 1312, Hugh Despenser the Elder became part of King Edward II’s inner circle, marking the beginning of the Despensers’ increased prominence at Edward’s court. His son, Hugh Despenser the Younger, became a favorite of Edward II. Edward was willing to let the Despensers do as they pleased, and they grew rich from their administration and corruption. Edmund and his brother Thomas of Brotherton became victims of the Despencers’ greed when Hugh Despenser the Elder stole some of their land. Edmund and Thomas then allied themselves with Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March when they invaded England in 1326. With their mercenary army, Isabella and Mortimer quickly seized power from King Edward II. King Edward II was forced to abdicate in 1327, his son was crowned as King Edward III, and Isabella and Mortimer served as regents for the teenage king. Edmund was present at his nephew’s coronation and received grants of land that had been forfeited property of the Despencers.
In 1329, Edmund had been persuaded by an unknown friar that his half-brother Edward II was still alive and set about raising forces to free him and restore him to the throne. It later emerged that Roger Mortimer himself was responsible for leading Edmund to believe the former king was still alive, in a form of entrapment. Edmund, 1st Earl of Kent, aged 28, was executed by beheading for high treason at Winchester Castle on March 19, 1330. Apparently, the execution had to be held up for a day because no one wanted to be responsible for a prince’s death. Eventually, a convicted murderer agreed to be the executioner in return for a pardon. Edmund was initially buried at the Franciscan Friary in Winchester, but in 1331 his remains were moved to Westminster Abbey.
Edmund’s wife Margaret was pregnant at the time of her husband’s execution and was confined to Arundel Castle with her young children where her last child was born. After Edmund’s execution, the nobles begged the young King Edward III to assert his independence, which he did shortly before his 18th birthday. In October of 1330, a Parliament was summoned to Nottingham Castle, and Mortimer and Isabella were seized by Edward and the nobles. Isabella begged for mercy for Mortimer, but he was accused of assuming royal power and of various other crimes and was condemned without trial and hanged. Isabella was held under a comfortable house arrest until her death in 1358. After King Edward III regained his independence from his mother and Mortimer, he took in Margaret and her children and treated them as his own family. Edmund’s daughter Joan and her siblings grew up with Edward III’s children, including Edward, Prince of Wales, Joan’s future husband.
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