Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Eleanor of Woodstock: Princess and Regent

Eleanor of Woodstock, countess of Guelders (born 18 June 1318)


The daughter of the ill-fated Edward II of England and Isabella of France, the "she wolf" we've already met, Eleanor of Woodstock was the third child and first daughter of this unhappily married pair. 

An early-fourteenth-century
miniature of Eleanor of Woodstock,
from a Book of Hours
Eleanor became the second wife of Reginald "the Black" of Guelders. The two were married in 1332. The count had four daughters by his first wife, and Eleanor obligingly provided him with two sons, giving birth to the first in 1334, the second in 1336. 

Her husband proved to be as problematic as his name suggests--although he was "the black" because of his dark complexion, his behavior was equally dark. Even before the marriage was arranged, he couldn't wait to become count of Guelders, so he had seized power and imprisoned his father for six years, from 1318 to 1326 (Reginald didn't release his father from prison, his father died).

Reginald the Black proved no kinder to Eleanor. He dismissed her from court in 1338 (after she had given birth to the two sons), then claimed she had leprosy so he could have the marriage annulled. She managed to prove she didn't have leprosy by stripping down in court to reveal her body, unmarked by the disease. The annulment was denied, and Reginald was supposed to receive her again as his wife.

Whether they were reconciled or not, Reginald died in a riding accident in 1343. Eleanor of Woodstock then became regent of Guelders for her eldest son (unfortunately, another Reginald, this one later to be known as "Reginald the Fat"). 

Eleanor was forced to resign as regent in 1344. In 1350, with her encouragement, Eleanor's younger son, Edward, rebelled against his elder brother. During this period of civil conflict, Reginald confiscated all of his widowed mother's wealth, and she found refuge in the Cistercian abbey of Deventer, which she had founded and where she died in poverty on 22 April 1355.

(Edward defeated his older brother in 1361, captured him, and imprisoned Reginald. It was during this imprisonment that he became "the fat"--he supposedly became so fat that he couldn't have escaped even if his prison door had been left open. But Edward died in 1371, and Reginald was released--he regained his role as count of Guelders, but died almost immediately.) 

And one further note: it's hard to say much about Reginald the Black's first wife, Sophia Berthout. She seems to have been born about 1303, she was married about 1325, she gave birth to four daughters (1326, 1327, 1328 and 1329), and then died, early in May 1329, at age 26.

There are a few bits and pieces about Eleanor of Woodstock in Alison Weir's biography of her mother, Isabella of France. The longest account is in volume 3 (1857) of Mary Anne Everett Green's The Lives of the Princesses of England; although published in the mid-nineteenth century, Green's account relies for detail on chronicles written in Guelders at the time of Eleanor's life there. Green's Lives is available through Google Books, and you can access it by clicking here.