A little while ago I wrote an article about how badly middle children were treated in the Middle Ages. I got to musing on this point again this week, mainly because my baby sister was being her usual grandparent-cum-babysitter-hogging self.
I was, of course, being unfair to my baby sister; I know this because my mum-cum-grandparent-cum-can’t-babysit-because-your-sister-might-need-me told me so.
This got me running for the history books – my own form of escapism – and I decided to look into younger siblings throughout history. I was amazed at how loyal, loving and unspoilt baby brothers were in Medieval times (does the sarcasm come across ok? IT SHOULD!).
Baby brothers were always very helpful, loyal and supportive. Look at Henry I. On his death William the Conqueror left Normandy to his eldest son Robert Curthose, and he left England to his second son, William II Rufus.
Henry, who was son no. 3, was supportive of this and in no way resentful. Staying in England, he followed his older brother, William, everywhere. It must have been some sort of hero-worship, as Henry was always close by. In fact, he was so close to William that he was with him when William was ‘accidentally’ struck by an arrow in the New Forest.
Henry was so distraught by his brother’s death that he forgot his duty to look after his brother’s body. Not knowing what he was doing, he rode wildly away and somehow managed to find himself in Winchester.
Luckily this was where the Royal Treasury was held.
Henry came to his senses in Winchester and decided the sensible thing was to take control of the Treasury and get himself crowned at Westminster Abbey as soon as possible. He knew this what was William would have wanted. After all he’d spent most of his reign arguing with their older brother, Robert, so he wouldn’t have wanted him to be king.
And then there was Robert…..
Having taken on the onerous duties of kingship, Henry realised what a hard and difficult life it was. He didn’t want any one else to have to go through the hardships he was enduring, not even his brother the Duke of Normandy. After an hour-long battle – oops, I meant ‘discussion’ – at Tinchebray Henry very kindly took over the running of Normandy and sent Robert to Devizes Castle – and Spa – for the next 20 years, and then onto a hotel called the Cardiff Castle.
Of course, one of the better younger brothers was John, brother of Richard I. When Richard went on crusade to the holy Land, John did his best to look after Richard’s kingdom, even though he hadn’t been asked. He kept Richard’s enemies quiet by plotting with them – although he was never going to go through with the plots. He looked after some castles – such as Nottingham – so that Richard’s civil servants had their hands free to do other tasks.
Even more helpfully John, knowing how onerous it was to run a country, tried his best to use his own money – and that of the king of France – in order to extend Richard’s holiday in Germany. Richard was having such a good time that John felt it a shame his holiday would ever have to finish.
There were, of course, younger brothers who took advantage of their older sibling’s generosity. Edward Bruce, for example, liked the idea of having a crown of his own and asked his older brother, Robert, to help him claim one by giving him an army to invade Ireland. Unfortunately, Edward got carried away and lost his head.
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, also asked older brothers, Henry V and John Duke of Bedford, to help him carve out a little country for himself after he married Jacqueline de Hainault. Jacqueline had been chased out of her own country by her husband (her other husband, not Duke Humphrey) and her uncle.
Humphrey tried his best to win the country back for Jacqueline, until he got distracted by Jacqueline’s lady-in-waiting, Eleanor de Cobham. Humphrey lost interest in his wife’s Dutch lands and legged it back to Ol’ Blighty and, on finding out he wasn’t actually married to Jacqueline as she already had a husband, married Eleanor.
And now we come to the best little brother of all……
He was loyal and faithful throughout his brother’s two kingships. Richard of Gloucester did everything for his bog brother Edward. He hero-worshipped him; followed him into exiled; ran the North of England for Edward so that Edward had more leisure-time.
He was a model baby brother and that didn’t end with Edward’s premature death at the age of 40 (probably because he didn’t have enough leisure-time).
Richard obviously thought that Edward had died from over-work. He blamed all those around Edward who had not told the king to ‘take a rest’ regularly. When he came to London to commiserate with his beloved sister-in-law, Richard punished those he blamed for his brother’s early death.
Edward’s mistress, Jane Shore, who obviously had failed to make sure Edward was in bed nice and early, was made to do penance and walk through the city barefoot. Richard was so mad at Edward’s best friend – for not making sure the king took his ease after a hard day’s work – that he relieved the man of his head.
The grieving Duke then turned to his little nephews.
Richard couldn’t bear the thought of little Edward V having to go through the life his father had endured.
One afternoon, when taking tea with Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Richard came up with a plan for helping Edward. Elizabeth was reminiscing on her wedding day, and how the sun was shining, how no one knew about it – she even mused on how much fun it was, keeping the secret. Richard jokingly said ‘it’s a wonder Edward hadn’t done that before’ and giggled.
Then he turned pensive and ….. well, you know the rest.
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Jeff R Sun still has no babysitter
Sources: Cairo in Spring by JAH; Cairo in Summer by A Carson; The Best Spa Resorts in Germany by Richard T Lionheart; The best Spa Resorts in the UK by Robert C Hose; How to Invade a Country Without Success by Edward Bruce and Humphrey Gloucester
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia