Historical reputations are often made or destroyed by historians. Sometimes, as in the case of King Richard III, attempts are made to reclaim those reputations and one of the reasons I became interested in Alice de Lacy is that so many derogatory comments have been written about her by chroniclers and historians that I feel she needs someone to re-assess what is known about her.
Alice de Lacy was the daughter of Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, and Margaret Longespee, Countess of Salisbury. She was their only surviving heir and was married at the age of 13 years to the King’s (Edward I) nephew, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. The marriage was not a happy one and Alice may have had a relationship with the Eble le Strange, the man who became her second husband, whilst she was still married to, but shunned by, Thomas.
Thomas, who went on to be acclaimed as a saint for a time, is known to have had mistresses and illegitimate children during the time he was married to Alice, yet he is barely criticised at all. Alice, on the other hand, is written about in scathing terms.
The chronicler, Thomas of Walsingham, writing about a hundred years later says: she, who during the while of her life had been considered the noblest of noble ladies, suddenly by a turn of the wheel of fortune, by this shame is acclaimed by the whole world to be the foulest whore.
Thomas Dunham Whitaker accepts this as fact. He says: Of Alice de Lacy there is a very disgraceful story told by Walsingham; and, were it either pleasant or edifying to rake into the dust of libraries for ancient scandal, I could relate more to the same purpose than has ever yet appeared.
From the Battle Abbey Roll: that she had always been well ‘reputed’ is, on the other hand, a glaring and complete falsehood. She was a woman of notoriously bad character, repudiated by the Earl several years before his death, who ‘lived in unlawful familiarity with Eubolo Le Strange’, her second husband, long before she married him.
And we cannot just blame ancient and prejudiced male chroniclers and historians. More recently, Alison Weir wrote: Lestraunge lost no time in proclaiming to the world that he had slept with her before her marriage, and in so doing severely compromised her reputation. This is untrue, as she mixes up the name of Eble le Strange with an old story concerning a man named Richard de St Martin who claimed to have known Alice de Lacy ‘carnally’ before her marriage to Thomas of Lancaster. If you recall, she was married to Thomas at 13 years old so this is not likely to be true, but is an example of how the historians of the time strove to destroy Alice’s reputation.
So, why do historians hate Alice so much? Perhaps the simple answer is because she was a woman and women were supposed to tolerate abuse and bad behaviour from their husbands without ever trying to find happiness. Maybe she did have a relationship with Eble whilst she was still married to Thomas, but can she be entirely blamed? Does she deserve her reputation?
I wrote Favoured Beyond Fortune to tell her story and the stories of those who surrounded her at a time of political intrigue during the years when Edward II inherited the throne from his father and when he was seen as a weak king by those who sought to overthrow him. The leader of the rebellion against him was Thomas of Lancaster. If he had been successful at Boroughbridge, Alice de Lacy would have been Queen of England. But he was defeated and Alice is mostly forgotten except for these few extracts that say nothing good about her character. I think she deserves better.