05 March 2015

Today's Princess: Elizabeth de Burgh, 4th Countess of Ulster

Arms of Lionel of Antwerp
By Sodacan via Wikimedia Commons
The life of a medieval heiress could be a dangerous one, as powerful men and ambitious men vied to control her and her fortune. For Elizabeth de Burgh (1332-1363), who became the 4th Countess of Ulster when she was just a baby, she was blessed by having a very well-connected mother, Maud of Lancaster, granddaughter of King Henry III's son Edmund Duke of Lancaster and the French Princess Blanche of Artois. Earlier, I wrote that Blanche was the mother of the House of Lancaster (see her post.) Through Elizabeth, she also was an ancestress of the House of York.

Elizabeth had been born in her father's lands in Ireland, but she was not even a year old when he was murdered by vengeful relatives. Maud grabbed her baby and fled back to England and the protection of her cousin, King Edward III. Maud had made the right decision as war for control of the family estates broke out among the de Burgh (also called Burke) kinsmen for the next five years, ultimately causing the family to lose almost everything.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth grew up among the various royal and noble children of Edward's extended court, and early on she was engaged to the king's second son, Lionel of Antwerp, who was later created Duke of Clarence. The two were married once Lionel reached the age of 13. Three years later, their only daughter, Philippa, was born. Philippa's granddaughter married the son of Lionel's younger brother, Edmund Duke of York. It is through this maternal descent from King Edward's second son that the heirs of the fourth son claimed right of inheritance over the heirs of the third son, who had married the rich heiress of the Duke of Lancaster. (Got it? The intermingling genealogy of the Plantagenet Wars of the Roses is not easy to explain in a sentence or two.)

Like many people of her day, Elizabeth did not live a long life, dying at the age of 31. Her title, Countess of Ulster lives on in today's royal family. It passed down through the York line until it was merged with the crown in 1461. After that, it was recreated for sons of James II, George III and Victoria, and for brothers of George I and George III. It was most recently recreated in 1928 for George V's second son Prince Henry, who was better known The Duke of Gloucester. His son Richard is the current Duke of Gloucester and the title Earl of Ulster is used as a courtesy by his son Alexander, although he generally prefers to be called Alex Ulster.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this background on Elizabeth. Are you aware of any biographies or additional materials I might read to delve a little deeper into her short life?