Perrers seated beside King Edward, as imagined by by Ford Madox Brown
|Occupation||Lady-in-waiting to Philippa of Hainault
Mistress of King Edward III
Alice Perrers (1348 – 1400) was a royal mistress whose lover and patron was King Edward III of England. She met him originally in her capacity as a lady-in-waiting to Edward's consort, Philippa of Hainault. As a result of her liaison, she acquired significant land holdings.
Life and Family
Perrers was born in 1348 and served as a lady-in-waiting to Philippa of Hainault, queen of England. She became mistress to Phillipa's husband in 1363, when she was 15 years of age; this was six years before the queen's death. The scandal was not made public until after her death, after which the king lavished gifts on Perrers. She was given property and even a selection of the late queen’s jewels. Dressed in golden garments, Perrers was paraded as "The Lady of the Sun" by the king's command.
On an unknown date, she married Sir William Windsor, a Westmorland knight. He was a royal lieutenant in Ireland, which meant he would have been absent from England for long periods of time. According to Charles Cawley, Perrers had three illegitimate children by King Edward: a son named Sir John de Southeray (c. 1364-1383), who married Maud Percy, daughter of Henry Percy, 3rd Baron Percy, and his first wife Mary of Lancaster; and two daughters, Jane, who married Richard Northland, and Joan, who married Robert Skerne.
Though Perrers was given many gifts and land grants, her financial success was largely earned. Some contemporaries claimed that she had seduced a senile king to gain property and goods, but most of her acquisitions were owed to her intelligence, business acumen, and use of contacts, and she became a wealthy landowner. At one point, Perrers controlled over fifty-six manors surrounding London, only fifteen of which were gifts. Among other properties, Perrers possessed the manor of Gains (probably at Upminster) in Essex (in which shire her father Richard de Perrers was the sheriff for many years); in 1367, she held in custody the lands of Robert de Tiloil; and on 30 June 1368, Perrers and heirs were granted a plot of land called "Manylawes."
Influence in Literature
Perrers is thought to have served as the living prototype of Chaucer's oft-married Wife of Bath in the Canterbury Tales. Her influence on literature may also have extended to William Langland’s Lady Mede in Piers Plowman. In that work, the Lady represents, to the dreaming narrator, a woman of high status, one adorned with jewels and fine robes, but also a distraction and diversion from decent morals. Perrers also was a great influence in Chaucer's life and supported him greatly. 
Perrers and the Abbot of St. Albans engaged in a dispute over land. Prior to King Edward's death in 1377, few had prosecuted or challenged her, but that changed in 1376, when she was tried for corruption and subsequently banished from the kingdom by the Good Parliament, her lands forfeit. She was later able to return to England and work to regain some of her lands.
Alice Perrers is the protagonist of Emma Campion's novel, The King's Mistress. She appears in Anya Seton's novel, Katherine. Alice Perrers is the main character in Vanora Bennett's novel The People's Queen that was first published in 2010. She is portrayed in Rebecca Gablé's Das Laecheln der Fortuna, a historical novel in the German language about that time. She is portrayed as the protagonist of the 2012 novel The King's Concubine by Anne O'Brien.
Notes and references
- C. Given-Wilson, ‘Perrers, Alice (d.1400/01)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 17 Oct 2008
- Gambier-Parry, T.R. (1932). "Alice Perrers and Her Husband's Relatives". The English Historical Review 47: 272–76. doi:10.1093/ehr/xlvii.clxxxvi.272.
- Cawley, Charles. Medieval Lands, England, Kings 1066-1603
- Bothwell, James. "The management of position; Alice Perrers, Edward III, and the creation of a landed estates, 1362-1377." Journal of Medieval History 24 (1998): 31-51.
- Braddy, Haldeen. "Chaucer and Dame Alice Perrers." Speculum 21(1946): 222-228.
- Rogers, William Elford. Interpretation in Piers Plowman. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2002.
- Braddy, Haldeen. "Chaucer, Alice Perrers, and Cecily Chaumpaigne." Speculum 52(1977): 906-911.