Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall

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This article is about the 13th-century noble. For other uses, see Richard Plantagenet. For the philosopher, see Richard Rufus of Cornwall.
Richard of Cornwall
Richard of Cornwall .jpg
Seal of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, recto. On his shield he displays the Royal arms of England
King of the Romans
Reign 13 January 1257 – 2 April 1272
Coronation 27 May 1257
Predecessor William II of Holland
Successor Rudolph I of Germany
Earl of Cornwall
Successor Edmund, 2nd Earl
Spouse Isabel Marshal
Sanchia of Provence
Beatrice of Falkenburg
Issue John of Cornwall
Isabel of Cornwall
Henry of Almain
Nicholas of Cornwall
unnamed son
Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall
Philip of Cornwall
Sir Richard of Cornwall
Sir Walter of Cornwall
Joan of Cornwall
House House of Plantagenet
Father John, King of England
Mother Isabella of Angoulême
Born (1209-01-05)5 January 1209
Winchester Castle, Hampshire, England
Died 2 April 1272(1272-04-02) (aged 63)
Berkhamsted Castle, Hertfordshire, England
Burial Hailes Abbey, Gloucestershire
Left: Arms of Richard of Cornwall: Argent, a lion rampant gules crowned or a bordure sable bezantée; centre: as shown on his seal, verso; right as drawn by his contemporary Matthew Paris (d.1259)[1]

Richard of Cornwall (5 January 1209 – 2 April 1272), second son of King John, was Count of Poitou (1225-1243), 1st Earl of Cornwall (from 1225) and German King (formally "King of the Romans") (from 1257). He was one of the wealthiest men in Europe and joined the Barons' Crusade, where he achieved success as a negotiator for the release of prisoners and assisted with the building of the citadel in Ascalon.


Early life[edit]

He was born 5 January 1209 at Winchester Castle, the second son of King John and Isabella of Angoulême. He was made High Sheriff of Berkshire at the age of only eight, was styled Count of Poitou from 1225 and in the same year, at the age of sixteen, his brother King Henry III gave him Cornwall as a birthday present, making him High Sheriff of Cornwall. Richard's revenues from Cornwall provided him with great wealth, and he became one of the wealthiest men in Europe. Though he campaigned on King Henry's behalf in Poitou and Brittany, and served as regent three times, relations were often strained between the brothers in the early years of Henry's reign. Richard rebelled against him three times, and had to be bought off with lavish gifts.

Marriage to Isabel, 1231–40[edit]

In March 1231 he married Isabel Marshal, the wealthy widow of the Earl of Gloucester, much to the displeasure of his brother King Henry, who feared the Marshal family because they were rich, influential, and often opposed to him. Richard became stepfather to Isabel's six children from her first husband. In that same year he acquired his main residence, Wallingford Castle in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), and spent much money on developing it. He had other favoured properties at Marlow and Cippenham in Buckinghamshire. Isabel and Richard had four children, of whom only their son, Henry of Almain, survived to adulthood. Richard opposed Simon de Montfort, and rose in rebellion in 1238 to protest against the marriage of his sister, Eleanor, to Simon. Once again he was placated with rich gifts. When Isabel was on her deathbed in 1240, she asked to be buried next to her first husband at Tewkesbury, but Richard had her interred at Beaulieu Abbey instead. As a pious gesture, however, he sent her heart to Tewkesbury.

On Crusade and marriage to Sanchia, 1240–43[edit]

Later that year Richard departed for the Holy Land. He fought no battles but managed to negotiate for the release of prisoners and the burials of Crusaders killed at a battle in Gaza in 1239. He also refortified Ascalon, which had been demolished by Saladin. On his return from the Holy Land, Richard visited his sister Isabella, the empress of Frederick II.

After the birth of prince Edward in 1239, provisions were made in case of the king's death, which favoured the Queen and her Savoyard relatives and excluded Richard. To keep him from becoming discontented King Henry and Queen Eleanor brought up the idea of a marriage with Eleanor's sister Sanchia shortly after his return on 28 January 1242.[citation needed] On his journey to the Holy Land, Richard had met her in Provence, where he was warmly welcomed by her father Raymond Berenger IV and had fallen in love with this beautiful girl.[2] Richard and Sanchia (whom the English called Cynthia) married at Westminster in November 1243.

This marriage tied him closely to the royal party. Eleanor and Sanchia's youngest sister Beatrice would marry Charles I of Naples, while their oldest sister Margaret had married Louis IX of France. The marriages of the kings of France and England, and their two brothers to the four sisters from Provence improved the relationship between the two countries, which led up to the Treaty of Paris.[3]

Poitou and Sicily[edit]

Richard's claims to Gascony and Poitou were never more than nominal, and in 1241 King Louis IX of France invested his own brother Alphonse with Poitou. Moreover, Richard and Henry's mother, Isabella of Angoulême, claimed to have been insulted by the French queen. They were encouraged to recover Poitou by their stepfather, Hugh X of Lusignan, but the expedition turned into a military fiasco after Lusignan betrayed them.[4]

The pope offered Richard the crown of Sicily, but according to Matthew Paris he responded to the extortionate price by saying, "You might as well say, 'I make you a present of the moon – step up to the sky and take it down'."[5] Instead, his brother King Henry purchased the kingdom for his own son Edmund.

Elected King of Germany, 1256[edit]

Seal of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, showing him enthroned as King of the Romans. Seal inscribed: RICARDUS DEI GRATIA ROMANORUM REX SEMPER AUGUSTUS. ("Richard by the grace of God King of the Romans ever august")
Seal of Sanchia, Queen of the Romans, Richard's wife
Arms of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, King of the Romans, showing the Imperial eagle (the arms of the King of the Romans) with an inescutcheon of Richard's personal arms as Earl of Cornwall

Although Richard was elected in 1256 as King of Germany by four of the seven German Electoral Princes (Cologne, Mainz, the Palatinate and Bohemia), his candidacy was opposed by Alfonso X of Castile who was elected by Saxony, Brandenburg and Trier. The pope and king Louis IX of France favoured Alfonso, but both were ultimately convinced by the powerful relatives of Richard's sister-in-law, Eleanor of Provence, to support Richard. Ottokar II of Bohemia, who at first voted for Richard but later elected Alfonso, eventually agreed to support the earl of Cornwall, thus establishing the required simple majority. So Richard had to bribe only four of them, but this came at a huge cost of 28,000 marks. On 27 May 1257 the archbishop of Cologne himself crowned Richard "King of the Romans" in Aachen;[6] however, like his lordships in Gascony and Poitou, his title never held much significance, and he made only four brief visits to Germany between 1257 and 1269.

Later life, death and successors[edit]

He founded Burnham Abbey in Buckinghamshire in 1263, and the Grashaus, Aachen in 1266.

He joined King Henry in fighting against Simon de Montfort's rebels in the Second Barons' War (1264–67). After the shattering royalist defeat at the Battle of Lewes, Richard took refuge in a windmill, was discovered, and was imprisoned until September 1265.

In December 1271, he had a stroke. His right side was paralysed and he lost the ability to speak. On 2 April 1272, Richard died at Berkhamsted Castle in Hertfordshire. He was buried next to his second wife Sanchia of Provence and Henry of Almain, his son by his first wife, at Hailes Abbey, which he had founded.

After his death, a power struggle ensued in Germany, which only ended in 1273 with the emergence of a new Roman King, Rudolph I of Habsburg, the first scion of a long-lasting noble family to rule the empire. In Cornwall, Richard was succeeded by Edmund, son of his second wife Sanchia.

Marriages and legitimate progeny[edit]

Beatrice of Falkenburg, Richard's widow, depicted as queen of the Romans.

Richard of Cornwall married thrice:

Mistress & illegitimate progeny[edit]

Joan de Valletort[edit]

Richard, Earl of Cornwall had a mistress, Joan, of unknown origins,[11] wife successively of Ralph de Valletort (d. 1267),[12] feudal baron of Harberton,[13] Devon, and feudal baron of Trematon, Cornwall, and Sir Alexander Okeston of Modbury, Devon.[14] Richard, Earl of Cornwall, had the following progeny by his mistress Joan de Valletort, three sons and two daughters:[15]

  • Philip of Cornwall, a priest.
  • Sir Richard of Cornwall, who received a grant from his half-brother Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall, (d. 1300) in which he was called "brother". He married Joan FitzAlan, daughter of John FitzAlan, 6th Earl of Arundel, and by her had three sons and a daughter. He was slain by an arrow at the Siege of Berwick in 1296. His daughter, Joan of Cornwall, married Sir John Howard, from whom the Howard family, Dukes of Norfolk, are descended.[16]
    Heraldic escutcheon from mural monument in Branscombe Church, Devon, to Joan Tregarthin (died 1583), wife of John Wadham (died 1578). Her descent from Richard, Earl of Cornwall is referred to in the inscription and the arms of his descendants, the de Cornwall family of Brannel, are shown in the 4th quarter of the sinister half of the escutcheon: A lion rampant in chief a label of three points a bordure engrailed bezantée. The appearance of bezantée charges is a reference to the arms of the Duchy of Cornwall (Sable, fifteen bezants 5,4,3,2,1)
  • Sir Walter of Cornwall, who received a grant of the royal manor of Brannel,[17] Cornwall, from his half-brother Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall (d. 1300) in which he was called "brother". He was the father of William de Cornwall and grandfather of John de Cornwall who married Margery Tregago, parents of Margaret de Cornwall who married David Hendower, from whom was descended Joan Tregarthin (d. 1583), wife of John Wadham (d.1578) of Edge, Branscombe.[18] The mural monument of Joan Tregarthin (d. 1583) in Branscombe Church, Devon, has an inscription referring to her as "a virtuous & antient gentlewoman descended of the antient house of Plantagenets sometime of Cornwall" and shows the arms of Tregarthin quartering the arms of the de Cornwall family of Brannel: A lion rampant in chief a label of three points a bordure engrailed bezantée.
  • Isabel of Cornwall, who received a grant from King Henry III in which she was called "niece".
  • Joan of Cornwall, (alias Joan Okeston, legally the daughter and heiress of Sir Alexander Okeston of Modbury, Devon)[19] who in 1283 received a grant from her half-brother Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall (d.1300) in which she was called "sister".[20] Modbury was part of the Valletorts' feudal barony of Harberton and was granted to Sir Alexander Okeston, following his marriage to the Earl of Cornwall's mistress, Joan, widow of Ralph de Valletort, by Roger de Valletort, Ralph's brother.[21] She married twice, firstly to Richard de Champernowne (2nd son of Sir Henry Champernowne of Clyst Champernowne, Devon), by whom she had a son, Sir Richard de Champernowne, and secondly, Sir Peter de Fishacre, of Combe Fishacre and Coleton Fishacre, Devon,[22] by whom she had no issue. Following the death of her childless brother Sir James Okeston, the manor of Modbury was conveyed by order of Edward II (1307–27, great-nephew of Richard, Earl of Cornwall), to his sister's grandson Sir Richard de Champernowne.[23]



  1. ^ Matthew Paris, Book of Additions, British Library Cotton MS Nero D I, fol 171v [1];
  2. ^ Cox 1974, p. 114.
  3. ^ Sanders, IJ (1951). "The Texts of the Peace of Paris, 1259". The English Historical Review 66 (258) (Oxford University Press). pp. 81–97 [88]. 
  4. ^ Cox 1974, p. 112-113.
  5. ^ Craik, George L., & Macfarlane, Charles, The Pictorial History of England, p. 657.
  6. ^ Goldstone, Nancy (2008). Four Queens; The Provençal Sisters who ruled Europe. Pinguin Books, London, p. 213.
  7. ^ Richardson I 2011, pp. 566–71
  8. ^ Richardson I 2011, pp. 566–71.
  9. ^ Richardson I 2011, p. 567.
  10. ^ Richardson I 2011, p. 567.
  11. ^ No reliable source confirms her as, or suggests she was, a member of the de Bath family of Colebrooke, Devon. For example, John Prince (biographer) in his "Worthies of Devon" biography of Sir Henry Bath (d. 1261), Justice of the King's Bench, makes no mention of such connection
  12. ^ Samuel Lysons, Magna Britannia, Vol.3, : Cornwall, pp. 118-174: Joan first married Ralph de Valletort who was living in 1246 and dead by 1267; they were the parents of Reginald de Valletort, Inq. p.m. 1270. Reginald granted Trematon to Earl Richard. Joan later married Alexander Okeston and they were the parents of Sir James Okeston.
  13. ^ Pole, p.21
  14. ^ Vivian, Lt.Col. J.L., (Ed.) The Visitation of the County of Devon: Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564 & 1620, Exeter, 1895, p.160, pedigree of Champernowne
  15. ^ Richardson I 2011, pp. 573–4
  16. ^ Richardson I 2011, pp. 574–5; Richardson II 2011, p. 265
  17. ^ Pridham, T.L., Devonshire Celebrities, (regarding the ancestry of the Cornwall family of Brannell), pp 12–17: "Cornwall of Court in St Stephen-in-Brannel, Cornwall, descended from a son of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, by Joan de Valletort. The elder branch of this family became extinct after a few descents in the fourteenth century, the heiress married Hendower"
  18. ^ Ancestry of Joan Tregarthin, as set out by Davies in his "Parochial History of Cornwall", concerning the parish of Goran (Davies, Vol. 2, pp 109-110, adding ref to his articles on "St Stephens in Branell" and "St Stephens in Saltash): "At Tregarden lived John de Tregarthyn, temp Edward I, how long before I know not, after which his posterity in this place married with the great inheritrixes of Pever, Chamberlayne and Hendower, of Court, in Branell, by which last, by the Cornwalls of that place, they were lineally descended from Richard, Earl of Cornwall, King of the Romans, by his concubine Joan de Valletort, widow of Sir Alexander Oakeston".
  19. ^ Vivian, Lt.Col. J.L., (Ed.) The Visitation of the County of Devon: Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564 & 1620, Exeter, 1895, p.160, pedigree of Champernowne
  20. ^ Pole, p.309 & Risdon, p.187, referring to a grant made in 1283 by Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall (d. 1300) to Richard de Champernowne and his wife Joan, whom he referred to as his "sister", of the assize of bread and ale
  21. ^ Pole, p.309
  22. ^ Pole, p.274
  23. ^ Pole, p.309; Risdon, p. 187


  • Richardson, Douglas (2011). Everingham, Kimball G., ed. Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families I (2nd ed.). Salt Lake City. ISBN 1449966314. 
  • Richardson, Douglas (2011). Everingham, Kimball G., ed. Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families II (2nd ed.). Salt Lake City. ISBN 1449966349. 
  • Cox, Eugene L. (1974). The Eagles of Savoy. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691052166. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Denholm-Young, Noel. Richard of Cornwall, 1947
  • Lewis, Frank. Beatrice of Falkenburg, the Third Wife of Richard of Cornwall, 1937
  • Tyerman, Christopher. England and the Crusades, 1095–1588
  • Richard of Cornwall and his first wife, Isabel Marshall, appear as characters in Virginia Henley's historical novels, The Marriage Prize and The Dragon and the Jewel, and in Sharon Kay Penman's historical novel Falls the Shadow.

External links[edit]

Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall
Born: 5 January 1209 Died: 2 April 1272
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Germany
(formally King of the Romans)

13 January 1257 – 2 April 1272
(contested by Alfonso of Castile)
Succeeded by
Rudolf I
Preceded by
Count of Poitiers
Succeeded by
Peerage of England
New title Earl of Cornwall
Succeeded by