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Perrers seated beside King Edward III, as imagined by Ford Madox Brown
|Died||1400 (aged 52)|
Gaynes Park, Upminster, England
|Resting place||Church of St Laurence, Upminster, England|
|Occupation||Lady-in-waiting to Queen Philippa of Hainault|
Mistress of King Edward III of England
Alice Perrers (1348–1400) was a fourteenth-century English 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. She went on to become the wealthiest woman in the land. However, she was despised by many and was accused of taking advantage of the far older king with her youth, beauty, and opportunistic character.
Early life and family
Perrers was born in 1348 (exact date unknown). While no direct evidence has been found to identify her parentage, new evidence suggests that she was the daughter of a family named Salisbury. She had at least one brother named John. She married a man named Janyn Perrers around 1360. Perrers was a jeweller and died around 1364.
At that same time there was a woman in England called Alice Perrers. She was a shameless, impudent harlot, and of low birth, for she was the daughter of a thatcher from the town of Henny, elevated by fortune. She was not attractive or beautiful, but knew how to compensate for these defects with the seductiveness of her voice. Blind fortune elevated this woman to such heights and promoted her to a greater intimacy with the king than was proper, since she had been the maidservant and mistress of a man of Lombardy. And while the queen was still alive, the king loved this woman more than he loved the queen.
However, this account has been questioned by historians for its validity, as Walsingham was a prominent critic of the royal court, and he despised its many ‘indulgences’.
Lady-in-Waiting and Edward's Mistress
Sometime before 1366, Alice arrived at court and served as a lady-in-waiting to Philippa of Hainault, the respected and matronly queen of Edward III. Alice's beauty and charm caught the eye of King Edward III while at court. Shortly after, around 1366,, when she was only 18 years of age (the king was 55), she became the mistress of Edward III. Only when Philippa died in 1369 of dropsy did Alice's affair with the king become more visible. Their affair aroused envy and hatred of Alice, as she was only 21 years old. Following the queen's death, a devastated Edward leaned heavily on her considerable abilities; her courtly dominance accelerated by his loss. Alice acquired numerous gifts from the King and she soon became an extremely wealthy woman, amassing a fortune worth more than £20,000 (£6,000,000 in 2016). Dressed in golden garments, Perrers was paraded around London as "The Lady of the Sun" on the king's command, and courtiers were expected to behave respectfully towards her. This caused a great wave of criticism from the public and Edward's Court.
From 1370-1376, Alice can be said to have ruled the country indirectly through Edward III, an unheard-of feat for a female of no royal descent in her early to mid-twenties. Alice's power and eminence soon became legendary, and it was reported that she instilled fear into the populace, amongst whom no-one dared to prosecute a claim against her. To her contemporaries, Alice was seen as an ambitious, grasping, calculating and cold-hearted opportunist who manipulated the ailing King into granting her unheard-of wealth and status, at a court that brimmed with spite and loathing of her. Towards the end of Edward's reign, Alice was accused of making his life a misery and of luring him with her charms only to further her own personal ambitions.
Marriage and Children
According to Charles Cawley, Perrers had three illegitimate children by King Edward, all while their relationship was a secret from his wife, Queen Philippa and the public. In 1364, aged 16, Perrers gave birth to a son later named Sir John de Southeray (c. 1364-1383). John later married Maud Percy, daughter of Henry Percy, 3rd Baron Percy, and his first wife Mary of Lancaster.
A year later in 1365, Perrers gave birth to Jane (c. 1365-unknown). Jane married Richard Northland.
Due to the king's advancing age and the fact that after his death she would no longer have his protection, Alice contracted a secret marriage in November 1375 to Sir William Windsor, a Westmorland knight, who was appointed as the King's lieutenant in Ireland. He was 53 and she was 27. As William was a Royal Lieutenant in Ireland, he spent long periods of time absent from England and Alice, lessening the probability of the King discovering their marriage. William and Alice were married until William's death on 15 September 1384. He was 62 years old. They had no children.
Though Perrers was given many gifts and land grants from Edward, 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. So successful was she that at the height of her power she controlled 56 manors, castles and town houses stretching over 25 counties of England from the north to the home counties. Only 15 of these were gifts from Edward. Among other properties, Perrers possessed the manor of Gaynes (at Upminster) in Essex, the manor in which she would die. When property disputes arose with the abbot of St. Albans in 1374, Alice, with the King's authority behind her, had the temerity to sit in the law courts to intimidate the judges and ensured that the abbot abandoned his claim due to the overwhelming power she possessed.
Prior to King Edward III's death, few had prosecuted or challenged her, but that changed in 1376, when Alice was subjected to an ordinance that set penalties for all women (but specifically against her) who practiced ‘maintenance’, the offence of interfering in the due process of the law. A contemporary description of the ordinance is as follows:
Because a complaint was made to the king that some women have pursued various business and disputes in the king's courts by way of maintenance, bribing and influencing the parties, which thing displeases the king; the king forbids any woman to do it, and especially Alice Perrers, on penalty of whatever the said Alice can forfeit and of being banished from the realm.
She was ultimately 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.
Later life and death
Influence in literature
Perrers is thought to have served as the living prototype of Geoffrey 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 was also a great influence in Chaucer's life and supported him greatly.
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 a character in Jean Plaidy's Vow on the Heron. She is portrayed in Rebecca Gablé's Das Laecheln der Fortuna, a historical novel in the German language about the time. She is portrayed as the protagonist of the 2012 novel The King's Concubine by Anne O'Brien. Alice is also featured in some of Candice Robb's books, in a series known as Medieval Mysteries and also in The Traitor's Noose, the fourth novel in the Lions and Lilies series by Catherine A Wilson and Catherine T Wilson.
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