Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Perrers, Alice

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PERRERS or de WINDSOR, ALICE (d. 1400), mistress of Edward III, was, according to the hostile St. Albans chronicler (Chron. Angliæ, p. 95), a woman of low birth, the daughter of a tiler at Henney, Essex, and had been a domestic drudge. Another account makes her the daughter of a weaver from Devonshire (see Duchetiana, p. 300). It seems, however, more reasonable to suppose that, as a lady of Queen Philippa's household, she was a member of the Hertfordshire family of Perrers with which the abbey of St. Albans had a long-standing quarrel (Gesta Abbatum S. Albani, iii. 49, 199–209). Sir Richard Perrers was M.P. for Hertfordshire in several parliaments of Edward II and the early years of Edward III (Return of Members of Parliament), and was sheriff of Hertfordshire and Essex from 1315 to 1319, and again in 1327, 1329, and 1330. He may be the same Sir Richard Perrers who, in consequence of his quarrel with St. Albans, suffered a long imprisonment from 1350 onwards, was outlawed in 1359, and whose son, Sir Richard Perrers, in vain endeavoured to obtain redress (Gesta Abbatum, iii. 199–209). Alice may have been the daughter of Sir Richard Perrers the elder; if so, this circumstance would go far to explain the manifest hostility of the St. Albans chronicler. It has, however, been alleged that she was daughter of John Perrers or Piers of Holt, by Gunnora, daughter of Sir Thomas de Ormesbye, and was twice married—first, to Sir Thomas de Narford; and, secondly, to Sir William de Windsor (Palmer, Perlustration of Great Yarmouth, ii. 430; Blomefield, Hist. Norfolk, i. 319, xi. 233). The first incident definitely known about her is that she had entered the service of Queen Philippa as ‘domicella cameræ Reginæ’ previously to October 1366 (Notes and Queries, 7th ser. vii. 449). It has been contended that ‘domicella cameræ Reginæ’ is the equivalent of ‘woman of the bedchamber,’ and that the designation was applied only to married women (ib. vii. 449, viii. 47). But it is definitely stated that the manor of Wendover, which was bestowed on her in 1371, was granted to her ‘ten qu'ele fuist sole’ (Rolls of Parliament, iii. 130a), and she was a single woman when she obtained possession of Oxeye, apparently in 1374 (Gesta Abbatum, iii. 236). She was married—or at any rate betrothed—to William de Windsor in 1376 (Chron. Angliæ, p. 97); she is elsewhere stated to have been his wife for a long time previously to December 1377 (Rolls of Parliament, iii. 41b). The contemporary chronicles and records do not show that she was ever the wife of Thomas de Narford, and the statement is probably due to a confusion.

Alice Perrers became the mistress of Edward III in the lifetime of Queen Philippa, and her connection with the king may date from 1366, when she had a grant of two tuns of wine. In 1367 she had custody of Robert de Tiliol, with his lands and marriage, and in 1375 had similar grants as to the heir of John Payn and Richard, lord Poynings. In 1371 she received the manor of Wendover, and in 1375 that of Bramford Speke, Devonshire. On 15 April 1372 as much as 397l. was paid for her jewels (Devon, Issues of Exchequer, pp. 193–4). On 8 Aug. 1373 Edward bestowed on her ‘all the jewels, &c., which were ours, as well as those of our late consort, and came into the hands of Euphemia, wife of Walter de Heselarton, Knight, and which were afterwards received by the said Alice from Euphemia for our use’ (Fœdera, iii. 989). This grant has not unnaturally exposed both her and Edward to unfavourable, though perhaps exaggerated, comment, but it was not a grant of all Philippa's jewels, as sometimes stated. On 2 June 1374 the sum of 1,615l. 3s. 11d. was paid, through her hands, to her future husband, William de Windsor (Devon, Issues of Exchequer, p. 197). In 1375 she rode through Chepe ward from the Tower, dressed as the Lady of the Sun, to attend the great jousts that were held at Smithfield (Nicolas, Chronicle of London, p. 70). In the following year, on 20 May, robes were supplied her to appear in another intended tournament (Beltz, Memorials of the Garter, p. 10). Alice had obtained great influence over the king, and is alleged to have used her position to acquire property for herself by unlawful means. In this statement the St. Albans chronicler probably has in view her dispute with his own abbey as to the manor of Oxeye, which commenced in 1374 (Gesta Abbatum, iii. 227–249). She is also accused of having interfered with justice in promoting lawsuits by way of maintenance and of having actually appeared on the bench at Westminster in order to influence the judges to decide cases in accordance with her wishes (Chron. Angliæ, p. 96; Rolls of Parliament, ii. 329a). Her position induced John of Gaunt and his supporters, William, lord Latimer (1329?–1381) [q. v.] and others, to seek her assistance. The scandal which she had caused no doubt contributed also to their unpopularity. When the Good parliament met in April 1376, one of the first acts of the commons was to petition the king against her, and to inform him that she was married to Windsor, now deputy of Ireland. Edward declared with an oath that he did not know Alice was married, and begged them to deal gently with her. A general ordinance was passed forbidding women to practise in the courts of law, and under this Alice was sentenced to banishment and forfeiture. She is alleged to have sworn on the cross of Canterbury to obey the order, but after the death of the Prince of Wales, and recovery of power by Lancaster, she returned to court, and the archbishop feared to put the sentence of excommunication in force against her (Chron. Angliæ, pp. 100, 104). She joined with Sir Richard Sturry and Latimer in procuring the disgrace of Sir Peter De la Mare [q. v.] The Bad parliament met on 27 Jan. 1377, and reversed the sentences against Alice and her supporters (Rolls of Parliament, ii. 374). She resumed her old practices, interfered on behalf of Richard Lyons, who had been condemned in the previous year; prevented the despatch of Nicholas Dagworth to Ireland, because he was an enemy of Windsor; and protected a squire who had murdered a sailor, as it is said, at her instigation. Even William of Wykeham is alleged to have availed himself of her aid to secure the restitution of the temporalities of his see (ib. iii. 12b–14a; Chron. Angliæ, pp. 136–8). Edward was manifestly dying, but Alice buoyed him up with false hopes of life, until, when the end was clearly at hand, she stole the rings from off his fingers and abandoned him. In his last moments Edward is stated to have refused her proffered attentions (ib. pp. 143–4; but in the Ypodigma Neustriæ, p. 324, she is stated to have been with him till his death).

In the first parliament of Richard II Alice Perrers was brought before the lords, at the request of the commons, on 22 Dec. 1377, and the sentence of the Good parliament against her confirmed (Rolls of Parliament, iii. 12b). In the following year her husband appealed for leave to sue for a reversal of judgment, on the ground that she had been compelled to plead as ‘femme sole,’ though already married, and by reason of other informalities (ib. iii. 40–1). On 14 Dec. 1379 the sentence against her was revoked (Pat. Roll, 3 Richard II), and on 15 March 1380 Windsor obtained a grant of the lands that had been hers (Gesta Abbatum, iii. 234). In 1383 Alice had apparently recovered some of her favour at court. In the following year her husband died, in debt to the crown. His nephew and heir, John de Windsor, vexed Alice with lawsuits. She could obtain no relief from her husband's debts, though in 1384 the judgment against her was repealed so far as that all grants might remain in force (Rolls of Parliament, iii. 186b). Her dispute with the abbey of St. Albans as to Oxeye still continued (Gesta Abbatum, iii. 249). In 1389 she had a lawsuit with William of Wykeham as to jewels which she alleged she had pawned to him after her indictment. Wykeham denied the charge and won his case. In 1393 John de Windsor was in prison at Newgate for detaining goods belonging to Alice de Windsor, value 3,000l., and to Joan her daughter, value 4,000l. (Notes and Queries, 7th ser. vii. 451). In 1397 Alice once more petitioned for the reversal of the judgment against her, and the matter was referred for the king's decision, apparently without effect (Rolls of Parliament, iii. 367 b). Her will, dated 20 Aug. 1400, was proved on 3 Feb. 1401. She directed that she should be buried in the parish church of Upminster, Essex, in which parish her husband had property (Nicolas, Testamenta Vetusta, pp. 152–3). Her heirs were her daughters Jane and Joane; the latter, at all events, seems to have been Windsor's daughter, for in 1406, as Joan Despaigne or Southereye, she successfully claimed property at Upminster.

In judging Alice's character it must be remembered that the chief witness against her is the hostile St. Albans chronicler. But other writers refer to her as Edward's mistress (e.g. Malverne ap. Higden, viii. 385, Rolls Ser.); and though the charges of avarice and intrigue may be exaggerated, it is impossible to doubt the substantial accuracy of the story. Still, some historians have taken a favourable view of her character (Barnes, History of Edward III, p. 872; Carte, History of England, ii. 534), and it has been ingenuously suggested that she was only the king's sick-nurse (Notes and Queries, u.s.). Sir Robert Cotton, in a similar spirit, speaks of ‘her mishap that she was friendly to many, but all were not friendly to her.’ In any case, Alice had used her position to acquire considerable wealth, and, in addition to the grants made to her, could purchase Egremont Castle before her marriage (ib. u.s.), and also owned house property at London. In her prosperity John of Gaunt had given her a hanap of beryl, garnished with silver gilt; after her fall he obtained certain of her houses in London, and her hostel on the banks of the Thames. An inventory of her jewels, value 470l. 18s. 8d. and confiscated in 1378, is printed in ‘Archæologia’ (xx. 103). Other lists of property belonging to her are given in ‘Notes and Queries’ (7th ser. vii. 450). The St. Albans chronicler says Alice had no beauty of face or person, but made up for these defects by the blandishment of her tongue. Naturally her influence over the king was ascribed to witchcraft, and a Dominican friar was arrested in 1376 on the charge of having been her accomplice (Chron. Angliæ, pp. 95, 98).

[Chron. Angliæ, 1328–88; Walsingham's Gesta Abbatum S. Albani and Ypodigma Neustriæ (Rolls Ser.); Rolls of Parliament; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. vols. vii. and viii., especially vii. 449–51, by ‘Hermentrude,’ where a number of valuable notes from unpublished documents are collected; Moberly's Life of Wykeham, pp. 113–14, 121; Morant's History of Essex, i. 107; Sharpe's Calendar of Wills in the Court of Husting, ii. 202, 301; Sir G. F. Duckett's Duchetiana; other authorities quoted.]

C. L. K.