Alice de la Pole

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Alice de la Pole, from her tomb at Ewelme Parish Church, Oxfordshire

Alice de la Pole, Duchess of Suffolk (1404–1475) was a granddaughter of the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Married three times, she eventually become a Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

Life[edit]

Alice was born Alice Chaucer, daughter to Thomas Chaucer and Matilda Burghersh. Her grandfather was the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, writer of The Canterbury Tales. When she was 11 she married Sir John Philip. The couple lived briefly at Donnington Castle, but Sir John died within a year. Sir John, also entitled Lord Dennington, had married Maud, the widow of Walter Cookesey of Caldwall Castle, Kidderminster in the County of Worcestershire. Sir John lived at Caldwall Castle during his marriage to Maud and upon her death married Alice Chaucer. Sir John, a close personal friend of Henry V, died of dysentery after the successful siege of Harfleur in Normandy. Sir John is buried at St. Mary's Church in Kidderminster, Worcestershire.

Later, after 1421, Alice married Thomas Montacute, 4th Earl of Salisbury (who died in 1428). Finally, in 1430, she married William de la Pole, Earl and later Duke of Suffolk, by whom she had a son John in 1442 (who became 2nd Duke of Suffolk in 1463). William became constable of Wallingford Castle in 1434. Alice was a lady-in-waiting to Margaret of Anjou in 1445, and a patron of the arts.[1] William was steward of the household to Henry VI, and from 1447 to 1450 was the dominant force in the council and chief minister to the king; as such he was particularly associated with the unpopular royal policies whose failures culminated in the anti-court protest and political violence of Cade's Revolt in 1450.

Alice could be both ruthless and acquisitive in pursuit of her son's inheritance. In 1437 the Duke constructed the God's House at Ewelme, a reminder of their catholic devotions. But after her husband's execution she took back much on her friend's Margaret Paston's manors in Norfolk, with dubious title deeds. The Pastons grew to loathe this Yorkist family, notorious for their corruption.

In 1450 William was impeached by the Commons in parliament, but Henry VI intervened to exile his favourite rather than have him tried by the Lords. On his way across the Channel his vessel was intercepted by The Nicholas of the Tower whose crew subjected him to a mock trial, after which he was beheaded and the body thrown overboard. William's remains were recovered from a beach at Dover, and Alice had her husband buried at the Carthusian Priory in Hull, founded in 1377 by his grandfather, Michael de la Pole, first Earl of Suffolk. After William was killed, his properties including the castle and Honour of Wallingford and St Valery passed to Alice. She lent the Crown 3500 Marks and the king spared the fate of attainder of tile. She survived many challenges to her position, including a state trial in 1451. Whilst she had benefited from Lancastrian connections, she switched to supporting the House of York during the Wars of the Roses. In 1455 she was custodian of the Duke of Exeter at the castle. She was officially castellan at Wallingford until at least 1471 and possibly until her death in 1475. In 1472 Alice became custodian of Margaret of Anjou, her former friend and patron. A wealthy landowner, Alice de la Pole held land in 22 counties, and was a patron to poet John Lydgate.

She is buried in an elaborate church monument incorporating a Cadaver tomb[2] [3]at St Mary's Church, Ewelme. Alice's alabaster tomb, almost undamaged by time, consists of a canopy of panelled stone, below which is the recumbent effigy of the Duchess atop the tomb chest which contains her remains; the space beneath the chest encloses her sculpted cadaver, which is viewed through elaborate reticulated arches.[4] Her effigy was examined by Queen Victoria's commissioners in order to discover how a lady should wear the Order of the Garter.

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