Elizabeth of Rhuddlan was born on 7 August 1282 as the daughter of King Edward I of England and Eleanor of Castile. During her early years, Elizabeth was in the company of her mother, and she was with her mother when her brother, the future King Edward II, was born. They became very close. She was just two years old when a marriage was arranged for her. Her future husband was to be John, the son of the Count of Holland in a dual alliance with the Count of Holland’s daughter Margaret and Elizabeth’s elder brother Alphonso but that marriage never took place due to Alphonso’s early death. It was agreed that John would be sent to England to receive his education.
When Floris V, Count of Holland, was murdered on 27 June 1296, John was at the English court. Two days after his father’s murder, the nobles wrote to the English King to ask him to send the then 12-year-old John back to Holland. He did not respond until September and invited the nobles to come to England to arrange John’s marriage and his departure.
The marriage between Elizabeth and John took place at Ipswich on 7 January 1297. A long list of plate and jewels were provided for Elizabeth. For her chapel, hall and kitchen, a magnificent set of gold and silver plate was prepared, all the cups, dishes, bowls, pitchers, chandeliers, chalices, patens and alms-dishes. She had several jewelled headdresses. Her bridal robe was embroidered with silk and adorned with silver gilt buttons, and it took 35 tailors four days and nights to make it. Her coronet was gold, set with rubies, emeralds and pearls.
It was initially decided that the couple would return to Holland together, but Elizabeth’s father delayed her departure at the last moment, possibly because Elizabeth did not wish to go. Her father was so angry, he reportedly threw her coronet in the fire and although it was saved – two stones were missing. And so, at the end of January, John left alone from Harwich to head home. At the end of August, King Edward was in Flanders, and he had taken Elizabeth with him. He sent word to John to come pick up Elizabeth in Flanders, but John refused to set foot in Flanders – as they had harboured his father’s murderers. The couple was probably reunited in November of that year – almost a year after their marriage. Elizabeth spent her time in Holland at her palace in The Hague – which no longer survives. She took no part in public affairs and lived in quiet retirement. That is until August 1299 when her husband was in trouble. Elizabeth reportedly travelled to the marketplace, where she urged the people to fight for her husband. She was apparently in tears and managed to convince the people. The main troublemaker was eventually lynched.
On 27 October 1299, John and Elizabeth officially transferred the control of the county to John II of Avesnes, who was a grandson of Floris IV, Count of Holland, because of their youth. John was 15 at the time and should have been considered old enough to rule on his own, but it is likely that he was developmentally delayed, both mentally and physically. Elizabeth and John welcomed John II of Avesnes together, and the regency was supposed to last for four years. On 10 November 1299, John died in Haarlem, where he had gone hunting, of dysentery. He was succeeded by John II of Avesnes as Count of Holland. Later skeletal research showed that John was indeed physically underdeveloped.
Elizabeth now needed to secure her dower, and she had to appeal to her father to interfere in the matter. He promptly sent two ladies to Holland to comfort her in her grief. When her issue remained unresolved several months later, Elizabeth decided to leave Holland and return home. On her way home, she passed through Brabant where her sister Margaret lived. She reached London in August 1300. Her father and stepmother were in the north, and so Elizabeth travelled on. On 20 August, she met her stepmother – Margaret of France – for the first time, and they travelled together to meet the King at Rose Castle. On the first anniversary of her husband’s death, Elizabeth had massed said for his soul at the Church of the Friars Preachers at Carlisle and both she and her stepmother were present.
A few days later, Elizabeth joined her stepmother at Northampton all while continuing her negotiations about her dower lands. It would never be fully resolved, and Elizabeth now had to rely on her father. He soon decided it was time for a second marriage and this time Elizabeth would remain in England. On 14 November 1302, Elizabeth married Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford, at Westminster. Elizabeth wore a crown of gold with rubies and emeralds – which had belonged to her stepmother’s sister Blanche – with a smaller circlet with 82 pearls, 12 rubies, 12 emeralds and 24 images wrought in gold. After travelling to Scotland with her new husband, her father and stepmother, Elizabeth found out she was pregnant and retired to Tynemouth with her stepmother. She called for a relic from Westminster Abbey, and two monks carried it to Tynemouth and remained there until Elizabeth gave birth to her first child – a daughter named Margaret – in September.
Elizabeth wished to join her husband in the north and sent baby Margaret to Windsor in a litter. Margaret lived there in the nursery with her infant uncles Thomas and Edmund. The following summer, Elizabeth found herself pregnant once more and retired to Knaresborough to await her confinement. She gave birth to a second daughter – who was named Eleanor – in early October. As soon as she recovered, she joined her husband in the north – taking Eleanor with her. Young Margaret died in early 1304. Elizabeth gave birth to her first son named Humphrey in 1306 – he would die young. A second son named John followed in 1307. A third son was called Humphrey as well, followed by twin son named Edward and William. They were followed by a daughter who was also named Margaret and a son named Eneas. They were frequent visitors to the English court.
Elizabeth’s father died in 1307, and her brother became King Edward II. Elizabeth was in constant correspondence with her brother and was one of the noble ladies who met his bride Isabella of France in Dover in 1308. He even continued to press for her dower lands in Holland.
On 5 May 1316, Elizabeth gave birth to her tenth child at Quendon. The child was born alive and given the name Isabella. Both Elizabeth and Isabella only lived for a few more days after the birth and died almost at the same time. Elizabeth was interred at the Abbey of Walden with her infant daughter nearby. Elizabeth was still only 33 years old.1