Finding a King and maybe a Princess at Reading Abbey

Richard III’s discovery and burial have prompted the search for another King. King Henry I was the son of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders. He had two legitimate children, William Adelin, who drowned in the White Ship disaster and Matilda, whose son Henry would eventually follow Henry’s nephew Stephen on the throne. Henry I died on 1 December 1135 in Saint-Denis-en-Lyons. His entrails were buried in the Port-du-Salut Abbey, while his body was taken back to England to be buried in Reading Abbey.

Reading Abbey had been founded in 1121 by Henry himself  ‘for the salvation of my soul, and the souls of King William, my father, and of King William, my brother, and Queen Maud, my wife, and all my ancestors and successors”‘. 

Though some sources place the burial of Queen Maud, or Matilda of Scotland also at Reading Abbey, she is buried in Westminster Abbey on the right-hand side of the original shrine of St. Edward the Confessor. She has no memorial. It is possible that her entrails were buried in Reading Abbey, perhaps causing the confusion.

Henry is not alone in Reading Abbey, though. With him lie the remains of a two-year-old Prince, William IX, Count of Poitiers, who was the son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. He had been made Count of Poitiers by his mother, who has ceded the county to him.

Also in Reading Abbey are the remains of a Princess, Constance of York. She was the daughter of Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York and Isabella of Castile. She was the sister of Richard, 3rd Earl of Cambridge and thus the aunt of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, who was the father of Edward IV, Richard III. George, Duke of Clarence and of course the formidable Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy and her lesser known sisters Anne, Duchess of Exeter and Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk.

Constance of York was born around 1374 at Conisbrough Castle. Though much of her early life is unrecorded, she married Thomas le Despenser, 1st Earl of Gloucester before 7 November 1379. Some lands were taken from him after Richard II’s deposition and the accession of Henry IV. Because of this he was a part of the Epiphany Rising plot in 1399, attempting to assassinate Henry IV and restoring Richard II to the throne. He initially escaped capture when the plot failed but he was later apprehended in Bristol. He was executed on 16 January 1400.

Constance and Thomas had three children of whom one died young, and one was born posthumously. Their son Richard would only live to be 18 years old, and he died without issue. The posthumous daughter Isabel thrived and lived to be the grandmother of Isabel and Anne Neville, Duchess of Gloucester and Queen of England, respectively.

After Thomas’ death, she was either the mistress or the betrothed of Edmund Holland, 4th Earl of Kent. Though it never came to a marriage, they had an illegitimate daughter named Eleanor, who was married to James Tuchet, 5th Baron Audley.

Constance was a bit of schemer herself. In 1405 during the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr, she plotted to abduct 14-year-old Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March and his brother from Windsor Castle. This young Edmund had a considerable claim to the throne. The abduction failed, and Constance implicated her brother Edward in the plot. He was imprisoned at Pevensey Castle but was eventually restored to favour. Edward’s personal feelings about this betrayal are not known, but I can’t imagine he was happy about it!

Constance died on 28 November 1416, and she was buried with the King at Reading Abbey at the high altar. Reading Abbey was largely destroyed in 1538 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Its last abbot suffered the terrible fate of being hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason in front of the Abbey.

I truly hope they also try to locate Constance during this search. Though she may not have been a Queen, she was the granddaughter of two Kings and certainly has a claim to the title of Princess!

About Moniek Bloks 2764 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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