Alice Perrers – The Original Sugar Baby

The second post in my new series about royal mistresses (check out my first post about Rosamund Clifford here) is all about the original sugar baby Alice Perrers.

Wikipedia defines a sugar baby as ‘a person who is in a specific type of transactional relationship for the expressed purpose of achieving economic security. A person in such a romantic relationship may receive cash, gifts or other financial and material benefits in exchange for being in the relationship‘.

Yes folks, its times for a classic tale of young girl meets rich old man; young girl convinces rich old man she truly loves him; young girl gets showered with presents; then it turns out that young girl never really loved the rich old man at all. But in this case the old man and sugar daddy in question was none other than Edward III of England.

Edward III

Alice? Alice? Who the f**k was Alice?

Alice Perrers was probably born in 1348. Some contemporary sources said she was the daughter of an Essex tiler but I agree with Charles Carlton in his book Royal Mistresses that this is highly unlikely ‘for such a low birth would disqualify her from becoming a bed-chamber women to Queen Phillipa‘. Most historians seem to agree Alice came from Hertfordshire gentry.

In the ultimate kick in the teeth, it appears Alice first entered the royal court in around 1364 – 1366 as a serving women of Edward’s wife Phillipa of Hainault. 

Now everybody loved Phillipa. In the more than 30 years that they had been married, Edward had never been known to take a mistress (or if he had he had been VERY discreet). Him and Phillipa also had thirteen children. Their marriage had turned out to be a true love match. The English people loved her too for her kindness, which was demonstrated when she persuaded King Edward to spare the lives of the Burghers of Calais.

So What Happened?

Phillipa became ill with dropsy (now known as edema) several years before her death in 1369. It may be that she allowed the affair between Edward and Alice, even if she did not approve, as she was unable to satisfy his ‘needs’ due to her ailing health.

Phillipa’s death had a massive impact on Edward’s health, and it appears he relied on Alice more and more for both companionship and advice. There was was also no longer a need to hide their affair. In 1375 Alice was paraded around London as “The Lady of the Sun” on the king’s command, and courtiers were expected to behave respectfully towards her. She was a queen in all but name, and you can imagine how much this annoyed some people.

You must also bear in mind that in 1369 Edward was already 57 years old, as opposed to Alice’s 21 years. 57 years old was a grand old age in the 14th century (the average life expectancy was somewhere in the mid thirties). It wasn’t long before Edward started to show signs of senility, and Alice was able to take advantage of the situation even more, controlling access to the king and placing herself at the centre of power.

Why didn’t people like her?

In one word – GREED.

Alice accumulated A LOT of wealth while she was Edward’s concubine, which obviously didn’t help her reputation. This included;

  • Queen Phillipa’s jewels
  • An annuity worth £100
  • Numerous wardships
  • 15 properties from the King

And Alice wasn’t stupid. She used her intelligence to turn what Edward gave her into even more! ‘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’. She also had enough money to make loans to noblemen.

Alice also did a lot things that shocked people (read as lots of things that men did that women weren’t supposed to do). For example, she personally represented herself at the courts of Westminster. She was also reputed to have used bribes and favours to get her way and help friends get lucrative posts. Basically all the stuff that men were doing anyway.

Children

And what did Eddy get in return for all these presents? Well, he got 3 illegitimate offspring!

These were;

  • Sir John de Southeray (c. 1364-1383). John married Maud or Matilda Percy.
  • Jane (c. 1365-unknown). Jane married Richard Northland.
  • Joan (c. 1366-bef January 1431). Joan married Robert Skerne, a lawyer who served as a tax official and a MP for Surrey.
The Beginning of the End for Alice

Alice Perrers was not stupid. She realized the king was old and would soon die, and after that she would have to fend for herself. So, in November 1375, she contracted a secret marriage to one Sir William Windsor. As William was a Royal Lieutenant in Ireland he spent long periods of time away from England.

The following year Alice was banished from court. Her interference in lawsuits led to her banishment by the Good Parliament of 1376. However, the separation from Edward turned out to be only temporary. Alice was brought back by John of Gaunt to keep the king occupied during his declining years as the nobles squabbled among themselves.

Unfortunately for Alice, Edward popped his clogs in 1377. Thomas Walsingham, the English chronicler, accuses Alice of being so greedy that when Edward passed away she stole the rings from his cold, dead fingers. If this is true, then its a truly gruesome detail.

Following the king’s death Alice was banished again, only to be bought back in 1379 at the request of her husband. William Windsor  died in 1384 and Alice seems to have spent much of her final years in litigation over his will (the irony).

Royal Mistress Rankings

Power ****

Because of Edward’s favour, Alice became the wealthiest women in the land. For a time when women were effectively seen as the property of men and had minimal legal standing, this was an amazing achievement. This money meant power and independence for Alice.

Alice Perrers was also the first king’s mistress to influence the government of the kingdom and the practice of the law courts. The latter meant the Good Parliament of 1376 forbade all women from practicing in the law courts (Thanks Alice).

Beauty *

One of the contemporary sources of the time describes Alice Perrers as ‘extremely ugly‘. Contemporary chronicler Thomas of Walsingham also said of Alice ‘She was not attractive or beautiful, but knew how to compensate for these defects with the seductiveness of her voice‘.

You have to question their objectivity though. If everyone hated Alice, they’re not exactly going to be nice about her, are they?

Longevity ***

Like most royal affairs, the exact duration is unknown. My best guesstimate for how long Alice and Edward’s relationship lasted, using the available evidence, would be a maximum of 13 years. Definitely no flash in the pan.

Scandal ***

I must admit I had a hard time rating Alice in terms of scandal. She is still probably the most notorious British royal mistress to this day, and she DEFINITELY had a bit of a reputation while she was alive. But I get the impression that most people didn’t like her because she didn’t conform to the ‘womenly ideals’ of the time.

Overall Mistress Rating ***

While I don’t agree with many of Alice’s actions, I kind of have to admire for making the best of the situation she was in. Women in this time were effectively powerless and vassals to ‘superior’ men. Alice used her brains to make hay while the sun shone, and grabbed power in one of the few ways women could.

And we have to think about why history has remembered Alice so negatively. Or rather, who has remembered Alice so negatively? The few contemporary sources from this period are all written by men, who would have been absolutely OUTRAGED at the prospect of a mere women tempting the king into sin.

What do you think of ‘Mistress Alice’? Is her notorious reputation justified, or is she another victim of the writers of history?

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