Alice Perrers

Known as Edward III's Extravagent, Powerful Mistress

Alice Perrers At The Deathbed Of Edward III
Alice Perrers At The Deathbed Of Edward III. Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

Alice Perrers Facts

Known for: mistress of King Edward III (1312 – 1377) of England in his later years; reputation for extravagance and legal battles
Dates: about 1348 – 1400/01
Also known as: Alice de Windsor

Alice Perrers Biography

Alice Perrers is known in history as the mistress of King Edward III of England (1312 – 1377) in his later years.  She had become his mistress by 1363 or 1364, when she was probably about 15-18 years old, and he was 52.

Some Chaucer scholars have asserted that Alice Perrers’ patronage of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer helped to bring him to his literary success, and some have proposed that she was the model for Chaucer’s character in The Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath.

What was her family background? It’s not known.  Some historians speculate that she was part of the de Perers family of Hertfordshire. A Sir Richard Perrers is recorded as disputing with St. Albans Abbey over land and imprisoned and then outlawed over this conflict. Thomas Walsingham, who wrote a contemporary history of St. Albans, described her as unattractive and her father as a thatcher. Another early source called her father a weaver from Devon.

Queen Philippa

Alice became a lady-in-waiting to Edward’s Queen, Philippa of Hainault in 1366, at which time the queen was quite ill. Edward and Philippa had had a long and happy marriage, and there’s no evidence he had been unfaithful before his relationship with Perrers.

 The relationship was primarily a secret while Philippa lived.

Public Mistress

After Philippa died in 1369, Alice’s role became public. She nurtured relationships with the king’s two eldest sons, Edward the Black Prince and John of Gaunt.  The king gave her lands and money, and she also borrowed extensively to buy more land, usually getting the king to forgive the loan later.

Alice and Edward had three children together: a son and two daughters.  Their dates of birth aren’t known, but the eldest, a son, was married in 1377 and sent on a military campaign in 1381.

By 1373, functioning as an uncrowned queen in Edward’s household, Alice was able to get the king to give her some of Philippa’s jewels, a very valuable collection. A dispute over property with the abbot of St. Albans is recorded by Thomas Walsingham, who said that in 1374 the abbot was advised to abandon his claim as she had too much power for him to prevail.

 In 1375, the king gave her a key role in a London tournament, riding in her own chariot as Lady of the Sun, dressed in cloth of gold.  This caused much scandal.

With the government coffers suffering from conflicts abroad, Alice Perrer’s extravagance became a target of criticism, amplified with concerns over her presumption of so much power over the king.

Charged by the Good Parliament

In 1376, in what came to be called The Good Parliament, the Commons within the Parliament took an unprecedented initiative to impeach close confidantes of the king.  John of Gaunt was the effective ruler of the kingdom, as both Edward III and his son the Black Prince were too ill to be active (he died in June of 1376).

   Alice Perrers was among those targeted by the Parliament; also targeted were Edward’s chamberlain, William Latimer, Edward’s steward, Lord Neville, and Richard Lyons, a notorious London merchant.  Parliament petitioned John of Gaunt with their assertion that “certain councilors and servants … are not loyal or profitable to him or the kingdom.”

Latimer and Lyons were charged with financial offenses, largely, plus Latimer with losing some Brittany outposts. Charges against Perrers were less serious.  Likely, her reputation for extravagance and control over the king’s decisions were a major motivation for her inclusion in the attack.  Based on a complaint based on concern that Perrers had sat on the judges’ bench in court, and had interfered with decisions, supporting her friends and condemning her enemies, the Parliament was able to get a royal decree forbidding all women from interfering in judicial decisions.

She was also charged with taking 2000-3000 pounds a year from public funds.

During the proceedings against Perrers, it came out that during the time she was Edward’s mistress, she had married William de Windsor, on an uncertain date, but possible about 1373.  He had been a royal lieutenant in Ireland, recalled several times because of complaints from the Irish that he ruled harshly. Edward III apparently had not known of this marriage before its revelation.

Lyons was sentenced to life imprisonment for his offenses.  Neville and Latimer lost their titles and related income. Latimer and Lyons spent some time in the Tower.  Alice Perrers was banished from the royal court.  She took an oath that she would not see the king again, under threat that she would forfeit all her property and be banished from the kingdom.

After the Parliament

Over subsequent months, John of Gaunt managed to roll back many of the actions of the Parliament, and all had regained their offices, including, apparently, Alice Perrers.  The next Parliament, packed by John of Gaunt with supporters and excluding many who had been in the Good Parliament, reversed the previous Parliament’s actions against both Perrers and Latimer. With the support of John of Gaunt, she escaped prosecution for perjury for violating her oath to stay away.  She was pardoned formally by the king in October 1376.

In early 1377, she arranged for her son to marry into the powerful Percy family. When Edward III died on June 21, 1377. Alice Perrers was noted as being by his bedside during his last months of illness, and as removing the rings from the king’s fingers before fleeing, with concern that her protection was also over. (The claim about the rings comes from Walsingham.)

After Edward’s Death

When Richard II succeeded his grandfather Edward III, the charges against Alice were resurrected.  John of Gaunt presided over her trial. A judgment took from her all of her property, clothing and jewels.   She was ordered to live with her husband, William de Windsor.

  She, with Windsor’s help, filed numerous lawsuits over the years, challenging the judgments and verdicts. The verdict and sentence were revoked, but not the financial judgments. Yet she and her husband apparently did have control of some of her properties and other valuables, based on subsequent legal records.

When William de Windsor died in 1384, he was in control of several of her valuable properties, and willed them to his heirs though even by law of the time, they should have reverted on his death to her.  He also had considerable debts, which her property was used to settle.  She then began a legal battle with his heir and nephew, John Windsor, claiming that her property should be willed to her daughters’ families.  She also engaged in a legal battle with a man named William Wykeham, claiming that she had pawned some jewels with him and he would not return them when she went to repay the loan; he denied that he’d made a loan or had any of her jewels.

She had a few properties still under her control which, on her death in the winter of 1400 - 1401, she willed to her children.  Her daughters contended over control of some of the property.

Children of Alice Perrers and King Edward III

  1. John de Southeray (1364 – 1383?), married Maud Percy.  She was a daughter of Henry Percy and Mary of Lancaster and was thus a cousin of the first wife of John of Gaunt. Maud Percy divorced John in 1380, claiming she had not consented to the marriage.  His fate after he went to Portugal on a military campaign is unknown; some have asserted that he died leading a mutiny to protest unpaid wages.
  2. Jane, married Richard Northland.
  3. Joan, married Robert Skerne, a lawyer who served as a tax official and an MP for Surrey.

Walsingham's Assessment

From Thomas of Walsingham's Chronica maiora (source: "Who Was Alice Perrers?" by W.M. Ormrod,The Chaucer Review 40:3, 219-229, 2006.

At that same time there was a woman in England called Alice Perrers. She was a shameless, impudent harlot, and of low birth, for she was the daughter of a thatcher from the town of Henny, elevated by fortune. She was not attractive or beautiful, but knew how to compensate for these defects with the seductiveness of her voice. Blind fortune elevated this woman to such heights and promoted her to a greater intimacy with the king than was proper, since she had been the maidservant and mistress of a man of Lombardy, and accustomed to carry water on her own shoulders from the mill-stream for the everyday needs of that household. And while the queen was still alive, the king loved this woman more than he loved the queen.