Alice Perrers

Alice Perrers (c. 1348-1400) was the mistress of the English King, Edward III. Even compared to the negative press mistresses got during this period, Alice was particularly despised. Little is known about Alice’s early life, although it is known that she had a poor start in life: some stories say that she was the daughter of a knight, while others claim she was the illegitimate product of a relationship between a town labourer and tavern whore. It is more likely to be the former, as she would have needed to be a certain level of class to become Queen Phillipa’s lady-in-waiting. She joined the court in 1368 and it was not long after this that she caught the attention of Edward, and she became Edward’s mistress. She was not officially recognised at Edwards mistress until Phillipa’s death of dropsy 6 years later. She was Edward’s mistress until his death.

She was an ambitious woman, who became extremely rich, in large part due to her relationship with the King. She took great pleasure in amassing her huge landholdings throughout England. While she was indebted to the King for his huge generosity, a lot of her success was due to her own intelligence and business acumen. At the height of her wealth and power she owned 56 manors, though only 15 of these were given to her by Edward. She had three illegitimate children with Edward, all while he was still married to Phillipa, due to this their births were kept secret. Edward was 30 years Alice’s senior, and she had a great many enemies jealous of her success, she needed a plan for when the King died. In secret she married Sir William de Winsdor, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

One of the stories that sticks to Alice and contributes to her black reputation throughout history is how she conducted herself when Edward III lay dying. Rumour has it that when Edward was dying, Alice distracted him from the need to confess his sins before he died. The main reason for this was because his biggest sin was his adultery with her, and so the king died without being able to cleanse his soul. It is said that Alice then took the rings from his fingers for herself. Another story tells of a brave priest who pushed his way into the dying king’s chamber to alert the king to how close he was to death without repenting his sins. At this point Edward banished Alice from his chamber so that he could confess his sins before he died.

While it is clear that even if a certain amount of these stories were exaggerated to tarnish her reputation, she was still an ambitious woman who would not let anyone get in her way. She was born impoverished and female in a world where she had few assets at her disposal and ended up as the wealthiest common woman in the land, with over 56 manors and a collection of jewellery worth more than £20,000.

-Danielle Triggs
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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