The Wife of Cobham
Shortlisted for the East Anglian Book of the Year 2016
In 1417 Sir John Oldcastle (also known as Lord Cobham after his marriage to the great heiress Joan, Lady Cobham) was captured in a field in Wales. One of the most famous rebels in English history, he had been an outlaw on the run for more than four years. He was carried, badly injured, to the Tower of London, and from there to a trial before parliament, where he was found guilty of heresy and treason.
Lady Cobham – his wife of nine years – was arrested at the same time, and also imprisoned in the Tower. After her husband had been hanged and then burned, she was quietly freed, and lived on for another sixteen years.
Was Joan an innocent, whose marriage to Oldcastle had been arranged by others? Was she no more than a bystander to his plans for a revolution? Or was this husband – her fourth – one she had chosen for herself, not least because she shared his views and also wanted to change the world she lived in? Did she bring more than funding and an aristocratic name to the partnership? That she was not hanged or burned means little, since no English woman was executed for heresy or treason during her lifetime.
None of Joan’s words survive, so we cannot know for certain what her thoughts were. But we know her ancestry, the places she lived, something of the children she bore, and more of her eminent relations and of the men she married. (She had five husbands in all. Two of them earned burial in Westminster Abbey, one was killed fighting for the king in the Low Countries, and one was a celebrated jouster, who might have come originally from Bohemia.) We know more still about the events she lived through, which made of Oldcastle a campaigner for a different and better world. Joan did not give her life for the Lollard movement for religious and political reform, but did she perhaps do more than history has credited her with to shape the events of her era?
From the Peasants’ Revolt, through the Lollard Disendowment Bill to Oldcastle’s doomed attempt to remake his country; from Richard II’s rise and deposition, through Henry IV’s dour reign and his son Henry V’s glorious one; through the rise and dramatic downfall of other relations, and through wars, battles and plague: the life of this real-life contemporary of Chaucer’s wife of Bath was a dramatic and eventful one. Susan Curran draws on a wide variety of sources to trace its course, and to illustrate it and give a sense of its texture. In exploring what its patterns suggest, she brings out from the shadows an extraordinary true story.
Susan Curran has written more than 30 books, including two previous historical biographies for the Lasse Press, The English Friend and The Marriage of Margery Paston. The Wife of Cobham is in the same style: it is illustrated throughout in full colour, with photos of places Joan knew, and many details from contemporary stained glass. Read MORE on the author.
Some sample pages from the book:
Publication June 2016.
224 pages, 234 x 156 mm, including genealogical tables and many colour illustrations.
Notes, bibliography and index.