A couple of days ago I was going to visit a friend for the first time this year. As I waited for the bus in Eltham I noticed a seat which hadn’t been there before. It was dedicated to John of Eltham. It wasn’t a new seat so I imagine it had been moved there from another location during the changes that were made to the High Street layout during the pandemic. Anyway I wondered who John of Eltham was as I hadn’t come across him before.
John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall was born at Eltham Palace in August 1316, the second son of King Edward II. His childhood was not a happy one as his father and mother (Isabella of France) were at war with each other, Isabella having allied herself with rebels trying to overthrow the King. In 1326 she invaded England from France and King Edward was captured and forced to abdicate in favour of their eldest son, also Edward, who became King Edward III. Despite his young age, John became a highly trusted advisor to his elder brother and occupied a number of important posts including ‘Guardian of the realm’ deputising for the King when he was away at war. Few details are known about John’s life, although records show a number of attempted, but ultimately abortive diplomatic marriages. He was a commander of the army at the battle of Halidon Hill, defeating the Scots and later in south west Scotland, supporting Edward Balliol’s claim to the Scottish throne. In some Scottish histories he is remembered as the man who commanded that Lesmahagow Abbey be burnt down, even though it was full of people. It is unclear whether this was actually true or not. In some versions of this story, John’s brother, King Edward was so enraged at this barbarous act that he killed John himself in fury. In fact John died at Perth in September 1336, aged 20, probably of a fever. He was buried with full honours in Westminster Abbey.