King John’s Right Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye
Well, it has been quite a journey, but my biography of Nicholaa de la Haye is now out in the world. My journey with Nicholaa started off with a blog post in 2015, shortly after a day trip to Lincoln Castle with my son. From that day on, I devoured everything I could find on Nicholaa. Nicholaa was one of the inspirations for my first book, Heroines of the Medieval World; I wanted to tell the stories of the most incredible women in medieval history and Nicholaa was certainly in my Top 10. And from that book, I started thinking that there was more scope to examine the women related to the Magna Carta story, especially Nicholaa and her contemporary, Matilda de Braose. The conflicting lives and experiences of these two women inspired Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England; while Matilda became King John’s bitter enemy and ultimate victim, Nicholaa was a loyal ally, trusted to hold Lincoln Castle against the rebel barons and was the first woman to be appointed as a county sheriff.
As I was researching Nicholaa’s story for Ladies of Magna Carta, I got very excited as I realised that I may have enough material for a full biography. I contacted my editor, expected her to shut me down and say ‘no thanks, no one will be interested.’ But, instead, she said ‘go for it!’ And the project was born.
In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. Not once, but three times, earning herself the ironic praise that she acted ‘manfully’. Nicholaa gained prominence in the First Baron’s War, the civil war that followed the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215. Although recently widowed, and in her 60s, in 1217 Nicholaa endured a siege that lasted over three months, resisting the English rebel barons and their French allies. The siege ended in the battle known as the Lincoln Fair, when 70-year-old William Marshal, the Greatest Knight in Christendom, spurred on by the chivalrous need to rescue a lady in distress, came to Nicholaa’s aid. Nicholaa de la Haye was a staunch supporter of King John, remaining loyal to the very end, even after most of his knights and barons had deserted him. A truly remarkable lady, Nicholaa was the first woman to be appointed sheriff in her own right. Her strength and tenacity saved England at one of the lowest points in its history. Nicholaa de la Haye is one woman in English history whose story needs to be told…
And early reviews are fantastic!
“Whilst I have read many wonderful new releases so far this year, and I look forward to reading and reviewing many more, I have to say this has been my favourite so far. Not only is Nicholaa’s story fascinating, the way Sharon presents her impeccable scholarship is second-to-none.
I hold this book up as the gold standard for how history should be written. Sharon does not just tell the narrative history, but actually presents the primary sources, showing not just what we know of Nicholaa’s life, but how we know it. It is wonderful to be able to read the sources and see how Sharon pieced together Nicholaa’s life and family. Where sources raise more questions than they answer, Sharon does not just run with a chosen narrative version, but admits to the ambiguities and gaps in the historical record, and where relevant, offers multiple theories as to what really happened.
I must thank Sharon Bennett Connolly of History the Interesting Bits for bringing this fascinating woman out of the shadows, and for doing so in such an illuminating way.” Jessica Carey-Bunning
“Connolly’s devotion to uncovering Nicholaa de la Haye’s life and her time in power as the constable of Lincoln in her own right is reflected throughout the book, and Connolly’s clear familiarity with the time period and the de la Haye family makes this book an incredibly fascinating read. Her prose and detail provides the reader with a complete understanding of the complicated late twelfth and early thirteenth century politics in London and the power struggles between various nobles and the sons of Henry II, and Connolly explains this wonderfully.” Lily Amidon
“An engrossing account of a little-known historical figure and the pivotal role she played in late 12th/early 13th century history and politics. This is one of those rare books that is scrupulously researched and scholarly but also grips like a novel. Setting the character of Nicolaa de la Haye in her historical context, “King John’s Right Hand Lady” casts light on the remarkable story of the woman who was England’s first female sheriff, and in doing so casts a fascinating light on the character of Nicolaa herself as well as the age she lived in. highly recommended.” Nicola Cornick
“History lovers will enjoy learning about this unique lady whom history nearly forgot. History academics will relish the depth of research, end notes, appendices, and comprehensive biography.” Christy Howl
“A strong, independent woman who lived a thrilling life and was willing to defend her home of Lincoln Castle even at the age of sixty, Nicholaa de la Haye was an unsung heroine of the thirteenth century. Connolly’s passion for telling Nicholaa’s tale of trials and tribulations exudes on every page. “King John’s Right Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye” by Sharon Bennett Connolly is the perfect book for anyone who wants a story about the Plantagenets, King John, and the first female sheriff of England. A true triumph in exploring the life of a more hidden figure from the thirteenth century.” Heidi Malagisi
I am immensely grateful to everyone at Lindum Books and the Lincoln Museum, in Lincoln, who hosted the launch of King John’s Right Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye, to a sell-out crowd at the Lincoln Museum, on 20 May 2023, the 806th anniversary of the 1217 Battle of Lincoln, in which Nicholaa played a pivotal role as Constable of Lincoln Castle. And thanks to the incredible audience, who laughed at my jokes in all the right places.
To Buy King John’s Right Hand Lady:
King John’s Right-Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye is now available as a hardback and Kindle from Pen & Sword Books, bookshop.org and Amazon (UK and US).
I said two new books, didn’t I?
Well, yes, I did. Because on the same day that King John’s Right-Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye hit the bookshops, the paperback edition of Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey was also published:
In the reign of Edward I, when asked Quo Warranto? – by what warrant he held his lands – John de Warenne, the 6th earl of Warenne and Surrey, is said to have drawn a rusty sword, claiming ‘My ancestors came with William the Bastard, and conquered their lands with the sword, and I will defend them with the sword against anyone wishing to seize them.’
John’s ancestor, William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He was rewarded with enough land to make him one of the richest men of all time. In his search for a royal bride, the 2nd earl kidnapped the wife of a fellow baron. The 3rd earl died on crusade, fighting for his royal cousin, Louis VII of France…
For three centuries, the Warennes were at the heart of English politics at the highest level, until one unhappy marriage brought an end to the dynasty. The family moved in the most influential circles, married into royalty and were not immune to scandal.
Defenders of the Norman Crown tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.
“I loved Defenders of the Norman Crown. Sharon Bennett Connolly’s detailed, meticulous research brings together a wealth of sources to give the reader a fascinating view of one of the powerful families on which the Crown depended for centuries. Politics and power, Marriages and mistresses, Lordship and land, Defenders of the Norman Crown has it all. Sharon Bennett Connolly has written a very fine book indeed – I loved it.” Elizabeth Chadwick, author of The Greatest Knight
“I am reading and loving Defenders of the Norman Crown by Sharon Bennett Connolly and it’s stunning. The Warenne family, their sons, daughters and wives making gripping reading and vividly filling in fascinating background shading to the stories of medieval monarchs. Wonderful research and gripping true stories, all well substantiated with relevant sources.” Carol McGrath, author of the She-Wolf Trilogy
“Sharon Bennett Connolly has written an evocative narrative, highlighting the role the Warenne earls of Surrey played in the nation’s history. Her meticulous research is evident in every page, making the book both a reference guide and an immensely enjoyable read.“Kristie Dean, author of On the Trail of Richard III
“A vivid portrayal of a powerful aristocratic family. Sharon Bennett Connolly follows the fortunes of the Warenne earls of Surrey from supporters of William the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings to their eventual demise in the reign of Edward III. Connolly writes with verve and enthusiasm, bringing the Warennes to life in all their guises – warriors, landowners and crusaders – and does not neglect the women of the family. A highly readable and well-illustrated survey.” Michael Jones, author of The Black Prince
To Buy Defenders of the Norman Crown
Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey was released in the UK on 31 May and will be out in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword Books, Bookshop.org and Amazon in the UK and US.
Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.
Also by me:
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword, Amazon, and Bookshop.org.
Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, and Bookshop.org.
Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon, Amberley Publishing, and Bookshop.org.
Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.
Have a listen to my A Slice of Medieval podcast, where Derek Birks and I discuss Nicholaa’s remarkable story:
For forthcoming online and in-person talks, please check out my Events Page.
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©2023 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS