It was an honour and a privilege to be asked to present the David Hey Memorial Lecture for the Doncaster Local Heritage Festival 2020. Due to the current Coronavirus outbreak, the lecture was moved online and broadcast via You Tube.
To keep it relevant with Doncaster and South Yorkshire, I decided to talk about one of my favourite subjects, and my current research project; the Warennes, the earls of Surrey who held Conisbrough from the Norman Conquest until the death of the last earl in 1347.
A family at the centre of English history for almost 300 years. It is a story of strong family loyalties, national and international rivalries, rebellion and civil wars, lost loves and royal connections. It’s also the story of Conisbrough’s iconic castle!
This talk is dedicated to David Hey. In the 1970s he was one of few professional historians to respond in a positive way to the growing interest in family and local history. David was a highly regarded and pioneering figure in this field.He held posts of importance such as being Professor of Local and Family History at the University of Sheffield and President of the British Association of Local History. But he was first and foremost a Yorkshireman at heart and never forgot his roots. He was the Patron of the Doncaster and District Heritage Association and gave a talk at the 2013 Heritage Festival.
So, here it is:
I hope you enjoyed it!
I would like to express my immense gratitude to the Doncaster Local Heritage Festival for inviting me to present such a prestigious lecture. I truly hope I did justice to the memory of David Hey.
I recently shared an article about Joan, Lady of Wales, illegitimate daughter of King John. Now, John had several illegitimate children, and while Joan is probably the most famous, and certainly had the highest profile, as a Welsh princess, she was not the only one who made it into the history books. Whilst researching the Warenne earls of Surrey recently, I had the chance to look deeper into the story of another of John’s illegitimate brood, Richard of Chilham.
From the late 1180s or early 1190s onwards, Earl Hamelin de Warenne’s relationship with King John was complicated by the fact that John had a brief affair with one of Hamelin’s daughters. Although it has been impossible to determine which of the daughters, the result of the affair was an illegitimate son, named Richard, after John’s older brother. He was known in various guises as Richard of Chilham, Richard of Dover, Richard fitzRoy or even Richard fitz John. He was also known as Richard de Warenne, referring to his maternal line, which is the name that is inscribed on his seal; this seal bears his arms, a derivative of the royal arms, albeit with 2 lions rather than 3, emphasising his Plantagenet descent.
Richard was probably born in the 1190s and was the only one of John’s illegitimate children to gain honorific title, following his marriage to Rose of Dover in 1214, by which he became lord of the castle and honour of Chilham, in Kent. Richard’s lordship held in the region of fifteen knights’ fees, in Kent and Essex. Richard served his father and, subsequently, his royal half-brother, Henry III, as a royalist captain and administrator during the First Barons’ War of 1215-17.
From 1216, just days before his death, John appointed Richard as constable of Wallingford Castle and custodian of the honour of Wallingford; it was a strategically important castle and the honour held some 120 knights’ fees. In May 1218, he was granted the honour at royal pleasure and held it until 1227. Between 1217 and 1221 he was also sheriff of Berkshire, though it appears he had little involvement in the day-to-day duties of the position; Henry Saccario did the accounting for him at the exchequer, with Richard always finding reason to be elsewhere.
Richard distinguished himself at the Battle of Sandwich on 24 August 1217, the sea battle in which the English naval forces intercepted the French bringing equipment and supplies to Prince Louis, the Dauphin of France, who had invaded England in 1216 in an attempt to seize the throne. The dauphin’s French forces and baronial allies had been defeated at the Battle of Lincoln in May but were still causing trouble in other parts of England.
Richard commanded one of the ships in the battle, which he brought alongside the French flagship, the most formidable of the enemy’s vessels, commanded by Eustace the Monk. Richard and his men boarded the ship. Roger of Wendover suggests that it was Richard himself who beheaded Eustace the Monk after his capture; and though other sources disagree with this, none deny that Richard’s actions in the battle were significant. The Battle of Sandwich was an important action in that it forced Prince Louis to come to terms with the regency government of King Henry III. As a consequence, Louis agreed to a settlement of £10,000 as an inducement to go home.
In 1218 Richard left to join the fifth crusade in Egypt. He returned home in 1220 or, more likely, 1221. He is known to have reached the crusader camp at Damietta as he borrowed money whilst there, 20 marks from an Italian cardinal, and was pressured for its repayment in 1128. Henry III eventually repaid the loan on Richard’s behalf. Richard was perhaps as much as seventeen years older than his half-brother, King Henry III, and doesn’t appear to have had a close relationship with him and he never appeared on the king’s witness lists. He did receive some gifts from the king, though nothing extravagant or extraordinary, such as venison or estates. Despite the trust his father had held in him, he played a limited role in England’s affairs after his return from crusade.
He fought against the Welsh in 1223 and in the same year accompanied Alexander II, King of Scots, his second cousin once removed through his Warenne family, on pilgrimage to Canterbury. Though it has to be said that the records are unclear, and the Richard involved in either, or both, of these events could have been Richard of Cornwall, the full brother of Henry III and half-brother of Richard of Chilham. It was certainly Richard of Chilham who was one of the tax collectors for Kent in 1225, when the fifteenth was granted for Henry III’s campaign to Poitou.
Most of the evidence of Richard of Chilham comes from the debts and lawsuits held against him. Indeed, one of the advantages of his joining the fifth crusade was that it resulted in the deferment of a court case he was defending. His debts to the crown started with the scutage of 1217, a tax of 2 marks per fee on the fourteen knights’ fees of his Chilham barony. The debts piled up through the 1220s, with Richard failing to appear when summoned. He was threatened with having his land taken into the king’s custody. The debts he owed to one William Scissor (or the tailor) were to be recovered by distraint of land and chattels, with his land to be returned when he paid his debts.
The king stepped in at this point, though for the sake of his sister-in-law, Rose, rather than his brother. Henry III ordered the sheriff of Kent to prevent Richard from wasting, selling or damaging the manor of Northwood, which was assigned to Rose for her maintenance. Richard and Rose were also locked in a long-running dispute with Robert fitz Walter and Richard de Montfichet over Rose’s rights to the manor of Lesnes, which arose out of Rose’s rights to the inheritance of Richard de Lucy, Henry II’s justiciar. The eyre in Kent in 1227 decided that the dispute should be settled by a duel, with each side nominating champions. In all honesty, it was little more than a brawl, which Richard and Rose won. After the duel, Robert fitz Walter recognised Rose’s right to Lesnes and quitclaimed to Richard, Rose and their heirs, for which Richard and Rose paid him 40 marks, which they had to borrow for the purpose.
Their debts thus increased further, in 1229, sheriffs were ordered to take possession of all the manors of Richard and Rose, save Lesnes, which Rose was to keep for her maintenance. Richard joined Henry III’s forces sailing for Brittany, which put two pending court cases against him into abeyance and he was granted respite from his debts. Later in the 1230s, sheriffs were ordered to prevent the sale of lands and woods by Richard, lands which were a part of Rose’s inheritance. By 1242 Richard was back in the king’s favour and was advanced 20 marks to buy equipment and supplies for an expedition to Lundy, although it is possible that this was Richard’s son, also Richard, who would join the king’s expedition to Gascony that same year, receiving an annual fee of 50 marks.
Richard of Chilham and William Bardrolf led the seaborne operations against the notorious outlaw and pirate, William de Marisco. In 1238 the would-be assassin of Henry III, whose attack was foiled by the king spending the night with the queen instead of his own bed, claimed that Marisco was behind the plot. Marisco had based himself on the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel, from where he attacked shipping, taking ransoms and plunder. Richard successfully captured Marisco and his accomplices, after scaling the island’s cliff to reach them, most of the gang were later executed in London.
In 1243 Richard was granted a pardon for £100 for a debt to the moneylender Benedict Crispin. This seems to have come about, not by Richard’s actions, but by the affection the king held for Richard’s son, King Henry’s nephew, Richard, who is referred to in the fine roll, alongside the paynment of his fee for the Easter term, as ‘our beloved and faithful Richard of Dover.’
Richard of Chilham died in 1246, leaving his wife, Rose of Dover, still burdened by her husband’s debts, his son Richard and a daughter, Isabel, who eventually inherited the honour of Chilham. One argument for the identity of Richard’s mother is in the naming of his daughter. It has been suggested that Richard named his daughter after his mother, Isabel, but this is hardly incontrovertible proof; he could have just as easily named her after his grandmother, Countess Isabel. It could just as easily have been Ela, whose marriages were that bit less prestigious than her sisters’, being to men we known little-to-nothing of besides their names, perhaps suggesting a scandalous past.
Unfortunately, a strange entry in the Annales Cestriensis only adds to the confusion. In 1200, it records that ‘W. de Waren meunch fil Regis‘ was killed, suggesting that Richard’s mother was killed in 1200. Earl Hamelin and Countess Isabel did not have a daughter with the initial ‘W’, however, and neither did any of their children died in 1200. In the Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester, Richard’s mother is merely identified as ‘the erles daughter of Wareine’. With such little information to go on, we can only speculate.
Images courtesy of Wikipedia
Further reading: Cassidy, Richard, Rose of Dover (d.1261), Richard of Chilham and an Inheritance in Kent; Turner, Ralph V., Two Illegitimate Sons of King John: A Comparison of Their Careers; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Lloyd, Simon, Chilham, Sir Richard of (d. 1246) (article); Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; Crouch, David, William Marshal; fmg.ac
From the author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy, the true stories of the Tudor dynasty continue with Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII and sister of King Henry VIII.
Born into great privilege, Mary has beauty and intelligence beyond her years and is the most marriageable princess in Europe. Henry plans to use her marriage to build a powerful alliance against his enemies. Will she dare risk his anger by marrying for love?
Meticulously researched and based on actual events, this ‘sequel’ follows Mary’s story from book three of the Tudor Trilogy and is set during the reign of King Henry VIII.
Brandon – Tudor Knight
Handsome, charismatic and a champion jouster, Sir Charles Brandon has a secret. He has fallen in love with Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, the beautiful widowed Queen of France, and risks everything to marry her without King Henry’s consent.
Brandon becomes Duke of Suffolk, but his loyalty is tested fighting Henry’s wars in France. Mary’s public support for Queen Catherine of Aragon brings Brandon into dangerous conflict with the ambitious Boleyn family and the king’s new right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell.
Torn between duty to his family and loyalty to the king, Brandon faces an impossible decision: can he accept Anne Boleyn as his new queen?
Katherine – Tudor Duchess
Attractive, wealthy and influential, Katherine Willoughby is one of the most unusual ladies of the Tudor court. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Katherine knows all his six wives, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and his son Edward.
She marries Tudor knight, Sir Charles Brandon, and becomes Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen. Her Spanish mother, Maria de Salinas, is Queen Catherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting, so it is a challenging time for them all when King Henry marries Anne Boleyn.
Following Anne’s dramatic downfall, the tragic death of Jane Seymour, and the short reign of Catherine Howard, Katherine’s young sons are tutored with the future king, Prince Edward, and become his friends.
Katherine and Charles Brandon are chosen to welcome Anna of Cleves as she arrives in England. When the royal marriage is annulled, Katherine’s friend, Catherine Parr becomes the king’s sixth wife, and they work to promote religious reform. When King Edward dies, his Catholic sister Mary is crowned queen, and Katherine’s Protestant faith puts her family in great danger – from which there seems no escape.
About the Author
Tony Riches was born in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, UK, and spent part of his childhood in Kenya. He gained a BA degree in Psychology and an MBA from Cardiff University. After writing several successful non-fiction books, Tony decided his real interest is in the history of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and now his focus is on writing historical fiction about the lives of key figures of medieval history. His Tudor Trilogy has become an international best-seller and he is in regular demand as a guest speaker about the lives of the early Tudors. Find out more at his website https://www.tonyriches.com/ and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.
Today it is a pleasure to welcome Kevin Heads to the blog, to introduce us to Michael Saxon, his new hero for children aged 10 and above.
Kevin Heads is a writer and poet who has a love of Historical Fiction. He classes himself more as a storyteller than a writer, and likes his stories to reflect that approach.
Born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in 1962, he grew up in Cramlington Northumberland, and after leaving school with no idea what he wanted to do, ended up as an apprentice box maker in a carton-manufacturing firm.
Kevin met his wife Sue at High School and after they married they had two children Sam and Stephanie. This is where Kevins’ love of storytelling began. Tired of reading the same books to his children, he started inventing characters and stories to entertain his children at bedtime. His children loved them and still remember them fondly. He never wrote these stories down as they were only for his children and he never took them seriously.
After moving around the country several times throughout his career Kevin ended up in Selby North Yorkshire. Surrounded by history he often spends time in Selby Abbey, York and walking the local battlefields, Towton being a particular favourite. However it was on a trip back from Devon that Kevin had the idea of a series of historical fiction books aimed at the younger generation.
Michael Saxon was born and by the time Kevin had driven home the first few chapters were already formulated in his mind.
Kevin is an avid reader and Bernard Cornwell is one of his favourite authors. He has read all the books apart from the Sharpe series citing Shaun Beans’ portrayal in the T.V adaptation as the reason. He loved the series and watched them all with his son and that is a memory he doesn’t want to change by reading the books.
It is Sharpe that made him decide that Waterloo would be the first setting for his Michael Saxon series specifically The Chateau d’Hougoumont.
Where it goes from there we will have to wait and see, although it is possible that a great naval battle may be next in line.
Kevin has also written an adult book set in Norway around 870AD and this is currently being edited. He plans to make Helga a series also.
He has several other ideas moving forward, he would like to visit 1066 and also has plans for a story based around the battle of Towton.
Although history plays a big part in these stories, it is the characters that Kevin wants people to engage with. Without them there is no story.
Michael Saxon Waterloo
After Michael’s grandfather goes missing presumed dead, his family moves from the city into the country home that was left to his mother in his grandfathers’ will. Michael struggles to fit in and hates the country life. He is failing at school and has no friends; spending most of his time playing video games in his bedroom. Then, after his Great Aunt visits from Whitby, things dramatically change.
She tells him of the library in the attic that is full of historical books, and gives him the key to look for himself. This is no ordinary attic and when Michael takes a book about Waterloo from the dust-covered shelves and attempts to leave, he is immediately transported through time and history to the Chateau d’Hougoumont.
Now dressed, as a soldier in the Coldstream Guards, Michael has to find a way to navigate the battlefield and find his way home. With no experience of real warfare he must depend on others to help him fight and survive in one of the biggest battles in British History.
This is the debut book by author Kevin Heads and the first in a series.
Aimed at 10 years plus it is a gentle introduction into the world of Historical fiction
The best part of writing a book is learning new things, and intertwining the story around actual facts and characters.
In Michael Saxon there is a fair amount of creative invention, yet the facts surrounding the battle at Hougoumont remain accurate as far as I can ascertain from historical sources.
Most of the main characters are fictional as we enter the gates of the Chateau. Angus, Jimmy, Alec and Helena all created and liberties were taken with Helena as there is no evidence that Major Hunter, the surgeon in Hougoumont, actually had a daughter at all, and even if he did then she was definitely not at the battle.
Cartwright is my invention and was the most fun to write, a wicked man who was only interested in self-preservation. Although fictional I imagine there was a few like him in the army at that time.
Other characters were real.
Sergeant Graham for one was instrumental in the closing of the north gate during the battle.
Lt – Colonel Charles Dashwood was also a real person also and in charge of the third guards that defended the orchard.
Lieutenant Colonel James MacDonnell was in charge of the whole garrison, although his speech in this story is purely fictional.
Major Hunter also real and indeed a surgeon in Hougoumont.
Corporal Brewster was also a fact, although he may well have been a Private at the time. His intervention during the battle was said to have helped save the day and he was decorated for his actions and bravery.
The one that interests me the most was the French drummer boy that was rumoured to be the only survivor of the French troops that managed to get through the north gate before it was closed.
Although I could find no official proof that this actually happened, the fact it is rumoured was enough for me to include it in my book.
I named him Philip as the name transcends both the French and English language.
I hope this gives you some incite into the history and characters written about in my book and urges you to read more about the people and places from our historical past. History is such a great subject and our past should never be forgotten.
Many daughters, especially those of kings, had little or no say in who they would marry; they were bargaining pieces in the search for alliances. Even their legitimacy mattered little compared to what they could bring to the table, if their fathers were powerful enough. Joan, or Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of King John, was one such young lady.
Very little is known of Joan until her appearance on the international stage in 1203, aged twelve or thirteen. It was in that year mention is made of a ship, chartered in Normandy, ‘to carry the king’s daughter and the king’s accoutrements to England’.¹ The daughter in question appears to be Joan, born around 1191 to an unknown mother, possibly a lady by the name of Clemencia or Clementina. Nothing is known of Joan’s childhood, which appears to have been spent in Normandy. However, although she grew up in obscurity, Joan must have received an education suitable to her rank as the daughter of a prince and, later, king; after all, her father intended to marry her to a prince and so would need her to be able to act the part of a princess.
By 15 October 1204 Joan was betrothed to the foremost prince in Wales; Llywelyn ab Iorweth, prince of Gwynedd, also known as Llywelyn Fawr, or Llywelyn the Great. In the summer of 1204, he had paid homage to King John for his Welsh lands, having recognised the English king as overlord by treaty in July 1201; allowing him to marry Joan was a sign of John’s favour. By the time of his marriage, Llywelyn was already an accomplished warrior and experienced statesman; and was the father of at least two children, a son and daughter, Gruffuddd ab Llywelyn and Gwenllian. Their mother was Tangwystl, but her union with Llywelyn was not recognised by the Church and the children were considered illegitimate under Church law.
Joan and Llywelyn were probably married in the spring of 1205; part of Joan’s dowry, the castle and manor of Ellesmere, were granted to Llywelyn on 16 April 1205, suggesting the wedding took place around that time. Joan was fourteen or fifteen at the time; at thirty-two, Llywelyn was about eighteen years her senior. Having been uprooted from her home in Normandy, she had probably spent a year at the English court, learning of the politics and duties associated with her new home in Wales. The language and traditions of her new homeland would have been completely alien to the young woman. Even her name was not the same, in Welsh, she was known as Siwan.
For someone barely into her teenage years, all these changes must have been daunting. Not only was she expected to become a wife and a princess to a nation that was totally alien to her, but her responsibilities also included the role of peacemaker. In a prestigious marriage for an illegitimate daughter, Joan was thrown into the heart of Anglo-Welsh relations. She was to become an important diplomatic tool for her father and, later, her half-brother, Henry III; acting as negotiator and peacemaker between the English crown and her husband, almost from the first day of her marriage.
Despite the marriage of Joan and Llywelyn, relations between England and Wales were rarely cordial. Following a devastating defeat by the English in 1211, in which the invading army had swept into Gwynedd, capturing the Bishop of Bangor in his own cathedral, Joan’s skills were sorely needed and
‘Llywelyn, being unable to suffer the King’s rage, sent his wife, the King’s daughter, to him by the counsel of his leading men to seek to make peace with the King on whatever terms he could.’
Brut y Tywysogyn or The Chronicle of the Princes: Peniarth MS 20 Version, editor T. Jones
Joan managed to negotiate peace, but at a high price, including the loss of the Four Cantrefs (the land between the Conwy and the Dee rivers), a heavy tribute of cattle and horses and the surrender of hostages, including Llywelyn’s son, Gruffudd.
Following a deterioration of Anglo-Welsh relations, and as a precursor to invasion, twenty-eight of the Welsh hostages were hanged in 1212. However, the attack was called off when John received word from Joan that his barons were planning treason closer to home. The last years of John’s reign were taken up with conflict with his barons, leading to the issuing of Magna Carta in 1215 and a French invasion by Louis, eldest son of Philip II Augustus. The last thing John needed, if he was to save his kingdom, was to be distracted by discontent in Wales. In 1214 Joan successfully negotiated with her father for the release of the Welsh hostages still in English hands, including Llywelyn’s son, Gruffudd; they were freed the following year.
Following her father’s death in October 1216, Joan continued to work towards peace between Wales and England. She visited Henry in person in September 1224, meeting him in Worcester; Joan seems to have had a good relationship with her half-brother, evidenced by his gifts to her of the manor of Rothley in Leicestershire, in 1225, followed by that of Condover in Shropshire, in 1226. An extant letter to Henry III, addressed to her ‘most excellent lord and dearest brother’ is a plea for him to come to an understanding with Llywelyn.
In the letter, Joan uses her relationship with Henry to try to ease the mounting tensions between the two men. She describes her grief ‘beyond measure’ that discord between her husband and brother had arisen out of the machinations of their enemies, and reassures her brother of Llywelyn’s affection for him. In the mid-1220s, Henry acted as a sponsor, with Llywelyn, in Joan’s appeal to Pope Honorius III to be declared legitimate; in 1226 her appeal was allowed on the grounds that neither of Joan’s parents had been married to others when she was born.
Joan and Llywelyn’s marriage appears to have been, for the most part, a successful one. Joan’s high-born status, as the daughter of a king, brought great prestige to Gwynedd. As a consequence, her household was doubled from four to eight staff, including a cook who could prepare Joan’s favourite dishes. Llywelyn seems to have valued his wife’s opinion; as we have seen, he often made use of her diplomatic skills and relationship with the English court and he often consulted her on other matters. Her influence extended to Welsh legal texts, which, from this period onwards, included French words. Joan’s position was strengthened even further by the arrival of her children. Sometime between 1212 and 1215, her son, Dafydd, was born; in 1220 he was recognised as Llywelyn’s heir by Henry III, officially supplanting his older, illegitimate, half-brother, Gruffudd, who was entitled to his father’s lands under Welsh law.
The move received papal approval in 1222. As a result, in 1229 Dafydd performed homage to Henry III, as his father’s heir. A daughter, Elen, was probably born around 1210, as she was first married in 1222, to John the Scot, Earl of Chester. Her second marriage, in 1237 or 1238, was to Robert de Quincy. Joan was the mother to at least two more of Llywelyn’s daughters, Gwladus and Margaret. Gwladus was married to Reginald de Braose. Her stepson, William (V) de Braose, was to play a big part in Joan’s scandalous downfall in 1230.
Joan’s life in the first quarter of the 13th century had been exemplary; she was the ideal medieval woman, a dutiful daughter and wife, whose marriage helped to broker peace, if an uneasy one, between two countries. She had fulfilled her wifely duties, both by providing a son and heir and being supportive of her husband to the extent that she should not be included in the roll call of scandalous women – however, in 1230, everything changed.
William de Braose was a wealthy Norman baron with estates along the Welsh Marches, he was the grandson of Maud de Braose, who starved to death in King John’s dungeons. Hated by the Welsh, who had given him the nickname Gwilym Ddu, or Black William, he had been taken prisoner by Llywelyn in 1228, near Montgomery. Although he had been released after paying a ransom, de Braose had returned to Llywelyn’s court to arrange a marriage between his daughter, Isabella, and Llywelyn’s son and heir, Dafydd. During this stay, William de Braose was ‘caught in Llywelyn’s chamber with the King of England’s daughter, Llywelyn’s wife’. ²
Contemporaries were deeply shocked at Joan’s betrayal of her husband; indeed, following this scandal, Welsh law identified the sexual misconduct of the wife of a ruler as ‘the greatest disgrace’. Joan was no young girl struggling to come to terms with her position in life; she was about forty years old, had been Llywelyn’s consort for twenty-five years and had borne him at least two children when the affair was discovered. The most surprising thing about the whole affair, moreover, is Llywelyn’s response. His initial anger saw William de Braose impoverished, put on trial and hanged from the nearest tree on 2 May 1230. Joan was imprisoned in a tower. This rage, however vicious, was remarkably brief.
Maybe it was due to the strength of the previous relationship between Llywelyn and Joan, or maybe it was the high value placed on Joan’s diplomatic skills and her links with the English court; but within a year the terms of Joan’s imprisonment had been relaxed and just months after that, she was back on the political stage. Llywelyn appears to have forgiven her; the couple were reconciled and Joan returned to her life and position as Lady of Wales. Indeed, Joan soon reprised her diplomatic duties. She attended a conference between her husband, son and her brother, Henry III at Shrewsbury, in 1232. Despite William de Braose’s betrayal of Llywelyn, and subsequent violent death, the wedding between his daughter, Isabella, and Llywelyn’s son, Dafydd, was not derailed and by 1232 they were married.
Joan’s indiscretion was forgiven by Llywelyn, maybe even forgotten, and when she died on 2 February 1237, the Welsh prince was deeply affected by grief. Joan died at Garth Celyn, Abergwyngregyn, on the north coast of Gwynedd. She was buried close to the shore of Llanfaes, in the Franciscan friary that Llywelyn founded in her memory – a testament to his love for her. The friary was consecrated in 1240, just a few months before Llywelyn’s own death in April of that year. The friary was destroyed in 1537, during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.
Joan’s remains were lost, but her coffin was eventually found, being used as a horse trough in the town of Beaumaris, on Anglesey. It is a testament to Joan’s personality, and the strength of her relationship with Llywelyn, that her affair with de Braose had few lasting consequences for her. Had she been younger, when the legitimacy of her children could have been called into question, her punishment could have been much harsher and the consequences more far-reaching.
Footnotes: ¹ Magna rotuli, 2–569, quoted in Joan, d. 1237, by Kate Norgate and Rev. A.D. Carr in Oxfroddnb.com; ² ibid.
Images courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: Oxforddnb.com; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 by Robert Bartlett; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; The Life and Times of King John by Maurice Ashley; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Oxforddnb.com; magnacartareseearch.org; Magna Carta by David Starkey; King John by Marc Morris; King John, England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant by Stephen Church; 1215, the Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham; Women in Thirteenth Century Lincolnshire by Louise J. Wilkinson.
Today it is a pleasure to welcome Alistair Forrest to History…the Interesting Bits, with an article about the history behind the biblical story of David and Goliath.
David & Goliath
Making the facts fit the story!
ALISTAIR FORREST draws on an upbringing in the Middle East and a love of ancient history to explore fact and fiction surrounding a famous Bible story
I’m an author of fiction, not a historian. So I can assure you that some historians reading Line in the Sand, my account of the David & Goliath story, might get very hot under their academic collars.
I hope lovers of historical fiction will take a different view and accept that I have filled in some gaps that the ancient scribes left in their telling. We know there are inconsistencies and contradictions across the several Biblical books that report the story of King David, leaving many questions unanswered.
So, following my journalist’s mantra, ‘Never let the facts get in the way of a good story’, I have drawn on my studies of the ancient Near East and Old Testament history – let’s call these ‘the facts’ – and unleashed my imagination and love of ‘a good yarn’.
In reality, there are very few facts. The only archaeological reference to King David would appear to be a reference to the House of David on a ninth century stela found at Tel Dan in northern Israel in 1993. Most of the Biblical texts were written down long after the events surrounding David’s rise to power, with the two books of Samuel the earliest account.
Fair game, then? I decided that this bullied young shepherd should become a spy, find himself betrayed in the Philistine city where giants lived, be tortured and face branding as a slave, fight a giant called Golyat (Goliath) in a gladiatorial arena, rescue a Philistine princess and ultimately escape to warn the Israelites of pending doom.
You might think you know what happens next. I couldn’t possibly comment. But then, I have tried to anchor the story in certain Biblical facts, such as the tensions between the agricultural kingdom of Judah and the five Philistine city states, and the settling of scores in single combat (and who wouldn’t nominate a nine-foot warrior as champion?).
Which brings us to Goliath, or more accurately, ‘Golyat’.
At the outset of writing Line in the Sand, I listened to a very convincing lecture by Professor Jeffrey R. Zorn of Cornell University, entitled Who Was Goliath?, in which he suggests that the Philistine giant was an elite chariot warrior. Most modern depictions of Goliath are as a very large foot-soldier, but Zorn points out his armour and weapons as detailed in 1 Samuel 17: 4-7 would indicate an Aegean/Levantine chariot warrior who was probably transported to the ideal position in a battle to wreak the most havoc.
While researching for the book, I was in touch with Professor Aren Maier, director of the Tel es-Safi excavations that have uncovered so much about ancient Gath, whence the giant came, including an inscription thought to include his name or at least something similar.
I am also indebted to the British Egyptologist and author David Rohl, not least for succinct explanations of his New Chronology theories, specifically his interpretation of the Amarna letters and probable references to King Saul.
Books that have helped me include the Bible of course, The King David Report by Stefan Heym; The Source by James A. Michener; David’s Secret Demons by Baruch Halpern, and various books published by Osprey about warfare in the ancient Middle East.
I have read many books about ancient Israel both on-line and in my studies, too numerous to mention, all influential in their way. But somehow I still feel as though I know nothing when compared with the likes of Maier, Zorn and Rohl. I hope these knowledgeable historians will forgive my diversion from ‘what is known’ to ‘what might have been’.
What next? I count myself lucky to have spent my childhood and early teens in three Middle Eastern countries and subsequently to have travelled widely as a journalist, always delving into the history that made each place what it is today. A burning passion to write historical fiction fuelled by two years studying theology straddled by my early years as a newspaper reporter.
Although currently focusing on post-Republic Roman themes at the behest of my publisher Sharpe Books, especially the upheaval following the assassination of Julius Caesar (Libertas, Nest of Vipers), I hope one day to return to my formative years in the Middle East and extensive studies of ancient Mesopotamia, including the amazing stories waiting to be reimagined of Assyrians, Israelites, Phoenicians and Philistines.
And while there’s ink my pen, I must surely make the most of the archaeological dig just a few yards from my home in Alderney (Channel Islands) where archaeologists Jason Monaghan and Phil de Jersey have uncovered well-preserved remains of Roman and Iron Age settlements. The historian Dan Snow is keenly interested in the site. But that’s yet another story…
I would like say a huge thank you to Alistair for such a fascinating article and wish him all the best with his latest book.
Line in the Sand
(Sharpe Books 2020)
His mother is reviled as a whore and his half-brothers despise him.
The best Dhavit of Beth Lechem can do is escape. But just as life couldn’t get much lower for the youth they call Leper, he is recruited as a spy. His mission – to find out about the superior weapons and invasion plans of the warlike Philistines.
When he is betrayed, Dhavit is thrown into an arena with two other misfortunates to fight a pair seemingly invincible warriors. Only speed and quick wits can save him.
Dhavit believes he is chosen by the gods and finds himself revered in the Philistine court, whose rulers want to declare war on his people.
At the head of the Philistine forces is the famed Golyat, a man bred for war and destruction.
A vicious conflict for supremacy is sure to follow.
Two armies will go to war. But also two soldiers – Dhavit and Golyat.
Alistair Forrest is a journalist, editor and author of historical fiction. He has worked for several UK newspapers, edited magazines in the travel, photographic and natural products sectors, and owned a PR company.
He lives in the Channel Islands with his wife Lynda. They have five children, two Maremma dogs and a Spanish cat, Achilles. His books are published by Sharpe Books of London. Alistair loves to hear from readers.
The Anarchy was the first civil war in post-Conquest England, enduring throughout the reign of King Stephen between 1135 and 1154. It ultimately brought about the end of the Norman dynasty and the birth of the mighty Plantagenet kings. When Henry I died having lost his only legitimate son in a shipwreck, he had caused all of his barons to swear to recognize his daughter Matilda, widow of the Holy Roman Emperor, as his heir and remarried her to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. When she was slow to move to England on her father’s death, Henry’s favorite nephew Stephen of Blois rushed to have himself crowned, much as Henry himself had done on the death of his brother William Rufus.
Supported by his brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester, Stephen made a promising start, but Matilda would not give up her birthright and tried to hold the English barons to their oaths. The result was more than a decade of civil war that saw England split apart. Empress Matilda is often remembered as aloof and high-handed, Stephen as ineffective and indecisive. By following both sides of the dispute and seeking to understand their actions and motivations, Matthew Lewis aims to reach a more rounded understanding of this crucial period of English history and asks to what extent there really was anarchy.
Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy by Matthew Lewis, is a wonderful book looking at the civil war, known as The Anarchy, through the eyes of the two leading protagonists, King Stephen and his cousin, Empress Matilda. A totally absorbing read, this book is enjoyable and informative, analysing the actions of both sides in a critical but sympathetic light.
Matthew Lewis digs deep into the personalities involved in both sides of the war and puts flesh on the bones of these characters. The result is a fair and balanced appraisal of the conflict between these two cousins, both as rival claimants to the throne and as leaders of their disparate supporters. The story is told in alternate chapters from the views of Stephen and Matilda, helping to keep the analysis and narrative balanced and fresh.
Matthew Lewis tries to be fair to both sides. You can tell that he feels for Empress Matilda, faced not only with a challenge to her right to the throne, but with the extra challenges that arose out of her being a woman and unable to lead the military aspects of the war. The author highlights Matilda’s failings, but does temper them with an explanation of how her actions would have been received differently, had she only been a man!
On the other side, King Stephen’s own faults and weaknesses are also singled out, though Matthew Lewis also stresses that where Matilda was hindered by her sex, so was Stephen – by Matilda’s gender, that is. There were limits put on Stephen by the fact he was challenged by a woman; just as Matilda could not lead her troops into battle, neither could Stephen face his challenger in an all-for-nothing trial by combat that could have put an end to the war years later. The result was a long, protracted war during which it was said ‘Christ and his saints slept.’
Before any move was made, there were probably four prime candidates to succeed Henry. His daughter, Empress Matilda, was perhaps the most obvious, but also in many ways the least attractive. Female rule was still something unheard of, at least in England, a nation that would have no queen regnant for another 400 years. The second possibility was Robert, Earl of Gloucester. Robert was an illegitimate son of Henry I, widely considered his favourite. He had extensive lands and power both in Normandy and England and was well respected. He was, however, illegitimate. That was less of a bar to power in Normandy: the Conqueror himself had been called William the Bastard. In England, it was unheard of. Legitimacy was still an absolute, marking the distinction between a duke and a king. Robert had everything required to follow his father except the right mother.
The two other contenders came from the House of Blois. They were Henry’s nephews, the sons of his sister Adela and her husband Stephen, Count of Blois. Theobald, Count of Blois and Champagne was the senior male of the house, though his younger brother Stephen, Count of Mortain, had been in England for years and was close to his uncle. They offered the prospect of legitimate, male successors as grandsons of William the Conqueror, albeit in a female line of descent. None of these solutions appeared perfect, and only one could win the throne. As it turned out, only two displayed an interest, and neither would give up during the nineteen years that followed.
Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy by Matthew Lewis is a thoroughly enjoyable read, offering the perfect balance in a non-fiction book; accessible, interesting and informative. It gives a whole new perspective to the Civil War which divided England for the whole of Stephen’s 19-year reign. The book looks into each aspect of the war. The battles, conferences, truces and stalemates, are all analysed through the disparate eyes of those involved; not only looking into how they effected events, but also how events affected them.
Although it concentrates on the 2 leading protagonists, Stephen and Matilda, the book also gives insight into the lead supporting characters on both sides, giving the reader a comprehensive, panoramic view of the era through the personalities of those involved; from the steadfast and loyal Robert, Earl of Gloucester, to Stephen’s queen, also Matilda and the gruff, fearless John Marshal, father of William Marshal, first Earl of Pembroke and arguable the greatest knight England ever had.
Although more known for his books on the Wars of the Roses, Matthew Lewis has managed to demonstrate the breadth and depth of his historical knowledge with Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy. He had put his usual level of passion and attention to detail into this book and the result is well worth reading. Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy by Matthew Lewis is a thoroughly compelling read.
Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy by Matthew Lewis is available from Amazon.
About the author:
Matthew Lewis trained in law and is now a full time author of historical fiction and non-fiction. He also blogs on his website, Matt’s History Blog, and can be found on Twitter as @mattlewisauthor. His main interest is medieval history and he has a number of books on that topic, including The Survival of the Princes in the Tower and Richard, Duke of York: King by Right.
Given my recent articles on She Wolves, it is a distinct pleasure to welcome Carol McGrath to History…the Interesting Bits with an article about Eleanor of Provence, another queen labelled a ‘she-wolf’.
Why was Ailenor of Provence called a She Wolf Queen?
The first novel, in The She Wolf Queens Trilogy, The Silken Rose was published as an ebook on Thursday 2nd April. The Silken Rose features Ailenor of Provence, who married Henry III in 1236 at only twelve or thirteen years of age. He was already old at twenty-nine years old. The term She Wolf Queen was initially used for Margaret of Anjou by William Shakespeare.
Later, the Victorian Historian, Agnes Strickland, used it for Ailenor of Provence, although Ailenor had, without doubt, made enemies during own her life time. Why label Ailenor of Provence a she wolf queen. Did she deserve this sobriquet?
In many ways beautiful Ailenor was the perfect queen who generously gave alms to the poor, was devoted to her husband and endowed abbeys. She was a good mother, protective of her children. Exemplary you might think. However, Ailenor was foreign at a time when English Continental territories had been reduced to Gascony and Aquitaine and ‘Englishness’ was becoming a national identity.
Ailenor of Provence never brought Henry a dowry. She was not even from the top-drawer of European nobility. After her marriage, she introduced a collection of penniless Savoyard and Provençal relatives to England. The English barons who had become inward looking, after the loss of estates in Normandy during the previous reign, were furious. They disliked top positions being parcelled out to the queen’s relatives, particularly to her uncles from Savoy.
It probably seemed natural to Ailenor to advance her own relatives. Uncle William of Savoy who had accompanied Ailenor to England became one of King Henry’s chief counsellors. Henry even attempted to make him Bishop of Winchester.
Uncle Peter, reportedly charming and clever, became an advisor and received the Honour of Richmond, in Yorkshire. Peter built the Savoy Palace in London. Thomas of Savoy acted as an envoy when Ailenor attempted to buy the Sicilian crown for her second son, Edmund. An unpopular foolish move. It was costly and fell apart when Thomas was captured and imprisoned in Turin and Ailenor had to raise a ransom. The handsome, reforming Uncle Boniface became Archbishop of Canterbury.
In addition, talented clerks came to England from Provence and Savoy. They took over running the treasury as well as other areas of government. This did not please the English barons who felt such jobs were theirs to distribute and control. Henry loved pageants and parties. He spent money on magnificent, expensive building works such as Westminster Abbey. She adored fashion and rich embroidery. I off set her point of view in the novel with that of a court embroiderer. Extravagant spending and nepotism would lead to conflict between King and Barons. She was blamed as a bad influence on the King.
English marriages were arranged for her relations, including that of Ailenor’s younger sister, Sanchia, to Henry’s brother, Richard of Cornwall. This limited English heirs and heiresses available for English barons’ own sons and daughters. After the disgrace and death of Henry’s mother, his hated Lusignan half-brothers arrived in England seeking patronage. Incensed,
Ailenor’s opposition to the unpopular Lusignans gave her momentarily a stronger political position at court. However, she recognised she would have to tolerate them if she was to preserve good will within her marriage. Henry made her joint regent when he campaigned in Gascony during the 1250s but she levied new taxes, an unpopular move.
At the outbreak of the Baron’s war in 1263, Ailenor was pelted with offal from London Bridge as she attempted to take a boat from The Tower upriver. After that, she sailed for France to raise mercenaries for the royalist cause.
Ailenor was a force to be reckoned with. No wonder during the Victorian era she earned the title of she wolf queen. Nowadays, I suspect, we admire her loyalty, intelligence, love of culture and personal strength.
I would like to extend huge thanks to Carol for a fabulous postand wish her every success with The Silken Rose.
About the author:
Following her first degree in English and History, Carol McGrath completed an MA in Creative Writing at The Seamus Heaney Centre, Belfast, followed by an MPhil from University of London. Her fifth historical novel, The Silken Rose, first in The Rose Trilogy, published by the Headline Group, is set during the High Middle Ages. It features Ailenor of Provence and will be published on April 2nd 2020. Carol was the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels’ Society Conference, Oxford in September 2016. Visit her website: http://www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk.
Carol’s latest novel, The Silken Rose, telling the remarkable story of Alienor of Provence is available now. To purchase The Silken Rose ebook click here
Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been seen these past ten years. Now, the Saxons are gathering again, their warbands stalk the land, their king seeks dominion. As for the lords and kings of Britain, they look only to their own survival and will not unite as they once did under Arthur and his legendary sword Excalibur.
But in an isolated monastery in the marshes of Avalon, a novice of the order is preparing to take his vows when the life he has known is suddenly turned upside down in a welter of blood. Two strangers – the wild-spirited, Saxon-killing Iselle and the ageing warrior Gawain – will pluck the young man from the wreckage of his simple existence. Together, they will seek the last druid and the cauldron of a god. And the young man must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot.
For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive . . .
A couple of years ago, I read Lancelot by Giles Kristian, not really expecting to like it. After all, Lancelot was the villain of the King Arthur story and lover of Guinevere; he caused the downfall of Camelot. However, Kristian skillfully put a different spin on the story, presenting Lancelot as a flawed but talented knight, torn between the love for his lord, Arthur, and that for for his true love, Guinevere. Lancelot became a tragic hero and the cause of his own downfall. Lancelot was a story of complex loyalties, tested to the limit by war and circumstance beyond the control of the leading protagonists. In short, it was an incredible piece of storytelling that totally changed my view of Lancelot and the Arthurian legend.
This new book, Camelot, had a lot to live up to!
And, of course, it did not disappoint. In fact, I think Camelot surpasses Lancelot in so many ways. The story follows Galahad, Lancelot’s son in the attempts of the British tribes to form one last alliance that will see them fighting off the Saxon advance. The old heroes – Gawain, Arthur and, of course, Merlin – are there to help the new generation find their way. And the love interest is no defenceless little girl in need of saving – she’s a strong, independent character you will not fail to love, with a story all her own. There is humour, sadness, action and adventure. Giles Kristian cleverly weaves his own story into the existing legend, recreating a world lovers of all thing Arthurian cannot fail to appreciate.
‘You must leave this place and you must do it without delay,’ Gawain said, not looking up from his bowl. He fished out a scrap of meat and blew on it as it steamed between his finger and thumb. Then he thrust the scrap into his mouth and closed his eyes for a moment as if seeking to commit the taste and pleasure of the food to memory.
Father Brice and Father Judoc, standing across from Gawain on the other side of the hearth, looked at each other. ‘We cannot leave Ynys Wydryn,’ Father Brice said.
‘Why would we?’ Father Judoc asked. ‘We are safe here. Hidden.’
‘We found you,’ Gawain said, chewing, juices running into his beard.
‘The Saxons do not know we are here,’ Brice said. ‘The ones who attacked Galahad -‘
‘If they were Saxons,’ Judoc interrupted.
‘- They must have wandered in search of plunder, straying far from King Cerdic’s army,’ Brice went on, ‘which I believe is some miles east of Camelot and -‘
‘The Saxons are already here,’ Gawain cut him off, looking up now, holding Brice’s gaze. There were rumours and rumbles around the fire then.
‘We had to slip past them to get across the White Lake,’ Gediens said, thumbing at the east wall. He was the youngest of the four men, though he could not have been less than forty years old. ‘And not just a few scouts and foragers but war bands. Spearmen by the score. Saw their fires on Pennard Hill. Too many to count.’
Camelot by Giles Kristian is a wonderful crafted novel that leads the reader on a winding tale through Arthurian Britain. It takes you on a legendary quest, to the wondrous castles of Tintagel and Camelot, to the wilds of Anglesey and the Isle of Man and through various skirmishes, political intrigues, disappointments and love – with many twists and turns along the way. While you are desperate to read on through the next chapter, you simultaneously, never want the book to end.
I truly believe that the sign of a good book, is one that will take you through a range of emotions, from laughter to tears, and that will – when you get to the final page – leave you bereft that there is no more to read, and disappointed that you know will not read anything so good any time soon. Camelot fills all this criteria. It surprises you at every turn. It is probably the best book I will read this year – and its only April! This book is a keeper, and one I’ll be getting my dad for Father’s Day, that’s for sure!
Camelot is one of those rare books that will remain with you for days to come, musing over why Arthur acted the way he did, how Galahad managed to achieve what he did, how Gawain’s loyalty and perseverance saved the heroes on more than one occasion and how Merlin managed to weave his magic through the whole story, all the way to the final, climactic battle.
Camelot by Giles Kristian is due for release in the UK on 14 May 2020 and is available for pre-order from Amazon.
About the author:
Family history (he is half Norwegian) and a passion for the fiction of Bernard Cornwell inspired GILES KRISTIAN to write. Set in the Viking world, his bestselling ‘Raven’ and ‘The Rise of Sigurd’ trilogies have been acclaimed by his peers, reviewers and readers alike. In The Bleeding Land and Brothers’ Fury, he tells the story of a family torn apart by the English Civil War. He also co-wrote Wilbur Smith’s No.1 bestseller, Golden Lion. In his most recent novel, the Sunday Times bestseller Lancelot, Giles plunged into the rich waters of the Arthurian legend. For his next book, he continues his epic reimagining of our greatest island ‘history’. Giles Kristian lives in Leicestershire.
The medieval religious life provided a refuge for widows and elderly women in search of calm and peace at the end of their lives. It was an alternative to marriage, and childbearing, for women and girls from diverse backgrounds. Moreover, the cloistered life was not the only path for a woman who wanted to devote her life to God. One such devotee was Saint Julian of Norwich, an anchorite and mystic who lived in a cell at the parish church of St Julian at Conisford in Norwich.
Julian’s life was remarkable in its simplicity, devotion and spirituality, and because of her writing. Having survived 600 years, her book, Revelations of Divine Love, is the earliest surviving of its kind – a book written in English, by a woman. She is renowned for her words
‘all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,’
Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
These simple words still offer hope and encourage positivity today, especially in the atmosphere in which we are all currently living.
Julian’s true identity and origins remain obscured. It is possible that Julian took her name from the church in which she lived, St Julian’s, however, it may have been hers from birth. Although Julian was not a common name for a woman at the time, it was not unknown. It may even be a derivative of Juliana, a more familiar woman’s name. However, there was a contemporary of the same name, Julian of Erpingham, who was from one of the foremost noble families of Norwich in the 14th century.
Julian of Erpingham has been suggested by Father John Julian as a possible candidate for the identity of Julian of Norwich. She was the sister of Sir Thomas of Erpingham, who had been a friend of Edward III and later fought at Agincourt in 1415. Julian of Erpingham was married twice; her first husband died in 1373, and her second was dead by 1393. She had at least three children, with a daughter already married and the youngest possibly fostered out by the time Julian entered the Church. If Julian of Erpingham and Julian of Norwich are one and the same person – and this is far from certain – the legacies from her two husbands would have helped to pay for Julian’s upkeep once she had dedicated herself to God.
It is also possible that Julian had been a nun at the Benedictine priory of Carrow, which was close by and had an affinity with St Julian’s Church. She was probably from a well-to-do, if not noble, family as she seems to have had some level of education; given that she could, at least, read before she became an anchorite. However, we simply do not know enough about Julian’s early life to positively identify her origins. Although Revelations of Divine Love is considered autobiographical, it concentrates on her spiritual journey, as opposed to her physical life. We can glean some insight, if not a great deal, from the information she gives at various points in her text. For example, we know that Julian was born in the second half of the year 1342, as she mentions in her writing that she received her visions in May 1373, when she was aged thirty-and-a-half.
In that month Julian suffered an illness so serious that her life was despaired of. Whether it was the Black Death, prevalent in England since its first major outbreak in 1348–9, or some other disease, as her illness progressed she was paralysed to the extent that she could barely even move her eyelids. She was given the last rites and she wrote of how the priest
‘…set the cross before my face and said, “I have brought you the image of your maker and saviour. Look at it and take comfort from it.”’
Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
Julian wrote in Revelations of Divine Love that she had wanted to have a life-threatening illness, which would bring her close to death, but from which she would be saved. Maybe she believed it would bring her closer to God? Whatever the reason, her illness brought on a series of visions in which she encountered Jesus Christ and his mother the Virgin Mary. The sixteen visions were to form the basis for the direction of her spiritual life and for her book, charting her struggle to understand the divine. Julian wrote two versions of Revelations of Divine Love; the Short Text is believed to have been written soon after experiencing her visions, though it took several years to complete. The Long Text – which is six times as long – is more contemplative and appears to have been a constant work-in progress in her later years.
Although her near-death experience directed her later life, it was only many years after her illness that Julian entered her cell as an anchorite. The exact date is uncertain, but it is believed to have been in the 1390s that her enclosure may have come, possibly after the death of her husband or family members. The life of an anchorite was a strange, solitary existence in which the person was physically cut off from the world, while still being a part of it. It was a life that could be followed by a man or woman, but was one which could not be lightly taken on by the anchorite themselves, or by the Church at large.
Not all were suited to the life and a person wanting to profess themselves as an anchorite had to go through a rigorous process to assess that suitability. This even included an interview with the bishop. In Julian’s case, it was probably Henry Despenser, Bishop of Norwich, in the late 14th century. Of particular concern was the anchorite’s mental capacity to deal with the solitude and limitation on human contact. Once the Church had endorsed a person’s suitability to become an anchorite, there was a specific ceremony to signify the end of the life they had previously known.
An anchorite was, effectively, dead to the world. They would live in a small cell, attached to the church. As they were led to this cell, a requiem Mass would be sung for them and they would receive extreme unction, normally reserved for the dying. They would be sprinkled with dust, to signify their burial, and then the door to the cell bolted from the outside. In some cases, the cell was walled up. The only access to the outside world was a small, curtained window.
Once they had taken their vows, anchorites were forbidden to leave their cell, on pain of excommunication from the Church. As an anchoress, Julian had to adhere to vows of poverty and chastity and to remain in her cell for the rest of her life. She was not allowed to teach young girls, or possess valuables. Conversations with men in private were strictly forbidden and communication with the outside world was done from behind a black curtain, through which she could also hear the daily church offices, even if she couldn’t interact with them.
Julian would been permitted a servant to see to her daily needs, such as food, laundry, and clearing away waste. However, her daily interactions with her servant would have been restricted to dealing with her physical needs, rather than friendship and companionship. She was also allowed to keep a cat, to control the mice and rats; many images of Julian show her dressed in the habit of a nun, with a cat sat at her feet as she studies her books.
Anchorites were expected to devote their lives to prayers and contemplation, to be a benefit to their community and to work for it by praying for their souls. They were an integral part of the Church, and the parish in which they lived;
True anchoresses are indeed birds of heaven which fly up high and sit singing merrily on the green boughs – that is, direct their thoughts upwards at the bliss of heaven.’
Hugh White, translator, Ancrene Wisse
Once Julian entered her cell, her time was her own. She could manage her own daily routine, although she probably followed the canonical hours and prayed seven times daily. Julian probably read a great deal, she would have had access to books brought by well-wishers and the large selection available at the library of the cathedral priory in Norwich; a collection that was added to in 1407 by a substantial bequest of more than 200 books from Cardinal Adam Easton, a supporter of Bridget of Sweden, who was later canonised.
Julian spent many hours in contemplation, reading and writing. Revelations of Divine Love was written in the English vernacular, in beautiful, poetic prose; remarkably, it was written by Julian herself, rather than dictated to a scribe. The text’s near-miraculous survival, through 600 years and the Reformation, is due to three Long Text manuscripts, which were copied in the 17th century by English nuns at Cambrai and Paris. The book describes the sixteen visions of Christ that she had received during her illness, and her subsequent reflections on their meaning.
Not only does Julian describe her visions in the book, but she also describes the physical experience of the visions, saying,
‘All this was shown in three ways: that is to say, by bodily sight, and by words formed in my understanding, and by spiritual visions. But I neither can nor know how to disclose the spiritual vision as openly or as fully as I would wish’.
Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
Revelations of Divine Love is a spiritual autobiography, contemplating the relationship between love, sin, suffering and God. It is heavily imbued with mysticism, where the author attempts to move beyond normal human thought, exploring sensations and feelings and the relationship with God. Its message of love and peace still gives it relevance today, and her thoughts are possibly more widely respected now than at any time in the past.
Though Julian was appreciated in her own time. People visited to talk with her. A few years before Julian’s death, she was visited by fellow mystic Margery Kempe. Margery’s approach to her religion was a direct contrast to the path followed by Julian, but the meeting between the two women strikes me as extraordinary. Margery Kempe was about thirty years younger than Julian of Norwich, born around 1373, possibly even in the same year that Julian experienced her visions.
Julian was the recipient of several legacies, which helped to pay for her keep. In his will, Richard Reed left 2s to ‘Julian anchorite’, while Thomas Edmund, in 1404, bequeathed a legacy of 12d to Julian and 8d to Sara, her maid.
Julian died in, or shortly after, 1416; she was around seventy-three years old. She is commemorated in the Anglican calendar on 8 May. Julian had pursued her calling with quiet dignity and spirituality, ensuring her place in history as a heroine to women on many levels, not only for her piety but also as a writer, a mystic and a visionary, whose approach to God is arguably more relevant today than it was in her own day.
Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love; Janina Ramirez, Julian of Norwich, a Very Brief History; Father John Julian, The Complete Julian of Norwich; Hugh White, translator, Ancrene Wisse: Guide for Anchoresses; Henrietta Leyser, Medieval Women, A Social History of Women in England 450-1500; Toni Mount, A Year in the Life of Medieval England; Felicity Riddy, Oxforddnb.com, Kempe, Margery (9b.c. 1373, d. in or after 1438); Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe; Santha Bhattacharji, Oxfroddnb, Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416)