Anne of Gloucester, Daughter of a Traitor

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Arms of Anne of Gloucester, Countess of Stafford

Born sometime around 1382 Anne of Gloucester was the daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester, and Eleanor de Bohun.

Anne’s parentage was impeccable. Her father was the youngest son of the late king Edward III and his queen Philippa of Hainault, making Anne first cousins with the 2 subsequent kings, Richard II and Henry IV. Along with Henry IV’s wife, Mary de Bohun, Anne’s mother was co-heiress of the earls of Hereford.

Anne’s childhood would have been marred by the political conflicts of Richard II’s reign. By the late 1380s her father had set himself up in opposition to the king’s tyrannical rule and his reliance on personal favourites. As a leader of the Lords Appellant he was responsible for the arrest of Richard’s favourites and the curbing of the king’s powers.

Anne was probably born at Pleshey Castle and it was also the scene of her first wedding. In June 1391, aged only 8 or 9, Anne was married to Thomas Stafford, 3rd Earl of Stafford, who was about 15 years her senior. Thomas died in 1392, before the marriage could be consummated. Even before Thomas Stafford’s death, it seems, provision had already been made for Anne to marry one of his younger brothers. The brothers, William and Edmund, were wards of Anne’s father. The year after the elder boy William, died in 1395 (aged about 19), Anne was married to Edmund, now 5th Earl of Stafford.

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Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester

In the year following her marriage, Anne was to suffer further tragedy when her father was personally arrested by the king, whilst recovering from illness at the family’s home of Pleshey Castle, Essex. Thomas was transported to imprisonment in Calais to await trial, under the care of the earl of Nottingham, from where his death was reported in September of the same year. A later inquiry established that Thomas Duke of Gloucester had been murdered, most likely on the night of 8th September, smothered under a mattress.

The Duke was declared a traitor and his lands and property were forfeited to the crown. Anne’s only brother, Humphrey, was made a ward of King Richard II and was with the king in Ireland 2 years later, when Henry Bolingbroke invaded England and claimed the crown as Henry IV. The new king ordered Humphrey’s return to England, but he died on the voyage home in August 1399, aged just 18.

Anne’s life was hit by 2 further losses in close succession. Her mother, Eleanor de Bohun died on 3rd October 1399. The Chronicler, Walsingham, said she died of a broken heart following the deaths of her husband and only son. Anne’s unmarried sister, Joan, died in August 1400. With her only remaining sibling, Isabel, taking the veil at the Minoresses in London on her 16th birthday in April 1402, Anne became one of the greatest heiresses in the kingdom. From 1399 she was recognised as Countess of Buckingham, Hereford and Northampton and was made a Lady of the Garter in 1405.

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Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham

In these same years Anne gave birth to 2 daughters and a son. Of her daughters Philippa died young and Anne would marry consecutively her cousins Edmund Mortimer, earl of March and John Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter. Anne’s only son by Edmund Stafford, Humphrey, was born in 1402 and would go on to become the Duke of Buckingham. Loyal to King Henry VI at the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, he would be killed at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. Humphrey’s son, Henry, would be husband to Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort.

On 21st July 1403 Anne was made a widow for the second time, when Edmund was killed fighting for the king at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Still only in her early 20s Anne was left with 2 young children and a dower income of £1500 a year. However, with her dower properties stretched across the strategically important Welsh Marches Anne’s remarriage was of great interest to Henry IV.

Of immediate concern was the security of those dower properties, giving Henry IV’s ongoing conflict with Owain Glyn Dwr and the Welsh. Sir William Bourchier, Count of Eu, was dispatched to help protect Anne and her properties from any Welsh incursions. And it was with this same knight that Anne, taking her future into her own hands, contracted a secret marriage some time before 20th November 1405.

The king was displeased with the clandestine marriage and the couple were fined ‘great sums’. However, Bourchier it seems was highly charismatic, a capable soldier and valued administrator, all factors which, when added to his proven loyalty to the Lancastrian king,  helped to ensure that the couple was soon forgiven.

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The Bourchier arms quartered with those of Thomas of Woodstock, Anne’s father

Sir William Bourchier would continue his impressive career under Henry V; fighting at Agincourt in 1415, after which he was appointed Constable of the Tower of London and took responsibility of the high-profile French prisoners captured in the battle. In letters Anne described with pride ‘the valiant prowess, wisdom and good governance’ her husband .

The couple seems to have been genuinely in love and soon had a nursery full of children, with 4 sons and a daughter all born before 1415. Anne promoted the careers of all her children and arranged marriages for them.

William and Anne’s eldest son, Henry 1st Earl of Essex was married to Isabel of Cambridge, daughter of Richard of Consibrough. A Yorkist supporter, he fought at the Second battle of St Albans and at Towton, dying in April 1483.

Thomas Bourchier, most likely Anne and William’s second son, went to Oxford and then joined the Church. He rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1454 and was made a cardinal in 1467. Although he was Chancellor for a short time, in the reign of Henry VI, Thomas was a loyal supporter of and it was Edward IV himself who wrote to the pope urging for Thomas’s promotion to cardinal. In his position as Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas crowned both Richard III and Henry VII. He died in 1486 and was buried next to the high altar in Canterbury Cathedral.

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Cardinal Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury

Of their other sons; William Bourchier became Baron Fitzwarin in right of his wife and Sir John Bourchier who was created Baron Berners following his marriage to Margery Berners and was Constable of Windsor Castle in the 1460s. Anne and William’s only daughter, Eleanor Bourchier, married John de Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and was the mother of another John, the 4th Duke.

Although they seem to have been on opposing sides of the political spectrum, Humphrey Stafford remained close to his mother and his Bourchier half-siblings.

Anne was widowed for a third and final time when William died at Troyes in 1420. His body was sent back to England for burial at Llanthony Priory in Gloucestershire. Anne had an enduring friendship with the Prior, John Wyche, and corresponded with him in both French and English.

Although not yet 40 Anne never remarried. Throughout her marriages – and after – she was personally involved in estate management and her letters demonstrate a sound business acumen. Anne had loyal and talented administrators who helped her fight for her interests.  As earl of Buckingham, Anne’s father had revenues of £1,000 a year from the lordships of Oakham (Rutland) and Holderness (Yorkshire). While Oakham was returned to Anne in 1414 she only recovered Holderness in 1437, the year before she died.

While Anne was cousin to the king, Henry V, both he and his father had resented the unequal division of the Bohun inheritance in her favour. Henry V was to eventually force a new settlement on the recently widowed countess in 1421, this time heavily weighted  for the king’s benefit, leaving Anne just £1200 a year from her mother’s inheritance; and even this often fell into arrears.

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Llanthony Secunda Priory, Anne’s burial place

Anne had shared a love of the church with her mother and was known for her piety and love of learning. She died in October 1438, aged around 55. Her will, written “in the Englyshe tonge for my most profit redyng and vnderstandyng”, remembered her “most trewe and diligent” reatiners (Register of Henry Chichele.

Anne of Gloucester, mother to combatants on both sides of the Wars of the Roses and granddaughter of Edward III, was buried beside William at Llanthony Priory where, in 1453, her children set up a perpetual chantry for the welfare of their souls.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon.;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; oxforddnb.com; geni.com;  thepeerage.com.

Adela of Normandy – Daughter of the Conqueror

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Adela of Normandy, Countess of Blois and Chartres

Adela of Normandy was the daughter of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England,  and his wife, Matilda of Flanders.

Although most sources give her date of birth around 1061/2, the Oxford Database of National Biography argues that her birth was after the Norman Conquest, as contemporary poetry suggests she was born the daughter of a king.

Adela was one of 9 or 10 children born to William and Matilda, with at least 4 sisters and 4 brothers. Given her high level of literacy, and her patronage of poets in adulthood, it is likely that Adela was very well-educated as a child; either through tutors or possibly through residence in a convent, as happened with many daughters of the nobility at that time.

As a child, it seems, a marriage was arranged between Adela and Simon Crispin, count of Amiens; however, the groom chose to take monastic vows. As part of an alliance directed against the aggressive counts of Anjou, Adela was then  betrothed to Stephen of Blois, son of Count Theobald III, count of Blois and Champagne. Stephen was about 20 years her senior. The formal betrothal  took place at Bourgueil and was later followed by a lavish wedding ceremony in Chartres Cathedral in about 1081.

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Stephen, Count of Blois and Chartres

Adela and Stephen would have about 11 children in all, with at least 2 sons born before Stephen succeeded his father as Count of Blois and Champagne in 1090.

Of their 5 daughters, Matilda married Richard d’Avranches, 2nd Earl of Chester. The couple drowned in the White Ship disaster which deprived Henry I of his son and heir, William. Another daughter, Eleanor, married Raoul, Count of Vermandois and brother of Isabelle de Vermandois, Countess of Leicester and Surrey.

Adela’s eldest surviving son seems to have been disinherited at an early age. However, while he is described as an ‘idiot’ by some, William   married Agnes, the daughter of Giles, Lord of Sulli, and was given the titles Count of Chartres and Lord of Sulli, but was not allowed to inherit the richer county of Blois; which went to his younger brother, Theobald.

Poetry from the time of her wedding describes Adela as valorous, learned and generous. Indeed, she seems to have been a great asset to her husband, who included her in charitable donations and even in his early judicial rulings. Adela developed a cordial relationship with Bishop Ivo of Chartres, which worked well to maintain the peace between the laity and the clergy in the county.

In 1095 Stephen of Blois joined the First Crusade, leaving Adela as head of the family and regent of his domains.  Letters that the count sent to his wife indicate a great level of affection and trust; Adela was given charge of the family’s finances. However, Stephen’s return from crusade appears of have been less than happy. Adela  believed that he had not fulfilled his crusader’s vow and her criticism may have been a contributing factor in his return to the Holy Land in 1101 – she certainly approved of it.

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Theobald IV, Count of Blois and Champagne

Stephen was killed in combat in the Holy Land, during the siege of Ramallah in May 1112. He was succeeded as Count of Blois by his 2nd surviving son, Theobald. Theobald was knighted in 1107, by which point his older brother, William, had already been removed from the succession to Blois. William inherited the lesser title of Count of Chartres.

Following Stephen’s death Adela continued to act as regent until Theobald attained his majority. Even after Theobald came of age, mother and son ruled jointly until Adela retired from public life in 1120.

Adela was particularly close to her younger brother, Henry, who would later become King Henry I of England. She even supported him against their oldest brother, Robert, when Henry claimed the English crown.

An able administrator and negotiator, Adela settled many disputes among monasteries, and even between monasteries and laymen, in her own domains and beyond. Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of William II and Henry I, praised her skills as negotiator and peacemaker following her success at achieving a temporary truce between Anselm and her brother in 1105.

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Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester

Anselm described her as an ardent supporter of papal reform, and enjoyed her hospitality during his exile from England. Adela hosted many other church dignitaries, including archbishop Thurstan of York and Pope Paschal II. Her family’s prestige and power was bolstered by her friendships with the leading ecclesiastic figures in both France and England.

An avid  patroness of the arts, Adela corresponded with such dignitaries as Hildebert, bishop of Le Mans and Abbot Baudri of Bourgeuil – later bishop of Dol – who both wrote poems dedicated to the countess. The book Ecclesiastical History Together with the Deeds of the Romans and the Franks, written by Hugh of Fleury, was dedicated to Adela.

One of Adela’s youngest sons, Henry of Winchester, was dedicated to the church at an early age, and was raised at the Priory of Cluny in France. He was nominated as Bishop of Winchester in 1129 and was a great support to his older brother, Stephen, when he claimed the throne of England on his uncle Henry’s death in 1135, at the expense of Henry’s daughter, Matilda

An active ruler Adela regularly toured the family’s domains, both as regent and mother of the reigning count. She also maintained links with the Anglo-Norman and Capetian kings. In 1101 Adela sent knights to help Philip I of France’s son, Louis, battling against rebels north of Paris.

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King Stephen

However, by 1107 her son Theobald had joined the revolt and relations with France were to deteriorate further in 1113 when the allied forces of Theobald, Henry I and Adela defeated a Capetian-Angevin army. After further conflict in 1118 Adela used her wealth and diplomatic skills to benefit her family.

In 1120 Adela stopped using the title of countess and retired to the Clunaic Priory of Marcigny;  the same year that her daughter Matilda died in the White Ship disaster off Barfleur in Normandy. She continued to be active in political affairs and lived to see her son, Stephen, claim the throne of England, though not the 20 years of conflict that ensued.

Aged almost 70, and having been a widow for half of her life, this most remarkable woman, Adela of Normandy, former Countess of Blois and Chartres, died in 1137, possibly on 8th March. Although later tradition has her buried with her mother at Holy Trinity in Caen, contemporary sources say she was buried at Marcigny.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Sources: England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; oxforddnb.com;  epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu; womenshistory.about.com.

Sanchia of Provence, Queen of the Romans

One of 4 sisters, all of whom became queens, Sanchia of Provence was born in Aix-en-Provence in about 1228. She was the 3rd daughter of Raymond Berengar V, Count of Provence, and his wife Beatrice of Savoy.

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Sanchie de Provence

Sanchia was 7 years younger than her oldest sister, Marguerite, who married Louis IX of France in 1234. Her 2nd oldest sister, Eleanor, was 5 years older her senior and married Henry III of England in 1236. Sanchia probably spent most of her childhood with Beatrice, who, as the youngest of the 4 sisters, was 3 years younger than Sanchia and didn’t marry until 1246; she would become Queen of Naples in 1266.

I could find no information on Sanchia’s childhood, beyond the fact that the sisters were all close, and remained so throughout their lives; thus helping to forge international relations through their exceptional familial bond.

The one description I could find of Sanchia was that she was ‘of incomparable beauty’.

Sanchia had originally been married, by proxy, to Raymond VII of Toulouse; however Raymond had failed to obtain an annulment of his previous marriage and the arrangement was declared void. In the mean time Richard, Earl of Cornwall and brother of Henry III of England visited Provence in 1241; he saw in Sanchia the chance to ally himself more closely with his brother’s interests, whilst at the same time strengthening his family’s position on the continent.

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Richard Earl of Cornwall

Richard and Sanchia were betrothed by proxy in July 1242, following negotiations at Tarascon, led by Sanchia’s uncle, Peter of Savoy, and the Savoyard bishop of Hereford, Peter d’Aigueblanche.

Richard was the 2nd and youngest son of King John of England and Isabella of Angoulême. Born in 1209, he was just 7 years old when his father died. A renowned soldier, Crusader, negotiator and administrator, Richard was one of the wealthiest men in Europe. He already had a son, Henry of Almain by his 1st wife, Isabella Marshal, daughter of the great William Marshal Earl of Pembroke, who had died in childbirth in January 1240, after delivering a stillborn son.

In August-September 1242, following a failed campaign against Louis IX with his step-father, Hugh de Lusignan, Richard had planned to visit his future bride in Provence, before returning to England. However a falling-out with his brother, Henry III, and a fear of kidnapping forced Richard to change his plans and head straight for home, thus delaying a reunion with his bride-to-be.

Sanchia arrived in England in 1243. She and Richard were married in Westminster Abbey on 23rd November 1243. Sanchia was a girl of about 15, while Richard was 34. On his marriage, Richard confirmed in his possession of Cornwall and the honours of Wallingford and Eye. He was also given £2000 in cash by the king, and a promise of 1000 marks a year, in return for a renunciation of all claims to lands in Gascony and Ireland.

Richard’s marriage to Sanchia greatly improved his relations with the Savoyards, a powerful contingent of the queen’s relatives living in England. Following the marriage Richard served Peter of Savoy, titular earl of Richmond, as a banker and political ally.

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Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall

Richard and Sanchia had only 2 children. Their eldest son, Richard, was born at Wallingford in July 1246 and died there the following month; the little baby was buried at Grove Mill. Another son, Edmund, was born at Berkhamsted on 26 December 1249 and was baptised by his mother’s uncle, Boniface of Savoy, Archbishop of Canterbury. He would be knighted at the age of 22 and married Margaret, the daughter of Richard de Clare.

However, the marriage was childless and the couple officially separated in February 1294. Edmund had departed on crusade with the king’s son and heir, Edward (the future Edward I) when he heard of the murder of his older brother, Henry of Almain (son of Richard and his 1st wife, Isabella Marshal), who was murdered in Viterbo by the sons of Simon de Montfort. Edmund returned home to his father, who died the following year, leaving Edmund as the 2nd Earl of Cornwall. With no heir to succeed him, the earldom reverted to the crown on Edmund’s death in 1300.

In 1246 Sanchia’s father, Raymond Berengar V, died, leaving Provence to the youngest of his daughters; Beatrice was the only daughter still unmarried. Several suitors now set out to ‘win’ the heiress and her mother appealed to the pope for protection. The pope and Louis IX together decided that the most appropriate husband for Beatrice was Louis’ brother, Charles of Anjou. Beatrice’s mother offered no objection; however Henry III and Richard sought – unsuccessfully – to oppose the marriage, unsurprising when you consider their wives were denied their share of their father’s inheritance.

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Raymond Berengar V, Count of Provence

Sanchia and her sister, Eleanor, were not as cut off from their family as most royal brides of the period appear to have been. Their mother, Beatrice of Savoy, arrived in England in 1248 with her brother, Thomas, to visit both her daughters.

Sanchia also accompanied her husband on an embassy to the French court in 1250, taking the opportunity to meet with her big sister, Marguerite; and possibly her little sister Beatrice, who was by then married to Charles of Anjou. Sanchia also joined the family gathering in Chartres and Paris in 1254, when Louis IX and queen Marguerite received Henry III and queen Eleanor; Her mother Countess Beatrice and youngest sister Beatrice were also present.

Sanchia and her sister Eleanor seem to have been in close contact ever since Sanchia arrived in England. Henry III officially recognised Sanchia as a voice in family dynastic matters. In the 1253 Calendar of Patent Rolls, she is included in a grant to her uncle, Peter of Savoy: “Grant to Peter de Sabaudia that if he have am heir male of his wife, he may assign or bequeath the lordship of his lands and heir to whom he will. The king also wills that the said heir shall not be married to anyone without the consent of Queen Eleanor and Sanchia, countess of Cornwall, and the brothers of the said Peter.”

Sanchia seem to have had some influence in pleading for others. The Patent Rolls of 1255 record her achieving a pardon for a man who received an outlaw and again, in 1256, they record her gaining a licence to a man to enclose a wood.

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Beatrice of Savoy, Countess of Provence

Henry III had made attempts to gain his brother a crown; he had accepted the crown of Sicily, offered by the pope, on his brother’s behalf, but the enterprise to recover the kingdom from the Hohenstaufens proved beyond the king’s means. In 1256, however, another opportunity arose with the death of William of Holland, papal candidate to be Holy Roman Emperor. With the support of his brother and his considerable wealth, diplomatic skills and imperial connections, Richard set about earning his election to the Empire.

On 26 December 1256 the crown of Germany was offered to Richard by the archbishop of Cologne. with his rival, King Alfonso of Castile, too busy with troubles at home to travel to Germany to claim the crown; Richard and Sanchia, with a large entourage including their son Edmund, but only half of the electors on their side, made their way to Aachen.

Sanchia and Richard were crowned as king and queen of Germany on 17 May 1257, by the archbishop of Cologne; being styled as the king and queen of the Romans, Richard still needed papal ratification to become Holy Roman Emperor. The coronation was followed by a splendid feast for Richard’ supporters before the new king and queen departed on progress around their new kingdom. Richard held his 1st royal parliament, or diet, in Mainz in September, and another progress in the spring of 1258 was spent confirming imperial privileges and issuing charters.

However, papal confirmation of Richard’s titles were not forthcoming and in the winter of 1258/9 Richard and Sanchia returned home to an England riven by baronial rebellion. Richard acted as mediator between his brother the king and his brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, leader of the baronial opposition.

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Hailes Abbey, final resting place of Sanchia, her husband, Richard, and son, Edmund.

The political situation was still unresolved when Sanchia died at Berkhamsted on 9th November 1261 and was buried at Hailes Abbey 6 days later; her husband was absent from her death-bed and funeral.

After Sanchia’s death a grant in the Patent Rolls of Henry III: “for the saving of the king’s soul and of Sanchia, queen of Almain [Germany], to the master and brethren of the hospital of St Katharine without the Tower Lond of 50s a year at the Exchequer for the maintenance of a chaplain celebrating divine service daily in the chapel of St John within the Tower for her soul”.

Although she was only about 33 at her death, Sanchia’s legacy came from the close relationship with her sisters. All 4 sisters, and their mother, took part in the negotiations which led to the 1259 Treaty of Paris, improving relations between the French and English kings.

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Sources:  The Plantagenet Chronicles edited by Elizabeth Hallam;  The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett; oxforddnb.com;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu

Book Corner: South of Burnt Rocks

Over on The Review blog!

Read my review of G.J. Berger‘s wonderful South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon.

 “After three great wars, Rome has crushed Carthage. Now the undefended riches of Iberia beckon–gold, tin, olives, wine, and healthy young bodies to enslave. Burnt Rocks tells the story of Lavena, last child of the strongest remaining Iberian tribal leader at a time when Rome plunders and loots her land. At times helped only by her father’s favorite dog, a special horse, or guided by spirits of the earth and sky, she strives to unite her people and oust the Roman menace. Based on real characters, places, and events, Burnt Rocks recreates that shadowy history–and eternal human nature rubbed raw.”

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South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon was a wonderful surprise.  It is one of those thought-provoking books that you don’t come across very often; transporting you back in time to the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsular. The heroine is a young girl, Lavena, not yet out of her teens, who is trying to fulfill her promise to her parents and save her people, whilst at the same time coming to terms with her father’s past.

Having peacefully co-existed with the Iberian natives, the Roman army has a new leader, and new agenda. They are searching for their lost scouts, for native gold, and eager for slaves. The Romans are relentless but Lavena must find a way to fight them with her small band of devoted warriors.
Among the Roman legions is one man, Martius, who searches for the truth about his missing brother but is also drawn to the ‘barbari’ girl, who appears to him in only glimpses through the trees.
The wonderful prose of the book draws you in,  the language paints its own picture of Roman occupied Spain, respecting the spirits and ancestors of the native tribes and weaving a spell that keeps you enthralled in the book to the very end.
When Lavena has to face a council of elders to give them the news of Rome’s aggression and  to plea for help, the picture is vividly described, the words magically entrancing:
“We humbly come to you, to this village, without any men, because the Roman overseer, Piso, left this land, and Rome sent a monster army in his place.”
The nobles quieted and leaned in further.
“That new army has more fighters and weapons and its killing madness is greater than I know how to tell you – and it comes this way.”…
“They come for all the gold in this land, for the young ones to take back as slaves – and the young women and girls to ruin in a manner none should ever know.”
… She told them what she could of the battle for her village, but not about how her mother and those with her died, not about the real end of the she-warriors. She told them how she fled.
 

 

G.J. Berger recreates the land of the Iberian Peninsular wonderfully; describing the landscape and its people in such amazing language that you can’t help but feel transported there. The contrast with the vast fighting force of the Roman army, the inexorable, unbeatable military machine that moves over the land relentlessly.
The characters are vivid and have a realism to be marvelled at. They are human, suffering through their fears and doubts, making mistakes and sometimes surviving in spite of themselves. You find yourself urging Lavena on, while feeling suitably disgusted at the mean, lascivious, grasping Roman leaders.
Throughout the book, you can feel the author has a strong sense of direction; he knows where he wants to take you, but knows that the journey is what matters. We follow Lavena from her training as a warrior, through the loss of everything she holds dear, to her final confrontation with the Roman army, knowing everything she has been through, everything that has led her to that moment…
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this novel. It was a surprise from the first words, drawing you in, leading you on Lavena’s journey and seeing the country of Spain in its early days; the landscape itself becoming part of the story. The sights, sounds and smells of Roman Spain invade your mind as you read.
It is hard to believe this is a debut novel. The storyline is impressive, the language polished; everything about it comes from a storyteller of immense skill and vision.
It is a book not to be missed.
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Constance of York, the Rebel Countess

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Conisbrough Castle, possible birthplace of Constance of York

Constance of York was born around 1374, possibly at Conisbrough Castle in Yorkshire (although that is far from certain). She was the 2nd of 3 children born to Edmund of Langley, Duke of York and 5th son of Edward III, and his wife, Isabella of Castile. Edmund and Isabella also had 2 boys, Edward of Norwich in around 1373 and Richard of Conisbrough, who is thought to have been born around 1375/6, but could have been born as late as the early 1380s.

Contemporary sources suggest that Edmund and Isabella were an ill-matched pair and their relationship was a rocky one, with Isabella accused of having an affair with John Holland, Duke of Exeter and half-brother to Richard II. Holland has also been suggested as the father of Isabella’s youngest son, Richard.

Constance’s childhood was short-lived. At the age of 4, in April 1378, she was betrothed to Edward le Despenser. However, young Edward appears to have died shortly after the betrothal as by November 1379 Constance was married to his only surviving, younger brother, Thomas, who was about 6 at the time.

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Isabella of Castile, Constance’s mother

It is highly likely that 4-year-old Constance remained in her parents’ household for several years after her marriage, although she may have spent time also in the household of her mother-in-law, who retained wardship of young Thomas despite her husband’s death.

Thomas le Despenser was a great-grandson of the infamous Hugh le Despenser the Younger, despised favourite and alleged lover of Edward II, who was executed on a 50-foot high gallows in 1326. The marriage was seen as a good match on both sides: the Despenser family had a considerable fortune and were among the 12 richest families in the country, while Constance was a granddaughter of Edward III. Her hand in marriage completed the rehabilitation of the Despenser family.

In 1386, at just 12-years-old Constance was made a Lady of the Garter by her cousin, Richard II; she was one of the youngest ever recipients of the award. In 1392 Constance’s mother died and the following year her father re-married. His new bride was about 6 years younger than Constance and was a niece to Richard II; Joan Holland was the daughter of Thomas Holland, 2nd earl of Kent and granddaughter of Joan of Kent, Princess of Wales. In a bizarre twist, she was also the niece of John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter, the late Duchess of York’s alleged lover.

Thomas, meanwhile, was learning his trade as a soldier. He served with Richard II in Scotland in 1385, probably as a page or squire, given his tender years. In 1388 he was knighted by the Earl of Arundel, following his involvement in a naval expedition against the French. In 1391 Thomas travelled to Prussia to join the “crusade” against the Lithuanians.

It seems likely that, by 1394 with Thomas back in England, Thomas and Constance were finally living together as a couple.  In March of that year, Thomas had been granted full possession of his lands; he had been a ward of his mother, Elizabeth de Burghersh, since his father Edward’s death in 1375.

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Arms of Thomas le Despenser, 1st Earl of Gloucester

It’s possible the couple had as many as 5 children, but only 2 survived infancy; a son, Edward, died young, Hugh died around 1401 and a daughter, Elizabeth, born around 1398, also died young.

The 1st definite date of birth of a child is Richard, possibly their 2nd son but the 1st to survive childhood, who was born 30th November 1396. Richard would inherit his grandmother’s title of Baron Burghersh on her death in about 1402. Richard married his 2nd cousin Eleanor, daughter of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmoreland, and Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.

Unfortunately, Richard and Eleanor had no children before Richard died, still only in his 20s. His title passed to his younger sister, Isabella, who had been born around 1400 and was married successively to 2 men, cousins, of the same name; she married firstly Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Worcester and secondly Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. Isabella’s daughter by Warwick, Anne, would later marry Richard Neville, known as the Kingmaker, and be the mother of Richard III’s queen, Anne Neville.

Thomas le Despenser was a great supporter of Richard II, he was involved in the arrest and prosecution of the Appellant lords, the Duke of Gloucester and the Earl of Arundel in 1397; in return for which he received a share of their lands. And on the 29th September 1397, le Despenser was created Earl of Gloucester.

In spite of his close links with Richard II, Gloucester initially supported the accession of Henry Bolingbroke as Henry IV, after usurping Richard’s throne. However, after he was attainted for his role in the death of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, and deprived of his earldom he became disillusioned with the new regime.

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Painting of Pontefract Castle by Alexander Keirincx

Fearful of losing his estates, and possibly his life, in January 1400 he joined in a conspiracy with the earls of Kent, Salisbury and Huntingdon. Known as the Epiphany Rising, the earls planned to seize the king during a tournament at Windsor, intending to kill Henry IV and replace him with Richard II – still imprisoned at Pontefract Castle. The conspiracy was betrayed to the king by Edward of Norwich, Constance’s older brother and the conspirators were arrested and executed.  Richard II himself became the prime victim of the plot, which led Henry IV to believe it was too dangerous to keep the erstwhile king alive; he died shortly afterwards, still in custody at Pontefract Castle, probably from starvation.

Thomas le Despenser was executed on 13th January 1400. It is tempting to feel sorry for Constance of York, former Countess of Gloucester, mother of several infants and pregnant with her late husband’s child. And, indeed, it must have been difficult for her; a young, pregnant widow of a convicted traitor. With her husband’s lands forfeit, she could well have wondered what was going to happen to them all, especially following the death of her father in 1402. However, Constance herself was not beyond plotting.

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Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York

In February 1405, during Owain Glyn Dwr’s rebellion, Constance became involved in the plot to abduct Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March from Windsor Castle. March had the greatest claim to the throne of all Henry IV’s rivals, being descended from Edward III’s 2nd surviving son, Lionel of Antwerp. The plan was to deliver March and his younger brother, Roger, to their uncle, Sir Edmund Mortimer, who was married to Glyn Dwr’s daughter.

The boys were successfully released from Windsor, but recaptured before entering Wales. Although Constance does not seem to have suffered retribution for her part in the plot, she did implicate her brother Edward of Norwich, Duke of York, who was imprisoned in Pevensey Castle for 17 weeks as a consequence.

Constance was also to cause scandal in her love life. As a young widow, she started a liaison with Edmund Holland, 4th Earl of Kent and the brother of Constance’s step-mother, Joan. A daughter, Eleanor, was born to the couple at Kenilworth in about 1405. She would later marry James Touchet, Lord Audley.

Whether or not Eleanor’s parents married became a bone of contention for the young woman when she attempted to lay claim to her father’s lands and titles in 1430. Although she produced witnesses to prove the marriage of her parents, in about 1404, on the petition of Edmund’s sisters, Joan Duchess of York (Eleanor’s step-grandmother) and Margaret Holland, Duchess of Clarence, Eleanor was adjudged illegitimate and unable to inherit from her father.

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Reading Abbey

Edmund was killed at the Battle of Ile-de-Brehat in September 1408 and buried on the island of Lavrec.

Constance outlived her lover by 8 years, dying on the 28th November 1416, the last survivor of the 3 York children. Her younger brother, Richard, had been executed in August 1415, for his part in the Southampton Plot to assassinate Henry V; and older brother Edward, Duke of York, was killed at Agincourt in October of the same year.

Constance of York, Countess of Gloucester, was buried at Reading Abbey in Berkshire.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

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Pictures: Conisbrough Castle is ©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly. All other pictures are courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Sources:Sources: Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queen by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Life and Times of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; yorkistage.blogspot.co.uk; richard111.com; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon.

Book Corner: An Interview with Toby Clements

kingmaker for HWAMyself and Jayne Smith interviewed Toby Clements for The Review.
Toby Clements has kindly offered a signed copy of his book for a lucky winner.  Just leave a comment at the bottom of the blog or on our Facebook page. The winner will be drawn on 12th November.

While at the Harrogate History Festival Jayne and I tried to grab a couple of writers to do exclusive interviews for the Review Blog. Unfortunately, Toby Clements was always busy with panels, preparing to interview Stephen Church about King John – or on a really long bike ride. So we jotted the questions down and Toby was kind enough to reply by email.

Writing about the Wars of the Roses, Toby Clements’ first book in the Kingmaker series, Winter Pilgrims, earned him a place among the 5 finalists for the 2015 Historical Writers’ Association Crown for Debut Historical Fiction. The second book in the trilogy, Broken Faith, is out now and Mr Clements is working on book 3 as I write.

  1. What made you start writing? It is a terrible cliché and I am only telling you because it is quite funny, but I was always telling stories as a child, only I had a weird stammer, so that I se-e-ed things like tha-at, and I used to tell my older brother these terrible bedtime stories based on us having watched the HG Wells Time Machine film together with my father who described the Morlocks as ‘hairy buggers’ – it was the 1970s, so that was OK then – and so my early stories were all about the Hairy Buggers, told to my brother, punctuated by his six-year-old’s snores on the bunk bed above. After a while my mother suggested I write them down because I was getting pretty tired trying to stay awake to finish them.
  2.  Who are your major writing influences? I am a HUGE fan of Hilary Mantel’s writing, but also of Bernard Cornwell’s plots, so my literary influence would be an imaginary son/daughter of theirs.
  3. What first got you interested in writing history? Another terrible cliché: two enthusiastic teachers at my primary school: Colin Stoupe and Hugh Fairey, to whom I owe great thanks.
  4. Why choose the Wars of the Roses as you setting? I was always a warlike child, I suppose, and I was at school near Tewkesbury – one of the key battles of the Wars of the Roses – and I’d loved the Ladybird edition of Warwick the Kingmaker since before I could read. But what really got me into it was the idea of the Battle of Towton being fought in the driving snow, lasting all day, and during which more Englishmen were killed even on the first of the Somme. I thought: HOW did that come to pass, when their fathers and grandfathers had fought shoulder to shoulder with one another at Agincourt and so on…
  5. What made you choose a monk and a nun as your central characters? I wanted someone who would perhaps know nothing of the politics of the 15th Century world, and so could ask the right questions at the right time without me shoe-horning in a load of random exposition, and who could see things afresh and react to them, rather than that world being so ordinary they would not bother to describe it. That I have two heroes is a chance quirk of researching fate.

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    Toby Clements
  6. Who do you think is your best character? Who is your personal favourite? And why? Katherine is the greatest, because she always knows exactly what to do, even if her choices are often very hard. Thomas is more like me: a bit bumbling, just sort of going along for as quiet a life as possible. He is pretty affable, and doesn’t bother to say much, but when he knows what he is supposed to be doing, he is pretty good at it.
  7. What comes first, the storyline or the research? I change my mind about this every month. At the beginning it is all accuracy – a la Hilary Mantel – but as the month wears on and the money gets tight, I start to think this is a luxury I can’t really afford. One look at the bestseller charts will tell you which the readers prefer.
  8. Which do you find easiest to develop, the plot or the characters? I struggle with plot, I suppose. My characters are all quite modest and ordinary, so they come quite easily.
  9. Do you know how the book is going to end when you start it? Kind of. I know I have to get them somewhere at such and such a time, and the known history acts as a series of pegs on which to hang the skein of their adventures, so that is pretty easy to map out. As to who dies and who falls in love, and so on… yes, I think I do, but am open to changing my mind.
  10. How do you approach your writing day? I am at my desk by 8.30 and just try to bash away while I can. Sometimes I have to go off and do other jobs – I review books and am a sort of jobbing carpenter – but if I am at home, I try to chug through until about 6. Sometimes I get a load done, sometimes not much. It varies because I don’t really plan my writing very well in advance.
  11. If Ridley Scott was to approach you to make a film of your books, who would you want to play Thomas and Katherine? I honestly don’t know. I don’t watch enough films or telly, really. Sorry.index
  12. Have you ever changed your mind about killing off a character? I have, but no one major, and each time I am damn glad I did. A dead character is no use whatsoever. In Winter Pilgrims I had Sir John die at the battle of Towton, ‘unobserved during that afternoon’ but my editor insisted that was too sad, so Katherine saved his life with some revolutionary brain surgery.
  13. What is next in the pipeline, after the Kingmaker Trilogy? I have one more novel to write set in the Wars of the Roses, but this will be a more complex piece, from multiple points of view, and more of a political novel than a fighting novel. After that I have a slight idea for another series, but I am not sure how commercial it will prove, so it may never see the light of day. We shall see.
  14. Which other periods of history would you like to write about? I don’t have another period about which I am so interested, so I think it will be close to the 15th Century or maybe it will be a little later. I don’t want to choose another just because I have to. In a way I’d rather stop writing than it become something I must do.

 

A huge ‘thank you’ to Toby Clements for answering our questions! You can find Toby Clements on his pinterest page and his books are available on Amazon.

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Book Corner: An Interview with Novelist Derek Birks

Whilst at the Harrogate History Festival last week I had the opportunity to do some interviews for The Review, with my Review colleague, Jayne Smith. The 1st interview was with the charming Derek Birks, author of the Rebels & Brothers series of books, which I have recently reviewed.junefeudcover

What made you start writing? I always wanted to write. I started at about 17, writing adventure stories, but they were rubbish. Then I got caught up with other things. 40 years later I wanted to find out if I could do it. looking back, I couldn’t have written the books I have when I was that age.

Why are your stories set in the Wars of the Roses? It’s always been one of my favourite periods. The characters are so fascinating – you couldn’t make up the characters and situations if you tried.

Who were your major writing influences? Bernard Cornwell and Alexandre Dumas. I love the Musketeers stuff. And Bernard Cornwell was a breath of fresh air – his writing was less polite than anything else around at the time.

How do you approach your writing day? I write almost entirely in the mornings, staring around 7.30. I can write for as long as I want, but usually finish about 1 o’clock and then have lunch.

If you lose track, do you give up or carry on? If I hit a snag, to clear my mind I go for a walk, or a swim and don’t think about it – then the ideas pop in my head. It helps to make for a better plot, usually. The same happens if my editor – my son- says something is not working; I’ll think about it and come up with something better.

How do you kill off your characters? I started my first book writing something direct and full of action, but that meant some characters would die. By the 3rd book my characters’ attitude to death changed. In the first 2 there was no fear of the consequences. By the 3rd I looked at battle weariness and regret and the characters look at it differently. I changed my mind about killing a character I had always intended to kill off – and killed off someone else instead. In book 4, someone had to die, it was just a matter of deciding who.

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Derek Birks,, Jayne Smith and myself.

Most books written about wars have women as peripheral characters, weak and helpless. Why did you write Eleanor as a fighter? There is an audience for a strong woman. I tried to have several different women’s roles, and Eleanor was the antidote to the traditional women’s roles. She’s a catalyst for control. She has an edge in that men don’t expect her reactions.

Do your characters talk to you? I don’t think they do. I sometimes go to bed thinking of the story line. But they do have specific theme music; Eleanor’s is Try by Pink and Ned’s is Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits.

Who do you think is your best character and who is your favourite? I would like to think Ned is my best character – and Eleanor is definitely my favourite. I can’t imagine Eleanor getting older. She was the hardest to develop through the book sand I hope she grew up.

If someone said they wanted to make a film, do you have an actor or actress in mind to play Ned and Eleanor? Ned would need to be someone with an amount of vulnerability – Sean Bean wouldn’t be right for it. Eleanor would be someone like the woman in Kill Bill – Uma Thurman?

Do you know how the book is going to end when you start it? Usually, yes. I wrote the end of Feud before writing the middle. With the 2nd and 3rd books yes. With the 4th I knew there was going to be an almighty clash, but didn’t know who would go – I was going to do a Butch & Sundance thing where everyone but 1 died, but decided that was less plausible. I hope the ending came across plausible.

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Did you change any of  your characters halfway through? With my 3 main characters – the 3 siblings – I had a clear idea of what they would be like at the beginning and where they were going. But I did change Robert. At one point he could be viewed as an out-and-out villain, but he was more complex in book 4. Normally I don’t change whether or not they are essentially good or bad.


What’s Next? I wanted to do something like Dumas did with the Musketeers sequel, you know, Twenty Years After. So the next series is set 12 years after, in 1482/3. Some characters from the 1st series will be in it. I’ve only written 10,000 words so far, so its in the very early stages. It will be a series, but it may go on for a while. I have learnt from writing the first series, the first of the new series will be written as a stand alone, with few or no loose ends. 

A big thank you to Derek Birks for answering our questions.

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