There is only one clause in Magna Carta that mentions particular women. Although they are not identified by name, they are easily identifiable due to their positions. These two women were the daughters of William I, the Lion, King of Scots. They were the sisters of the new King of Scots, Alexander II, and had been hostages in England since the treaty of Norham in 1209. Clause 59 of Magna Carta agrees to negotiate for their release, alongside a number of other Scottish hostages:
We will treat Alexander, king of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and hostages and his liberties and rights in the same manner in which we will act towards our other barons of England, unless it ought to be otherwise because of the charters which we have from William his father, formerly king of Scots; and this shall be determined by the judgement of his peers in our court.1
The king of Scots’ two sisters referred to in the clause were Margaret and Isabella, the oldest daughters of William I (the Lion), King of Scots, and his wife, Ermengarde de Beaumont. The two girls had been caught up in the power struggle between their father and the Plantagenet kings. William I was the second of the three sons of Henry, Earl of Northumberland, and his wife, Ada de Warenne. He was, therefore, a grandson of David I and great-grandson of Malcolm III Canmor and St Margaret, the Anglo-Saxon princess.
William had succeeded his father as earl of Northumberland in June 1153, when he was about 11 years old; during his time as earl, William used ‘Warenne’ as his family name when earl of Northiumberland. He lost the earldom, however, when his brother, Malcolm IV (known as Malcolm the Maiden) surrendered the northern counties of England to Henry II; he was given lands in Tynedale, worth £10 per annum, in compensation. This loss of Northumberland was never forgotten and was to colour William’s future dealings with the English crown throughout his reign.
William was probably knighted in 1159, when he accompanied his brother Malcolm on an expedition to Toulouse and in 1163 he was in attendance in a meeting with King Henry II at Woodstock where the Scots king did homage to the English king. The youngest of the royal brothers, David, was to remain in England as a hostage to Malcolm’s good behaviour. William ascended the Scottish throne on Malcolm’s death on 9 December 1165, aged about 23; his coronation took place at Scone on Christmas Eve, 24 December. In 1166 William travelled to Normandy to meet with King Henry II and, although we do not know what they spoke of, it was reported that they parted on bad terms.
Nevertheless, in 1170 William and his brother David were at the English court, attending Henry II’s council at Windsor in April and were in London on 14 June, at the coronation of Henry’s eldest son, also Henry, the Young King; he died in 1183, six years before his father. Both William and his brother David did homage to the Young King after the coronation. In 1173 when the Young King and his brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, rebelled against their father, Henry II, they sought William’s support. The younger King Henry promised that he would give the northern counties of England to the Scots king, and the earldoms of Huntingdon with Cambridgeshire to the king’s brother, David, in return for their support in the rebellion.
William considered the offer, but after consulting his barons in the summer of 1173, he decided to ask Henry II to return Northumberland. He would renounce his homage if the English king refused. Henry II did refuse and William joined the Young King’s rebellion. He formed an alliance with Louis VII of France and Count Philippe of Flanders, who both promised mercenaries would be sent to England in support. This was the start of the long Scottish tradition of alliances with France, against England, which would become known as the Auld Alliance. On 20 August 1173 the Scottish forces moved south, to Alnwick, Warkworth and Newcastle.
Although they devastated the countryside, the campaign in Northumberland achieved very little; they were unable to take the strategically important castles. They moved on to Carlisle, but pulled back to Roxburgh after receiving news that a new English force was advancing. This force, under Ranulf de Glanville, the justiciar, burned Berwick before agreeing to a truce until 13 January 1174. The truce was later extended to 24 March 1174, after a payment of 300 marks by the bishop of Durham to King William. At the end of the truce, the Scots, accompanied by Flemish mercenaries, again advanced into England. They ravaged the Northumberland coast and besieged both Wark-on-Tweed and Carlisle castles, but failed to take either.
On 13 July, while much of the Scottish army was spread out in raiding parties, the Scots were the victims of a surprise attack. King William’s horse was killed, the king trapped underneath. William surrendered to Ranulf de Glanville and was taken first to Newcastle and then to Northampton, where he appeared before Henry II on 24 July. The Scots king was sentenced to imprisonment at Falaise in Normandy and the price of his freedom was to submit himself, his kingdom and the castles of Berwick, Roxburgh and Edinburgh to King Henry II. The Convention of Falaise on 1 December 1174 also granted that ‘the church of Scotland shall henceforward owe such subjection to the church of England as it should do.’2 It was a humiliating treaty for the Scots, which also required twenty Scottish noble hostages be handed to the English in return for their king’s freedom.
King William arrived back in Scotland in February 1175, having spent two months in England until the handover of the Scottish castles had been completed. He returned to a revolt in Galloway, which he managed to quash, he was then faced with a threat from Donald Ban Macwilliam, grandson of Duncan II, who was gaining support for a challenge to the throne and a return to the royal line of Duncan II. Things quietened down for a time, but in April 1181, when the king and David were in Normandy Donald Ban Macwilliam led an uprising in Moray and Ross, apparently gaining full control of the two earldoms. One royal retainer, Gillecolm the Marischal, surrendered the castle of Auldearn and then joined the rebels.
The king was also faced with unrest in Galloway, where Gilbert of Galloway was vying with his nephew Roland for control of the region. Gilbert died on 1 January 1185 and shortly after King William invaded Galloway, alongside Gilbert’s nephew Roland. On 4 July 1185 William and his allies defeated the main force of Gilbert’s followers and by 1190 Roland had been granted the lordship of Galloway by King William while Gilbert’s son, Duncan, was made lord of Carrick. As a result, Galloway remained at peace well into the 13th century, until the death of Roland’s son, Alan, in 1234.
With Galloway subdued, in 1187 King William was finally able to quash the rebellion in the north, leading his considerable army as far as Inverness. On 31 July, at the now-lost site of ‘Mam Garvia’, Roland of Galloway faced the rebels in battle where over 500 of them were killed, including Donald Macwilliam, whose head was sent to King William.
The overlordship of Henry II caused additional problems for King William in the Scottish church; the archbishops of York and Canterbury both claimed the homage of the Scottish clergy. William also had a long running dispute with the papacy, with five successive popes, in fact, over the appointment of a bishop of St Andrews; neither king nor pope approved the other’s choice of candidate. The English king sided with the popes on the matter and in 1181 King William was excommunicated by the archbishop of Canterbury; the Scottish people, as a whole, were subsequently excommunicated by the bishop of Durham. Within two years, however, the papacy and the Scots king were on such good terms that the pope sent William the Golden Rose as a tribute to ‘a king of exceptional religious zeal’.3 On 13 March 1192 Pope Celestine III issued the papal bull, Cum universi, recognising the Scottish church as a ‘special daughter’ of the apostolic see and subject to Rome without an intermediary. Thereby denying the claims to superiority of both York and Canterbury.
Unusually for a king in this period, by 1180 William had been on the throne for fifteen years and was still unmarried. He had several illegitimate children but until he married, William’s heir was his younger brother, David. With this in mind, in 1184, William was at King Henry’s court to discuss a possible marriage with Henry’s granddaughter, Matilda of Saxony. The match was forbidden by the pope on the grounds of consanguinity. In May 1186, during a council at Woodstock, King Henry suggested Ermengarde de Beaumont as a bride for William. Ermengarde was the daughter of Richard, Vicomte de Beaumontsur-Sarthe, who was himself the son of Constance, one of the many illegitimate daughters of King Henry I of England.
With such diluted royal blood, she was hardly a prestigious match for the king of Scots, but he reluctantly accepted the marriage after consulting his advisers. The wedding took place at Woodstock on 5 September 1186, with King Henry hosting four days of festivities. Edinburgh Castle was returned to the Scots as part of Ermengarde’s dowry. Although we do not know Ermengarde’s birth date, at the time of the marriage, she was referred to as ‘a girl’, suggesting that she may have only just reached the age of 12.
King William agreed to provide Ermengarde with £100 of rents and forty knights’ fees in Scotland, for the financial maintenance of her household; she also had dwellings and lands at Crail and Haddington, lands which had previously been held by William’s mother, Ada de Warenne. Between 1187 and 1195 Queen Ermengarde gave birth to two daughters, Margaret and Isabella. A son, the future Alexander II, was finally born at Haddington on 24 August 1198, the first legitimate son born to a reigning Scottish king in 70 years; a contemporary remarked that ‘many rejoiced at his birth.’4 A third daughter, Marjorie, was born sometime later.
On the death of King Henry II in 1189, King William again went south, and met with the new king, Richard I, at Canterbury, where he did homage for his English lands. Desperate for money for his crusade, on 5 December 1189, Richard abandoned his lordship of Scotland in the quitclaim of Canterbury; King William was released from the homage and submission given to Henry II, the castles of Roxburgh and Berwick were returned and the relationship between the kingdoms reverted to that in the time of Malcolm IV. The cost to the Scots was to be 10,000 marks, but Scotland was independent once again. However, Richard still refused to sell Northumberland back to William. The Scots king remained on good relations with King Richard, paying 2,000 marks towards his ransom in 1193. The Scots king carried one of the three swords of state at Richard’s second coronation at Winchester on 17 April 1194.
In the spring of 1195 King William fell gravely ill at Clackmannan, causing a succession crisis, the king’s only legitimate children being daughters. The Scottish barons appear to have been divided, between recognising William’s oldest legitimate daughter, Margaret, as his heir, or marrying Margaret to Otto, Duke of Saxony, grandson of Henry II, and allowing Otto to succeed to the throne. A 3rd faction claimed that either solution was contrary to the custom of the land, so long as the king had a brother who could succeed him. In the event, the king recovered from his illness and three years later the queen gave birth to Alexander, the much-desired son and heir. For the last years of the century, William was again occupied with unrest in the north. Before going on campaign in October 1201, he had the Scottish barons swear fealty to his son, Alexander, now 3 years old, a sensible precaution, given that he was approaching his sixtieth birthday.
Relations with England changed again 1199, with the accession of King John. During the reign of King Richard, William had agreed with the justiciar, William Longchamp, and backed Arthur of Brittany as the king’s heir. John may well have remembered this and soon after his accession, in 1200, the two kings met at Lincoln, with William doing homage for his English lands. The matter of Northumberland, still in English hands, was raised and deferred on several occasions between 1199 and 1205. The two kings finally met for formal talks at York from 9 to 12 February 1206 and again from 26 to 28 May 1207, although we have little record of what was discussed. However, John appears to have been prevaricating, suggesting another meeting in October 1207, which the Scots rejected.
In the meantime, the death of the bishop of Durham meant John took over the vacant see and set about building a castle at Tweedmouth. The Scots, seeing this as a direct threat to Berwick, destroyed the building works and matters came to a crisis in 1209. After many threats, and with both sides building up their armies, the two kings met at Norham, Northumberland, in the last week of July and first week of August 1209. The Scots were in a desperate position, with an ailing and ageing king, and a 10-year-old boy as heir, whilst the English, with their Welsh allies and foreign mercenaries, had an army big enough to force a Scottish submission.
The subsequent treaty, agreed at Norham on 7 August, was humiliating for William and the Scots. They agreed to pay 15,000 marks for peace and to surrender hostages, including the king’s two oldest legitimate daughters, Margaret and Isabella. As a sweetener, John promised to marry the princesses to his sons; although Henry was only 2 years old at the time and Richard was just 8 months, whilst the girls were probably in their early-to-mid teens. John would have the castle at Tweedmouth dismantled, but the Scots would pay an extra £4,000 compensation for the damage they had caused to it. The king’s daughters and the other Scottish hostages were handed into the custody of England’s justiciar, at Carlisle on 16 August. How the girls, or their parents, thought about this turn of events, we know not. Given John’s proven record of prevarication and perfidy, King William may have hoped that the promised marriages would occur in good time, but may also have expected that John would find a way out of the promises made.
There is no mention of Queen Ermengarde being present for the treaty at Norham, although she did act as mediator in 1212, when her husband was absent, in negotiations with John at Durham. A contemporary observer described the Scottish queen as ‘an extraordinary woman, gifted with a charming and witty eloquence’.5 It seems likely that King John was not immune to the queen’s charms, as he did not ask for more hostages and agreed that the Scottish heir, Alexander, would be knighted and one day marry an English princess. Alexander was knighted at Clerkenwell on 4 March 1212.
King William I, later known as William the Lion, died on 4 December 1214, aged about 72, having reigned for a total of forty-nine years, almost to the day. He was buried before the high altar of Arbroath Abbey. William’s daughters were still in English custody, the conditions for their release would form one of the clauses of Magna Carta. He was succeeded by Alexander, his only legitimate son, who was proclaimed king at Scone on 6 December 1214, aged just 16. Queen Ermengarde was said to be distraught at her husband’s death. She lived for 19 more years, devoting her time to the founding of a Cistercian abbey at Balmerino in Fife. She died on 11 February 1233.
The story of William’s daughters appears in my latest book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England.
Footnotes: 1 Marc Morris, King John; 2E.L.G. Stones quoted in Scott, W.W., William I; 3Ross, David, Scotland: History of a Nation; 4W.W. Scott, Ermengarde de Beaumont (1233); 5Bower quoted in W.W. Scott, Ermengarde de Beaumont (1233),
Images: Courtesy of Wikipedia except Magna Carta which is ©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly
Further reading: W.W. Scott, Ermengarde de Beaumont (d. 1233), Oxforddnb.com; Scott, W.W., William I [known as William the Lion] (c. 1142–1214) Oxforddnb.com; Scott, W.W., Malcolm IV (c. 1141–1165) Oxforddnb.com; Mackay, A.J.G. (ed.), The Historie and Chronicles of Scotland … by Robert Lindesay of Pitscottie; Ross, David, Scotland: History of a Nation; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; 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; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Ada, Queen Mother of Scotland (article) by Victoria Chandler.
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword, Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.
Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon, Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.
Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.
©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly