Ӕlfgyva: The Mysterious Woman in the Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry is the famous pictorial depiction of the Norman Conquest of 1066, and of the events of the two years leading up to it. Commissioned in the 1070s, probably by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, rather than a woven tapestry, the work is in fact an embroidery. Started within ten years of the Norman Conquest it is a near-contemporary narrative of the events that changed England forever. It is told from the viewpoint of the victorious Normans, but with a sympathetic view of the English, at times. It begins in 1064 with Harold’s journey to Normandy, his meeting with Duke William and campaigning in Brittany, followed by the controversial oath-swearing; it then follows Harold’s return to England and his coronation following the death of Edward the Confessor, before concentrating on William’s preparations for invasion and the Battle of Hastings itself; the missing end panels may have included King William’s coronation.

As a prime example of how women have been given little or no part in the story of the Norman Conquest, out of 626 human figures, there are only three women who appear in the main narrative of the Bayeux Tapestry. One of these is easily identifiable as Edward the Confessor’s queen, Edith of Wessex, attending her husband on his deathbed. Another scene, as the Normans land on the shores of England, shows a woman and her child fleeing from a burning house, set alight by the invaders – possibly King Harold’s first wife, Edith Swanneck. The most intriguing woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, appears in one scene when Harold is in Normandy in 1064. She is identified as ‘Ӕlfgyva’, the name sewn into the tapestry above her head. However, the scene does not appear to be related in any way to the scenes either before or after and has therefore caused much discussion and theorising among historians.

Ӕlfgyva appears to be in a doorway, possibly as a suggestion that she was indoors, with a priest touching her cheek. Whether the touch is in admonishment or blessing is open to interpretation, some take it is a collaboration of some sort between the two. Written in Latin as ‘Ubi unus clericus et Ӕlfgyva’, the inscription simply reads, ‘Here a certain cleric and Ӕlfgyva’. Incomplete, the phrase fails to identify Ӕlfgyva or the priest, nor the context in which the two are together. In the borders, at Ӕlfgyva’s feet, is a naked man, imitating the stance of the cleric, perhaps placed there to indicate some kind of scandal associated with the lady.

As this is the only scene in the entire Bayeux Tapestry in which the woman is the leading character and considering that she is only one of three women depicted in the whole embroidery, the story which is depicted must be of some significance to the story of the Norman Conquest. But who was the mysterious Ӕlfgyva? Unfortunately, we are not without a substantial number of potential candidates who could be identified as Ӕlfgyva; Ӕlfgyva and its variants, Ӕlfgiva, Ӕlfgyfu, Ӕlfgifu and Elgiva, were popular names in England in the eleventh century. Indeed, Emma of Normandy’s name was changed to Ӕlfgifu on her marriage to King Ӕthelred II (often referred to as ‘the Unready’) and, just to make matters more confusing Ӕthelred’s first wife was also called Ӕlfgifu. Many historians have their own favourite theories for the identity of Ӕlfgyva; the numerous possible candidates include Emma herself, a sister of King Harold and the first, handfast wife of King Cnut. Each possibility comes with her own reasons for being the mysterious Ӕlfgyva, and her own claim for inclusion in the tapestry that tells the story of the Norman Conquest.

Several theories can be easily discounted. In the 18th century, it was suggested that ‘Ӕlfgyva’ translated to mean ‘queen’ and the image was therefore of a clerk informing Queen Matilda that King William had promised one of their daughters as a bride for Harold of Wessex. Of course, in 1064, Matilda was not queen, and so ‘Ӕlfgyva’ would have to translate as ‘duchess’.  In the 19th century, it was suggested that the scene depicted the daughter of Matilda and William being informed of her betrothal. This theory ignores the fact that Matilda and William did not have a daughter with the name Ӕlfgyva. A final, easily discounted theory is that the lady is Ealdgyth, Harold’s future queen, receiving the news of Harold’s rescue, either from the shipwreck or from the clutches of Count Guy of Ponthieu, by Duke William. This is meant to demonstrate Harold’s dishonesty in agreeing to marry a daughter of Duke William while he has a betrothed waiting at home. The fact is that there is no evidence that Harold was betrothed to Ealdgyth any earlier than late 1065 or early 1066. In fact, we do not know when Harold and Ealdgyth were betrothed or married, but it is likely to have happened shortly before, or during, his kingship, when he needed the support of the Earls Edwin and Morcar, Ealdgyth’s brothers. 

Ӕthelred II’s second wife is a candidate who does merit closer investigation. Emma of Normandy was the wife of Ӕthelred from the spring of 1002 until his death in 1016. In 1017, however, she married Ӕthelred’s nemesis and eventual successor, Cnut. Emma had three children by her first husband, Alfred, Edward and Goda, or Godgifu. She had three further children by King Cnut; Harthacnut, Gunhilda and an unnamed daughter who died as a child, aged 8. Emma’s name had been changed to Ӕlfgifu on her marriage to Ӕthelred and she was a prominent figure at the English court, having been crowned and anointed queen after the wedding ceremony. Emma gained even more prominence in the reign of King Cnut, who married her soon after he took the crown. Cnut appears to have trusted Emma a great deal and is known to have left his treasury with her, as did her son, Harthacnut.

As Cnut’s wife, Emma served to provide a link between Ӕthelred’s ancient dynasty of Wessex, dating back to King Alfred and beyond, and the new Danish dynasty of Cnut. As Cnut’s queen, until his death in 1035, her position appeared unassailable. That changed, however, when Cnut died and was succeeded by his sons as co-regents. With Harthacnut fighting in Denmark, Emma was left isolated and Harold I Harefoot moved against her. Emma was banished from England, and Harold seized control of the whole country. Following Harold’s death in 1040, Emma and her son returned unopposed and Harthacnut finally claimed the crown. Her triumph was short-lived, however, as Harthacnut collapsed and died at a wedding in 1042, and was replaced as king by his older, half-brother, Edward. Edward was also a son of Queen Emma, but his relationship with his mother was far less cordial. Having been exiled in Normandy for twenty-five years, while his mother sat beside Cnut on the English throne for much of that time, Edward held a great deal of resentment for his Emma.

Emma’s lands and property were all taken from her. The Dowager Queen’s close friend and advisor, Stigand, newly consecrated as bishop of East Anglia, shared in Emma’s disgrace and was stripped of office and ‘they took all that he had into their hands for the king, because he was nighest the counsel of his mother; and she acted as he advised, as men supposed’. Taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, this shows that Edward thought that Stigand had encouraged Emma in her perceived maltreatment of her only surviving son. It was probably as a result of this incident that various legends arose over Emma’s disgrace.

One story, appearing only two centuries later, suggested that Emma’s relationship with Bishop Stigand was far more than that of a queen and her advisor and that he was, in fact, her lover. The story continues that Emma chose to prove her innocence in a trial by ordeal, and that she walked barefoot over white-hot ploughshares. Even though the tale varies depending on the source, the result is the same; when she completed the ordeal unharmed, and was thus proven guiltless, she was reconciled with her contrite son, Edward. Emma appears to have never recovered fully from the depredations placed on her. Both she and Stigand seem to have been reconciled, to some extent, with Edward’s regime by 1044 but she never again enjoyed the status to which she had become accustomed during the reigns of Cnut and Harthacnut.

If Emma were the Ӕlfgyva/Ӕlfgifu of the Bayeux Tapestry, this story could well explain her inclusion, especially if the touch of the cleric in the Ӕlfgyva scene is that of a tender lover, rather than an admonishing priest. However, there are several reasons for discarding Emma as the candidate. The first instance of the story of Emma and Stigand as lovers appears two or three hundred years after her death, and there is no contemporary evidence of an affair that would have been the scandal of the decade, if not the century. Given that many of the chroniclers of the time were not averse to including such stories, it seems strange that they were all silent on the subject; unless, of course, the whole incident was a 14th century fabrication. Another argument against the theory is that Emma’s affair with Bishop Stigand, even in the unlikely event that it happened, would have had little bearing on the Norman Conquest, and would therefore be unlikely to merit inclusion in the Bayeux Tapestry.

Another leading possibility for the identity of the Ӕlfgyva of the Bayeux Tapestry is Ӕlfgifu of Northampton. Ӕlfgifu was the first wife of King Cnut, whom he had married as a handfast wife, in the Danish fashion rather than in a church. She was born around 990, into a prominent and influential Midlands family. It was possibly as a love-match, but also as part of the policy of Cnut’s father, King Sweyn Forkbeard, to establish himself in the midlands, that Ӕlfgifu was married to Cnut sometime between 1013 and 1016. The couple had two sons, Swein and Harold Harefoot. Swein would later be sent by his father to rule Norway, with his mother as regent, but was driven out by the Norwegians following years of misrule. He died in Denmark and Ӕlfgifu returned to England and her only surviving son, Harold I Harefoot who was crowned as sole king in 1037.

If Ӕlfgifu is the woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, then she is probably there in reference to a scandal that was spoken about even in her lifetime, in that Ӕlfgifu was so desperate to have a son by Cnut that she, with the help of a monk, passed off the new-born son a serving maid as her own child; Swein. Similar was said of Ӕlfgifu’s second son by Cnut, Harold I Harefoot, in the Anglo-Saxon Chonicle, which reported that, ‘some men said of Harold that he was son of King Cnut and Ӕlfgifu, daughter of Ealdorman Ӕlfhelm, but to many men it seemed quite unbelievable’. The scandalous stories arose after Cnut’s death in 1035, when Ӕlfgifu was back in England, working to establish the rule of her son, Harold Harefoot, as king. In another version of the tale, the monk had fathered the children himself. The stories may have been mere propaganda used to discredit Ӕlfgifu and cast doubts on the legitimacy of Harold and, therefore, his right to rule as Cnut’s successor.

The main question arising from the theory that Ӕlfgifu of Northampton is the Ӕlfgyva of the Bayeux Tapestry would be the relevance of a scandal that had arisen more than thirty years earlier. It has been argued that both William and Harold would view the scandal as propaganda, to discredit any claims by the Norwegians, such as Harald Hardrada, to the English throne. The naked men in the margins of the scene, one of whom is swinging an axe, are used as further evidence that it was Ӕlfgifu’s scandalous behavior to which the tapestry is referring. However, the fact that both of Ӕlfgifu’s sons died without heirs and that, therefore, there were no claimants descended from her to contest the throne in 1066, makes Ӕlfgifu’s inclusion – if, indeed it is Ӕlfgifu – rather redundant.  

My own leading candidate for Ӕlfgyva is a woman of a different name, but whose story included a scandal that would have been relevant to Harold of Wessex and his hostages. This lady was Eadgifu, or Eadgyva, who was Abbess of Leominster in 1046. Eadgifu’s story is told in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when she came under the power of Swein Godwinson, oldest son of Earl Godwin and Countess Gytha. Swein, had been given an earldom made up from lands in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Somerset in 1043. In 1046 he had been campaigning in south Wales alongside Gruffydd, King of Gwynedd. The military campaign had ended successfully, with Swein receiving hostages for the good faith of the Welsh. On his return homeward, Swein stopped at Leominster, which was owned by the abbey of Leominster and administered by its abbess, Eadgifu. Swein abducted Eadgifu, probably in order to gain control of Leominster’s vast estates in Herefordshire. However, the king refused to give his permission for Swein and Eadgifu to marry; the pious King Edward the Confessor was understandably horrified at the idea of Swein marrying an abbess, a woman who had dedicated her life to God. Thwarted in his plans, Swein released Eadgifu after he had held her for some considerable time, possibly as long as a year.

As a result of his actions, which were considered not only criminal but sacrilegious in the eyes of the church, Swein was forced to flee England. A few months later, Swein returned to England, but was exiled again for the murder of his cousin, Beorn Estrithson. He was eventually forgiven and allowed to return home. When the feud between Earl Godwin’s family and the king arose in 1051, Earl Godwin and Swein were forced to give up hostages to the king, each handing over a son, Wulfnoth for Godwin and Hakon for Swein. Rather than face the witan, Godwin and his family chose to go into exile at the end on 1051 and only returned to England in the spring of 1052. Swein would never return as he had left on barefoot pilgrimage to Jerusalem and died on his homeward journey. The two hostages, however, were not restored to the family and are thought to have been sent to Normandy, possibly as a way to guarantee the future cooperation of the Godwin family.

It is possible that the union between Eadgifu and Swein resulted in a son, Hakon. It is not entirely certain that Hakon was the son of Eadgifu, but it does seem likely, as no other wife or concubine of Swein’s is mentioned in the chronicles. If he was the son of Eadgifu and Swein, the child would have been five or six years old when he was taken as a hostage to Normandy in 1052. If Eadgifu was the mother of Hakon it would not only explain her presence in the Bayeux Tapestry, but also the inclusion of Ӕlfgyva (Eadgifu) and her cleric in that part of the tapestry. Although there is no direct mention of these hostages in the tapestry, the scene immediately before the Ӕlfgyva scene is that of Harold arriving at Duke William’s court; and one of the possible reasons for Harold’s presence at William’s court was the recovery of the hostages, Eadgifu’s son included. Given the disgrace that Eadgifu must have faced, as an abbess having given birth to an illegitimate child, and the fact the child was only five years old when he was taken to Normandy as a hostage, it is not implausible that his mother accompanied him, and therefore is included in the Bayeux Tapestry as Hakon, no longer a valuable hostage given that his father had been dead for over ten years, was allowed to return to England with Earl Harold.

There is one major flaw in this argument, and that is the confusion of names, Eadgifu and Ӕlfgyva are similar but very different names and it is hard to imagine that someone would make such a big mistake on so important an undertaking as the Bayeux Tapestry; although not implausible, given that Harold’s brother, Leofwine, is identified as Lewine on another portion of the tapestry. We do not know, moreover, that Eadgifu ever accompanied her son to Normandy, or visited him there while he was a hostage. However, Eadgifu’s story, the scandal associated with her abduction by Swein and the presence of her son in Normandy, still makes her a contender. The scene with the cleric could well be him giving her a blessing on her return to England, or an admonition on the fact she had a child out of wedlock – and while she was an abbess who had given her life to God. Despite the disparity in names, the fact that she had links to Normandy through her son, and that her story was associated with Harold’s visit to Normandy and the request for the hostages to be freed, gives her a relevance to the tapestry and makes her one of the most plausible candidates for Ӕlfgyva.

Despite the many possibilities and theories surrounding Ӕlfgyva and her cleric, their identities and the reason for their inclusion in the Bayeux Tapestry, one fact remains; no definitive explanation is forthcoming. It is not beyond reason that the Ӕlfgyva of the Bayeux Tapestry is none of the ladies I have suggested, but someone else entirely who, in the passage of nearly a millennium, has been lost in the fogs of time. The story may well have been a familiar one at the time the tapestry was created, and no explanation beyond ‘Here a certain cleric and Ӕlfgyva’ may have been needed to identify the protagonists to viewers in the eleventh century.

Today, however, the story and the identity of the players continues to elude us…

Historical Writers Forum hosted a fabulous debate on ‘Ӕlfgyva’: The Mysterious Woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, which is available on YouTube. Hosted by Samantha Wilcoxson, it features myself, Pat Bracewell, Carol McGrath and Paula Lofting.

*

Images:

Courtesy of Flickr and Wikipedia

Sources:

A Historical Document Pierre Bouet and François Neveux, bayeuxmuseum.com/en/un_document_historique_en; The Mystery Lady of the Bayeux Tapestry (article) by Paula Lofting, annabelfrage.qordpress.com; Ӕlfgyva: The Mysterious lady of the Bayeux Tapestry (article) by M.W. Campbell, Annales de Normandie; The Bayeux Tapestry, the Life Story of a Masterpiece by Carola Hicks; Æthelred II [Ethelred; known as Ethelred the Unready] (c. 966×8-1016) (article) by Simon Keynes, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, oxforddnb.com; Britain’s Royal Families; the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Queen Emma and the Vikings: The Woman Who Shaped the Events of 1066 by Harriet O’Brien; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by James Ingram; On the Spindle Side: the Kinswomen of Earl Godwin of Wessex by Ann Williams; Swein [Sweyn], earl by Ann Williams, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, oxforddnb.com, 23 September 2004; Ӕlfgifu [Ӕlfgifu of Northampton (fl. 1006-1036) (article) by Pauline Stafford, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, oxforddnb.com; The Chronicle of John of Worcester, translated and edited by Thomas Forester, A.M; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles edited and translated by Michael Swanton.

*

My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

*

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Robin Hood Trilogy by Olivia Longueville and J.C. Plummer

England, 1154-1194:

A kingdom under assault.

A conspiracy born of anarchy.

A hero standing against tyranny.

Falsely convicted of a shocking crime, Robin Fitzooth, the Earl of Huntingdon, finds refuge in Sherwood Forest and becomes Robin Hood.

Leading a band of men against the injustices of a malevolent sheriff and his henchmen, Robin begins to unravel a web of treachery threatening the English royal family.

As shadowy forces gather to destroy the future of a nation, Robin faces deceit, betrayal, and the ravages of war as he defends his king, his country, his people, and the woman he loves from a conspiracy so diabolical, so unexpected, that the course of history hangs in the balance.

From the mists of an ancient woodland, to lavish royal courts teeming with intrigue, to the exotic shores of the Holy Land – Robin Hood leads the fight in a battle between good and evil, justice and tyranny, the future and the past.

Part one of an exciting three-part retelling of the Robin Hood legend!
Also Available:
Book 2, Robin Hood’s Widow
Book 3, Robin Hood’s Return

I have to admit that I am a sucker for a good Robin Hood story. However, having grown up close to Sherwood Forest and played around the Major Oak as a child, I have to admit that I can be quite picky when it comes to Robin Hood. It has to be a good story, or I will not read it. I have had The Robin Hood Trilogy on my kindle for a while, but only actually picked up the first book 3 weeks ago. I was suffering from a heavy cold and wanted some comfort reading. And what a choice for comfort reading. I read all 3 books, one after the other, in a week. I couldn’t get enough of them!

The story opens in 1154 with the death of King Stephen and a betrayal by certain nobles who had promised to put Stephen’s son, William of Blois, Earl of Warenne and Surrey, on the throne. As a regular reader of this blog will understand, my interest was most certainly piqued. So, now we have a novel series with 2 of my favourite topics; Robin Hood and the Warennes. And I got worried. What if I don’t like the way this book goes with the Warennes? I do have quite a soft spot for them, after all.

I need not have been concerned. This Robin Hood trilogy is a fabulous adventure, with well developed characters, a story thread that will keep you gripped to the very end – and some marvellous twists in the tale.

They had left Sherwood Forest and were now traversing rolling hills and pastures, but Marian could not appreciate the lovely scenery. The closer they were to Conisbrough, the more nervous she felt.

She was riding next to Constance, and they were protected by an escort of twenty of Earl de Warenne’s mounted men-at-arms. At the front, Robin rode with Lionel and the earl’s son, Guillaume. All three were the same age, and Marian observed them as they enjoyed a friendly, animated conversation.

Robbie, as usual, was riding with his father.

Although Marian was apprehensive about staying at Conisbrough, Constance was elated. She was enthusiastically telling Marian what she knew about the de Warenne family.

Once again, Marian was lamenting her lack of interest in politics during her youth. She had never paid much attention to stories about the royal family or the elaborate familial web of royals, near royals, and distant relations to the king’s family.

In contrast, Constance was very knowledgeable. Marian knew her friend had traveled to London with her father and brother every year to attend court and celebrate Midsummer.

Marian’s father had never taken her to court, or even to London. Perhaps it was his own aversion to politics and big cities. And it’s likely that he considered it unnecessary, since it was always understood that Marian would wed Robin, so there had been no need to search for a suitable husband among the nobility of England.

“Constance, I’m confused,” she reluctantly confessed.

“About what?”

“Didn’t you say that Earl Hamelin was illegitimate? How did he inherit his title/”

Constance smiled indulgently. “Every time I’ve tried to explain this, I can see your mind wandering. Please concentrate on what I’m saying.”

“My mind is wandering because so much of this seems like pointless court intrigue. I just want to go back home and stay there.”

“You’re the wife of an earl. I think you can learn a lot by spending time with Countess de Warenne. You can’t hide at Locksley and Lenton. You have duties to perform at Huntingdon.”

Marian released a noisy sigh of defeat. “Tell me again.”

“Hamelin is the illegitimate son of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. He’s the older half-brother of the late King Henry, God-rest-his-soul, and he’s King Richard’s uncle. Of course, he’s Prince John’s uncle, too.”

“But instead of Count of Anjou, he’s the Earl of Surrey?”

“Now I’m certain that you weren’t listening,” Constance chided. “He married Isabel de Warenne, the Countess of Surrey, who was the only child of her father. So, she inherited the earldom. When Hamelin married her, he took her family name and became earl by right of his wife.”

Robin Hood’s Dawn sets the scene beautifully, charting a youthful Robin’s journey into becoming an outlaw in Sherwood Forest, and his realisation that not everyone is honourable. His arrogance and connections get him into more trouble than he realises, almost losing the woman he loves – Marian. In Robin Hood’s Widow, we discover that Marian herself is more than capable of holding her own under the canopy of Sherwood Forest. Which makes for a fantastic finale in Robin Hood’s Return, where Robin and Marian, united in their common goals, must unite to fight their enemies and find a way to accept each other’s abilities and weaknesses.

My personal favourite of the 3 books is Robin Hood’s Return, but that may be because both Hamelin and Isabel de Warenne both play prominent roles – as does my ‘local’, Conisbrough Castle. Olivia Longueville and J.C. Plummer did their research and have done an amazing job of recreating the castle and the Warenne family dynamic. Their depictions, I believe, are spot on! And it was so nice to see the people I have spent so long researching brought to life on the page.

As to the other characters, Robin Hood, Little John, the sheriff of Nottingham, Guy of Gisborne are all there – though some not as you would ordinarily recognise them. I love the way the authors of the Robin Hood trilogy have taken the legend and made it their own, weaving an incredible story of betrayal and king-making into the existing legend, so that you are at once familiar with the characters, and yet discovering new dimensions along the way.

The Robin Hood Trilogy is a fabulous, engrossing read that you will never want to end – and yet can’t wait for it to finish.

What a fabulous adventure! I cannot recommend the series highly enough.

Robin Hood’s Dawn, Robin Hood’s Widow and Robin Hood’s Return are available from Amazon.

About the authors:

Olivia Longueville is a European author whose first book was Between Two Kings, a story set in Tudor England. J.C. Plummer is an American author and historian living in Texas. They are long distance friends who share a passion for writing and history, and this is their first collaboration. Learn more at their website: http://www.AngevinWorld.com

My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

*

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Commander by Paul Fraser Collard

A true leader serves his men.

The Jack Lark series is historical military fiction at its finest, for fans of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, Matthew Harffy and Patrick O’Brian. This is the tenth adventure featuring Jack Lark: soldier, leader, imposter.

Egypt, 1869. Jack Lark has reinvented himself once more. Working as an unofficial agent for the Consul-General, he moves among the most powerful men in Cairo. But when the opportunity arises to join legendary explorer Sir Samuel White Baker on his expedition into the Sudan, Jack can’t resist a new adventure.

Jack assumes command of an elite cadre to protect the fleet of vessels. But, as they move down the Nile, Jack and his men soon find themselves in a land where the rule of law means nothing, and those who wield power will do anything to keep it. And when a new friend seeks Jack’s help, Jack must decide where his loyalties truly lie . . .

Paul Fraser Collard‘s Commander is the 10th instalment of the exploits of Jack Lark. Jack first made his appearance in the Crimean War and seem to have gone around the world, looking for a fight ever since. I always wondered what would happen to him when the wars finally ended and Commander answers that question; he’d keep fighting, sort of.

Commander is set in 1869 at a time of colonial expansion for the British, which saw a rise in exploration of the more remote regions of Africa. Jack Lark joins one such expedition, that aims to go deep into central Africa, into the Sudan. Jack’s military expertise is called upon to train and lead the company of soldiers that will protect the expedition. Despite still leading a military contingent, he is definitely out of his comfort zone and facing challenges from various quarters, from the environment, the expedition leaders and those out to exploit Africa itself, slavers and big game hunters alike.

As ever, Paul Collard weaves a gripping story as Lark’s adventure into the unknown, both in his career and his personal life, takes a twisting, turning path. Commander confronts the ideas of slavery and the ivory trade within the context of the time, as he does the concept of colonial expansion; this is counterweighted with the sense of adventure and discovery that motivate such vast expeditions. The chance to go where no on has gone before.

Dozens of servants flowed around the room carrying silver platters covered with black velvet cloths embroidered with emeralds and pearls. Every platter bore a large number of drinking vessels no bigger than an egg cup, each one containing a liquid so dark that it was an inky black.

‘Coffee, Lark?’ Stanton reached for a cup from a passing waiter, his free hand held ready to take one for Jack.

‘No, thank you.’ Jack had no taste for the bitter liquid.

‘You are probably wise. I prefer tea myself, but there is no way in hell we can expect the frog to know how to serve it properly, so I suspect we are better off being spared the attempt.’

‘Indeed.’ Jack straightened his back. It always ached by this hour of the day. It was time to make an excuse and head for the buffet. He had delivered the notebook to his master. Nothing else was keeping him there.

‘You look like a hound waiting to be let off the leash.’ Stanton raised his eyebrows over the rim of the tiny coffee cup, which looked incongruous in his large hands. ‘You want to be off, I’ll wager.’

‘Something like that.’

‘Well, you can’t. I hate these bloody things as much as you plainly do, and now you’re here, you can damned well keep me company.’

Jack did his best to keep his expression neutral. The pit of his spine was beginning to hurt with a vengeance, and he wanted nothing more than to return to the cool quiet of his hotel suite and enjoy some peace. It appeared that ambition was to be denied, at least until he could shake off Stanton’s attention and slip away, something he would do at the earliest opportunity. ‘I’d be delighted,’ he lied smoothly.

‘No, you wouldn’t, but I pay your wages so you will just have to endure, as must I.’ Stanton snorted. ‘Sometimes I wish I’d stayed in the army. What about you Lark?’

Paul Fraser Collard’s Jack Lark has one of the best character developments that I have ever read. He is flawed, damaged and does not always make the right decision. But that is what makes him fascinating. He is a fabulous, colourful character, full of life! He is not your typical everyday hero, which makes him unpredictable, which makes the story’s outcome unpredictable. The many twists in the book leave the reader on the edge of their seat throughout, eager to discover the outcome of the converging threads.

In Commander Jack Lark is not only up against an enemy, a former French soldier who he quite likes, who is exploiting the treasures of Africa – it’s animals and people – for his own personal gain. In another life, he may have been Jack’s friend, but in this life, their ideals are diametrically opposed. Jack is also fighting against nature; the unrelenting landscape of Africa, where their boats are hampered by the weeds choking the River Nile and the relentless heat makes work, drill and marching harder.

Commander by Paul Fraser Collard is a triumph in storytelling, taking the reader back to colonial Africa, on an amazing adventure. It recreates the landscape of an Africa untouched by modern development, contrasted with the hustle and bustle of Cairo and the ancient, established, cities of Egypt. It is a pleasure to read – a journey of discovery for reader and character alike. A must read.

I do hope we get to see more of his adventures!

Commander by Paul Fraser Collard is now available from Amazon.

About the author:

Paul’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. At school, Paul was determined to become an officer in the British army and he succeeded in winning an Army Scholarship. However, Paul chose to give up his boyhood ambition and instead went into the finance industry. Paul stills works in the City, and lives with his wife and three children in Kent. 

*

My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

*

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

10 Facts About Women and Magna Carta

Magna Carta

Magna Carta is probably the most significant charter in English history and, today, its importance extends beyond England’s shores, holding a special place in the constitutions of many countries around the world. Despite its age, Magna Carta’s iconic status is a more modern phenomena, seen in the influence it has had on nations and organisations throughout the world, such as the United States of America and the United Nations, who have used it as the basis for their own 1791 Bill of Rights and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respectively.

Originally called the Charter of Liberties, it was renamed Magna Carta, or Great Charter, in 1217, when the Charter of the Forest (see Appendix C) was issued. Sealed (not signed) in the meadow at Runnymede in June 1215, the legacy of Magna Carta, down through the centuries, has enjoyed a much greater impact on history and the people of the world than it did at the time of its creation. As a peace treaty between rebellious barons and the infamous King John, it was an utter failure, thrown out almost before the wax seals had hardened, not worth the parchment it was written on.

The Magna Carta of 1215 reflects the needs and events of the time in which it was issued; an England on the brink of civil war, disaffected barons demanding redress, the Church and cities such as London looking for protection. It was not a charter that was intended to form the protection and legal rights of every man, woman and child in the land; though it has come to be seen as just that in subsequent centuries. Indeed, the common man does not get a mention, and of the sixty-three clauses, only eight of them mention women as a gender. Only one clause uses the word femina – woman – and that is a clause which restricts the rights and powers of a woman, rather than upholding them.

10 Facts About Women and Magna Carta

1. As queen, Isabelle d’Angoulême is mentioned in Clause 61, the security clause of Magna Carta:

Seal of Isaballe d’Angoulême

…And if we or our justiciar, should we be out of the kingdom, do not redress the offence within forty days from the time it was brought to the notice of us or our justiciar, should we be out of the kingdom, the aforesaid four barons shall refer the case to the rest of the twenty-five barons and those twenty-five barons with the commune of all the land shall distrain and distress us in every way they can, namely by seizing castles, lands and possessions, and in such other ways as they can, saving our person and those of our queen and our children, until, in their judgement, amends have been made; and when it has been redressed they are to obey us as they did before…

2. Other than Isabelle d’Angoulême, only 2 women can be positively identified in the text of Magna Carta. Though they are not named, the Scottish princesses, Isabella and Margaret appear in clause 59 as the ‘sisters’ of Alexander II, King of Scots:

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.

3. Magna Carta restricts the right of women to accuse others of murder. Clause 54 states: 

‘No one shall be taken or imprisoned upon the appeal of a woman for the death of anyone except her husband.’

King John

In a time when a man had the right to face his accuser in trial by combat to prove his innocence, this right would be automatically removed if his accuser was a woman; women were not allowed to use force of arms. A female accuser was seen as being able to circumvent the law, and therefore the law was open to abuse. It was merely that a woman may make a false accusation, rather that a woman may be manipulated by her menfolk to make an accusation, knowing that she would not be required to back it up by feat of arms. Whereas her husband, father or brother may have been challenged to do just that.

Clause 54 was used on 5 July 1215, when King John ordered the release of Everard de Mildeston, an alleged murderer. Everard had been accused of the murder of her son, Richard, by Seina Chevel. The charge was therefore forbidden under the terms of Magna Carta, and the accused released.

4. The experiences of Loretta de Braose are believed to have inspired Clauses 7 and 8, which sought to protect the rights of widows. Clause 7 established that:

After her husband’s death, a widow shall have her marriage portion and her inheritance at once and without any hindrance; nor shall she pay anything for her dower, her marriage portion, or her inheritance which she and her husband held on the day of her husband’s death; and she may stay in her husband’s house for 40 days after his death, within which period her dower shall be assigned to her.’

6. Clause 8 allowed that a widow was to be free to choose whether or not to remarry, so long as she paid for the privilege:

No widow shall be compelled to marry so long as she wishes to live without a husband, provided that she gives security that she will not marry without our consent if she holds of us, or without the consent of the lord of whom she holds, if she holds of another.’

The clauses protecting widows were intended to protect the inheritances of underage heirs, rather than the rights of the women themselves.

7. Clause 11 protects a wife from having to repay the debts of her dead husband from her dower:

And if a man dies owing a debt to the Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing of that debt; and if he leaves children under age, their needs shall be met in a manner in keeping with the holding of the deceased; and the debts shall be paid out of the residue, saving the service due to the lords. Debts owing to others than Jews shall be dealt with likewise.’

8. Clause 12 allows the king to raise a ‘reasonable’ aid or scutage (taxes) to pay towards the first marriage of his eldest daughter:

Joan of England, King John’s oldest daughter

No scutage or aid shall be levied in our realm except by the common counsel of our realm, unless it is for the ransom of our person, the knighting of our eldest son or the first marriage of our eldest daughter; and for these only a reasonable aid is to be levied. Aids from the city of London are to be treated likewise.’

9. Clause 15 allows that no lord could raise a tax from his free men except to ransom his person, knight his eldest son and marry his eldest daughter once:

Henceforth we will not grant anyone that he may take an aid from his free men except to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight and to marry his eldest daughter once; and for these purposes only a reasonable aid is to be levied.’

10. The fate of Matilda de Braose, left to starve to death in John’s dungeons, is thought to have influenced clauses 39 and 40 of Magna Carta. Clause 39 states;

No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.

Clause 40 promised:

To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.’

Clause 39 could not prevent the perpetual imprisonment of women of royal blood, such as Eleanor of Brittany and Gwenllian of Wales. Their royal blood made them a focus for rebellion and opposition and therefore a threat to the throne and the stability of the kingdom.

11. Ela of Salisbury used clause 8 of Magna Carta to support her rejection of an unwelcome offer of marriage:

No widow is to be distrained to marry while she wishes to live without a husband.’

12. Clause 6 of Magna Carta dictated that

Heirs shall be given in marriage without disparagement, yet so that before a marriage is contracted it shall be made known to the heir’s next of kin.’

This clause should have effectively protected women from being forced to marry below their station.

13. Isabel d’Aubigny famously invoked Magna Carta when Henry III commandeered land and rights that were rightly hers, proclaiming; 

‘Where are the liberties of England, so often recorded, so often granted, and so often ransomed?’

14. The Rt. Hon. Fiona Woolf, C.B.E., called Magna Carta

the single most important legal document in history. The foundation for global constitutions, commerce and communities. The anchor for the Rule of Law.’ 

You may have noticed that there were 14 facts, rather than the 10 as advertised – my apologies. I got carried away!

*

Sources:

Rich Price, King John’s Letters Facebook group; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made EnglandThe Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of BritainOxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Ralph of Diceto, Images of History; Marc Morris, King John; David Crouch, William Marshal; Crouch and Holden, History of William Marshal; Crouch, David, ‘William Marshal [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c. 1146–1219)’, Oxforddnb.com; Flanagan, M.T., ‘Isabel de Clare, suo jure countess of Pembroke (1171×6–1220)’, Oxforddnb.com; Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight; Chadwick, Elizabeth, ‘Clothing the Bones: Finding Mahelt Marshal’, livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com; Stacey, Robert C., ‘Roger Bigod, fourth earl of Norfolk (c. 1212-1270)’, Oxforddnb.com; finerollshenry3.org.uk; Vincent, Nicholas, ‘William de Warenne, fifth earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1240)’, Oxforddnb.com.

*

My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

*

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

*

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly