Book Corner: The Pedlar’s Promise by Steven A. McKay

Medieval England, December

A pedlar has been sent to Wakefield with an unexpected and apparently quite valuable Christmas gift for John Little and his friend Will Scaflock. Unfortunately, the pedlar likes his ale a little too much and somehow gets lost and ends up in the wrong town. With no other work to do, or any strange mysteries to solve for a change, the pair of bored former outlaws decide to ride out and track down their gift. Of course, things don’t quite go as smoothly as hoped and they experience a series of hair-raising adventures on the snowy roads and villages of Yorkshire before their quest finally ends with a surprise…

Will our heroes ever find their quarry? What is the mysterious gift their friend Robert Stafford has sent to them from Brandesburton? And who the hell thought it was a good idea to go riding around northern England in the depths of winter searching for a drunk old pedlar?
Pour yourself a warm glass of wassail and settle in beside the fire to find out!

The Pedlar’s Promise continues the series of short winter stories including Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil, Faces of Darkness, The House in the Marsh, and Sworn To God, and brings some much-needed cheer to the gloomy winter months.

It must be nearly Christmas because there’s a new novella out featuring Little John, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck.

Steven A. McKay is becoming a master of the mystery thriller. The Pedlar’s Promise is yet another intriguing adventure involving the former outlaws Little John and Will Scarlet takes the reader on an entertaining, muddy journey through Yorkshire.

These novellas follow on from Steven’s The Forest Lord series, telling the story of Robin Hood. They provide a little insight into the adventures of Robin’s leading men – Little John, Tuck and Will – after their lives as outlaws come to an end. The three remain firm friends, reminisce about their time with Robin, and get into some interesting scrapes. The Pedlar’s Promise is one such mini-adventure, when Will and John go in search of an errant pedlar in the depths of winter.

Suddenly the door burst open, snow whirling into the room as a dark, hooded figure forced his way through the icy gale and into the ale house. Muttering, the newcomer shut out the gale, making sure the latch was firmly in place before stamping towards Alexander Gilbert, the purple-nosed owner of the alehouse, and demanding a drink.

Once furnished with an ale the stocky figure turned towards the hearth and grinned, seeing the two men framed by the flickering orange flames.

“Tuck!” John cried, and Will Scaflock laughed, gesturing for the friar to come and join them at their small circular table.

“God’s blood,” Tuck growled as he planted his hefty behind on the stool next to Little John. “It’s freezing out there.”

“Maybe,” the bailiff conceded. “But that just makes it all the more enjoyable to drink an ale or three in here, beside the fire and in the company of good friends, eh, Will?”

Scaflock hoisted his mug aloft, smiling, but Tuck just rolled his eyes and pulled the collar of his brown cassock tighter around his neck.

“Cheer up.” John laughed. “You’re just hungry.”

“How d’you know that?” Tuck demanded, wiping foam from his upper lip and eyeing the bailiff suspiciously.

“You’re always hungry,” John replied sardonically, gesturing for Alexander to bring them some of his fabled broth. That was always a favourite on a night such as this, even if the amount of actual meat and other ingredients in it varied depending on the year’s harvest. Providing ale and warm food was a sure way to cheer Friar Tuck, and the bailiff knew it.

The innkeeper soon bustled over, placing a bowl and some bread in front of Tuck, who happily accepted. “Thank you, Alexander,” he said, lifting the bread and dipping it into the thick, steaming liquid. “Did you get the gift I sent you from Brandesburton?” he asked, turning his attention back to his friends.

“What gift?” John asked with a frown.

As I say with every one of Steven A. McKay’s novellas, this book was too short. It’s not that the story was rushed or shallow. It’s just that, the story ends way too soon. I really do think Steven should write a full-length mystery with Will Scarlet and Little John. These novellas are tantalising but they always leave me wanting much, much more. (Are you listening Steven?)

Having said that, The Pedlar’s Promise is a perfect little read that you can get through in one or two sittings. The story is fast-flowing and draws the reader in from the very beginning, as I have come to expect from Steven A. McKay. His characters are consistent in their actions and it is like reading about the adventures of old friends. Where the previous two novellas, The House in the Marsh and Faces of Darkness were quite dark and broody, and had me hiding under the covers at various points, The Pedlar’s Promise has a different tone and can be quite light-hearted in places. And has a brilliant twist at the end!

I don’t want to tell you too much and ruin the experience, but The Pedlar’s Promise by Steven A. McKay is well worth a read!

I cannot recommend it highly enough!

To Buy the Book:

The Pedlar’s Promise is now available from Amazon.

From Steven A. McKay:

I was born in Scotland in 1977 and always enjoyed studying history – well, the interesting bits, not so much what they taught us in school. I decided to write my Forest Lord series after seeing a house called “Sherwood” when I was out at work one day. I’d been thinking about maybe writing a novel but couldn’t come up with a subject or a hero so, to see that house, well…It felt like a message from the gods and my rebooted Robin Hood was born.

My current Warrior Druid of Britain series was similarly inspired, although this time it was the 80’s TV show “Knightmare”, and their version of Merlin that got my ideas flowing. Of course, the bearded old wizard had been done to death in fiction, so I decided to make my hero a giant young warrior-druid living in post-Roman Britain and he’s been a great character to write.

In 2021 the Xbox/Playstation/PC game HOOD: Outlaws and Legends was released, featuring my writing. I did the character backstories and the lore for the maps and collectables and it was such a fantastic experience!

I was once in a heavy metal band although I tend to just play guitar in my study these days. I’m sure the neighbours absolutely love me.

Check out my website at stevenamckay.com and sign up for the email list – in return I’ll send you a FREE short story, as well as offering chances to win signed books, free audiobooks and other quite good things!

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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.

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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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.

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Book Corner: Dark Waters Rising by Cassandra Clark

A storm is coming . . . Can nun sleuth Hildegard solve the murder of a lay sister before the rising flood waters trap her with a cunning killer?

Autumn, 1394. All is not well at Swyne Priory. Dissension has arisen amongst the nuns. The new novices whisper in corners, spreading malicious rumours and sharing dark secrets.

The Prioress gives Hildegard an order: search out the cause of this unrest, and put a stop to it. But before Hildegard can investigate, she’s forced to deal with a new problem: the arrival of a mysterious stranger in the middle of the night, claiming his life is in danger.

Hildegard isn’t sure whether to believe him, but when a body is discovered near the priory, she’s soon plunged into a dark and dangerous puzzle where nothing is as it seems. All she knows for certain is that a storm is coming, threatening to cut the priory off from the outside world and trap them with a killer . . .

Dark Waters Rising is the twelfth and final novel of Cassandra Clark’s fabulous series charting the adventure of her nun-turned-sleuth Hildegard of Meaux. Deep in the wilds of Yorkshire, amidst a storm that threatens to drown everything and everyone, Hildegard is thrown into yet another mystery when a court musician appears at the gates of her abbey, just as one of the abbey’s servants is viciously murdered. Coincidence?

Dark Waters Rising is set in the turbulent reign of King Richard II, when the king’s own relatives are always looking to their own advantage – to the detriment of the king and those who support him. It is a thrilling murder mystery, tinged with court intrigue, despite the distance between Yorkshire and London. The political connotations are never far from the minds of Hildegard and her colleagues. Hildegard has to consider the motives of the major players on the national stage, and of those closer to home if she is to uncover the murderer and keep her fellow nuns safe.

Cassandra Clark is the consummate story teller and draws the reader in from the very first pages, taking them on a journey of deceit and discovery as the tale unravels and the villains – and friends – are unmasked.

Hildegard took charge. ‘He’s going to wake the entire priory. Keep the beam in place.’

Speaking through the peephole she demanded, ‘Who’s there?’

From the lane a voice gasped something and Hildegard had to ask again. ‘Who is it? Declare yourself.’

‘I beg you – please, sister, for the love of God, let me in – I beg you, let me inside or I’m a dead man!

‘Your name, sir?’

‘Master Leonin, King’s musician, and I beg entry to your convent. Sister, I mean you no harm – I am alone. One man only. Help me!’

‘Are you armed?’

A pause followed.

Hildegard repeated the question. Eventually a hesitant voice replied, ‘Only with my one knife, for eating and practical purposes while travelling.’

‘That could mean anything, ‘ whispered Blanche the porteress.

Hildegard whispered back. ‘Fear not. I have my own knife, equally practical.’

She gave a glance towards several nuns who, roused from their beds, had crowded into the lodge. She noticed one or two looking as formidable as ever and decided to take a risk.

Peering back through the peephole she could just about discern a hooded figure move into view. Behind him was the short bridge over the moat and beyond that only the dense black of the thicket at the edge of the woods. Apart from this one fellow battering at the door there was no sign of anyone else, no band of cut-throats, nothing but the swish of rain and the gurgling in the gutters as it spewed down through the waste pipes.

She whispered to Blanche, ‘Go on. Open it slowly.’ She gave a last hurried glance outside before stepping back as the bar slid out, the door flew open, and the stranger fell inside.

He was clawing for breath and gasping, ‘I thank you with all my heart, dear sisters! Thank you, thank you!’

His hood fell back and they saw he had black hair plastered to his skull and a clean-shaven face washed by rain. Kneeling in the puddle he brought in he seemed incapable of rising to his feet. With hands clasped he lifted his face to them, eyes stark with something liker terror. He was no more than a boy, a very handsome, exotic-looking boy, wearing filthy but expensive velvet and worn-out embroidered Spanish-leather boots.

‘My blessed saviours – my dear angels of mercy,’ he whispered in a strange accent, then he astonished them all by leaning forward to kiss the flagstones in front of them.

‘Can you stand on your feet, young fellow?’ Hildegard demanded. ‘Come, get up. You’re safe from whatever threatens you outside our precinct.’

‘A moment.’ He was gasping for air. With what seemed like fear, head bent over his clasped hands as a prayer issued from his lips, he broke off with a sob then took another gulping breath before slowly subsiding to the floor in a dead faint.

In Dark Waters Rising Cassandra Clark evokes an atmosphere of desolation and isolation within a storm-swept Yorkshire of the 14th century. Her knowledge of the landscape and its people adds to the authenticity of the story and the history. All is intricately woven into the story to draw the reader into the world of late 14th century England – and the intrigues that abounded.

The reign of Richard II is woefully underrepresented in fiction and non-fiction alike, so it is refreshing to see an entire series of stories set in the period. It s even more refreshing to see them sympathetic to Richard II, rather than championing the Lancastrian cause of Henry of Bolingbroke, the future King Henry IV.

I like Hildegard. She is a no-nonsense, practical nun who just gets on with things. You can imagine that she is the one everyone goes to for advice. The sensible one. Cassandra Clark manages to include a wide range of diverse and individual characters, both in the religious houses and those around them, creating a rich tapestry of personalities for this medieval tale.

If you haven’t met Hildegard of Meaux, yet, I suggest you acquaint yourself with this amazing series.

Beautifully written and expertly told, the story and plot reveals itself gradually, building to the inevitable climax, and the ending of a fabulous series of stories.

Hildegard of Meaux will be sorely missed!

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To Buy the Book:

Dark Waters Rising by Cassandra Clark is now available from Amazon.

About the author:

Cassandra Clark is an award-winning scriptwriter for theatre, radio and television, and the author of nine previous novels in the Hildegard of Meaux medieval mystery series. Running wild near the ruins of the Abbey of Meaux in the East Riding as a child became her inspiration for the series while the discovery in a dusty archive of the Chronicle of Meaux written in 1395 is the secret source for her research.

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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 Books, Amazon 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 & SwordAmazonBookshop.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.

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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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, FRHistS

Guest Post: Alice Perrers, from Goldsmith’s Daughter to Lady of the Sun by Gemma Hollman

Today it is an absolute pleasure to welcome author and historian Gemma Hollman to History…the Interesting Bits as a stop on her blog tour for her latest book. The Queen and the Mistress: The Women of Edward III is a fascinating dual biography of Philippa of Hainault, queen of Edward III, and Alice Perrers, the king’s mistress.

Alice Perrers: From Goldsmith’s Daughter to Lady of the Sun

King Edward III

In the medieval period, a popular image came to be used to describe human life and society: that of the Wheel of Fortune. The idea was that the ancient goddess Fortuna was in control of a wheel which she would spin. People sat at various points on the wheel, and as Fortuna turned the wheel people would rise up to great heights, or drop to great lows. Medieval writers became enamoured with the symbolism of great people having a great fall because of the spinning of Fortune’s Wheel. One fourteenth-century courtier who epitomised the wheel was a woman named Alice Perrers, who was lucky enough to rise higher than her contemporaries could have imagined – but who also spun back down again.

Alice Perrers has been an enigma for centuries. Even many of her contemporaries did not really know who she was or where she came from, with chroniclers like Thomas Walsingham of St Albans Abbey making disparaging guesses to her lowly origins. Recent research has shown that Alice most likely came from a goldsmithing family in London, and so whilst she was not close to the upper echelons of society, when looking at the country as a whole she would have had a reasonable upbringing. The merchant classes had seen an upturn in their wealth during the reign of Edward III, who had been on the throne officially since 1327, and so Alice’s family probably enjoyed the benefits of this.

As the daughter of a trade family, Alice may have had some basic education, and her life initially followed the path of the majority of women of her time. She was married off, likely as a teenager, to another London goldsmith, and the couple found further wealth through the favour of the king; her husband was known to have supplied jewels to Edward III himself. But soon, Alice’s life took a turn when her husband died. The couple had no children, and her future was uncertain. Prospects for young widows were not always promising.

Queen Philippa of Hainault

Here, Fortuna turned her wheel and set Alice onto the path of greatness. She somehow found her way to court, in one of the most coveted positions in the kingdom as she became a damsel to Edward III’s wife, Queen Philippa of Hainault. Alice was catapulted into the wealth and glamour of the English monarchy. The court was filled with many of the greatest nobles of the period, including at times the captured French king, and it was a place filled with feasting, jousting, jewels, music, and writing. As one of the queen’s damsels, Alice had a place at centre stage to all that was going on. She would accompany the queen as she travelled across her various castles and attended events, and she was entitled to luxurious clothes. It must have seemed like life could not get better.

But Alice was an intelligent, ambitious, shrewd woman. Not content to simply receive the gifts afforded to her as a lady-in-waiting, Alice started to build up connections at court. She wined and dined with many powerful knights, merchants, and members of the nobility. She began to lend money and make property deals, extracting favourable terms for herself. Soon she had pieces of land of her own – quite a feat for a single woman of her status. But that was not all that Alice had obtained at court, for she had caught the eye of the king himself. Soon, a relationship began between them.

Edward III had been a loyal husband to his wife for over 30 years, but by the 1360s Philippa was severely unwell. It was clear she was not going to live for many more years, and this may have provided the impetus for Edward’s eyes to wander. Alice was a perfect choice for him. Young, likely beautiful, headstrong, it is easy to see why Edward found her attractive. But Edward had spent decades cultivating an image as a loyal, family man, and so the couple did their best to keep their relationship secret. If nothing else, to save the queen public humiliation.

The secrecy did not dampen their relationship, and within a few years Alice had given birth to 3 children with the king. At the end of the decade, the great queen died, and it was not long before Alice shifted to a more prominent place at court. Soon everybody knew that Alice had the king’s heart – and with it, a significant share of power. People were soon rushing to Alice to obtain favours with the king, offering her pieces of property and whatever else they thought she might like in the hope she may get them something in return. Even the Pope petitioned this mistress for help.

Alice Perrers and Edward III, painted by Ford Maddox Brown

As the 1370s wore on, Alice rose to the greatest heights of the wheel, almost taking on the position of unofficial queen. During the king’s jubilee year, Alice took centre stage in celebrations dressed as the Lady of the Sun. But as medieval writers loved to point out, the wheel also was fond of dropping people into a fall, and so too was this to happen to Alice. Eventually, the men at court got fed up with the undue influence of Alice and her friends on the king. They felt that those of old noble blood should be the only ones to advise the king, and finally the knights of the land gathered together at the Good Parliament to end their evil influence once and for all. Alice was banished from the king’s presence, and after his death the full weight of the law came for her. She was banished further – this time from the entire kingdom of England – and all of her hard-earned lands, jewels, and goods were taken from her.

But Alice was clever, and she had made contingency plans. She knew that her presence at court grated on those around her, and she had found powerful allies. It emerged that she had undertaken a secret marriage to a powerful knight, and he wasn’t going to give up Alice’s wealth. The couple fought for years to obtain the return of Alice’s possessions, and it was a fight that she carried with her to her death. Many of Alice’s female contemporaries had two paths in life: marriage or a nunnery. But Alice chose to forge one of her own, that of mistress and a powerful single woman. Was she as evil as her later reputation suggested? Or was there something more underneath the surface?

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About the book:

IN A WORLD WHERE MAN IS KING, CAN WOMEN REALLY HAVE IT ALL – AND KEEP IT?

Philippa of Hainault was Queen of England for forty-one years. Her marriage to Edward III, when they were both teenagers, was more political transaction than romantic wedding, but it would turn into a partnership of deep affection. The mother of twelve children, she was the perfect medieval queen: pious, unpolitical and fiercely loyal to both her king and adopted country.

Alice Perrers entered court as a young widow and would soon catch the eye of an ageing king whose wife was dying. Born to a family of London goldsmiths, this charismatic and highly intelligent woman would use her position as the king’s favourite to build up her own portfolio of land, wealth and prestige, only to see it all come crashing down as Edward himself neared death.

The Queen and the Mistress is a story of female power and passion, and how two very different women used their skills and charms to navigate a tumultuous royal court – and win the heart of the same man.

To buy the book: Amazon

About the author:

Gemma Hollman is a historian and author who specialises in late medieval English history. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, her first book ‘Royal Witches’ was published in 2019 and her second book ‘The Queen and the Mistress’ will be released in November 2022. She has a particular interest in the plethora of strong, intriguing and complicated women from the medieval period, a time she had always been taught was dominated by men.

Gemma also works full-time in the heritage industry whilst running her historical blog, Just History Posts, which explores all periods of history in more depth.

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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.

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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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 FRHistS

Book Corner: Femina by Janina Ramirez

The middle ages are seen as a bloodthirsty time of Vikings, saints and kings: a patriarchal society which oppressed and excluded women. But when we dig a little deeper into the truth, we can see that the ‘dark’ ages were anything but.

Oxford and BBC historian Janina Ramirez has uncovered countless influential women’s names struck out of historical records, with the word FEMINA annotated beside them. As gatekeepers of the past ordered books to be burnt, artworks to be destroyed, and new versions of myths, legends and historical documents to be produced, our view of history has been manipulated.

Only now, through a careful examination of the artefacts, writings and possessions they left behind, are the influential and multifaceted lives of women emerging. Femina goes beyond the official records to uncover the true impact of women like Jadwiga, the only female King in Europe, Margery Kempe, who exploited her image and story to ensure her notoriety, and the Loftus Princess, whose existence gives us clues about the beginnings of Christianity in England. See the medieval world with fresh eyes and discover why these remarkable women were removed from our collective memories.

When I wrote Heroines of the Medieval World five years ago, I said at the time that it was a book that needed to be written – I just wasn’t sure if I was the person to write it. If I had been asked who should write it, one of the top names on my list would have been Janina Ramirez. So I was not surprised when I discovered that Janina had written a book on medieval women, Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It.

I admit I was a little worried that Femina would make my Heroines obsolete or redundant, but I probably shouldn’t have been. After all, every writer has their own style and approach and every book – even if on the same topic – is written differently. And while the two books do overlap in places, we do not always reach the same conclusion and they really would complement each other on a book shelf (hint, hint!).

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It looks at some of the most remarkable women of the medieval period, including two women you will be familiar with if you have read Heroines of the Medieval World, Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians and Jadwiga, ‘King’ of Poland. And the chapter on Jadwiga is particularly illuminating as Dr Ramirez applies her background in Art History to the symbolism and significance of Jadwiga’s reign, both on a political and spiritual level.

Janina Ramirez also provides great insight in to Emma of Normandy, who I looked at in detail for my own book, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest. Study is even made of Ӕlfgyva, the mysterious woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, though Janina and I come to very different conclusions – and I would dearly love to have a face-to-face conversation with her to thrash out our theories. That would be fun!

Hild moved from Hartlepool to the site known then as Strenaeshalch and now as Whitby, in AD 657. Here she was granted land to build a double monastery where both men and women could learn the scriptures and dedicate themselves to a monastic life. And engraved stone slab commemorates her successor as abbess, Ælfflæd, and the use of the Latin script and alphabet supports Bede’s suggestion that Whitby was a centre of learning and literacy. But like at Hartlepool, finds from Hild’s abbacy include many luxuries such as decorative hairpins, golden book covers and even a comb with a runic inscription. Runes were the alphabet of the pre-Christian English, but the inscription is clearly Christian: My God. May God Almighty help Cy …’ Again, we find an object which links the Germanic warrior world to the new Christina one. Like Hild herself it straddles ideologies and a time of transition.

Hild was at the top of the tree in terms of influence in seventh-century Northumbria. Bede states that ‘even kings and princes sought and received her counsel’, and she acted as mentor to the daughter of Oswui, King of the Northumbrians from 642-670. What’s more, it was under her rule, in the monastery she founded herself, that the leaders of the English church gathered for the famous Synod of Whitby in AD 664. With Hild in charge of proceedings, the good and the great, representatives of Rome and Ireland, argued which traditions the Northumbrian church should follow. The result went the way of Rome. The variety and uniqueness of Celtic monasteries was lost to the rigour and routine of the Benedictine Rule, and monasticism in the north was transformed forever. For a woman to be involved in such high-level synodal processes is something extraordinary even today. It is also significant that five men who trained under Hild were all made bishops; if there were king-makers in the medieval world, then she was the bishop-maker. Whitby was the training ground for a new, Roman Christian, learned and respected English church. From Hild’s northern headland, educated men and women would stretch out the length and breadth of the country, assuming the very highest positions within churches and monasteries, including the archbishop of York. Hild’s influence would permeate the fabric of Christianity in this part of the world and its effects were felt down the centuries.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It is a fabulous study of a number of medieval women – and medieval woman in general. Dr Ramirez manages to combine what it was like to be a woman in medieval times, including their rights and the dangers they faced, such as childbirth, with the histories of particular women – and not always women you would expect to see in history book. The most fascinating chapter is that which is devoted to the Cathars, a religious sect much misunderstood and persecuted to extinction by the church. Janina Ramirez highlights not only their suffering and personal testimonies, but also the strength and respect that women held within the community. It truly is illuminating.

From warrior Viking women, to the successes of Æthelflæd and the excessive crying of Margery Kempe, Janina Ramirez shines a light on the lives and experiences of a huge variety of medieval women. Archaeological discoveries, religious artefacts and medieval artwork are used to describe and illuminate the world in which these women lived and died.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It is an engaging, entertaining read, with Janina Ramirez’s unique and wonderful take on medieval history. Introducing her vast knowledge of Art History into the mix adds vibrancy to the individual stories and brings these incredible women to life. Dr Ramirez is fabulous writer and communicator and takes the reader on an incredible journey of discovery through the medieval world. Her enthusiasm and fascination for the topic shines through on every page.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It by Janina Ramirez is truly a pleasure to read.

About the author:

Dr Janina Ramirez is a Sunday Times bestselling author, an Oxford lecturer, BBC broadcaster and researcher. She has presented and written over 30 hours of BBC history documentaries and series on TV and radio, and written five books for children and adults.

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.

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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

The Lancaster Sisters

Although they had the same start in life, the two daughters of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster led very different lives as adults. While Philippa would become the mother of the Illustrious Generation of Portuguese princes, Elizabeth would have to overcome scandal and the taint of treason before finding love in the last of her three marriages.

John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster

Philippa of Lancaster was born at Leicester on 31st March 1360. She was the eldest daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and 4th son of Edward III, and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, great-great-granddaughter of Henry III. Philippa’s father was one of the richest men in the country – and one of the most powerful. Her life as a child would have been one of luxury and privilege, with a glorious dynastic marriage awaiting her in the future. Philippa was raised alongside her younger sister, Elizabeth, who was born in 1363/4, and her baby brother, Henry of Bolingbroke, born in 1367.

The children lost their mother when Blanche died at Tutbury on 12th September 1368, from the complications following the birth a daughter, Isabella, who did not survive. The children’s father was with Blanche when she died but departed on campaign to France soon after; although it is doubtful the children’s care was interrupted.

Philippa and her sister were raised together in one household, with Blanche Swynford, the daughter of their mother’s lady-in-waiting, Katherine Swynford. John of Gaunt provided his daughters with an annual allowance of £200. The Lancaster household was well-organised and run by Katherine, now the girls’ governess. She became mistress to their father, John of Gaunt, in early 1371. Despite his relationship with Katherine, in September 1371 the Lancaster children gained a stepmother in their father’s new bride, Constance of Castile. Constance was the daughter and heir of Pedro the Cruel, the deceased King of Castile who had been murdered by his half-brother, Henry of Trastámara, in March 1369. A new sister arrived when Constance gave birth to Catherine (Catalina) of Lancaster, in 1372/3.

Despite several dynastic marriage propositions, by 1385 and at 25 years old Philippa was still unmarried. However, in the following year her father took all three of his daughters on his military expedition to Spain, hoping to claim the kingdom of Castile in right of his second wife, Constance. Philippa’s marriage to John – or Joao – I of Portugal was agreed as part of an alliance made with her father at Ponte do Mouro in November 1386. Philippa was married to King John at Oporto on 2nd February 1387, before they had even received the required papal dispensation. Philippa was 26 – about 10 years older than the average age for a princess to marry. John of Portugal was three years her senior and had been king for just short of two years.

Philippa of Lancaster, Queen of Portugal

Almost immediately after the wedding John returned to the war. In July 1387 Philippa miscarried their first child while visiting John at Curval, where he lay seriously ill. However, after what appears to have been a bumpy start, the couple seem to have been well-matched. John had had two illegitimate children before his marriage, but was demonstrably faithful to Philippa after the wedding. In fact, when court gossip reached the queen with rumours that he had been unfaithful, John went to great lengths to convince Philippa of his innocence. He even went so far as to commemorate the event by having a room in the royal apartments at Sintra decorated with chattering magpies as reference to the court gossips.

Philippa became known as ‘Dona Fillipa’ in Portugal and would be one of the country’s best-loved queens. Her natural disposition to austerity and piety was endearing to the Portuguese people. Philippa reformed the court and encouraged courtly games among her ladies. French poet Eustace Deschamps characterised her as the chief patron of the order of The Flower of England, casting her at the centre of the court and the May Day celebrations.

Instrumental in fostering links between England and Portugal, Philippa had been made a Lady of the Garter in 1378. She was on good terms with both Richard II and his successor – her brother, Henry IV. In 1399 she wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, asking him to intervene with Henry on behalf of her friend, Bishop Henry Despenser of Norwich, who had angered the new king by defending Richard II at the time of Henry’s invasion of England and seizure of the throne. Philippa also had a hand in persuading Henry to arrange the marriage of her stepdaughter, Beatriz (John’s illegitimate daughter) to the earl of Arundel in 1405.

Philippa and John were to have a large family, which they brought up with great care. Of their 9 children, five sons and a daughter survived infancy and would later be known in Portugal as ‘the Illustrious Generation’ (a Ínclita Geração).

Their eldest surviving son, Edward, was born in 1391 and would succeed his father as King of Portugal in 1433. Peter, Duke of Coimbra, was born in 1392 and would act as regent for his nephew, Afonso V, following Edward’s death in 1438. Their most famous son was Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’, Duke of Viseu, who was renowned for financing and researching great explorations. Another son was John, Duke of Beja and Constable of Portugal, who married Isabella, the daughter of Alfonso I, Duke of Braganza. And the baby of the family was Ferdinand, Grand Master of Aviz. He was born in 1402 and was later known as ‘the Saint Prince’ following his death as a prisoner of the Moors. John and Philippa’s one daughter, Isabella, was born in 1397 and would go on to marry Philip III the Good, Duke of Burgundy; she was the mother of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

Tomb of John and Philippa, Batalha Abbey

By 1415 Philippa’s oldest sons were itching to prove their martial prowess. Scorning their father’s offer to hold a magnificent tournament for them, they persuaded him to mount an attack on the port of Ceuta in North Africa. It was as they were about to set sail that Philippa fell ill with the plague. She died at Odivelas, near Lisbon, on 18/19th July 1415, aged 55. On her deathbed she gave her three eldest sons a jewel encrusted sword, each, in anticipation of their impending knighthoods. She also gave them a piece of the true cross and her blessing for the forthcoming military expedition, exhorting “them to preserve their faith and to fulfil the duties of their rank”.

Described as pious, charitable, affable and obedient to her husband, Queen Philippa was held up as a model queen. She was buried in the Dominican Priory at Batalha Abbey, which had been founded by King John, who would be laid beside her after his death in August 1433. Their sons, Ferdinand, John, Henry and Peter, were laid to rest along the south side of the same chapel.

Philippa’s sister, Elizabeth, was not to have such a glittering international marriage. She was also made a Lady of the Garter in 1378 and, in 1380, when she was seventeen years old, her future appeared to be decided when she married John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, at Kenilworth Castle. However, the young Earl was only about seven years old at the time, being Elizabeth’s junior by ten years, and the princess soon tired of waiting for her bridegroom to grow up. The unconsummated marriage was eventually dissolved around the same time that it was discovered that Elizabeth was pregnant by Sir John Holland, half-brother of Elizabeth’s cousin, King Richard II. John already had a bit of a reputation and was rumoured to have been having an affair with Elizabeth’s aunt, Isabella of Castile, wife of Edmund, Duke of York, and there was a possibility that he was the father of Isabella’s youngest son, Richard of Conisbrough.

Arms of John Holland, Duke of Exeter, Elizabeth’s second husband

Whether Elizabeth was seduced by John Holland, or whether they fell in love, we cannot be certain. However, once the affair was discovered, Elizabeth and Holland were hurriedly married, near Plymouth, on 24 June 1386. Within two weeks, the couple were aboard ship with John of Gaunt, his wife Constance, and daughters, Philippa and Catherine; ninety ships and thousands of men were taking part in an expedition aimed at winning the throne of Castile for Constance and John. Elizabeth gave birth to her daughter Constance, in early 1387. She would have been nursing the infant throughout the disastrous campaign in Castile, which saw the army decimated by a combination of sickness, the unfriendly climate and dwindling supplies. By May 1387, John of Gaunt and his ally, John I of Portugal, the husband of Elizabeth’s older sister Philippa since February, had agreed peace terms with Castile.

At the end of May 1387, Elizabeth, her husband and their baby girl left the army and returned to English soil, after receiving a safe-conduct to travel through Castile. On 2 June 1388 John was created Earl of Huntingdon by his half-brother, the king; he would be elevated to Duke of Exeter on 29 September 1397.

The marriage produced at least four children, three sons and a daughter. Constance, the oldest, married Thomas Mowbray, 4th Earl of Norfolk. Of the sons John, Richard and Edward, John eventually succeeded to his father’s title of Duke of Exeter. The late 1390s proved turbulent times for Elizabeth. Her brother Henry of Bolingbroke was banished from England by their cousin, Richard II, in 1398; the sentence was extended to life following the death of their father, John of Gaunt, on 3 February 1399. When Henry retaliated by invading England and taking the king prisoner, it must have been a difficult time for Elizabeth. Her brother was now King Henry IV, but she was married to the former king’s half-brother.

Coat of arms of Sir John Cornwall, 1st Baron Fanhope and Milbroke, Elizabeth’s third husband

Her youngest son, Edward was not yet a year old when John Holland joined the conspiracy to restore his brother to the throne, the Epiphany Rising. Holland and his fellow conspirators, the earls of Salisbury, Kent and others, planned to kill the usurping king and his sons at the New Year jousts. However, Henry IV learned of the plot and the conspirators were arrested. John Holland was executed at Pleshey Castle on 9 January 1400, his head placed on London Bridge and his body buried in the Collegiate Church at Pleshey. He was attainted by parliament, his honours and lands forfeit to the crown. However, Elizabeth, as sister of the king, would not suffer for her husband’s treason, and was granted 1,000 marks a year for her maintenance. John and Elizabeth’s eldest surviving son, John, would eventually become Duke of Exeter, in a new creation, in 1444.

Within months of John Holland’s execution, it seems that Elizabeth, now in her late thirties, had an experience that few medieval women were ever privileged to. She fell head over heels in love with Sir John Cornwall, after watching him defeat a French knight in a joust at York. Cornwall was a career soldier who had fought in Scotland and Brittany, and would soon be fighting to defeat Owain Glyn Dwr’s revolt in Wales. Although considerably younger than Elizabeth, he also fell for the Lancastrian princess and within months the couple were secretly married. When he discovered the marriage, the king had Cornwall arrested and thrown into the Tower of London. However, Cornwall’s considerable charm, and most likely the pleas from his sister, soon persuaded the king to release the knight and restore him to favour. A widely respected soldier and one of the great chivalric heroes of his day, Cornwall was accepted into the Order of the Garter in 1409 and was one of Henry V’s most formidable captains during the Agincourt campaign of 1415.

Tomb of Elizabeth of Lancaster, St Mary’s Church, Burford

The couple were to have two children – a daughter, Constance and a son, John, who was born before 15 February 1405, when King Henry IV stood as his godfather. Young John would come to a tragic end in 1421, when the teenager was killed at the Siege of Meaux, his father a devastated witness to the tragedy. Elizabeth died at her husband’s estate of Burford, in Shropshire, on 24 November 1425. She was buried in Burford Parish Church, where her magnificent effigy, showing a tall, slender princess in colourful robes, can still be seen today. Sir John Cornwall was created Baron Fanhope in 1432 and Baron Milbroke around 1441; he died at his great estate of Ampthill in Bedfordshire on 11 December 1443 and was buried in a chapel he had founded, in the cemetery of the Friars Preacher near Ludgate in London. His two children having died before him, Cornwall bequeathed 800 marks to be divided between two illegitimate sons, and his estate at Ampthill was sold to his friend Ralph, Lord Cromwell.

While Philippa and Elizabeth led contrasting lives, the former as a queen on the international stage and the latter a noblewoman on the national stage, they both found contentment in their marriages. Elizabeth of Lancaster had led an eventful life, following her father to war, with an infant daughter on her hip and married for love at least once. Philippa is best remembered for her piety, her patronage and the Illustrious Generation of children that she raised in Portugal, the model image of a model queen.

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An earlier version of this article first appeared on the blog hosted by Kyra Kramer.

Sources: The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones;  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; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson;  englishmonarchs.co.uk; oxforddnb.com; annvictoriaroberts.co.uk.

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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.

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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

The Mysterious Knight in the Graveyard

The imposing keep of Conisbrough Castle

Whilst I was researching the Warenne earls of Surrey my cousin, who lives in Conisbrough, passed on to me a story of the accidental discovery of a long-dead knight during road-widening work in the village. Whether he has any relation to the Warenne family is open to conjecture, of course, although it is entirely possible. His identity is a mystery…

The story starts in 1955, with a road widening programme that was carried out along Church Street in Conisbrough. Conisbrough was a tightly packed village, with the road so narrow in places that cars had to mount the pavement if they met oncoming traffic. The ‘pinch’ was outside the parish church of St Peter’s. As a consequence, Conisbrough Urban District Council set to work to widen the road where Church Street meets Church Yard. As this was church property, and graves would have to be disturbed, strict rules were put in place to allow the work to proceed. The then vicar, Rev. G.F. Braithwaite allowed that the boundary wall could be removed and rebuilt a metre further into the churchyard. It was stipulated, however, that no photographs or archaeological examinations could be undertaken during the works. They expected to find twelve lots of human remains in the area to be excavated, and these were to be removed and reinterred speedily, and with reverence and solemn prayer, elsewhere within the churchyard.

When the boundary wall was removed, the stones were carefully stacked for reuse. One stone proved particularly interesting. It was a large stone which had been situated close to the base of the wall, was about a metre long and half a metre wide, with the image of a sword blade carved into the façade; the part of the stone which would have shown the hilt was missing. Work then began on excavating that area of the church yard that was to make way for the widened road. It was expected that twelve graves, dating from Victorian times, would need to be removed. The remains were removed only a short distance and reinterred in an area which is now the memorial garden. As work continued, however, the number of graves had been sorely underestimated, and several dozen graves were uncovered. It was discovered that graves had been stacked, one on top of another, going back through the years.

The Warenne coat of arms

Among the remains found was one who had been buried with a small shield. The shield was about 60cm long and 50cm wide, decorated with a lion rampant (where the lion is stood on his two back legs). It was, therefore, assumed that the remains were that of a knight; although the stipulation that there could be no archaeological investigation, nor photographs taken, means that we know nothing beyond this. We do know that the knight did not belong to the household of the Warenne earls, who had owned Conisbrough and its castle since the time of the Normans; their coat of arms was a shield of blue and gold checks, adopted by the second earl in the first half of the twelfth century.

Although the colour of the lion on the shield was black, this is unlikely to have been the original colour; several hundred years in the ground had erased any indication of the colours of the lion or the background of the shield, thus making it impossible to identify the coat of arms. The remains were reinterred along with the others, according to the conditions imposed for the road widening scheme. The work was then continued, the road widened and a new boundary wall built, with steps into the church yard and a memorial park marking where the disturbed remains had been reburied.

St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough

The incident was then forgotten about with the passage of time. Indeed, when I came to look into it, few had heard of the mysterious knight buried in Conisbrough church yard. Internet searches brought up nothing. The story re-emerged in 1990, when Conisbrough Castle installed new floodlights and hosted a grand ‘switch on’ ceremony for the residents of Conisbrough. An article sent to me by a Conisbrough resident talks of meeting re-enactors at the ceremony, who were dressed as knights of the Earl of Norfolk, with a lion rampant on their shields.

It was then suggested that Earl Hamelin’s daughter Isabel had married Roger Bigod, the first Earl of Norfolk, who died in 1221. Unfortunately, this relationship is not supported by history; Earl Roger was, in fact, the second earl of Norfolk and married to Ida de Tosny, former mistress of Henry II. However, Earl Roger’s son, Hugh, who died in 1225, was married to Matilda Marshal, the eldest daughter of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and regent for Henry III. On Hugh’s death, Matilda had married William de Warenne, Earl Hamelin’s son and fifth Earl of Warenne and Surrey. It is entirely possible that Matilda was accompanied by knights of her first husband when she visited Conisbrough, or was visited there by a Norfolk knight who then perished and was buried in the church yard of St Peter’s at Conisbrough. However, the emblem of the earls of Norfolk, in Matilda’s time, was a red cross on a yellow background. The red lion rampant, on a field of gold and green, was only adopted until 1269, when Roger Bigod, fifth earl of Norfolk and Matilda Marshal’s grandson, inherited the title of Marshal of England, which had passed to the family through his grandmother. This also means that it is just as likely, or even more so, that the shield belonged to a Marshal retainer who was visiting Matilda, or in Matilda’s employ.

The coat of arms of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke

There are several other possibilities for a Warenne connection to the knight in the churchyard. The emblem of the lion rampant was not an uncommon feature among medieval heraldry in England and Scotland. The royal arms of Scotland, for example, are of a red lion rampant on a yellow field. Edward Balliol, King of Scotland at various points in the 1330s, was a grandson of John de Warenne, sixth Earl of Warenne and Surrey, through his mother, Isabella de Warenne. Edward did not officially relinquish his claim to the Scottish throne until 1356 and died near Doncaster in around 1367. The mysterious knight may have been one of his household retainers. Another daughter of the sixth earl, Eleanor, married Henry Percy, the son of a cadet branch of the earls of Northumberland. The Percy family arms are a yellow lion rampant on a blue field. Other families associated with the Warennes also used the lion rampant on their shields, not least being the d’Aubigny earls of Arundel, whose arms were a yellow lion rampant on a red field; Isabel, daughter of William, the fifth Earl of Warenne and Surrey, married Hugh d’Aubigny, the fifth Earl of Arundel.

One final possibility is that the knight was a natural son of the last earl. John de Warenne, seventh Earl of Warenne and Surrey, had no legitimate children with his wife Joan of Bar, a granddaughter of Edward I but fathered a number of illegitimate children by his mistress, Maud Nerford. Maud was from a knightly family in Norfolk; their coat of arms was a lion rampant. It is known that at least one of their sons, —–, used the Nerford arms as his own. Further, the arms of John’s last mistress, Isabella Holland, who he called ‘ma compaigne’ in his will, was a white lion rampant of a blue field, surrounded by white fleur de lys.1

As to the stone, mentioned earlier, with the carving of a sword blade upon it, it was suggested that this stone was previously a grave marker for the mysterious knight and was found lying in the church grounds sometime in the early 1800s. There was extensive building going on in Conisbrough between 1800 and 1810 and it is assumed that stone was used to rebuild the boundary wall of the churchyard. The fact that the two were found in the vicinity of each other is no suggestion of a link. As archaeologist James Wright explained to me, such stones were often used to decorate churches, castles and important buildings, then repurposed elsewhere once those buildings fell into disuse. The stone could have come from anywhere, and not necessarily a grave marker at all. The stone in question can still be seen at St Peter’s church, to the side of the church porch.

Scotland’s King John Balliol with the arms of a red lion rampant on his surcoat

Although we have no definitive answers as to the identity of the mysterious knight who rests in the grounds of St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough, there are many possibilities that suggest a familial link with the Warenne family. As we have no archaeological survey or photographs to aid the investigation, definitive identification is impossible. Indeed, we do not even have any useful dates through which we can narrow down the possibilities. Although the last earl of Warenne and Surrey died in 1347, it seems unlikely that the knight is from a later period and had no relationship whatsoever with the Warenne earls. Conisbrough Castle passed into royal hands after the earl’s death and was given to Edward III’s fourth surviving son, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York; although the arms of Edmund and his sons were derived from the royal arms of England, which are three lions passant quartered with the fleur de lys of France.

It seems likely, therefore, that although we do not know the identity of century of the knight, he died sometime during the 300 years that the Warenne family held the castle and honour of Conisbrough; and there are several possible explanations for his association with the family, through their many and varied prestigious marriage alliances. There is also a chance that the knight was a Warenne himself, as the illegitimate son of the seventh and final earl, John de Warenne, and his mistress, Maud de Nerford.

The possibilities may not be endless, but they are numerous; without further information, however, it is impossible to narrow it down.

Footnotes:

1 Warner, Kathryn, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation

Images:

Conisbrough Castle and Warenne coat of arms by Sharon Bennett Connolly, St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough by Andrea Mason, John Balliol and Marshal arms courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources:

Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8 Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volume I; Alfred S. Ellis, Biographical Notes on the Yorkshire Tenants Named in Domesday Book (article); The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Conisbrough Castle Giudebook by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; F. Royston Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of his Possessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX; Scott L. Waugh, ‘Warenne, John de, seventh earl of Surrey earl of Surrey and Sussex, Earl Warenne’, ODNB; Kelcey Wilson-Lee, Daughters of Chivalry: The Forgotten Children of Edward I; Kathryn Warner, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation; Vincent, Nicholas, ‘William de Warenne, fifth earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1240)’, Oxforddnb.com; 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.

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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.

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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

A Little Update

Hi all! I hope your 2022 is going well? Or as well as it can be, anyway. I though I would give you a little update on what I’ve been up to – and will be up to in the near future.

Historical Writers Forum Zoom talks programme

As you may know, I am admin for a writers’ group on Facebook, Historical Writers Forum, and last year we launched a series of history-related talks featuring both fiction and non-fiction historical authors. So far, there are 4 talks in the series and we opened with an amazing discussion between myself, Elizabeth Chadwick, Carol McGrath and Samantha Wilcoxson, entitled Writing History in Fiction: Getting the Balance Right. This was followed by A Good Fight: Writing Battles in Historical Fiction, featuring authors SJA Turney, Derek Birks, Lynn Bryant and Paula Lofting. And then we hosted a book launch for Historical Writers’ Forums new anthology of short stories, Hauntings: an Anthology, which includes works from SJA Turney, Samantha Wilcoxson, Paula Lofting, Kate Jewell, KS Barton, Lynn Bryant, Jennifer C. Wilson and introducing Danielle Apple. There’s also a foreword by myself. The Hauntings Book Launch brought all the authors face to face for the first time, if virtually, and gave them the opportunity to discuss the inspirations behind their stories. If you haven’t read the book yet, I recommend you do – it is replete with thoughtful, intelligent historical fiction stories that stretch out the suspense.

Kicking off our 2022 Zoom Talks series was Aelfgyva: the Mysterious Woman in the Bayeux Tapestry. Hosted by Samantha Wilcoxson, authors Patricia Bracewell, myself, Paula Lofting and Carol McGrath will debated the various candidates for the identity of Aelfgyva: Was she the ravaged nun? The sister of a Norman duke? Daughter of a powerful English earl? Concubine of King Cnut? Or the twice-crowned English queen? And what fun it was! A fabulous, energetic discussion about the possibilities – please do take a look.

Historical Writers Forum continues its programme of talks this year, with one for Women’s History Month on 26 February 2022 at 7pm (UK time). Hosted by Paula Lofting, authors Tony Riches, Sharon Bennett Connolly, Samantha Wilcoxson and Anna Belfrage will discuss Women in History: a lively discussion, followed by an audience Q & A, on researching and writing about Women in History. Tickets are free and available through Eventbrite, so do come along if you can! If you can’t make it on the evening, don’t worry, the discussion will be uploaded to our YouTube Channel by 28 February (I hope!).

Podcasts

In 2021 I also made my first forays into podcasts, talking to Khaki Malarkey about the Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England in March and in December I spoke to the Tudors Dynasty podcast about the life of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, the Tudor heiress who was the fourth and last wife of Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon. In January, I giggled my way through a chat with Zack White and Alexandra Churchill from History Hack about the Ladies of Magna Carta. We somehow managed to compare King John to Napoleon – or Napoleon to King John – and decided Ela of Salisbury was awesome! Listen here!

My latest podcast has gone live today, with me chatting with Matthew Lewis over at Gone Medieval, discussing my favourite medieval family – the Warenne Earls of Surrey. We talk about my fascination for the Warennes, the events they were involved in, their remarkable strength as a family and how one disastrous marriage caused their demise. Listen here!

Women’s History Month Talks

To celebrate Women’s History Month this March, I will be presenting two online talks for Heritage Lincolnshire via Zoom.

I can tell you about the 2 online talks I will be doing for Heritage Lincolnshire in March, to celebrate Women’s History Month. The first, Lincolnshire’s Medieval Heroines, will include the legendary Lady Godiva, the indomitable Nicholaa de la Haye, heiress Alice de Lacy and Katherine Swynford, the mistress who became a royal duchess. It will be a Zoom talk on 10 March at 7pm.

The second talk is, as you may have guessed, on my favourite subject, Nicholaa de la Haye, the Heroine of Lincoln Castle and will by via Zoom on 17 March at 7pm. The remarkable Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle in no less than 3 sieges during the reigns of Richard I and King John – the last was a 6-week siege, ended by the 1217 Battle of Lincoln when Nicholaa was in her 60s. She was the first woman to be appointed sheriff in her own right.

Tickets for both are available now and are £6 for members and £8 for non-members.

Unfortunately, these talk will not be recorded for later viewing, so please do come along on the night if you can. It would be great to see you! To reserve a place, book here!

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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.

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay

For generations, stories have been told about the ruined old house in the marsh outside Wakefield. Stories of hidden treasure, sinister night-time cries, and ghostly figures doomed to haunt the lonely estate for all eternity as punishment for some terrible crime.
This winter, it seems the old tales might just turn out to be true…

England, AD 1330
John Little, a bailiff living in Yorkshire, has little interest in ghost stories, having seen enough horrors among the living to bother much about the dead. The strange accounts from his fellow villagers have everyone talking though, and it’s not long before he’s asked to accompany a group of curious locals on nocturnal visits to the house in the marsh.
There are more worrying concerns in northern England however, as autumn gives way to winter and rumours of rogue bailiffs attacking, and even murdering people in their own homes, begin to circulate.
Along with his friends – ill-tempered Will Scaflock and the renowned friar, Robert Stafford – John is drawn inexorably into a dangerous adventure that will leave yet more people dead and only add to the eerie legends which will pass into English folklore for centuries to come.
Can John and his companions uncover the truth about the house in the marsh and its terrible secrets? And will they be able to forever exorcise the ghost haunting Wakefield, or will this Christmas be anything but merry?

The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is another novella chronicling the investigative adventures of 3 of Robin Hood’s Merry Men; Little John, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet. In this outing of the intrepid ex-outlaws-turned-investigators the trio are investigating the spooky goings-on of an abandoned manor house and a pair of murderers who are impersonating bailiffs. That one of the miscreants is taken to be Little John makes identifying the killers all the more urgent.

The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is a wonderful, creepy novella, combining a detective story with the ghostly and mysterious events that always seem to accompany abandoned, half-derelict buildings. Little John, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet have to look to their own safety whilst calming the fears of villagers – both of the haunted house and the ruthless fake bailiffs. It makes for a story full of suspense, adventure and the threat of sudden, unrestrained violence.

The ex-outlaws, it seems have the skills, courage and intelligence between them to face down both the fear and the violence. The many twists and turns in the book leave the reader on the edge of their seat throughout.

Little John might be a lawman, but he was capable of extreme, deadly violence. There were enough stories and songs about him to back that up.

Desperation could make a man more dangerous, however, and, somehow – perhaps John was distracted by a movement in the crowd beside him – the butcher’s cleaver caught the bailiff’s arm. A bright-red, bloody line appeared on the white skin and John roared in pain.

Before Simon could decide what to do next, press his attack or, more probable, run for his life, John stepped forward and smashed the pommel of his sword into the butcher’s mouth.

Simon staggered back almost comically, spitting out bloody teeth, and then he fell onto his knees and pitched forward onto the ground. He didn’t move after that, and, for what felt like a long time, everyone just stared, from the butcher’s prone form to that of the grimacing bailiff whose arm was bleeding heavily.

“Fetch clean water,” a woman said to her son. “And linen.” He ran off towards their house which wasn’t far off, and she hurried to John’s side. “That’s a nasty wound,” she said, examining it expertly. “But you already know that, I’m sure. Sit down, before you fall down like that idiot.”

Despite his injury, John laughed and the sound seemed to take all the fear and alarm from the atmosphere. Others laughed, and chattered excitedly about what had just happened, while the lady knelt beside the bailiff and pushed aside his sleeve.

Her son returned quickly, and, when she used the water he’d brought to wash John’s cut she nodded in satisfaction. “It’s not as deep as I’d feared,” she said.

“I had a feeling he might want a fight,” John said. “So I wore leather bracers.” He shook his sleeve and the leather armour fell out onto the ground, sliced cleanly in half. There were whistles and gasps from teh crowd as they realised what would have happened had he not been wearing bracers.

“That probably saved your life,” said the woman, still washing away the blood before taking the linen her son handed her and using it to tightly bandage the wound. “Or at least your arm.”

The plot of The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is perfectly crafted, with a number of twists and turns throwing the reader off the trail as the story unfolds. As ever, Steven A. McKays’ storytelling skills are first class as he draws the reader through the story. His impeccable research means that he recreates a highly plausible 14th century Yorkshire – you wouldn’t believe he doesn’t live near Wakefield himself!

Growing up in South Yorkshire myself, I have always had a soft spot for the Robin Hood legend. Of Course, Steven A. McKay sets it in Barnsdale Forest in Wakefield, instead of Sherwood, but he can be forgiven for that as his stories are such wonderful adventures. And his characters are much as I have always imagined them, loyal friends who rib each other but are there for each other when needed.

My only problem with The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is that I wish it was longer. Steven A. McKay has created a wonderful side job for these three Merry Men and I do wish he would give them a full length story to get their teeth into.

For now, though, The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is a perfect read for these cold, dark, winter nights.

To buy the book:

The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon.

From the author:

I was born in Scotland in 1977 and always enjoyed studying history – well, the interesting bits, not so much what they taught us in school. I decided to write my Forest Lord series after seeing a house called “Sherwood” when I was out at work one day. I’d been thinking about maybe writing a novel but couldn’t come up with a subject or a hero so, to see that house, well…It felt like a message from the gods and my rebooted Robin Hood was born.

My current Warrior Druid of Britain series was similarly inspired, although this time it was the 80’s TV show “Knightmare”, and their version of Merlin that got my ideas flowing. Of course, the bearded old wizard had been done to death in fiction, so I decided to make my hero a giant young warrior-druid living in post-Roman Britain and he’s been a great character to write.

I was once in a heavy metal band although I tend to just play guitar in my study these days. I’m sure the neighbours absolutely love me.

Check out my website at stevenamckay.com and sign up for the email list – in return I’ll send you a FREE short story, as well as offering chances to win signed books, free audiobooks and other quite good things!

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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.

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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

Yorkshire’s Little Prince

Æthelread II (known to history as the Æthelread Unready)

It may come as no surprise that very few royals have been born in Yorkshire over the years. There was Ӕlfgifu of York, the first wife of Ӕthelred II (known to history as Ӕthelred the Unready). Ӕlfgifu was the daughter of the earl of Northumbria and the marriage was intended to strengthen the links between the north and south of England. Ӕlfgifu was the mother of, among others, Edmund II Ironside, and therefore the great-grandmother of Margaret of Wessex, (St Margaret) Queen of Scots as the wife of Malcolm III Canmor. Ӕlfgifu died before April 1002 when Ӕthelred II married his second wife, Emma of Normandy.

Another royal with links to Yorkshire was Henry I. The youngest son of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, Henry was the only king of England born in Yorkshire. Henry was born in Selby in the summer of 1068, whilst his father was in Yorkshire, stamping out rebellion and pursuing his Harrying of the North. He would seize the throne in 1100 following the death of his older brother, William II Rufus, in a hunting accident in the New Forest. In the same year, Henry would marry Edith of Scotland, who changed her name to Matilda on her marriage. As the daughter of Malcolm III and St Margaret, Edith/Matilda was herself a descendant of Ӕthelred II and Ӕlfgifu of York.

There is one other medieval royal born in Yorkshire, a little prince who spent his entire – though tragically short – life in our great county. William of Hatfield.

I read a book recently that mistakenly said William of Hatfield was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. I was amazed that the author wasn’t aware that he was actually born at the royal hunting lodge of Hatfield, near Doncaster. I thought everyone knew this! Then I realised that most people, when talking about royals and Hatfield, would automatically think of the Hertfordshire Hatfield. It was, after all, where Queen Elizabeth I was living when she was told that she was queen of England. It makes sense that most people would think of that Hatfield first.

But I’m a Yorkshire lass and, as I say, we don’t get many royals born up our way. So, I suppose, when we do, we know about them.

Monument to William of Hatfield, York Minster

William of Hatfield was the fourth child and second son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. The king and queen were keeping Christmas at the manor of Hatfield, in the old West Riding of Yorkshire, in 1336, when Prince William was born. Hatfield was situated in the midst of the royal hunting grounds of Hatfield Chase and was close to the Earl Warenne’s hunting lodge of Peel Castle, Thorne. The young prince was baptised by William Melton, Archbishop of York, but died soon afterwards. After his death, the little prince’s body was transported a little further north, to York. On 10 February 1337, William was buried in York Minster, the church in which his parents had been married in January 1328. His short life memorialised by an elaborate tomb surmounted with his effigy and located in the north quire aisle of the Minster, though the site of his grave is now lost.

In 1345, the tragic little prince’s story was caught up in the marital affairs of John de Warenne, 7th and last earl of Warenne and Surrey. John had been married to a granddaughter of King Edward I, Joan of Bar, in 1306, when John was 20 years old and Joan a girl of 10. The marriage was a disaster, with John having a number of affairs and spending many years trying to obtain a divorce. In pursuit of this divorce, and in the hope of finally being able to marry his mistress of the time, Isabella Holland, John claimed that he had had an affair before marrying Joan, with his wife’s maternal aunt Mary of Woodstock, when he was 19 and Mary 27 years of age. This was indeed a drastic claim, as Mary had been a nun since she was about 7 years old, and it was probably born out of desperation; John was becoming increasingly infirm and still had no heir to succeed him. It was a last-ditch attempt to marry Isabella and have legitimate children. It failed, though the earl’s confession was presented to Pope Clement VI who,

on 15 May, 1345, issued a mandate to the Bishop of S. Asaph to absolve John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey and Stratherne, Lord of Bromfeld and Yale, from excommunication, which he has incurred by inter-marrying with Joan, daughter of Henry, Count de Barre, whose mother’s sister, Mary, he had carnally known. A penance is to be enjoined; and as to the marriage, canonical action is to be taken.

Calendar of Papal Registers, Papal Letters (p. 116) quoted in Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey’, p. 245
Roche Abbey, South Yorkshire

No further action seems to have been taken with regards to the marriage. John and Joan would remain husband and wife until John’s death at Conisbrough Castle at the end of June, 1347. John’s penance, however, appears to have been the generous donation of the manor of Hatfield to Roche Abbey:

1345. November 22. Westminster. Whereas the King’s kinsman, John de Warenna, Earl of Surrey, holds the manor of Haytfield for life of the grant of Edward II, with successive remainders to Maud de Neyrford for life, to John de Warenna her son, in tail male, to Thomas his brother, in tail male, and to the heirs of the body of the said earl, and reversion to the said King and his heirs, as in the letters patent is more fully contained; the earl has now made petition that – Whereas the said Maud is dead, and John son of Maud and Thomas have taken the religious habit in the Order of the Brethren of the Hospital of S. John of Jerusalem in England, at Clerkenwell, he may have licence to grant for his life to the abbot and convent of Roche, the advowson of the church of Haytfield, held in chief, which church is extended, of the value of 70 marks yearly; and the King has assented to his petition. Also, as a further grace, the King has granted that the abbot and convent shall retain in frankalmoign the said advowson, which should revert to him on the death of the earl; and may appropriate the church whenever they deem it expedient to do so, to find thirteen monks as chaplains to celebrate divine service daily for ever in the abbey for the King, Queen Philippa, and their children, and for the earl; also for the soul of William, the King’s son, who lately died in the said manor; also the souls of the progenitors of the King and of the earl.

Calendar of Papal Registers, Papal Letters (p. 116) quoted in Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey’, p. 246

It is touching that John’s penance also served as a means for the king and queen to remember their infant son, William, who had been born in late 1336 at the manor of Hatfield, Doncaster, and died there in early 1337.

The motte of Peel Castle, Thorne, near Doncaster

William had been born six years after his older brother Edward, known to history as the Black Prince. Edward who was their father Edward III’s heir, until his death in 1376, a year before the king. As a consequence, Edward III was succeeded by the Black Prince’s only surviving son by his wife, Joan of Kent, Richard II. It was the usurpation of Henry IV, who seized the crown from King Richard in 1399, that caused the fatal rivalry of the royal houses of Lancaster and York. Had William survived to adulthood, the story of England in the 15th century could have been very different; the rival houses of Lancaster and York were both descended from sons of Edward III who were younger than William. Had he lived, the Wars of the Roses may never have happened….

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia, except Peel Castle and Roche Abbey, which are © Sharon Bennett Connolly

Sources: 

The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; oxforddnb.com; royaldescent.net; Fairbank, F. Royston, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of hisPossessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX, (1907), pp. 193–266; Historic England, ‘Peel Hill Motte and Bailey Castle, Thorne’, historicengland.org.uk; ‘Peel Hill Motte’, http://historyofthorne.com/peel_hill.html

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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 & SwordAmazonBookshop.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.

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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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, FRHistS

Women in Love: Katherine Swynford and Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scots

The coat of arms of Katherine Swynford

Sometimes the similarities in the stories of medieval women are intriguing. Especially among families. Katherine Swynford’s story is one of the endurance of love and is unique in that she eventually married her prince. Katherine’s granddaughter, Joan Beaufort, is one half of, arguably, the greatest love story of the middle ages. I say arguably, of course, because many would say that Katherine’s was the greatest.

You may not consider a mistress as a heroine, seeing her as ‘the other woman’ and not worthy of consideration. However, women in the medieval era had little control over their own lives; if a lord wanted them, who were they to refuse? And even if they were in love, differences in social position could mean marriage was impossible – at least for a time.

Katherine was born around 1350; she was the younger daughter of Sir Payn Roelt, a Hainault knight in the service of Edward III’s queen, Philippa of Hainault, who eventually rose to be Guyenne King of Arms. Her mother’s identity is unknown, but Katherine and her older sister, Philippa, appear to have been spent their early years in Queen Philippa’s household. By 1365 Katherine was serving Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, the first wife of John of Gaunt and Katherine was married to Sir Hugh Swynford of Coleby and Kettlethorpe, Lincolnshire, shortly after. The couple had three children, Thomas, Margaret, who became a nun, and Blanche, who was named after the duchess. John of Gaunt stood as little Blanche’s godfather and she was raised alongside his own daughters by Duchess Blanche.

Following Blanche’s death in 1368, Katherine was appointed governess to the duchess’s daughters. In September 1371 John of Gaunt was remarried, to Constance of Castile; Constance had a claim to the throne of Castile and John was soon being addressed as King of Castile. In the same year, Katherine’s husband, Sir Hugh Swynford, died whilst serving overseas and it seems that within months of his death, probably in the winter of 1371/72 Katherine became John’s mistress. Their first child, John Beaufort, was born towards the end of 1372. Over the next few years, three further children – two sons and a daughter – followed. John’s wife Constance also had children during this time – she gave birth to a daughter, Catherine, (Catalina) in 1373 and a short-lived son, John, in 1374.

John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster

We can only guess at what the two women thought of each other, but it can’t have been an easy time for either. In 1381, following the unrest of the Peasants’ Revolt and the hefty criticism aimed particularly at John and his relationship with Katherine, John renounced Katherine. Giving up her position as governess, Katherine left court and returned to Lincoln. Her relationship with John of Gaunt and, indeed, his family, remained cordial and the duke still visited her, although discreetly. In 1388 Katherine was made a Lady of the Garter – a high honour indeed. And in 1394 Constance died.

In January 1396, John and Katherine were finally married in Lincoln Cathedral; they had to obtain a dispensation from the church as John was godfather to Katherine’s daughter. With the marriage, Katherine had gone from being a vilified mistress to Duchess of Lancaster. Her children by John were legitimised by the pope in September 1396 and by Richard II’s royal patent in the following February, although they were later excluded from the succession by Henry IV.

Sadly, Katherine’s marital happiness with John of Gaunt was short-lived; John of Gaunt died in February 1399 and Katherine retired to live in Lincoln, close to the cathedral of which her second son by John, Henry, was bishop. Katherine herself died at Lincoln on 10 May 1403 and was buried in the cathedral in which she had married her prince. Her tomb can still be seen today and lies close to the high altar, beside that of her youngest child Joan Beaufort, countess of Westmorland, who died in 1440.

Although it seems easy to criticise Katherine’s position as ‘the other woman’, her life cannot have been an easy one. The insecurity and uncertainty of her position, due to the lack of a wedding ring, must have caused her much unease. However, that she eventually married her prince, where so many other medieval mistresses simply fell by the wayside and were forgotten, makes her story unique. What makes her even more unique is that Katherine’s own granddaughter was part of one of the greatest love stories of the middle ages.

Joan Beaufort was the only daughter of Katherine’s eldest son by John of Gaunt, also named John. The story of King James I of Scotland and his queen, Joan Beaufort, is probably the greatest love story of the medieval era. He was a king in captivity and she a beautiful young lady of the court of her Lancastrian cousin, Henry V. The son of Robert III of Scotland, James had been on his way to France, sent there for safety and to continue his education, when his ship was captured by pirates in April 1406. Aged only eleven, he had been handed over to the English king, Henry IV, and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Within a couple of months of his capture, James’s father had died, and he was proclaimed King of Scots, but the English would not release their valuable prisoner. James was closely guarded and regularly moved around, but he was also well-educated while in the custody of the English king and became an accomplished musician and poet.

Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scots

Probably born in the early 1400s, Lady Joan was the daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset. She was at court by the early 1420s, when James first set eyes on her. The Scottish king wrote of his love for Joan in his famous poem, The Kingis Quair. According to Nigel Tranter, James was with the court at Windsor, when he saw Joan for the first time; she was walking her little lapdog in the garden, below his window. The narrow window afforded him only a limited view, but the Lady Joan walked the same route every morning and James wrote of her;

Beauty, fair enough to make the world to dote,

Are ye a worldy creature?

Or heavenly thing in likeness of nature?

Or are ye Cupid’s own priestess, come here,

To loose me out of bonds

One morning James is said to have dropped a plucked rose down to Lady Joan, which he saw her wearing the following evening at dinner. Nigel Tranter suggests Lady Joan grieved over James’s imprisonment and even pleaded for his release. Written in the winter of 1423/24, the autobiographical poem, The Kingis Quair, gives expression to James’ feelings for Joan;

I declare the kind of my loving

Truly and good, without variance

I love that flower above all other things

James’s imprisonment lasted for eighteen years. His uncle Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany and Guardian of Scotland in James’s absence, refused to ransom him, in the hope of gaining the throne himself. He never quite garnered enough support, but managed to keep the Scottish nobles in check. However, when he died in 1420, control passed to his son Murdoch, and Scotland fell into a state of virtual anarchy. With Henry V’s death in 1422, it fell to his brother John, Duke of Bedford, as regent for the infant Henry VI, to arrange James’ release. The Scots king was charged 60,000 marks in ransom – ironically, it was claimed that it was to cover the costs for his upkeep and education for eighteen years. The agreement included a promise for the Scots to keep out of England’s wars with France, and for James to marry an English noble woman – not an onerous clause, given his love for Lady Joan Beaufort.

James and Joan were married at the Church of St Mary Overie in Southwark (now Southwark Cathedral) on 2 February 1424, with the wedding feast taking place in the adjoining hall, the official residence of Joan’s uncle Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. Finally united – and free – the young couple made their way north soon afterwards and were crowned together at Scone Abbey on 21 May 1424. James and Joan had eight children, seven of whom survived childhood. Their six daughters helped to strengthen alliances across Europe. The royal couple finally had twin sons on 16 October 1430; and although Alexander died within a year of his birth, his younger twin, James, thrived and was created Duke of Rothesay and heir to the throne. He would eventually succeed his father as James II.

On his return to Scotland, James immediately set about getting his revenge on the Duke of Albany’s family and adherents; executing some, including Murdoch, Albany’s son and heir. Two other claimants to James’s throne were sent to England, as hostages for the payment of his ransom. James and Joan ruled Scotland for thirteen years; James even allowed Joan to take some part in the business of government. Although the Scots were wary of her being English, Queen Joan became a figurehead for patronage and pageantry. The English hope that Joan’s marriage to James would also steer the Scots away from their Auld Alliance with France, was short-lived, however, and the 1436 marriage of their eldest daughter, Margaret, to the French dauphin formed part of the renewal of the Auld Alliance.

James I, King of Scots

James’ political reforms, combined with his desire for a firm but just government, made enemies of some nobles, including his own chamberlain Sir Robert Stewart, grandson of Walter, Earl of Atholl, who had been James’s heir until the birth of his sons. Sir Robert and his grandfather hatched a plot to kill the king and queen. In February 1437, the royal couple was staying at the Blackfriars in Perth when the king’s chamberlain dismissed the guard and the assassins were let into the priory. The king is said to have hidden in an underground vault as the plotters were heard approaching. There is a legend that the vault had originally been an underground passage, however, the king had ordered the far end to be sealed, when his tennis balls kept getting lost down there. Unfortunately, that also meant James had blocked off his own escape route. The assassins dragged the king from his hiding place and stabbed him to death; Joan herself was wounded in the scuffle.

And one of the greatest love affairs of the era ended in violence and death. The plotters, far from seizing control of the country, were arrested and executed as the Scottish nobles rallied around the new king, six-year-old James II. Joan’s life would continue to be filled with political intrigue, but her love story had been viciously cut short, without the happy ending her grandmother had achieved. Katherine and Joan led very different lives, although the similarities are there if you look for them; they both lived their lives around the glittering court and married for love. Joan’s happy marriage only achieved because her grandmother finally got her prince; if Katherine had not married John of Gaunt, the Beauforts would have remained illegitimate and their future prospects seriously restricted by the taint of bastardy.

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Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sources:

katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk; Red Roses: Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort by Amy Licence; The Nevills of Middleham by K.L. Clark; The House of Beaufort: the Bastard Line that Captured the Crown by Nathen Amin; 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; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Oxforddnb.com; womenshistory.about.com/od/medrenqueens/a/Katherine-Swynford.

An earlier version of this article first appeared on The Henry Tudor Society blog in November 2017.

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