Isabel and Hamelin de Warenne: Marriage and Partnership

Seal of Isabel de Warenne, Conisbrough Castle

Isabel de Warenne was the only surviving child of William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and his wife Adela, or Ela, de Talvas, daughter of William III of Ponthieu. When her father died on the Second Crusade to the Holy Land, in around 1148, Isabel became 4th Countess of Surrey in her own right and one of the most prized heiresses in England and Normandy, with large estates in Yorkshire, Norfolk and Sussex.

Isabel was born during a period of civil war in England, a time known as The Anarchy (c.1135-54), when King Stephen fought against Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I, for the right to rule England. Isabel’s father, William, was a staunch supporter of the king and had fought at the Battle of Lincoln in February 1141, though without distinction; his men were routed early on in the battle and William was among a number of earls who fled the field. He later redeemed himself that summer by capturing Empress Matilda’s brother and senior general, Robert Earl of Gloucester, at Winchester.

The earl appears to have tired of the civil war in 1147 and departed on Crusade with his half-brother, Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, and their cousin, King Louis VII of France. In the same year, as part of King Stephen’s attempts to control the vast de Warenne lands during a crucial time in the Anarchy, Earl Warenne’s only daughter, Isabel, was married to Stephen’s younger son, William of Blois, who would become Earl by right of his wife, following the 3rd earl’s death on Crusade in 1148; he was killed fighting in the doomed rearguard at the Battle of Mount Cadmus near Laodicea in January 1148.

It has been suggested that William of Blois was some 7 or 8 years younger than his wife, Isabel. However, this seems improbable and it appears more likely that the young couple were of similar ages. Isabel’s father had been born in 1119 and was no older than 29 when he died; his wife, Ela de Talvas, was a few years younger than her husband. This means that, even if the couple married as soon as they reached the ages allowed by the church to marry, 12 for a girl and 14 for a boy, and Ela fell pregnant on her wedding night, Isabel could have been no older 13 in 1147. Given the danger associated with girls giving birth before their teens, it seems plausible that Isabel was not born until the late 1130s and may have been between 10 and 12, or younger when she married William of Blois.

The Warenne coat of arms at Trinity Church, Southover

Even before it was known that Earl Warenne had died on crusade, William of Blois was already being referred to as earl in a number of charters relating to Warenne lands, one such charter, dated to c.1148, was issued by the earl’s brother with the proviso ‘that if God should bring back the earl [from the crusade] he would do his best to obtain the earl’s confirmation, or otherwise that of his lord earl William, the king’s son.’1 During the 3rd earl’s absence, and while the new earl and countess were still only children, the vast Warenne lands were administered by the 3rd earl’s youngest brother, Reginald de Warenne, Baron Wormegay, who was a renowned and accomplished administrator and estate manager. We do not know when news reached England of the earl’s death, the tidings may have arrived before the return of the earl’s half-brother, Waleran, later in the year. However, the future of the earldom was already secure with the succession of Isabel and her young husband, carefully watched over by Isabel’s uncle, Reginald.

In 1154 the young couple’s future prospects could have changed drastically when William’s elder brother Eustace, their father’s heir, died. As a consequence, William inherited his mother’s County of Boulogne from his brother, adding to his already substantial domains. He may also have expected to inherit his brother’s position as heir to the throne – or not. It seems that William’s ambitions did not extend to the lofty heights of the throne, or he was not considered suitable for the crown. Either way, the young man was removed from the succession by his own father. Stephen made a deal with Empress Matilda’s son, Henry of Anjou, that the crown would go to him on Stephen’s death, thus returning the crown to the rightful line of succession.

William seems to have accepted this, on the whole. Although there is some suggestion of his involvement in a plot against Henry later in 1154, during which William suffered a broken leg. William served Henry loyally, once he became king, until his own death, returning from the king’s campaign in Toulouse, in 1159.

Now in her mid-20s, and as their marriage had been childless, Isabel was once again a prize heiress. Although she seems to have had a little respite from the marriage market, by 1162 Henry II’s youngest brother, William X, Count of Poitou, was seeking a dispensation to marry her. The dispensation was refused by Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, on the grounds of consanguinity; the archbishop’s objection was not that Isabel and William were too closely related, but that William and Isabel’s first husband had been cousins. William died shortly after the archbishop refused to sanction the marriage – it is said, of a broken heart.

Contemporary illustration of the murder of Thomas Becket

King Henry was not to be thwarted so easily in his plans to bring the Warenne lands into the royal family, and his illegitimate half-brother, Hamelin, was married to Isabel in 1164. The illegitimate son of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, Hamelin was born sometime around 1130, when Geoffrey was estranged from his wife, Empress Matilda. His mother was, possibly, Adelaide of Angers, though this is by no means certain. Geoffrey had a second illegitimate child, Emma, who was possibly Hamelin’s full sister. Emma married the Welsh prince, Davydd ap Owain of Gwynedd. Geoffrey of Anjou was the second husband to Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England and would be the mother of the future Henry II, Hamelin’s half-brother.

In an unusual step, Hamelin took his wife’s surname and bore the titles Earl of Warenne and Surrey in her right. Hamelin was incredibly loyal to Henry and his marriage to an heiress was reward for his support, whilst at the same time giving him position and influence within England. Hamelin and Isabel married in April 1164, Hamelin even taking the de Warenne surname after the marriage; Isabel’s trousseau cost an impressive £41 10s 8d. Hamelin became Earl of Surrey by right of his wife, though was more habitually called Earl Warenne. In some references, he is named as the 5th Earl of Surrey and in others the 4th: this confusion arises from the fact that the earldom belonged to Isabel, and her two husbands both held the earldom, sometimes being numbered the 4th and 5th earls to avoid confusion. They were, in fact, both, the 4th Earl of Surrey.

Hamelin supported his brother the king in the contest of wills that Henry was engaged in with his archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. When Henry called for the archbishop to appear at a great council at Northampton Castle on 12 October 1164, to answer to the charges laid against him, Hamelin was at the trial and spoke in support of his brother. Indeed, the new earl and the archbishop appear to have started a war of words; Hamelin defended Henry’s dignity and called Becket a traitor. The archbishop’s retort was ‘Were I a knight instead of a priest, my fist would prove you a liar!’ Ironically, it is thought that Hamelin’s denunciation of Becket was motivated by the injury caused to the royal family in Becket’s refusal to allow Henry’s brother, William – Hamelin’s half-brother – to marry Isabel de Warenne; who was now Hamelin’s wife.

Henry II

Hamelin’s animosity to Becket was not to survive the archbishop’s martyrdom and he actively participated in the cult that grew up around Thomas Becket after his violent death. In later life, the earl claimed that the cloth covering Becket’s tomb had cured his blindness, caused by a cataract, in one eye.

Hamelin was an influential and active member of the English barony. He supported Henry during his sons’ rebellion in 1173 and formed part of the entourage which escorted Princess Joanna (daughter of Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine) to Sicily for her marriage to King William. Joanna’s escort was ordered not to return home until they had seen ‘the King of Sicily and Joanna crowned in wedlock’. Hamelin remained close to the crown even after Henry’s death, supporting his nephew, Richard I. Hamelin was among the earls present at Richard’s first coronation in September 1189; and carried one of the three swords at his second coronation in April 1194.

During Richard’s absence on Crusade, Hamelin sided with the Regent, William Longchamp, against the intrigues of Richard’s brother John. Hamelin held great store in the rule of law, attested by the legend on his seal, ‘pro lege, per lege’. This adherence to the law explains Hamelin’s support for Longchamp against that of his own nephew, John, and even as the justiciar’s overzealous actions alienated others. Hamelin was one of only two magnates entrusted with the collection and storage of the king’s ransom, when he was held captive by Duke Leopold of  Austria, appointed by Eleanor of Aquitaine; the other was William d’Aubigny, Earl of Arundel. Hamelin’s involvement with the court continued into the reign of King John; he was present at John’s coronation and at Lincoln when William, King of Scots, Isabel’s cousin, gave his oath of homage in November 1200.

The keep of Conisbrough Castle

Away from court, Hamelin appears to have been an avid builder; he built a cylindrical keep at his manor of Mortemer in Normandy. He then constructed a larger and improved version, using all the latest techniques of castle design, at his manor of Conisbrough, South Yorkshire. He may also have been the one to build Peel Castle at Thorne, a hunting lodge which had a 3-sided donjon that was of smaller, but similar, design to Conisbrough. Hamelin spent a lot of time and money on Conisbrough Castle, which took almost 10 years to complete, and it appears to have been a favourite family residence. King John visited there in 1201, and two of Hamelin’s daughters married landowners from the nearby manors of Tickhill and Sprotborough. His son, William de Warenne, the 5th earl, would complete the castle, rebuilding the curtain wall in stone.

Hamelin was also involved in a famous dispute with Hugh, abbot of Cluny, over the appointment of a new prior to St Pancras Priory, Lewes. Abbot Hugh was known as a man of great piety and honour; he had been prior of Lewes but was elected as abbot of Reading in 1186 and became abbot of Cluny in 1199. In 1200, Abbot Hugh appointed one Alexander to the vacant position of prior of Lewes, but Hamelin refused to accept the nomination. In establishing the priory at Lewes, the abbots of Cluny had apparently reserved the right to appoint the prior, and to admit all monks seeking entry into the order; however, Hamelin claimed that the patronage of the priory belonged to him, and it was his right to appoint the prior.

The dispute dragged on, and it was only after intervention from King John that agreement was eventually reached whereby, should the position of prior become vacant, the earl and the monks should send representatives to the abbot, who would nominate two candidates, of whom the earl’s proctors should choose one to be appointed prior.

Peel Castle, Thorne

The marriage of Hamelin and Isabel appears to have been highly successful. They had four surviving children. Their son and heir, William, would become the 5th Earl of Surrey and married Maud Marshal, daughter of the great William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and regent for King Henry III. Ela married twice, firstly to a Robert de Newburn, of whom nothing else is known, and secondly to William Fitzwilliam of Sprotborough, a village just a few miles from Conisbrough. Isabel was married, firstly, to Robert de Lascy, who died in 1193, and secondly, no later than the spring of 1196, to Gilbert de Laigle, Lord of Pevensey.

Matilda, or Maud, married Henry, Count of Eu, who died around 1190; by Henry, she was the mother of Alice de Lusignan, who struggled to maintain her inheritance during the reign of King John. Matilda then married Henry d’Estouteville, a Norman lord. It was once thought that Matilda was the daughter of Hamelin by an earlier relationship, due to the supposed death date of Matilda’s husband, Henry, Count of Eu. There was a mistaken belief that Henry had died in 1172, which would mean that Matilda could not have been a daughter of the marriage of Isabel and Hamelin, who were married in 1164, as she would have been too young to have married and borne children with Henry. The Chronicle of the Counts of Eu records Henry’s death as 1183, which also appears to be an error as Henry was assessed for scutage for Wales at Michaelmas 1190; with this later death date it was entirely possible, and indeed likely, that Matilda was the legitimate daughter of both Hamelin and Countess Isabel.

St Pancras Priory, Lewes

One of the daughters – although it is not clear which – bore an illegitimate son, Richard Fitzroy, Baron Chilham, who was born, possibly, around 1190, by her cousin, John (the future King John). This must have caused considerable family tensions!

Hamelin died on 7th May 1202, in his early 70s and was buried in the chapter house at Lewes Priory, in Sussex. Isabel died in her mid-60s, in 1203, and was buried at Lewes Priory, alongside Hamelin. In 1202, Countess Isabel had granted ‘for the soul of her husband earl Hamelin, to the priory of St Katherine, Lincoln, of similar easements for 60 beasts, namely for 40 as of his gift and 20 as of hers.2 Together, Hamelin and Isabel had played important roles in English politics for almost 40 years, whilst raising a family and, literally, building a home at Conisbrough Castle.

Footnotes: 

Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenneibid

Sources:

Robert Batlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; Dan Jones, The Plantagenets; Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Medieval Lands Project on the Earls of Surrey, Conisbrough Castle; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; doncasterhistory.co.uk; A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2 edited by William Page; W.H. Blaauw, On the Early History of Lewes Priory, and its Seals, with extracts from a MS. Chronicle, Sussex Archaeological Collections; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volume I;  Odo of Deuil, De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem; magnacharta.com; Cokayne, G.E., The Complete Peerage, Vol. XII; Henry of Huntingdon, The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon.

Images:

All images ©Sharon Bennett Connolly except Henry II and the illustration of Becket’s murder which is courtesy of Wikipedia.

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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 from Book Depository worldwide.

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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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Eight Interesting Discoveries on writing 11th century non-fiction

Ooh, I have just time to sneak in one more post for 2022!

First, though, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all my readers, near and far, for sticking with me and helping me to make History…the Interesting Bits a blog that people want to read.

I would like to wish each and every one of you a Happy and Healthy New Year. May 2023 be kind and generous to you all!

So, on with the article…

Following on from my 10 Facts About Women and Magna Carta, I thought I would revisit the Norman Conquest and started thinking about I found most interesting when writing about 1066 and the years either side. And here’s what I discovered:

1. Not all primary sources are contemporary.

Emma of Normandy

Let me explain. Of course, all sources written in the 11th century are primary sources, but you do find people quoting sources as primary sources – only to discover that they were written 100 or even 200 years after the events.

One such legend, appearing two centuries after the events, suggested that Emma of Normandy’s relationship with her good friend, Bishop Stigand, was far more than that of her advisor and that he was, in fact, her lover – although the legend did get its bishops mixed up and named Ælfwine, rather than Stigand, as Emma’s lover. The story continues that Emma chose to prove her innocence in a trial by ordeal, and that she walked barefoot over white-hot ploughshares. Even though the tale varies depending on the source, the result is the same; when she completed the ordeal unharmed, and thus proven guiltless, she was reconciled with her contrite son, Edward.

However, there is no 11th century source for this event and it seems to have been created to explain Emma’s estrangement from her son, Edward the Confessor.

2. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the most famous source of 11th century news. 

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives wonderful snippets of information about life in Anglo-Saxon England – and the weather! If you have ever wondered where the English get their obsession with the weather, read the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It is also very dramatic.

For example, the year 1005 starts with; ‘Here in this year there was the great famine throughout the English race, such as no-one ever remembered on so grim before…’

1032 relates; ‘Here in this year appeared that wild-fire such as no man remembered before, and also it did damage everywhere in many places.’

And 1039 opens with ‘Here came the great gale…’

In 1053 we read, ‘Here [1052] was the great wind on the eve of the Feast of St Thomas, and the great wind was also all midwinter…’

And, of course, in 1066 we read about the appearance of Halley’s Comet; ‘Then throughout all England, a sign such as man ever saw before was seen in the heavens. Some me declared that it was the star comet, which some men called the ‘haired’ star; and it appeared first on the eve of the Great Litany, 24 April, and shone thus all the week….’

3. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a fabulous source of news about church leaders.

Don’t get me wrong, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is invaluable to anyone studying the history of Anglo-Saxon Britain, but you can tell it was written by monks. There are some years where you learn little more than which church leader died, and who replaced him.

For example, the entry for 1023 from the E chronicle; ‘Here Bishop Wulfstan passed away, and Ælfric succeeded…’

And in 1032; ‘In the same year Ælfsige, bishop in Winchester, passed away, and Ælfwine, the king’s priest, succeeded to it.’

The only entry in the E Chronicle in 1033 was; ‘Here in this year Merehwit, bishop in Somerset, passed away, and he is buried in Glastonbury.’

And again in 1034; ‘Here Bishop Æthelric passed away.’

4. Not all inheritance was based on primogeniture.

King Harold II, Waltham Abbey

Primogeniture, where the eldest son inherited from his father, was not unusual in 11th century England; when Earl Godwin of Wessex died, his eldest surviving son, Harold, succeeded him. However, it was not yet established as the definitive rule of inheritance of later centuries. When Siward, Earl of Northumbria, died in 1055 his heir, Waltheof, was still a child and too young to hold such a formidable position on the borders of Scotland. The earldom was given to Tostig Godwinson, the favourite brother of Edward the Confessor’s queen, Edith. Though he didn’t do a great job with it…

And in the opening days of 1066, when Edward the Confessor died, the ætheling, Edgar was only a teenager, and so was passed over as king for the more mature and militarily experienced Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, who became King Harold II.

5. Travel to distant places was not uncommon for the nobility.

At different times in the 11th century, both King Cnut and Tostig Godwinson are known to have travelled to Rome; indeed, during his trip to Rome in 1027, Cnut was present at the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor, Conrad II and arranged for the marriage of his daughter by Emma of Normandy, Gunhilda, to Conrad’s son, the future King Henry III of Germany.

As for Tostig, travelling to Rome was not without its dangers, and shortly after leaving the city, his travelling party was caught up in a local dispute between the papacy and the Tuscan nobility; they were attacked. Tostig was able to escape by the ruse of one of his own thegns, a man named Gospatric, who pretended to be the earl.

Tostig and Harold’s brother, Swegn Godwinson, who had murdered his own cousin, even went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem – barefoot – he died on the journey home.

And when I started writing Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest I discovered that there are several links to the story of 1066 with the Russian principality of Kyiv. The baby sons of England’s short-lived king, Edmund II Ironside, who reigned and died in 1016, were given sanctuary and protection in Kyiv, saving them from the clutches of Edmund’s successor, King Cnut. The first wife of Harald Hardrada, the third contender for the English throne in 1066, Elisiv, was a Kyivan princess. And after the Conquest, Harold II Godwinson’s own daughter by Edith Swanneck, Gytha, would make her life in Kyiv as the wife of Vladimir II Monomakh and as the mother of Mstislav the Great, the last ruler of a united Kievan Rus. Vladimir was the nephew of Harald Hardrada’s first wife, the Kyivan princess, Elisiv.

6. Having 2 wives at the same time was not THAT unusual.

Elisiv of Kyiv

In the story of 1066 there were not one BUT three men who had two wives simultaneously.

Harold Godwinson is known for having been in a relationship with the famous Edith Swanneck for 20 years before becoming King, and then marrying Ealdgyth of Mercia without divorcing Edith. Edith is often referred to as Harold’s concubine, but most historians agree that she was his ‘hand-fast’ wife and had undergone a Danish – rather than Christian – style of wedding with Harold. Edith was no ignorant peasant, she was a wealthy woman in her own right and it is highly doubtful she would have accepted being Harold’s mistress, and raising his children, without some kind of marital protection.

Harald Hardrada also married a second ‘wife’, whilst still being married to Elisiv. Elisiv had given the Norwegian king two daughters, but his second wife, Thora, gave him two sons, Magnus and Olaf, who each succeeded their father as King of Norway.

King Cnut was the first to take two wives; he had two sons by Ælfgifu of Northampton before marrying Emma of Normandy and producing a second family. The chronicles, however, claim that Ælfgifu’s sons were not the children of Cnut, with John (also known as Florence) of Worcester saying, ‘Ælfgiva desired to have a son by the king, but as she could not, she caused the new-born child of a certain priest to be brought to her, and made the king fully believe that she had just borne him a son’. And the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claimed ‘[King] Harold [I Harefoot] also said that he was the son of king Canute and Ælfgiva of Northampton, although that is far from certain; for some say that he was the son of a cobbler, and that Ælfgiva had acted with regard to him as she had done in the case of Swein: for our part, as there are doubts on the subject, we cannot settle with any certainty the parentage of either.’

7. There were some incredible, strong women in the 11th century.

Lady Godiva

The story of the Norman Conquest invariably revolves around the men involved, Edward the Confessor, Harold II, William the Conqueror, Harald Hardrada, and so on. However, there were some amazing women whose strength and perseverance helped to steer and shape the events of the era.

There were, of course, the queens, Emma of Normandy, Edith of Wessex and Matilda of Flanders, who supported their husbands and helped to shape and – even – preserve history, with Emma and Edith both commissioning books to tell the stories of their times and Matilda being the image of queenship that all future queens of England modelled themselves on.

There was also the notorious Lady Godiva, who was probably a lot less scandalous than the legend, of her riding naked through Coventry, leads us to believe. And the incredible Gytha of Wessex, a woman whose story is entwined with every aspect of the period. From the reign of Cnut to that of William the Conqueror, Gytha and her family were involved in so many aspects of the 11th century, from the rise of her sons, through the Battle of Hastings itself, to the English resistance in the years immediately following the Conquest. Gytha was not one to give up easily, despite the horrendous losses her family suffered (three of her sons died in one single day at Hastings), she encouraged her grandsons to lead the opposition against the Conqueror in the west, but her eventual failure saw her seek shelter in Flanders, where she disappears from the pages of history.

8. There is still so much we don’t know!

Ӕlfgyva, the mysterious woman in the Bayeux Tapestry

What you discover when researching the 11th century and the Norman Conquest is that there are gaps in our knowledge. For instance, we do not know why Harold was travelling to Europe in 1064, when he was shipwrecked and became a guest at the court of William, Duke of Normandy (the future William the Conqueror). The Bayeux Tapestry depicts Harold swearing an oath during his stay there. Was Harold promising to support William’s claim to England when Edward the Confessor died?

The Bayeux Tapestry has another tantalising mystery. That of Ӕlfgyva. Ӕlfgyva is depicted in a doorway with a priest touching her cheek. Whether the touch is in admonishment or blessing is open to interpretation. Above her head, written in Latin, is the incomplete phrase  ‘Here a certain cleric and Ӕlfgyva’. But who was the mysterious Ӕlfgyva? Will we ever know?

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

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support and encouragement over the years, and to wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year.

May 2023 be generous to you.

All my love, Sharon xx

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A version of this article was first published on Carol McGrath’s website in December 2018

Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia, except King Harold II, which is ©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

Sources:

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

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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.

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

William and Gundrada de Warenne and the Foundation of a Dynasty

William de Warenne, Holy Trinity Church, Southover

William de Warenne, first earl of Surrey, was a younger son of Rodulf de Warenne and his wife Beatrix. It is possible that Beatrix was a niece of Duchess Gunnor of Normandy, making young William a cousin of William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy. The family name is probably derived from the hamlet of Varenne, part of the Warenne lands in the modern French department of Seine-Inférieure, Normandy. William’s older brother, Rodulf or Ralph, would inherit the greater part of the Warenne family estates in Normandy.

William’s date of birth is unrecorded; a younger son of the minor nobility does not tend to get a mention until he does something remarkable or becomes someone notable. Although still young William was considered a capable and experienced enough soldier to be given joint command of a Norman army, by the mid-1050s. His first recorded military action is in the 1054 campaign against the French. He was one of the commanders who fought against the King of France’s brother, Count Odo, at the Battle of Mortemer.  

De Warenne was rewarded with some of the lands of his kinsman, Roger (I) de Mortemer, who had fought for the French. William managed to retain some of these lands even after Mortemer was restored to favour, including the castles of Mortemer and Bellencombre. Bellencrombe would become the capital of the de Warenne estates in Normandy. De Warenne had also received some of  the confiscated lands of William, count of Arques in 1053. Duke William’s confidence in de Warenne is demonstrated in the fact he was one of the barons consulted during the planning of the invasion of England in 1066.

In fact, William de Warenne is one of only a handful of Norman barons who can be positively identified as having fought at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October, 1066. De Warenne was rewarded with vast swathes of land throughout the country. According to the Domesday survey his lands extended over 13 counties: stretching from Conisbrough in Yorkshire to Lewes in Sussex. His territories were acquired over the course of the reign of William I and elevated him the highest rank of magnates. By 1086 his riches were only surpassed by the king’s half-brothers and his own kinsman, Roger de Montgomery. He still ranks in the Top 20 of the richest people in the world – ever!

Lewes Castle

Throughout his career, William de Warenne acquired lands in numerous counties, sometimes by nefarious means. Much of the property, such as Conisbrough, had formerly belonged to the late king, Harold. In Norfolk he is said to have asserted lordship over freemen not necessarily assigned to him. He had disputes with neighbouring landowners in Conisbrough, over which properties were sokelands and he is said to have stolen lands from the bishop of Durham and the abbot of Ely. Some acquisitions were obtained peacefully, such as the manor of Whitchurch in Shropshire, which was left to him by his kinsman Roger de Montgomery. William was an energetic and attentive landowner and improved the economy of most of his estates; more than tripling his sheep flock at Castle Acre and doubling the value of his Yorkshire estates in just 20 years (at a time when the county was devastated by the Harrying of the North).

In 1067 William de Warenne was one of 4 prominent Normans appointed to govern England during William the Conqueror’s absence in Normandy. Following the Conquest, he continued to support the king and – subsequently – his son, William II Rufus – as a military commander for over 20 years. In 1074 he was with his father at the abbey of Holy Trinity in Rouen, where he was a witness to his father’s last known charter, and in 1083-85 he fought with the king on campaign in Maine, being wounded at the siege of the castle of Sainte-Suzanne.

In 1075, along with Richard de Clare, his fellow justiciar, he was sent to deal with the rebellion of Earl Ralph de Gael of East Anglia. De Gael had failed to respond to their summons to answer for an act of defiance and so the 2 lords faced and defeated the rebels at Fawdon in Cambridgeshire, mutilating their prisoners afterwards. Ralph withdrew to Norwich Castle; besieged for 3 months he managed to escape his attackers by boat, while the castle surrendered and was occupied by de Warenne.

William de Warenne was married to a Flemish noblewoman, Gundrada; her brother Gerbod was sometime earl of Chester and another brother, Frederic, held lands in Norfolk which eventually passed to Gundrada. Frederic, appears to have jointly, with Gundrada, held lands in England even before the Conquest, when two people named Frederic and Gundrada are mentioned as holding four manors in Kent and Sussex. It would indeed be a coincidence if there were two other related people, named Frederic and Gundrada, very distinctive foreign names, in England at that time. Gundrada’s brothers, it seems, were deeply involved in the border politics between Flanders and Normandy; indeed, it is thought that Gerbod resigned his responsibilities in Chester in order to return to the Continent to oversee the family’s lands and duties there, following the death of an older brother, Arnulf II of Oosterzele-Scheldewindeke.

Gundrada de Warenne, Holy Trinity Church, Southover

Frederic was murdered by English freedom fighter, Hereward the Wake; his murder giving rise to a personal feud between Hereward and William de Warenne:

‘Among his other crimes, by trickery [Hereward] killed Frederick, brother of Earl William of Warenne, a man distinguished by lineage and possessions, who one night was surrounded in his own house. On account of his murder, such discord arose between Hereward and the aforesaid William that it could not be settled by any reparation nor in any court.’1

There has been considerable debate among historians over the theory that Gundrada may have been the daughter of William the Conqueror, but the confusion appears to have come from an unreliable charter belonging to Lewes Priory and Gundrada being part of the household of King William’s wife, Matilda. The confirmation charter of the foundation of the priory has King William naming ‘William de Warenne and his wife Gundrada, my daughter.’2 In the same charter, William de Warenne pleads ‘for the health of my mistress Queen Matilda, mother of my wife.’3  However, this is a confirmation of an earlier charter and in the original, while the king and William de Warenne, both, mention Gundrada, neither refer to her as being related to the king or queen.

Historian Elisabeth van Houts argues that Gundrada was most likely a distant relative of Queen Matilda and the counts of Flanders, as asserted in her epitaph as ‘offspring of dukes’ and a ‘noble shoot’. Indeed, had her father been William the Conqueror, her epitaph would surely have referred to her as the offspring of kings. Even if she had been the daughter of Matilda by an earlier marriage, off-spring of kings would have still been appropriate, given that Queen Matilda was the granddaughter of King Robert II of France. Though it does seem likely that Matilda and Gundrada were related in some way, perhaps distant cousins.

The ‘dukes’ referred to in Gundrada’s epitaph, although naturally assumed to be of Normandy, could well refer to a kinship with the house of Luxembourg, to which Queen Matilda’s paternal grandmother, Orgive, belonged. Moreover, Frederic was a familial name within the house of Luxembourg. This kinship via the House of Luxembourg with Queen Matilda would also explain the queen’s gift to Gundrada, of the manor of Carlton, which is usually given as evidence that Gundrada belonged to the queen’s household; an association which would be entirely consistent with kinship.

De Warenne coat of arms, Holy Trinity Church, Southover

Gundrada and William were married sometime around the time of the Conquest, either before or after the expedition to conquer England. They had 3 children together. Their eldest son, William, would succeed his father as Earl of Surrey and Warenne. He married Isabel de Vermandois, widow of Robert de Beaumont, earl of Leicester; with whom he had, according to one chronicler, been having an affair even before the earl’s death. Young William had a chequered career, he supported the claims of Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, to the English throne against the duke’s younger brother, Henry I, but changed sides and fought for Henry at the Battle of Tinchebrai in 1106. Duke Robert lost and was captured and imprisoned by Henry. William remained in the king’s favour for the rest of the reign, fighting alongside Henry at the Battle of Bremule in 1119. William, his son and stepsons were at Henry’s deathbed at Lyons-la-Foret when he died in 1135.

William and Gundrada’s second son, Rainald de Warenne, led the assault on Rouen in 1090, for William II Rufus, in the conflict between the English king and his older brother, Duke Robert. However, by 1105 Rainald was fighting for the duke against the youngest of the Conqueror’s sons, Henry I, defending the castle of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives for the duke. He was captured by Henry the following year but had been freed by September 1106. It is possible he died shortly after but was certainly dead by 1118 when his brother issued a charter, in which he gave 6 churches to Lewes Priory, for the soul of deceased family members, including Rainald.

Gundrada and William also had a daughter, Edith, who married Gerard de Gournay, son of the lord of Gournay-en-Bray. Gerard also supported William II Rufus against Duke Robert and took part in the Crusade of 1096. Edith later accompanied him on pilgrimage back to Jerusalem, sometime after 1104, where he died. Gerard was succeeded by their son, Hugh de Gournay, whose daughter Gundreda would be the mother of Roger de Mowbray. Edith then married Drew de Monchy, with whom she had a son, Drew the Younger.

Castle Acre, Norfollk, where Gundrada died

Sadly, Gundrada died in childbirth at Castle Acre in Norfolk on 27th May 1085. She was buried in the chapter house of the couple’s own of foundation Lewes Priory.

William’s second wife was a sister of Richard Guet, who was described as ‘frater comitissae Warennae’ when he gave the manor of Cowyck to Bermondsey Abbey in 1098.3 Guet was a landowner in Perche, Normandy, but his sister’s name has not survived the passage of time. All we know of her is that, a few days after her husband’s death, she attempted to gift 100 shillings to Ely Abbey in restitution for damage caused by William de Warenne. The monks refused the donation, hoping that Warenne’s departing soul had been claimed by demons.4

Despite this reputation at Ely, William de Warenne and his wife, Gundrada, had a reputation for piety. At some point in their marriage, probably 1081-3, they went on pilgrimage to Rome. Due of war in Italy they only got as far as the great abbey of Cluny in Burgundy, where they were received into the fellowship of monks. On their return to England, they founded a priory at Lewes, following the Cluniac rule and a prior and 3 monks were sent from Cluny to establish the foundation. It was the first Cluniac foundation in England.

St Pancras priory, Lewes, founded by William and Gundrada

Following the Conqueror’s death, William fought in support of the late king’s second son, William II Rufus against his older brother, Robert Curthose, who had inherited the dukedom of Normandy. He was rewarded in early 1088 with the earldom of Surrey. The new earl fought for William II Rufus during an invasion by Robert’s supporters and was badly wounded at the siege of Pevensey Castle, East Sussex, in the spring of 1088. He was taken to Lewes, where he died of his wounds on 24th June of the same year. Earl Warenne was buried beside his first wife, Gundrada, in the chapter house of Lewes Priory.

Following the dissolution of Lewes Priory in the 16th century, Gundrada’s tombstone was first moved to Isfield Church; it was moved again in 1775 to the parish church of St John the Baptist at Southover in Lewes. The remains of Gundrada and William, themselves, were discovered in 2 leaden chests in 1845, when the railway line was excavated through the priory grounds. They were laid to rest, for a final time, at the Southover church, in 1847, in a chapel dedicated to Gundrada de Warenne.

William and Gundrada de Warenne had founded a dynasty that would survive for almost 300 years, dying out in the reign of Edward III following the disastrous marriage of John de Warenne, 7th and last Earl of Warenne and Surrey

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Footnotes:

¹ The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle edited and translated by Elisabeth M.C. van Houts and Rosalind C. Love; 2 My translation from quote in George Floyd Duckett, Observations on the Parentage of Gundreda, the Daughter of William Duke of Normandy, and Wife of William de Warenne; 3 ibid; 4 Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; 5 ibid

Images:

All images ©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Sources:

Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert BartlettBrewer’s British Royalty by David WilliamsonBritain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; british-history.ac.uk; kristiedean.com; English Heritage Guidebook for Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadrei; oxforddnb.com; George Floyd Duckett, Observations on the Parentage of Gundreda, the Daughter of William Duke of Normandy, and Wife of William de Warenne; Elisabeth M.C. Van Houts and Rosalind C. Love (eds and trans), The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle; C.P. Lewis, ‘Warenne, Gundrada de (d.1085)’, ODNB; Elisabeth Van Houts, ‘The Warenne View of the Past’, in Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2003, edited by John Gillingham

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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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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

Book Corner: Forest of Foes by Matthew Harffy

AD 652. Beobrand has been ordered to lead a group of pilgrims to the holy city of Rome. Chief among them is Wilfrid, a novice of the church with some surprisingly important connections. Taking only Cynan and some of his best men, Beobrand hopes to make the journey through Frankia quickly and return to Northumbria without delay, though the road is long and perilous.

But where Beobrand treads, menace is never far behind. The lands of the Merovingian kings are rife with intrigue. The queen of Frankia is unpopular and her ambitious schemes, though benevolent, have made her powerful enemies. Soon Wilfrid, and Beobrand, are caught up in sinister plots against the royal house.

After interrupting a brutal ambush in a forest, Beobrand and his trusted gesithas find their lives on the line. Dark forces will stop at nothing to seize control of the Frankish throne, and Beobrand is thrown into a deadly race for survival through foreign lands where he cannot be sure who is friend and who is foe.

The only certainty is that if he is to save his men, thwart the plots, and unmask his enemies, blood will flow.

He’s done it again!

Magnificent adventure!

Forest of Foes by Matthew Harffy is the author’s 12th book and the 9th instalment of his magnificent Bernicia Chronicles. Beobrand is once again journeying over the Narrow Sea into Frankia. This time he is on his way to Rome, escorting a novice monk on his pilgrimage. Unfortunately, as with all Beobrand’s adventures, things don’t quite go to plan…

Beobrand and his loyal gesiths first save the wife of Clovis II, Queen Balthild, from an ambush in the woods and is then drawn into the world of the Frankish court and the conspiracies and controversies that surround it.

“What is he saying?” Beobrand asked Halinard in a quiet voice. The woman’s eyes flicked to him as he spoke, her expression questioning, no doubt surprised by his use of the Anglisc tongue. Beobrand marvelled at her apparent lack of fear.

“He says he will kill her, if let him go we do not,” said Halinard, his words clumsy yet clear.

“I hardly need you to tell me that,” replied Beobrand.

“I tell you what he says,” said Halinard, shaking his head. “He says nothing interesting.”

Brocard spoke to the man in the same calming tone he had used before. The brigand shouted more loudly, his voice cracking with his anger and fear. Behind him the maidservant looked ready to swoon.

Beobrand stepped closer to Brocard, beckoning for Halinard to follow him.

“Ask him his name,” he said in a low voice. Halinard translated. Brocard looked askance at Beobrand, then, with a shrug, he spoke to the brigand.

“Omer,” replied the brigand, narrowing his eyes as though he expected a trick.

Beobrand nodded.

“Offer him a horse,” Beobrand said. Halinard whispered his words in Frankish.

Brocard hesitated. One of his men, the one with the great bleeding wound on his face, growled something. Brocard held up his hand for patience and offered Omer a steed.

Omer replied and Beobrand understood enough to know that he wanted two mounts, one for him and one for his hostage.

“No,” Beobrand said in Frankish. He held up a single finger. “One horse.”

Omer shook his head and began to shout. Beobrand could not make out all the words, but it was clear Omer was not happy with the answer. Beobrand watched the knife blade waver at the woman’s lovely throat. Omer must know that if he killed her, he would surely follow the woman to the afterlife in moments. And yet men under such pressure do not always act reasonably and Beobrand became increasingly worried that the brigand might yet cut her throat by accident.

“Tell him he can have two horses,” he said. Halinard translated for him. Omer again looked as though he suspected he was being lured into a trap. He spoke quickly, urgently, but Beobrand could barely make sense of any of it. He was pleased though, to see that some of the tension had left Omer’s shoulders. The knife had lowered slightly from the lady’s neck. Brocard spoke up in anger at Beobrand’s offer. But before Beobrand could respond, the lady being held hostage moved with the speed of a striking serpent and Omer’s speech came to a sudden, choked halt. For a couple of heart beats he stood there, unmoving and silent, mouth opening and closing without sound. Then his hand fell, the knife tumbling from lifeless fingers.

Matthew Harffy has written yet another cracking Beobrand adventure. Changing the location to France has opened up a world of opportunities, which includes integrating the remarkable story of Balthild, the slave girl who became queen of the Franks as the wife of Clovis II. It also see Beobrand facing new challenges, including that of language. Matthew Harffy could have made life so much easier for himself by having Beobrand pick up the language of the Franks easily, but it makes for a better story, and a more credible one, that he struggles like the rest of us. No one is perfect.

As has come to be expected from Matthew Harffy’s writing, the character development is paramount and it is interesting to see how Cynan continues to grow into the role of war leader and confidant. There is tragedy along the way and, as with any great story, a few surprises that will leave the reader reeling. But it all makes for a fabulous story.

Do not expect your emotions to escape unscathed.

Forest of Foes by Matthew Harffy is an adventure not to be missed!

About the author:

Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria’s Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD.

Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Pre-order link

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Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

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Website: matthewharffy.com

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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.

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Eleanor, daughter of a king, Countess of Pembroke

King John with his children Henry, Richard, Joan, Isabella and Eleanor

There was one daughter of King John for whom the legacy of Magna Carta and the struggle for political reform held particular significance. The life of Eleanor of England, and her husband Simon de Montfort, stands as the epilogue of the Magna Carta story. Although democratic government was still many centuries in the future, Magna Carta was the first step. The political movement led by Simon de Montfort was the second step …

However, had fate not stepped in, Eleanor may never have married Simon. From an early age, she had been the wife of another, until tragedy struck.

Eleanor of England was the youngest child of John and Isabelle d’Angoulême; she is said to have inherited her mother’s beauty and feisty temperament.1 Eleanor was thought to have been born at the height of her father’s troubles, in the midst of the Magna Carta crisis in 1215. However, historians are now inclined to the theory that she was born posthumously, sometime after the death of King John, either in late 1216 or early in 1217. She was named for her famous grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. As a baby, little Eleanor was placed in the household of the bishop of Winchester, where her eldest brother, Henry, had been living since 1212.2 Eleanor’s father had died whilst the country was riven by war, on the night of 18/19 October 1216 at Newark. He was succeeded by Eleanor’s eldest brother Henry – now King Henry III. Eleanor’s mother, frozen out from any role in her son’s regency or life, returned to her native Angoulême and in 1220 married Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche.

In 1224 Eleanor’s future was decided when she was married to William (II) Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. The younger Marshal was the son of the first earl of Pembroke who had been regent in the early years of Henry III’s reign, and who had driven the French out of England following his victory at the Battle of Lincoln in May 1217. The first earl had a reputation for integrity and loyalty, having remained unwavering in his loyalty to King John during the Magna Carta crisis. The second earl, Eleanor’s husband, had been a hostage of the king between 1207 and 1213, as a guarantee of his father’s good behaviour. He later joined the baronial rebellion and was appointed marshal of the forces of the invader, Prince Louis. However, he returned to the Royalist cause when Louis refused him possession of Marlborough Castle, which had previously belonged to the younger Marshal’s grandfather.3

William (II) Marshal fought alongside his father at the Battle of Lincoln. On his father’s death in 1219, Marshal had succeeded him as earl of Pembroke and marshal of England; when his mother died in 1220, he succeeded to her lordships of Leinster and Netherwent. His younger brother, Richard Marshal, succeeded to the Clare lands in Ireland. In 1214 Marshal married Alice, the daughter of Baldwin de Béthune, Count of Aumâle, to whom he had been betrothed in 1203. The marriage was short-lived, however, as poor Alice died in 1216.

On 23 April 1224, William (II) Marshal was married to Eleanor; born in the 1190s, he was some twenty-or-so years older than his bride, who was no more than 9 years old on her wedding day, and may have been as young as 7.4

Eleanor of England, Countess of Pembroke

The marriage was agreed at the behest of the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, and the papal legate, Pandulf, as a way of guaranteeing Marshal remained firmly in the justiciar’s camp, and to prevent the marshal making a foreign marriage. The match put an end to three years of indecision, as to whether Eleanor should marry a foreign prince or an English magnate. The king settled ten manors, confiscated from a French nobleman and already administered by Marshal, on his sister as her marriage portion.5

For the first five years of her marriage Eleanor continued to live at court, under the guardianship of Cecily of Sandford.6 In 1229, when she was 13 or 14, she went to live with her husband, and would spend her time travelling with him in England, France and Ireland. In May 1230, Marshal had taken twenty knights with him on Henry III’s expedition to Poitou. He also took his wife, probably at the behest of the king. Eleanor became seasick during the voyage to France and Henry had his ship drop anchor at the nearest landfall to give her time to recover, ordering the fleet to continue without them.7

Henry was probably hoping that Eleanor’s presence would help to secure the support of his mother and her second husband, Hugh de Lusignan, to his expedition against the French. Mother and daughter had not seen each other since Eleanor was a baby. Isabelle’s maternal affection for the children of her first husband, however, was practically non-existent, or deeply hidden, and Eleanor’s presence failed to persuade her mother and stepfather to remain loyal to Henry III. As we have seen in a previous article, Isabelle d’Angoulême‘s priorities as a French countess often clashed with those of her English family.

Marshal and Eleanor returned from France in the spring of 1231, with William handing over command of the English forces to Ranulf, Earl of Chester. Shortly after their return, the couple attended the wedding of Marshal’s widowed sister, Isabel, to the king’s brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Family happiness turned to grief, however, when William (II) Marshal died suddenly in London a week later, on 6 April. He was buried beside his father at the Temple Church on 15 April 1231.

At the still very tender age of between 14 and 16, Eleanor was a now childless widow.

The arms of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke

The earldom of Pembroke passed to William’s younger brother, Richard, and Eleanor would spend many years fighting unsuccessfully to get the entirety of her dowry from the Marshal family, which amounted to one third of the Marshal estates, according to the guarantees established by Magna Carta. The Great Charter stipulated a widow should receive the allocation of a dower within forty days of her husband’s death.

A year after William’s death Richard Marshal offered Eleanor £400 a year as her settlement. Henry III persuaded his sister to take it, wanting to be done with the business and probably well aware that it was as much as Eleanor was likely to get, despite the Marshal holdings amounting to an income of £3,000 a year.8 Henry stood as guarantor for the settlement but the payments would always be sporadic and unreliable, not helped by the fact that the earldom passed through four successive Marshal brothers between 1231 and 1245, each with differing priorities and more Marshal widows to assign their dowers.

In the midst of her grief, and influenced by her former governess, Eleanor took a vow of chastity in the presence of Edmund of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1234. Although she did not become a nun, the archbishop put a ring on her finger, to signify that she was a bride of Christ; she was, therefore, expected to remain chaste and virtuous for the rest of her life. As a result, the king seized her estates and Richard Marshal, as her husband’s heir, took many of her valuable chattels.

Knowing how teenagers see lost love as the end of the world, even today, one can understand Eleanor’s decision to take a vow of chastity, even if we cannot comprehend anyone giving such advice to a grieving 16-year-old. Eleanor may also have seen taking such a vow as a way of staving off her brother, the king, forcing her to remarry in the interests of the crown. Moreover, it put Eleanor’s life in her own hands and also served to appease the Marshal family, who would have seen their own lands, which made up Eleanor’s dower, controlled by another magnate or foreign prince had she remarried.

Eleanor’s seal as Countess of Leicester

The widowed Eleanor retired to the castle of Inkberrow in Worcestershire. King Henry III continued to watch over his sister throughout the 1230s; he sent her gifts of venison and timber for her manors. Throughout her life, Eleanor was known for her extravagant spending, which led to substantial debts; Henry lent her money and made sporadic payments to reduce the debts. And in 1237 her brother granted her Odiham Castle in Hampshire, which would become her principal residence.9

Although Eleanor spent the 7 years after William Marshal’s death as a young widow sworn to chastity, most people may have predicted that such a life would not last. And at some point after the mid-1230s, possibly at the wedding of Henry and Eleanor of Provence, Eleanor met Simon de Montfort, the man who would dominate English politics in the mid-thirteenth century.

The couple fell in love.

But that story is for another time…

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Footnotes:

1. Carol, ‘Eleanor of Leicester: A Broken Vow of Chastity’, historyofroyalwomen.com, 28 February 2017; 2. Elizabeth Norton, She Wolves; 3. R.F. Walker, ‘William Marshal, fifth earl of Pembroke (c. 1190–1231)’, oxforddnb.com; 4. Ibid; 5. Darren Baker, With All For All; 6. Elizabeth Hallam, ‘Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke and Leicester (1215?–1275)’, Oxforddnb.com; 7. Darren Baker, With All For All; 8. Ibid; Elizabeth Hallam, ‘Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke’.

Sources:

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

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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.

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Book Corner: Her Castilian Heart by Anna Belfrage

Blood is not always thicker than water…

At times a common bloodline is something of a curse—or so Robert FitzStephan discovers when he realises his half-brother, Eustace de Lamont, wants to kill him.  

A murderous and greedy brother isn’t Robert’s only challenge.  He and his wife, Noor, also have to handle their infected relationship with a mightily displeased Queen Eleanor—all because of their mysterious little foundling whom they refuse to abandon or allow the queen to lock away.

Eustace is persistent. When Robert’s life hangs in the balance, it falls to Noor to do whatever it takes to rip them free from the toothy jaws of fate. Noor may be a woman, but weak she is not, and in her chest beats a heart as brave and ferocious as that of a lioness. But will her courage be enough to see them safe?

Her Castilian Heart by Anna Belfrage is yet another fast-paced adventure that is impossible to put down. I read it in 3 days!

Her Castilian Heart is the third in the series, set in the reign of Edward I, which follows Robert FitzStephan, an illegitimate son of a lord who has risen on his own merit to become a knight and landowner. He is married to the incomparable Noor, a relative of the queen, Eleanor of Castile. After being exiled to Spain for a short period, Noor and Robert are back in England, facing the anger and suspicions of the queen, and the jealousy of Robert’s brother.

As ever, Anna Belfrage has woven a tale of love, betrayal and intrigue that will leave the reader absorbed from beginning to end. Set with the backdrop of border skirmishes with Wales and the queen’s failing health, Noor and Robert are once again forced to negotiate the English court and its rivalries, intrigues and jealousies.

At present, she did not look much like a mother or wife: her hair had escaped its braid and the confines of the veil, long dark locks floating round her face. There was a smudge of something on her nose – ointment, he’s hazard, given the fragrance – and her brown skirts were covered with straw. He reached over and stroked her cheek with his maimed hand. She leaned into his touch, half closing her eyes.

‘Why is he here?’ she asked, moving close enough that she could stand on her toes and kiss his cheek.

‘Why?’ To drag me along to Wales.’

‘Now?’ She frowned. ‘This time of the year?’

‘I’ve campaigned during the winter before.’ He tapped her nose. ‘I’ll survive.’

She paled, and he regretted his choice of words.

‘It is a scouting expedition.’ he said. ‘We will keep to the shadows.’ He did not quite believe that. The moment Rhys of Maredudd had decided to raise the banners of rebellion yet again instead of disappearing into a hole somewhere, he’d effectively unleashed the vindictive rage of the English king. There’d be little scouting, more killing, as they encircled the rebel.

She snorted. ‘Mortimer is about as adept at staying in the shadows as I am at swimming.’

As his wife did not know how to swim, that was not an accolade. But it made him smile. He shook his head at her. ‘Roger is quite skilled at melting into the background when it suits him.’

‘Hmph! Then he can go himself.’

‘The king requires I accompany him.’ And as the king’s knight, Robert could not deny him.

‘The king is here? In England?’

He heard the quaver in her voice. Once the king and queen were back, there would be no putting off the audience with the queen, and they both feared Queen Eleanor’s reaction to the fact that they’d returned without that jewel she so desired. Or abandoning their foster son in foreign lands as instructed, but hopefully she’d never find that out. Upon returning home, Robert had sent an extensive account of their time abroad to the king, and despite being home for a year, he’d not heard from his liege until now, and then only indirectly via Roger Mortimer.

‘He remains in Gascony.’

Anna Belfrage’s storytelling is second-to-none and her research impeccable. She transports the reader to the court of Edward I, to the Europe of the 13th century. Meticulously recreating the sights, sounds and smells of the era, Anna rebuilds a lost world and immerses the reader entirely within its confines.

Her characters are full of life and vigour, having an energy of their own. They are not untouched by events, and grow and mature through their experiences. Neither Noor nor Robert forget the past and this informs their future. Anna Belfrage has created a hero and heroine that the reader can relate to, and empathise with.

Her Castilian Heart by Anna Belfrage will leave the reader breathless!

Anna Belfrage is a wonderful storyteller. She draws you into the book from the very first page, takes hold of your emotions, twists them around, puts them through the ringer and then – maybe – gives them back to you, battered, bruised and in tears. And you’ll want to go back for more! What an incredible experience!

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To buy the book:

Her Castilian Heart is available now from: http://myBook.to/HEART

About the author:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. No luck there, so instead she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests; history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours. Plus she always finds the time to try out new recipes, chase down obscure rose bushes and initiate a home renovation scheme or two.

Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga , set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy.

Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. Her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty and love set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales in the late 13th century.

Her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time , is a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands.

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of several Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, www.annabelfrage.com 

Social Media Links:

Website: www.annabelfrage.com; Amazon Author Page: http://Author.to/ABG; Twitter: https://twitter.com/abelfrageauthor; Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/anna-belfrage; Instagram: https://instagram.com/annabelfrageauthor; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/annabelfrageauthor; Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6449528.Anna_Belfrage

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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.

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©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

Long Live the King….

What would have happened if King John had not died in October 1216…?

Would England have been lost?

Find out in ‘Long Live the King…

I have finally done it!

I’ve written a fictional short story, and it’s out this week.

Alternate Endings is a compilation of short stories published by the Historical Writers Forum. I wasn’t sure about trying my hand at fiction, but there are so many What ifs in history that it was hard to resist. Having spent the last two years writing Nicholaa de la Haye’s biography – which will be published in May 2023, I thought it would be quite fun to take one event in Nicholaa’s life and see what might change if that event didn’t happen.

Nicholaa’s greatest benefactor and – dare I say? – friend was King John. He had been an ally since at least the early 1190s, but his death on the night of 18/19 October 1216 was a godsend for England. John’s reign had been plagued by unrest, civil war and the paranoia of the king himself. He had murdered his nephew, Arthur, starved Matilda de Braose to death in a dungeon and stolen the lands of those he was meant to protect. His reputation for underhand dealing, seducing the daughters of nobles and reneging on Magna Carta has seen him go down in history as Bad King John. He is a strong candidate for England’s worst ever king.

It has often been said that John’s death saved England.

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for King John. Not because he was such a warm, cuddly human being – he really wasn’t! But because his reign was full of so much drama. It was a time of transition, when England was losing its continental positions, when the barons were flexing their muscles and when the relationship between king and baron was in flux.

It is a fascinating period of history. So, when I was asked if I wanted to write a short story, I immediately thought of King John, of Nicholaa de la Haye and the upheaval that was Magna Carta and the First Barons’ War. Nicholaa’s involvement culminated in her defending Lincoln Castle through a prolonged siege that ended with the Second Battle of Lincoln. And I wondered… Would events have played out as they did if John had lived?

So… what would have happened if he had survived his illness in October 1216.

Well, you will have to wait and see…

But here’s a teaser….

Newark Castle

28 October 1216

John opened his eyes to a black, empty void.

   Is this it? Is this Hell?

   Has death finally claimed me?

He had been hovering on the brink for so long now. For exactly how long, he did not know. He could barely remember anything beyond the excruciating pain in his gut and head. Lying there in the dark, John took a mental inventory of his body. His head felt clearer than it had in days. The feeling that it was held in a vice had gone, replaced by a dull ache. The stabbing pains in his abdomen had also receded and now there was just a gentle throbbing.

  This could be death…

A groan slipped from between his lips. There was movement, the striking of flint and suddenly a flash of light. The candle’s flame illuminated the features of William Marshal. The Marshal leaned in to examine him, then turned to a lad curled up on bedding in the far corner, just lifting his head, looking groggy from sleep.

‘Godfrey, fetch the doctor. The king is awake.’ Marshal ordered.

‘He’s awake? He’s alive?’ asked a voice from the dark. It was heavily accented. Italian. Cardinal Guala, the papal legate.

‘Aye, your grace, he’s awake. At last!’ Marshal replied.

‘Praise be!’ exclaimed Guala, approaching the bed.

John tried to speak, but barely a croak came out. His mouth was so dry. Marshal signalled Guala to aid the king from the far side of the bed and between them, they lifted John and adjusted his pillows so that he was sitting up. He felt as useless as a new-born baby, he had not the strength to resist, even if he wanted to. Marshal turned to the table beside the bed and poured out a cup of water from the pewter jug. He held the cup to John’s lips, so that he could take a long, thirst-quenching draught. Nothing had ever tasted so wonderful!

John sank back into the pillows, exhausted, as the door opened and his physician entered, striding over to the bed.

I don’t want to give anything away, but the biggest challenge was to consider whether John’s survival would be a blessing or curse for England. And at least William Marshal and Nicholaa de la Haye are there to steady the boat – what could possibly go wrong?

About the book:

We all know the past is the past, but what if you could change history?

We asked eight historical authors to set aside the facts and rewrite the history they love. The results couldn’t be more tantalizing.

  • What if Julius Caesar never conquered Gaul?
  • What if Arthur Tudor lived and his little brother never became King Henry VIII?
  • What if Abigail Adams persuaded the Continental Congress in 1776 to give women the right to vote and to own property?

Dive in to our collection of eight short stories as we explore the alternate endings of events set in ancient Rome, Britain, the United States, and France.

An anthology of the Historical Writers Forum.

Alternate Endings is now available worldwide from Amazon.

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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.

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©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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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: First Impressions and their Consequences by Anna Belfrage

It is always a pleasure to welcome my good friend and fellow author, Anna Belfrage, to History…the Interesting Bits. Anna’s fabulous new Castilian Saga is a pleasure to read – and I will be posting a review of the latest instalment, Her Castilian Heart, shortly. But, for now, Anna is here to tell us about how she met the hero and the story that developed…

First impressions and their consequences.

The first time I met Robert FitzStephan, he had his arms full of apple blossom.

“Sorry,” he said, squeezing by me on the narrow stairs, “I have a wife to make amends to.” And off he went, leaving me in the damp gloom with a flaring torch the only source of light. I suppose this is when I should clarify that this was not an IRL (in real life) meeting: no, all of this happened in my roomy brain, an ever-expanding universe in which my characters pop up out of nowhere, demanding I tell their stories.

Robert FitzStepahn left an impression of light eyes and a HUGE nose and. . .

“Not that huge,” he protests, setting a finger to the rather impressive protuberance.

“No, it isn’t,” his wife, Noor says (apparently, the apple blossom did the trick) She gives me a severe look. “And one should not make fun of people because of their looks.”

“I wasn’t,” I try. After all, Robert is tall and broad and strong and. . .

Noor gives me another glare. “He’s mine!”

Of course. I don’t want a medieval man—I don’t live in that era, no matter that I write about it.

A Courting Man, Codex Manesse

Now, aside from being tall and all that, Robert is a self-made man, a man whose years of loyal service to his king, Edward I, were rewarded when the king gave him Noor—Eleanor d’Outremer—in marriage. With Noor came a fortified manor and some lands—and an indirect blood-tie to Queen Eleanor. Not that being related to the queen is necessarily a boon.

Initially, the Robert and Noor marriage had its bumps—as described in His Castilian Hawk. Like when Robert realised Noor was related to the princes of Gwynedd and that the orphan she’d taken in was the unknown son of the rebellious Dafydd ap Gruffyd, former prince whose head now adorned London Bridge. Should the king find out about the child, he’d lock the toddler up with the child’s unfortunate brothers in Bristol Castle and potentially sever Robert’s head for harbouring him. Our hero was somewhat torn between his loyalties to his liege and those to his wife. . .

“Never,” Robert says. “I am the king’s man, but my wife comes first.”  

Aww. . . Such a nice quality in a man!

Noor’s decision to take in the orphan was to have consequences, especially once Queen Eleanor began suspecting who the child was. Which was how Robert and Noor found themselves unofficially exiled to Aragon and Castile—arriving just in time for Robert to participate in the battle of Col de Panissars, where the king of Aragon defeated the French who’d attempted to invade his country under the of a crusade. Their sojourn on the Iberian Peninsula was fraught with adventure and danger, as described in The Castilian Pomegranate.

In Her Castilian Heart, Robert and Noor are safely back in England. Well, safely may not be the right word, what with Robert’s half-brother wanting to murder him, but still. Plus, the queen remains suspicious of their foundling, and God alone knows what an irate queen may do. This time, the events are woven round King Edward’s attempts to broker peace between the pope, the king of France and the king of Aragon—that failed French effort to invade Aragon, a.k.a. the Aragonese Crusade, has caused quite a political mess.

King Edward’s reasons for involving himself are to some extent personal: one of his daughters is contracted to marry King Alfonso of Aragon, but the pope has threatened him with brimstone and sulphur if he allows his daughter to do so without the pope’s explicit permission. Which isn’t forthcoming, as the pope is seriously ticked off about the fact that Aragon has taken Sicily back from Charles d’Anjou. The pope has a much better relationship with the Angevin than with the king of Aragon—maybe because he excommunicated Alfonso’s father for having supported the Sicilians when they rebelled against years of Angevin oppression (and then consolidated Sicily as part of his kingdom)

Philippe of France wants restitution for the loss of the crown of Aragon—which is rather odd, seeing as Aragon wasn’t his to begin with, but the young French king has not lived down the humiliation of losing to Aragon. Young Alfonso wants peace—but not at the expense of relinquishing Sicily, and no way is he going to compensate the French for invading his kingdom! In fact, they should compensate him!

King Edward I

King Edward is faced with quite the balancing act: how is he to placate the pope, somehow knock some sense into the young hot-headed kings and deliver a treaty that will hold? And on top of all this, King Edward has an ailing wife and the rebellious Welsh to handle! Not that he involves himself in the actual fighting win Wales—he leaves the rekindled Welsh uprising to Robert to handle together with Roger Mortimer.

Her Castilian Heart was originally supposed to be the final book in this series, but as Robert has as yet not shared the reason for having to placate his wife with apple blossom, I still have more stories to tell about Robert, Noor, their foundling Lionel—and the brave and rebellious Welsh. King Edward may think he has the Welsh dragon tamed, but he is wrong—oh, so wrong!

About Her Castilian Heart:

Blood is not always thicker than water…

At times a common bloodline is something of a curse—or so Robert FitzStephan discovers when he realises his half-brother, Eustace de Lamont, wants to kill him.  

A murderous and greedy brother isn’t Robert’s only challenge.  He and his wife, Noor, also have to handle their infected relationship with a mightily displeased Queen Eleanor—all because of their mysterious little foundling whom they refuse to abandon or allow the queen to lock away.

Eustace is persistent. When Robert’s life hangs in the balance, it falls to Noor to do whatever it takes to rip them free from the toothy jaws of fate. Noor may be a woman, but weak she is not, and in her chest beats a heart as brave and ferocious as that of a lioness. But will her courage be enough to see them safe?

To buy the book:

Her Castilian Heart is available now from: http://myBook.to/HEART

About the author:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. No luck there, so instead she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests; history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours. Plus she always finds the time to try out new recipes, chase down obscure rose bushes and initiate a home renovation scheme or two.

Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga , set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy.

Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. Her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty and love set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales in the late 13th century.

Her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time , is a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands.

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of several Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, www.annabelfrage.com 

Social Media Links:

Website: www.annabelfrage.com; Twitter: https://twitter.com/abelfrageauthor; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/annabelfrageauthor; Instagram: https://instagram.com/annabelfrageauthor; Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/anna-belfrage; Amazon Author Page: http://Author.to/ABG; Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6449528.Anna_Belfrage

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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.

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly.