Guest Post: 7 things you may not know about the Battle of Towton by Dan Moorhouse

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author and historian Dan Moorhouse to the blog with an article on the Battle of Towton, which was fought during the Wars of the Roses, on this day in 1461. Dan’s latest book, On this Day in the Wars of the Roses, is a fabulous read, looking into the Wars of the Roses in a whole new way. Over to Dan…

7 things you may not know about the Battle of Towton

The Battle of Towton is often described as being the biggest, bloodiest battle of English history. Heralds at the time suggested 28,000 dead. Towton established Edward IV as king. His coronation was shortly afterwards. Yet much of what is known about the Battle of Towton is not well known. Dan Moorhouse outlines 7 areas that help to put the battle into perspective.

  • Battlefield Executions
The Battle of Towton by Richard Caton Woodville Jr

In the aftermath of the battle, several of the defeated Lancastrians were rounded up and summarily executed. Evidence for this comes in the form of human remains excavated near Towton Hall. The bodies bore wounds to the head, neck, shoulders. But none to the arms, indicating that these men had been unable to defend themselves. 42 such executions are known to have taken place on the battlefield. This is not the only example of summary justice being meted out following Towton. In York, the victorious Yorkists discovered more Lancastrians. In the days that followed, other men were executed on Edward IVs orders, including the Earl of Devon. A grave pit has been excavated on the Knavesmire, where public executions took place outside York, which contained the remains of bodies that had been beheaded. These have been carbon dated to the period.

  • Survivors

Whilst there is much speculation about the number of Lancastrian dead, there is less said about those who survived. The Royal family had been in the relative safety of York. Most leading nobles escaped the battlefield. With so many dead, many fleeing and wintery conditions, the survivor’s stories varied greatly. Robert Bolling (Bradford, Yorks.) was believed to have died. This remained the case in November when he was posthumously attained. However, he had survived and spent the next 14 years trying to overturn the attainder. Thomas Denys wrote that ‘There I lost £20 worth, bone, harness and money and was hurt in divers places.’ In other words, he was injured, without transport and had lost or spent all his money.

  • Hiding

It is well known that Henry VI went into hiding and was eventually captured near Clitheroe several years later. That other non-combatants did the same is less well known. Henry Clifford was the son of John 9th Baron Clifford. Following his father’s death (at Dintingdale), he too went into hiding. Legend has it that he hid with Shepherd’s in the Yorkshire Dales until after the Battle of Bosworth! This stems from an account written by Lady Anne Clifford in the 17th century. The story seems more myth than factual, though. Though still a child, he is known to have signed charters just a few years later. During the readeption, Lord Montagu was granted the wardship of Henry Clifford.  Edward IV pardoned him in 1472, and he was permitted to access his inheritance from his maternal grandfather at that point. However, he did not receive his Clifford inheritance until 1493.

  • Death toll
Engraving of the Battle of Towton, showing King Edward IV in the thick of the fighting

The Battle of Towton was big, of that there is no doubt. What there is doubt over is how big. Figures for medieval battles vary significantly in their accuracy. For campaigns in the Hundred Years War, there are centrally held records, many of which survive. These make numbers reasonable accurate. For battles in the first phase of the Wars of the Roses, this is not the case. Sources include Heralds, various chronicles, letters, muster rolls and ambassadorial dispatches. Archaeological analysis provides further evidence, as does an examination of logistics. The problem is, none are definitive, and they vary greatly. Chroniclers were prone to exaggeration, as seen by numbers that run from 9000 to 120000 Lancastrian dead. Heralds suggested 28000 dead. Letters and dispatches also disagree. Modern analysis suggests an upper figure of 10000, based on the battlefield’s size, number of nobles and knights known to have fought and the logistics involved in the campaigns. An analysis by The History of Parliament shows that of the peerage and members of Parliament known to have fought, as little as 20%, mainly Lancastrian, perished. With estimates suggesting around 55000 participants, this would be consistent with a death toll of around the 10000 mark. 

  • Finds

It may seem strange that there is no extensive collection of finds from such a significant battle. This is because most substantial items would have been scavenged in the hours, days and weeks following the clash. Battlefield Metal Detector Simon Richardson worked on the Towton battlefield for 32 years. His collection of finds does amass to over one thousand items. Primarily these are small items such as buckles and straps. However, he also discovered fragments of the ‘Towton gun’, the oldest handgun to have been excavated in the British Isles. Sections of a brass cannon were found. Evidence suggests that it exploded on being fired with the probable loss of life of those around it. Richardson also aided in the excavation of a memorial chantry built in the reign of Richard III.

  • Pursuit

The rout at the Battle of Towton is well recorded. Cock Beck was awash with blood. Bodies were used as a bridge by men fleeing the hail of arrows. Those fleeing in a different direction were prone to being run down by Cavalry. As the Lancastrian lines broke, the Yorkists could simply pick off those in flight. Whilst there is ample evidence of slaughter at these places, it is often forgotten that the rout went on for some distance and time. George Neville, in his letter to Francesco Coppini, placed more emphasis on slaughters away from the battlefield than in the immediate rout:

“At the town of Tadcaster, eight miles from York, very many of the fugitives were drowned in the river, the enemy having themselves broken the bridge in their rear beforehand. Of the remainder who escaped for the moment a great part were killed in that town, and in the city [of York]; and quite lately one might have still seen the bodies of these unfortunate men lying unburied, over a space nearly six miles in length and three or four furlongs broad”. [British History Online: Calendar of state papers relating to English affairs in the Archives of Venice, vol 1: 1202-1509]

  • Memorials
Dacre Cross, memorial at the Towton battlefield

Many of the men who died were local and on the losing side. Despite the new regime, there is evidence that their loss was memorialised at the time, under the victors’ watchful gaze and in rather lavish or unusual fashion. The unusual is the Tomb of Lord Dacre. The tomb itself looks unremarkable. It is close to the battlefield and in keeping with tombs of the period. What is odd is the story that he was buried on his horse. Perhaps a legend, it has not been disproven. Lionel, Lord Welles, was one of the most senior Lancastrians to die in the battle and married to Margaret Beauchamp, mother by her first marriage to Margaret Beaufort. Despite his links to the Lancastrian line, his body was interred at Methley, Yorkshire, with an ornate alabaster effigy. Other memorials were added during the Wars of the Roses and in later centuries.

My thanks to Dan for an interesting and entertaining article, and my congratulations of the release of On this Day in the Wars of the Roses. The book is out now and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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About the author

Dan Moorhouse’s interest in history initially led him into teaching, and writing about the history of Medicine for Hodder Murray, an imprint of Harcourt. His work includes contributions to numerous print and online publications, including for the BBC, Guardian, Times, and a range of national and local museums. As a member of the Historical Association, Dan served on the Education Committee for a decade and helped to re-establish the society in West Yorkshire. Dan is also a keen member of the Battlefields Trust and Richard III Societies. Dan’s interest in the Wars of the Roses was sparked at an early age. He grew up close to the seat of the notorious Clifford family and several major battlefields. He has studied the Wars of the Roses to Masters Degree Level and writes regularly about the subject for a general audience via his website and social media channels.

Links:

Website – https://schoolshistory.org.uk/

The Battle of Towton – https://schoolshistory.org.uk/topics/british-history/wars-of-the-roses/battle-of-towton/

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My books

Coming 31st May:

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 will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

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 from Pen & Sword,  Amazon 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 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, Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Dan Moorhouse

William Longespée, the King’s Illegitimate Son

For many years, although William Longespée’s father was known, the identity of his mother was very much in question. William Longespée was the son of Henry II, king of England, and it was thought that his mother was a common harlot, called Ikenai. In that case, he would have been a full brother of another of Henry’s illegitimate sons, Geoffrey, Archbishop of York. There were also theories that his mother was Rosamund Clifford, famed in ballads as ‘the Fair Rosamund’. However, it is now considered beyond doubt that his mother was, in fact, Ida de Tosney, wife of Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, from a relationship she had with the king before her marriage.

Coat of arms of William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury

There are two extant pieces of evidence supporting this. The first is a charter in the cartulary of Bradenstoke Priory, made by William Longespée, in which he refers explicitly to his mother as ‘Countess Ida, my mother’. There is also a prisoner roll from after the Battle of Bouvines, in which a fellow captive, one the sons of Ida and the earl of Norfolk, Ralph Bigod, is listed as ‘Ralph Bigod, brother [halfbrother] of the earl of Salisbury’. Ralph was a younger son of Earl Roger and Ida and had been fighting under Longespée’s command in the battle in which both were taken prisoner.

Ida was probably the daughter of Roger (III) de Tosney, a powerful Anglo-Norman lord, and his wife, also called Ida. She was made a royal ward after her father’s death and became mistress of King Henry II sometime afterwards. She gave the king one son, William Longespée, who was born around 1176, making him ten years younger than the king’s youngest legitimate son, John. Around Christmas 1181, Ida was married to Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and through his mother’s Norfolk family, Longespée had four half-brothers, Hugh, William, Ralph and Roger and two half-sisters, Mary and Margery.

Despite the misunderstandings over his mother, the identity of William Longespée’s father was never in doubt. He was Henry II’s son and acknowledged by his father; as an illegitimate son of Henry II, William Longespée’s fortune and position in society were inextricably linked with the fortunes of his royal half-brothers, King Richard I and King John, both of whom he served. Longespée adopted the coat of arms of his paternal grandfather, Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, of azure, six leoncels rampant or [gold], to emphasise his descent from the Angevin counts.

The moniker of Longespée (also Lungespée or Longsword) harkens back to his Norman forebear and namesake William Longsword, second Duke of Normandy (reigned 928–942), from whom he was descended through his father, the king. Little is known of Longespée’s childhood, upbringing or education, though a letter of 1220 that Longespée sent to Hubert de Burgh reminds the justiciar that they were raised together, probably fostered in a noble household. In 1188, Longespée had been given the manor of Appleby in Lincolnshire by his father, but he did not come into prominence until the reign of his half-brother Richard I.

It was King Richard who arranged Longespée’s marriage to the rich heiress Ela of Salisbury. Ela’s father, William, Earl of Salisbury, had carried the sceptre at Richard I’s coronation, in 1194 he had served as high sheriff of Somerset and Dorset and in 1195 campaigned with King Richard in Normandy. In the same year, he was one of the four earls who supported the canopy of state at Richard’s second coronation, and attended the great council, called by the king, at Nottingham. He died in 1196, leaving his only child, Ela, as his sole heir. Ela became Countess of Salisbury in her own right, and the most prized heiress in England.

On her father’s death, Ela’s wardship passed into the hands of the king himself, Richard I, the Lionheart. The king saw Ela as the opportunity to reward his loyal, but illegitimate, half-brother, William Longespée, by offering him her hand in marriage; the Salisbury lands being seen as a suitable reward for a king’s son, especially one born out of wedlock. They would give Longespée a power base in England. Ela and Longespée were married in the same year her father died, 1196. At the time of his marriage to Ela, Longespée was in his early-to-20s, while his bride was not yet 10 years old, although she would not have been expected to consummate the marriage until she was 14 or 15, and they would not have lived as husband and wife until Ela was at least 12 years old, the church’s legal age of marriage for a girl.

Ela’s new husband was an experienced soldier and statesman and would be able to protect Ela, her lands and interests. William acquired the title Earl of Salisbury by right of his wife and took over the management of the vast Salisbury estates.

Salisbury Cathedral

William (I) Longespée had an impressive military and political career during the reigns of his half-brothers. He first served in Normandy with Richard between 1196 and 1198, attesting several charters for his brother at Château Gaillard, and taking part in the campaigns against King Philip II of France, gaining essential military experience. He took part in John’s coronation on 27 May 1199 and was frequently with John thereafter. The half-brothers appear to have enjoyed a very cordial relationship; the court rolls record them gaming together and John granting Longespée numerous royal favours, from gifts of wine to an annual pension. By 1201 Longespée, along with William Marshal and Geoffrey fitz Peter, Earl of Essex ‘were seen by John at this stage in his reign as the main props to his rule, and lavish gifts followed.’1

Although Longespée’s marriage to Ela of Salisbury gave him rank and prestige, it was not a wealthy earldom. The barony commanded fifty-six knights’ fees and gave the earl custody of the royal fortress of Salisbury, but Longespée had no castle of his own. He was made sheriff of Wiltshire on 3 separate occasions, 1199–1202, 1203–1207 and 1213–1226, but was never granted the position as a hereditary right by the king. As sheriff, it was Longespée’s task to hunt down the famous outlaw Fulk Fitzwarin, whom he besieged in Stanley Abbey in 1202. When Fitzwarin and his band of about 30 men were pardoned in 1203, Longespée was among those who secured the pardon from the king. During his career, William was also entrusted with several important diplomatic missions. In 1202 he negotiated a treaty with Sancho VII of Navarre and in 1204 he and William Marshal escorted the Welsh prince Llywelyn to the king at Worcester. He was also sent to Scotland on a diplomatic mission to King William the Lion in 1205 and was with John at York in November 1206 when the two kings met. The earl was also involved in the election of his nephew, Otto, as German emperor, heading an embassy to the princes of Germany which resulted in Otto’s coronation.

William Longespée’s most prominent role during the reign of King John, however, was as a military leader. He was a commander of considerable ability. In August 1202 he had fought alongside William Marshal and William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, hounding the retreating forces of King Philip of France. The French king had withdrawn from the siege of Arques following news of John’s victory over his nephew, Arthur, at Mirebeau. Longespée and his lightly-armed fellow earls, however, narrowly escaped capture from a counterattack led by William de Barres. Following the fall of Normandy, Longespée was given command of Gascony in May 1204. In September of the same year he was also given custody of Dover castle and made warden of the Cinque Ports; he retained both offices until May 1206. In 1208 Longespée was appointed warden of the Welsh Marches and in 1210 he joined King John on the Irish expedition which had been prompted by William de Braose fleeing to Ireland to escape John’s persecution. In 1213 he allied with the counts of Holland and Boulogne, led an expeditionary force to the aid of Count Ferrand of Flanders against King Philip II and on 30 May he achieved a significant naval victory when his forces destroyed the French fleet off the Flemish coast near Damme, burning many enemy ships and capturing others. The victory forced King Philip to abandon plans for an invasion of England.

In 1214 William Longespée commanded an army in northern France for the king, while John was campaigning in Poitou. He managed to recover most of the lands lost by the count of Flanders and,, in July of the same year, he commanded the right-wing of the allied army at the Battle of Bouvines, alongside Renaud de Dammartin, Count of Boulogne. William fought bravely but was captured, after being clubbed on the head by Philippe, the bishop of Beauvais. According to the Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal the battle had been fought against the earl’s advice, and if it were not for Longespée’s own heroic actions, Emperor Otto would have been taken prisoner or, worse, killed. The battle was a military disaster for the English forces in France and ended John’s hopes of recovering his Continental possessions. William Longespée was held prisoner for almost a year. He was eventually ransomed and exchanged in March 1215, for John’s prisoner, Robert, son of the count of Dreux, who had been captured at Nantes in 1214.

William Longespée was back in England by May 1215 and appointed to examine the state of royal castles. However, England was reaching crisis point by this time, with the rebellion of the barons gathering pace. Although unable to prevent rebels from gaining control of London, he was effective against the rebels in Devon, forcing them to abandon Exeter. He was named among those barons who had advised John to grant Magna Carta, though whether he was actually present at Runnymede, when the charter was sealed, is unknown. He was granted lands from the royal demesne in August 1215 in compensation for the loss of Trowbridge, which had been returned to Henry de Bohun, one of the twenty-five barons appointed to the committee to oversee the enforcement of the terms of Magna Carta. Also in 1215, following the fall of Rochester, Longespée was given the task of containing the rebels in London, while John led the rest of his forces north. Alongside Faulkes de Bréauté and Savaric de Mauléon, he led a punitive chevauchée through Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire. However, in the early weeks of 1216, when Walter Buc’s Brabançon mercenaries ravaged the Isle of Ely, it was Longespée who protected the women from their worst excesses.

Longespée was still supporting John when Louis, the Dauphin, landed on 21 May 1216; however, Louis’ rapid advance through the southern counties, and the fall of Winchester in June 1216, led the earl of Salisbury to submit and ally with Louis. He remained in opposition to his half-brother for the rest of John’s life. Unfounded rumours, recorded by William the Breton, suggested that Longespée’s desertion of John was caused by the king’s seduction of Ela while the earl was a prisoner of war in France. It seems more likely that, like so many others, he saw John’s cause as lost and decided to cut his own losses. With Longespée’s defection, and that of William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, John’s support was severely diminished and in retaliation, John ordered his brother’s lands seized in August 1216.

Battle of Lincoln 1217, from Matthew Paris

Despite the death of King John in October 1216, Longespée remained with Louis and even called for Hubert de Burgh to surrender Dover to the French. However, when Louis returned to France in March 1217, to gather reinforcements, Longespée submitted to the king, swearing loyalty to his 9-year-old nephew, Henry III. He was also absolved of the sentence of excommunication which had been passed on all those who had defected to Louis. Along with Longespée, William Marshal’s eldest son, William (II), and a hundred other men from Wiltshire and the south-west, returned to the king’s peace. Longespée was now instrumental in driving the French from England and defeating the remaining rebel barons. He was part of William Marshal’s army at the Battle of Lincoln Fair on 20 May 1217, when Lincoln Castle and its formidable castellan, Nicholaa de la Haye, were finally relieved following a three-month siege by the French under the Comte de Perche.

We know nothing of William and Ela’s married life, although it appears to have been a happy one. The couple had at least eight children together, if not more; 4 boys and 4 girls. Of their 3 youngest boys, Richard became a canon at the newly built Salisbury Cathedral, Stephen became seneschal of Gascony and justiciar of Ireland, and their youngest son, Nicholas, was elected bishop of Salisbury in 1291; he was consecrated at Canterbury by Archbishop John Pecham on 16 March 1292. Already in his sixties, Nicholas died on 18 May 1297. In 1216, the oldest son, William II Longespée, fourth Earl of Salisbury, was granted marriage by King John to Idonea, granddaughter and sole heiress of the formidable Nicholaa de la Haye. Both children were very young when the grant was made, with Idonea being, possibly, no older than 8, the youngest age that a betrothal was sanctioned by the church, though she could not be married until the age of 12. John ordered that:

Effigy from William Longespée’s tomb

The sheriffs of Oxford and of Berkshire are commanded that they cause William, Earl of Salisbury, to have the right of marriage of the daughter of Richard de Canville, born of Eustacia, who was the daughter of Gilbert Basset and wife of the said Richard, for William his first-born son by his wife Ela, Countess of Salisbury, with all the inheritance belonging to the said Richard’s daughter from her mother in their Bailiwicks. Witness myself, at Reigate, the twenty second day of April.

Letter from King John, 22 April 1216

This order may be the source of Nicholaa de la Haye’s later wranglings with Salisbury, given that it appears to pass all of Idonea’s inheritance into the custody of Longespée, regardless of the fact Nicholaa was still very much alive at this time. It also suggests that Richard de Canville, Idonea’s father, may have already been deceased, despite most mentions of him have him dying in the first quarter of 1217. Young William and Nicholaa de la Haye would spend several years in legal disputes over the inheritance of Nicholaa’s Lincolnshire holdings. William (II) Longespée went on crusade with Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in 1240–1 and later led the English contingent in the Seventh Crusade led by Louis IX of France. His company formed part of the doomed vanguard, which was overwhelmed at Mansourah in Egypt on 8 February 1250. William’s body was buried in Acre, but his effigy lies atop an empty tomb in Salisbury Cathedral. His mother, Ela, is said to have experienced a vision of her son’s last moments at the time of his death.

Of the William and Ela’s 4 daughters, Petronilla died unmarried, possibly having become a nun. Isabella married William de Vescy, Lord of Alnwick, and had children before her death in 1244. Another daughter, named Ela after her mother, married firstly Thomas de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick and, secondly, Phillip Basset; sadly, she had no children by either husband. A 4th daughter, Ida, married Walter fitzRobert; her second marriage was to William de Beauchamp, Baron Bedford, by whom she had 6 children.

As a couple, William Longespée and Ela were great patrons of the church, laying the 4th and 5th foundation stones for the new Salisbury Cathedral in 1220. William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey and a cousin to Ela – Ela’s father was half-brother to William’s mother, Countess Isabel de Warenne – also laid a foundation stone. In the first half of the 1220s, Longespée played an influential role in the minority government of Henry III and also served in Gascony to secure the last remaining Continental possessions of the English king. In 1225 he was shipwrecked off the coast of Brittany and a rumour spread that he was dead. While he spent months recovering at the island monastery of Ré in France, Hubert de Burgh, first Earl of Kent and widower of Isabella of Gloucester, proposed a marriage between Ela and his nephew, Reimund. Ela, however, would not even consider it, insisting that she knew William was alive and that, even if he were dead, she would never presume to marry below her status. It has been suggested that she used clause 8 of Magna Carta to support her rejection of the offer:

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

Clause 8, 1215 Magna Carta
Tomb of William Longespée, Salisbury Cathedral

However, as it turned out, William Longespée was, indeed, still alive and he eventually returned to England and his wife; after landing in Cornwall, he made his way to Salisbury. From Salisbury he went to Marlborough to complain to the king that Reimund had tried to marry Ela whilst he was still alive. According to the Annals and antiquities of Lacock Abbey Reimund was present at Longespée’s audience with the king, confessed his wrongdoing and offered to make reparations, thus restoring peace.

Unfortunately, Longespée never seems to have recovered fully from his injuries and died at the royal castle of Salisbury shortly after his return home, on 7 March 1226, amid rumours of being poisoned by Hubert de Burgh or his nephew. He was buried in a splendid tomb in Salisbury Cathedral.

Although the title earl of Salisbury still belonged to his wife, his son, William (II) Longespée was sometimes called Earl of Salisbury, but never legally bore the title as he died before his mother. Ela did not marry again. On her husband’s death, she was forced to relinquish her custody of the royal castle at Salisbury, although she did eventually buy it back. Importantly, she was allowed to take over her husband’s role as sheriff of Wiltshire, which he had held 3 times in his career and continuously from 1213 until his death in 1226. Ela herself served twice as sheriff of Wiltshire from 1227 until 1228 and again from 1231 to 1237.

Ela of Salisbury outlived both her eldest son and grandson. She was succeeded as Countess of Salisbury by her great-granddaughter, Margaret, who was the daughter of William III Longespée. Just over 10 years after she was widowed, Ela entered her own foundation of Lacock Priory in 1237 and became the first Abbess when it was upgraded to an Abbey in 1239. As Abbess, Ela was able to secure many rights and privileges for the abbey and its village. She obtained a copy of the 1225 issue of Magna Carta, which had been given to her husband for him to distribute around Wiltshire. She remained Abbess for 20 years, resigning in 1259. Ela remained at the abbey, however, and died there on 24th August, 1261.

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Footnotes:

1David Crouch, William Marshal

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sources:

finerollshenry3.org.uk; Oxforddnb.com; magnacarta800th.com; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; Crouch, David, William Marshal; Matthew Paris, Robert de Reading and others, Flores Historiarum, volume III; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; 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; Rich Price King John’s Letters Facebook page; Elizabeth Hallam, editor, The Plantagenet Chronicles; 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; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey and their Descendants to the Present Time; Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; doncasterhistory.co.uk.

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My books

Coming 31st May:

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 will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

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 from Pen & Sword,  Amazon 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 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, Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Guest Post: The Root of all Evil by Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author and historian Toni Mount to the blog, as part of Toni’s blog tour for her fabulous new novel, The Colour of Evil, which is released on 25th March.

The Root of all Evil – Money to spend in Medieval London

Portrait of Sebastian Foxley by Dmitry Yakovsky @ Madeglobal Publishing

The theme in my latest novel in the The Colour of … series is money, whether earning it, owing it, forging it or even murdering because of it. Our hero, Seb Foxley, has to solve the mysteries, however he can. So I thought an article about medieval money might interest readers.

Silver penny of Henry II – note the cross-shape on the reverse so it could be cut accurately into halfpennies or farthings

From Anglo-Saxon times, England’s currency system was based on the penny which contained one pennyworth of silver. These were minted from high quality ‘sterling’ silver, so called because the earliest coins were known as steorlings or little stars; perhaps a star was part of the original design. By the time of William the Conqueror [1066-86] a pounds worth of starlings was accepted as well-respected money across Europe. However, not all Kings of England took care to keep constant the value of silver in a penny. Henry I’s reign was a particularly bad time for the coinage and in 1124 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that ‘pennies were so adulterated, a pound at market could not purchase twelve pence worth of anything’. Since 12 pence = 1 shilling and 20 shillings = £1, this meant a penny wasn’t worth one-twentieth of its original value back in 1066. The reign of King Stephen [1135-54] didn’t help as it was a period of almost constant civil war. In fact, things became worse because different factions set up their own mints and coins became mere tokens, often spendable only within the jurisdiction of a particular faction. Somebody had to sort out the mess.

Fortunately for the reputation of England’s monetary system, Henry Plantagenet became King Henry II in 1154 and from 1158 he issued an entirely new set of currency, asserting royal control over just thirty designated mints and restored not only the silver content of the pennies but confidence in English money. And this was a good time to do so because trade across Europe was changing from the barter system, when a dozen eggs could pay for a pair of shoes to be mended, or a day’s work might be repaid with a sack of flour, to the purchase of goods and services using money.

It was easier also to gather taxes and customs duties for the king in coin, rather than in kind, and Henry demanded efficiency in their collection. In fact, the system worked so well in England that when Henry’s son, Richard the Lionheart, was held to ransom in 1192 for the incredible sum of £100,000 [about $17.5 million today], most of it was gathered in England and paid in English pennies, despite Richard’s realm including much of France at the time.

Westminster Hall where the Trial of the Pyx were first held

Having put the monetary system in good order, the ‘Trial of the Pyx’ was invented to keep it that way and safeguard the value of new-minted coins. It is thought that this institution began in the twelfth century but in 1282 Edward I made it official and records have been kept ever since. Conducted like a public legal trial, twelve ‘discreet and lawful’ citizens of London and twelve members of the Goldsmiths’ Company sat as a jury to judge the legitimacy of the newly minted coins. Coin samples were taken from every minting and set aside for assay in secure chests called pyx – hence the name of the trial. It’s the same word used for the box in which consecrated bread is kept at Holy Communion, showing the significance of this procedure. For centuries they were stored in the Pyx Chamber in Westminster Abbey, along with other important items belonging to both state and church.

Early trials were held first in Westminster Hall and later in the Exchequer at Westminster, taking place annually. The jury was summoned by and the trial presided over by the King’s [or Queen’s] Remembrancer of the Royal Courts of Justice. The size, weight, silver purity and content of the coins were all examined and verified, the jury passing its verdict on the results. The trial was held at the beginning of the year on the previous year’s samples, allowing two months for the proceedings and a third month for the assayers’ testing and reports before the Remembrancer announced the result of the trial.1

The medieval monetary system of England was complicated, to say the least. As I write this, it’s fifty years since the decimalisation of our coinage in Britain [15th Feb 1971] and our own pre-decimalisation coinage was still based upon the medieval system: 12 pennies [12d] = 1 shilling; 20 shillings [20s] = £1 and, therefore 240 pennies = £1. It made accounting tricky and you had to know your 12 times table. But until 1489, there was no coin of the value of £1 and there were no shilling coins until 1504.

Richard III groat (1483-85)

In some ways, to the average carpenter, shoemaker and housewife, this didn’t matter very much because with a skilled man’s wages counted in pennies, the chance of him requiring, handling – or even seeing – a coin of denomination larger than a groat was slim indeed. A groat was a silver coin worth 4 pennies, the word ‘groat’ being a corruption of the French word gros, meaning large because, in 1279, when Edward I first issued it, it was the biggest coin in circulation. 3 groats = 1 shilling but even then a groat was engraved with a design to divide it exactly into four quarters so it could be reduced to 2 half-groats [worth 2d each] or even 4 equal pennyworths of silver. The round 1 penny coins [1d] were similarly engraved so they could be cut into 2 halfpennies and again into 4 farthings [originally ‘fourthings’]. England still used farthings as proper, circular coins, not cut-downs, into the 1950s. These were the coins of everyday use in medieval times.

But there were people who dealt in larger sums than pennies. A medieval merchant’s cargo of wine imported from Bordeaux was going to cost more than a few pence, as would the hire of the ship and the customs duties to be paid. Counting out hundreds of tiny coins, some of them wedge-shaped from being cut down, was a time-consuming business and time – as ever – was money. So it made sense to have some higher value coins in use for such transactions. Pounds and shillings, maybe? No. Nothing so simple as that. The account ledgers might show business conducted in pounds, shillings and pence but the coins changing hands bore little resemblence to what was noted down. A common amount used in both theoretical and practical accounting was the mark.

Edward IV gold angel, worth 6s 8d or half a mark
note the image of the Archangel Michael slaying the devil

The mark had been around since Anglo-Saxon times and had varied in value but, by the fifteenth century, a mark was worth 13s 4d. This may seem an arbitrary amount but is 160 pennies = two-thirds of £1. The half-mark [6s 8d, one-third of £1 or 80 pence] was an actual coin so that three half-marks equalled £1 in total comprised of just three coins that were so much easier to count and handle. There were even quarter-marks worth 3s 4d. This explains the frequent appearance of these values in medieval accounts ledgers. The half-mark was minted in gold and at various times was known as the noble, the rose-noble and the angel – this last after the image of St Michael the Archangel on the reverse. There was also a short-lived gold ryal [or royal] from 1465 worth 10 shillings.

Henry VII was not only determined to refill his empty coffers, by fair means or otherwise – his tax-gatherering methods were notorious – he wanted to be certain the actual coins were worth their face value, so one of the first things he did after becoming king was overhaul the coinage. Firstly, in 1489, he invented the £1 coin, called it a sovereign and had it minted in gold with his own image on the the obverse – a declaration that the Tudor king had arrived, if ever there was one.

The 10 shilling ryal and the 6s 8d angel were both reminted as silver coins, their previously gold counterparts having often been hoarded or melted down into cups, plates and jewellery. Pennies, half-groats [2d] and groats were all redesigned and their silver content assured, as well as the new silver shillings by 1504.

Henry VII gold sovereign worth £1

Readers may think that the writing of cheques cannot predate the banking system – the Bank of England was first set up in 1694, although Italian bankers go back centuries before that. Surprisingly, the first ‘cheques’ were invented by ordinary citizens and had nothing to do with banks. Rather, it had to do with keeping heavy valuables safe. In medieval times, people kept their assets in solid form, as gold plate, silver gilt candlesticks, fine goblets, jewellery and even expensive textiles and books. The crown jewels were frequently used as collateral to borrow money by kings in need of ready cash. A wary citizen would want his bulky treasures stored safely where thieves couldn’t help themselves and even the Royal Treasury at Westminster was looted on one occasion in the fourteenth century – the thieves were apprehended in the end but not all the swag was recovered. However, few folk had the facilities for storing their treasures. Important documents were sometimes locked in a chest at the parish church to which only the priest and the churchwarden had keys. But there wasn’t room for stacks of gold plate or suchlike. In London, the Goldsmiths’ Company kept their precious resources in their vaults underneath Goldsmiths’ Hall and were willing to rent out space to others to store their assets. This kept everything secure but what happened when, say, a wealthy merchant wished to use his set of gold plate to purchase a house from a rich widow? Instead of going to the goldsmiths, demanding his plates and then carrying the heavy weight across the city, risking robbery along the way, and handing them to the widow who would probably then have to arrange the plates’ return to the goldsmiths’ for safe-keeping, the cheque was invented. The cheque was simply a written document to inform the goldsmiths that the wealthy merchant’s gold plate stored in their vaults had now been transferred to the property of the rich widow. No physical effort, inconvenience or risks of loss were involved.

A cheque dated 16th February 1659
No medieval cheques are known to survive but would have looked similar, probably with a red wax seal, as here

In fact, bank notes, invented much later, were simply ready-written cheques made out for specific sums and, in theory at least, like the earlier cheques, could be used to redeem the valuables themselves. Today, Bank of England notes still say in very small print ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds’, or whatever the value, signed on behalf of the Government and Company of the Bank of England by the bank’s Chief Cashier. I wonder what they’d do if I did present my fiver and demand the equivalent in silver or gold? Laugh themselves silly, probably.

Footnote:

1 For more information on the history and the conduct of the Trial of the Pyx in the 21st century see https://www.assayofficelondon.co.uk/about-us/trial-of-the-pyx

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Huge thanks to Toni for a fantastic article and good luck with the new book. To look back on the rest of the blog tour:

About ‘The Colour of Evil’:

Every Londoner has money worries. Seb Foxley, talented artist and some-time sleuth, is no exception but when fellow indebted craftsmen are found dead in the most horrible circumstances, fears escalate. Only Seb can solve the puzzles that baffle the authorities and help Bailiff Thaddeus Turner to track down and apprehend the villains.

When Seb’s wayward, elder brother, Jude, returns, unannounced, from Italy with a child-bride upon his arm, shock turns to dismay as life becomes more complicated and troubles multiply.

From counterfeit coins to deadly darkness in the worst corners of London, from mysterious thefts to attacks of murderous intent – Seb finds himself embroiled at every turn. With a royal commission to fulfil and heartache to resolve, can our hero win through against the odds?

Share Seb Foxley’s latest adventures in the filthy streets of medieval London, join in the Midsummer festivities and meet his fellow citizens, both the respectable and the villainous.

The Colour of Evil comes out on 25th March.

To buy the Book: http://getbook.at/colour_of_evilhttp://mybook.to/Colour_Evil

About the Author

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript. She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestseller, Everyday Life in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge in the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages. Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries. Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. It also led to her new biography of Sir Isaac Newton. She writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor of online courses to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, coordinates a creative writing group and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

http://www.tonimount.com (my website) http://www.sebastianfoxley.com (Seb’s own website) http://www.facebook.com/sebfoxley (Seb’s Facebook page) http://www.facebook.com/medievalengland (my ‘Medieval England’ Facebook page) http://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10 (my general Facebook page) http://www.medievalcourses.com (seven of my history courses ‘online’ for download)

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My books

Coming 31st May:

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 will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

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 from Pen & Sword,  Amazon 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 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, Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Corner: Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth century: De Montfort by Darren Baker

One of the families that dominated the thirteenth century were the de Montforts. They arose in France, in a hamlet close to Paris, and grew to prominence under the crusading fervour of that time, taking them from leadership in the Albigensian wars to lordships around the Mediterranean. They marry into the English aristocracy, join the crusade to the Holy Land, then another crusade in the south of France against the Cathars. The controversial stewardship of Simon de Montfort (V) in that conflict is explored in depth. It is his son Simon de Montfort (VI) who is perhaps best known. His rebellion against Henry III of England ultimately establishes the first parliamentary state in Europe. The decline of the family begins with Simon s defeat and death at Evesham in 1265. Initially they revive their fortunes under the new king of Sicily, but they scandalise Europe with a vengeful political murder. By this time it is the twilight of the crusades era and the remaining de Montforts either perish or are expelled. Eleanor de Montfort, the last Princess of Wales, dies in childbirth and her daughter is raised as a nun.

There are so many reasons to love Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort by Darren Baker. The foremost reason is that it is a fabulous, enjoyable and entertaining read. Darren Baker has fast become the ‘go to’ historian for all things De Montfort. His research is thorough and the story is recounted in an accessible manner that draws the reader in. Told in chronological order, the narrative flows freely, drawing the reader into the lives of this incredible family.

The second reason is the cover. If there ever was a cover to attract a reader, this is it. It is stunning! And the artwork was done by a de Montfort descendant, Rosana de Montfort. It epitomises the ethos of the medieval barons, their sense of duty and dedication to the crusading ideal.

Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort charts the successes and failures of the Montfort family from their origins to the dizzy heights of Simon VI de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and virtual ruler of England in the reign of Henry III and beyond. The triumph of this book, however, is not in the famous Simon of English history, but in this Simon’s father, the leader of the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heresy in south-western France. Having studied the Albigensian Crusade during my university years, it was interesting to revisit the conflict, focusing on the de Montfort contribution.

Although the book invariable concentrates on the two famous Simon de Montforts – father and son – it also highlights the less renowned, the crusading de Montforts who made their reputations in the Holy Land, the wives and daughters who helped to hold the family together and the younger brothers and sons who shared in the family tradition of war and crusading. Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort is a fascinating study of this famous – and sometimes notorious – family.

Simon de Montfort’s first-known encounter with the Cathars was actually a miracle. A perfect and his initiate were brought before him near Castres. After taking counsel, Simon decided to burn them. The initiate panicked and asked for mercy, promising to be a good Catholic in the future. After a heated discussion, Simon sided with those who insisted the man had come too far with his heresy. Both men were bound with chains and tied to a stake.

This was not the first use of burning at the stake in the crusade. A smaller army had already moved through the Agenais northwest of Toulouse. According to William of Tudela, this host ‘condemned many heretics to be burned and had many fair women thrown into the flames, for they refused to recant however much they were begged to do so’. The Church had provided no fixed guidelines to secular authorities on the punishment of heretics except to insist that it be ‘fitting’. Burning them to death had always been the conventional way, both because the flames purged them of their sins and it resembled the hell they found themselves in.

In this particular case, Simon justified burning the novice because, if he was truly repentant, the flames would expiate his sins; if he was not, it would be his ‘just reward for perfidy’. The fire was lit, but while the prefect was consumed by the flames instantly, the initiate broke out of his chains and escaped with just singed fingertips. Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay does not say what became of the man after that, but since he calls his escape a miracle, Simon and the others probably did so too and spared the heretic his life.

For anyone interested in studying the 12th and 13th centuries, of the de Montforts in particular, Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort would be an invaluable – and essential – addition to their library. It not only works as the study of a medieval family, but as a study of the motivations of medieval barons, both in their religious and military duties – and of the women who support them.

Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort is a wonderful study of the entire de Montfort family. Darren Baker provides his usual level of unbiased analysis that allows the reader to make their own decision of the family and its individual members. His research and referencing is impeccable, as I have come to expect, and his extensive use of primary sources provide a unique insight into the de Montfort family.

My review simply cannot do this book justice. What I can say, is that I cannot recommend it highly enough. Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort is a wonderful book for anyone interested in medieval history, either for leisure, research or study. The narrative is so eminently readable that you find yourself forgetting it is not a novel, it is so enjoyable.

Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort is now available in hardback and ebook from Pen & Sword Books and Amazon.

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Hubert de Burgh Part 2: The Minority of Henry III

Hubert de Burgh seeking sanctuary in 1234, from Matthew Paris’s Historia Anglorum

As we have already seen, Hubert de Burgh was a key ally of King John during the Magna Carta crisis. Having risen from the ranks of minor land owner to one of the most senior positions in the land, King’s Justiciar, de Burgh was indispensable to King John. As justiciar, in the Magna Carta, Hubert de Burgh is mentioned as being the one to hold ultimate responsibility in the realm whenever the king was abroad; this was a considerable change to the role of justiciar in former reigns, when he was primarily responsible as president of the exchequer and chief justice. He was, essentially, the most powerful man in the land after the king himself.

After sealing Magna Carta at Runnymede on 15 June 1215, John was soon writing to the pope to have Magna Carta annulled. England was plunged into civil war. The barons invited the French dauphin, Prince Louis, to join them and make a play for the throne. Louis was the son of John’s erstwhile friend Philip II Augustus, King of France, and the husband of his niece Blanche, who was the daughter of his sister Eleanor, Queen of Castile.

Louis and his men had landed on the Isle of Thanet on 14 May 1216. The dauphin advanced through Kent and took Canterbury before moving onto Winchester. Louis was hailed as King of England in London in June of 1216. John seems to have been undecided as to how to act; he sent his oldest son Henry to safety at Devizes Castle in Wiltshire. Dover Castle, under the command of Hubert de Burgh, held out against the French and rebel forces, as did Windsor and Lincoln, under the formidable Nicholaa de la Haye. Despite the death of King John, at Newark on the night of 18/19 October 1216, William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, John’s illegitimate half-brother, had remained with Louis and it was he who called for Hubert de Burgh to surrender Dover to the French. De Burgh was besieged at Dover Castle, the gateway to England from the Continent, from 22 July 1216 until King John’s death in October of the same year, when the Dauphin Louis abandoned the siege.

Ten days after his father’s death, on 28 October, 9-year-old Henry III was crowned at Gloucester and William Marshal was appointed as the young king’s regent. Hubert de Burgh attended a council of the new king, Henry III, at Bristol on 11 November 1216, when Magna Carta was reissued; he appears as justiciar at the head of the list of lay barons on the witness list. In the spring of 1217, he was back at Dover, having reprovisioned it, and from April he was once again under siege. The Battle of Lincoln , on 20 May 1217 saw the allied French and rebel forces defeated by William Marshal, causing Louis to lift the siege at Dover and retire to London and await reinforcements.

Hubert de Burgh then commanded an English fleet in a naval battle off Sandwich on 24 August 1217, which saw the English ships under defeat the French fleet and capture their flagship. The English naval forces had intercepted the French bringing equipment and supplies to Prince Louis, the dauphin of France;

The Battle of Sandwich, 1217

‘On 24 August, the whole enemy fleet joined battle with the king’s men, not far from the Isle of Thanet. Many of their ships and some of the leaders of the French party were captured, but the rest were able to evade capture by flight; many of the lesser men were killed. Scattered in confusion, the enemy could not regroup.’

The Barnwell Annalist

King John’s illegitimate son, Richard of Chilham, is said to have played a significant part in the battle. Richard brought his own ship alongside the French flagship, the most formidable of the enemy’s vessels, commanded by Eustace the Monk. Richard and his men boarded the ship. Roger of Wendover suggests that it was Richard himself who beheaded Eustace the Monk after his capture. Although other sources disagree with this, none deny that Richard’s actions in the battle were significant.

Lincoln Cathedral’s Magna Carta, held at Lincoln Castle

The Battle of Sandwich thus consolidated the Royalist victory over the rebels and their French allies. As a consequence, the English were able to dictate terms to Louis; Louis agreed to a settlement of £10,000 as an inducement to go home. Peace was signed at Kingston Upon Thames on 12 September and the French left England shortly afterwards. Magna Carta was issued a third time, along with a new charter, the Charter of the Forest, issued for the first time.

On the personal front, Hubert de Burgh’s first wife, Beatrice de Warenne, had died sometime before 18 December 1214. De Burgh retained Beatrice’s lands at Wormegay throughout his lifetime and they only passed to her eldest son, William Bardolf, on de Burgh’s death in May 1243. William Bardolf’s inheritance of Portslade and Harthill, both held from the honour of Warenne, serve to demonstrate the continued connections that this junior branch of the family held with the powerful Warenne earls throughout the thirteenth century.

In September 1217, de Burgh married Isabella of Gloucester, King John’s discarded first wife. On 13 October 1217 the sheriffs of nine counties were ordered to relinquish custody of Isabella’s lands to de Burgh. This was Isabella’s third and final marriage – she had previously married to John, before he became king, and Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, one of the rebel barons; he had died in 1216 whilst still in rebellion against the king. This final marriage for Isabella was, sadly, very short-lived and Isabella was dead within a month, possibly only a few weeks, of her wedding day and almost exactly a year after the death of her first husband, King John.

Isabella died on 14 October 1217, probably at Keynsham Abbey near Bristol, and was buried at the cathedral of Christ Church, Canterbury. Shortly before her death, Isabella made a grant to the monks of Canterbury, of £10 of land in her manor of Petersfield, Hampshire, which was witnessed by Hubert de Burgh and other members of his household.

Two years later, following the death of William Marshal in 1219, Hubert de Burgh took over the reins of government, alongside the young king’s tutor, Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, and the papal legate, Pandulf. This central government, however, was weakened by the fact the castles, manors and sheriffdoms of the realm were held by those who had served King John, and who claimed they could not be removed from their positions until the king reached his majority. These same lords were siphoning off revenue that should have gone to the treasury, further weakening the authority of the crown. It was only when the king reached his majority at the end of 1223 that de Burgh could dismiss many of the sheriffs and castellans. However, this resulted in a bitter power struggle that was to last for the next decade, and would eventually lead to Hubert de Burgh’s political downfall, arrest and imprisonment.

Seal of William the Lion, King of Scots

In June 1221, Alexander II, King of Scots, married Henry III’s sister Joan, at York. It was probably at this event, when the Scottish and English royal families came together in celebration, that the future of Alexander’s sister Margaret, a hostage in England since the treaty of Norham in 1209, was finally resolved. Margaret was the eldest daughter of William I the Lion, King of Scots, and a granddaughter of Ada de Warenne; she was therefore a second cousin of de Burgh’s first wife, Beatrice de Warenne.

It was decided that Margaret would be married to Hubert de Burgh. They ceremony took place in London on 3 October 1221, with King Henry himself giving the bride away. Each of his previous marriages had given de Burgh social and political advancement, and valuable familial connections. Marrying Margaret of Scotland was no less an impressive match, but would later be used against him by his enemies, who accused de Burgh of marrying Margaret while the king was still too young to decide if he might want to marry the Scottish princess himself, as his father had proposed. Hubert de Burgh did, after all, have far humbler origins than one would expect for the spouse of a princess. The Scottish preferred to view Hubert de Burgh as the royal justiciar he had become, rather than the member of the minor noble family into which he had been born.

Margaret was at least 26 years of age when she married Hubert de Burgh and may even have been over 30. De Burgh was in his early fifties. Due to Margaret’s high status as a Scottish princess, many of the grants of lands and privileges were made to the couple jointly, rather than solely to Hubert de Burgh. De Burgh was made earl of Kent in 1227, with the title specifically entailed on his children by Margaret, rather than on his children by his first marriage to Beatrice de Warenne. Hubert de Burgh and Margaret, had one child, a girl named Margaret but known as Megotta, who was probably born in the early 1220s. There were rumours that de Burgh was planning to divorce Margaret in 1232, but he fell from royal favour before such a move could be pursued.

Hubert de Burgh was at the height of his power throughout the 1220s. In 1224, he arranged for the marriage of William (II) Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, to the king’s youngest sister, Eleanor. The bride was no more than 9 years old on her wedding day, whereas Marshal was about 30. The marriage was agreed at the behest of de Burgh,and the papal legate, Pandulf, as a way of guaranteeing Marshal remained firmly in the justiciar’s camp, and to prevent him 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.

When it was thought that William Longspée, Earl of Salisbury, was dead following a shipwreck off the Brittany coast, in 1225, Hubert de Burgh sought to take advantage of the earl’s death to further his own family connections. While Salisbury spent months recovering at the island monastery of Ré in France, Hubert de Burgh proposed a marriage between Salisbury’s wife, Ela, and his own nephew, Reimund. Ela, however, would not even consider it, insisting that she knew William was alive and that, even if he were dead, she would never presume to marry below her status, a right provided in Magna Carta. However, as it turned out, William Longespée was, indeed, still alive and he eventually returned to England and his wife, landing in Cornwall and then making his way to Salisbury. From Salisbury he went to Marlborough to complain to the king that Reimund had tried to marry Ela whilst he was still alive. According to the Annals and Antiquities of Lacock Abbey Reimund was present at Longespée’s audience with the king, confessed his wrongdoing and offered to make reparations, thus restoring peace. Unfortunately, Longespée never seems to have recovered fully from his injuries and died at the royal castle at Salisbury shortly after his return home, on 7 March 1226, amid rumours of being poisoned by Hubert de Burgh or his nephew.

Arms of Williamd de Warenne, Conisbrough Castle

William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Warenne and Surrey, was a staunch ally of the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, who had been married to his cousin Beatrice de Warenne, the daughter and heir of William de Warenne of Wormegay. He had supported de Burgh in 1223–4, when the justiciar’s position was threatened by rivals at court. However, with the king attaining his majority and fully taking up the reins of government in 1227, Hubert de Burgh’s hold on power weakened. The king’s administration was divided by powerful factions and de Burgh fell from favour; he was stripped of his offices and imprisoned. William de Warenne was drawn into the downfall of his former patron, when de Burgh was imprisoned in 1232. Warenne was one of the four earls tasked with keeping de Burgh in custody at Devizes Castle and when de Burgh’s enemies themselves fell in 1234, Warenne was the earl to accept the surrender of de Burgh’s castles at Bramber and Knepp, which had been taken by the former justiciar’s enemies.

With her husband’s downfall, Princess Margaret, Countess of Kent, and her daughter, were deprived of all their belongings. They sought sanctuary at Bury St Edmunds, from where they were forbidden to leave by the king’s own order. Margaret humbled herself before the king when he visited Bury St Edmunds, perhaps softening Henry III somewhat as the king then allowed her to visit her husband so they could discuss their situation. Relations between the king and de Burgh thawed slightly in 1234. In February Margaret was given possession of Hubert de Burgh’s hereditary lands and in May of the same year de Burgh was finally pardoned and the king ‘undertook to do what grace he will.’

Hubert de Burgh’s castle of Hadleigh, Essex

Whilst in sanctuary Margaret secretly arranged the marriage of Megotta to Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford and Gloucester, the son of Isabel Marshal and Gilbert de Clare, who was of similar age to Megotta. The young couple may have known each other as Richard was a ward of Hubert de Burgh until the justiciar’s disgrace in 1232. Hubert de Burgh may not have known of his wife’s activities and the discovery of the arrangement in 1236 reignited tensions between the king and his former justiciar, who was attempting to regain the king’s trust.

The discovery of the marriage was a devastating blow to de Burgh; he had lost the king’s confidence completely and retired from public life. The death of Megotta in 1237 was a further blow but did not ease the tensions with the king. Hubert de Burgh and Margaret were finally pardoned for the marriage in October 1239, de Burgh surrendering his three castles in Upper Gwent and Hadleigh Castle in Essex as part of the agreement. De Burgh did not return to office, despite the pardon, and remained in retirement until his death. He died at his Surrey manor of Banstead in May 1243 and was buried at the Blackfriars in London, a monastery of which he was a benefactor, and where Margaret would be buried when she died in 1259.

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia except the Magna Carta and the Warenne arms, which are ©Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Sources:

finerollshenry3.org.uk; Oxforddnb.com; magnacarta800th.com; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; Crouch, David, William Marshal; Matthew Paris, Robert de Reading and others, Flores Historiarum, volume III; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; 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; Rich Price King John’s Letters Facebook page; Elizabeth Hallam, editor, The Plantagenet Chronicles; 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; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey and their Descendants to the Present Time; Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; doncasterhistory.co.uk.

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Hubert de Burgh Part 1: King John’s Justiciar

Hubert de Burgh from Matthew Paris’s Historia Anglorum

Hubert de Burgh, King John’s justiciar, came from a gentry family rather than the higher echelons of the nobility. His origins are quite obscure. His mother’s name was Alice, as evidenced by a grant he made to the church of Oulton in about 1230, stating the gift was ‘for the soul of my mother Alice who rests in the church at Walsingham.’ Hubert de Burgh’s father may have been the Walter whose daughter Adelina owed 40 marks in the Pipe Rolls of Henry II, for recognition of a knights’ fee at Burgh in Norfolk, although this is little more than a possibility.

We do know that Hubert de Burgh was the younger brother of William de Burgh who had accompanied King Henry II’s youngest son, John, to Ireland in 1185; he eventually became lord of Connacht. Hubert de Burgh also had two younger brothers. Geoffrey became archdeacon of Norwich in 1202 and then bishop of Ely in 1225. A third brother, Thomas, was castellan of Norwich Castle in 1215–16. Little is known of Hubert de Burgh’s childhood, upbringing or education, though a letter of 1220 that William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, sent to Hubert de Burgh reminds the justiciar that they were raised together, probably fostered in the same noble household.

A self-made man, coming from a family of minor landowners in East Anglia centred on the manor of Burgh in Norfolk, Hubert de Burgh first appears in official records on 8 February 1198, when he witnessed a charter of John, as count of Mortain, at Tinchebrai in Normandy. In a charter of 12 June in the same year, he was identified as chamberlain of John’s household and in 1199, when John succeeded to the throne, he was created chamberlain of the royal household. Hubert de Burgh’s career in royal service developed rapidly. In December 1200 he was made custodian of two important royal castles, Dover and Windsor. In 1201 he was sheriff of Dorset and Somerset and when John departed for France in June 1201, along with the two senior Marcher lords, the earl of Pembroke and constable of Chester, de Burgh was created custodian of the Welsh Marches with 100 men-at-arms at his disposal. He was also given the castles of Grosmont, Skenfrith and Whitecastle ‘to sustain him in our service.’

Further grants followed, making Hubert de Burgh a significant and powerful figure in the royal administration by 1200. In that year, Hubert de Burgh was one of the ambassadors despatched to Portugal to negotiate a possible marriage between John and a daughter of Portugal’s king, but the embassy was abandoned after John married Isabelle d’Angoulême. Later, in 1202 Hubert de Burgh was sent to France and made constable of Falaise Castle in Normandy, where he was entrusted with guarding Arthur of Brittany, John’s nephew and rival for the English throne, following hiss capture at Mirebeau in August. While he was being held there, John had sent orders for Arthur’s castration and blinding. John gave the order:

Prince Arthur and Hubert de Burgh by William Frederick Yeames, 1882

‘enraged by the ceaseless attacks of his enemies, hurt by their threats and misdeed, at length in a rage and fury, King John ordered three of his servants to go to Falaise and perform this detestable act.’

Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam

Two of the appointed messengers fled the king’s court, to avoid the distasteful duty, while the third carried the order to Falaise where the royal chamberlain, Hubert de Burgh, had custody of Arthur. De Burgh, however, but Hubert had refused to carry out the punishment, believing that

‘having regard for the king’s honesty and reputation and expecting his forgiveness, kept the youth unharmed. He thought that the king would immediately repent of such an order and that ever afterwards would hate anyone who presumed to obey such a cruel mandate.’

Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam

The fact Hubert de Burgh faced no repercussions on refusing the order suggests that he had read the situation perfectly. Moreover, given the persecution John later inflicted on William de Braose, following his complicity in Arthur’s murder at Rouen the following year, it is clear that Hubert de Burgh knew John well.Hubert de Burgh had been partly right and Arthur’s survival at that time helped to pacify the rebellious Bretons. With Arthur imprisoned at Falaise, the Bretons continued to cause trouble. According to Ralph of Coggeshall,

‘the counsellors of the king, realising that the Bretons were causing much destruction and sedition everywhere on behalf of their lord Arthur, and that no firm peace could be made while Arthur lived, suggested to the king that he order Arthur to be blinded and castrated, thus rendering him incapable of rule, so that the opposition would cease from their insane programme of destruction and submit themselves to the king.’

The Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam
King John

Despite balking at mutilating a 15-year-old, de Burgh announced that the sentence had been carried out, hoping to put a stop to the Breton revolt. Although it is recorded that, John ‘was not displeased for the moment that his order had not been carried out.’ The Bretons were so enraged that their revolt rose to a new level of ferocity and the rebels were only pacified when it was announced that Arthur was, in fact, alive and well. However, in 1203 Arthur was removed from de Burgh’s custody and transferred to the castle at Rouen. King Philip and the nobility of Brittany continued to press for the release of the young duke, but John had other ideas. It was in Rouen, at Easter 1203, most likely on 3rd April, that Arthur was put to death. Whether John committed the deed himself, or merely ordered it done, will probably never be proved; of the fact he was present there seems to be little doubt. Whichever way, the act itself has been a black mark against John for centuries.

In 1204 Hubert de Burgh was entrusted with the defence of Chinon, against the king of France. He held out for a year, until the summer of 1205, when the walls of the castle were practically levelled. In a last desperate engagement, de Burgh and his men rushed from the castle to confront the French. A fierce fight followed in which de Burgh was wounded and captured; he was held for two years. King John helped with his ransom, with writs to the treasurer and chamberlain, in February 1207, ordering them to pay William de Chayv 300 marks ‘for the pledge of Hubert de Burgh.’

De Burgh returned to England before the end of 1207 and again began to accumulate land and offices. In May 1208 he was given custody of the castle and town of Lafford in Huntingdon and in the following year he married Beatrice de Warenne, who had succeeded her father in the barony of Wormegay; de Burgh became guardian of William, Beatrice’s young son by her first husband, Doun Bardolf. Beatrice was the mother of at least one son by Hubert, John, who was probably born before 1212. It is possible another son, named Hubert, from whom the Burghs of Gainsborough were descended, was born in 1213 or 1214. In the same year, de Burgh returned to France in royal service, first as deputy seneschal of Poitou and then as seneschal in association with Philip d’Aubigny and Geoffrey de Neville. After the French defeated the English at Bouvines in 1214, de Burgh was one of the witnesses to the truce with King Philp II Augustus of France, which agreed that John should keep all his lands south of the River Loire.

The Warenne coat of arms, Conisbrough Castle

Beatrice de Warenne died sometime before 18 December 1214. Hubert de Burgh retained Beatrice’s lands at Wormegay throughout his lifetime and they only passed to her eldest son, William Bardolf, on de Burgh’s death in May 1243. William Bardolf’s inheritance of Portslade and Harthill, both held from the honour of Warenne, serve to demonstrate the continued connections that this junior branch of the family held with the powerful Warenne earls throughout the thirteenth century.

Beatrice and Hubert’s son, John, was knighted on 3 June 1229, but was specifically excluded from inheriting the earldom of Kent, bestowed on his father on 19 February 1226 or 1227. This earldom was created following
Hubert de Burgh’s third marriage, to Princess Margaret of Scotland, daughter of William I the Lion and therefore granddaughter of Ada de Warenne. The earldom of Kent was to descend exclusively through de Burgh’s children by the Scottish princess. In 1241 John owed relief on the manor of Portslade which had been given to him by his half-sister, Margery – the daughter of Hubert de Burgh by his third wife, Margaret of Scotland. Margery had received the manor from her father, who had held it of Earl Warenne. When John died on 7 January in 1273 or 1274, he held the manor of his older half-brother, Sir William Bardolf. John de Burgh was succeeded by his son, also John, who was married to Cecily, daughter of John Balliol and his wife Dervorguilla; she was also the sister of John Balliol, King of Scots, who was himself married to Isabella de Warenne, daughter of John de Warenne, sixth Earl Warenne.

By the time of the Magna Carta crisis in the spring and summer of 1215, Hubert de Burgh was back in England and supporting the king in his attempts to quell the rebellion. He was tasked, alongside the bishop of Coventry, with speaking to the mayor, sheriff and knights of London, who were instructed to listen to what de Burgh and the bishop had to say; despite this, the Londoners opened their gates to the rebels. In the preamble to Magna Carta, Hubert de Burgh is styled seneschal of Poitou and listed eighth among the list of lay barons. By 25 June 1215 he was being styled as justiciar in official documents. Matthew Paris later claimed he had been appointed to the post in the presence of Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the earls of Surrey and Derby, among other magnates.

As justiciar, in the Magna Carta, Hubert de Burgh is mentioned as being the one to hold ultimate responsibility in the realm whenever the king was abroad; this was a considerable change to the role of justiciar in former reigns, when he was primarily responsible as president of the exchequer and chief justice. He was, essentially, the most powerful man in the land after the king himself, quite an achievement for the younger son of a minor landholder from Norfolk. De Burgh was also made castellan of Dover Castle, the gateway to England from the Continent, and was besieged there from 22 July 1216 until King John’s death in October of the same year, when the Dauphin Louis abandoned the siege.

Henry III

King John was soon writing to the pope to have Magna Carta annulled, plunging England into rebellion. The barons invited the French dauphin, Louis, to join them and make a play for the throne. Louis was the son of John’s erstwhile friend Philip II Augustus, King of France, and the husband of his niece Blanche, who was the daughter of his sister Eleanor, Queen of Castile. Louis and his men had landed on the Isle of Thanet on 14 May 1216. The dauphin advanced through Kent and took Canterbury before moving onto Winchester. Louis was hailed as King of England in London in June of 1216. John seems to have been undecided as to how to act; he sent his oldest son Henry to safety at Devizes Castle in Wiltshire. Dover Castle, under the command of Hubert de Burgh, held out against the French and rebel forces, as did Windsor and Lincoln.

This was the state of the kingdom when King John died on the night of 18/19 October 1216; he was succeeded by his 9-year-old son, Henry, now King Henry III. Despite John’s death, his half-brother and uncle of the new king, William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, had remained with Louis and it was he who called for Hubert de Burgh to surrender Dover to the French. The justiciar refused.

John’s death turned the tide of the war, giving the English royalists the upper hand and allowing Hubert de Burgh and his fellow loyal barons, including William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, to take the initiative and begin the recovery of the kingdom. Hubert de Burgh had done rather well from the reign of King John; he had attained high office, a good marriage and the opportunity to play a major role in the next reign. The new reign offered a new start for everyone, though the struggle was far from over and Hubert de Burgh would rise to new heights.

Look out for Part 2, Hubert de Burgh and the Minority of Henry III, coming next week…

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia except the Warenne coat of arms which is ©Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Sources:

finerollshenry3.org.uk; Oxforddnb.com; magnacarta800th.com; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; Crouch, David, William Marshal; Matthew Paris, Robert de Reading and others, Flores Historiarum, volume III; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; 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; Rich Price King John’s Letters Facebook page;  Elizabeth Hallam, editor, The Plantagenet Chronicles;  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; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey and their Descendants to the Present Time; Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; doncasterhistory.co.uk.

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

A Thwarted Love Match and the Murder of Becket

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury

You may have hears of the murder of Thomas Becket, but did you known one of the four knights involved may have had a more personal motive for attacking the controversial archbishop of Canterbury than his colleagues? Richard Brito had been a knight in the household of Henry II’s youngest brother, William of Anjou, also known as William FitzEmpress. He was also William’s friend. William was the youngest son of Empress Matilda and her husband Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. Empress Matilda had been one of the rival claimants for the English throne during the Anarchy, fighting against her cousin, King Stephen.

King Stephen’s youngest son, William of Blois, had been married to the great heiress, Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey and Warenne in her own right. His death while returning from campaigning in Toulouse, left Isabel a wealthy young widow, and highly desirable marriage prize.

Though recently widowed, Isabel would have been well aware that she was expected to remarry, just as her mother had done. The fact she held the mighty earldom of Surrey would have made settling her future even more pressing; the earl of Warenne had contributed knights and men from his own lands to the armies of both King Stephen and Henry II. This was expected to continue, but Isabel could not be expected to lead men into battle. It is all the more surprising, therefore, that Isabel was allowed some respite in the marriage market and the prospect of a husband is not mentioned until 1162.

By this time Henry II’s youngest brother, William FitzEmpress, was seeking a dispensation to marry her. The dispensation was refused by Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, on the grounds of consanguinity. The
objection was not due to a blood relationship between Isabel and William, but between William and Isabel’s first husband, William of Blois, who were second cousins. It has often been suggested that this was a love-match rather than an arranged marriage. We will, of course, never know how Isabel felt but William died shortly afterwards, at Rouen on 30 January 1164, whilst visiting his mother, possibly seeking her assistance in the matter. Many of his friends claimed that he died of a broken heart after being disappointed in his desire to marry Isabel. He was 27.

Seal of Isabel de Warenne, Conisbrough Castle

The relationship between Henry II and Thomas Becket had been rocky ever since Becket became archbishop of Canterbury. Henry had thought that putting his friend in charge of the church in England would mean the two would be able to work together. However, once in the post, Becket had essentially abandoned Henry’s policies and sought to defend and extend the influence and rights of the church in England, while Henry sought to curb them. A clash was inevitable and came about when Henry sought to extend the jurisdiction of secular courts over English clergymen and to protect the traditional rights of royal government in regard to the church. In January 1164 Henry had issued the Constitutions of Clarendon. The sixteen constitutions were intended to curb clerical independence and weaken the connection of the English church with Rome. Becket consented to the Constitutions, but disputes continued throughout 1164. 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.

Among numerous other issues, Becket was called to account for his behaviour concerning land disputes between the church and crown, contempt of royal authority and malfeasance in the chancellor’s office. The bishops, earls and barons of the realm were all present, including Roger, archbishop of York, the most senior clergyman in England after the archbishop of Canterbury. Henry II’s brother, Hamelin, was at the trial and spoke in support of Henry. 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. 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 King Henry’s brother, William, to marry Isabel de Warenne; who was now Hamelin’s wife. Convicted of the charges against him, Becket stormed out and fled to exile in France, where he received protection from Louis VII.

There followed six years of negotiations, accusations and counter-accusations, before an accord was agreed and Becket was finally able to return to England and his see at Canterbury. Henry II wrote to his son Henry, the Young King, saying:

Henry king of England to his son Henry, king of England, greeting.

May you know that Thomas archbishop of Canterbury has made peace with me in accordance with my wishes. Therefore I order that he and his followers may have peace and that you see to it that he and his followers, who on his behalf left England, should have their possessions in peace and with honour, as they did three months before they left England. Summon before you some of the best and oldest knights of the honour of Saltwood and on their oath you should make an inquiry as to what of the fief of the archbishopric of Canterbury is there, and make sure that the archbishop gets what has been recognised as part of his fief. Witness Archbishop Rotrou of Rouen, at Chinon.

The Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam

After six years of exile, Thomas Becket arrived at Sandwich, on the Kent coast, on 1 December 1170. Shortly before arriving on England’s shores, however, in November 1170 Becket, rather than being conciliatory, had sent representatives ahead to pronounce the excommunication of those clerics (the archbishop of York and the bishops of London and Salisbury) who had been involved in the coronation of Henry II’s son and heir, Henry the Young King, in June 1170. He then proceeded to impose his discipline on his monks, refusing to ordain all but one of those who had been admitted during his six-year absence.

On hearing of the excommunications, during his Christmas court in Normandy, Henry is said to have pronounced the fateful words:

‘What miserable drones and traitors have I nurtured and promoted in my household who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born clerk!’ 

Franck Barlow, Oxforddnb.com
Contemporary illustration of the murder of Thomas Becket

Four knights heeded Henry’s words and left Normandy to confront the archbishop. One of William FitzEmpress’s former knights, Richard Brito, was among the quartet who murdered Thomas Becket on 29 December 1170. The knights had travelled from Normandy to demand that the archbishop restore the English bishops who had been suspended from their offices, and to absolve those under sentence of excommunication. Becket refused, saying that it was not

‘for a lesser judge to dissolve the sentence of a superior, and that it was not for any man to undermine what had been decreed by the apostolic see.’

The Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam

According to William FitzStephen the knights attempted to arrest the archbishop and a struggle ensued after he refused to go with them. The archbishop’s companion, Master Edward Grim, stepped into the path of the first stroke meant for Becket. The archbishop then gave thanks to God, saying

‘Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.’ As he knelt down, clasping and stretching out his hands to God, a second stroke was dealt him on the head, at which he fell flat on his face hard by an altar there dedicated to St Benedict … On the right hand he fell, as one proceeding to the right hand of God. While he lay there stricken, Richard Brito smote him with such force that the sword was broken against his head, and the pavement of the church: ‘Take that,’ said he, ‘for the love of my lord William, the king’s brother.’

The Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam

Beyond this extreme reaction by William’s knight, Richard Brito, there is little evidence that the proposed marriage between William and Isabel was a true love match, and we have no indication of Isabel’s thoughts on the matter. Even without the love angle, for William, marrying Isabel would have been an attractive prospect and would have given him position and power in England, not only as the king’s brother but also as one of the foremost magnates in England and Normandy.

The Warenne coat of arms

For King Henry, the proposed marriage would have been a very practical match. It would have been the perfect solution to the dilemma of what to do with Isabel and the vast Warenne holdings in England and Normandy; to bring them into the royal family and to have them held by the king’s own brother. Henry II was not to be so easily thwarted, however, and indeed did not object to Thomas Becket’s ruling against the marriage of William FitzEmpress and Isabel de Warenne. He came up with a solution that would achieve the same end, while satisfying the restrictions of the church: his brother Hamelin.

In the aftermath of the murder, Richard Brito and his three accomplices

plundered the property of the archbishop, the clothes of the clergy and servants, and even the utensils from the workshop. They swiftly made off with all the which they found in his stables, as spoils.

The Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam

Brito and the three other knights, Riginald Fitzurse, Sir William Traci and Hugh de Morville fled to Scotland and then to Knaresborough Castle in Yorkshire. All four were excommunicated by Pope Alexander III at Easter 1171. They were each ordered to make a 14-year pilgrimage to the Holy Land in penitence. Brito, also known as Richard le Breton, is said to have eventually retired to the island of Jersey, but nothing more is known of his eventual fate.

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was canonised on Ash Wednesday, 21 February 1173.

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia except seal of Isabel de Warenne which is ©Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Sources:

Robert Batlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; Elizabeth Hallam, editor, The Plantagenet Chronicles; 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; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey and their Descendants to the Present Time; 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; Oxforddnb.com.

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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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.

Book Corner: His Castilian Hawk by Anna Belfrage

For bastard-born Robert FitzStephan, being given Eleanor d’Outremer in marriage is an honour. For Eleanor, this forced wedding is anything but a fairy tale.

Robert FitzStephan has served Edward Longshanks loyally since the age of twelve. Now he is riding with his king to once and for all bring Wales under English control.

Eleanor d’Outremer—Noor to family—lost her Castilian mother as a child and is left entirely alone when her father and brother are killed. When ordered to wed the unknown Robert FitzStephan, she has no choice but to comply.

Two strangers in a marriage bed is not easy. Things are further complicated by Noor’s blood-ties to the Welsh princes and by covetous Edith who has warmed Robert’s bed for years.

Robert’s new wife may be young and innocent, but he is soon to discover that not only is she spirited and proud, she is also brave. Because when Wales lies gasping and Edward I exacts terrible justice on the last prince and his children, Noor is determined to save at least one member of the House of Aberffraw from the English king.

Will years of ingrained service have Robert standing with his king or will he follow his heart and protect his wife, his beautiful and fierce Castilian hawk?

His Castilian Hawk is the first book in what promises to be a very exciting new series, The Castilian Saga, from Anna Belfrage. Set in the time of Edward I and the conquest of Wales, it follows the exploits of an experienced knight, Robert FitzStephan and his young bride, Eleanor of Outremer. With the marriage off to a shaky start, Robert and Eleanor take a little while to warm to each other, their relationship complicated by Robert’s rather possessive former lover. The love triangle makes for a rather entertaining and engaging story, with many twists and turns.

Set in the time of Edward I’s conquest of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is one of those books that grabs your attention from the first page. Ann Belfrage is a rather accomplished student of people and puts her knowledge to good use in recreating the personalities of not only her fictional characters, Eleanor and Robert, but also of her historical characters, such as King Edward I and Queen Eleanor of Castile.

Anna Belfrage has quickly become one of my favourite authors and with His Castilian Hawk it is not difficult to see why. The flowing narrative and engaging storyline means this is one book that is impossible to put down. Who needs sleep when you are desperate to know what happens next? His Castilian Hawk is a wonderfully diverting novel for these long winter nights!

Over the bridge, through the gate – a strong, sturdy gatehouse, Robert concluded, the heavy doors set on huge hinges affixed to the stonework – and they were in the bailey. At the top of the stairs leading to the hall stood a group of women, all but one in veil and wimple. The youngest was standing a few feet in front of the others, one hand resting on the head of a magnificent hound. A huge beast, it looked like a cross between one of King Edward’s precious greyhounds and a wolf, its brindled coat shifting from the lightest of greys to a sooty black. No wimple, but her hair was not to be seen, a veil covering all but the tip of a heavy braid and a few tendrils that had come undone. Dark hair.

She walked slowly down the stairs, the hound at her side. From the hall erupted a sturdy tonsured man, his robes flapping round his legs as he hurried after her.

“My lady,” Robert said once she’d come to a halt before him.

“My lord.” She bowed her head in greeting. No one had called him a lord before. It almost made him grin. Lord Robert of Orton, master of all he presently surveyed, including the young woman in front of him. What would his dear sire have to say about that, he wondered, teeth grinding together for an instant.

Robert shook himself free of dark thoughts and dismounted. “I come – “

“I know why you come,” she interrupted. “Our liege has sent me a messenger.” Her voice shook. “He has ordered me to wed you at the soonest – for my own safety.” She looked at the cart, and for an instant her eyes glittered. Her lashes swept down, and he heard her mutter, “Unus, duo, tres,” counting all the way to ten before she opened her eyes again. “Is that…” She cleared her throat. “Are they…”

“Yes, my lady.” John bowed. “We are sorry to bring you such gruesome tidings.”

She nodded, no more. “No mother, now no father, no brother.” She gave a little laugh, a sad sound that caused Robert’s innards to twist. “The king is right: I am without protection, without family.”

“Come, come,” the priest said. “the king has seen to that, my lady.” He gave Robert an ingratiating smile. “Behold your new protector, your husband.”

Anna Belfrage’s love of history and storytelling combines to create a wonderful book, infused with the medieval atmosphere and believable personalities. Her historical research is impeccable and goes to recreate the world of thirteenth century England and Wales; the court, the fighting and the power struggle that saw Edward become master of Wales.

Eleanor d’Outremer, Noor, is a wonderful, spirited heroine. She turns from a young girl into a woman before our eyes, negotiating her way through a world entirely unfamiliar. Discovering love, duty and family secrets along the way, she is a most sympathetic and relatable character. I like her! Robert FitzStephan, on the other hand, gets off to a bad start, with his wife and the reader alike, as his decisions and actions leave a lot to be desired. However, in the end his love and loyalty get the better of his initial insensitivity and he becomes a hero you can admire. Together, they make a remarkable couple.

Anna Belfrage has the ability to bring all your emotions to the fore in His Castilian Hawk – you will be laughing, crying and gritting your teeth as our hero and heroine negotiate their way through married like and Edward’s court. It is a gripping read!

His Castilian Hawk is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon UK.

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About the Author:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely 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.

Her most recent release, A Torch in His Heart, is a step out of her comfort zone. Having previously published historical fiction & historical romance, with this first book about Jason and Helle Anna offers a dark and titillating contemporary romance, complete with a time-slip angle and hot & steamy scenes.

Her first series, The Graham Saga, is set in 17th century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland. It tells the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him. With this heady blend of time-travel, romance, adventure, high drama and historical accuracy, Anna hopes to entertain and captivate, and is more than thrilled when readers tell her just how much they love her books and her characters. There are nine books in the series so far, but Anna is considering adding one or two more…

Her second series is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The King’s Greatest Enemy is a series where passion and drama play out against a complex political situation, where today’s traitor may be tomorrow’s hero, and the Wheel of Fortune never stops rolling.

If you want to know more about Anna, why not visit her website, https://www.annabelfrage.com

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Guest Post: The Women of the House of Montfort by Darren Baker

It is a pleasure to welcome historian Darren Baker to History … the Interesting Bits today, with a guest article about the women of the family of Simon de Montfort. Darren is the author of The Two Eleanors, a book telling the dual biography of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, and Eleanor of England, wife of Simon de Montfort. Darren’s latest book, Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort, was released in November from Pen & Sword and is a stunning biography of the the Montfort family.

So, over to Darren …

The Women of the House of Montfort

Darren Baker

King Philip I of France leaving his wife for Bertrade de Montfort

The house of Montfort arose some 50 kilometres west of Paris in a place known today as Montfort l’Amaury. Their family name ‘de Montfort’ is usually associated with two Simons, father and son, the relentless Albigensian crusader and the determined English revolutionary, both men of the 13th century. Other family members went further afield and established lordships in Italy and the crusader states.

Less known is the prominence of the de Montfort women. Their influence reaches back to the 11th century, starting with Isabella. Her father, Simon I, gave her in marriage to Ralph de Tosny, who in turn forced his sister Agnes to marry this first Simon. When Isabella fell out with her father’s children with Agnes, she put on armour and led a body knights in the field against her half-brothers.

Isabella’s half-sister Bertrade was married to Fulk IV of Anjou. She grew tired of his lecherous ways and took as her next husband the king of France, Philip I, who deserted his wife to marry her. Hoping to see her son with Philip succeed to the throne over her stepson Louis (VI), Bertrade had the older youth poisoned, but the attempt failed and brought about her disgrace. She died in a nunnery in 1117, not living to see her son from her first marriage, Fulk V of Anjou, become king of Jerusalem.

Two generations later, Simon III stood loyally by the English in their fight with the French. He was rewarded with marriages for his three children into the Anglo-Norman nobility. His oldest son Amaury V married Mabel, daughter of the earl of Gloucester, the next son Simon IV married Amicia, daughter of the earl of Leicester, and daughter Bertrade II married Hugh, the earl of Chester. This Bertrade was the mother of the legendary Ranulf de Blondeville, arguably the last of the great Anglo-Norman barons.

The senior branch of the house of Montfort died out in 1213, but Amicia’s son Simon V (the crusader), who was already the count of Montfort, inherited the earldom of Leicester. It was confiscated by King John in 1207 and ended up in the custody of Ranulf. It was from Ranulf that Simon VI acquired Leicester in 1231 and became an English noble, but that’s getting ahead of the story.

Eleanor de Montfort and children

Simon V’s wife was Alice de Montmorency. She was very much an active crusader against the Albigensians and often participated in her husband’s war councils. Their daughter Petronilla was born during the crusade and baptised by Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Dominican order. After Simon’s death in 1218, Alice placed Petronilla in a nunnery, where she became the abbess later in life. Alice’s oldest daughter Amicia founded the nunnery of Montargis, south of Paris, and died there in 1252.

In England, Alice’s son Simon VI rose high in royal favour and married Eleanor, the youngest sister of King Henry III and widow of William Marshal II. Together she and Simon had five sons and one daughter. The clash between Eleanor’s husband and brother ended in civil war and Simon’s death in 1265 at the battle of Evesham. Eleanor left England to live out the rest of her life in Montargis and took her namesake daughter with her.

Guy de Montfort was the only one of Eleanor’s sons to marry. He found service under Charles of Anjou, the king of Sicily, and rapidly advanced to become the count of Nola. He received a Tuscan heiress as his bride, but he scandalised the family in 1271 by vengefully murdering his cousin. Guy escaped punishment for the most part and had two daughters, of whom only the youngest Anastasia survived to adulthood. She became the countess of Nola at her father’s death in 1292 and married into the Orsini family of Rome.

Eleanor de Montfort died in 1275, living long enough to see her daughter marry Llywelyn of Wales by proxy. Later that year, the boat carrying young Eleanor and her brother Amaury VIII was captured by the forces of their cousin King Edward I, who had been alerted to their intentions. Eleanor was confined at Windsor Castle and not freed to marry Llywelyn until 1278.

She died four years later giving birth to a daughter Gwenllian. When Llywelyn was then killed, the baby girl was placed in a nunnery in Lincolnshire. By the time of her death in 1337, the de Montfort family, once so admired and respected across Europe and the Mediterranean, seemed long extinct. But their fortunes were about to be revived.

Joan of Navarre, Queen of England

This part of the story goes back to Simon V and Alice’s oldest son Amaury VII, who succeeded his father as the count of Montfort. He was followed by his son John, whose wife was pregnant when he left on crusade and died overseas. The daughter born to her, Beatrice, became the countess of Montfort when she came of age. She married Robert of Dreux and had a daughter Yolande, who became the second wife of King Alexander III of Scotland in 1285 in the hope of producing an heir to that throne.

It didn’t happen, and after Alexander died, Yolande married Arthur II of Brittany. Their son John succeeded her as the count of Montfort, and when his half-brother the duke of Brittany died in 1341 without an heir, John put in a claim for the duchy. It turned into a war of succession, which was won by his son, another John of Montfort, in 1365, a hundred years after Evesham.

In 1386, this John of Montfort took as his third wife the famous Joan of Navarre. She was the mother of his children and after his death became the queen of England with her marriage to King Henry IV. It was through her and Yolande that the Montfort family line returned to England.

About the Author:

Darren Baker was born in California, raised in South Carolina, and came to Europe in 1990, settling permanently in the Czech Republic. A former submariner in the US Pacific fleet, he later studied languages at the University of Connecticut and works as a translator. A trip to the UK inspired him to revisit the events of 13th century England, which he does on his website simon2014.com and in his books. His newly released Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort is his fourth on the subject.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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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

Book Corner: Reading Round up 2

As I said the other day, I am well behind on the list of book reviews I still have to write up, so the second article to include mini-reviews of several books that I have read and enjoyed over the last few months, to clear the backlog and give you some fabulous ideas if you’re looking for that next read (or a last minute Christmas pressie).

Four Queens and a Countess by Jill Armitage

When Mary Stuart was forced off the Scottish throne she fled to England, a move that made her cousin Queen Elizabeth very uneasy. Elizabeth had continued the religious changes made by her father and England was a Protestant country, yet ardent Catholics plotted to depose Elizabeth and put Mary Stuart on the English throne. So what was Queen Elizabeth going to do with a kingdomless queen likely to take hers? She had her placed under house arrest with her old friend Bess of Hardwick, then married to her fourth husband, the wealthy and influential Earl of Shrewsbury. The charismatic Scotswoman was treated more like a dowager queen than a prisoner and enjoyed the Shrewsbury’s affluent lifestyle until Bess suspected Mary of seducing her husband. But for sixteen years, with the never-ending threat of a Catholic uprising, Bess was forced to accommodate Mary and her entourage at enormous cost to both her finances and her marriage. Bess had also known the doomed Jane Grey and Mary Tudor, Queen of France. She had been in service in the Grey household and companion to the infant Jane. Mary Tudor had been godmother to Bess’s fifth child. Four Queens and a Countess delves deep into the relationships of these women with their insurmountable differences, the way they tried to accommodate them and the lasting legacy this has left. The clash of personalities and its deadly political background have never been examined in detail before.

Jill Armitage looks at the second half of the Tudor period through the lives of the four queens that shaped it and one remarkable countess. The flowing narrative tells the stories of Lady Jane Grey – the queen for 9 days – Mary I, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots alongside that of Bess of Hardwick, jailer of the Scottish queen. Four Queens and a Countess is a wonderful study of these remarkable women; women who, between them, influenced the direction of England for generations to come.

Jill Armitage investigates their various characters, relationships and disagreements, and explains how their relationships with each other affected the nations as a whole, and each other on an individual basis. Four Queens and a Countess is a thoroughly enjoyable and absorbing read, providing new insight and a refreshing change of focus on the Tudor era.

I highly recommend it!

Katherine Parr: Oppportunist, Queen, Reformer by Don Matzat

Don Matzat here provides a new perspective on the life of Katherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of the infamous Henry VIII. While most biographers suggest that Katherine chose to marry the obese, irascible monarch in order to further some reformation or obey a divine imperative, the author goes against the tide and concludes that Katherine was an opportunist who married the king in order to enjoy the comforts of being the Queen of England, proven by her sumptuous lifestyle. But everything changed for Katherine when she had a dramatic conversion experience, embracing the primary tenets of the Protestant Reformation as described in her seminal work, The Lamentation of a Sinner. Her newly found belief placed her in a precarious position, not only with her husband but with the heresy hunters who, with the king’s blessing, beheaded those who held such beliefs. Yet Katherine had the courage to discuss her faith with her dangerous husband during the final months of his life. The life of Katherine Parr was one of drama, intrigue, danger, deceit, clandestine romance, scandal, tragedy and mystery. She came to a tragic end, and for three hundred years her burial site remained unknown. Katherine ruled England while Henry went to war against France. She was the first woman published in England under her own name. Her Lamentation of a Sinner is a little-known gem of the Protestant Reformation. Her influence upon the children of Henry, the future monarchs Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, would affect English history for many years to come.

I think, out of all Henry VIII’s queens, Katherine Parr’s story fascinates me the most. And its not just because she lived at Gainsborough Old Hall – one of my favourite haunts – for a time. Henry VIII was Katherine’s third husband – and she was his sixth wife. But Katherine Parr was so much more than Henry VIII’s wife. She was an intelligent woman and a proponent of the new Protestant faith – indeed, she almost met the fate of her predecessors, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, when Henry suspected her of heresy.

Author Don Matzat looks at Katherine’s life and her religious outlook using The Lamentations of a Sinner, written by Katherine herself, to give him an insight into Katherine the woman and Katherine the queen.

In Katherine Parr: Opportunist, Queen, Reformer Don Matzat uses Katherine Parr’s own writings and letters to paint a vivid picture of this remarkable queen. Beautifully written, engaging and thoroughly researched, this book is a wonderful addition to any Tudor library.

The Bastard’s Sons by Jeffrey James

“William the Conqueror’s intellect is said to have remained clear right up to his death. He would have questioned whether any of his three sons individually had the ability to rule the troublesome amalgam of England, Normandy and Maine once he was gone. The Bastard’s Sons is the story of those three men: Robert, William and Henry of Normandy.

Of Robert, the dying king is said to have claimed he was ‘a proud and silly prodigal’, adding that ‘the country which is subject to his dominion will be truly wretched’. Yet Robert became a great crusader. William got on better with his namesake, known to us as William Rufus for his florid looks. He was, like his father, of kingship material, and might have gained the throne of England on his father’s nod, but, equally plausibly, orchestrated a coup. The youngest of the Bastard’s sons, Henry, inherited money from his father, but not land. To placate Henry, the Conqueror is alleged to have told him that one day he would gain both England and Normandy.

The stage was set for an epic power struggle between the three men and their barons, who held lands on both sides of the Channel and were thus caught in a difficult position. A mysterious death in the forest, a crusading hero’s return and the tenacity of an overlooked third son would all combine to see this issue settled once and for all.”

The Bastard’s Sons: Robert, William and Henry of Normandy by Jeffrey James is a wonderful book telling the story of the post-Conquest years through the power struggles of William the Conqueror’s three surviving sons. In a wonderful, engaging narrative, Jeffrey James provides a unique insight into these three, very different brothers.

By looking at their relationships with each other, at the nobles who surrounded and supported them, and at the events of the latter part of the eleventh century and beginning of the twelfth, Jeffrey James shows us how these three brothers influenced each other’s lives, and the lives of those around them; as well as the politics of England and Normandy and of Europe in general.

The Bastard’s Sons: Robert, William and Henry of Normandy is an absorbing read, offering a new perspective on the post Conquest years and demonstrating the far reaching influences of all three of William the Conqueror’s surviving sons. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the post Conquest years of England and Normandy, and in the establishment of the Norman dynasty.

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Sara Cockerill

“In the competition for remarkable queens, Eleanor of Aquitaine tends to win. In fact her story sometimes seems so extreme it ought to be made up.

The headlines: orphaned as a child, Duchess in her own right, Queen of France, crusader, survivor of a terrible battle, kidnapped by her own husband, captured by pirates, divorced for barrenness, Countess of Anjou, Queen of England, mother of at least five sons and three daughters, supporter of her sons’ rebellion against her own husband, his prisoner for fifteen years, ruler of England in her own right, traveller across the Pyrenees and Alps in winter in her late sixties and seventies, and mentor to the most remarkable queen medieval France was to know (her own granddaughter, obviously).

It might be thought that this material would need no embroidery. But the reality is that Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life has been subjected to successive reinventions over the years, with the facts usually losing the battle with speculation and wishful thinking.

In this biography Sara Cockerill has gone back to the primary sources, and the wealth of recent first-rate scholarship, and assessed which of the claims about Eleanor can be sustained on the evidence. The result is a complete re-evaluation of this remarkable woman’s even more remarkable life. A number of oft-repeated myths are debunked and a fresh vision of Eleanor emerges. In addition the book includes the fruits of her own research, breaking new ground on Eleanor’s relationship with the Church, her artistic patronage and her relationships with all of her children, including her family by her first marriage.”

Sara Cockerill’s Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France and England, Mother of Empires was one of the most anticipated history books of 2019 and it did not disappoint. Dispelling many of the rumours and stories that float around whenever Eleanor of Aquitaine is mentioned, Sara Cockerill looks for the real woman behind the legend.

Mainly using primary sources, Sara Cockerill re-examines every aspect of Eleanor’s life. The research is impeccable and Sara Cockerill’s arguments and analysis are well reasoned and compelling. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France and England, Mother of Empires is essential reading for anyone interested in the era in general and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s story in particular.

This is one of those books that should sit in all medieval history lovers’ libraries, to be read and devoured.

The Anarchy by Teresa Cole

When the mighty Henry I died in December 1135, leaving no legitimate son, who was to replace him on the throne of England? Would it be Stephen, nephew to the king and showered with favours that maybe gave him ideas above his station? Or could it be a woman, Henry’s own choice, his daughter Matilda, who had been sent away when eight years old to marry the Holy Roman Emperor, widowed, then forced into a hated second marriage for political reasons? Stephen was the first to act, seizing the throne that had been promised to Matilda, but he would find taking a crown far easier than keeping it. The resulting struggle became known as ‘the Anarchy,’ a time when fortune changed sides as frequently and dramatically as in any page-turning thriller, and with a cast of characters to match – some passionately supporting Stephen or Matilda, others simply out to grab what they could from the chaos. These supporting players are not overlooked here: Henry of Blois, brother of Stephen, Bishop of Winchester, and largely orchestrator of the church’s response to the conflict; Robert of Gloucester, illegitimate son of Henry I and chief supporter of his half-sister; and Geoffrey of Anjou, husband of Matilda, determined to secure Normandy (traditional enemy of Anjou) for himself. Covering all the twists and turns of this war between cousins, as first one side then the other seemed within touching distance of total victory, The Anarchy blends contemporary, sometimes eyewitness accounts with modern analysis to describe a period of England’s history so dark and lawless that those who lived through it declared that ‘Christ and his saints slept.’

When I told Amberley I wanted to do a book about the Anarchy, they were reluctant, saying that Teresa Cole had a book coming out about the Anarchy, and they were worried the books would be too similar. So I promised to concentrate on the Women of the Anarchy (my book’s working title), but was – from that moment – curious to read Teresa Cole’s take on the events. Luckily I got the chance.

The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England is an intelligent, engaging study of the 19 years of English history during which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle bemoaned that ‘Christ and his Saints slept’. Told in a chronological narrative, Teresa Cole examines every aspect of the period; the personalities involved and the extent of devastation and destruction caused by the conflict – both in England and Normandy.

Using eyewitness accounts and contemporary chronicles, Teresa Cole examines the motives behind the two protagonists, King Stephen and Empress Matilda, looking at their reasons for wanting the throne – and for wanting to keep it. The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England also provides insight into the leading supporters on both sides of the conflict and demonstrates that though war was waged over a 19 year period, the main battles were fought in the early years and by 1147 the nobles were getting so tired of war they were looking to make mutual protection treaties between themselves, or go on crusade, rather than continue a war that had been fought to a stalemate.

The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England is an interesting, enjoyable read offering new insight and perspective on an often overlooked period of English history, the only time that a woman led a faction to war on English soil.

All these books are available from Amberley Publishing.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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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