Book Corner: Cecily by Annie Garthwaite

‘Rebellion?’
The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips.
She chooses to start a fire.

You are born high, but marry a traitor’s son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.

You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.

You are Cecily.

But when the king who governs you proves unfit, what then?

Loyalty or treason – death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.

Told through the eyes of its greatest unknown protagonist, this astonishing debut plunges you into the closed bedchambers and bloody battlefields of the first days of the Wars of the Roses, a war as women fight it.

What a fabulous debut novel!

I had already been hearing good things about Annie Garthwaite’s book, Cecily, when I was offered a review copy from NetGalley. So, of course, I jumped at the chance to read it. A book about one of the strongest and most influential women of the 15th century was bound to interest me. I have forever been fascinated with the Wars of the Roses, after all, and written a number of articles about members of the House of York. I’ve also researched and written about Cecily’s amazing mother, Joan Beaufort, and impressive grandmother, Katherine Swynford. So, I was interested to read Annie Garthwaite’s take on this incredible woman.

And I was not disappointed,. It is hard to believe that Cecily is a debut novel. Beautifully written and composed, it transports the reader back the turmoil of fifteenth century England and shows us the Wars of the Roses through the eyes of Cecily and her husband, Richard, Duke of York. Though historical fiction, it has a sense of reality that is not always present in novels.

Cecily takes no wine in Lent but, when its privations are over, she had chance to share her uncle’s gift with unlooked-for visitors. Bedford’s widow comes to Fotheringhay. Not the gentle duchess Anne she’d come to care for in France, but pretty young Jacquetta, who took that lady’s place after plague demanded she vacate it.

In truth, of course, she’d met Jacquetta too, that time in Paris.

It was the morning after Henry’s crowning and she and Richard had been staying in the Bedfords’ household. Their new good fortune had made them more hungry for excitement than sleep, so they stole out in the cold dawn light, planning to take horses and race each other over the frost hard fields beyond the city. They were laughing as they came, thinking themselves alone, until they turned a corner into the mews and saw Jacquetta, daughter of Bedford’s ally the Count of St Pol, leaning down from a fine grey mare and kissing John of Bedford hard on the mouth.

They brazened it out. Jacquetta smiled boldly, gave brief farewells and was gone. Bedford, dismissive, bade them take whichever of his horses they fancied and enjoy their morning. Richard thanked him warmly but couldn’t look him in the eye.

Cecily could.

‘I believe it was Jacquetta’s uncle who captured the peasant Joan when the English could not and sold her to you for ten thousand livres,’ she said, pulling on her gloves. ‘I suppose that, for such service, you owe her much.’

Enough fr him to marry her, it seems. Duchess Anne died the winter after Cecily returned from France. By spring the Duke of Bedford had dried his tears in Jacquetta’s lap and taken her to wife. Cecily had grieved for it but, in truth, who could blame him? Jacquetta was sixteen, untouched by grief and, likely, fertile. He was forty years old and lonely; the king’s her and childless. After the wedding he’d brought his new wife briefly to England and had grace enough to look shamefaced when he’d asked Cecily to be a friend to her. ‘She knows no one here, you see. And I must be busy, so…’

He’d come to make pleas to the council for more money and more men. They begrudged giving either to a man who kept losing. Even then, he’d looked ill; whip thin and hollow. She’d told him so.

‘I’m just tired, Cecily,’ he’d shrugged. ‘This endless war.’

So, out of pity, and because, in truth, he’d been a maker of her fortune, she’d taken Jacquetta into her company, tolerated her French gossip; her vanity and foolishness.

Cecily is a marvellous, sweeping story, that follows the fortunes of the house of York, through the eyes of its duchess, from the last years of the Hundred Years War, through the turbulent ups and downs of the Wars of the Roses, to the triumphal coronation of Edward IV. Meticulously researched, it strikes the perfect balance between portraying national and international events, and the family life of Cecily and her husband, Richard. Ambition, love and loss, victory and defeat all play a powerful part in the narrative.

The storyline is fast-paced, the political and physical landscape of fifteenth century England providing a wonderful backdrop to the dramatic events of the era. Annie Garthwaite tries to get in the heads of her characters, depicting the Yorks not just as whit knights in shining armour, but as genuine, real people, with their own foibles and ambitions. I do love the depth of the characters. Cecily herself is not perfect, and is the product of her experiences – Annie Garthwaite has really considered how Cecily’s personality would be affected by her experiences and by the characters around her, both friends and enemies alike. The complexities of the family relationships involved in the Wars of the Roses can sometimes get confusing, but the author has managed to navigate her way through the complex relationships to craft a story that is, at once, enjoyable and intriguing.

I can heartily recommend Cecily by Annie Garthwaite to anyone with a passion for historical fiction, and for the Wars of the Roses period, in particular. The book does not disappoint!

About the author:

Annie Garthwaite grew up in a working-class community in the north-east of England. She studied English at the University of Wales before embarking on a thirty-year international business career. In 2017 she returned to her first love, books, and set out to write the story of a woman she had always felt drawn to: Cecily Neville. This became her debut novel, Cecily.

Cecily is available from Amazon

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My Books

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.

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US 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

Introducing the Earls of Warenne and Surrey

William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Warenne and Surrey, Trinity Church, Southover

The Warenne earls of Surrey were a fascinating family, right at the heart of English history and politics for almost 300 years, from the time of the Norman Conquest to the reign of Edward III. They held lands throughout England, acted as justiciars, sheriffs and generals – and yet, few people know their story.

But who were they?

William I de Warenne was rewarded for his support of King William II in the 1088 rebellion with the earldom of Surrey. However, the earls thereafter were as often referred to as the earls of Warenne – or the familial Earl Warenne, rather than earls of Surrey. The earldoms of Sussex and Strathearn (Scotland) were later added to these titles. As they appear to have preferred the simple familial title of Earl Warenne, that is how I have chosen to refer to them, except when establishing their titles. The Warenne’s extensive lands were spread over 13 counties and spanned the country from Lewes on the south coast to their castles of Conisbrough and Sandal in Yorkshire, with their family powerbase in East Anglia, where they built a magnificent priory, castle and medieval village at Castle Acre.

Wakefield, including Sandal Castle, appears to have come into the hands of the Warenne family at some point before 1121, during the tenure of the 2nd Earl Warenne. It is possible that they were acquired possibly in an exchange of lands with William Meschin, who had taken control of the Warenne holdings of Kimbolton in Huntingdonshire and Dean in Bedfordshire some time before 1130.

The family mausoleum was at St Pancras Priory in Lewes, founded by the first earl and his wife, Gundrada. It is the burial place of all but two subsequent earls and numerous other family members, as well as several earls of Arundel and their countesses.

For almost 300 years the Warenne earls of Surrey were some of the most influential men in the country, but the family died out rather ingloriously, with the seventh – and last – earl’s marital difficulties. Despite a prestigious marriage to a granddaughter of the king of England, John de Warenne, 7th Earl Warenne, died with no legitimate son to succeed him, though he had numerous acknowledged illegitimate children to whom he had given the family name.

Gundrada de Warenne, wife of the 1st earl

The first Warenne earl, William de Warenne, Earl of Warenne and Surrey, came to England with William the Conqueror’s invasion force and fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. As a younger son, he had little hope of an inheritance and had acquired his fortune and reputation fighting for the duke of Normandy, making his name as a young man at the 1054 Battle of Mortemer.

The Warennes were at the heart of English history and politics from the time of the Conquest to the death of John de Warenne, the 7th and last earl in 1347

So who were the Warenne earls?

Briefly,

William de Warenne was a distant cousin of William the Conqueror and fought at the Battle of Hastings. William was a trusted advisor and companion of King William I and was appointed justiciar in England during the king’s absences in Normandy. He pursued a personal feud against English freedom fighter, Hereward the Wake, after Hereward murdered his brother-in-law, Frederic. William was created Earl of Surrey by King William II, just weeks before his death in 1088, having been fatally wounded at the siege of Pevensey. William and his wife, Gundrada, founded the first Cluniac priory in England, St Pancras, at Lewes in Sussex. It would become the family mausoleum. William and Gundrada’s coffins were found in the 19th century, when the railway line was being laid, and are now interred in the Gundrada Chapel of Trinity Church, Southover.

The Warenne coat of arms, adopted by William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Warenne and Surrey

He was succeeded by his oldest son, William II de Warenne (it was a popular name) who was earl for 50 years. This William had an awkward relationship with Henry I – William was thwarted in love by Henry when they both set their sights on the same woman, Matilda of Scotland. William supported Robert Curthose’s claim for the throne against Henry, but was persuaded to abandon the duke of Normandy in favour of the king of England after the former’s failed attempt to invade England led to Earl Warenne’s lands being confiscated by King Henry. From that moment on Earl Warenne was loyal to Henry and gave a rousing speech in favour of King Henry before the 1119 Battle of Bremule. He married Isabel de Vermandois, granddaughter of King Henry I of France and widow of Robert, Earl of Gloucester. The relationship caused some scandal as one chronicler suggests Isabel and William ran away together, before Isabel’s first husband was dead. William’s royal ambitions would be realised when his daughter, Ada de Warenne, married Prince Henry of Scotland in 1139; William’s grandsons, Malcolm IV and William the Lion, both succeeded to the Scottish throne.

The 3rd earl fought on the wrong side (in my opinion) during the Anarchy; he supported King Stephen. Also named William, he and his forces were ignominiously routed at the 1141 Battle of Lincoln, leaving King Stephen to be captured by Earl Robert of Gloucester. Earl Warenne redeemed himself by capturing the same Earl Robert during the Rout of Winchester in the summer of 1141, thus facilitating and exchange of commanders that saw King Stephen’s release from imprisonment at Bristol Castle. Perhaps growing tired of the constant civil war, in 1147 the earl left on the Second Crusade with his half-brother, Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, led by the brothers’ second cousin, Louis VII, and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Earl William was killed at the age of 28 at the Battle of Mount Cadmus in January 1148, leaving the earldom to his young daughter, Isabel.

Seal of Isabel de Warenne, 4th Countess of Warenne and Surrey in her own right

The 4th earl. Now this is where the subsequent numbering of earls gets confusing. There were two 4th earls, though some history books count them as the 4th and 5th earls. The earldom actually belonged to Isabel. Isabel de Warenne was 4th Countess of Warenne and Surrey in her own right. Her first husband, William of Blois (the first 4th earl), was the youngest son of King Stephen and her second husband, Hamelin Plantagenet (the second 4th earl), was the illegitimate half-brother of King Henry II; a thoroughly modern Hamelin changed his name from Plantagenet to de Warenne on marrying Isabel. The first marriage produced no children, which was a stroke of luck for Henry II, as William of Blois could have founded a dynasty to rival the mighty Plantagenets. The second marriage proved more fruitful, with three daughters and a son. Hamelin was a loyal supporter of his brother, Henry II, and nephews, Richard I and King John – despite the fact John seduced one of Hamelin’s daughters, fathering an illegitimate child with her. Hamelin also built the magnificent keep at Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire.

Their son, William de Warenne, the 5th Earl, was first cousin to both King Richard I and King John. He probably grew up in Normandy, and served with King Richard in France in the 1190s. William played an active role in English politics, negotiating with the rebels on John’s behalf in Spring 1215, attempting to avert civil war. He was a signatory of the Magna Carta in 1215 and again on its reissue in 1225; he was one of the few surviving earls to have witnessed both issues of the charter. He did side with the rebel barons and their French allies, for a time, but returned to the fold following King John’s death in October 1216. He then helped to negotiate the peace, in September 1217, which saw the French Prince Louis give up his claim to England and return home. He married Matilda Marshal, daughter of the great William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and regent of England for the first few years of Henry III’s reign. The couple had two children; their daughter, Isabel d’Aubigny, Countess of Arundel, became famous for berating King Henry III over the appropriation of a wardship that was rightfully hers.

Seal of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Warenne and Surrey

John de Warenne, the 6th earl, was the longest serving earl of them all, holding the title for 64 years. His father died when he was 8 years old. Henry III became his brother-in-law when he married the king’s half-sister, Alice de Lusignan, daughter of Queen Isabella of Angouleme and her second husband, Hugh X de Lusignan. The marriage was a happy one and the couple truly loved each other; following Alice’s death in childbirth, John did not take another wife. John de Warenne fought in the Second Barons’ War and was a close associate of the future king, Edward I. He was at the Battle of Lewes in 1264, fighting for King Henry III against Simon de Montfort, but escaped to the continent when the battle was lost. John was probably at Evesham for the defeat and death of Simon de Montfort, though his presence is not recorded; he was certainly with Henry III’s son, Edward, in the days before the battle. His daughter, Isabella, was married to John Balliol, King of Scots, and the mother of Edward Balliol, who pursued his own claim to the Scottish throne in the 1330s. John was guardian of Scotland for a time and lost the Battle of Stirling to William Wallace in 1298. John de Warenne was a brutal man with a sense of humour; he once claimed the rights to all the rabbit warrens in Surrey – because it was his name! His son, William de Warenne, had died during a tournament in 1286, so when John died in 1304, aged 68, he was succeeded by his 18-year-old grandson, John II de Warenne.

Lewes Castle, Sussex, seat of the earls of Warenne and Surrey

John II de Warenne, the 7th and last earl of Warenne and Surrey, spent most of his adult life trying to divorce his wife, Jeanne de Bar (Joan of Bar), a granddaughter of King Edward I, in order to marry his mistress. He made various claims to try and effect a divorce, including that he had had an affair with his wife’s aunt, Mary of Woodstock, who had been a nun from the age of 7. John was embroiled in a private – but very public – feud with Thomas of Lancaster, Edward II’s most powerful vassal, and even went so far as kidnapping Lancaster’s wife, Alice de Lacey. In retaliation, Lancaster seized the Warenne castles of Conisbrough and Sandal, both being close to his own castle of Pontefract. The castles were only restored to John after Lancaster’s execution following his defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge, in 1322. John was involved in many of the events that shaped the reign of Edward II, though he did not fight in the 1314 English defeat by the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn. He supported Edward II to the end – almost, only adding his to support to Isabella of France and the future Edward III, when he saw that the king’s cause was hopeless. He died in 1347 at Conisbrough, still married to Jeanne de Bar and with no legitimate heir to succeed him. The earldom passed to his nephew, Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel, but the Yorkshire lands, including Conisbrough and Sandal castles, passed to the crown and were given to Edward III’s fourth surviving son, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York.

Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk, one of the Cluniac monasteries founded by the Warenne earls

And that is just a – very – brief summary of the earls.

The Warenne family has a fascinating history, right at the heart of English politics for the better part of 3 centuries. They had family bond that is not always found amongst the aristocracy, with brothers and sisters helping and supporting each other and working for the benefit of their family. Strategic marriages forged links with the greatest families in England, Scotland and France; their family connections spanned the greatest noble houses, from the Marshals, the FitzAlans, the Lusignans, the d’Aubignys and Percys to the Scottish, French and English royal families.

One family, over 8 generations, the Warennes were at the centre of 300 years of English history.

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Selected Sources:

Elisabeth Van Houts, Hereward and Flanders (article), Anglo-Saxon England vol. 28; A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2 edited by William Page; W.H. Blaauw, On the Early History of Lewes Priory, and its Seals, with extracts from a MS. Chronicle, Sussex Archaeological Collections; Edward Impey, Castle Acre Priory and Castle, English Heritage; Warenne, Gundrada de (d.1085) (article) by C.P. Lewis, Oxforddnb.com; Elisabeth M.C. Van Houts and Rosalind C. Love (eds and trans), The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle; Jeffrey James, The Bastard’s Sons: Robert, William and Henry of Normandy; Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8 Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volume I; Alfred S. Ellis, Biographical Notes on the Yorkshire Tenants Named in Domesday Book (article); C.P. Lewis, Warenne, William de, first Earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1088) (article), Oxforddnb.com; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Conisbrough Castle Giudebook by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; royaldescent.net; F. Royston Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of his Possessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX; Scott L. Waugh, ‘Warenne, John de, seventh earl of Surrey earl of Surrey and Sussex, Earl Warenne’, ODNB; ‘Annals written by a certain monk of Lewes, from the birth of Christ to the year 1312’ quoted in Blaauw, On the Early History of Lewes Priory; Kelcey Wilson-Lee, Daughters of Chivalry: The Forgotten Children of Edward I; Katheryn Warner, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation

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My Books

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.

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US 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

Guest Post: Trial by Combat – Rough Justice by Toni Mount

It is an absolute pleasure to welcome author and historian Toni Mount back to the blog, with an article based on her research for her latest non-fiction book, How to Survive in Medieval England. Toni has a wonderful way with words to the extent that her books – fiction and non-fiction alike – are a pure pleasure to read.

So, without further ado, it is over to Toni:

Trial by Combat – Rough Justice

My new book, How to Survive in Medieval England, published by Pen & Sword, is a guide to travelling in history: what to expect, how to dress, how to stay safe and what to look for on the menu.

If you were able to go back in time to medieval England, so much would be very different and so many things missing – all technology, from engines to the Internet. All work would be done by hand. In medieval England, the law sometimes works quite differently from the way we expect today. Trial by Ordeal was a means of deciding who was innocent and who was guilty. A suspect or the accused would be taken to a church and with a priest presiding, subjected to one of a number of horrific acts.

Trial by Fire – a priest (centre) blesses the ordeal as the accused (left) takes the red-hot iron in hand.
[Readers may note the accused wears ‘motley’ – parti-coloured cloth – a sure sign of untrustworthiness.’

A favourite was Trial by Fire. In this case, a piece of iron was heated to red-hot in a brazier and the accused had to remove the metal from the fire – by hand! His burns would be bandaged and left for a week. When inspected by the priest at the end of seven days, if they were healing well this was God’s decision and the accused was innocent. But if the burns were septic and weeping, that was also God’s doing and proved the accused was guilty because God was not on his side.

Trial by Water could be similar with the accused having to plunge his hand into a cauldron of boiling water. Or, an alternative Ordeal by Water involved throwing the accused into a pond or river, though this one always seems most unfair to me. If the accused sank and, therefore, probably drowned, he was innocent because the water, having been blessed by a priest, ‘accepted’ him. If he floated, he was guilty because the blessed water refused him. In which case, he would be hanged, so he died either way.

Another method was Trial by Combat in which the accuser and the accused fought it out with weapons. God would cause whoever was telling the truth to win the battle.

In 1249, a gang of thieves was terrorising Winchester, Salisbury and Guildford, specialising in stealing expensive clothing and shoes. The gang was often violent and, although folk in the area knew who they were, they were too scared to accuse them.

Top right corner – Walter (left) fighting Hamo (right) and Hamo (top centre) being hanged after he lost
[https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2018/09/judicial-combat-barbarous-relic-or-timeless-litigation-strategy/]

In my new book, I include some imagined interviews with real people of the time as a means of telling about true aspects or incidents in their lives. Let’s speak to Walter Blowberme, a member of this notorious gang of thieves:

‘Now Walter, you were caught in the act, I believe, and admitted your crimes. Tell us what you did.’

‘Well, see, we stoled all this valuable stuff, didn’t we? Good cloth, shoes, some jewellery and silver cups. Made a fine profit ’til I got caught, filching a gold brooch. I knewed this meant a date wi’ the hangman for me so I told the sheriff I’d be an approver.’

‘What is an approver?’

‘You don’t know? What a dim-wit. It means my life’ll be spared if I telled the court the names of ten others involved in the crimes. I didn’t want t’ do it, ’cos they was my mates but a man has t’ lookout for hisself.’

‘So you snitched on your fellows. What happened then?’

‘I named six fellows from Guildford who was all members of the gang. They was all arrested, tried and condemned. I didn’t feel too bad about them ’cos I never liked most of ’em, except Tom. It was a shame about him. But I still needed another four fellows convicted to save my own neck, so I accused three from Hampshire. They wasn’t in the gang; just fellows I knowed and didn’t like much. They was found not guilty and released so I had t’ name four others as gang members. It’s a good thing I know so many folk and don’t like none of ’em. These four was nasty bits o’ work, I can tell you, but when the sheriff tried to take ’em, three managed to escape. But because they never turned up in court, they was found guilty anyway. The fourth fellow, Hamo Stare – my sister’s husband what I never liked – was brung to trial but things was so complicated, the judge offered Hamo a trial by ordeal.’

‘I thought trial by ordeal was made illegal by the Church?’

‘Don’t ask me; I’m not the judge. Anyhow, Hamo chosed trial by combat and I, as his accuser, had to be his opponent. We had wooden clubs and shields and fighted ’til we was both bloody but Hamo gave in first. The judge declared God had gived me most strength, so I must have spoke truly against Hamo. Hamo was hanged – good riddance – and I’d managed to get ten fellows convicted, so my life was spared but I got banished from the district forever ’cos I admitted being guilty of so many crimes.’

‘But you didn’t mend your ways, Walter?’

‘Nay. Couldn’t resist some silver bits, could I? I comed t’ London and just six months later I got caught, thieving a chalice and candlesticks from St Mary-le-Bow church.’

‘And this time there is no second chance for you, is there, Walter?’

‘Nay. This time it’s the gallows for me. T’morrow. Pray for me soul, won’t you?’

Judicial tests and ordeals had been abolished at an important Lateran Council meeting, held by the pope in 1215, stating that churchmen may ‘neither pronounce nor execute a sentence of death. Nor may they act as judges in extreme criminal cases, or take part in matters connected with.’ This meant trial by ordeal no longer had God’s sanction – a priest had to be present as His representative – since it was God who determined the outcome. However, obviously, such trials must have continued for at least another thirty years.

A naughty priest in the stocks along with his mistress – churchmen’s punishments were not so bad.
[https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/monks-sex-drink-gamble-history-pope/]

Churchmen could no longer sit in judgement but neither could they be tried in a state court. They had to be tried in church courts by their fellow clerics and a death sentence could never be past, even for murder. So, in medieval England, if anyone could prove they were a man of the cloth, or a nun, then they could, literally, get away with murder. Here’s how: only trained clerics can read Latin; so if the accused can read the Bible – always in Latin – he must be a churchman. To prove a person can read, the same passage is always required to be read aloud from the Bible: ‘Oh loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon my transgressions.’ (Psalm 51, Verse 1.) This meant that any forward-thinking criminal learned this verse by heart, in Latin, even if he couldn’t read a word. It saved the necks of so many miscreants, it was known as the ‘Neck-Verse’ and got a great number of very guilty people out of trouble.

Readers can find out far more about medieval lives, meet some of the characters involved and get a ‘taste’ of the food of the time in How to Survive in Medieval England, my new book from Pen & Sword, published on 30th June 2021 and available for pre-order now on Amazon.

About the book:

How to Survive in Medieval England by Toni Mount
Pen & Sword History (30 Jun. 2021)

Imagine you were transported back to Medieval England and had to start a new life – without mobile phones, ipads, or social media. When transport meant walking or, if you’re lucky, horse-back; how will you know where you are or what to do? Where will you live? What is there to eat? What shall you wear and how can you communicate? Who can you turn to if you fall ill or are mugged in the street,? All these questions and many more are answered in this new guide book. How to Survive in Medieval England is a handy self-help guide with tips and suggestions to make your visit to the Middle Ages much more fun. Learn the rules so you don’t get into trouble or show your ignorance in embarrassing
situations and read interviews with the stars of the day, from a celebrity chef to King Richard III himself. Have an exciting visit but be sure to keep this book to hand.

About the Author

Toni Mount is a history teacher and a best-selling author of historical non-fiction and fiction. She’s a member of the Richard III Society’s Research Committee, a regular speaker to groups and societies and belongs to the Crime Writers’ Association. She writes regularly for Tudor Life magazine, has written several online courses for http://www.MedievalCourses.com and created the Sebastian Foxley series of medieval murder mysteries. Toni has a First class honours degree in history, a Masters Degree in Medieval History, a Diploma in English Literature with Creative Writing, a Diploma in European Humanities and a PGCE. She lives in Kent, England with her husband and has two grown-up sons.

Web http://www.tonimount.com

Social https://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10/ https://twitter.com/tonihistorian https://www.instagram.com/toni.mount.10/

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My Books

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.

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US 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 and Toni Mount

The Parentage of Gundrada de Warenne

Gundrada de Warenne, the Gundrada chapel, Trinity Church Southover

When I first volunteered at Conisbrough Castle, in the early 1990s, it was believed that Gundrada de Warenne the wife of William de Warenne, first Earl of Warenne, was the daughter of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders. Royal connections were very important in the 11th century and still provide a fascination to us today, so it was a fabulous piece of history to be able to impart to visitors. Unfortunately, the truth is never quite what it seems.

Sometime in the years either side of the Conquest, William de Warenne married Gundrada. Gundrada’s parentage has long been a subject of debate among historians. Her story throughout history has been coloured by the belief, now thought to be a mistaken one, that she was the daughter of Queen Matilda. Many historians from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries accepted this as fact and obviously started their research from this false assumption, without looking deeper into the origins of the story. For many years Gundrada was believed to be the fifth and youngest daughter of William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders. In 1878 Sir George Duckett wrote an article for the Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological Society arguing that the foundation charter for St Pancras Priory, Lewes ‘expressly states Gundrada to have been the Queen’s Daughter’, the wording within the charter being; ‘pro salute dominæ meæ Matildis Reginæ matrix uxoris mea’ [ ‘for the health of my mistress Queen Matilda, mother of my wife’].1

This statement in the priory’s second founding charter, issued in the reign of King William II Rufus, appeared to contradict the claims by Orderic Vitalis, a near contemporary, that ‘Guillelmo de Guarenna qui Gundredam sororem Gherbodi conjugem habitat, dedit Surregiam.’ [‘William de Warenne, whose wife Gundrada was sister of Gerbod, was given Surrey’.]2 Gundrada’s own tombstone contains enough ambiguity to add to the confusion, rather than clarify the issue:

Gundrada, offspring of dukes, glory of the age, noble shoot,
brought to the churches of the English the balm of her character.
As a Martha …
she was to the wretched; a Mary she was in her piety.
That part of Martha [in her] died; the greater part of Mary survives.
O, pious Pancras, witness of truth and justice,
she makes you her heir; may you in your clemency accept the mother.
The sixth day of the kalends of June, showing itself,
broke the alabaster containing her flesh …3

In 1846 Thomas Stapleton wrote a paper for the Archaeological Journal proposing that Gundrada was Matilda’s daughter from an earlier, undocumented marriage, to Gerbod, advocate of Saint-Bertin, thus explaining her also being a sister to Gerbod, Earl of Chester. In this theory, it was proposed that Gundrada was not a daughter of the king, but his stepdaughter. This notion neatly ties in with Orderic Vitalis identifying Gundrada as ‘Sister of Gherbode, a Fleming, to whom King William the First had given the City and Earldom of Chester.’4 E.A. Freeman, in his six-volume The History of the Norman Conquest of England, published between 1867 and 1879 stated, ‘For a long while, Gundrada was looked on as a daughter of William himself, but there is no doubt that she and her brother Gerbod were the children of Matilda by her first husband.’5

The certainty of Gundrada being the daughter of Matilda of Flanders mean that historians tried to fit the facts to that theory, rather than re-examining the case entirely.

Tomb of Gundrada, Gundrada Chapel, Trinity Church, Southover

Disputing the suggestion of Matilda’s marriage to Gerbod, historian W.H. Blaauw observed that not one of the Norman chroniclers ‘dropped the smallest hint of any husband or child, or consequently any such divorce on the part of Matilda previous to her marriage with the King.’6 Duckett goes on to say that the Norman chroniclers, indeed, said quite the opposite; each of them attesting that Matilda was a young, unmarried girl at the time of her betrothal to William of Normandy. However, Duckett then draws the conclusion that this can only mean that Gundrada was the daughter of both Matilda and William of Normandy, and that Gerbod of Chester was her foster-brother, rather than actual brother. The claim was also made in a charter in which the king gave to the monks of St Pancras (Lewes) the manor of Walton in Norfolk, on the foundation of the priory. In the charter the king distinctly names ‘Guilelmi de Warenna, et uxoris suæ Gundredæ filiæ meæ’ (‘William de Warenne and his wife Gundrada, my daughter’).7

St Pancras Priory at Lewes was founded as a Cluniac monastery by William and Gundrada and it may be that the monks got carried away with the idea of their foundress having royal blood; royal links could prove financially lucrative when a monastery was looking for benefactors, and would help a monastery stand out among the many vying for patronage. However, it may also be that there was a simple error when copying the charter from the original. For whatever reason, the claims by St Pancras Priory at Lewes have caused controversy throughout the ensuing centuries. Other suggestions have included that Gundrada was an adopted daughter, raised alongside William and Matilda’s own children who were of a similar age. Alternatively, due to her Flemish origins, it has been argued that the confusion arose as she had joined Matilda’s household at an early age; an assertion supported by Matilda’s gift to Gundrada of the manor of Carlton in Cambridge – a manor Gundrada later gave to Lewes Priory. In 1888, writing in the English Historical Review, E.A. Freeman returned to the subject and used the priory’s original charter to conclude that there was no familial relationship between Gundrada and William the Conqueror. In it, while the king and William de Warenne, both, mention Gundrada, neither refer to her as being related to the king or queen. Freeman stated, ‘there is nothing to show that Gundrada was the daughter either of King William or of Queen Matilda; there is a great deal to show that she was not.’8

It now seems more likely that Gundrada was a Flemish noblewoman, the sister of Gerbod who would be, for a brief time, earl of Chester. Historian Elisabeth van Houts argues that Gundrada was most likely a distant relative of Queen Matilda and the counts of Flanders, as asserted in her epitaph as ‘offspring of dukes’ and a ‘noble shoot’. Indeed, had her father been William the Conqueror, her epitaph would surely have referred to her as the offspring of kings. Even if she had been the daughter of Matilda by an earlier marriage, off-spring of kings would have still been appropriate, given that Queen Matilda was the granddaughter of King Robert II of France.

William de Warenne, the Gundrada chapel, Trinity Church Southover

Gundrada’s father may also have been called Gerbod, or Gherbode. It is highly likely that this was the same Gerbod who was the hereditary advocate of the monastery of St Bertin; a title which in later generations will pass down through the Warenne family. Another brother, Frederic, appears to have jointly, with Gundrada, held lands in England even before the Conquest, when two people named Frederic and Gundrada are mentioned as holding four manors in Kent and Sussex. It would indeed be a coincidence if there were two other related people, named Frederic and Gundrada, very distinctive foreign names, in England at that time. Gundrada’s brothers, it seems, were deeply involved in the border politics between Flanders and Normandy; indeed, it is thought that Gerbod resigned his responsibilities in Chester in order to return to the Continent to oversee the family’s lands and duties there, following the death of an older brother, Arnulf II of Oosterzele-Scheldewindeke.

Gundrada’s brother, Frederic, along with the count of Flanders, was a witness to Count Guy of Ponthieu’s charter to the Abbey of St Riquier in 1067.9 The ‘dukes’ referred to in Gundrada’s epitaph, although naturally assumed to be of Normandy, could well refer to a kinship with the house of Luxembourg, to which Queen Matilda’s paternal grandmother, Orgive, belonged. Moreover, Frederic was a familial name within the house of Luxembourg. This kinship via the House of Luxembourg with Queen Matilda would also explain the queen’s gift to Gundrada, of the manor of Carlton, which is usually given as evidence that Gundrada belonged to the queen’s household; an association which would be entirely consistent with kinship.

The Warenne coat of arms, the Gundrada chapel, Trinity Church Southover

Marriage between William de Warenne and Gundrada was a good match on both sides. Although William was a second son, he had acquired lands and reputation through his military skills. Warenne’s lands in Normandy lay close to the border with Flanders, while Gundrada, with her politically astute brothers and links to England even before the Conquest, would have been an attractive proposition as a bride. Both Frederic and Gerbod appear to have joined the Norman expedition to England, with Frederic receiving, as reward, lands in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, valued at over £100 a year; lands which had previously belonged to a rich Englishman named Toki. Gerbod, in turn, was given the earldom of Chester, which he held until relinquishing it to return to Flanders in 1071.

Gundrada’s parentage may not be as illustrious as was once thought and her origins are now obscured by time, but the dynasty that she and William founded would be at the heart of the Anglo-Norman political elite for the next three centuries. In the twelfth century, her great grandsons, Malcolm IV and William the Lion, would sit on the Scottish throne and her descendants would, eventually, become the rulers of the United Kingdom, even down to the present incumbent, Queen Elizabeth II.

Footnotes:

1 My translation from quote in George Floyd Duckett, Observations on the Parentage of Gundreda, the Daughter of William Duke of Normandy, and Wife of William de Warenne; 2 ibid; 3 Elisabeth M.C. Van Houts and Rosalind C. Love (eds and trans), The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle; 4 Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; 5 ibid; 6 W.H. Blaauw quoted in Duckett, Observations on the Parentage of Gundreda; 7 Duckett, Observations on the Parentage of Gundreda; 8 Farrer and Clay, Early Yorkshire Charters; 9 C.P. Lewis, ‘Warenne, Gundrada de (d.1085)’, ODNB.

Sources:

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

Images:

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly. Published with the kind permission of the rector of Trinity Church, Southover

My books

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.

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

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 Launch: Defenders of the Norman Crown

In the reign of Edward I, when asked Quo Warranto ‘by what warrant he held his lands’ John de Warenne, the 6th earl of Surrey, is said to have drawn a rusty sword, claiming “My ancestors came with William the Bastard, and conquered their lands with the sword, and I will defend them with the sword against anyone wishing to seize them”

John’s ancestor, William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He was rewarded with enough land to make him one of the richest men of all time.

In his search for a royal bride, the 2nd earl kidnapped the wife of a fellow baron.

The 3rd earl died on crusade, fighting for his royal cousin, Louis VII of France…

For three centuries, the Warennes were at the heart of English politics at the highest level, until one unhappy marriage brought an end to the dynasty. The family moved in the highest circles, married into royalty and were not immune to scandal. Defenders of the Norman Crown 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.

It’s finally here!

My fourth non-fiction book, Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, comes out today in hardback in the UK – it will be released in the US and elsewhere on 6 August. Telling the remarkable story of the Earls of Warenne and Surrey, and their family, from the time of the Norman Conquest to the reign of Edward III, Defenders of the Norman Crown follows a family right at the heart of Anglo-Norman England.

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

And here’s what early reviewers are saying:

Sharon Bennett Connolly has written an evocative narrative, highlighting the role the Warenne earls of Surrey played in the nation’s history. Her meticulous research is evident in every page, making the book both a reference guide and an immensely enjoyable read.

Kristie Dean, author of On the Trail of the Yorks and The World of Richard III

Another great read from Pen & Sword. I’m vaguely familiar with this family, so reading a book specifically about their history from inception to the end of it, was very interesting. It’s definitely one I’d like to have on my shelf to reference again in the future.

NetGalley, Caidyn Young
Warenne coat of arms

5 out of 5 stars

An impressive and long overdue publication about the earls of Surrey, the Warenne (Varenne in Normandy) and their steadfast contributions and deep loyalties to the English Crown from the heyday of the Norman Conquest and the battlefield of Hastings to the glorious reign of Edward III. Ms. Bennett Connolly has given us a solidly researched portrait of a medieval family and its successful longevity during the three long and troublesome centuries that followed the Norman establishment on the throne and the roles played by its successive and prominent members in the shadows of the crown. A colorful tapestry through all the ups and downs of medieval England, its monarchical shenanigans and its military and political restlessness. Highly recommended to anyone interested in English and European medieval history.

NetGalley, jean luc estrella

Oh my goodness, Sharon Bennett Connolly has done it again! This was the perfect romp through a medieval family! Honor, scandal, marriages, and intrigue all play into the Warrene family lines.
Beginning with William of Normandy, and going down through the Wars of the Roses, this book will read as an action-packed, give me all the information book!

I loved this one! The Warrene family was very prominent throughout the medieval history of England, and this book will dive into their past, and share everything that you could ever want to know about this ambitious family.

And if you would like to hear a little more about the Warenne earls, I presented the David Hey Memorial Lecture in 2020 as part of the Doncaster Local Heritage Festival. The lecture, Warenne: The Earls of Surrey and Conisbrough Castle, is still available to watch on YouTube.

Rebecca Hill, NetGalley

And …

To survive during the reigns of the Norman and Plantagenet Kings of England, one must understand where their loyalty and trust lied. Did they follow the crown or did they take a risk and follow those who opposed the person who wore the crown? For one family, there was no question who they were loyal to, which was the crown. The Warenne Earls of Surrey served the Kings of England from William the Conqueror to Edward III, gaining titles, prestige, and marriages that would cement their names in history books. They survived some of the most turbulent times in English history even if they did have a few scandals in their illustrious history. In Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest non-fiction adventure, “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rose and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey ”, she explores this family’s history that spanned over three centuries.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a fan of Sharon Bennett Connolly’s books for a while now, so when I heard about this title, I knew I wanted to read it. I was going in a bit blind since I have never heard of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, but that is part of the fun of studying a new aspect of history.

The first Earl of Surrey, William de Warenne began this family’s tradition of royal loyalty as he joined William the Conqueror on his journey to England and fought alongside him to establish Norman rule at the Battle of Hastings. William’s descendants would be involved in some of the most important events of the time, from the crusades to the 1st and 2nd Baron’s Wars and the sealing of the Magna Carta. At some points, the earls would briefly switch sides if they thought the king was not in the best interest of the country, but they remained at the heart of English politics and worked hard to help guide the king and the country to become stronger.

What made the Warennes a tour de force when it came to noble families was their ability to marry well, except for the final earl and his scandalous relationships. The second earl desired to marry into the royal family, which did not happen, but his daughter, Ada de Warenne would marry William the Lion, King of Scotland. One of the daughters of Hamlin and Isabel de Warenne would be the mistress of King John and would give birth to his illegitimate son Richard of Chilham. The only woman of the family who inherited the earldom of Surrey, Isabel de Warenne, was married twice and so both of her husbands, William of Blois and Hamelin of Anjou, are considered the 4th earl of Surrey.

Connolly does a wonderful job explaining each story in de Warenne’s long history, including the minor branches of the family. I was able to understand the difference between family members who shared the same first name, (like William, John, and Isabel) but I know that others might have struggled with this aspect. I think it would have been helpful if Connolly had included either a family tree or a list of family members of the de Warennes at the beginning of this book to help readers who did struggle.

I found this particular title fascinating. The de Warenne’s were a family that proved loyalty to the crown and good marriages went a long way to cement one’s legacy in medieval England. Connolly proved that she has a passion for bringing obscure noble families to the spotlight through her impeccable research. If you want a nonfiction book of a noble family full of loyalty, love, and action, you should check out “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Heidi Malagisi, NetGalley and Adventures of a Tudor Nerd

David Hey Memorial Lecture

Last year, I presented the David Hey Memorial Lecture for Doncaster Heritage Festival, entitled Warenne: The Earls of Surrey and Conisbrough Castle. Just press play on the link below if you would like to watch and hear a little more about the Warennes.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is released in the UK today and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Signed copies!

If you would like a signed, dedicated copy of  Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, or any of my books, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Online Book Launch Event

Defenders of the Norman Crown online Book Launch!I am going to do a Zoom online talk to celebrate the launch of Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey.It will be on Saturday 5th June from 7pm UK time, with a talk followed by a Q&A. Bring your own wine and cake!

If you would like to join me (please do!) then just pm me with your email address and I will send you an invite. If you would like to come along, please get in touch via the CONTACT ME form and I will send you an invite. Can’t wait to tell you all about Defenders of the Norman Crown and the Warenne earls of Surrey.

The Warenne stronghold of Conisbrough Castle

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.

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Images: ©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: The Infamous Lady Rochford and the fall of Anne Boleyn by Monika Simon

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Monika Simon to the blog. Monika’s debut book, From Robber Barons to Courtiers: The Changing World of the Lovells of Titchmarsh, is out at the end of the month. And on the anniversary of the execution of Henry VIII’s second and tragic queen, Anne Boleyn, Monika has written about the involvement in events, of Anne’s sister-in-law, Jane, Lady Rochford.

The Infamous Lady Rochford and the fall of Anne Boleyn

by Monika Simon

Anne Boleyn, National Portrait Gallery

Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I, was executed on 19 May 1536. Reading about the whirlwind prosecution of Anne Boleyn and her fellow accused that lasted not even four weeks, one name comes up inevitably as one of the key witness if not the key witness: Anne’s sister-in-law Jane, Lady Rochford, sometimes cited as the person who may have accused Anne and her brother George of incest.

In short, she has become ‘the infamous Lady Rochford’. But does she deserve her infamy?

Jane was born Jane Parker, the name I continue to use here*, around the year 1500 as the oldest (or possibly second oldest) daughter of Henry Parker, Lord Morley and his wife Alice St John. Her father was the son of Alice Lovell and Sir William Parker, a knight from an obscure northern family. William Parker had made his career in the service of Richard III and it is possible that Alice Lovell’s cousin Francis Lovell had helped to arrange the marriage between Alice and his fellow member of the retinue of Richard, then Duke of Gloucester. Alice Lovell inherited her mother’s Morley estates after the death of her brother Henry Parker, Lord Morley in the battle of Dixmude in 1489. As a boy, Henry Parker entered the service of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, and she arranged his marriage to Alice St John, the granddaughter of her half-brother John St John.

Around 1520, Jane Parker became a lady-in-waiting of Catherine of Aragon. To achieve this position she must have been good looking and quite accomplished. In the following years she often participated in the grand pageants at court, including a particularly spectacular one in 1522 revolving around a mocked-up castle, the Château Vert. It was inhabited by ladies dressed as virtues. A mock fight was then staged between boys representing vices and eight gentleman, including Henry VIII, who also bore mottos. Jane was given the role of Perseverance, the king’s sister Mary Tudor was Beauty and a recent newcomer, Anne Boleyn, portrayed Constancy. In the mid-1520s Jane Parker married Anne Boleyn’s brother George, whom she must have known well from court.

The Parkers were estates were situated near those of the Boleyns and the Howards were another noble family whose property was nearby. As is so often the case with aristocratic families, multiple ties existed between these families. Jane’s grandmother Alice Lovell had married Edward Howard after the death of her first husband. Edward Howard’s sister Elizabeth was the wife of Thomas Boleyn and the mother of Jane’s husband George and Anne Boleyn. Thomas Boleyn’s sister Anne was in turn the mother-in-law of Jane’s sister Margaret.

While George Boleyn was profiting from his sisters affair with and marriage to Henry VIII, Jane was able to enjoy the honours and grants that he received alongside her husband. When her father-in-law was elevated to Earl of Wiltshire, George received the courtesy title of Viscount and Jane became a Viscountess.

But Jane’s situation changed drastically when the relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn soured. As lady-in-waiting and sister-in-law to Anne, Jane was one of the women and men who were questioned in the search for incriminating evidence against Anne, her brother George, and the other accused. The brief description of Jane’s life in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography asserts that by this time, she had turned against Anne and that she may have been the source of rumours about George and Anne’s incest and of Henry VIII’s impotence. It is speculated that the reason for Jane’s actions was that her relationship to the Boleyns had been ‘poisoned by sexual jealousy’. As the accusations against Anne and her alleged lovers are almost generally regarded as spurious and just a means to an end, Jane Parker must have deliberately lied and lied in the full knowledge that it would cost her husband, her sister-in-law, and the other accused their lives. Accordingly, she has been described by Diarmaid MacCulloch as a ‘less than grieving widow’ and when she wrote to her husband imprisoned in the Tower that she would plead for his life, Eric Ives states that the letter ‘smells of malice’. Her complaints about her impoverished state after the goods and estates of her husband had been confiscated have been severely criticised as well.

Commemorative Plaque at the Tower of London

But on what evidence is the assertion based that Jane Parker was a main or the key witnesses against Anne Boleyn and the other accused?

The short answer is: not much. Though the proceedings against the accused are fairly well documented, and individual statements are known, what exactly Jane or anybody else said under questioning was not recorded in detail. The one information provided by Jane that we know for certain was used in the trial of her husband George. He was asked to silently read a note he was handed and answer yes or no. George, however, probably knowing that he had already been condemned before the official judgement, decided to read the note out loud. It said that his wife Jane had told him that his sister Anne had told her that the king ‘was no good in bed with women, and that he neither had potency nor force’.

This statement was probably received with embarrassed silence by the assembled Lords, Jane’s father among them, who knew that this was a particularly touchy topic. However tactless it was, the information was neither about adultery nor incest.

Another piece of evidence against Jane is that George Boleyn is recorded to have said, ‘On the evidence of only one woman you are willing to believe this great evil of me, and on the basis of her allegations you are deciding my judgement’. It has often been assumed that the one woman he referred to was his wife. There were however other women who were questioned and according to John Spelmen, one of the judges of the trial, it was Lady Wingfield’s deathbed confession that first revealed Anne’s behaviour.

The third piece of ‘damning’ evidence is the lost journal of Antony Antony, which probably  included the statement that ‘the wife of Lord Rochford [George Boleyn] was a particular instrument in the death of Queen Anne’.

The charge that Jane was the source of incest against her husband is based on a book by Bishop Burnet, writing over a hundred years later, who asserted that Jane Rochford ‘carried many stories to the king or some about him [George Boleyn]’, and evidence ‘that there was a familiarity’. Bishop Burnett had access to sources no longer existing, but what these sources said and how reliable they were cannot be determined today.

Signature of Jane, Lady Rochford

To me this evidence seems rather flimsy, but for many it has been enough to condemn Jane, but there are also those, who like me don’t believe Jane was responsible for the death of Anne Boleyn, her husbands and the other accused notably Julia Fox who wrote a biography about her.

How Jane’s previous and subsequent actions have been interpreted depends on whether the historian in question believes in Jane’s guilt or not.

Three examples show this quite clearly. According to a report by the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys from 1534, Jane was banished from court as she had conspired with Anne to get rid of a lady who Henry VIII had become too interested in. If Jane is thought to be guilty in the case against Anne, as for example Eric Ives does, this must be an unfounded rumour. If Jane is not seen as guilty, for example by Julia Fox, it is believable that she worked together with Anne to remove a rival.

A year later a crowd of women from London demonstrated their loyalty to Lady Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, who was saying at Greenwich at this time. Among the mob were two ladies, Lady Jane Parker and Lady ‘William Howard’. Those who think Jane was guilty find this only natural, as she was ‘otherwise known as Anne’s enemy’, in the words of Eric Ives. Others, Richard Starkey for example, point out that the names of the two ladies were later added to the document, and states that Jane Parker would never be foolish enough to participate in such a demonstration.

It is also hard to believe that Anne Boleyn would have allowed Jane to remain her lady-in-waiting if she had been a ‘known enemy’. Ives himself repeatedly stresses how much control Anne had over the personnel at court so she would have been able to have Jane dismissed or at least sent away from court until she learned how to behave herself. Jane’s husband George would have hardly pressed a ‘known enemy’ on his sisters, and Jane’s father definitely had not enough influence to force Anne to accept his daughter as lady-in-waiting if the queen wanted her gone.

Unknown Man, possibly George Boleyn, Hans Holbein

The third example of how Jane’s actions, or in this case possible actions, are interpreted is the report that on Whitsun 1536, two weeks after the executions of Anne Boleyn, Jane, her father and mother paid a visit to Lady Mary. This visit is seen as further proof of Jane’s hostility to Anne. However, the document from which the visit is known is badly damaged and most likely says only that Henry Parker, Lord Morley, his wife and unnamed daughter visited Mary. The daughter in question was, however, most likely not Jane but her sister Margaret. Margaret’s parents-in-law, John Shelton and Anne Boleyn, were in charge of Mary at the time.

What the relationship between Jane and her husband was really like on a personal level is something we can only judge from their actions and as the three examples above show, Jane’s behaviour has been interpreted according to the author’s judgement on whether or not she was responsible for Anne’s death.

In the end, the case against Jane Parker rests on one vague statement by her husband about ‘a woman’, a lost journal that may have included the accusation, and the later report by Bishop Burnett that is impossible to verify. On the other hand, the one definite piece of information we have, that she was told by Anne a very intimate detail about her married life, which Jane in turn shared with her husband, shows that far from being estranged to the queen or her husband, Jane was on good terms with them. Anne surely would not have divulged the problematic state of her relationship to Henry VIII to a woman who was her enemy.

Additionally, if the whole case against Anne Boleyn and her alleged lovers was a farce and falls apart as soon as it is analysed, as Ives states, can Jane even be responsible for Anne Boleyn’s fate? If the trial was only the means to the end of getting rid of Anne and make way for a new queen, what Jane said or whether or not George Boleyn read out the note in court made no difference whatsoever.

Why are so many writers convinced of Jane Parker’s guilt based on this meagre evidence? For most of them this is an open and shut case and has been proved for centuries. The focus of their research was on a different subject and they had to rely on other writers for their information. Diarmaid MacCullough working on his massive and excellent biography of Thomas Cromwell could not let himself be side-tracked by examining in detail every person that happened to come in contact with the subject of his study.

Additionally, Jane Parker, Lady Rochford also became entangled in the downfall of another of Henry VIII’s wives: Katherine Howard. Jane was briefly exiled from court following Anne Boleyn’s execution, but returned to became lady-in waiting to the next three queens. When Katherine Howard’s youthful misdemeanours had come to light, her behaviour as queen was scrutinised and it was discovered that she had become all too friendly with a young courtier, Thomas Culpepper, one of the king’s gentlemen of the Privy Chamber. During the court’s progress through northern England Katherine had secretly met Thomas Culpepper on several occasions, meetings that often lasted for hours. Her lady-in-waiting Jane Parker was incriminated as well as she had helped arranged these clandestine encounters and acted as a chaperon. In their trial, all three, Thomas Culpepper, Katherine Howard, and Jane Parker, naturally tried to present their part in the events in as innocent a light as possible. Culpepper blamed the women for leading him astray, Katherine blamed Jane for encouraging her and enabling the meetings, and Jane said she had only done what Katherine had told her to do. None of them could deny they had been involved and all three were executed.

In the light of her involvement in Katherine Howard’s conviction and death, it was easy to assume that Jane had also been involved in the downfall of Anne Boleyn. By the reign of Elizabeth it was also adamant that the reputation of her mother had to be freed of any doubts about her sexual conduct, but the blame for her execution should also not be put on Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII. Blaming others, like Jane Parker or Thomas Cromwell, had become the prudent explanation of the downfall of Anne Boleyn.

* I generally refer to married women my their maiden names for one to keep their natal family in mind and secondly to avoid confusion. Alice Lovell and Alice St John would otherwise become Alice Parker.

About the book:

Francis Lovell is without a doubt the most famous – if not the only famous – Lovell of Titchmarsh. In 1483 he was he was made a viscount by Edward IV, the first Lovell to be raised into the titled nobility. He is most famous for being the chamberlain and close friend of Richard III, the ‘dog’ of William Collingbourne’s famous doggerel.

Though Francis Lovell is the best known member of his family, the Lovells were an old aristocratic family, tracing their roots back to eleventh-century Normandy. Aside from the Battle of Hastings, a Lovell can be found at virtually all important events in English history, whether it was the crusade of Richard I, the Battle of Lewes, the siege of Calais, the Lambert Simnel rebellion against Henry VII, or the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Over the centuries the Lovells rose in wealth and power through service to the crown, rich marriages, and, to a considerable degree, luck.

The history of the Lovells of Titchmarsh, from their relatively obscure beginnings in the border region between France and Normandy to a powerful position at the royal court, not only illustrates the fate of this one family but also throws an interesting light on the changes and developments in medieval and Tudor England. Several themes emerge as constant in the lives of an aristocratic family over the five centuries covered in this book: the profit and perils of service to the crown, the influences of family tradition and personal choice, loyalty and opportunism, skill and luck, and the roles of women in the family.

About the author:

Monika E. Simon studied Medieval History, Ancient History, and English Linguistics and Middle English Literature at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, from which she received an MA. She wrote her DPhil thesis about the Lovells of Titchmarsh at the University of York. She lives and works in Munich.

Links:
https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/From-Robber-Barons-to-Courtiers-Hardback/p/19045
https://www.facebook.com/MoniESim
http://www.monikasimon.eu/lovell.html

My Books:

Coming 31 May 2021:

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.

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

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 Monika Simon

Book Corner: The Damask Rose by Carol McGrath

1266. Eleanor of Castile, adored wife of the Crown Prince of England, is still only a princess when she is held hostage in the brutal Baron’s Rebellion, and her baby daughter dies. Scarred by privation, a bitter Eleanor swears revenge on those who would harm her family – and vows never to let herself be vulnerable again.

As she rises to become Queen, Eleanor keeps Olwen – a trusted herbalist, who tried to save her daughter – by her side. But it is dangerous to be friendless in a royal household, and as the court sets out on crusade, Olwen and Eleanor discover that the true battle for Europe may not be a matter of swords and lances, but one fanned by whispers and spies . . .

The Damask Rose is the second book in historian and novelist Carol McGrath’s She-Wolves trilogy, giving a refreshing new appraisal of the lives of Eleanor of Provence, Eleanor of Castile and – still to come – Isabella of France. The first in the series, The Silken Rose, followed the story of Eleanor of Provence through the early years of the reign of her husband, Henry III and his struggle with Simon de Montfort. The Damask Rose continues the story through Eleanor’s daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Castile. Though each book can definitely be read as a standalone, the two novels certainly complement each other.

Carol McGrath has a wonderful, engaging writing style that draws the reader in. The Damask Rose is a pleasure to read from start to finish and really gets into the mind of Eleanor of Castile, giving a new interpretation of the queen, her experiences, her emotions and motivations.

It shows the woman behind the crown and follows the life of Eleanor from the young Castilian princess, newly arrived in England to the height of her powers as queen and landowner.

And it is a thoroughly entertaining story.

In this fantastic novel, Carol McGrath explores every aspect of Eleanor’s life and explains how the Barons’ War and Simon de Montfort’s rebellion left a lasting impression on her, so much so that she never wanted to be so vulnerable and helpless ever again.

Eleanor scanned the courtyard where her frightened people had begun to gather in family groups. A priest hurried through them clutching a large cross, his habit flapping in a sudden breeze. He crossed himself and shouted in a voice as clear as reliquary crystal, ‘You, Gilbert of Gloucester, mark this, you are excommunicate by order of our Father, the Pope. You’ll burn Hell’s fire and you’ll deserve your fate.’

Earl Gilbert turned his head away from him. Pushing Eleanor forward again, he said, ‘UP you go, my lady.’ In a heartbeat, he had hoisted her onto his horse as if she were light as a feather, and jumped up behind her. He said into her pained ear, ‘Tell them they are to obey Hugh Bigod when he enters the castle this evening. He’ll arrange an escort for your ladies and household.’

‘We have no choice,’ she called down as she managed to wriggle an arm free from Gilbert’s grip. She pointed at the crumpled scroll still lying on the earth, and shouted to her shocked steward, ‘Take it. Read it to my people. Tell them the king has been forced to sign it.’

Master Thomas ran forward and scooped up the King’s letter. He picked her veil up from the ground and handed it up to her.

‘See the King’s order is obeyed,’ she said in a grudging tone as she took possession of her veil. Gilbert thrust her sword into an empty scabbard hanging from his saddle, and slowly walked his horse forward onto the drawbridge.

She could not let this seizure of her royal person go without another protest. ‘Gilbert of Gloucester, I shall have my revenge on you,’ she barked. ‘No one treats a future queen in such a manner.’ She knew she was making a formidable enemy but she didn’t care. Her temper could be foul but she did not care about this either.

‘Lady Eleanor, when you behave as a queen should, with suitable decorum, I shall treat you as a queen,’ he quipped. ‘Until then you are no better than a harridan.’

‘Arrogant bastard,’ she said under her breath as they rode into the trees, followed by the trotting horse ridden by the squire with the ridiculous name and carrying young Simon, the Devil’s son.

That evening, she peered from her heavily guarded tent, incandescent, watching as Hgh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, rode to take possession of Windsor Castle. Her child and ladies would be loaded like cattle into wagons the next day to begin the journey to Canterbury. Her close friend and lady-in-waiting, Joanna de Valence, married to King Henry’s own half-brother William of Pembroke, was pregnant and she, herself, had missed her courses twice.

Statues of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, Lincoln Cathedral ©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

The leading characters of the story are a wonderful, rich collection of historical personages, from Edward and Eleanor themselves to the distasteful Gilbert de Clare, and the various lords, barons and ladies who made up their court, including my very own John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. The fictional foil to the story is a young woman, Olwen, who helps the queen with her vast knowledge of herbs and their medicinal properties. Olwen is the perfect observer to Eleanor’s life, able to watch and listen whilst escaping notice – for the most part.

Carol McGrath weaves together the known story of Eleanor’s life, through the great events that shaped it, with the fictional creation of Eleanor’s world and emotions, allowing the reader to be a fly on the wall, watching events unfold and marvelling at the sights, smells and emotions of this long lost world.

And it will play on your own emotions.

In The Damask Rose, Carol McGrath not only tells Eleanor of Castile’s story, but also looks deep into the queen’s heart, offering a scenario that would explain Eleanor’s apparent lack of maternal instinct, her need to remain at Edward’s side no matter how far he travelled, and the inter-family relationships that shaped her life. It is a window into the life of a medieval princess and queen that is hard to forget.

Carol McGrath’s portrayal of the Spanish queen is the best depiction of Eleanor of Castile that I have ever read. Beautifully written, it is so touching that it had me in tears in several places – always the sign of a good book.

To buy The Damask Rose: tinyurl.com/dk2att32

About the Author:

Carol McGrath is the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves Trilogy, which began with the hugely successful The Silken Rose and continues with the brand new The Damask Rose. Born in Northern Ireland, she fell in love with historical fiction at a young age, when exploring local castles, such as Carrickfergus, and nearby archaeological digs – and discovering some ancient bones herself. While completing a degree in history, she became fascinated by the strong women who were silenced in record, and was inspired to start exploring their lives. Her first novel, The Handfasted Wife, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards, and Mistress Cromwell was widely praised as a timely feminist retelling of Tudor court life. Her novels are known for their intricacy, depth of research and powerful stories.

For more news, exclusive content and competitions, sign up to Carol’s newsletter at: http://www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk

Follow her on Facebook: /CarolMcGrathAuthor1

And Twitter: @CarolMcGrath

*

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: Female Crusaders by Carol McGrath

It is a pleasure to welcome to History…the Interesting Bits, author Carol McGrath. Carol’s latest novel, The Damask Rose, is out this month and tells the story of Eleanor of Castile and her devoted husband, King Edward I. Eleanor of Castile led an adventurous life, to say the least, even accompanying her husband on Crusade to the Holy Land.

Carol McGrath tells us more…

Female Crusaders

Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290) is placed at the centre of my new publication The Damask Rose. She was married to Edward I at only twelve years old when he was fifteen and was his father Henry III’s heir. It is always thought that, throughout her life, Eleanor was devoted to Edward and him to her. They certainly supported each other throughout her life, almost always together. They even journeyed on Crusade together. She was not the first royal spouse to Crusade. Eleanor of Aquitaine and Marguerite of France had crusaded before her.

Sugar Storage Jar

In 1270 they set off on Crusade but they never reached Jerusalem. Acre was the royal couple’s home for more than a year. Edward was an able and courageous leader but the Crusade was militarily unsuccessful. They established their crusading court in Acre after the death of the original Crusade leader, the saintly Louis IX, at Carthage, and Edward became the eighth Crusade’s figure head. A legend says that Eleanor was so dutiful and committed to Edward, her only love, she saved his life in June 1272 when an assassin struck Edward down with a poisoned dagger. Edward apparently wrestled the knife from his assailant and killed him but not before he took injury to his arm.

The story relates that Eleanor sucked out the poison. This is not entirely true. Bartolemo Fiadoni known as the Ptolemy of Lucca is responsible for the popular tradition that Eleanor ‘showed great faithfulness; for with her tongue she licked his open wounds all the day, and sucked out the humour, and thus by her virtue drew out all the poisonous material.’ It is a story from the period’s High Romantic Tradition thus expressing Eleanor’s heroism. Read The Damask Rose to discover what most likely really did happen and how Edward survived the attack.

The story illustrates how the Crusades claimed both ecclesiastical and chivalric ideas linking Church and Court, how at the time, the Crusades became romanticised. Courtly literature was linked to women in Historical Romances, many of which were associated with crusading and the Holy Grail. In fact, many ordinary women went on Crusade as well as queens and noble women. These ordinary women were almost always described in sources in relation to men as daughters, wives, mothers, aunts, sisters and even more distant kin. However, sometimes we find widows or women, well past child bearing age and referred to as ‘in old age’, on Crusade.

Toilets in Acre

Individual female crusaders mentioned in sources were predominantly well to do. Even so, others exist such as the woman who followed a goose on Crusade because she believed it was filled with the Holy Spirit. Women generally were accompanied male relatives but some, like the goose lady, travelled without a guardian. A passenger list surviving from the Saint Viktor, a Crusade ship of 1250 records forty two of the 342 common people travelling to the Holy Land were women. Twenty-two of these women had no male chaperone. Securing a suitable male escort was apparently a huge problem. Large groups of widows might travel together as pilgrims. Pilgrims were not supposed to carry arms and even if women had travelled with pilgrim guards, they were still vulnerable. Women Crusaders were utterly courageous and determined. For example, in her mid-sixties, Ermeongarde, Countess of Brittany, who had taken the veil in Dijon in 1130, visited her half-brother, King Fulke of Jerusalem, and passed some years in the nunnery of St Anne in the Holy City. She safely return to Brittany in 1135 to tell her tale.

 The Dining Hall, Hospitaller Palace, Acre

Piety was the main reason for taking the cross. Women sometimes took the cross in public ceremonies alongside men. Jerusalem was naturally the goal. The two fold nature of armed pilgrimage to rescue the Holy Land by force and to pray at shrines gave women a ‘canonical loophole’ to participate. Also, Crusading affected women’s lives whether they stayed in Europe, took the cross or lived abroad in settler territories. Although women are recorded as present since the First Crusade, it was only during the thirteenth century that they were granted legal status as crucesignatae. Spiritual rewards such as the remittance of sins were indeed as attractive to women as men.

Women fulfilled practical functions during siege warfare on Crusade often undertaking jobs such as clearing rubble and filling ditches. They are recorded as bringing refreshments to the first Crusaders at the Battle of Dorylaeum. They are known to have transported materials to weave the panels in a siege engine in 1099 at the Siege of Jerusalem. This I found fascinating. They washed clothing and picked lice out of body linen. By the fourth Crusade, women were entitled to a share of the booty. They ground corn and maintained markets. They tended to the wounded and the sick.

A Parisian woman called Hosenda tended Louis IX when he was ill from dysentery in 1250. It was dangerous too. If a woman was captured her captivity held a sexual slur which devalued them regarding ransom. A woman was valued at a third the price of a man. Power in the settlements was, however, often transferred through widows and heiresses. Aristocratic marriages were extremely important to Crusader settler society. They cemented political alliances between Latins from the West, the Levant, Greeks, Armenians and Syrians. Some women even became feudal lords thus contributing to the defence of the Holy Land and women who stayed behind acted as regents and organised financing the Crusaders.

The Hospitaller Palace Acre

As for Eleanor of Castile, nothing quite so amazing. She was a child bearer during her Crusade experience, pregnant for most of the campaign. It is thought she suffered a still birth early on; her daughter, Joan of Acre, was born on Crusade; her son Alfonso was born on the long journey home. It is unlikely Eleanor actually saw much of Acre where prostitution was rife, a city called ‘a sinful city and one filled with all uncleanness’ by Oliver of Poderborn. It is likely that after the excitement of their arrival, Acre soon palled on her accompanying noble women and their ladies. At least, Eleanor, a true blue-stocking, could find escape in her beautiful books and the lovely gardens of the Citadel of the Knights Hospitaller, a substantial building complex of five thousand square miles, three times that of the Tower of London, her home for the duration. To discover more do read my new novel The Damask Rose.

Many thanks to Carol McGrath for her wonderful insight and research into female crusaders.

To buy The Damask Rose: tinyurl.com/dk2att32

Look out for my review of The Damask Rose, which will go live in a few days…

Catch up on Carol’s blog tour so far – and follow the last few stops with the bloggers.

About the author:

Carol McGrath is the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves Trilogy, which began with the hugely successful The Silken Rose and continues with the brand new The Damask Rose. Born in Northern Ireland, she fell in love with historical fiction at a young age, when exploring local castles, such as Carrickfergus, and nearby archaeological digs – and discovering some ancient bones herself. While completing a degree in history, she became fascinated by the strong women who were silenced in record, and was inspired to start exploring their lives. Her first novel, The Handfasted Wife, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards, and Mistress Cromwell was widely praised as a timely feminist retelling of Tudor court life. Her novels are known for their intricacy, depth of research and powerful stories.

For more news, exclusive content and competitions, sign up to Carol’s newsletter at: http://www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk

Follow her on Facebook: /CarolMcGrathAuthor1

And Twitter: @CarolMcGrath

*

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: Best Friends Turned Enemies by Jo Willet

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Jo Willet to the blog. Jo has just released the biography The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu: Scientist and Feminist. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is remembered for her pioneering advocacy of smallpox inoculation – her 3 year-old daughter being the first westerner to be inoculated against the killer disease.

Mary Wortley Montagu and Alexander Pope – Best Friends turned Enemies

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by Jonathan Richardson,

A friendship between a woman and a man which starts off as just that but develops into something altogether more dangerous  – despite #MeToo heightening our awareness, these kinds of problems have been with us since time immemorial.  The aristocrat Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the poet Alexander Pope had just such a relationship. For both of them, it was one of the most powerful and ultimately the most damaging of their lives.

The two met in April 1715 in the London studio of a mutual friend, the artist Charles Jervas. Lady Mary was a 26-year old aristocrat, slight, dark and fiendishly intelligent.  Alexander Pope was a year older.  As a child he had suffered from tuberculosis of the bone, Potts Disease, which had stunted his growth and left him with a hunchback. He was only 1.2 metres in height, a bit smaller than Mary. Middle-class and Catholic, his background was very different from hers, but he had already found fame and fortune as a writer, which impressed her.  Both saw themselves as outsiders and used these feelings to express themselves with wit and irony. 

Mary and Pope were part of a group of friends all of whom liked to write and to share their writing with each other. Along with John Gay (who wrote The Beggars’ Opera) they began a shared project called The Town Eclogues.  The Latin poet Virgil had written six poems known as The Pastoral Eclogues, each linked to a day of the week, and the idea was to use these as an inspiration for contemporary, English poems, capturing a sense of life in London at the time. Pope described himself and Mary working together on writing one of the poems and Mary calling out: “No, Pope, no touching! For then, whatever is good for anything will pass for yours, and the rest for mine.”  Already there was an erotic undertone.

The poems were designed to be shown to friends, but they soon fell into the wrong hands.  One of Mary’s poems satirised two women desperate to serve at the court of Princess Caroline of Ansbach.  When the princess was shown a copy she was extremely displeased.  Then, even worse, the notorious Edmund Curll published an unauthorised version of the poems, which immediately became a best-seller.  None of them needed this kind of publicity. Furious, Pope arranged to meet Curll as if by chance at a drinking house. He introduced a powerful emetic into his drink, as revenge. We have no record of what Mary thought of this – but it probably felt good to have a friend protect her honour so powerfully.

Alexander Pope by Jonathan Richardson

Mary’s husband, Edward Wortley Montagu, was appointed British Ambassador to Turkey in 1716. Spirited as always, she decided to go with him.  Pope was distraught.  He pleaded with her to give him some of her ‘last Moments’ before leaving, as if she were not simply travelling but dying. That said, a journey such as this would be fraught with danger.  He gave her an album of their Town Eclogues bound in the finest red Turkey leatherand admitted: ‘indeed I find I begin to behave myself worse to you than to any other Woman, as I value you more.’  She left the album in London, said goodbye to Pope and set off on her travels.

It was expected that she would be away for five years.  In fact the trip only lasted half that time.  Pope wrote her a series of letters where it became increasingly obvious that his feelings for her had changed from friendship to something far more powerful.  The further away she travelled, the less inhibited he became. He and Mary were, he said, ‘like a couple who behave modestly when around other people, but who once by themselves can untie garters or take off Shifts without scruple.’  His physical limitations were something he was always acutely aware of.  He wrote to her imagining a place where women ‘best like the Ugliest fellows…and look upon Deformities as the Signatures of divine Favour.’

For her part, she was so excited by her adventures that she hardly seemed to notice what was going on.  But she was careful to transcribe copies of Pope’s letters into her journal. When she and her husband travelled across the battlefield of Petrograd, strewn with corpses, where the Austrians had been victorious over the Turks only a few months earlier, she wrote to Pope expressing her revulsion for war. She knew he would agree with her.


Alexander Pope declares his love for Lady Mary, who bursts into fits of laughter. William Powell Frith’s painting of 1852. 

Pope’s poems of the time were clearly inspired by his feelings for her. Eloisa and Abelard describes an impossible love which remains strong however many obstacles it encounters.  The poem is full of images of eyes, like Mary’s own.  He sent a copy, with a letter clarifying the source of his inspiration, out to Mary in Constantinople. She wrote ‘mine’ in the margin but at the same time dispatched a letter to their mutual friend, William Congreve, asking why he allowed Pope to go on making these ‘Lampoons’.

When the Wortley Montagus started their journey back to England in 1718, Pope offered to travel out to Italy to accompany Mary home. This was a conceit on his part. He would never be well enough to be able to travel. As she neared England, Mary became increasingly nervous as to how to handle things. When she landed in Dover a letter awaited her, expressing Pope’s longing to see her ‘Oriental self’. With it was a poem he had written about a pair of lovers from Stanton Harcourt, in Oxfordshire, who had both been struck by lightning and died simultaneously. The intensity of his feelings was clear.

Mary decided to respond by lightening the tone.  She sent Pope a satirical, cynical poem in response. If the two lovers had lived, she wrote, their future marriage might well have turned out to be a disappointment: ‘Now they are happy in their doom,/For P. has wrote upon their Tomb.’  Pope got the message.  Rather than rushing to greet Mary on her return to London, he held back.

By now Pope was living in Twickenham, outside London, and soon the Wortley Montagus rented a house nearby.  For about ten years the two friends rubbed along.  People noted that Pope tended to resort to over-elaborate puns whenever he was in Lady Mary’s presence but they had lots of mutual friends and enjoyed each other’s company.  Pope even commissioned a portrait of her,  which would hang in the ‘best room’ of his Twickenham house for the rest of his life. Then some time in the 1720s the two fell out spectacularly.  We do not know why.

Mary’s family always believed that Pope one day made the mistake of expressing his feelings for her and that she instinctively broke into gales of laughter at what he said.  An anonymous play, Mr Taste, the Poetical Fop, written a few years later, dramatised exactly this.  Another reason given for the rupture was that she asked him to collaborate with her on a satirical poem and he made it clear he disagreed with her attitude to the subject matter. Yet another suggestion is that she was the author of some cruel verses satirising his relationship with his nurse, who had just died.  Yet another was a rumour, spread by Horace Walpole, that she had borrowed some bedsheets from Pope and returned them unlaundered.

Mary’s friend, Lord John Hervey

Whatever the reason, the result was an unedifying, escalating row. In 1728 a published poem of Pope’s satirised Wortley as a sober yeoman living in Yorkshire whose wife owned a hen (Lady Mary) which attracted lots of cocks.  The innuendo was intentional.  Another longer poem of Pope’s published the same year, The Dunciad, described Lady Mary as a ‘sage dame, experienced in her trade’  – a prostitute.  Mary had been involved in bringing the process of inoculation against the smallpox back with her from Turkey.  Pope played on this by linking smallpox to the word ‘poxed’, implying Mary had syphilis. He also insinuated that she had behaved badly towards someone during the South Sea Bubble Crisis.  Her friends knew that Lady Mary had got into difficulty over some investments a French friend of hers had asked her to make on his behalf. But they would also have known she had behaved honourably throughout.

As an aristocratic woman, Mary risked undermining her reputation if she published anything in response.  So to begin with she simply wrote satirical poems about the situation, which were to be passed around among her friends.  In one the Goddess Dulness set up her headquarters in the famous shell grotto in Pope’s Twickenham garden.  Various more scurrilous verses about the breakdown of the relationship began circulating as well.  It is hard to ascertain whether either of them was the author of any of these. Pope wrote to a mutual friend of theirs claiming to have seen one of these poems in Lady Mary’s handwriting.  She denied she had written it and suggested instead that Pope had indulged in a bit of forgery to blacken her name.

Mary appealed to mutual friends for help – first to Lord Peterborough, whose letter in response read as if Pope had ghost-written it, and then to Sir Robert Walpole, the prime minister.  He asked Pope to remove a particularly nasty couplet about Mary. Pope refused, replying that it was Mary who had libelled him, not the other way round.

Mary then made the strategic mistake of collaborating with another friend of theirs, Lord John Hervey, in writing a satirical poem about Pope:  Verses Addressed to the Imitator of the First Satire of the Second Book of Horace.  Hervey was well-placed within society at the time, a close friend of the queen’s, an aristocrat like Mary and bisexual. The poem is vicious in its portrayal of Pope and ends by cursing him, predicting that he will be destined to wander the earth forever, like Cain, the first murderer in the Bible, ‘with the Emblem of thy crooked Mind/Marked on they Back.’ Somehow – and it was unclear how – the poem was published, with the claim that it was written ‘By a Lady’, with no mention of Hervey.

The gloves were off.  Pope upped his verse attacks on her, all published so everyone who wanted could read them.  And he ensured that even nastier, lewder verses of his were published anonymously.  Again and again he elided smallpox with the pox, or syphilis.  Though she normally charged ten per cent, he wrote, men could currently have Mary’s body for free. She was physically disgusting, ‘at her toilet’s greasy task’. Her dress sense was questionable, in ‘diamonds with her dirty smock’. He harboured ‘a Suspicion that she intended to ravish him.’

Mary could not retaliate with the same force.  She wrote an unpublished poem describing him as a ‘Toad-eater’, but most of their friends and acquaintances sided with Pope not with Mary.  Her friends Lord and Lady Oxford described Mary as having to check with them beforehand whenever she dined at their house that Pope would not be there. In the 1730s Mary went to live abroad, well away from ‘the wicked wasp of Twickenham’, as she called him.  When Pope died in 1744 she wrote home anxiously to be sent a copy of his will, just in case there were anything damaging there.  What a relief it was, she wrote to her husband, that now there was no-one in the whole world who wished them ill.

It feels a familiar story, when relationships turn sour, that the woman comes off worst.  Pope’s satirising of Mary has a distinctly misogynistic feel to it, reading his words today.  For her part, Mary was unable to defend herself satisfactorily.  Her only crime was to invoke feelings in him he could not control and then to reject his advances.

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All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I would like to express my thanks to Jo Willet for such a fabulous article, and to wish Jo my hearty congratulations on the release of The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu: Scientist and Feminist.

To buy the book:

The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu: Scientist and Feminist is now available from Pen & Sword Publishing and Amazon.

About the author:

Lavinya of the The Black Curriculum

Jo has been an award-winning TV drama and comedy producer all her working life.  Her credits range from the recent MANHUNT, starring Martin Clunes, to BIRDS OF A FEATHER. Her most relevant productions for this project include BRIEF ENCOUNTERS in 2016 (a fictionalised story of the first women who ran Anne Summers’ parties in the 1980s), THE MAKING OF A LADY in 2012 (an adaption of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel The Making of a Marchioness), BERTIE AND ELIZABETH in 2002 (telling the story of the Queen Mother’s marriage) and the BAFTA-and-RTS-Award-Winning A RATHER ENGLISH MARRIAGE in 1998 (starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Joanna Lumley, adapted from the novel of the same name by Angela Lambert). She studied English at Queens College Cambridge and has an MA from Birkbeck in Arts Policy. She is married with a daughter, a son and a stepson. She lives in London and Dorset. www.devoniaroad.co.uk

You can find Jo at:

Twitter:  @Willettjo

Instagram: jowillett_biographer

Website:  www.devoniaroad.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 and Jo Willet

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.