Book Corner: Dark Waters Rising by Cassandra Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Your name, sir?’

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

‘Are you armed?’

A pause followed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hildegard of Meaux will be sorely missed!

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To Buy the Book:

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

About the author:

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

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly, FRHistS

Book Corner: Her Castilian Heart by Anna Belfrage

Blood is not always thicker than water…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Why?’ To drag me along to Wales.’

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

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

She paled, and he regretted his choice of words.

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

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

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

‘Hmph! Then he can go himself.’

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

‘The king is here? In England?’

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

‘He remains in Gascony.’

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

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

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

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

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To buy the book:

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

About the author:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Media Links:

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

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly, FRHistS

Book Corner: Wrath of the Picts by Steven A McKay

Princess Catia has gone missing and once again it falls to the legendary druid, Bellicus, to find her. Was the child taken by force, or did she go willingly with the Pictish warrior-woman, Aife?

Their trail leads far north to the windswept fortress of Dunnottar, so the druid must journey there with his companions, Duro, Eburus, and the fearsome wardog, Cai. Leaving Dun Breatann in the hands of Queen Narina and her enigmatic new husband, Ysfael, the friends ride out, but things are never as straightforward as they seem…
Violence and death follow Bellicus as he seeks to discover the fate of the princess. In doing so, he also finds himself on the trail of the swordsman, Lancelot, who disappeared months before when his warband was slaughtered by Saxons. Will the druid be in time to save them both? Or will their enemies, old and new,earn the bloody vengeance and glory they so desperately desire?
Ambition, lust, grief, and the power of the old gods combine in Wrath of the Picts as the druid and his companions are thrust towards a shocking finale that will leave Dun Breatann in turmoil and Northern Britain ravaged again by war.

Bellicus is back!

Wrath of the Picts is book no. 5 in Steven A. McKay’s magnificent series, Warrior Druid of Britain. Having spent some time campaigning with Arthur against the Saxons, Bellicus is called back north after Princess Catia goes missing, supposedly kidnapped by the warrior princess, Aife. But all is not as it seems…

Steven A. McKay once again draws his reader into a story chock full of adventure, treachery and a good few battles as Bellicus tries to make sense of events. It also a story of trust, friendship and loyalty that sees Bellicus and his good friends, Duro and Eburus, risking their lives in order to save the princess and discover the truth behind the uneasy atmosphere of his fortress home, Dun Breatann.

This is a story not to be missed.

“Where are all the Damnonii warriors?” Duro asked in a low voice. It was evening and Bellicus had joined them at last in the great hall. The cooking fires kept the chill of approaching autumn at bay and the homely orange glow would have made for a much more pleasant atmosphere if they weren’t surrounded by Ysfael’s men.

“Some of them are guarding the walls – you just haven’t seen them yet,” Bellicus replied, happily digging into the thick stew a serving girl had placed before him: beef, carrot, cabbage, onion and parsley had all gone into it and the druid couldn’t remember ever tasting, or smelling, much better. “The rest went out to deal with some Dalriadan raiders a few days ago. I expect they’ll return soon enough.”

Duro shook his head almost imperceptibly, glancing around as if spies were eavesdropping although, in truth, the Votadini warriors eating and carousing around them were making more than enough noise to mask what the centurion was saying. None of Ysfael’s men were paying them much attention other than to throw them the occasional curious glance. “It’s not right,” Duro opined. “Narina shouldn’t have let Gavo take her men off, leaving her alone with these … outsiders.”

Bellicus shrugged. He agreed completely, but Narina was her own woman and did things her way. She clearly trusted Ysfael.

Just then the door opened and Bellicus smiled, jerking his head for Duro to look over his shoulder for he was sitting with his back to the entrance. “What were you saying about Gavo?”

The centurion glanced back, mouth open as he chewed a piece of meat, and broke into a smile as he saw the Damnonii guard captain coming towards them. A bear of a man, Gavo had long hair and a grizzled beard which were both turning from brown to grey now that he was in his fortieth year. He wore reed checked trousers, a loose fitting blue tunic, and a bronze torc around his neck which marked his high rank, although it was obvious from his bearing he was a man used to command.

“Are you still here?” Gavo said, taking a seat beside Eburus and eyeing him with clear surprise. “I thought you’d have joined your kinsmen at the other benches.”
The Votadini shrugged, and said in his heavily accented tones, “These are my friends. I’m used to their company now. Ysfael will no doubt order me to join his ranks again soon enough, but until then I’lll sit with who I choose.”

“See?” Duro hissed. “Even he doesn’t trust the Votadini, and he’s one of them!”

The Warrior Druid of Britain series is set in the time after the Romans have left and the Saxon tribes are beginning to settle in England, causing conflict with the native Britons. The great warlord, Arthur, is attempting to hold them back. In the north, in Scotland, Bellicus is druid to the Damnoni tribe, but has been spending time fighting alongside Arthur. With Catia’s disappearance, he has been called home to lead the search for the lost princess. Set in the twilight of the Roman Empire and before the creation of the kingdoms of England and Scotland, Steve A. McKay has recreated the time that is often called the Dark Ages. His vivid imagination and impeccable research brings the period to life for the reader. The ancient landscapes, authentic weapons and tactics, all the way down to the textiles, halls and food, help to draw the reader into the story and allow them to suspend belief and travel back to a simpler, but more vicious time.

Steven A. McKay’s great skill is in the characters he creates. He makes the reader care about their stories and about their fate. Bellicus is a tall, likeable druid with an intelligent mind and a great aptitude for fighting and tactics. He has his weaknesses though, and a soft spot for the princess Catia and her mother, Narina. This gives the character a vulnerability that in turn leaves the reader wondering if he can see the big picture, and if he will succeed in his mission. Alongside his great friend, Duro, the heroes are tasked with saving the day, but not without great personal cost. And I love that Lancelot gets to play a part in Wrath of the Picts, away from teh Arthurian legend and forging his own path.

Wrath of the Picts draws thew reader in from the first page and keeps you hooked until the very last. Steven A McKay is such a skillful storyteller that you cannot wait for the book to finish – and yet, dread getting to the end. Whether it is the first book in the series, or the fifth, the stories are always fresh, new and engaging.

And Wrath of the Picts is just a fabulous adventure!

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To buy the book:

Wrath of the Picts by Steven A. McKay is now available from Amazon

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

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

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

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

King Edward III

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

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

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

Queen Philippa of Hainault

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

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

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

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

Alice Perrers and Edward III, painted by Ford Maddox Brown

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

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

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About the book:

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

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

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

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

To buy the book: Amazon

About the author:

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

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

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Book Corner: Women of the American Revolution

Women of the American Revolution will explore the trials of war and daily life for women in the United States during the War for Independence. What challenges were caused by the division within communities as some stayed loyal to the king and others became patriots? How much choice did women have as their loyalties were assumed to be that of their husbands or fathers? The lives of women of the American Revolution will be examined through an intimate look at some significant women of the era. Some names will be familiar, such as Martha Washington who travelled to winter camps to care for her husband and rally the troops or Abigail Adams who ran the family’s farms and raised children during John’s long absences. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton is popular for her role in Hamilton the musical, but did you know she was also an early activist working tirelessly for multiple social causes? Decide for yourself if the espionage of Agent 355 or the ride of Sybil Ludington are history or myth. Not all American women served the side of the revolutionaries. Peggy Shippen gambled on the loyalist side and paid severe consequences. From early historian Mercy Otis Warren to Dolley Madison, who defined what it means to be a US First Lady, women of the American Revolution strived to do more than they had previously thought possible during a time of hardship and civil war.

I have to admit, I stepped right out of my comfort zone with Women of the American Revolution by Samantha Wilcoxson. And I know very little about the period – except there was something to do with tea and Boston Harbour – Boston, Massachusetts rather than Boston, Lincolnshire (I am definitely more familiar with the latter!). There was some chap called George Washington, too…

So I was going into this book with a very open mind, eager to learn all I could about the women who helped – or sometimes hindered – in the creation of the United States of America. Women of the American Revolution will certainly give readers a greater understanding of the American Revolution and War of Independence; it fills a gap in the study of the period and is long overdue.

Most books on the American Revolution concentrate on the politics or the military actions, but Samantha Wilcoxson has approached the familiar story from an under represented angle; the women. And what incredible women they were. Some are well known, such as Martha Washington Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison. Others less so famous, such as the mysterious Agent 355. And there is the story of Margaret Shippen Arnold, who was considered incapable of being complicit in her husband’s defection to the British – because she was a woman.

In addition to her household skills, Martha [Washington] was taught to be a lady while confined in corsets that helped form her figure and correct her posture. Virginia ladies of Martha’s time were trained to mimic British aristocracy in their manners and decorum. Simply walking and sitting could be a challenge in the full skirts that were the fashion. Martha apparently learned these skills well, because she flawlessly played the role of hostess as a married woman, even when thrust into the public world as America’s original First Lady (although that title was not used during her husband’s time in office). Her parents ensured that she could ride elegantly in a sidesaddle while maintaining perfect posture. Physical control and poise were also vital when learning to dance, a skill not to be underestimated in its importance in eighteenth century Virginia.

The objective would have been for her to eventually obtain a satisfactory husband, and in this Martha most certainly made her parents proud. Daniel Parke Custis belonged to the closest America had to an aristocracy. Rich and possessing thousands of acres of land, the Custis family was such a step up for Martha that Daniel’s father initially forbade his son to marry her. This is where one gains the first insight into the woman Martha would become. Though only eighteen years old, Martha courageously stood up to her future father-in-law. He had threatened to disinherit Daniel and throw the family silver into the street rather than allow Martha to use it, but she managed to charm him into giving his reluctant blessing. The couple was married when Martha was nineteen years old and her bridegroom was twenty years her senior. This age difference was not uncommon or a barrier to their happiness. The skills Martha had learned at the Dandridge home made her a competent manager of the larger Custis plantation, prophetically named White House.

A large enslaved population made it possible for Daniel and Martha to profitably run the Custis estate. Ne evidence exists that Martha believed owning slaves was immoral or wrong in any way. While she did not support cruel treatment or sales that broke up families, Martha also could not understand when enslaved people ran away from what she felt was a comfortable home. It was a lifestyle she had been born into and never questioned, even as the colonies strived toward their freedom.

Women of the American Revolution is a wonderful collection of the stories of the most remarkable women of the era. Through the historical record and their own letters Samantha Wilcoxson has brought these women back to life, their stories as vivid as they must have been over 200 years ago. The books combines the women’s involvement in the national and international politics and events of the day with their day-to-day lives as wives and mothers. It is an illuminating and informative book on so many levels.

Women of the American Revolution tells the story of these remarkable women, warts and all, but does not try to attach modern-day morals on people who lived so many generations ago. In this way, Samantha Wilcoxson does not ignore the women’s attitude to slavery, or to female emancipation, but explains them in the context of the time. The abundance of letters written by some of the women provide a unique insight into their minds, and into the times they lived in.

And I have to say Samantha Wilcoxson has written an eminently accessible book, whether you are knowledgeable of the era or not. Her research is thorough and impeccable and presented in a beautifully written volume that will stand proud in any library. By focusing on the women, Women of the American Revolution fills a gap in the history and study of the American Revolution. Without a study of the women of the time, no history of any period is complete.

This is Samantha Wilcoxson’s first foray into non-fiction but I truly hope she will write more!

Women of the American Revolution by Samantha Wilcoxson is an informative and entertaining read. I loved this book! And I learned so much! I cannot recommend it highly enough.

To Buy the Book:

Women of the American Revolution by Samantha Wilcoxson is available now from Amazon and Pen and Sword in the UK. It is available for pre-order on Amazon in the US and is now available worldwide from Book Depository.

About the Author:

Samantha Wilcoxson is an author of historical fiction and administrator of a history blog. She has written four full-length novels, three novellas, and two middle grade chapter books. Topics of her writing have ranged from the Wars of the Roses to America’s Civil Rights Movement. Samantha is passionate about history and exploring the personal side of events. In her writing, she urges the reader to truly experience what it might have felt like to live through a moment in history. Samantha’s most recent novel is biographical fiction featuring Catherine Donohue, one of America’s “radium girls.” She is currently working on a novelization of the life of Nathan Hale, and features in Hauntings, an anthology published by the Historical Writers Forum.

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My books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

Long Live the King….

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

Would England have been lost?

Find out in ‘Long Live the King…

I have finally done it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, you will have to wait and see…

But here’s a teaser….

Newark Castle

28 October 1216

John opened his eyes to a black, empty void.

   Is this it? Is this Hell?

   Has death finally claimed me?

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

  This could be death…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the book:

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

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

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

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

An anthology of the Historical Writers Forum.

Alternate Endings is now available worldwide from Amazon.

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

The Daughters of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine

A 14th-century representation of Henry and Eleanor

In history we tend to focus on the actions of the men in a family. Well, let’s face it, the life of Henry II and his sons is fascinating, full of love, honour, death and betrayal. Who wouldn’t be drawn into that world? But did you know that the women of the family had no less exciting and eventful lives?

With a mother like Eleanor of Aquitaine, you would not expect her daughters to be shrinking violets. And, indeed, they were not. And neither were the girls sent off into the world, never to see their parents again. In what may be a unique occurrence for royal princesses, each of the three daughters of Eleanor and Henry II would get to spend time with their mother later in their lives.

Matilda of England, the eldest daughter and third child of Henry and Eleanor, was born in London in June 1156. As her parents ruled an empire that stretched from the Scottish borders to the Pyrenees, travel was a constant part of Matilda’s childhood. She took her first sea-voyage across the English Channel at just 2 months old, accompanied her big brother, Henry, later to be known as The Young King. Throughout her childhood, Matilda is often seen accompanying her mother and siblings traveling through the vast Angevin domains. By the time she was 8-years-old, negotiations had begun for her marriage to Henry the Lion; her father planning an alliance with the German Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. The marriage was part of her father’s policy to build up opposition to Louis VII of France and the Pope, Alexander III. And in July 1166 her mother accompanied 10-year-old Matilda to Dover, where she embarked on a German ship that would take her to her new life and future husband. Her wedding to Henry V ‘the Lion’, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, finally took place in the cathedral at Minden, Germany, on 1 February 1168. 

Matilda’s dowry and send-off from England cost around £4,500 (about a quarter of England’s annual revenue). The young princess was given a trousseau worth £63, including saddles with gilt fittings, ‘two large silken cloths, and two tapestries and one cloth of samite and twelve sable skins’. Despite the fact Henry the Lion was 27 years Matilda’s senior, the marriage appears to have been a success and produced 10 children, including their eldest daughter, Richenza (her name was later changed to Matilda), born around 1172, and sons Henry, Otto and William. Otto was briefly considered as heir to the English throne by his uncle Richard I, before King John claimed the crown. He would briefly become Holy Roman Emperor as Otto IV in 1209 until his death in 1218.

13th-century depiction of Henry II and his legitimate children

Matilda’s fortunes changed dramatically in 1180 when, following a quarrel with Frederick Barbarossa, who held Henry responsible for the failure of a campaign in Italy, Henry the Lion was deprived of his fiefs and exiled from his lands for 7 years. Henry, Matilda and their children sought refuge with Matilda’s father and, in the Autumn of 1181, Henry II welcomed his daughter, giving her the palace of Argentin as a home for her family. Matilda and her family spent the next two years in the Angevin lands on the Continent; but in 1184 a pregnant Matilda accompanied her father to England, where she gave birth to her son, William, at Winchester. While at her father’s court Matilda petitioned the king to ease the restrictions on her mother’s imprisonment; following her involvement in the failed rebellion of her sons in 1173-4, Eleanor of Aquitaine had spent the last ten years incarcerated in England, at Old Sarum. Although still a prisoner, Eleanor was permitted to stay with Matilda while she was staying in England and when Eleanor was allowed to cross the Channel to take possession of the Vexin Castles, Matilda accompanied her.

Coronation of Henry the Lion and Matilda, from the Gospels of Henry the Lion, c.1188

Matilda and Henry were finally allowed to return to Germany in October 1185, although their children, Otto, William and Matilda remained at Henry’s court, to be raised by their grandfather. Matilda died at Brunswick on 28th June 1189 and was buried there, in the Cathedral of St Blasius, of which she was co-foundress. Her father Henry II died just 8 days later, probably before the news of his daughter’s death could reach him. Matilda’s husband would be buried alongside her, following his death on 6th August 1195.

Matilda’s next youngest sister, Eleanor, was born in October 1162 (1161 has also been suggested, but most sources agree on 1162) at Domfront Castle in Normandy. As with Matilda, Eleanor’s early childhood was quite nomadic. She travelled often with her parents, in her mother’s entourage. In February 1165 3-year-old Eleanor was betrothed to the infant son of Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick, as part of the same negotiations which saw Matilda married to Henry the Lion. However, Eleanor’s proposed marriage would eventually fall by the wayside. By 1170 Henry II was seeking to extend his influence across the Pyrenees and in order to prevent a French alliance with Castile, he betrothed Eleanor to 14-year-old Alfonso VIII, who had been king of Castile since he was just 2 years old. By September 1170, a month short of her 8th birthday, Eleanor was on her way to Castile, with an impressive escort to see her safely to her wedding at Burgos Cathedral.

The betrothal of Alfonso VIII of Castile and Eleanor of England

Eleanor and Alfonso appear to have had a very successful marriage, and a close, trusting relationship. Described as modest, elegant and gracious, Eleanor is renowned for introducing her mother’s Poitevin culture into the Castilian court, blending it with the luxuries offered by neighbouring Moorish cultures. Eleanor also acted as a diplomatic conduit between her husband and brothers, Richard and John, in order to aid each other and keep the peace, although not always successfully.Seven of Eleanor and Alfonso’s children survived infancy. Their eldest daughter Berengaria would eventually act as regent in Castile for her younger brother, Henry I, before succeeding him as queen regnant. One daughter, Eleanor, married James I, king of Aragon, but they divorced in 1229. While another, Constance, was dedicated as a nun and eventually became abbess of the abbey of Las Huelgas, founded by her parents in 1187.

Alfonso and Eleanor also had 2 sons who would survive childhood. The eldest, Ferdinand, died of a fever in 1209 or 1211 while his younger brother, Henry, would succeed his father, but died in a freak accident when a loose roof tile fell on his head. He was 13 years old.

Of their two other daughters, 14-year-old Urraca was initially suggested as the bride of the future Louis VIII of France, son of Philip II Augustus. The girls’ grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was instrumental in arranging the marriage and the 77-year-old queen travelled to Castile, in 1200, in person and in the depths of winter, to collect the granddaughter who would be Louis’ bride. The reunion of mother and daughter would surely have been highly emotional, having not seen each other in 23 years. The elder Eleanor spent two months with her daughter and her family and in getting to know her granddaughters, Eleanor of Aquitaine seems to have decided that the younger Blanca – rather than Urraca – would make a more suitable bride for Louis. The 12-year-old princess travelled back to Normandy with her grandmother where Blanca – or Blanche – and Louis were married.

Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile

The happy marriage of Eleanor and Alfonso came to an end when Alfonso died in Burgos on 6th October 1214. He was buried in the Abbey of Las Huelgas, where their daughter, Constance, was now Abbess, leaving Eleanor as regent for their 10-year-old son, Henry I. Broken-hearted Eleanor, however, only survived her husband by a little over 3 weeks. Overcome with grief she died in Burgos on 31st October 1214, and was laid to rest beside her beloved husband; leaving their daughter Berengaria to take up the regency for Henry. Eleanor was the last surviving daughter of the Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Only her younger brother, King John, remained of the Plantagenet siblings.

The youngest of the trio of Plantagenet sisters, Joanna, was born in October 1165. Ten years younger than her oldest brother, Henry the Young King, she was born at Angers Castle in Anjou, at a time when their parents’ relationship was breaking down; 1165 was the first ever Christmas Henry and Eleanor spent apart. With Henry still in England dealing with a Welsh revolt, he would not meet his new daughter for several months. Although Joanna spent much of her childhood at her mother’s court in Poitiers, she and her younger brother, John, were also educated at the magnificent Abbey of Fontevraud, where she learned the skills needed to run a large, aristocratic household.

Although Eleanor was imprisoned following the failed rebellion of 1173, three years later, she was allowed to travel to Winchester to say ‘goodbye’ to her youngest daughter, who had been betrothed to King William II of Sicily. Provided with an impressive trousseau, Joanna set out from Winchester at the end of August 1176, accompanied by her uncle Hamelin de Warenne Earl of Surrey. Once on the Continent, she was escorted from Barfleur by her brother Henry, the Young King to Poitiers, and from Poitiers, by another brother, Richard, who then escorted his little sister to Toulouse in a leisurely and elegant progress.

Joanna of England

Having finally reached Sicily 12-year-old Joanna was married to 24-year-old William on 13th February 1177, in Palermo Cathedral. The marriage ceremony was followed by her coronation as Queen of Sicily. Joanna must have looked magnificent, her bejewelled dress cost £114 – not a small sum at the time. Joanna and William had no surviving children and when William died without an heir in November 1189, Joanna became a pawn in the race for the succession. William’s sister, Constance was the rightful heir, but she was married to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor and many feared being absorbed into his empire. William II’s illegitimate nephew, Tancred of Lecce, seized the initiative. He claimed the throne and, in need of money, imprisoned Joanna and stole her dowry and the treasures left to her by her husband.

Luckily for Joanna her brother Richard I – the Lionheart – having gained the English throne in 1189, had wasted no time in organising the Third Crusade and arrived at Messina in Sicily in September 1190. Richard demanded Joanna’s release; and fearing the Crusader king’s anger Tancred capitulated and freed Joanna, also paying 40,000 ounces of gold towards the Crusade.

The beautiful and spirited Joanna was briefly reunited with her mother in Lent of 1191 when she arrived in Sicily with Richard’s bride, Berengaria of Navarre. Joanna and Berengaria were to become firm friends and travelled together to the Holy Land, ahead of Richard’s main force. However, during a storm, their ship was onto the shores of Cyprus by a storm and the two women were at risk of becoming hostages of the ruler of Cyprus, Isaac Comnenus. Again, Richard came to the rescue, reduced Cyprus in three weeks and clamped Comnenus in chains (silver ones apparently). Lent being over, Richard and Berengaria were married, with great pomp and celebration, before the whole party continued their journey to the Holy Land, arriving at Acre in June 1191.

Seal of Joanna of England

Joanna’s time in the Holy Land was mainly spent in Acre and Jaffa, accompanying her sister-in-law and following – at a safe distance – behind the Crusading army. In attempts to reach a political settlement with the Muslim leader, Saladin, Richard even offered Joanna as a bride for Saladin’s brother. His plans were scuppered, however, when Joanna refused outright to even consider marrying a Muslim. When a three-year truce was eventually agreed with Saladin, Joanna and Berengaria left the Holy Land ahead of the army, to await Richard in Rome. Richard, however, never made it; falling into the hands of Duke Leopold of Austria, he was handed over to his enemy, the Holy Roman Emperor. He was eventually freed in 1194, following payment of a huge ransom. 

Joanna spent the next few years at the courts of her mother and brother. But at the age of 31 she was proposed as a bride for Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, with the aim of bringing the County of Toulouse into the Plantagenet fold, a long-time dream of Eleanor’s. Raymond had a colourful marital history. He had been excommunicated for marrying his third wife whilst still married to his second; and he now repudiated his third wife in order to marry Joanna, which he did in Rouen in October 1196, with Queen Berengaria in attendance. Although not a happy marriage the couple had two children; with a son Raymond born around 1197 and a daughter, possibly called Mary, in 1198.

Raymond VI, however, was not a popular Count and faced rebellion. Joanna herself had to confront some of her husband’s enemies. She laid siege to a rebel stronghold at Cassee; however, her own traitorous troops set fire to her camp and Joanna barely managed to escape. Injured and pregnant, Joanna was then trying to make her way to her brother Richard when she heard of his death; changing direction, she eventually reached her mother at Niort. With no allowance from her Joanna’s husband, Queen Eleanor managed to persuade John to give his sister an annual pension of 100 marks. Knowing she was dying, Joanna became desperate to be veiled as a nun at Fontevraud; a request normally denied to married women – especially when they were in the late stages of pregnancy. However, seeing how desperate her daughter was, Eleanor asked Hubert Walter, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to intervene.

Tombs of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine at Fontevraud Abbey

The Archbishop tried to dissuade Joanna, but was impressed by her fervour and convened a committee of nuns and clergy; who agreed that Joanna must be ‘inspired by heaven’. In Eleanor’s presence, the Archbishop admitted Joanna to the Order of Fontevraud. Joanna was too weak to stand and died shortly after the ceremony; her son, Richard, was born a few minutes later and lived only long enough to be baptised. She died in September 1199, a month short of her 34th birthday. Joanna and her baby son were interred together at Fontevraud, the funeral cortege having been escorted there by Eleanor of Aquitaine and King John.

There is no record that Matilda, Eleanor and Joanna ever met as adults, and the last time they were together as sisters was most likely shortly before Matilda’s marriage, when Joanna was only 2-years-old. However, although they led very different and adventurous lives, all three daughters of Eleanor of Aquitaine had the unique opportunity, in the medieval era, of spending time with their mother as adults. Given the dangers of travel and the great distances involved, as well as the fickleness of life in general, they may have hoped for a reunion but surely would never have expected it to become a reality.

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An earlier version of this article first appeared on Henry the Young King Blog in 2017.

Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Further reading: 

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; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett; finerollshenry3.org.ukEleanor, April Queen of Aquitaine by Douglas Boyd; Eleanor of Aquitaine, by the Wrath of God, Queen of England by Alison Weir; oxforddnb.com; bestofsicily.com; britannica.com; geni.com; royalwomenblogspot.co.uk; medievalqueens.com.

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Two Wives of King John

King John

One of the most intriguing relationships of the Magna Carta story is that between Isabella of Gloucester and Isabelle d’Angoulême, the two wives of King John.

Isabella of Gloucester is a unique individual in the story of Magna Carta. She is, in many ways, a shadow in the pages of history, and yet she held one of the greatest earldoms in England. There are no pictures of her, not even a description of her personality or appearance. At one time, no one even seemed certain of her name; she has been called Isabel, Isabella, Hawise, Avice – but Isabella is how she appears in the Close Rolls.1

Isabella was the youngest daughter and co-heiress of William, second Earl of Gloucester, who was himself the son of Robert of Gloucester, an illegitimate son of King Henry I and Empress Matilda’s half-brother and stalwart supporter during her war against King Stephen. Earl William’s wife was Hawise, the daughter of Robert de Beaumont, third Earl of Leicester. Isabella’s only brother Robert had died in 1166, making Isabella and her two sisters co-heiresses to the earldom of Gloucester. Although her date of birth has been lost to history, it seems likely she was born in the early 1160s.

We know very little of Isabella’s childhood, although, considering her social status, as the daughter of one of England’s wealthiest earls, it is likely that she was given the education expected of a high-ranking noblewoman and taught to run a large household, as well as the social graces of singing, dancing and needlework. Her parents’ marriage appears to have been a successful one. Isabella’s mother, Countess Hawise, was a regular witness to her husband’s charters and was mentioned in several of them, especially in the pro amina clauses of grants made to religious houses that sought spiritual benefits for those named.

Arms of Geoffrey de Mandeville, Isabella of Gloucester’s second husband

Isabella’s father, although a first cousin of Henry II, had a complicated relationship with the king, especially after Henry had taken Bristol Castle from the earl; the castle had been held by William’s father before him. Despite remaining loyal to Henry II during the rebellion of the king’s sons in 1173–74 and agreeing to the marriage of his youngest daughter to Prince John, Earl William’s loyalty remained suspect and he was arrested and imprisoned in 1183. The unfortunate earl died whilst still a captive, on 23 November 1183.

Isabella was betrothed, in 1176, to Prince John, the youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. John was 9 years old at the time of the betrothal, while Isabella was probably a few years older. Under the terms of the marriage agreement, Earl William recognised John as heir to the earldom of Gloucester, effectively disinheriting Isabella’s two elder sisters. The marriage was to be a way for Henry II to provide for his youngest son. After the Earl of Gloucester’s death in 1183, his entire estate was passed to Isabella, who had been made a ward of the king.

Isabella’s older sisters were both already married; Mabel was the wife of Amaury of Évreux and Amicia was married to the earl of Hertford. On their father’s death they had both been explicitly excluded from the estate to prevent the division of the comital inheritance and they received annuities of £100 each in compensation. Taking Isabella into wardship, Henry II therefore seized all the Gloucester lands and made the income from them available for John’s use, as Isabella’s future husband. The king, however, appears to have kept his options open and had not finalised John’s marriage to Isabella by the time of his death; in case a more suitable alliance came along.

Winchester Cathedral, Isabella and Isabelle shared a household in Winchester

King Richard I, on the other hand, thought it expedient to get his brother safely married, on his own accession to the throne in 1189. The wedding took place at Marlborough Castle in Wiltshire on 29 August 1189; John was 21 and Isabella may have been approaching 30. Baldwin, the archbishop of Canterbury at the time, opposed the marriage as the couple were related within the third degree of consanguinity; they were second cousins, both being great-grandchildren of Henry I. John had to promise to seek a papal dispensation and, even then, the couple were ordered, by the archbishop, not to sleep together.

Although Isabella and John were married for ten years, their marriage was neither happy nor successful. They spent some time together in the first years of their marriage as they issued charters together during a visit to Normandy around 1190–91.2 However, they appear to have spent less and less time together as the years went on. They never had any children and it is during this time in his life that John’s illegitimate children, including Richard of Chilham and Joan Lady of Wales, were born; a further suggestion that the couple were not close. In 1193, as part of his plotting with Philip Augustus, John promised to marry the French king’s half-sister, Alice, who had previously been betrothed to John’s own brother, Richard. Nothing eventually came of the marriage proposal, but it was an implicit rejection of Isabella as his wife.

John succeeded to the throne on the death of his older brother, Richard the Lionheart, on 6 April 1199. He was crowned, alone, on 27 May 1199; the fact that Isabella was not crowned with him suggests that John was already looking for a way out of the marriage. Poor Isabella would never be styled ‘queen’ and it was possibly as early as August 1199, but certainly by early 1200, that John obtained a divorce on the grounds of consanguinity, the very objection for which he was supposed to have obtained a dispensation when he married Isabella in 1189. The bishops of Lisieux, Bayeux and Avranches, sitting in Normandy, provided the required judgement. One chronicler said of John that ‘seized by hope of a more elevated marriage, he acted on wicked counsel and rejected his wife.’3

Keen to keep his hold on the substantial Gloucester lands, John took Isabella into wardship, again, holding her in ‘honourable confinement’ for the next fourteen years. Little is known of her day-to-day life, although she does appear to have remained on civil terms with King John. John met the expenses of Isabella’s household and staff and sent her numerous gifts, including wine and cloth. Things may well have been a little awkward at times, especially after John found himself another wife.

Westminster Abbey, where Isabelle d’Angoulême was crowned Queen of England

Having discarded Isabella, John began to look elsewhere for a new wife; he sent ambassadors to the Iberian peninsula to investigate the possibilities of a match with the daughter of the king of Portugal. However, any such plans were hastily abandoned when John set his sights on Isabelle d’Angoulême.

Isabelle was the only child of Audemar (or Aymer), Count of Angoulême and Alice de Courtenay. Alice was the daughter Peter de Courtenay, lord of Montargis and Chateaurenard, and a cousin of king Philip II Augustus of France. Through her Courtenay family connections, Isabelle was also related to the royal houses of Jerusalem, Hungary, Aragon and Castile. There was one tiny problem, however, Isabelle was already betrothed to Hugh IX de Lusignan. The marriage was intended to end the bitter rivalry of the two families but would also be a threat to Angevin power in the region, effectively splitting Aquitaine in two, with the Lusignans controlling the centre.

John therefore suggested to Count Audemar that he marry Isabelle himself. The count jumped at the chance of seeing his daughter become queen of England. Isabelle and John were married on 24 August 1200; Isabelle was no more than 12 and may have been as young as 10, John was 33 or 34.

Seal of Isabelle d’Angoulême

When John remarried in 1200 to Isabelle d’Angoulême, he housed his new wife with his ex-wife, which could have been rather awkward for both women. Queen Isabelle was still very young, probably no more than 12 years old on her marriage. Despite the chroniclers claiming Isabelle was a temptress and kept John in bed when he should have been ruling the kingdom, in the early years of their marriage, the king appears to have treated her more like a child than a wife; which she, of course, was. Her independence was severely limited by John keeping personal control of her finances.

When she was not at court with the king, Isabelle spent time at Marlborough or in the household of John’s first wife, Isabella of Gloucester, at Winchester. Isabella’s allowance was raised from £50 to £80 a year, to pay for the extra expenses incurred by housing the queen.4 The young queen remained in Isabella of Gloucester’s household until the birth of her first child, Henry, in 1207; in that year Isabella of Gloucester was moved to Sherborne before the queen gave birth. And now that she no longer had the care of the queen, Isabella’s allowance was reduced back down to £50 a year.

One may imagine this was quite awkward for Isabella of Gloucester, the discarded wife being forced to host her former husband’s young bride. On closer reflection, however, it may also have been a comfort to her. The teenage queen would probably have been lively company for the 40-something countess who had never been blessed with children. She may have felt protective and motherly to the girl, especially knowing John as well as she must have done.

Following the birth of her first son, Henry, Isabelle gave John four more children; another son, Richard, born in 1209 and daughters, Joan, born in 1210, Isabella, born in 1214 and Eleanor, who was born in either 1215 or 1216, and married the famed Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, as her second husband. Following John’s death in 1216, Isabelle returned to France, to her county of Angoulême, where, in 1220, she married Hugh X de Lusignan, the son of her former betrothed.

The gatehouse to Canterbury Cathedral, where Isabella of Gloucester is buried

Isabella of Gloucester was finally allowed to remarry in 1214; a letters patent issued by John on 28 January 1214 informed all the knights and tenants of the honour of Gloucester that ‘we have given Isabella, countess of Gloucester, our kinswoman’ in marriage to Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex.5 Mandeville had to pay the massive sum of 20,000 marks for the privilege of marrying the king’s first wife; an amount he could never hope to repay. He was one of the barons who rose in rebellion during the Magna Carta crisis of 1215.

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Footnotes:

1 Rich Price, King John’s Letters Facebook group; 2 Louise Wilkinson, Isabel of Gloucester, wife of King John, magnacarta800th.com; 3 Ralph of Diceto, Images of History; 4 Lisa Hilton, Queen’s Consort: England’s Medieval Queens; 5 Louise Wilkinson, Isabel of Gloucester, wife of King John, magnacarta800th.com

Sources:

Rich Price, King John’s Letters Facebook group; Louise Wilkinson, Isabel of Gloucester, wife of King John, magnacarta800th.com; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made EnglandThe Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of BritainOxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Robert B. Patterson, Isabella, suo jure Countess of Gloucester (c. 1160-1217), Oxforddnb.com; Ralph of Diceto, Images of History; Lisa Hilton, Queen’s Consort: England’s Medieval Queens; Marc Morris, King John; Elizabeth Norton, She-Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England; Louise Wilkinson, Isabella of Angoulême, wife of King John, magnacarta800th.com

Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia, except Winchester Cathedral is ©2020 courtesy of Anne Marie Bouchard, Westminster Abbey, ©2020 courtesy of Daniel Gleave and Canterbury Cathedral which is ©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Magna Carta and the Princesses of Scotland

12215 Magna Carta, British Library

Other than the Queen of England, Isabelle d’Angoulême, only two women who can be clearly identified in Magna Carta itself. Though they are not mentioned by name, they are two Scottish princesses. The older sisters of King Alexander II had been held hostage in England since 1209, when John forced the humiliating Treaty of Norham on their ailing father, King William the Lion. Clause 59 of Magna Carta promised:

‘We will treat Alexander, king of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and hostages and his liberties and rights in the same manner in which we will act towards our other barons of England, unless it ought to be otherwise because of the charters which we have from William his father, formerly king of Scots; and this shall be determined by the judgement of his peers in our court.

Taken from Marc Morris, King John

The king of Scots’ two sisters referred to in the clause were Margaret and Isabella, the oldest daughters of William I (the Lion), King of Scots, and his wife, Ermengarde de Beaumont. The two girls had been caught up in the power struggle between their father and the Plantagenet kings. William I had been the second of three sons of Henry, Earl of Northumberland, and his wife, Ada de Warenne. He was, therefore, a grandson of David I and great-grandson of Malcolm III Canmor and St Margaret, the Anglo-Saxon princess. William had succeeded to his father’s earldom of Northumberland in June 1153, when his older brother, Malcolm IV, succeeded their grandfather as King of Scots. William himself became King of Scots on Malcolm’s death on 9 December 1165, aged about 23.

When William was looking for a wife, in 1186, King Henry II suggested Ermengarde de Beaumont, daughter of Richard, Vicomte de Beaumont-sur-Sarthe, and great-granddaughter of Henry I of England through one of the king’s many illegitimate offspring. With such diluted royal blood, she was hardly a prestigious match for the king of Scots, but he reluctantly accepted the marriage after consulting his advisers. The wedding took place at Woodstock on 5 September 1186, with King Henry hosting four days of festivities and Edinburgh Castle was returned to the Scots as part of Ermengarde’s dowry.

William the Lion, King of Scots

After the wedding, King William accompanied King Henry to Marlborough whilst the new Scottish queen was escorted to her new home by Jocelin, Bishop of Glasgow, and other Scottish nobles. Before 1195 Queen Ermengarde gave birth to two daughters, Margaret and Isabella. A son, the future Alexander II, was finally born at Haddington on 24 August 1198, the first legitimate son born to a reigning Scottish king in seventy years; a contemporary remarked that ‘many rejoiced at his birth.’1 A third daughter, Marjorie, was born sometime later.

Margaret, the eldest daughter of William I and Ermengarde de Beaumont, had been born sometime between her parents’ marriage in 1186 and 1195, unfortunately we cannot be more specific. Given the apparent youth of Ermengarde on her wedding day, Margaret’s date of birth is more likely to have been 1190 or later. We do know that she was born by 1195, as she was mooted as a possible heir to King William I in the succession crisis of that year, when the king fell gravely ill. Primogeniture was not yet the established order of succession, nor was the idea of a female ruler a welcome one; the period known to history as the Anarchy, which followed King Stephen’s usurpation of the throne from Empress Matilda, would have still been fresh in people’s memories, even in Scotland. King David had, after all, supported his niece’s claims against those of her cousin. The lesson of 20 years of civil war, albeit over the border, would have given William’s counsellors pause for thought in their own succession issue.

King John

Several options were proposed at the time, including marrying young Margaret to Otto of Saxony, son of Henry II’s eldest daughter Matilda and nephew of King Richard I. However, it was also proposed that Margaret should not even be considered as heir, that the kingdom should pass to her father’s younger brother, David. In the event, King William recovered and none of the options were pursued, but at least it means that we know Margaret was born before 1195. And when her brother, Alexander, was born in 1198, Margaret’s position as a possible heir was diminished further.

Margaret’s younger sister, Isabella’s date and year of birth is unknown; she was older than her brother, Alexander, who was born in 1198, but may have been born any time in the ten years before. She is not mentioned in the succession crisis of 1195, but that does not mean that she was born after, just that, being the younger daughter, she was not a subject of discussions. Jessica Nelson, in her article for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, suggests that Isabella was born in 1195 or 1196.

The two young princesses became the unwitting pawns in political relations between England and Scotland when the two kings, John and William the Lion, met at Norham, Northumberland, in the last week of July and first week of August 1209. The Scots were in a desperate position, with an ailing and ageing king, and a 10-year-old boy as heir, whilst the English, with their Welsh allies and foreign mercenaries, had an army big enough to force a Scottish submission. The subsequent treaty, agreed at Norham on 7 August, was humiliating for the Scots. John would have the castle at Tweedmouth dismantled, but the Scots would pay an extra £4,000 compensation for the damage they had caused to it. The Scots also agreed to pay 15,000 marks for peace and to surrender hostages, including the king’s two oldest legitimate daughters, Margaret and Isabella.

Norham Castle

As a sweetener, John promised to marry the princesses to his sons; although Henry was only 2 years old at the time and Richard was just 8 months, whilst the girls were probably in their early-to-mid teens. The king’s daughters and the other Scottish hostages were handed into the custody of England’s justiciar, at Carlisle on 16 August. How the girls, or their parents, thought about this turn of events, we know not. Given John’s proven record of prevarication and perfidy, King William may have hoped that the promised marriages would occur in good time, but may also have expected that John would find a way out of the promises made.

John’s demand of Margaret and Isabella as hostages, with the sweetener that they would be brides for his own sons, may well have been to prevent Margaret marrying elsewhere. King Philip II of France had expressed interest in a marriage between himself and Margaret, a union John would be keen to thwart. Thus, John’s control of the marriages of Margaret and Isabella would mean that they could not marry against the king of England’s own interests. It also meant that King William had lost two useful diplomatic bargaining chips; marriage alliances could be used to cement political ones, and these had been passed to John, weakening William’s position on the international stage. According to the chronicler Bower, the agreement specified that Margaret would marry John’s son, Henry, while Isabella would be married to an English nobleman of rank.

When the sisters were brought south, they were housed comfortably, as evidence demonstrates. While hostages in England, Margaret and Isabella were kept together, and lived comfortably, although John’s promise of arranging marriages for the girls remained unfulfilled. Payments for their upkeep were recorded by sheriffs and the king’s own wardrobe, which suggests the two princesses spent some time at court. In 1213 Isabella was residing at Corfe Castle in the household of John’s queen, Isabelle d’Angoulême; John’s niece, Eleanor of Brittany, held captive since the failed rebellion of her brother, Arthur of Brittany in 1202, was also there.

Alexander II, King of Scots

One can imagine the frustration of the Scots, to see their princesses languishing in the custody of the English; their inclusion in clause 59 of Magna Carta evidence of this. Unfortunately, King John tore up Magna Carta almost before the wax seals had dried, writing to the pope to have the charter declared void, leaving Alexander to join the baronial rebellion.

When Alexander came to terms with the government of Henry III in December 1217, he pressed for a resolution to the marriages of himself and his sisters, Margaret and Isabella, still languishing in English custody. In June 1220, at a meeting of King Henry III’s minority council, it was agreed that Margaret and Isabella would be married by October 1221 or allowed to return to Scotland.

King John had promised that Alexander would marry one of his daughters and Henry III, or rather his ministers, finally fulfilled this promise in June 1221, when his sister, Joan, was married to the Scots king at York. And it was probably at this event, when the Scottish and English royal families came together in celebration, that Margaret’s own future was finally resolved.

It was decided that she would marry Hubert de Burgh, the king’s justiciar and one of the leading figures of Henry III’s minority government. They were married in London on 3 October 1221, with King Henry himself giving the bride away. It was a major coup for Hubert de Burgh, who came from a gentry family rather than the higher echelons of the nobility; though it was a less prestigious match for Margaret, the daughter of a king. The couple had one child, a girl named Margaret but known as Megotta, who was probably born in the early 1220s.

Hubert de Burgh from Matthew Paris

Isabella, however, remained unmarried and returned to Scotland in November 1222. Isabella’s own marriage prospects may have been damaged by the relatively lowly marriage of her older sister. Nevertheless, Alexander II was keen to look after his sister’s interests and continued to search for a suitable husband. A letter from Henry III alludes to a possible match between Isabella and William (II) Marshal, Earl of Pembroke but the earl was, instead, married to the king’s own younger sister, Eleanor

Isabella’s future was finally settled in June 1225, when she married Roger Bigod, fourth Earl of Norfolk, at Alnwick in Northumberland. On 20 May, the archbishop of York was given respite from his debts in order to attend the wedding of the King of Scots’ sister:

Order to the barons of the Exchequer to place in respite, until 15 days from Michaelmas in the ninth year, the demand for debts they make by summons of the Exchequer from W. archbishop of York, because the archbishop has set out for Alnwick where he is to be present to celebrate the marriage between Roger, son and heir of Earl H. Bigod, and Isabella, sister of the King of Scots.

finerollshenry3.org.uk /content/calendar/roll_022.html#it204_001, 20 May
1225.

Roger was the young son of Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who had died earlier in the year, and Matilda Marshal, eldest daughter of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. Roger was still a minor, aged about 13, and possibly as much as seventeen years his wife’s junior. In 1224 King Alexander II had levied an aid of 10,000 marks towards the costs of his sisters’ marriages, as well as contributing £1,000 towards Henry III’s 1225 expedition to Gascony, suggesting the Scots king was eager to see both his sisters comfortably settled.

At the time of the marriage, Roger’s wardship was in the hands of Henry III’s uncle, William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, but it was transferred to King Alexander II in 1226, after Longespée’s death. Now in the custody of the king of Scots, Roger and Isabella moved to Scotland, living at the Scottish court until Roger attained his majority in 1233 and entered into his inheritance.

The Marshal coat of arms

Ten years after the sealing of Magna Carta, and 16 years after they had been taken hostage, the two Scottish princesses were both finally settled into marriage, though less exalted marriages than their father had wished and hoped for, with English barons, rather than princes or kings. Their younger sister, Marjorie, would also marry into the English nobility in 1235, becoming the wife of Gilbert Marshal, 3rd son of the famed William Marshal who had become Earl of Pembroke the previous year.

Marjorie died in 1244, Isabella in 1253 and Margaret, the eldest, in 1259. Rather unusually for princesses, who would often be married off in foreign lands and separated from family, the 3 sisters would share their final resting place and be buried at the Church of the Black Friars in London.

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Footnote:

1W.W. Scott, ‘Ermengarde de Beaumont (1233)’, Oxforddnb.com.

Images:

All images courtesy of Wikipedia except Magna Carta, which is ©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Sources:

finerollshenry3.org.uk; W.W. Scott, ‘Ermengarde de Beaumont (1233)’, Oxforddnb.com; Marc Morris, King John; Jessica Nelson, ‘Isabella [Isabella Bigod], countess of Norfolk (b. 1195/1196, 1270)’, Oxforddnb.com; Nelson, Jessica A., ‘Isabella, Countess of Norfolk’, magnacarta800th.com; Louise J. Wilkinson, ‘Margaret, Princess of Scotland’, magnacarta800th.com; W.W. Scott, ‘Margaret, countess of Kent (b. 1187×1195, d. 1259)’, Oxforddnb.com; Keith Stringer, ‘Alexander II (1198–1249)’, Oxforddnb.com; Mackay, A.J.G. (ed.), The Historie and Chronicles of Scotland … by Robert Lindesay of Pitscottie; Ross, David, Scotland: History of a Nation; 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; The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Matthew Paris, Robert de Reading and others, Flores Historiarum, volume III.

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My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Joan Beaufort: a Medieval Matriarch

Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland, from the Neville Book of Hours

Joan Beaufort was the youngest child and only daughter of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine Swynford. Her father, Gaunt, was the third surviving son of Edward III and his queen, Philippa of Hainault. He had married Blanche of Lancaster in 1359 – a marriage which eventually brought him the title of Duke of Lancaster. With Blanche he had 3 surviving legitimate children: Elizabeth, Philippa and Henry – the future king, Henry IV.

Joan’s mother, Katherine Swynford, was a member of Blanche’s household and had been married to a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford, in 1367. They had 3 children together; Blanche, Thomas and Margaret. Sir Hugh was a tenant of John of Gaunt and served on the continent with him in 1366 and 1370. John of Gaunt was widowed in 1368, when Blanche died in childbirth. Katherine had been governess to the Lancaster children for a number of years when Hugh died in November 1371, leaving her a young widow with 3 children to feed.

John and Katherine may have begun their relationship shortly after Hugh’s death, despite John having married again, to Constance of Castile, in September 1371. John and Katherine’s first child, John, was probably born in 1372, with 3 more children, Henry, Thomas and Joan, born before 1379. They would be given the surname of Beaufort, though no one seems to know quite where the name came from. Although the children were illegitimate, the boys enjoyed successful careers during the reign of their half-brother, Henry IV; with John in politics, Henry rising to the rank of cardinal in the church and Thomas pursuing a military career.

Joan was the youngest of the Beaufort children, born sometime between 1377 and 1379. She was close to her family. She joined the household of her sister-in-law, Mary de Bohun, wife of her half-brother, the future Henry IV, in 1386. It seems that she was accompanied by her mum, Katherine Swynford, possibly because Katherine and John of Gaunt had separated and John was reconciled with his second wife, Constance of Castile. Joan was about 7-years-old and was continuing her education and being prepared for her first marriage – she had just been betrothed to 10-year-old Robert Ferrers of Oversley, Warwickshire. Robert would become one of her father’s retainers and, through his mother, heir to the estates of the Botelers of Wem, Shropshire. They were married in 1392, when Joan was 13 or 14 and 2 daughters were born in quick succession; Elizabeth in 1393 and Mary the following year. The marriage was cut short, however, when Robert died in 1395 or 1396, leaving Joan – still only in her mid-teens – a widow with young children.

John of Gaunt, Joan’s father

As the granddaughter of a king, Joan was bound not to remain a widow for long. And her marriage prospects improved drastically in February 1396, when her parents were married in Lincoln Cathedral. Shortly after he married Katherine, John of Gaunt applied to the pope to have their children declared legitimate; the papal bull declaring the legitimacy of Joan and her brothers arrived in September of the same year. As the legitimate granddaughter of a king, Joan’s status was improved immensely and she was soon married to the recently widowed 6th baron of Raby and later earl of Westmorland, Ralph Neville.

Unlike many medieval women, we have some idea of what Joan may have looked like, thanks to a miniature by Pol de Limbourg. Taken from the Neville Book of Hours, it shows Joan dressed piously in black and white, though her cloak and cuffs are lined with ermine and she wears the Lancastrian S-collar around her neck. Her features are delicate. Her hands, with rings on the fingers, are clasped in prayer.

Joan was a learned woman, she was educated to the same standard as her legitimate half-sisters, Philippa and Elizabeth of Lancaster. She seems to have possessed a considerable library, the texts being largely devotional. She owned a copy of ‘Les Cronikels de Jerusalem et de Viage de Godfray de Boylion’ (Chronicles of Jerusalem and the Voyages of Godfrey de Bouillon) which she lent to her nephew, Henry V, but had to petition the Council for its return after Henry’s death. Her brother, Thomas, had left her a book, titled ‘Tristram’.

Thomas Hoccleve dedicated a volume of poems, ‘Hoccleve’s Works’ to her sending it to her around 1422, saying:

Go, smal book to the noble excellence

Of my lady of Westmerland and seye,

Her humble seruant with al reuerence

Him recommandith vn-to hir nobleye.

Also, an early copy of Hoccleve’s ‘Regiment of Princes’ was made for Joan’s son-in-law, John Mowbray.

Raby Castle, Count Durham

Known for her piety, Joan left many bequests to religious institutions in her will, especially monasteries in the north. Admitted to the sisterhood at St Albans, she was also licensed to appropriate for the support of the chantry the advowson of the church of Welton, in the Howden area; and it was Joan who saw the completion of the college at Staindrop, founded by her husband in 1408. According to antiquarian, John Leland, Joan ‘erectid the very house self of the college’ in the form of a medieval hospital. Her piety, however, was not always conventional. Her father had been a defender of the Lollards – he employed John Wycliffe, the first person to translate the Bible into English, as a tutor to his children. And Joan seems to have had a similar religious curiosity – hence her association with Margery Kempe.

Margery Kempe was a mystic from Lyn, Norfolk; she claimed to have visions of Christ and travelled throughout England and on the Continent. She wrote the Book of Margery Kempe which recounted the story of her life and her visions and considered to be the first ever autobiography in English. Joan invited Margery Kempe to visit her at Raby. She also wrote a letter to exonerate Margery from accusations of corruption. Margery’s own testimony says they knew each other for ‘this two years and more’. In 1417 Margery was brought before the Archbishop of York, accused of advising Joan’s daughter, Elizabeth Greystoke, to leave her husband. Margery was found ‘not guilty’ of the offence and under questioning, admitted she had told Countess Joan and her daughter a ‘good tale of a lady who was damned because she would not love her enemies’. Margery even suggested her questioners ask Joan for corroboration of her testimony, demonstrating her trust that the Countess would back her.

Joan enjoyed influence at court – as the sister of one king, Henry IV, and aunt to his successor, Henry V. She was named in royal grants as ‘the king’s sister’ and made a Lady of the Garter in the reign of her cousin, Richard II. She was compassionate and used her influence to petition the king to aid those less fortunate, such as Christopher and Margaret Standith, who had fallen on hard times after Christopher had been dismissed from his father’s service for marrying for love. Joan wrote the king, asking him to give Margaret a position in the household of his queen, Joan of Navarre.

It can be argued that Joan had a strong bond of affection and purpose with her husband. They both wanted to see their family’s prospects improved even further, arranging advantageous marriages for their large brood of children. Although, it is unclear how much influence Joan had when her husband, the Earl of Westmorland, manage to entail the bulk of his estates onto his children by Joan, rather than the children by his first marriage to Margaret Stafford. This seems to have been a sensible strategy, given that his children by Joan were closely related to the royal family – Joan being the half sister of King Henry IV. The strategy, however, caused Joan problems after her husband’s death and led to a family feud – which sometimes turned violent – which wasn’t resolved until after Joan died.

Tomb of Ralph Neville, St Mary’s Church, Staindrop

Joan was a strong influence on her daughters and daughters-in-law. She concerned herself with matters of family – such as her children’s marriages – rather than business. Ralph’s son, also Ralph, by his first marriage, was married to Mary, Joan’s younger daughter from her first marriage. Ralph and Joan’s children were married into many of the leading noble dynasties of the time and served to strengthen the position of the Beauforts as a whole. Such significant marriages saw their eldest daughter, Katherine, married to John Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk – it was Katherine who later married John Woodville, brother-in-law of her nephew Edward IV; Katherine was around 65 years old and John just 20. Of other daughters, Eleanor married Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, while Anne married Humphrey Stafford, a descendant of Edward III and 1st Duke of Buckingham. Of their sons, Richard Neville married Alice Montagu, heiress to the earldom of Salisbury, and became Earl of Salisbury by right of his wife; their son, Richard Neville, was the Earl of Warwick known as the Kingmaker. Robert Neville became Bishop of Durham and other sons married rich heiresses to claim titles and positions for themselves.

Ralph died in 1425 and was buried at Staindrop, close to Raby Castle. His tomb includes effigies of both Joan and his first wife, although neither woman is buried beside him. Joan was herself responsible for the negotiations after her husband’s death, which saw their youngest daughter, Cecily, married to Richard, Duke of York. Two of Cecily’s sons would become Kings of England; Edward IV and Richard III.

Having married young herself, and having become a mother before she was 15 years old, Joan was sensible to the dangers of girls marrying too young and ensured that none of her daughters or daughters-in-law, faced the dangers of childbirth before they were 17 or 18 years of age. She even kept married couples apart – such as Cecily and the Duke of York – when necessary, in order to protect the girls.

Joan’s tomb, beside that of her her mother, in Lincoln Cathedral

On 28 November 1437, Joan was granted licence for the foundation of a chantry with two chaplains at Lincoln Cathedral, to pray daily for the soul of her mother, Katherine Swynford, as well as for herself, her husband, brother (Cardinal Henry Beaufort) and father. On the same day, she secured a grant for daily prayers to be said at Staindrop Church – where her husband Ralph, Earl of Westmorland, was buried – for the souls of her husband, brother and father.

Joan died at Howden, a manor near Beverley in her son Robert’s possession as Bishop of Durham, on 13 November 1440. In her will, she requested to be buried with her mother, with whom she had a strong bond in life, but also for her mother’s burial site to be enlarged and enclosed. It seems likely that the now-lost wrought iron screens which surrounded her mother’s tomb, were added at this time, rather than when Katherine died in 1403. Joan’s epitaph claimed that the whole nation grieved at her death.

There is, however, no clear indication why Joan chose to be buried with her mother, rather than at Staindrop with her husband. It may be that as the granddaughter of a king (Edward III), she thought Lincoln Cathedral a more appropriate resting place, or that she wanted to be as close to her mother in death as she had been in life.

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Pictures: John of Gaunt and Joan Beaufort courtesy of Wikipedia. All other photos ©SharonBennettConnolly FRHistS

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Sources: katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk; Red Roses: Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort by Amy Licence; The Nevills of Middleham by K.L. Clark; The House of Beaufort: the Bastard Line that Captured the Crown by Nathen Amin; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; The mammoth Book of British kings & Queen by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Life and Times of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Oxforddnb.com; womenshistory.about.com/od/medrenqueens/a/Katherine-Swynford.

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My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly FrHistS