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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Love, Adultery and a Fake Kidnapping? The story of Isabel de Vermandois

Adelaide_of_Vermandois
Adelaide de Vermandois, mother of Isabel

Born around 1085, Isabel de Vermandois had the blood of kings flowing through her veins. Her father was Hugh Capet, younger son of King Henry I of France. Her mother was Adelaide de Vermandois, a descendant of the ancient Carolingian dynasty. She was 1 of her parents’ 9 surviving children; 4 boys and 5 girls.

As with many medieval women, there are no images of Isabel; not even a description of her appearance. Her life can be pieced together, somewhat, through her marriages and through her children. When researching her, her name also frequently appears as Elizabeth – Isabel being the French version of her name.

From her birth, as the granddaughter of the King of France, Isabel was a valuable prize. Her childhood proved to be  depressingly short. By 1096 a marriage was mooted between Isabel and Robert de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, who was 35 years her senior.

Robert de Beaumont was a seasoned warrior and courtier, with lands in both England and Normandy. He had fought alongside William the conqueror at the Battle of Hastings and was with William II Rufus when he was killed in a hunting accident in the New Forest. A loyal supporter of Henry I, he would fight for his king at the Battle of Tinchebrai in 1106, and receive the earldom of Leicester in 1107.

Hugh_I_of_Vermandois
Hugh I, Count of Vermandois

The marriage was originally opposed by the church; the prospective couple were related within the prohibited degrees and Isabel was not yet at the minimum legal age to marry – 12. Before leaving on Crusade, however, Isabel’s father was able to persuade Pope Urban to issue a dispensation and the marriage went ahead in 1096.

Isabel was around 11 years old, Robert de Beaumont was about 46.

Isabel gave Robert 9 children; the first was a daughter, Emma, born in 1102. Twin boys followed in 1104; Waleran and Robert de Beaumont, earls of Worcester and Leicester, respectively. The brothers were active supporters of King Stephen during the conflict with Empress Matilda, popularly known as the Anarchy, but while Robert would come to terms with Matilda’s son, the future Henry II, in 1153, Waleran was distrusted due to his support of Louis VII of France.

Another daughter, Isabel, was a mistress of Henry I before being married to Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke. Through her son Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, she would be the grandmother of Isabel de Clare, wife of the great knight and Regent for Henry III, William Marshal.

Coa_England_Family_Warren_of_Surrey.svg
Arms of Isabel de Vermandois assumed by William de Warenne following their marriage.

Isabel’s marriage to Robert de Beaumont seems to have ended in scandal and controversy. The chronicler Henry of Huntingdon reported that she was seduced by William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey, suggesting they had a love affair, which lasted for several years. It’s hard to blame a young woman of 30, in an arranged marriage to a man more than twice her age, for looking elsewhere for love and comfort.

William de Warenne had failed, in 1093, to obtain a royal bride for himself in a match with Matilda of Scotland (she went on to marry Henry I), and so looked elsewhere for a bride. It seems that de Warenne hatched a plot to kidnap Isabel – possibly with her approval – after de Beaumont refused to grant his wife a divorce. Huntingdon has the aged warrior dying of shame following his wife’s betrayal:

But when he was at the height of his fame, it happened that another count stole his wife, by intrigue and violent treachery. Because of this, in his old age his mind was troubled, and, darkened by anguish, he passed into the shadows of grief, and never again experienced happiness or cheerfulness. After days given over to sorrow he fell into an illness that heralded his death …

Henry of Huntingdon, The History of the English People 1000-1154

However … Henry of Huntingdon’s accusations may well be a misinterpretation of the facts; and be based on rumours arising from Isabel and William marrying within only a few months of her first husband’s death.

Whether the story is true, or not, is highly questionable, but great for the novelists. However, Robert de Beaumont died soon after, on 5th June 1118, and William and Isabel married as soon as they could; William was approaching 50, had been Earl of Surrey for 30 years and, as yet, had no heir to succeed him.

Castle Acre, residence of the Earls of Surrey

William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey, had a chequered career. He had succeeded his father in 1088, but was disinherited by Henry I for his support of Henry’s brother Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, in his attempt on the English throne. De Warenne was restored to favour in 1103 and thereafter remained loyal. He would be one of the earls present at Henry I’s death on 1st December 1135 at Lyons-la-Foret.

On his marriage to Isabel, William assumed the Vermandois coat of arms as his own and the blue and yellow checks became known as the ‘Warenne chequer’.

Isabel and William had several children; their son and heir, William, the future 3rd earl was born in 1119. He would die on Crusade in January 1148 in the Battle of Mount Cadmus, at Laodicea in Turkey, whilst fighting in the elite royal guard of his cousin, King Louis VII of France. His only child, a daughter, Isabel, became the greatest heiress in England.

Another 2 sons followed, Ralph and Rainald, and 2 daughters. Gundreda married Roger de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick and Ada married Prince Henry of Scotland, Earl of Huntingdon, son and heir of David I of Scotland. Two of Ada’s sons became kings of Scotland; Malcolm IV and William the Lion.

500px-LewesPriory
Lewes Priory, final resting place of Isabel de Vermandois, Countess of Leicester and Surrey

Isabel’s 2 families seem to have got on quite well. Not only did Gundreda de Warenne marry a  cousin of her Beaumont siblings, but William de Warenne also had both his son and step sons with him when he attended Henry I on his deathbed. The Beaumont and Warenne half-brothers looked after each other, and their interests, during the period known as the Anarchy, when King Stephen and Empress Matilda were vying for the crown. Young William de Warenne, the 3rd Earl, was only 18 or 19 when his father died, and was guided and advised by his half-brothers Waleran and Robert, 15 years his senior.

Although her life was tinged with scandal, Isabel of Vermandois has had a great influence on the history of England and Scotland. From her are descended the greatest families of England and all subsequent Scottish monarchs.

William de Warenne died in 1138, having held the earldom of Surrey for 50 years; he was buried at his father’s feet at Lewes Priory. Isabel survived him by almost 10 years, dying around 1147/8. She was also buried at Lewes Priory, close to her husband.

*

Pictures taken from Wikipedia, except Castle Acre, which is ©2019, Sharon Bennett Connolly

Sources: Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Batlett; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The History of the English People 1000-1154 by Henry of Huntingdon; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; british-history.ac.uk; kristiedean.com; knight-france.com.

*


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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

*

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.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly