Mary and Isabella – the Women in Cages

Isabella Buchan crowning Robert the Bruce at Scone

When watching Outlaw King a couple of weeks ago, I was disappointed to see that they had omitted the stories of Robert the Bruce’s sister, Mary, and the woman who crowned him, Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan. And yet, they managed to keep the punishment Edward I meted out to them, but inflicted it on Robert the Bruce’s wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, instead. In a great example of dramatic licence, they also insisted on retelling the age-old fallacy that the cage was hung from the castle walls, exposing the poor woman to ridicule and the elements.

While it is necessary to change stories, and limit the number of protagonists in a movie, in order to avoid confusion, produce a fabulous story and, probably, keep down costs, I thought it a shame that the remarkable stories of Mary and Isabella were ignored, or rather circumvented for the dramatic benefit of the movie.

We know very little of Mary Bruce. She was a younger sister of King Robert, probably born around 1282. A younger daughter of Robert de Brus, 6th Earl of Annandale, and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick in her own right. It may be that she took care of her brother’s daughter, Marjorie, after Robert’s first wife, Isabella of Mar, died giving birth to the baby girl.

Her story has long been intertwined with that of her brother.

From that fateful moment  in Greyfriars Church in Dumfries when Robert the Bruce stabbed to death John Comyn, his rival to the Scottish throne, it was a race against time for Robert to establish himself as king. Whether Comyn’s death was accidental or murder, we’ll probably never know. Almost immediately, Robert made the dash for Scone, hoping to achieve his coronation before the Christian world erupted in uproar over his sacrilege. An excommunicate could not be crowned. His sisters Christian and Mary accompanied him to Scone Abbey, as did his wife Elizabeth and daughter Marjorie. The Stone of Scone was the traditional coronation seat of the kings of Scotland and, although the stone had been stolen by the English and spirited away to London, holding the coronation at the Abbey sent a message of defiance to the English king, Edward I.

The killing of Comyn, by Felix Philippoteaux

On 25 March 1306 Mary, Christian, Elizabeth and little Marjorie were all present when Robert the Bruce was crowned King Robert I by Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, who claimed her family’s hereditary right to crown Scotland’s kings (despite her being married to a Comyn). The ceremony was repeated on 27 March, following the late arrival of William Lamberton, Bishop of St Andrews. Robert’s coronation was the start of the most desperate period of his life – and that of his supporters. Edward I of England was never one to acquiesce when his will was flouted; he sent his army into Scotland to hunt down the new king and his adherents. After Robert’s defeat by the English at Methven in 1306, he went into hiding in the Highlands.

Robert sent his wife and daughter north to what he hoped would be safety. Mary, her sister Christan and Isabella, Countess of Buchan accompanied them, escorted by the Earl of Atholl and Mary and Christian’s brother, Sir Neil Bruce. It is thought that the Bruce women were heading north to Orkney to take a boat to Norway, where Robert’s sister, Isabel, widow of King Erik II, was still living. Unfortunately, they would never make it. The English caught up with them at Kildrummy Castle and laid siege to it. The defenders were betrayed by someone in their garrison, a blacksmith who set fire to the barns, making the castle indefensible.

The women managed to escape with the Earl of Atholl, but Neil Bruce remained with the garrison to mount a desperate defence, to give the queen, his niece and sisters enough time to escape. Following their capitulation, the entire garrison was executed. Sir Neil Bruce was subjected to a traitor’s death; he was hung, drawn and quartered at Berwick in September 1306 (not in front of the women he had protected, as portrayed in the film). Mary and her companions did not escape for long; they made for Tain, in Easter Ross, probably in the hope of finding a boat to take them onwards. They were hiding in the sanctuary of St Duthac when they were captured by the Earl of Ross (a former adherent of the deposed king John Balliol), who handed them over to the English. They were sent south, to Edward I at Lanercost Priory in Cumbria.

Edward I’s admirer, Sir Maurice Powicke, said Edward treated his captives with a ‘peculiar ferocity’.¹ Mary was treated particularly harshly by Edward I. The English king had a special cage built for her, although within the castle and not, as previously believed, hung from the walls of the keep at Roxburgh Castle, exposed to the elements and the derision of the English garrison and populace. In contrast, her sister Christian was sent into captivity to a Gilbertine convent at Sixhills, an isolated location, deep in the Lincolnshire Wolds. Christian languished at Sixhills for eight years, until shortly after her brother’s remarkable victory over the English at Bannockburn, in 1314. Despite Edward II escaping the carnage, King Robert the Bruce had managed to capture several notable English prisoners, including Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Essex. Suddenly in a strong bargaining position, the Scots king was able to exchange his English captives for his family, held prisoners in England for the last 8 years.

The remains of Berwick Castle

Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, also suffered the harshly under Edward I’s not inconsiderable wrath. Isabella was probably born around 1270; she was the daughter of Colban, Earl of Fife, and his wife, Anna. Isabella was married to John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, and was first mentioned in 1297, when she was in England, managing her husband’s estates while he was in Scotland. Captured after the Scottish defeat at Dunbar in 1296, the Earl of Buchan had been sent north by Edward I, ordered to take action against Andrew Murray; however, he only took cursory action against the loyal Scot and soon changed sides, possibly fighting for the Scots at Falkirk in 1298. The Comyn family were cousins of Scotland’s former king, John Balliol, and constantly fought for his return to the throne, putting them in direct opposition to Robert the Bruce.

Isabella’s story remained unremarkable throughout Scotland’s struggles in the early years of the 1300s; until Robert the Bruce made his move for the throne in 1306. By birth, Isabella was a MacDuff, her father had been Earl of Fife and, in 1306, the current earl was her nephew, Duncan, a teenager who was a loyal devotee of Edward I. The Earls of Fife had, for centuries, claimed the hereditary right to crown Scotland’s kings. Although Duncan had no interest in being involved in the coronation of Robert the Bruce, Isabella was determined to fulfil her family’s role. It cannot have been an easy decision for her. Isabella’s participation was an act of bravery and defiance. She went against not only Edward I but her own husband, the Earl of Buchan. Isabella’s husband and the murdered John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, were not only cousins but had a close relationship. It seems likely that Isabella’s husband was in England at the time of Bruce’s coronation, and she did not have to face him personally; but she would have known that her actions would mean there was no going back. Supporting Robert the Bruce, the man who stood accused of John Comyn’s murder, meant she turned against her husband and his entire family, people she had lived among for her entire married life.

Isabella reached Scone on 27 March 1306, two days after Robert had been crowned by Bishop Lamberton. She insisted on her family’s hereditary right to crown the new king and the ceremony was repeated for a second time, with Isabella placing the crown on the new king’s head. There are some rumours of a more intimate relationship between Isabella and Bruce, but these seem to be without foundation and are only to be expected, given that Isabel acted so decisively – and publicly – against her husband.

There was no going back for Isabella – crowning Robert the Bruce meant she was on her own; she couldn’t go back to her family, so she stayed with the royal party, travelling with Elizabeth de Burgh, the new queen, when Bruce sent her, his daughter and sisters, north for their safety. Isabella was with them when they escaped Kildrummy Castle by the skin of their teeth, and when they reached the shrine of St Duthac at Tain and were captured by William, Earl of Ross, in September 1306. As the party were sent south, Isabella must have faced the future with trepidation. Her placing the crown on Robert the Bruce’s head was the clearest challenge to Edward I and guaranteed that she would receive no sympathy from England’s king.

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn

Even knowing that she would receive harsh treatment, it is doubtful that she, or indeed anyone, could have foreseen the punishment that Edward I would mete out. He ordered the construction of wooden cages, for Isabella and Bruce’s sister Mary; the two women were to be imprisoned in these cages close to the Scottish border, Isabella at Berwick Castle and Mary at Roxburgh Castle. Tradition has these cages were suspended from the walls of the castles’ keeps, open to the elements and the harsh Borders weather, the only shelter and privacy being afforded by a small privy. According to the Flores Historiarum, written at the Abbey of St Albans, Edward I said of Isabel’s punishment:

“[o]ne who doesn’t strike with the sword shall not perish by the sword. But because of that illicit coronation which she made, in a little enclosure made of iron and stone in the form of a crown, solidly constructed, let her be suspended at Berwick under the open heavens, so as to provide, in life and after death, a spectacle for passers-by and eternal shame.”²

It is doubtful, however, that the St Albans annalist was present when the order was given. The original royal writ still survives, written in French and reads a little differently;

“It is decreed and ordered by letters under the privy seal sent to the Chamberlain of Scotland, or his Lieutenant at Berwick-uponTweed, that, in one of the turrets within the castle at the same place, in the position which he sees to be most suitable for the purpose, he cause to be made a cage of stout lattice work of timber, barred and strengthened with iron, in which he is to put the Countess of Buchan.”³

This type of cage, within a room in the keep, was also used by Edward I to hold Owain, the son of Daffydd ab Gruffuddd; he had been held at Bristol Castle since 1283 and had been secured in a cage, overnight, since 1305. The construction of the cages was intended to humiliate their occupants and, at the same time, Scotland’s new king. They were also a taunt; placing Isabella and Mary in these cages, in castles on the border with Scotland, it is possible they were intended as a challenge to Robert the Bruce, showing him that he was not powerful enough to protect his women, but also teasing him, hoping he would be drawn into a rescue attempt that would, almost certainly, lead to the destruction of his limited forces.

Despite Edward I’s death in 1307, Isabella, Countess of Buchan was held in her little cage in Berwick Castle for four years in total. Attempts to secure her release were made by Sir Robert Keith and Sir John Mowbray, by appealing to Duncan, Earl of Fife, but the appeals came to nought. It was only in 1310 that Mary and Isabella were released from their cages; Isabella was moved to the more comfortable surroundings of the Carmelite friary at Berwick. In 1313 she was put into the custody of Sir Henry de Beaumont, who was married to Alice, niece and co-heir of Isabella’s husband, John Comyn, Earl of Buchan. This is the last we hear of Isabella, Countess of Buchan, as she slips from the pages of history. It seems likely that Isabella died within the next year, probably due to her health being destroyed by the years of deprivation; she was not among the hostages who were returned to Scotland following the Scots’ victory at Bannockburn.

The ruins of Roxburgh Castle

Mary, on the other hand, survived her ordeal and was returned to Scotland with the prisoner exchange that followed her brother’s victory at Bannockburn. She would be married twice after her release. Mary’s first husband was Sir Neil Campbell, a staunch supporter of her brother; the marriage being Neil’s reward for a lifetime of service to his king. The couple was to have one son, Iain (also John), and received the confiscated lands of David Strathbogie from the king; lands which passed to Iain on Neil’s death in 1316.  In 1320 Iain was created Earl of Atholl as a consequence of his possession of the Strathbogie lands, and despite the rival claims of Strathbogie’s son. After Neil’s death Mary married a second time, to Alexander Fraser of Touchfraser and Cowie, by whom she had 2 sons, John of Touchfraser and William of Cowie and Durris.

Mary died in 1323, she had survived four years imprisoned in a cage at Roxburgh Castle before being transferred to a more comfortable imprisonment in 1310. It wouldn’t be surprising if this inhumane incarceration had contributed to Mary’s death in her early forties, as it had shortened the life of poor Countess Isabella.

The strength and bravery of these  two women should never be underestimated, nor ignored. To survive 4 years imprisoned in a cage within a castle is remarkable. Even though they were not exposed to the elements, their movements, ability to exercise and exposure to fresh air were severely limited. Their courage and tenacity deserves to be remembered and celebrated. Their story deserves to be told.

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Footnotes: ¹Marc Morris, A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain; ²Interim annalist, Flores Historiarum, Volume III; ³Pilling, David, Ladies in Cages (article)

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Ladies in Cages (article) by David Pilling; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandhistory Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; Edward I A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain by Marc Morris; Buchan, Isabel, Countess of Buchan (b. c.1270, d. after 1313) by Fiona Watson, oxforddnb.com thefreelancehistorywriter.comenglishmonarchs.co.uk.

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Out Now!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is available from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Edward II the Man, A Doomed Inheritance by Stephen Spinks

Edward II is one of the most controversial kings of English history. On numerous occasions he brought England to the brink of civil war.

Author Stephen Spinks argues that Edward and the later murdered Piers Gaveston were lovers, not merely ‘brothers-in-arms’. Influenced by successive royal favourites and with a desire for personal vengeance, his rule became highly polarised and unstable. His own wife took a lover and invaded his kingdom resulting in his forced abdication; the first in British history. Edward’s prevailing legacy remains the warning that all kings can fall from power.

And yet … war, debt and baronial oppression before 1307 ensured that Edward II inherited a toxic legacy that any successor would have found almost impossible to wrestle with. Stephen Spinks explores that legacy using contemporary and later sources. By focusing on Edward’s early years as much as on his reign, and exploring the conflicting influences of those around him, Stephen shows the human side of this tale against a backdrop of political intrigues and betrayals. He peels back the layers to reveal the man who wore the crown. Edward’s belief in his unchallengable right to rule, increasingly at odds with those at his court, and his undeniable thirst for revenge, creates a fourteenth-century tragedy on a grand scale.

I have to say, I had been looking forward to the release of Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance by Stephen Spinks for sometime. It sounded like such an interesting premise for a book, looking at the human side of one of England’s most ineffective kings. And I wasn’t disappointed. This book is a wonderful read, enjoyable from beginning to end.

Meticulously researched and eloquently argued, this book presents Edward II as a man, a king, a friend and a lover. Stephen Spinks uses all the sources available to examine every aspect of Edward’s life – the public and the private – giving us a deep insight into the character of the man and the king. Stephen Spinks presents Edward in all his facets, as a king, father, friend and enemy. He examines those who surround Edward at different stages in his life, discussing how they variously influence or infuriate him.

Entertaining anecdotes help to decipher the character of a king who often made the wrong choice when faced with a decision.

While Edward was working with those around him to seek a political compromise, he heard in late June that the son of a tanner, John Powderham, had arrived in Oxford declaring himself to be the one true king of England. He alleged that he and Edward had been switched at birth. Two days later the arrested Powderham found himself in the presence of the king, who with his characteristic humour, greeted the imposter as ‘brother’. When Edward asked him if such claims were true, not remotely intimidated by his royal audience, simply repeated his claim. What happened next says something about Edward’s character. Whereas most kings would have been apoplectic with rage, the king, still in a playful mood, laughed and suggested John be given a ‘bauble’ and allowed to go around the country as a fool…. Isabella was angry over the whole affair; she rightly saw such claims as a dangerous affront to Edward’s dignity. Powderham was hanged on 23 July…

 

Written in chronological order, Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance discusses the influences that shaped Edward’s character and kingship, highlighting his personal bravery, political judgements and misjudgments, and the way he was influenced by personal favourites, including Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger. Analysing all the major events of Edward’s reign, such as Bannockburn, the death of Gaveston and Isabella’s betrayal, Stephen Spinks manages to bring to life this complex enigma of a medieval king.

As you would expect with any biography of Edward II, the king’s mysterious death is covered in detail, presenting the facts and offering credible theories. The author also makes an eloquent, persuasive, argument for the survival of Edward II after 1327, building a believable timetable of events from the sources available. Although I am still not totally convinced….

Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance is a colourful, full-of-life biography of the controversial king. It is a fabulous book if you want to learn about Edward II, or examine deeper the events and influences on his life. Enjoyable, entertaining and informative, it is a pleasure to read and easy to devour.

 

About the Author

Stephen Spinks wrote his dissertation on Edward II while studying at King’s College, London. He works for the National Trust and manages three Medieval heritage sites with 900 volunteers and 150 staff. He is a columnist for ‘Midlands Zone’ magazine, in which he writes a very well received exploration of life as a gay man today, partly political, partly personal. He has given many interviews on radio and in his capacity at the National Trust, to ‘BBC’s Escape to the Country’ and the ‘Antiques Road Show’. He has been studying the primary sources (and locations) for this book over the past 15 years.

Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance is available from Amazon and Amberley Publishing.

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My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered worldwide from 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.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Book Corner: Under the Approaching Dark by Anna Belfrage

Adam de Guirande has cause to believe the turbulent times are behind him: Hugh Despenser is dead and Edward II is forced to abdicate in favour of his young son. It is time to look forward, to a bright new world in which the young king, guided by his council, heals his kingdom and restores its greatness. But the turmoil is far from over.

England in the early months of 1327 is a country in need of stability, and many turn with hope towards the new young king, Edward III. But Edward is too young to rule, so instead it is his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who do the actual governing, much to the dislike of barons such as Henry of Lancaster.

When it is announced that Edward II has died in September of 1327, what has so far been a grumble grows into voluble protests against Mortimer. Yet again, the spectre of rebellion haunts the land, and things are further complicated by the reappearance of one of Adam’s personal enemies. Soon enough, he and his beloved wife Kit are fighting for their survival – even more so when Adam is given a task that puts them both in the gravest of dangers.

Under the Approaching Dark is the third in Anna Belfrage’s series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord, his king, and his wife.

Anna Belfrage is a master storyteller. She has the ability to weave a tale that draws the reader in from the very first word. But with Under the Approaching Dark she has surpassed herself. She has created a masterpiece of historical fiction. The story entices the reader in and takes them through the full range of emotions in this marvellous adventure, not letting up for one moment.

Under the Approaching Dark is the 3rd book in her King’s Greatest Enemy series telling the story of Kit and Adam Guirande, and of Roger Mortimer, the man who dethroned a king and became lover of a queen. With Kit as one of the queen’s ladies and Adam as Captain of the future Edward III’s guard, the couple are at the centre of events, juggling their public life with their family life. Kit and Adam are living in some of the most turbulent years of English history; they must stay together to survive against jealous rivals, vengeful enemies and the political machinations of the powerful elite.

This story had everything: love, war, suspense and intrigue – and a few twists along the way. One of my big questions before reading the book was how the fate of Edward II would be decided – and it didn’t disappoint. I won’t spoil it for you, but I love how the story unfolds; it is plausible, thoughtful and intriguing.

Anna Belfrage makes her characters human. They are not perfect, they have the same doubts, insecurities and complicated personalities and relationships as in real life. They develop, adapt and grow as events and the years unfold, their experiences sometimes weighing heavily upon them; their past, their future and their relationships.

The author really gets into the hearts and minds of her characters and takes her readers with her, taking them on a rollercoaster of emotions along the way.  A number of scenes will bring a tear to the eye, while others will have you reaching for your sword. Despite the momentous times in which they are living, the story revolves around Kit and Adam, their relationship and the trials they face, both together and apart. They are an impressive couple, but firmly placed within the boundaries that 14th century society dictate. You won’t see Kit wielding a sword, but, as a result, she has more subtle weapons at her disposal.

With each step, the coil of hair grew heavier, and when one of the older ladies gave her a long look accompanied by a pursed mouth and raised brows, Kit regretted having followed Lady Margaret’s advice. Too late. She swallowed. Adam was saying something but stopped mid-sentence when he saw her, and Kit felt her cheeks heat. Would he deem it inappropriate? Chide her? She made a reverence; his hand shot out to close around her elbow, steadying her as she straightened up.

“Sweeting.” he sounded hoarse.

“I…” She licked her lips. “Do you like it?”

“like it?” He traced the golden net with a finger. “It is becoming.”

Her shoulders relaxed.

“But I’ll not have my wife walk about unveiled,” he continued, guiding her back towards the door.

“But the queen -“

A firm finger on Kit’s mouth hushed her. “The queen is not my wife. You are.” He picked at a tendril of hair, tugging ever so gently. “This is for me to see, my lady. Only for me.”

Anna Belfrage is meticulous in her research and includes many of the often overlooked details of medieval life – such as the prohibitions against marital ‘relations’ during Lent, or the length of time it would take a rider to get from York to London. Her descriptions of the cities visited by characters, such as York and Lincoln, are incredible – you can almost feel yourself transported to Clifford’s Tower or standing in front of Lincoln’s imposing cathedral.

Under the Approaching Dark gets everything right. The interaction between the characters is stunning, each having their own traits and quirks which play out in the dialogue. The love scenes are tender and tasteful and the action scenes are fast, furious and full of tension. You never know what will happen next, or how things will play out; which makes the book a true page-turner right to the very end.

The author’s skills at storytelling are exquisite; she draws you in with her words, transporting you back in time and showing you a world that has long since disappeared, but has been brought back to vivid life by the words and imagination of this amazing author. The story grabs your attention from the very first sentence, and will not leave you, not even after the final page has been read.

The writing is impeccable. The story has everything. Under the Approaching Dark is just perfect in every sense.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Days of Sun and Glory by Anna Belfrage

indexAdam de Guirande has barely survived the aftermath of Roger Mortimer’s rebellion in 1321. When Mortimer manages to escape the Tower and flee to France, anyone who has ever served Mortimer becomes a potential traitor – at least in the eyes of King Edward II and his royal chancellor, Hugh Despenser. Adam must conduct a careful balancing act to keep himself and his family alive. Fortunately, he has two formidable allies: Queen Isabella and his wife, Kit. England late in 1323 is a place afflicted by fear…. Tired of being relegated to the background by the king’s grasping favourite, Isabella has decided it is time to act – to safeguard her own position, but also that of her son, Edward of Windsor. As Adam de Guirande has pledged himself to Prince Edward he is automatically drawn into the queen’s plans … Once again, England is plunged into war – and this time it will not end until either Despenser or Mortimer is dead….

Days of Sun and Glory by Anna Belfrage is the 2nd book Anna’s latest series, The King’s Greatest Enemy. In the Shadow of the Storm saw Adam de Guirande, a trusted officer of Roger Mortimer, marry Kit de Monmouth and navigate the political climate of rising opposition to Edward II’s increasing infatuation with Hugh Despenser, while at the same time being 2 strangers negotiating the early tribulations and insecurities of married life. In Days of Sun and Glory the crisis in England is worsening; Mortimer is free and on the continent, leaving his supporters to face the suspicions and antagonisms of the king and Despenser.

Philip_iv_and_family
Isabella with her father, Philip IV, and brothers.

Days of Sun and Glory is a stunning read; full of action, love and suspense, it has the reader on the edge of their seat from the 1st page – and leaves you there right to the last.  This story will have you laughing, crying and biting your finger nails with anticipation throughout. It is a fascinating read that pulls you into the lives of, not only, the central characters, Kit and Adam, but also of the historical characters; Mortimer, Isabella, King Edward and his heir, the future Edward III.

Although we see new enemies the chief antagonist remains the same: Despenser. Anna Belfrage paints a picture of Despenser that makes you cringe every time he appears on the page. He is charmingly polite and clever; while being, at the same time despicable and slimy. He will stoop to anything to keep his position and influence with the king; using any weapon available – including children . This is one man everyone loves to hate – except the king and his wife.

As luck would have it, they ran into Lord  Despenser on their way back to their allotted chamber. Kit didn’t see him at first, she simply felt the muscles in Adam’s arm tense.

“If it isn’t my favourite traitor,” Despenser said with a smirk, stepping out to block their path. Adam bowed, as did Kit – protocol required that they do so, even if Kit would have preferred to spit Despenser in the face. This was the man who had threatened her and abused her, who had tortured her Adam, leaving him permanently crippled.

“No traitor, my lord,” Adam replied in a calm voice. “Despite your repeated attempts to smear me as such, I remain a loyal servant of my master, Edward of Windsor.”

Despenser’s mouth curled into a sneer….

And fighting against his schemes are Adam and Kit. The central characters have a love story to rival the greats. However, Anna Belfrage has cleverly placed them in their time and history. In stark contrast to the rebellious Queen Isabella, Kit is the obedient, dutiful 14th century wife – most of the time; while Adam is torn between duty to lord and obligation to family, constantly forced to balance his priorities and overcome his personal feelings. Their relationship makes the book – their love has overcome petty jealousies, personal tragedy, family feuds and the threats of the dastardly Despenser.

And behind it all lies Adam’s fears of what would happen if he or his family were to fall into Despenser’s clutches.

“It won’t happen,” she said.

“No,”  he [Adam] agreed in a shaky voice. “I’ll leap off a cliff rather than end up in his hands.”

Kit got down on her knees before him and prised his fingers off his face, cupping it and lifting it so that she could see his eyes. “It won’t,” she repeated. “I won’t let it happen.”

That made him smile. “My protective wife.” Adam stroked her cheek.

Kit had risked her life to save him from Despenser once, and she’d do it again if she had to…

Isabela_Karel_Eda
Edward III, as Duke of Aquitaine, paying homage to Charles IV, supported by his mother Queen Isabella

While Kit and Adam are becoming old-hands at the political balancing-act, thrown into the midst of it all is Adam’s new lord, Edward; son and heir of Edward II the 13-year-old prince is torn between his parents. While Adam and Kit see a desperate child forced to choose between love of his mother and duty to his father, each parent  sees that controlling the son as a means to controlling the future. Young Edward becomes a star of the book; likeable, mischievous and old beyond his years, Anna Belfrage hints at the hero-king to come, while ably depicting the fear and confusion of the child he is. Edward steals practically every scene he is written into.

Anna Belfrage has done her research well. From the historical characters to the marvellous castles and palaces in France and England, Anna brings the 14th century to life in vivid, entertaining and exciting language. The best and worst of human strengths and frailties are characterised within the magnificent castles of Vincennes and Windsor, in the sprawling cities of London and Paris; taking the reader on a wild ride through the French and English countrysides, with spies, poisoners and the possibility of ambush just around the corner.

While the reader may know the history, Anna Belfrage tells the story in a manner that will always leave you wondering what happens next. She gets under the skin of her characters, both historical and fictional. Her sympathetic portrayal of the characters and events takes the reader through a whole range of emotions; fear, anger, humour, awe … and love. Tears and laughter are never far from each other as the lives of Kit and Adam are revealed before us.

Engaging and entertaining, Anna Belfrage has created a masterpiece in Days of Sun and Glory, a book which is impossible to put down, but which you do not – ever – want to end.

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Anna Belfrage is the author of the extremely popular time-travelling series, The Graham Saga. To find out more about this incredible author and her books, please visit her website.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: A Palace for Our Kings by James Wright

book_front_cover_hi_resIn the heart of Sherwood Forest lies the picturesque, yet unassuming, village of King’s Clipstone. Between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries one of the very largest royal palaces ever to have graced the Mediaeval landscape stood there.

The palace was visited by eight kings who held parliament, Christmas feasts and tournaments; were visited by the king of Scotland, a papal envoy and traitorous barons; built a fortification, great hall and a stable for two hundred horses; went hunting, drank wine and conceived a prince; listened to storytellers, poets and singers.

This is the history of one of the great lost buildings of Britain and of the individuals that built, worked and lived there. Above all this is story of the people whose lives have been shaped for centuries by an extraordinary structure standing in a remarkable landscape.

A Palace For Our Kings: The history and archaeology of a Mediaeval royal palace in the heart of Sherwood Forest by archaeologist James Wright is a wonderful study of a little known piece of English history. It tells the story of a palace located in the heart of Sherwood Forest. James Wright is an archaeologist who has been involved with King’s Clipstone for many years and his love and enthusiasm for the project shine through on every page of this marvellous book.

The King’s Houses at Clipstone in Nottinghamshire has an incredibly unique and fascinating story to tell. The book traces the history of the village of King’s Clipstone – and it’s palace – from Roman times to the 21st century. It tells not only the archaeological story, but also the life and history of the palace and its people.

James Wright has used the medieval chronicles to explain and support his archaeological discoveries and theories. They also serve to illustrate the varying uses of the palace throughout the years, and demonstrate how national and international events influenced the history of the King’s Houses. The chronicles are drawn on to explain building practices and alterations;

The king’s chamber was whitewashed, quite a job as the space was big enough to warrant two chimneys with a window between them. This window was subsequently blocked up and the remaining windows in Henry’s chamber were installed with protective iron bars, a legacy of the attempt on his life at Woodstock thirteen years previously.

The palace’s story is amply illustrated with the help of photographic evidence, floor plans and maps throughout this highly detailed and fascinating study. The author has also drawn from the memoirs and accounts of antiquarians throughout the generations in order to tell the comprehensive story of the King’s Houses st Clipstone The book contains so much detail that it is impossible not to find something of interest. I have lived half an hour from Sherwood Forest for most of my life, but this book has given me a whole new perspective on the Forest and the people who lived within and around it; giving the Forest and its palace a whole new significance – to me and to history in particular.

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The King’s Houses, Clipstone

James Wright has managed to write an archaeological study which is riveting to the historian or general reader alike. He explains everything clearly, with the minimum of technical language.  The archaeological discoveries are discussed in the context of architectural, royal and social history, explaining how the palace developed over the years, as royal requirements and – even – the appearance of royal dignity changed through the centuries.

Pottery was often preferred for serving up victuals as, unlike silver or pewter, it did not taint the taste of food; although in the later Mediaeval period communal serving platters were used less as private dining became preferable. In this was food and dining became yet another method of social exclusion through the refinement of the palate.

A Palace For Our Kings: The history and archaeology of a Mediaeval royal palace in the heart of Sherwood Forest also places Clipstone and the King’s Houses in a regional context; discussing its purpose as a hunting lodge, as a stopover point between London and the North, and as a royal residence. The influences of the larger region – such as York, Nottingham and Lincoln – are considered, not only on the people but also the architecture of the palace.

The author draws on more famous locations, such as Clarendon and Woodstock, to explain and compare the development of king’s Clipstone and the demonstrate how improvements to other royal residences influenced the development of the King’s Houses through the centuries.

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The Major Oak, Sherwood Forest

Moreover, the book provides a fascinating insight into how the palace affected the lives of the common people in the area. From the scales of justice to the enclosure of local pastureland; the palace was intrinsically intertwined with the lives of the local populace. The book highlights how the actions of the kings who used the palace played a part not only in the livelihoods of the local community but also in their standard of living and, indeed, life itself.

From the stories of kings, through witchcraft, war and religion to the individual lives of the families who lived and worked there, this book tells the remarkable history of the palace and its people; and of its rediscovery and significance to the history of England. This book is a marvel to read; it is a fabulous story of how 1,500 years of history have affected one small area of England – and how that little village played its part in English history.

I cannot recommend it highly enough, it is written in a wonderful, conversational manner which makes it accessible to all, and tells a truly fascinating story which made it a pleasure, and a privilege, to read.

A Palace For Our Kings: The history and archaeology of a Mediaeval royal palace in the heart of Sherwood Forest by James Wright is out now as a limited edition paperback and e-book via Triskele Publishing. More information on the book and the King’s Houses at Clipstone can be found on social media: Facebook  and Twitter.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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‘The Major Oak’ taken from Wikipedia. ‘The King’s Houses’ photo ©James Wright.

Book Corner: In the Shadow of the Storm, by Anna Belfrage

51FcCxVcaOL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_Adam de Guirande owes his lord, Sir Roger Mortimer, much more than loyalty. He owes Sir Roger for his life and all his worldly goods, he owes him for his beautiful wife – even if Kit is not quite the woman Sir Roger thinks she is. So when Sir Roger rises in rebellion against the king, Adam has no choice but to ride with him – no matter what the ultimate cost may be. England in 1321 is a confusing place. Edward II has been forced by his barons to exile his favourite, Hugh Despenser. The barons, led by the powerful Thomas of Lancaster, Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, have reasons to believe they have finally tamed the king. But Edward is not about to take things lying down, and fate is a fickle mistress, favouring first one, then the other… The Welsh Marches explode into war, and soon Sir Roger and his men are fighting for their very lives. When hope splutters and dies, when death seems inevitable, it falls to Kit to save her man – if she can….

In the Shadow of the Storm is the first book in Anna Belfrage’s new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, and what a magnificent introduction to Anna’s new heroes and heroines! Set in one the most tumultuous periods of English history, the book expertly blends the personal lives of its heroic couple, Sir Adam and Kit, his new wife, with the national drama of the disintegrating reign of Edward II.

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Seal of Edward II

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but this book is impossible to put down. The action and intrigue are, to put it simply, riveting. In the Shadow of the Storm has a great mix of love story and rebellion, and of heroes and villains and a heavy dose of adventure; it has you in tears one minute and on the edge of your seat with excitement the next.

Kit is my new hero! In a world where women’s rules were very specifically defined, Kit pushes the boundaries in order to achieve what she wants – but she never quite exceeds them. A young woman kidnapped from her sheltered life and thrown into a marriage to a man she has never met, and into the world of her new husband’s lord; where war, intrigue and a secret threatens to destroy the growing love the couple have for each other. However, not only does she manage to avoid sinking, Kit becomes a champion swimmer.

Adam went to the nearby table, sloshed wine into a goblet and drank deeply before passing it to her.

“I hadn’t expected to find you a virgin,” he said, eyes the colour of pewter raking her body up and down.

“What do you mean, my lord?”

“Don’t give me that.” He reclaimed the cup and leaned against one of the bedposts. “Do you think I don’t know about you and Lord Roger?” Not only was he tall, he was big, a thick, fair fuzz covering his chest, the hair darkening closer to his groin.

“Lord who?” Kit’s head ached.

“Mortimer,” he clarified with an edge to his voice. “Our lord and master.”

Adam is a knight sworn to Lord Roger Mortimer, balancing a burgeoning love for his wife and family with his duty to his lord. Kit and Adam are a very real, down-to-earth, young couple; newly married they are still discovering each other. Misunderstandings and insecurities lead to a married life that is anything but smooth. And in the midst of their developing love and trust, they are thrown into the middle of Mortimer’s rebellion against Edward II.

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Isabella of France, Edward II’s queen

Ranged against them are enemies aplenty. Adam’s own step-brother, Guy, has eyes on Kit – and on everything Adam possesses – and will go to extraordinarily vicious lengths to achieve his goal. While the most despicable of all is Hugh le Despenser the younger, Edward II’s favourite and a man with a particular hatred for Adam and his lord. Vindictive and cruel, Despenser is determined to destroy Adam; Kit has to use all her courage and skill to thwart him – and to save her husband’s life.

Anna Belfrage manages to weave a wonderful story around the very real history of a desperate time for England and her people. The threats and dangers of living in a divided, unstable realm, with forces polarizing between the king and queen, are vividly depicted, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the 14th century.

The author’s deep knowledge of the period serves to make the reader believe they are actually there, watching the action, weighing the choices and living the harsh reality of a realm on the brink of civil war. The history is impeccable, with Kit and Adam’s story slipping into the historical timeline so neatly that it is practically impossible to see the line where history ends and fiction begins.

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Tower of London

Anna Belfrage’s depiction of the historical characters is exquisite. Despenser is suitably heinous; he makes your skin crawl when he walks into a scene. Lord Roger Mortimer is determined, charming … and noble. The personalities are diverse and fascinating. The landscapes are so vividly describes as to be dramatic; you could almost imagine yourself riding along the rivers of the Welsh Marches, incarcerated in a dark, cold dungeon, or walking along the main thoroughfare of the ancient town of Shrewsbury.

In the Shadow of the Storm is a wonderfully exciting book; a clever blend of intrigue, romance and action. Anna Belfrage is a master story-teller and has done her homework well – she brings the 14th century to vivid, colourful life. It will be difficult to read anything better this year …. but I can’t wait to see if Book 2 in The King’s Greatest Enemy series, Days of Sun and Glory, proves me wrong……

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nna Belfrage is the author of the extremely popular time travelling series, The Graham Saga. To find out more about this incredible author and her books, please visit her website.

Pictures of Edward II and Isabella of France are courtesy of Wikipedia.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2016 Sharon BennettConnolly

 

Elizabeth of Rhuddlan, Daddy’s Girl

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Elizabeth of Rhuddlan

In July 1282 King Edward I was in the middle of subduing Wales when his wife, Eleanor of Castile, was reaching her final month of pregnancy. Unlike most royal wives, who would have stayed at home in one of their sumptuous, cosy palaces, Eleanor was in Wales with her husband. After all, Eleanor had been on Crusade with her husband and had even given birth to her daughter, Joan of Acre, in the Holy Land. Wales was no more of a difficulty.

Rhuddlan Castle had been ‘civilised’ for the queen’s use; with the addition of gardens, decorative seating and a fish pond to aid Eleanor’s comfort. However, it was still Edward’s headquarters, where troops were mustering and messengers were coming and going at all hours – hardly the most comfortable and peaceful place for a queen to give birth.

Elizabeth of Rhuddlan was born around the 7th August 1282. She was the youngest surviving daughter of the king and queen’s 15 children – a 16th and final child, Edward (the future Edward II) would be born in 1284. Although the castle must have been hectic during Elizabeth’s birth, one can imagine the rooms surrounding the birthing chamber were kept as serene as possible. Indeed, it seems that Eleanor was allowed the ‘laying-in’ of a whole month following Elizabeth’s birth with her churching at the end of it – a luxury that did not arise all that often for Edward’s queen.

Eleanor’s wardrobe accounts show that the queen purchased several small items for her baby daughter’s use; a basin, some tankards, a storage chest and a bucket. And, unlike her siblings, Eleanor kept Elizabeth with her during the 1st few years of her life. It’s possible she was with her full-time until the age of 2, or was at least visited regularly by Eleanor. Elizabeth was still with her mother when her baby brother and the king’s heir, Edward, was born at Caernarfon in 1284.

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Rhuddlan Castle, Flintshire, Elizabeth’s birthplace

When Edward was established in his own household, Elizabeth went with him. She spent most of her childhood in her brother’s company; her education supervised by her mother, often from a distance.

In 1285 Elizabeth and Edward spent the summer with their parents and older sisters. They visited Thomas a Becket’s shrine at Canterbury and spent a week at Leeds Castle in Kent before traveling to Amesbury in Wiltshire. Amesbury Priory was the retirement home of the dowager queen, Eleanor of Provence; and it was during the visit that Elizabeth’s 6-year-old sister, Mary, was veiled as a  nun.

Edward I and Eleanor of Castile are famous for having had a close, loving relationship. They appear to have travelled everywhere together. Their children, however, were often left behind, usually in the care of their grandmother, Eleanor of Provence, Henry III’s queen and Edward I’s mother. In 1286, when Elizabeth was still only 3, they left England for the continent to broker peace between France and Aragon, in the hope of another Crusade. Although the Crusade never materialised, Edward and Eleanor were absorbed in their continental possessions until 1289.

However, the children were not forgotten. While in Paris Eleanor bought little items of jewellery for her daughters and sent them other pieces that had been given to her as gifts. She was also known to make offerings for her children’s health at any major shrines she visited.

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Edward II, Elizabeth’s childhood companion

Arriving at Dover after a 3 year absence, Edward and Eleanor were met by their children; 6-year-old Elizabeth and 4-year-old Edward probably had little or no memory of their parents. Following celebrations for their return in Canterbury, the royal family would spent the next 2 weeks at Leeds Castle, getting to know  each other again.

Elizabeth and Eleanor were not especially close. Eleanor had spent half of her daughter’s life away on the Continent and Eleanor’s health began to fail shortly after her return. Elizabeth spent the summer of 1290 touring the countryside with her brother, only attending the court for the weddings of their sisters; Joan in April and Margaret in July.

In October 1290 Elizabeth was summoned to her ailing mother’s bedside at the royal hunting lodge of Clipstone in Nottinghamshire. Eleanor died at Harby in Lincolnshire on the 28th November 1290, the king accompanied her body back for burial at Westminster Abbey, ordering stone crosses to be erected at the places they stopped along the route.

We have no record of how Elizabeth reacted to her mother’s death, she was just 8 years old and had seen her mother rarely over the last 4 years. We can assume that she was saddened, but that life carried on pretty much as normal otherwise, with her day-to-day life remaining constant. In 1297 she and her sister Mary paid to have a special Mass held in honour of their mother, demonstrating their affection, and that she hadn’t been forgotten.

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John Count of Holland

In 1297 Elizabeth’s marriage was celebrated; to John, Count of Holland. John had been educated at Edward’s court following his betrothal to Elizabeth in 1285. He had been one of the competitors for the Scots throne, though with only an outside chance. Elizabeth is said to have thrown a tantrum before the wedding, when not all her jewels were ready in time.

However, the royal wedding went ahead, at Ipswich Priory on 8th January 1297, when Elizabeth was just 14 years old and John was about 13. It seems Elizabeth was very fond of her father – there is some suggestion, too, that she was his favourite – and she was loath to leave him, and England. The king himself threw Elizabeth’s coronet into the fire during an argument over Elizabeth’s refusal to leave England with her husband. It took several letters from Count John, and cajoling from the king, to persuade Elizabeth to accompany her husband to her new country.

In the event, however, the arguing proved unnecessary as Count John died at Haarlem  on 10th November 1299. Elizabeth, a childless widow at 17, returned home to her father’s court.

Almost exactly 3 years after the death of her 1st husband, on 14th November 1302, Elizabeth married again. This time there would be no arguments about leaving England as her husband was Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Essex. Before the wedding Humphrey had relinquished all his lands and titles to the crown; after the wedding they were re-granted, jointly, to Humphrey and his new wife.

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Humphrey de Bohun, 4th earl of Hereford and Essex

Elizabeth’s 2nd marriage appears to have been highly successful. Humphrey and Elizabeth weathered the storms of change together. Humphrey had been a stalwart of Edward I’s Scottish campaigns and in 1306 had been rewarded with the forfeited estates of Robert the Bruce. When Elizabeth’s father died in 1307, Humphrey was initially a supporter of the new king, Elizabeth’s brother and childhood companion, Edward II. He is witness to the document that created Piers Gaveston, Edward’s controversial favourite, Earl of Cornwall.

However, in 1310 he was named one of the lords ordainers, set up to reform the king’s household and government. He was stripped of his position as Constable of England for refusing to accompany the king on his Scottish campaign of 1310/11, but was reinstated the following year.

In 1314 Humphrey was one of the commanders of the English forces facing Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. It is believed his arguments with Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, over who should have precedence, was a major factor contributing to England’s defeat. Gloucester was killed in the fighting, but Humphrey was captured by the Scots; he was exchanged for Robert the Bruce’s queen, Elizabeth de Burgh, who had been held captive by the English since 1306.

Between 1303 and 1316, the couple were to have 11 children, including twin boys, 8 of whom survived childhood; 6 boys and 2 girls. Their eldest daughter, Eleanor, married James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormonde and, following his death, Sir Thomas Dagworth, who was murdered in 1350. While their youngest surviving daughter, Margaret, married Hugh de Courtenay, Earl of Devon and lived until 1391.

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Margaret de Bohun, Countess of Devon

Two of their sons would succeed, consecutively to the earldoms of Hereford and Essex; John and Humphrey. While William de Bohun, twin brother of Edward (who drowned in 1334), would be granted the title of Earl of Northampton by his cousin and close friend Edward III. The twin brothers had both been involved in Edward III’s escape from Nottingham Castle and the control of his mother’s lover, Roger Mortimer. Of the 2 remaining sons; Eneas died before 1343 and Edmund married Matilda, the daughter of Nicholas de Segrave, Baron Stowe.

Elizabeth died in childbirth on 5th May 1316; their last daughter, Isabella, died with her.  They were buried together at Walden Priory (Waltham Abbey) on 23rd May.

Humphrey survived his wife by 6 years, being killed at the Battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, fighting with the forces of Thomas of Lancaster against the king. Despite his will requesting he be buried beside his wife at Walden Priory, he was laid to rest at the Church of the Friars Preachers in York.

Elizabeth and Humphrey’s great-granddaughter, Mary de Bohun, married Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) and was the mother of 5 children, including Henry V.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: 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 Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson;  oxforddnb.com; Edward I; A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Eleanor of Castile; the Shadow Queen by Sara Cockerill.

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

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From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing 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.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Kidnapped Countess

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Denbigh Castle

The story of Alice de Lacey is like something straight from a novel, with rebellion, kidnappings and love all wrapped up in the life of this one was born Countess. Alice was born at Denbigh Castle on 25th December 1281. She was the daughter of Henry de Lacey, 5th Earl of Lincoln and, through her mother Margaret, granddaughter of William (II) Longspee, Earl of Salisbury.

Alice was one of 3 children. With 2 brothers, Edmund and John, she was, of course, not  expected to inherit her father’s earldom. However, 2 family tragedies made Alice one of the richest heiresses in England. Young Edmund, it appears, drowned in a well at Denbigh Castle and John fell to his death from the parapet at Pontefract Castle, leaving Alice as her parents’ sole heir.

In 1294 Alice’s marriage was arranged by no-less than the king – Edward I – who saw her as a suitable bride for his nephew Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and son of the king’s brother Edmund Crouchback. Alice and Thomas were married on or before 28th October 1294; he was about 16 years old and Alice was not yet 13.

Edward I had shown his unscrupulous nature in the marriage settlement in that Thomas was given part of the Lacey inheritance on the marriage, with the rest to pass to Thomas on Henry de Lacey’s death. The settlement further stipulated that the de Lacey lands would pass to Lancaster in the event of Alice’s dying without issue; thus excluding all collateral heirs to the earldoms of Salisbury and Lincoln.

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Seal of Henry de Lacey

Alice’s mother Margaret, Countess of Salisbury in her own right, died in 1309 and by June 1310 her father had remarried; probably in the hope of securing an heir for his earldom. In the event, it wasn’t to be and the Earl of Lincoln died in 1311, with his estates passing through his daughter, to Thomas Earl of Lancaster and Leicester.

With 5 earldoms to his name, Thomas now became one of the richest and most powerful men in the kingdom. Although he was initially a supporter of the new king, his cousin Edward II, he would soon turn against him and his favourites, making enemies along the way.

Poor Alice got caught in the middle of one of Thomas’s feuds.

According to the chronicler Walsingham:

The Countess of Lancaster … was seized at Canford, in Dorset, by a certain knight of the house and family of john, Earl Warenne, with many English retainers called together for the detestable deed, as it is said, with the royal assent. … With them was a certain man of a miserable stature, lame and hunchbacked, called Richard de St Martin, exhibiting and declaring constantly his evil intentions towards the lady, so miserably led away.

Alice was kidnapped in 1317 from her manor in Canford, Dorset, by John de Warenne’s man, Sir Richard de St Martin, supposedly with the king’s knowledge. Several reasons for the abduction have been put forward; one is, of course, that Alice and St Martin were having an affair while another is that the affair was between Alice and John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, himself.

Given the king’s involvement, a more likely explanation is that the kidnapping was organised by de Warenne in retaliation for Lancaster’s objections to de Warenne’s attempts to divorce his wife, Joan of Bar, in 1315/16. Joan was a cousin of Thomas of Lancaster and niece of King Edward II, but her marriage to John de Warenne was a disaster and John openly lived with his mistress, Maud Nerford. When he attempted to divorce Joan, Lancaster was one of his most vocal opponents; the divorce was eventually refused and de Warenne was even excommunicated for a time.

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Arms of Thomas and his father as Earls of Lancaster and Leicester

Alice was held at Reigate Castle, Surrey. Her abduction set off a private war between the 2 magnates, with Lancaster targeting Warenne’s Yorkshire estates and successfully besieging the Earl’s castle at Conisbrough in retaliation. Although he seems to have made little effort to actually rescue his wife and there is no record of how and when she was eventually released.

Alice and Thomas’s marriage does not appear to have been a happy one and there is some evidence that they were actually divorced in 1318, with Thomas retaining Alice’s earldoms after enforcing the marriage contract. The divorce was supposedly on account of her adultery with the Earl of Surrey’s squire, Sir Eubolo Lestrange (although this may be a confusion of facts from her abduction and her later marriage). It has also been claimed that Alice and her abductor, Richard de St Martin, were pre-contracted before her marriage to Thomas of Lancaster. However, although this is not impossible, it does seem unlikely, given Alice’s tender age on her wedding day.

Whether or not Alice and Thomas did divorce is still open to debate. If the divorce occurred, it did not protect her from the reprisals meted out after her husband’s failed rebellion and defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge on 16th March 1322. While Thomas was executed Alice, along with her step-mother, Joan, was imprisoned in York Castle.

It must have been a truly terrifying time for the 2 women; with no protectors they were at the mercy of the king’s favourites, the Despensers, father and son. Threatened with execution by burning they were forced to turn over the majority of their estates. Having paid an enormous ransom of £20,000 Alice was finally released, securing her titles, a small number of estates and the right to remarry.

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Lincoln Castle

Her step-mother, Joan, died in October 1322; we can only surmise as to whether or not her demise was as a consequence of her imprisonment.

Alice would eventually recover Lincoln Castle and the Earldom of Lincoln, but many of her estates were given to her erstwhile abductor, John de Warenne, and only returned to her by Edward III, many years later.

By November 1324 Alice had married again, this time to a minor baron from the Welsh Marches, Sir Ebule, or Eubolo, Lestrange of Shropshire. The  marriage demonstrated that Alice had managed to come out of the disaster of her first husband’s downfall with enough income and  property to make her an attractive proposition as a wife. Although, it does seem possible that this marriage was a love-match.

This marriage appears to have been a happier one, given that Lestrange moved over to Lincolnshire to look after his wife’s interests, and that it was with Sir Eubolo that Alice chose to be buried, when the time came. Alice and Sir Eubolo were married for over 10 years, although towards the latter part Lestrange was away campaigning in Scotland, where he died in September 1335. Alice was named as one of his executors and he was buried in Barlings Abbey, Lincolnshire.

Following his death, Alice took a vow of chastity and looked determined to settle into a life of quiet retirement. However, her adventures were not quite at an end. In 1335, or early 1336, Alice was kidnapped for a 2nd time; she was abducted from her castle at Bolingbroke and raped, by Sir Hugh de Freyne. Freyne was a Herefordshire knight and royal keeper of the town and castle of Cardigan.

There appears some suggestion that Alice was in collusion with Sir Hugh, with the theory being that her abduction was a way for her to escape her vow of chastity. It seems more likely that Alice acquiesced to a situation over which she had little control. Edward III was furious and ordered the imprisonment of the couple, but they were reconciled with the king 1336 and allowed to marry. The marriage did much to improve Freyne’s status and brought him a summons to Parliament in November 1336.

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Barlings Abbey

However, such success was short-lived as he died at Perth in December 1336 or January 1337.

Shortly after her 3rd husband’s death, the Bishop of Lincoln issued a demand that Alice keep her prior vow and chastity. As there were no further marriages – or abductions – we can probably assume that she did. Alice died on the 2nd October 1348 at the grand age of 66. She was buried with her 2nd husband at the Premonstratensian House of Barlings, in Lincolnshire.

Having had no children from any of her 3 marriages, Alice’s lands and titles, as according to her marriage settlement 54 years earlier, passed to the house of Lancaster and her husband’s nephew, Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster and father of Blanche of Lancaster, John of Gaunt’s 1st wife.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, except Lincoln Castle © 2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Sources: The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson;  findagrave.com; oxforddnb.com; royaldescent.net.

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My books

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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Telling the story of the Norman Conquest through the lives of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmazon USAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Joan of Bar: Abandoned Wife

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Arms of the County of Bar

You would think that a man who was given a king’s granddaughter as a wife would relish the glamour and connections such a bride brought. However, this was not always the case and nowhere is it more obvious than in the life and marriage of Joan of Bar.

Joan was the granddaughter of the mighty Edward I and his queen, Eleanor of Castile. Her mother was Eleanor, Edward and Eleanor’s eldest surviving child. Eleanor of England had been born in 1264 and was first married to Alfonso III, King of Aragon, by proxy on 15th August 1290 at Westminster Abbey.

However the groom died before the marriage could be consummated and Eleanor married again at Bristol on 20th September 1293, to Henry III, Count of Bar. Henry and Eleanor had at least 2 children together. Their son, Edward, and daughter, Joan, were born in successive years, in 1294 and 1295. Although there seems to be some confusion of who was the oldest. A possible 3rd child, Eleanor, is said to have married Llywelyn ap Owen of Deheubarth; but her actual existence seems to be in question.

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Eleanor of England, Countess of Bar

As usual with Medieval women – even royal ones – we  know very little of Joan’s childhood. Her mother died in Ghent in 1298 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, London. Joan’s father, the Count of Bar, died in 1302, sources say as a result of injuries received in battle while fighting in Sicily.

The count was succeeded by his only son, Edward, who was then only 6 or 7 years old. The county of Bar was run by his grandfather, Edward I, during young Edward’s minority, with the child’s uncle John of Puisaye and the bishops of Liege and Metz acting as governors. It’s possible the children came to live at the English court, or at least spent some time there.

By 1310 Edward’s majority was declared. He married Mary, daughter of Robert II, Duke of Burgundy, in the same year. By this time, young Joan had already been married 4 years. In 1306 Joan had returned to England, arriving on 13th April. Barely 10 years old, she was escorted to the palace at Westminster with great pomp.

During the parliament of 1306 Edward I had settled Joan’s future. On 15th May of that year Edward offered Joan’s hand in marriage to 20-year-old John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, who had recently been granted his grandfather’s lands, despite the fact he wasn’t yet 21.

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Henry III Count of Bar

John was not without royal connections himself. His aunt, Isabella had been married to Scots King John Balliol, and their son, John’s cousin, was Edward Balliol, sometime King of Scots and John’s ward. John was the grandson of Edward’s good friend, also named John de Warenne, the 6th Earl of Surrey and former Warden of Scotland. Young John’s father, William de Warenne, had died in a tournament within a year of John’s birth and so he was raised by his grandfather, until John Senior’s death in 1304.

In the week following the betrothal of John and Joan, Edward I held a magnificent ceremony for the knighting of his eldest son, Edward. The ceremony was also to include the knighting of almost 300 men, John de Warenne included. As the celebrations continued a number of weddings also took place, involving several barons and nobles.

John de Warenne and Joan of Bar were married on 25th May, with John’s sister, Alice, marrying Edmund Fitzalan, 9th Earl of Arundel, at about the same time. Edmund had been a ward of John’s grandfather. The 2 young men were very close in age and were political allies and friends.

Following the wedding the couple lived on the Warenne Yorkshire estates, sharing their time between their castles at Conisbrough and Sandal.

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Sandal Castle

In the wider world, Edward I died in the summer of 1307 and was succeeded by his son, Edward II. Initially John de Warenne was a supporter of Edward; witnessing the charter which made Edward’s favourite, Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall and accompanying the king to France to claim his bride, Isabella, daughter of Philip IV of France.

However, John was not immune to the turbulence and distrust of Edward’s reign and changed sides several times in the arguments between the king and his barons. The uncertainty of Edward’s reign cannot have helped the marriage of John and Joan, but neither, it seems, did John.

The couple was soon estranged – Joan was half John’s age when they married, which must have put an incredible strain on the relationship. There had been indications of problems as early as 1309, when the king had given John permission to name whoever he wished as his heir, as long as any children he may have by Joan were not disinherited.

By 1313 the marriage was still childless, and blatantly unhappy. In the spring of that year, Edward sent his yeoman, William Aune, to bring Joan to the king. She was taken from Warenne’s castle at Conisbrough and lodged in the Tower of London, at the king’s expense.

John, on the other hand, was living openly with his mistress, Maud Nereford, for which he was threatened with excommunication in May; a sentence which was finally carried out by the bishop of Chichester when Edward’s attempts to prevent it failed.

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Conisbrough Castle

A long legal battle followed, eager to marry Maud and legitimise his 2 sons by her, John attempted to dissolve his marriage to Joan on the grounds of consanguinity – they were related in the 3rd and 4th degrees. He also claimed that he was pressured into marrying Joan against his will. Maud added her own suit to the legal proceeding by claiming that John had contracted to marry her before his marriage to Joan.

The church council registered disapproval of John and Maud’s relationship; as did a council of nobles which included the king’s cousin and most powerful nobleman in the land, Thomas of Lancaster. John had even been Thomas’s retainer in the early years of the king’s reign, but relations had soured following the murder of Gaveston in 1312.

The case would drag on for 2 years, with John unable to find a friendly ecclesiastical court who would pronounce in his favour.  In 1316 he agreed to pay Joan a sum of £200 annually while the suit was ongoing, and to provide Joan with lands worth 740 marks once the marriage was dissolved.

As the hopes of an annulment faded, John enlisted the help of the earl of Pembroke in presenting a petition to the pope seeking an annulment. John also rearranged his estates, surrendering them to the  king to have them re-granted with specifications that some of the lands could pass to his sons be Maud Nereford on his death. In the mean time, in August 1316, Joan had left England for France.

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Arms of the de Warenne Earls of Surrey

While the troubles in England intensified, John’s marriage troubles seem to have abated somewhat. The rebellion of Thomas of Lancaster was crushed at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, but war simmered on with France adding to the king’s troubles by demanding he personally pay homage for his French lands. In 1325 John de Warenne was appointed captain of an English expedition to Aquitaine and was away from home for the next year.

Joan had been in France at the same time, spending some of her time with Edward II’s queen, Isabella, and eldest son Prince Edward. Some sources say that when Warenne returned to England in 1326, Joan accompanied him and they even received permission to go abroad in February 1327 – as a couple.

Following the downfall of Edward II, his son and the new king, Edward III, ingratitude for her service to his mother, Queen Isabella, settled lands on Joan for life, and granted her some of the goods forfeited by Edmund Fitzalan. John’s erstwhile brother-in-law had been caught up in the turbulence of Edward II’s downfall and executed.

John de Warenne proved a faithful servant to Edward III, acting as keeper of the realm, jointly with young prince Edward, during the king’s absences in 1338 and 1340. However, his domestic life was as unsettled as ever in the last years of his life. Joan was in his company and treated as his wife in the years between 1331 and 1337, but went abroad with her entire household in 1337 shortly after her brother’s death; Edward, Count of Bar, had died in a shipwreck on his way to the Crusades and its possible Joan was acting as regent for her nephew, Henry IV, Count of Bar.

By the 1340s Maud Nereford and her sons had predeceased him, but John had a new lover in Isabella Holland, daughter of Sir Robert Holland, a leading retainer of Thomas of Lancaster. And it seems he was again contemplating divorce. In a 1344 letter from the Bishop of Winchester charges him to hold Joan in marital affection and honour the dispensation that had been granted for his marriage.

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Clock Tower, Bar

Joan was abroad again, possibly acting as regent for her great-nephew, Edward II Count of Bar. Amid fears that John de Warenne would try to take Joan’s lands Edward III acted to guarantee them in her absence. By 1345, in one final attempt to dissolve his marriage John was claiming that he had had an affair before marrying Joan, with his wife’s maternal aunt Mary of Woodstock. This was indeed a drastic claim, as Mary had been a nun since she was about 7 years old, and was probably born out of desperation; John was getting increasingly infirm and still had no heir to succeed him. It was a last-ditch attempt to marry Isabella and have legitimate children.

It failed, however, and John died at Conisbrough Castle between 28th and 30th June 1347, aged 61. His will, written just before his death and dated 24th June 1347, left various gifts to Isabella and his illegitimate children – but nothing to Joan, his wife. Warenne left several illegitimate children, including at least 3 boys and 3 girls.

Joan de Bar was abroad when her husband died. She lived for another 14 years, retaining the title of Countess of Surrey until her death; Richard Fitzalan, John’s heir, took possession of the Warenne estates on John’s death, but didn’t use the title earl of Surrey until after Joan died. In the 1350s Joan is said to have often visited the French king, Jean II, who was a prisoner of Edward III  in London.

After a long and turbulent life, and at around 66 years of age, Joan died in London in 1361. Her body was conducted to France by her valet. She was buried at Sainte-Maxe Collegiate Church in Bar-le-Duc in October 1361.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: 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; Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; oxforddnb.com; royaldescent.net.

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

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Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

51PUe8rZWgL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Steven A. McKay’s ‘The Forest Lord’ Series

CX0jE-zWcAEQNWnSteven A. McKay‘s The Forest Lord series of books is a wonderful, refreshing new take in the Robin Hood Legend. All the usual heroes are there, including Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet and Maid Marian, battling against their old enemies, the Sheriff of Nottingham and the despicable Sir Guy of Gisbourne.

However, what has changed is the time and location. Instead of the wilds of Sherwood Forest, The Forest Lord books are set in Barnsdale Forest in what is now West Yorkshire, while young Robin’s family lives in the nearby village of Wakefield. Gone also is the vile Prince John – and you won’t see King Richard the Lionheart either. The story is set in the time of Edward II, the rebellion of his cousin, Thomas of Lancaster providing the back-story to the first book; while the aftermath of Thomas’s defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge is still being felt in the second book, The Wolf and the Raven, as the surviving rebels are hunted down.

1stWolf’s Head introduces you Robin as a newly outlawed teenager, finding refuge in a gang of outlaws in Barnsdale Forest. We follow Robin as the youth learns how to fight, how to deal with loss and how to lead men, while making mistakes and enemies along the way. As Robin and his companions, including a grieving Templar and his sergeant, become embroiled in the rebellion; they must find a way through the politics and the fighting to survive.

In The Wolf and the Raven, in the aftermath of a violent rebellion Robin Hood and his men must fight for survival with an enemy deadlier than any they’ve faced before. Sir Guy of Gisbourne, the king’s own bounty hunter, stalks the greenwood, bringing bloody justice to the outlaws and rebels who hide there.

While new friends, shattered loyalties, and a hate-fuelled hunter that threatens to wipe out not only Robin’s companions but his entire family all play a part in the Rise of the Wolf.

2Steven A. McKay has woven together a wonderful story of love, war, loyalty, hatred and a fight for survival set in one of the greatest periods of greed and unrest in English history. As a Yorkshire lass I can testify to the veracity of the author’s vivid depiction of the county and its people; although the landscape may have changed in 700 years, the Yorkshire spirit hasn’t.

The stories combine the fight for survival with the camaraderie of men who trust their lives to each other. There are tender moments, when Robin’s men put Marian’s freedom above their own desire for release from outlawry. There are moments of humour; such as when, in a bizarre twist, Edward II asks Robin and Little John to join his rowing team. And there are ‘yucky’ moments involving a castle toilet …. but I will not give away any more spoilers and ruin your enjoyment of a great story.

The characters are wonderfully vivid. While Robin is young and vulnerable, but develops into a strong, considerate leader, his nemesis Sir Guy of Gisbourne is suitably despicable and only gets worse. I have to say I like the Sheriff of Nottingham a little more than I have done in past depictions; the poor chap seems to have as many troubles on the right side of the law, as Robin has on the wrong side of it.

1Steven A. McKay has taken the Robin Hood legend expanded and enhanced it and made it his own. In case you were wondering, the traditional Robin Hood is still alive throughout the books, rescuing children and damsels and stealing from the rich; teaching them a lesson on the way.

The action is thrilling and you find yourself on the edge of your seat – or reading until the early hours – just hoping for it all to turn out right for our brave hero.

With the final instalment of the story still to come, the stage is set for one exciting, final fight for survival and victory in the green woods.

Will the boys finally get their one, over-riding desire – the chance to go home to their families and live as normal men? Will they all come through it alive? And does Gisbourne finally get  his comeuppance?

I can’t wait to find out.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly