Mary was the youngest daughter of Stephen of Blois and his wife, Matilda of Boulogne, herself the granddaughter of St Margaret, queen of Scotland. Mary was born in Blois, France around 1136. She was destined for the cloister from an early age and was placed in a convent at Stratford, Middlesex, with some nuns from St Sulpice in Rennes. So how did this nun become a reluctant wife?
Mary’s father Stephen was the nephew of Henry I, one of his closest male relatives. In the confusion following Henry’s death it was Stephen who acted quickly and decisively….
On 13th October 1162 (1161 has also been suggested, but most sources agree on 1162) the Queen of England gave birth to a 2nd daughter at Domfront Castle in Normandy, Eleanor. She was the 6th child of Europe’s most glamorous and controversial couple; Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Named after her mother Eleanor was baptised by Cardinal Henry of Pisa, with the chronicler Robert de Torigny standing as her godfather.
Of Eleanor’s 4 older brothers 3 had survived infancy; Henry, the Young King, Richard the Lionheart and Geoffrey – later Duke of Brittany. Geoffrey was nearest to Eleanor in age, but already 4 years old when she was born. Eleanor’s older sister, Matilda, had been born in 1156 and would be married to Henry V ‘the Lion’, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, when Eleanor was just 6 years old. At the age of 3 Eleanor would be joined by a baby sister, Joanna, in the Plantagenet nursery and by a last brother, John, in 1166.
Eleanor’s birth coincided with an awkward period in her parents’ marriage. Eleanor of Aquitaine’s vassals, unhappy with Henry’s rule, were attempting to get her marriage to Henry annulled on the grounds of consanguinity. Although the plot was unsuccessful and the Cardinals were unimpressed with the argument, it cannot have been an easy time for the King and Queen.
Eleanor’s early childhood was quite nomadic. She travelled often with her parents, in her mother’s entourage. Henry had been absent from the country for 5 years when Eleanor 1st came to England with her parents in 1163. The Royal family would spend the Christmas of 1164/5 at Marlborough, while in the midst of the crisis of Henry’s disagreements with his archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket. Eleanor of Aquitaine would then take her children to Winchester, from where they visited Sherborne Castle in Dorset and the Isle of Wight before moving to Westminster.
In February 1165 3-year-old Eleanor was betrothed to the infant son of Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick, in order to cement a treaty with the Emperor. And following the conclusion of the treaty the Archbishop of Cologne was introduced to Eleanor and Matilda (who was to marry Henry the Lion). However, where Matilda departed for her new life in Germany in 1168, Eleanor’s proposed marriage was still in the distant future.
Some historians have speculated that Eleanor was educated for some time at Fontevrault Abbey, along with her younger sister Joanna and her baby brother, John, who spent 5 years there after initially being intended for the church. However, by 1168 she was with her mother, who had decided to settle in Aquitaine and was allowed, by Henry II, to have her children with her.
By 1170 Eleanor’s marriage to the Emperor’s son was no longer a part of Henry II’s plans, and he decided to look elsewhere for an alliance. Seeking to extend his influence across the Pyrenees and to prevent a French alliance with Castile, Henry betrothed Eleanor to Alfonso VIII, the 12-year-old king of Castile. Raoul de Faye, Seneschal of Poitou for Eleanor of Aquitaine, was influential in negotiating the marriage; arranging for Eleanor to receive Gascony as her dowry, but only after the death of her mother.
September 1177 saw Eleanor on her way to Castile. A month short of her 15th birthday, some historians suggest she was escorted as far as Bordeaux by her mother, but this is not supported by the contemporary chronicles. However, she would have been given a suitable escort – as the daughter of a king and as a future queen herself – to see her safely to her wedding at Burgos Cathedral.
Eleanor and Alfonso appear to have had a very successful marriage, and a close, trusting relationship. Eleanor is renowned for introducing her mother’s Poitevin culture into the Castilian court. The court encouraged the culture and architecture of Eleanor’s youth, whilst blending it with the luxuries offered by the neighbouring Moorish culture. Castilian poet Ramon Vidal described Eleanor as “Queen Leonore modestly clad in a mantle of rich stuff, red, with a silver border wrought with golden lions.” While the troubadour Pierre Vidal described to Eleanor as elegant and gracious.
Eleanor and Alfonso would have 7 children that survived infancy. Their eldest daughter Berengaria would marry Alfonso IX, King of Leon, and would act as regent in Castile for her younger brother, Henry I, before succeeding him as queen regnant. Berengaria and Alfonso’s marriage was dissolved by the papacy, on the grounds of consanguinity; but their children were declared legitimate. Shortly after succeeding to the throne of Castile, Berengaria abdicated in favour of her son, Ferdinand III, but continued to act as his closest adviser.
One daughter, Eleanor, married James I, king of Aragon, but they divorced in 1229. While another, Constance, was dedicated as a nun and eventually became abbess of the abbey of Las Huelgas, founded by her parents in 1187. The abbey’s nuns were drawn from the highest ranks of the Spanish nobility, they belonged to the Cistercian Order, a closed community mainly cut off from the world.
Alfonso and Eleanor had 2 sons who would survive childhood. The eldest, Ferdinand, predeceased his parents, dying of a fever in 1209 or 1211. Henry I would succeed his father, but died in 1217 when a loose roof tile fell on his head. He was 13 years old.
Two other daughters survived childhood. Eleanor’s 2nd eldest daughter, 14-year-old Urraca, was initially suggested as the bride of the future Louis VIII of France, son of Philip II Augustus. In 1200 the girls’ grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was instrumental in arranging the marriage; her dowry was to be provided from the territories Richard I had won from France at the end of the 12th century.
Eleanor of Aquitaine outlived all but 2 of her children With the deaths of Richard I and his sister Joanna in 1199, only Eleanor in Castile and her baby brother John, now King of England, remained of the once large brood of 4 boys and 3 girls who had survived infancy.
Such recent losses may have helped to persuade the 77-year-old Eleanor of Aquitaine to travel to Castile, in person and in the depths of winter, to collect the granddaughter who would be Louis’ bride. The reunion of the 2 Eleanors would surely have been highly emotional.
She was received at Alfonso’s court with all the pageantry and courtesies appropriate for most remarkable woman of her time. The Dowager Queen of England stayed with her daughter for over 2 months, taking the opportunity to spend some time with her daughter and grandchildren, as the marriage would not be able to take place until after Lent.
In getting to know her granddaughters, Eleanor of Aquitaine seems to have decided that 12-year-old Blanca would make a more suitable bride for Louis. Whether it was because of the girls’ temperaments or simply a matter of names, as some historians have suggested. Urraca was not a name easily translated into French, whereas Blanca, as Blanche, was easily recognisable.
It was, therefore, 12-year-old Blanche who travelled back to France with her grandmother to marry the Dauphin, Louis – the same Louis who would be invited to become England’s king by the rebel barons and laid siege to Lincoln Castle in 1216. Blanche and Louis were married in Normandy, as France was under papal interdict at the time; Blanche would be the mother, and lifelong adviser, of Louis IX (St Louis).
In 1206 Urraca married the heir to the throne of Portugal – the future King Alfonso II.
Eleanor of England and Alfonso VIII appear to have had a happy, successful marriage, producing a family of 4 sons and 8 daughters over a 16 year period. Eleanor enhanced the culture of the Castilian court and acted as a diplomatic conduit between her husband and brothers, Richard and John, in order to aid each other and keep the peace – most of the time. However, in 1204, following the death of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Alfonso had to resort to a show of military force in order to successfully claim his wife’s dower rights over Gascony from John.
Their happy marriage came to an end when Alfonso died in Burgos on 6th October 1214. He was buried in the Abbey of Las Huelgas, where their daughter, Constance, was now Abbess, leaving Eleanor as regent for their 10-year-old son, Henry I. Broken-hearted Eleanor, however, only survived her husband by a little over 3 weeks. Overcome with grief she died in Burgos on 31st October 1214, and was laid to rest beside her beloved husband; leaving their daughter Berengaria to take up the regency for Henry.
Of Eleanor’s grandchildren 2 were to become saints, Louis IX of France and Berengaria’s son Ferdinand III, king of Castile; her great-granddaughter and namesake, Eleanor of Castile (Ferdinand’s daughter), would become Queen of England as the wife of Edward I.
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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: Brewer’s Royalty by David Williamson; The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Bartlett; Eleanor of Aquitaine, by the Wrath of God, Queen of England by Alison Weir; Eleanor, April Queen of Aquitaine by Douglas Boyd; oxforddnb.com.
Growing up near Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire, we always thought it was just a bland old place – it was great for exploring and rolling down the hills, but being so far from London, the centre of power, it didn’t seem to have much history. The most famous thing about it was that it was used as the Saxon castle in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.
English Heritage have spent a lot of money on it in recent years. When I worked there in the early 1990s it was open to the elements and there was just a very narrow walkway around the inside of the keep. Now it has a roof, floors on every level, sensitive lighting and a fantastic little visitor centre. It looks so much better (although I still wouldn’t want to stand on the battlements on a windy day like today).
When I joined as a tour guide, I started looking into the actual history of the Castle, seeing it more for what it has been, than for the visitor attraction it is now. Instead of being a forgotten, unimportant little castle in the middle of nowhere, Conisbrough Castle comes to life through the history it has been a part of, and the people who have called it home.
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Conisbrough – then known as Conigsburgh, or Kynsburgh – belonged to the great British warrior Ambrosius Aurelianus. Geoffrey of Monmouth wasn’t known for his historical accuracy, of course, but it is fascinating to think that this little town may once have belonged to a candidate for the legendary King Arthur.
What we know, for certain, is that by 1066 the Honour of Conisbrough belonged to Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and King Harold II of England. On a prominent, steep hill, it guards the main road between Sheffield and Doncaster to the east, and the navigable River Don to the north.
Following Harold’s defeat and death at the Battle of Hastings, it was given to one of William the Conqueror’s greatest supporters, William de Warenne. Warenne was a cousin of Duke William of Normandy and fought alongside him at the Battle of Hastings. He was given land in various counties, including Lewes in Sussex and Conisbrough in Yorkshire; and although he developed his property at Castle Acre in Norfolk, little was done at Conisbrough. In those days the castle itself was little more than a wooden motte and bailey construction, surrounded by wooden palisades and earthworks.
A thoroughly modern Castle
It was not until the reign of Henry II that the Castle began to take on the majestic appearance we know today. Conisbrough came into the hands of Hamelin Plantagenet, illegitimate half-brother of King Henry II; Hamelin had married the de Warenne heiress, Isabel, Countess of Warenne and Surrey, and became 5th Earl of Warenne and Surrey by right of his wife.
It was Hamelin who built the spectacular hexagonal keep. The stairs to the keep were originally accessed across a drawbridge, which could be raised in times of attack. The ground floor was used for storage, with a basement storeroom below, housing the keep’s well, and accessed by ladder.
The first floor holds the great chamber, or solar, with a magnificent fireplace and seating in the glass-less window. This is where the Lord would have conducted business, or entertained important guests. Henry II, King John and King Edward II are known to have visited Conisbrough: King John even issued a charter from Conisbrough Castle in March 1201.
The second floor would have been sleeping quarters for the lord and lady. Both the solar and the bedchamber have impressive fireplaces, garderobes and a stone basin, which would have had running water delivered from a rainwater cistern on the roof.
On this floor, also, built into one of the keep’s buttresses is the family’s private chapel. This may well have been the chapel endowed by Hamelin and Isabel in 1189-90, and dedicated to St Philip and St James (although there was a, now lost, second chapel in the inner bailey to which the endowment could refer). The chapel is well-decorated, with quatrefoil windows, elaborate carving on the columns and a wonderful vaulted ceiling.
There is a small sacristy for the priest, just to the left of the door, with another basin for the priest’s personal use, and cavities for storing the vestments and altar vessels.
The winding stairs, built within the keep’s thick walls, give access to each successive level and, eventually, to the battlements, with a panoramic view of the surrounding area.
These battlements also had cisterns to hold rainwater, a bread oven and weapons storage; and wooden hoardings stretching out over the bailey to aid in defence. The keep and curtain walls – which were built slightly later – were of a state-of-the art design in their day. The barbican, leading into the inner bailey, had 2 gatehouses and a steep passageway guarded by high walls on both sides; an attacking force would have been defenceless against missiles from above, with nowhere to run in the cramped corridor.
Although the encircling moat is dry (the keep is built high on a hill), all the detritus from the toilets and kitchens drained into it; another little aid to defence – imagine having to attack through that kind of waste?
None of the buildings in the inner bailey have survived, although you can see their stone outlines in the ground. Along one wall there were kitchens and service rooms leading into a great hall, with a raised dais at the far end, and a solar and living quarters above.
Another range of buildings attached to the western wall also held living quarters, possibly for the garrison and any guests. There’s even a small jail cell just to the side of the barbican.
Although Conisbrough is not a large castle, the extensive range of buildings, the magnificent decorations of the fireplaces and chapel, suggest it would have been impressive in its day; and reflects the importance of the castle’s owners and occupants.
The Castle’s Residents
The de Warenne Earls of Surrey were close to the crown, and the centre of government, for centuries. The daughter of the 2nd Earl, Ada, had married the heir to the Scots throne and was mother to 2 Scottish kings; Malcolm the Maiden and William the Lyon.
Hamelin’s son and heir, William, married Maud Marshal, daughter of the Greatest knight, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and Regent during Henry III’s infancy. Their son John, the 7th Earl, was Edward I’s lieutenant in Scotland and beat the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in 1296. His daughter, Isabella, married John Balliol, King of Scots, and was mother to Edward Balliol, another Scottish king.
The 8th – and last – de Warenne earl was a colourful character; John. Although he was married to Joan of Bar, a granddaughter of Edward I, he lived with his mistress and even kidnapped Alice de Lacey, wife of Thomas Earl of Lancaster, possibly in retaliation for Lancaster’s prevention of Surrey’s longed-for divorce. The result was the 1st – and only – siege of Conisbrough Castle; the Earl of Lancaster assaulted the castle, but was opposed by a garrison of only 6 men, who soon capitulated.
The last Earl of Surrey died without heirs in 1347 and Conisbrough passed to John de Warenne’s godson, Edmund of Langley, fourth son of Edward III. Edmund’s wife Isabella of Castile gave birth to her 3rd child, Richard Earl of Cambridge, at Conisbrough, most likely in the lavish bedchamber within the keep itself. Cambridge had the dubious reputation of being England’s poorest Earl; however, he is remembered to history as the grandfather of the Yorkist kings, Edward IV and Richard III.
Following Cambridge’s execution for treason in 1415 his 2nd wife, Maud Clifford, made Conisbrough her principal residence until her death in 1446. Maud entertained her Clifford family here and her great-nephew and godson John Clifford, the Butcher of Skipton was born there in 1435. In a strange twist of fate, John Clifford is the one accused of murdering the Earl of Cambridge’s 17-year-old grandson Edmund, Earl of Rutland, following the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460.
The castle underwent repairs during the reign of Edward IV, in 1482-3, but by 1538 a survey revealed the it had fallen into neglect and decay, with parts of the curtain wall having slipped down the embankment.
From then on, although it has had successive owners until it came under the protection of English Heritage, Conisbrough Castle has been a picturesque ruin, a wonderful venue for picnics and exploring its many hidden treasures.
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All photographs are copyright to Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015.
Joanna of England was born in October 1165, the 7th child and youngest daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. 10 years younger than her eldest brother, Henry the Young King, she was born at a time when their parents’ relationship was breaking down; her mother would eventually go to war against her husband, before being imprisoned by him for the last 16 years of Henry’s reign.
Born at Angers Castle in Anjou, Christmas 1165 was the first ever Christmas her parents spent apart; with Henry still in England dealing with a Welsh revolt, he wasn’t to meet his new daughter for several months. Although Joanna spent much of her childhood at her mother’s court in Poitiers, she and her younger brother, John, spent sometime at the magnificent Abbey of Fontevraud. Whilst there Joanna was educated in the skills needed to run a large, aristocratic household and in several languages; English, Norman French and rudimentary Latin.
When Eleanor and her sons rebelled in 1173, Henry II went to war against his wife. When she was captured – wearing men’s clothes – she was sent to imprisonment in England. Joanna joined her father’s entourage and frequently appeared at Henry’s Easter and Christmas courts.
3 years later, Eleanor was allowed to travel to Winchester to say ‘goodbye’ to her youngest daughter, who had been betrothed to King William II of Sicily. Provided with a trousseau, probably similar to that of her sister Matilda on her marriage to Henry the Lion, Joanna set out from Winchester at the end of August 1176; escorted by Bishop John of Norwich and her uncle, Hamelin de Warenne.
Joanna’s entourage must have been a sight to see. Once on the Continent, she was escorted from Barfleur by her brother Henry, the Young King. Her large escort was intended to dissuade bandit attacks against her impressive dowry, which included fine horses, gems and precious metals. At Poitiers, Joanna was met by another brother, Richard, who escorted his little sister to Toulouse in a leisurely and elegant progress.
Having finally reached Sicily 12-year-old Joanna was married to 24-year-old William on 13th February 1177, in Palermo Cathedral. The marriage ceremony was followed by her coronation as Queen of Sicily. Joanna must have looked magnificent, her bejewelled dress cost £114 – not a small sum at the time.
Sicily was an ethnically diverse country; William’s court was composed of Christian, Muslim and Greek advisers. William himself spoke, read and wrote Arabic and, in fact, kept a harem of both Christian and Muslim girls within the palace. Although she was kept secluded, it must have been a strange life for a young girl, partly raised in a convent.
Joanna and William only had one child, Bohemond, Duke of Apulia, who was born – and died – in 1181. And when William died without an heir in November 1189, Joanna became a pawn in the race for the succession. William’s sister, Constance was the rightful heir, but she was married to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor and many feared being absorbed into his empire. William II’s illegitimate nephew, Tancred of Lecce, seized the initiative. He claimed the throne and, in need of money, imprisoned Joanna and stole her dowry and the treasures left to her by her husband.
Who knows how long Joanna would have remained imprisoned, if it had not been for her brother’s eagerness to go on Crusade? Having gained the English throne in 1189 Richard I – the Lionheart – had wasted no time in organising the Third Crusade and arrived at Messina in Sicily in September 1190.
Richard demanded Joanna’s release; and fearing the Crusader king’s anger Tancred capitulated and freed Joanna, paying 40,000 ounces of gold towards the Crusade in fulfilment of William II’s promise of aid.
Described as beautiful and spirited, Joanna had been Queen of Sicily for 13 years and it seems that, while at her brother’s court, she caught the eye of Richard’s co-Crusdaer, King Philip II of France. Richard was having none of it and moved Joanna to the Priory of Bagnara on the mainland, out of sight and hopefully out of mind.
Richard stayed in Sicily for sometime, negotiating a treaty with Tancred which would recognise him as rightful king of Sicily in return for the remainder of Joanna’s dowry and 19 ships to support the Crusade. He was also waiting for his bride, Berengaria of Navarre, to catch up with him.
During Lent of 1191 Joanna had a brief reunion with her mother Eleanor of Aquitaine when she arrived in Sicily, having escorted Richard’s bride. Joanna became Berengaria’s chaperone and they were lodged together at Bagnara, like ‘two doves in a cage’.
Unable to marry in the Lenten season, Richard sent Joanna and Berengaria on ahead of the main army, and departed Sicily for the Holy Land.
The Royal ladies’ ship was driven to Limassol on Cyprus by a storm. After several ships were crippled and then plundered by the islanders, the ruler of Cyprus, Isaac Comnenus, tried to lure Joanna and Berengaria ashore. Richard came to the rescue, reduced Cyprus in 3 weeks and clamped Comnenus in chains (silver ones apparently). Lent being over, Richard and Berengaria were married, with great pomp and celebration, before the whole party continued their journey to the Holy Land, arriving at Acre in June 1191.
Joanna’s time in the Holy Land was spent in Acre and Jaffa, accompanying her sister-in-law and following – at a safe distance – behind the Crusading army, she spent Christmas 1191 with Richard and Berengaria, at Beit-Nuba, just 12 miles from Jerusalem. However, although he re-took Acre and Jaffa, Richard fell out with his allies and was left without a force strong enough to take Jerusalem.
In attempts to reach a political settlement with the Muslim leader, Saladin, Richard even offered Joanna as a bride for Saladin’s brother. His plans were scuppered, however, when Joanna refused outright to even consider marrying a Muslim, despite the fact Richard’s plan would have seen her installed as Queen of Jerusalem.
When a 3-year truce was eventually agreed with Saladin, Joanna and Berengaria were sent ahead of the army, to Sicily and onto Rome where they were to await Richard’s arrival. Richard, however, never made it; falling into the hands of Duke Leopold of Austria, he was handed over to his enemy, the Holy Roman Emperor.
With Richard imprisoned, Berengaria and Joanna arrived back in Poitiers. Berengaria herself set out to help raise the ransom money for Richard’s release, which finally came about in February 1194.
Joanna spent the next few years at her mother’s and brother’s courts, her wealth having been squandered by Richard’s Crusade. But at the age of 31 she was proposed as a bride for Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse. Her title as Queen of Sicily would give him greater prestige while bringing the County of Toulouse into the Plantagenet fold, a long-time aim of Eleanor’s.
3-times married Raymond does not seem to have been ideal husband material; he had been excommunicated for marrying his 3rd wife whilst still married to his 2nd. And he now repudiated wife number 3, confining her to a convent, in order to marry Joanna. Despite such a colourful history, the wedding went ahead and Joanna and Raymond were married in Rouen in October 1196, with Queen Berengaria in attendance.
Although not a happy marriage Joanna gave birth to a son, Raymond, in around 1197 and a daughter, possibly called Mary, in 1198. Little is known of Mary, and it is possible she died in infancy. Raymond succeeded his father as Raymond VII Count of Toulouse, and married twice.
Raymond VI was not a popular Count of Toulouse and while he was away in the Languedoc, in 1199, dealing with rebel barons, Joanna herself tried to face down her husband’s enemies. She laid siege to a rebel stronghold at Cassee. Mid-siege, however, her troops turned traitor and fired the army’s camp – Joanna managed to escape, but was probably injured.
A pregant Joanna was then trying to make her way to her brother Richard when she heard of his death. She diverted course and finally reached her mother at Niort. Hurt, distressed and pregnant, Eleanor sent her to Fontevraud to be looked after by the nuns.
With no allowance from her husband, Joanna returned to her mother and brother – King John – in Rouen in June 1199, pleading poverty; Eleanor managed to persuade John to give his sister an annual pension of 100 marks.
Joanna’s last few months must have been a desperate time. Too ill to travel and heavily pregnant, she remained at Rouen. In September, King John gave her a lump sum of 3,000 marks, to dispose of in her will; she specifically mentioned a legacy towards the cost of a new kitchen at Fontevraud and asked Eleanor to dispose of the remainder in charitable works for the religious and the poor.
Knowing she was dying, Joanna became desperate to be veiled as a nun at Fontevraud; a request normally denied to married women – especially when they were in the late stages of pregnancy. However, seeing how desperate her daughter was, Eleanor sent for Matilda, the Abbess of Fontevraud but, fearing the Abbess would arrive too late, she also asked Hubert Walter, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to intervene. The Archbishop tried to dissuade Joanna, but was impressed by her fervour and convened a committee of nuns and clergy; who agreed that Joanna must be ‘inspired by heaven’.
In Eleanor’s presence, the Archbishop admitted Joanna to the Order of Fontevraud. Joanna was too weak to stand and died shortly after the ceremony; her son, Richard, was born a few minutes later and lived only long enough to be baptised. She died a month short of her 34th birthday.
Joanna and her baby son were interred together at Fontevraud, the funeral cortege having been escorted there by Eleanor of Aquitaine and King John.
References: Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of Kings & Queens; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; Alison Weir Eleanor of Aquitaine, by the Wrath of God, Queen of England; Douglas Boyd Eleanor, April Queen of Aquitaine; bestofsicily.com; britannica.com; geni.com; royalwomenblogspot.co.uk; medievalqueens.com.
Matilda of England was the eldest daughter and third child of, arguably, Medieval Europe’s most glamorous couple. Born in London in June 1156, the daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II was baptised by Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Priory Church of the Holy Trinity, Aldgate.
As her parents ruled an empire, that stretched from the Scottish borders to the Pyrenees, travel was a constant part of Matilda’s childhood. She took her first sea-voyage across the English Channel at just 2 months old with her mother and older brother, Henry, to join her father in Anjou; before travelling to Aquitaine in October.
Throughout her childhood, Matilda is often seen accompanying her mother throughout the vast Angevin domains. She and Henry would be joined in the nursery by 3 younger brothers – Richard, Geoffrey and John – and 2 younger sisters – Eleanor and Joan – who survived into adulthood.
Negotiations began for Matilda’s marriage in February 1165, as part of an alliance with the German Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, in opposition to Louis VII of France and the Pope, Alexander III. It was one of a series of dynastic marriages, which included her younger sisters, aimed at strengthening their father’s position in Europe.
The first of her parents’ daughters to be married, her dowry and send-off cost around £4,500 (about a quarter of England’s annual revenue). The money was raised by taxes specifically levied for the occasion. The 12-year-old princess was given a trousseau worth £63 , including saddles with gilt fittings, ‘two large silken cloths, and two tapestries and one cloth of samite and twelve sable skins’. 34 packhorses were needed to transport all her belongings.
In July 1166 the emperor’s envoys arrived in England, to escort Matilda to Germany. Her mother accompanied her to Dover, where she embarked on a German ship; and the wedding to Henry V ‘the Lion’, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, finally took place in Minden Cathedral, Germany, on 1st february 1168.
Henry the Lion was 27 years Matilda’s senior, his first marriage, to Klementia of Zahringen, had been annulled in 1162. The marriage appears to have been successful and produced 10 children, although the fates of some seem to be in question, and several did not survive childhood. Their eldest daughter, Richenza (her name was later changed to Matilda), born around 1172, was married firstly to Geoffrey III, Count of Perche, and secondly to Enguerrand III, Lord of Coucy.
Of their sons Henry, born in 1173, would succeed to the Duchies of Saxony and Bavaria on his father’s death in 1195. Born around 1175, their second son, Otto, Earl of York and Count of Ponthieu, would become Holy Roman Emperor as Otto IV in 1209; Otto was briefly considered as heir to the English throne, by his uncle Richard I, before King John claimed the crown. A third son, William, Duke of Luneberg and Brunswick, was born in England in 1184 and would be ancestor, in the direct male line, of the House of Hanover, Kings of Great Britain in the 18th Century.
In 1180 Henry V quarrelled with the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, who held him responsible for the failure of a campaign in Italy. Henry, it seems, had grown very powerful in his own domains and Barbarossa, after the quarrel, deprived him of his fiefs and sent the Duke of Saxony and Bavaria into exile for 7 years.
Henry, Matilda and their children left Germany and sought refuge at the Angevin court in Autumn 1181. Henry II welcomed his daughter to his court in Normandy and, whilst energetically lobbying the German emperor on his son-in-law’s behalf, gave his daughter the palace of Argentin as a family residence.
Matilda was heavily pregnant and remained with her father whilst her husband left on pilgrimage to Compostela. The family was together again by Christmas 1182, spending the festive period with Matilda’s siblings at Henry II’s court in Caen.
Matilda and her family spent 1183 in the Angevin lands on the Continent; a pregnant Matilda accompanied her father to England in 1184, where she gave birth to her son, William, at Winchester in mid-June. While at the Angevin court Matilda was instrumental in getting the restrictions eased on her mother’s imprisonment; Eleanor of Aquitaine had been held at Old Sarum, following her complicity in a failed rebellion by her sons in 1173-4.
Although she was still in the custody of guards, Eleanor was allowed to reside with Matilda at various locations in England, including Windsor and Berkhamsted. When Eleanor was allowed to cross the Channel to take possession of the Vexin Castles, Matilda accompanied her.
In early 1185, having asked the Pope to intervene with the Emperor, Henry II finally secured agreement for his son-in-law to return to his German domains; although Henry would not be restored to Imperial favour until 1190, when he made peace with the new Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI.
Matilda and Henry arrived back in Germany in October 1185, although their children, Otto, William and Matilda had been left at Henry’s court, to be raised by their grandparents.
Henry the Lion would be exiled from Germany again, when Frederick Barbarossa left on Crusade, but this time, Matilda remained to oversee their German domains.
Matilda died at Brunswick on 28th June 1189 and was buried there, in the Cathedral of St Blasius, of which she was co-foundress. Henry II died just 8 days later, probably before the news of his daughter’s death could reach him. Matilda’s husband would be buried alongside her, following his death on 6th August 1195.
There seems to be no surviving description of Matilda; however, Bertran de Born, troubadour to Matilda’s brother Richard (the Lionheart) composed a song about her and compared Matilda’s beauty to that of Helen of Troy.
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Sources: Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 1075-1225; Alison Weir, Britain’s Royal Families; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Douglas Boyd Eleanor, April Queen of Aquitaine; Alison Weir Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Ada de Warenne was born around 1120, daughter of William de Warenne 2nd Earl of Surrey and Isabel de Vermandois. Through her mother, she was a great-granddaughter of Henry I of France and half-sister to Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester and Hugh de Beaumont, 1st Earl of Bedford. Her niece, Isabel de Warenne, would marry William
, the younger son of King Stephen and, following his death, Hamelin, half-brother of Henry II of England.
Ada’s family connections were of the highest quality. As a consequence, in 1139 she married Henry of Scotland, only surviving son and heir of David I, King of Scotland. On her marriage, she became Countess of Huntingdon and Countess of Northumbria. The marriage produced 3 sons and 3 daughters.
Ada never became Queen of Scotland as Henry of Scotland died in 1152, a year before the death of David I. On his son’s death, David recognised his grandson and Ada’s eldest son, Malcolm, as his heir.
Born in 1142, Malcolm succeeded to the crown at the age of 11 as Malcolm IV. Also known as Malcolm the Maiden, he died, unmarried, at Jedburgh in December 1165. Ada had been trying to arrange a suitable marriage for him when he died.
He was succeeded by Ada’s 2nd son, William I the Lyon. William was one of the longest reigning king of Scots in history, reigning for 49 years. He married Ermengarde de Beaumont, a granddaughter of Henry I of England by his illegitimate daughter, Constance. William and Ermengarde had 2 daughters and a son, who succeeded his father as Alexander II in 1114.
Ada and Henry’s 3rd son, David, Earl of Huntingdon, married Matilda of Chester and it is through David that Robert the Bruce and John Balliol both laid their claims as Competitors to the Scots crown in the 1290s.
Of the 3 daughters: Matilda died young, in 1152:
Ada of Huntingdon married Floris III, Count of Holland, in 1161. She had 4 sons and 4 daughters before the count died at Antioch while on the 3rd Crusade, in 1190. Ada’s great-great-grandson, Floris V, Count of Holland, was one of the 13 Competitors for the Scots crown in 1291;
Margaret married Conan IV, Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond in 1160. She was the mother of Constance, Duchess of Brittany, wife of Henry II’s son Geoffrey and mother of the tragic Arthur of Brittany who was murdered by King John, and Eleanor, the Pearl of Brittany who spent all her adult life in ‘honourable imprisonment’ in England.
Following her husband’s death Ada played little or no part in the politics of Scotland; she retired to her dower lands at Haddington in East Lothian, given to her by David I and possibly the 1st Royal Burgh in Scotland.
A generous patroness of the Church, Ada de Warenne died in 1178, shortly after founding the nunnery at Haddington She is believed to be buried in the Haddington area, although the exact location of her grave is lost to history. In 1198 her grandson, the future Alexander II, would be born in her old palace at Haddington, after her dower-lands were passed on to Queen Ermengarde.
Pictures from Wikipedia: a coin of Henry of Scotland, Malcolm IV of Scotland and the remains St Martin’s Kirk of the Cistercian abbey, founded by Countess Ada.
Further Reading: Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter.
A short while ago I wrote about Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey and then her first husband, William of Blois (youngest son of King Stephen). So, I think it’s about time I finished the story by looking at Isabel’s second husband, Hamelin Plantagenet, 4th Earl of Surrey.
The illegitimate son of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, Hamelin was born sometime around 1129. His mother was, possibly, Adelaide of Angers, though this is by no means certain. Geoffrey was husband to Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England and mother of Henry II, Hamelin’s half-brother.
Hamelin was incredibly loyal to Henry and his marriage to an heiress was reward for his support, whilst at the same time giving him position and influence within England. Hamelin and Isabel married in 1164, Hamelin even taking the de Warenne surname after the marriage. He became Earl of Surrey by right of his wife, though was more habitually called Earl de Warenne.
Hamelin was an influential and active member of the English barony. He supported Henry against his sons’ rebellion in 1173, and formed part of the entourage which escorted Princess Joan (daughter of Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine) to Sicily for her marriage to King William.
Hamelin remained close to the crown even after Henry’s death, supporting his nephew, Richard I. Hamelin was among the earls present at Richard’s first coronation in September 1189; and carried one of the three swords at his second coronation in April 1194.
During Richard’s absence on Crusade, Hamelin sided with the Regent, William Longchamp, against the intrigues of Richard’s brother John. He was also one of the five treasurers, appointed by Eleanor of Aquitaine, entrusted with the task of raising the King’s ransom when he was held captive by Duke Leopold of Austria.
Hamelin’s involvement with the court continued into the reign of King John; he was present at John’s coronation and when William, King of Scotland gave his oath of homage at Lincoln in November 1200.
Away from court, Hamelin appears to have been and avid builder; he built a cylindrical keep at his manor of Mortemer in Normandy. He then constructed a larger and improved version, using all the latest techniques of castle design, at his manor of Conisbrough in Yorkshire, in the 1180s.
Hamelin and Isabel had four children: a son, William who would be 5th Earl of Surrey, and three daughters; Ela, Isabel and Maud. One daughter, though it is unclear which, had an illegitimate child by King John, Richard Fitzroy, Baron Chilham, who was born, possibly, around 1190.
Hamelin spent a lot of time and money on Conisbrough Castle, which took almost 10 years to complete, and it appears to have been a favourite family residence. King John visited him there in 1201, and two of Hamelin’s daughters married landowners from the nearby manors of Tickhill and Sprotborough.
Hamelin died on 7th May 1202 and was buried in the chapter house at Lewes Priory, in Sussex; Isabel died the following year and was buried alongside him.
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Further reading: East Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, edited by William Farrer & Charles Travis Clay; Britain’s Royal Families and Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir; The PLantagenets: the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones.
Photos: Conisbrough Castle and the de Warenne arms from Wikipedia; Lewes Priory by John Armagh.