Guest Post: Best Friends Turned Enemies by Jo Willet

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

Mary Wortley Montagu and Alexander Pope – Best Friends turned Enemies

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by Jonathan Richardson,

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

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

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

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

Alexander Pope by Jonathan Richardson

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary’s friend, Lord John Hervey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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

To buy the book:

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

About the author:

Lavinya of the The Black Curriculum

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

You can find Jo at:

Twitter:  @Willettjo

Instagram: jowillett_biographer

Website:  www.devoniaroad.co.uk

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My books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Jo Willet

Defenders of the Norman Crown

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available for pre-order.

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

John’s ancestor, William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He was rewarded with enough land to make him one of the richest men of all time. In his search for a royal bride, the 2nd earl kidnapped the wife of a fellow baron. The 3rd earl died on crusade, fighting for his royal cousin, Louis VII of France…

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

As a child, I regularly visited Conisbrough Castle. I have fond memories of summer picnics in the outer bailey, rolling down the hills and sneaking past the man in his little hut to get into the inner bailey without paying (sorry about that).

Conisbrough Castle

In those days the history of the castle mainly focused on the fact it was the inspiration for the Saxon stronghold of the eponymous hero’s father in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Ivanhoe. Scott is said to have been driving by in a carriage, on his way to Scotland, when he saw the castle and decided it was the perfect setting for a Saxon lord’s home – quite ironic, considering the fact it had been a Norman stronghold since the Conquest, although it had previously belonged to the unfortunate King Harold II, defeated and killed at the Battle of Hastings.

As a tour guide at the castle in the 1990s, I developed a fascination for the family that had once owned Conisbrough Castle and built the magnificent hexagonal keep: the Warenne earls of Surrey. The last Warenne earl died 674 years ago and the castle became a royal castle shortly after. However, for almost 300 years, from the Norman Conquest to 1347, Conisbrough Castle was part of the vast Warenne demesne. The extensive Warenne lands spanned the country from Lewes on the south coast to their castles of Conisbrough and Sandal in Yorkshire, with their family powerbase in East Anglia, where they built a magnificent priory, castle and medieval village at Castle Acre. The family mausoleum was at St Pancras Priory in Lewes, founded by the first earl and his wife, Gundrada, burial place of all but two subsequent earls and numerous other family members.

St Pancras Priory, Lewes

The Warennes were at the heart of English history and politics from the time of the Conquest to their demise. The Warenne story is one of drama, tragedy, glory and ambition that was consigned to history with the death of John II de Warenne, the seventh and last Earl of Warenne, Surrey, Sussex and Strathearn. The dynasty founded by William and Gundrada in the turmoil of the Norman Conquest, would continue to serve the Crown until John’s death in 1347.

To tell the Warenne story has been a personal ambition for a long time; I cannot wait for you to read the story of this incredible family.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword Books, Amazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

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Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Tudor Society in Lincolnshire

Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s 6thh queen

In 1485 England was a small kingdom, the whole country consisted of a population of less than 3 million people, with 60,000 living in the capital, London.1 The Wars of the Roses was very much a recent trauma in the national memory. The country was a predominantly rural society, with local loyalties to local landowners – such as the Percies in Northumberland – taking precedence over national considerations. Noticeable regional differences varied in speech, diet, cloth, farming methods, the shape of church towers, and even the veneration of the saints. In Tudor Lincolnshire the Fens were yet to be drained, few roads were well-maintained and even they could be treacherous in heavy rains. Lincoln itself had been effected by the decline in the wool trade, and with a shrinking population, its size and prosperity were also decreasing.

A distinction was also rising among the aristocracy of the county and that of the royal court. In the regions, the minor nobility served the king as sheriffs, escheators and justices of the peace, or representing their county in parliament. The greater aristocracy, however, were looking for positions and influence at court; for themselves and their families. The Tudor court was a micro-world in itself. It set the standards in manners for the whole country. Service to the monarch was the primary concern. Most courtiers were related to each other, marriages were negotiated between the prominent families and service to the queen was the highest position a lady could aspire to.

At first glance you would think there was very little interaction between the nobility of Lincolnshire and the Tudor court. However, as we delve deeper we can see that, not only was there movement between the court and the county, it was not only one-sided, but fluid and travelling in both directions. When looking at this over the Tudor period – of over a hundred years of history – we notice the subtle changes in the interactions between the county and royal court, not only based on the progress of the time, but also the personalities involved and their personal experiences.

For some ladies, marrying into a member of the Lincoln aristocracy was a way of getting away from the glare of the court. For Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount, lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon, a former mistress of Henry VIII and the mother of his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, Earl of Richmond, it was the chance at a normal life. Born in 1500, Bessie Blount married Gilbert Tailboys in 1519, following her affair with Henry VIII and just months after the birth of the king’s son. The marriage was probably arranged by Henry as a ‘reward’ for Bessie. The couple settled on Gilbert’s family estates at Kyme in Lincolnshire. And despite being far from court, Bessie was not forgotten by the king. She continued to receive Henry’s favour, with various grants between 1522 and 1539 and New Years’ gifts throughout her life; in 1532 Henry sent her a gilt goblet with a cover weighing over 35 ounces.2

Effigy of Elizabeth Blount

Bessie and Gilbert had three children together, Elizabeth, George and Robert, before his death in 1530. Gilbert Tailboys had settled part of his Lincolnshire estates on Elizabeth, giving her an annual income of £200 a year for life. Following his death, Bessie appears to have been happy to stay in Lincolnshire instead of returning to her Shropshire roots, or an unwelcoming royal court. In 1535 she married again, to the soldier Edward Fiennes de Clinton, 9th Baron Clinton and Saye, who was 12 years her junior. Although de Clinton had his family seat in Kent, they settled on Bessie’s Lincolnshire estates. They had three daughters together, Bridget, Katherine and Margaret, before Bessie died sometime before June 1541 (when Clinton remarried). While Elizabeth appears to have stayed away from court, Clinton’s marriage to the king’s former mistress brought him royal favour; he attended on the king at Calais and Boulogne in 1532 and acted as cup-bearer at the coronation of Anne Boleyn in 1533. Following the Lincolnshire Uprising of 1536, one of several rebellions which formed the Pilgrimage of Grace, Clinton was rewarded for staying loyal to the king – most Lincolnshire gentlemen had joined the rebellion – with the dissolved monastery of Sempringham.

Lincolnshire aristocratic families were often very closely related. Elizabeth and Edward’s daughter, Bridget, married Sir Robert Dymoke II, son of Sir Edward Dymoke and his wife Anne, who was the daughter of George Tailboys and the sister of Elizabeth’s first husband, Gilbert. The Dymoke family held Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire, through which tenure they were king’s champions; Sir Edward was champion at the coronations of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Sir Edward’s sister, Margaret, was born in Scrivelsby around 1500 and served several of Henry’s queens. After first marrying Richard Vernon of Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, she then married Sir William Coffin, Anne Boleyn’s Master of Horse. Margaret had been one of Queen Katherine of Aragon’s gentlewomen at the Field of Cloth of Gold and would also serve Henry VIII’s two subsequent queens.

Margaret, however, was not a favourite of Henry’s second queen, Anne Boleyn. She was one of the women who attended the disgraced queen in the Tower of London. Anne was recorded as complaining to her jailer, Sir William Kingston, “I think much unkindness in the king to put such about me as I never loved.”3 Margaret Dymoke, Lady Coffin slept on a pallet bed in the Queen’s bedchamber during her time in the Tower. In her desperation the queen confided in Margaret, unaware that she was acting as a spy for the state. Master Kingston reported to Thomas Cromwell that “I have everything told me by Mistress Coffin that she thinks meet for me to know.” 4 There is also a possibility that Margaret was not only a spy for Kingston, but also for the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who wrote “The lady who had charge of her [Anne] has sent to tell me in great secrecy that the concubine, before and after receiving the sacrament, affirmed to her, on the damnations of her soul, that she had never been unfaithful to the king.”5

Anne Boleyn in the Tower by Edouard Cibot

Following Anne’s execution, Margaret joined the household of Queen Jane Seymour. Lady Coffin was in high favour in Jane Seymour’s establishment and acted as intermediary for several families who had hopes of placing a daughter in the royal household. Margaret remained with the queen until the end, and was among the mourners who attended the late queen’s body as it lay in state, keeping vigil and attending masses for her soul. Margaret was in the funeral procession that accompanied Jane’s body to her final resting place in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. She rode in the third carriage and bore Princess Mary’s train at the requiem mass; Mary was chief mourner and rode on a horse trapped with black velvet.6

There were several ladies associated with the Tudor court, who married into Lincolnshire society. The most famous must surely be one of Henry VIII’s own queens. Henry’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr and his wife, Maud Green Parr, a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon. When Sir Thomas died while Katherine was still a child, Maud took it on herself to arrange her daughter’s future. After a failed proposal to marry Katherine to the son of Lord Dacre, In 1529 Maud turned to another of her late husband’s relatives and arranged for Katherine to marry Edward Burgh the eldest son of Sir Thomas Burgh, Baron Burgh of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Sir Thomas’s father, Sir Edward, had been declared a lunatic and Sir Thomas, himself, was renowned for his violent outbursts and wild rages (possibly due to an inherited mental instability in the family) and had a tyrannical control over his family. The first two years of the marriage, spent at Sir Thomas’s new Hall at Gainsborough (now known as the Old Hall), was an unhappy time for Katherine. She wrote, regularly, to her mother of her unhappiness and it seems the situation was only resolved following a visit by Maud Parr, who persuaded Sir Thomas to allow Edward and Katherine to move to their own, smaller, house at Kirton-in-Lindsey, a few miles outside of Gainsborough.

We do not know whether Edward was a sickly individual, or whether or not he succumbed to a sudden illness, but their happiness was short-lived, as he died in the spring of 1533, after only 4 years of marriage. Having no children, Katherine was left with little from the marriage, and, with her mother having died the previous year, she was virtually alone in the world; possibly as a remedy to her isolation, Katherine married her second husband, Lord Latimer, in the same year as she lost her first. There is no record that Katherine served any of henry VIII’s queens. Her first appearance at court seems to be in 1542, when she became a lady-in-waiting in Mary Tudor’s household, before she caught the King’s eye. She does not seem to have forgotten her time with the Burgh family, however, and when she became queen Katherine paid a pension from her own purse to her former sister-in-law, Elizabeth Owen, widow of her husband’s younger brother, Thomas. Poor Elizabeth had been accused of adultery by her domineering father-in-law, Sir Thomas, and her children were declared illegitimate by Act of Parliament in 1542.

Lord Burgh’s third surviving son, William, born in the early 1520s, would eventually succeed his father to the barony. He married Katherine Fiennes de Clinton, daughter of Edward Fiennes de Clinton – the future Earl of Lincoln – and Bessie Blount, demonstrating the interlinking relationships between the various great Lincolnshire families.

Where Katherine Parr was linked to Lincolnshire before joining the royal court, others saw Lincolnshire as a place of retirement. Maria de Salinas was a lady-in-waiting and close friend to Katherine of Aragon; indeed, it seems that she came to England with the Spanish princess in 1501 for the marriage to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales. Katherine and Maria were very close and by 1514 Caroz de Villagarut, ambassador of Katherine’s father, Ferdinand of Aragon, was complaining of Maria’s influence over the queen after she tried to persuade Katherine not to cooperate with the ambassador and encouraged the Queen to favour her English subjects.7 In June 1516 Maria married the largest landowner in Lincolnshire, William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby. The King and Queen paid for the wedding, which took place at Greenwich, and gave them a wedding gift of Grimsthorpe Castle, in Lincolnshire. The Queen even provided Maria with a dowry of 1100 marks.

Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire

Maria remained at court for some years after her wedding, and attended Katherine at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Henry VIII was godfather to Maria and William’s oldest son, Henry, who died in infancy. Another son, Francis, also died young and their daughter Katherine, born in 1519, would be the only surviving child of the marriage. Lord Willoughby died in 1526, and for several years afterwards Maria was embroiled in a legal dispute with her brother-in-law, Sir Christopher Willoughby, over the inheritance of the Willoughby lands. It seems William had settled some lands on Maria which were entailed to Sir Christopher. The dispute went to the Star Chamber and caused Sir Thomas More, the king’s chancellor and a prominent lawyer, to make an initial redistribution of some of the disputed lands.

This must have been a hard fight for a newly-widowed Maria, and the dispute threatened the stability of Lincolnshire itself, given the extensive lands involved. However, Maria attracted a powerful ally in Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and brother-in-law of the King, who called on the assistance of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry’s first minister at the time, in the hope of resolving the situation. Suffolk had managed to obtain the wardship of Katherine Willoughby in 1529, intending her to marry his eldest son and heir Henry, Earl of Lincoln, and so had a vested interest in a favourable settlement for Maria. This interest became even greater following the death of Mary Tudor, Suffolk’s wife and Henry VIII’s sister, in September 1533, when only three months later the fifty-year-old Duke of Suffolk married fourteen-year-old Katherine, himself. Although Suffolk pursued the legal case with more vigour after the wedding, a final settlement was not reached until the reign of Elizabeth I. Suffolk eventually became the greatest landowner in Lincolnshire and, despite the age difference, the marriage does appear to have been successful. Katherine served at court, in the household of Henry VIII’s 6th and last queen, Katherine Parr. She was widowed in 1545 and lost her two sons – and heirs – by the Duke, Henry and Charles, to the sweating sickness, within hours of each other in 1551.

As duchess of Suffolk, Katherine was a stalwart of the Protestant learning and used her position to introduce Protestant clergy to Lincolnshire, even inviting Hugh Latimer to preach at Grimsthorpe Castle. It was she and Sir William Cecil who persuaded Katherine Parr to publish her book, The Lamentacion of a Sinner in 1547, demonstrating her continuing links with the court despite her first husband’s death.

Following the death of her sons by Suffolk, Katherine no longer had a financial interest in the Suffolk estates, which went to the heirs of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister. However, Katherine still had her own Willoughby estates to look after and it was in order to safeguard these that Katherine married her gentleman usher, Richard Bertie. The couple had a difficult time navigating the religious tensions of the age and even went into exile on the Continent during the reign of the Catholic Queen, Mary I. Following their return to England, on Elizabeth’s accession, Katherine resumed her position in Tudor society; her relations with the court, however, were strained by her tendency towards Puritan learning. She used her position in Lincolnshire and extensive patronage to help disseminate the Puritan teachings. The records of Katherine’s Lincolnshire household show that she employed Miles Coverdale – a prominent critic of the Elizabethan church – as tutor to her two children by Bertie; Susan and Peregrine.8 Unfortunately, Katherine died after a long illness, on 19th September 1580 and was buried in her native Lincolnshire, in Spilsby Church.

Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk by Hans Holbein the Younger

Katherine’s mother, Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby, had died in 1539 and had stayed loyal to her mistress, Katherine of Aragon, throughout her married life and widowhood. Indeed, when Katherine was reported to be dying at Kimbolton Castle, Maria applied for a license to visit her ailing mistress, but was refused by Sir Thomas Cromwell, the King’s chief minister at the time. Despite this setback, Maria set out from London to visit Katherine at the beginning of January 1536 and contrived to get herself admitted by Sir Edmund Bedingfield by claiming a fall from her horse meant she could travel no further. According to Sarah Morris and Nathalie Grueninger, Katherine and Maria spent hours talking in their native Castilian; the former queen died in Maria’s arms on 7th January 1536. Katherine of Aragon was buried in Peterborough Cathedral on 29th January, with Maria and her daughter, Katherine, attending the funeral.9

The composition of the Tudor court changed under Elizabeth I. The new queen valued loyalty and most positions went to members of her extended family; the Howards and Careys among them. Throughout the forty-five years of Elizabeth’s reign, only twenty-eight women were appointed to salaried positions in the privy Chamber. Positions in the Bedchamber, Privy Chamber and Presence Chamber were highly sought after and mainly given to ladies from the same families, who were assigned positions based on their social status. The senior positions were those of the Chief and Second Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber, these were followed by the Ladies of the Bedchamber, the Ladies of the Privy Chamber and the Ladies of the Presence Chamber, in descending order. Unmarried young ladies were given positions as maids of honour and were supervised by the Mother of the Maids.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a great granddaughter of Elizabeth Woodville, had entered Princess Elizabeth’s household in 1539, possibly as a maid of honour but ostensibly to be raised alongside her cousin. She was only nine or ten years old at the time. Elizabeth Fitzgerald had been born in Ireland in about 1528 and was the second daughter of Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare. Her mother was Lady Elizabeth Grey, daughter of Sir Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset and only surviving son of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s queen. Elizabeth Fitzgerald must have been quite a beauty as Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, wrote a sonnet, From Tuscan cam my ladies worthi race in praise of her as his Fair Geraldine; Bewty of kind, her vertues from above; Happy ys he that may obtaine her love.10

In 1542 Elizabeth married her first husband, Sir Anthony Browne, but he died in 1548 and their two sons died in infancy. In 1552 she married again, this time to Edward Fiennes de Clinton, 9th Baron Clinton and Saye; the same Baron Clinton who had married Bessie Blount in 1535. Clinton had remarried in 1541, after Bessie’s death, to Ursula, daughter of William, 7th Baron Stourton; Ursula was a niece of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland during the reign of Edward VI. She died in 1551 and Edward married Elizabeth the following year. Sir Edward Fiennes de Clinton had led a very successful military career and in May 1550 he had been appointed a privy councillor and lord high admiral of England. He was made a knight of the garter in April 1551 and, later in the same year, was given the former Howard property of Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire, which he made his principal residence. Clinton was an adept political survivor; after being involved in the plot to put Jane Grey on the throne he was imprisoned for a short while, but managed to win Queen Mary’s trust and was active in her military campaigns. With the accession of Elizabeth I, Clinton was appointed a privy councillor and his wife, Elizabeth Fiennes de Clinton, was appointed Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber ‘without wages’ (this indicated her high-born status, as salaried members were drawn from the lower ranks of the nobility).

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, painted by Steven van der Meulen

In 1572 Baron Clinton was rewarded for his service with the earldom of Lincoln. Elizabeth had practically been raised with the new queen since she was ten years old and was able to use her influence at court to benefit her family, affecting the restoration of the Fitzgeralds to their blood and lineage, which they had lost when Elizabeth was a child. Suits made to Elizabeth as Countess of Lincoln demonstrate that she was believed to have influence with the queen, who she served until 1585. Edward trusted his wife considerably, and made her executor of his will, bequeathing Semprigham to Elizabeth, and Tattershall to his eldest son, Henry (his son by Ursula). Edward, Earl of Lincoln, died in 1585 and just before his father’s death, his son Henry had written to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, in an attempt to overturn his father’s will, accusing Elizabeth of attempting to deprive him of his inheritance, and of maligning him to the queen. However, Henry’s tactic failed and the will was confirmed in 1587. Elizabeth herself appears to have withdrawn from court following her husband’s death and when she died in March 1589 was laid to rest beside her husband in the Lincoln Chapel of St George’s Chapel Windsor.

The court and society were both in a state of change during Elizabeth’s reign. Local Lincolnshire lords, such as the Burghs of Gainsborough, were increasingly absentee landlords, preferring to stay in their southern properties closer to the royal court and leaving their estates to run themselves. The Burghs increasingly resided mainly at their residence in Surrey, Sterborough Castle. Lord Thomas de Burgh fell heavily into debt in service of the Queen and was in failing health when his wife, Lady Frances begged Queen Elizabeth that he be relieved of his position as Governor of the Brill in the Netherlands. Sir Robert Sydney is quoted as saying in November 1595 “God send lady… better success than my lady Borow [Burgh], whose desire was absolutely denied and the Queen took it very ill that in such time he could desire to be from this government.”11 When Lord Burgh died in 1597 he asked the Queen, in his will, to protect his wife and family, who were now living in poverty due to his having spent his patrimony in Elizabeth’s service. The Queen, however, devised a a way of avoiding the duty imposed upon her, by requesting that whoever was appointed to Lord Burgh’s now vacant post, as Governor of Brill, should give £500 a year to his widow for her maintenance.

Religious divisions were becoming more pronounced as Queen Elizabeth’s reign advanced, not only between Catholicism and Protestantism, but within Protestantism itself. With the encouragement of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, ministers with Puritan leanings had been appointed to various churches throughout Lincolnshire. Several of the Pilgrim Fathers, who sailed to America on the Mayflower, would come from the region, including William Brewster and William Bradford. Families with strong ties to service at the Tudor court, such as the Burghs of Gainsborough, were moving south, closer to London and the person of the Queen, while other families were moving north. The Old Hall at Gainsborough was sold to William Hickman, a wealthy merchant who was the grandson of Sir William Locke, Henry VIII’s Royal Mercer, and the son of Lady Rose Hickman.

According to Lady Rose her father, Sir William Locke, a merchant with strong links to Antwerp, had smuggled ‘herectic’ Protestant writings from abroad for Queen Anne Boleyn herself. Lady Rose had long been familiar with the new learning and wrote in 1610: “My mother in the dayes of King Henry the 8th came to some light of the gospel by means of some English books sent privately to her by my father’s factor from beyond the sea: where upon she used to call me with my 2 sisters into her chamber to read to us out of these same good books very privately for feare of troble because these good books were then accepted hereticall…”12

Gainsborough Old Hall, home to the Burghs and then the Hickmans

The Hickman family had become known for their Puritan leanings; Puritans were those who wanted the ‘purer’ church as envisaged in the reign of Edward VI, rather than the compromise established by Elizabeth I. In 1593, in order to curb the activities of such religious dissidents, Elizabeth I’s government had approved the ‘Act Against Puritans’, whereby it became illegal to become a Puritan or encourage others to that tendency.  As a result, official appointments at court, for those known to have Puritan connections, suddenly dried up. Lady Rose’s son Walter, deeply entrenched in court circles and an old hand at brokering appointments for friends and family (usually with a financial incentive) discovered the implications of the new stance in 1594. The Cecil Papers show that Walter was refused when he applied for the position of Receiver of the Court of Wards for his brother William, despite offering an inducement of £1,000.13 The increasing hostility towards Puritans, and the possibility of escalating religious persecution, may well have persuaded William to move his family north; away from the prying eyes of the authorities and into Lincolnshire, a county with strong Puritan leanings thanks to the efforts of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk.

In the early years of the Tudor dynasty, the counties of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire were still greatly associated with the old Yorkist dynasty. Henry VII made a progress through the counties only a year after his accession, keeping Easter 1486 at Lincoln and making a great show of regal pomp. His son, Henry VIII, also saw the need to show himself to his northern subjects. Following the defeat of the Pilgrimage of Grace and its forebear, the Lincolnshire Rising, Henry made a great progress through Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. He spent several days at Gainsborough Old Hall in August 1541, holding meetings of the Privy Council there on the 14th, 15th and 16th of August.  At Lincoln Henry and his young queen, Katherine Howard, made a great show of royal majesty; “The King and Queen came riding into their tent, which was pitched at the furthest end of the liberty of Lincoln, and there shifted their apparel, from green and crimson velvet respectively, to cloth of gold and silver…”14

Henry VIII’s children, however, did not venture north. Although Elizabeth I had intended to visit York at various points in her reign, she stayed within the Home Counties, venturing no further north than East Anglia. This may well have contributed to the changing nature of Tudor Society in Lincolnshire, where the influence from court circles appears to have waned as the years progressed.  Lincolnshire towns, such as Gainsborough and Boston, provided such families with the opportunities of, to some extent, religious freedom while also allowing them to continue with their merchant activities, due to navigable rivers that would take goods to the East coast ports and on to the Continent. Whereas those who saw the government as a hindrance to their personal liberties ventured away further from the centre of power; those who saw their futures in the person of the monarch, and whose duties at the Tudor Court were taking up more and more of their time, saw the need to move closer to London and the centre of power,

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Footnotes:

1 Neville Williams, The Life and Times of Henry VII; 2 Beverley A Murphy, Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son; 3 Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of Henry VIII, Volume 10, note 797; 4 Ibid; 5 Ibid; 6 Letters and Papers Volume 12, Part 2, note 1600; 7 Retha M. Warnicke, Oxforddnb.com; 8 Susan Wabuda, Oxforddnb.com; 9 Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII; 10 H. Howard [earl of Surrey], Poems, ed. E. Jones (1964); 11 Quoted by Sue Allan in A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall; 12 Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: the Recollections of Rose Hickman; 13 Quoted by Sue Allan in A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall; 14 Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of Henry VIII, 1541

Images;

Courtesy of Wikipedia except Grimsthorpe Castle and Gainsborough Old Hall, which are ©Sharon Bennett Connolly

Sources:

John Leland Leland’s Itinerary in England and Wales 1535-43 edited by L Toulmin Smith (1906-10); Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII 1509-47 edited by JS Brewer, James Gairdner and RH Brodie, HMSO London 1862-1932; Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry VIII from November MDXIX to December MDXXXII edited by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas 1827; Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: the Recollections of Rose Hickman edited by Maria Dowling and Joy Shakespeare; Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 1980 & 1982; Oxforddnb.com; A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall by Sue Allan; The Life and Times of Henry VII by Neville Williams; Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son by Beverley A Murphy; In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger; H. Howard [earl of Surrey], Poems, ed. E. Jones (1964); The Earlier Tudors by J.D. Mackie; Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: the Recollections of Rose Hickman; Tudorplace.com; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; Henry VIII: King and Court by Alison Weir; In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; Ladies-in-Waiting: Women who Served at the Tudor Court by Victoria Sylvia Evans; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence.

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My Books

Coming 31 May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. 

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword Books.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

© 2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Ladies of Magna Carta Online Talk

This month I will be joining forces with the Nottinghamshire Local History Association to present a talk on the Ladies of Magna Carta.  Focusing on the roles, influences and experiences played by the women of the great baronial families of England in 1215 and beyond, I will be looking at the entire scope of the subject whilst paying acknowledgement of the place of Nottinghamshire in the story of the birth of this most famous document.

It’s Tuesday 16th February, at 7pm GMT and is available worldwide.

It’s free.

And it’s online.

If you would like to join me, simply click here to book your ticket.

About Ladies of Magna Carta:

Magna Carta clause 39: No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.

This clause in Magna Carta was in response to the appalling imprisonment and starvation of Matilda de Braose, the wife of one of King John’s barons. Matilda was not the only woman who influenced, or was influenced by, the 1215 Charter of Liberties, now known as Magna Carta. Women from many of the great families of England were affected by the far-reaching legacy of Magna Carta, from their experiences in the civil war and as hostages, to calling on its use to protect their property and rights as widows.

Ladies of Magna Carta looks into the relationships – through marriage and blood – of the various noble families and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. Including the royal families of England and Scotland, the Marshals, the Warennes, the Braoses and more, Ladies of Magna Carta_focuses on the roles played by the women of the great families whose influences and experiences have reached far beyond the thirteenth century.

To book your ticket for the 16th February Ladies of Magna Carta free online talk in association with Nottinghamshire Local History Association, click here.

See you there!

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Hubert de Burgh Part 2: The Minority of Henry III

Hubert de Burgh seeking sanctuary in 1234, from Matthew Paris’s Historia Anglorum

As we have already seen, Hubert de Burgh was a key ally of King John during the Magna Carta crisis. Having risen from the ranks of minor land owner to one of the most senior positions in the land, King’s Justiciar, de Burgh was indispensable to King John. As justiciar, in the Magna Carta, Hubert de Burgh is mentioned as being the one to hold ultimate responsibility in the realm whenever the king was abroad; this was a considerable change to the role of justiciar in former reigns, when he was primarily responsible as president of the exchequer and chief justice. He was, essentially, the most powerful man in the land after the king himself.

After sealing Magna Carta at Runnymede on 15 June 1215, John was soon writing to the pope to have Magna Carta annulled. England was plunged into civil war. The barons invited the French dauphin, Prince Louis, to join them and make a play for the throne. Louis was the son of John’s erstwhile friend Philip II Augustus, King of France, and the husband of his niece Blanche, who was the daughter of his sister Eleanor, Queen of Castile.

Louis and his men had landed on the Isle of Thanet on 14 May 1216. The dauphin advanced through Kent and took Canterbury before moving onto Winchester. Louis was hailed as King of England in London in June of 1216. John seems to have been undecided as to how to act; he sent his oldest son Henry to safety at Devizes Castle in Wiltshire. Dover Castle, under the command of Hubert de Burgh, held out against the French and rebel forces, as did Windsor and Lincoln, under the formidable Nicholaa de la Haye. Despite the death of King John, at Newark on the night of 18/19 October 1216, William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, John’s illegitimate half-brother, had remained with Louis and it was he who called for Hubert de Burgh to surrender Dover to the French. De Burgh was besieged at Dover Castle, the gateway to England from the Continent, from 22 July 1216 until King John’s death in October of the same year, when the Dauphin Louis abandoned the siege.

Ten days after his father’s death, on 28 October, 9-year-old Henry III was crowned at Gloucester and William Marshal was appointed as the young king’s regent. Hubert de Burgh attended a council of the new king, Henry III, at Bristol on 11 November 1216, when Magna Carta was reissued; he appears as justiciar at the head of the list of lay barons on the witness list. In the spring of 1217, he was back at Dover, having reprovisioned it, and from April he was once again under siege. The Battle of Lincoln , on 20 May 1217 saw the allied French and rebel forces defeated by William Marshal, causing Louis to lift the siege at Dover and retire to London and await reinforcements.

Hubert de Burgh then commanded an English fleet in a naval battle off Sandwich on 24 August 1217, which saw the English ships under defeat the French fleet and capture their flagship. The English naval forces had intercepted the French bringing equipment and supplies to Prince Louis, the dauphin of France;

The Battle of Sandwich, 1217

‘On 24 August, the whole enemy fleet joined battle with the king’s men, not far from the Isle of Thanet. Many of their ships and some of the leaders of the French party were captured, but the rest were able to evade capture by flight; many of the lesser men were killed. Scattered in confusion, the enemy could not regroup.’

The Barnwell Annalist

King John’s illegitimate son, Richard of Chilham, is said to have played a significant part in the battle. Richard brought his own ship alongside the French flagship, the most formidable of the enemy’s vessels, commanded by Eustace the Monk. Richard and his men boarded the ship. Roger of Wendover suggests that it was Richard himself who beheaded Eustace the Monk after his capture. Although other sources disagree with this, none deny that Richard’s actions in the battle were significant.

Lincoln Cathedral’s Magna Carta, held at Lincoln Castle

The Battle of Sandwich thus consolidated the Royalist victory over the rebels and their French allies. As a consequence, the English were able to dictate terms to Louis; Louis agreed to a settlement of £10,000 as an inducement to go home. Peace was signed at Kingston Upon Thames on 12 September and the French left England shortly afterwards. Magna Carta was issued a third time, along with a new charter, the Charter of the Forest, issued for the first time.

On the personal front, Hubert de Burgh’s first wife, Beatrice de Warenne, had died sometime before 18 December 1214. De Burgh retained Beatrice’s lands at Wormegay throughout his lifetime and they only passed to her eldest son, William Bardolf, on de Burgh’s death in May 1243. William Bardolf’s inheritance of Portslade and Harthill, both held from the honour of Warenne, serve to demonstrate the continued connections that this junior branch of the family held with the powerful Warenne earls throughout the thirteenth century.

In September 1217, de Burgh married Isabella of Gloucester, King John’s discarded first wife. On 13 October 1217 the sheriffs of nine counties were ordered to relinquish custody of Isabella’s lands to de Burgh. This was Isabella’s third and final marriage – she had previously married to John, before he became king, and Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, one of the rebel barons; he had died in 1216 whilst still in rebellion against the king. This final marriage for Isabella was, sadly, very short-lived and Isabella was dead within a month, possibly only a few weeks, of her wedding day and almost exactly a year after the death of her first husband, King John.

Isabella died on 14 October 1217, probably at Keynsham Abbey near Bristol, and was buried at the cathedral of Christ Church, Canterbury. Shortly before her death, Isabella made a grant to the monks of Canterbury, of £10 of land in her manor of Petersfield, Hampshire, which was witnessed by Hubert de Burgh and other members of his household.

Two years later, following the death of William Marshal in 1219, Hubert de Burgh took over the reins of government, alongside the young king’s tutor, Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, and the papal legate, Pandulf. This central government, however, was weakened by the fact the castles, manors and sheriffdoms of the realm were held by those who had served King John, and who claimed they could not be removed from their positions until the king reached his majority. These same lords were siphoning off revenue that should have gone to the treasury, further weakening the authority of the crown. It was only when the king reached his majority at the end of 1223 that de Burgh could dismiss many of the sheriffs and castellans. However, this resulted in a bitter power struggle that was to last for the next decade, and would eventually lead to Hubert de Burgh’s political downfall, arrest and imprisonment.

Seal of William the Lion, King of Scots

In June 1221, Alexander II, King of Scots, married Henry III’s sister Joan, at York. It was probably at this event, when the Scottish and English royal families came together in celebration, that the future of Alexander’s sister Margaret, a hostage in England since the treaty of Norham in 1209, was finally resolved. Margaret was the eldest daughter of William I the Lion, King of Scots, and a granddaughter of Ada de Warenne; she was therefore a second cousin of de Burgh’s first wife, Beatrice de Warenne.

It was decided that Margaret would be married to Hubert de Burgh. They ceremony took place in London on 3 October 1221, with King Henry himself giving the bride away. Each of his previous marriages had given de Burgh social and political advancement, and valuable familial connections. Marrying Margaret of Scotland was no less an impressive match, but would later be used against him by his enemies, who accused de Burgh of marrying Margaret while the king was still too young to decide if he might want to marry the Scottish princess himself, as his father had proposed. Hubert de Burgh did, after all, have far humbler origins than one would expect for the spouse of a princess. The Scottish preferred to view Hubert de Burgh as the royal justiciar he had become, rather than the member of the minor noble family into which he had been born.

Margaret was at least 26 years of age when she married Hubert de Burgh and may even have been over 30. De Burgh was in his early fifties. Due to Margaret’s high status as a Scottish princess, many of the grants of lands and privileges were made to the couple jointly, rather than solely to Hubert de Burgh. De Burgh was made earl of Kent in 1227, with the title specifically entailed on his children by Margaret, rather than on his children by his first marriage to Beatrice de Warenne. Hubert de Burgh and Margaret, had one child, a girl named Margaret but known as Megotta, who was probably born in the early 1220s. There were rumours that de Burgh was planning to divorce Margaret in 1232, but he fell from royal favour before such a move could be pursued.

Hubert de Burgh was at the height of his power throughout the 1220s. In 1224, he arranged for the marriage of William (II) Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, to the king’s youngest sister, Eleanor. The bride was no more than 9 years old on her wedding day, whereas Marshal was about 30. The marriage was agreed at the behest of de Burgh,and the papal legate, Pandulf, as a way of guaranteeing Marshal remained firmly in the justiciar’s camp, and to prevent him making a foreign marriage. The match put an end to three years of indecision, as to whether Eleanor should marry a foreign prince or an English magnate. The king settled ten manors, confiscated from a French nobleman and already administered by Marshal, on his sister as her marriage portion.

When it was thought that William Longspée, Earl of Salisbury, was dead following a shipwreck off the Brittany coast, in 1225, Hubert de Burgh sought to take advantage of the earl’s death to further his own family connections. While Salisbury spent months recovering at the island monastery of Ré in France, Hubert de Burgh proposed a marriage between Salisbury’s wife, Ela, and his own nephew, Reimund. Ela, however, would not even consider it, insisting that she knew William was alive and that, even if he were dead, she would never presume to marry below her status, a right provided in Magna Carta. However, as it turned out, William Longespée was, indeed, still alive and he eventually returned to England and his wife, landing in Cornwall and then making his way to Salisbury. From Salisbury he went to Marlborough to complain to the king that Reimund had tried to marry Ela whilst he was still alive. According to the Annals and Antiquities of Lacock Abbey Reimund was present at Longespée’s audience with the king, confessed his wrongdoing and offered to make reparations, thus restoring peace. Unfortunately, Longespée never seems to have recovered fully from his injuries and died at the royal castle at Salisbury shortly after his return home, on 7 March 1226, amid rumours of being poisoned by Hubert de Burgh or his nephew.

Arms of Williamd de Warenne, Conisbrough Castle

William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Warenne and Surrey, was a staunch ally of the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, who had been married to his cousin Beatrice de Warenne, the daughter and heir of William de Warenne of Wormegay. He had supported de Burgh in 1223–4, when the justiciar’s position was threatened by rivals at court. However, with the king attaining his majority and fully taking up the reins of government in 1227, Hubert de Burgh’s hold on power weakened. The king’s administration was divided by powerful factions and de Burgh fell from favour; he was stripped of his offices and imprisoned. William de Warenne was drawn into the downfall of his former patron, when de Burgh was imprisoned in 1232. Warenne was one of the four earls tasked with keeping de Burgh in custody at Devizes Castle and when de Burgh’s enemies themselves fell in 1234, Warenne was the earl to accept the surrender of de Burgh’s castles at Bramber and Knepp, which had been taken by the former justiciar’s enemies.

With her husband’s downfall, Princess Margaret, Countess of Kent, and her daughter, were deprived of all their belongings. They sought sanctuary at Bury St Edmunds, from where they were forbidden to leave by the king’s own order. Margaret humbled herself before the king when he visited Bury St Edmunds, perhaps softening Henry III somewhat as the king then allowed her to visit her husband so they could discuss their situation. Relations between the king and de Burgh thawed slightly in 1234. In February Margaret was given possession of Hubert de Burgh’s hereditary lands and in May of the same year de Burgh was finally pardoned and the king ‘undertook to do what grace he will.’

Hubert de Burgh’s castle of Hadleigh, Essex

Whilst in sanctuary Margaret secretly arranged the marriage of Megotta to Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford and Gloucester, the son of Isabel Marshal and Gilbert de Clare, who was of similar age to Megotta. The young couple may have known each other as Richard was a ward of Hubert de Burgh until the justiciar’s disgrace in 1232. Hubert de Burgh may not have known of his wife’s activities and the discovery of the arrangement in 1236 reignited tensions between the king and his former justiciar, who was attempting to regain the king’s trust.

The discovery of the marriage was a devastating blow to de Burgh; he had lost the king’s confidence completely and retired from public life. The death of Megotta in 1237 was a further blow but did not ease the tensions with the king. Hubert de Burgh and Margaret were finally pardoned for the marriage in October 1239, de Burgh surrendering his three castles in Upper Gwent and Hadleigh Castle in Essex as part of the agreement. De Burgh did not return to office, despite the pardon, and remained in retirement until his death. He died at his Surrey manor of Banstead in May 1243 and was buried at the Blackfriars in London, a monastery of which he was a benefactor, and where Margaret would be buried when she died in 1259.

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia except the Magna Carta and the Warenne arms, which are ©Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Sources:

finerollshenry3.org.uk; Oxforddnb.com; magnacarta800th.com; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; Crouch, David, William Marshal; Matthew Paris, Robert de Reading and others, Flores Historiarum, volume III; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of BritainOxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Rich Price King John’s Letters Facebook page; Elizabeth Hallam, editor, The Plantagenet Chronicles; Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Medieval Lands Project on the Earls of Surrey, Conisbrough Castle; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey and their Descendants to the Present Time; Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; doncasterhistory.co.uk.

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Hubert de Burgh Part 1: King John’s Justiciar

Hubert de Burgh from Matthew Paris’s Historia Anglorum

Hubert de Burgh, King John’s justiciar, came from a gentry family rather than the higher echelons of the nobility. His origins are quite obscure. His mother’s name was Alice, as evidenced by a grant he made to the church of Oulton in about 1230, stating the gift was ‘for the soul of my mother Alice who rests in the church at Walsingham.’ Hubert de Burgh’s father may have been the Walter whose daughter Adelina owed 40 marks in the Pipe Rolls of Henry II, for recognition of a knights’ fee at Burgh in Norfolk, although this is little more than a possibility.

We do know that Hubert de Burgh was the younger brother of William de Burgh who had accompanied King Henry II’s youngest son, John, to Ireland in 1185; he eventually became lord of Connacht. Hubert de Burgh also had two younger brothers. Geoffrey became archdeacon of Norwich in 1202 and then bishop of Ely in 1225. A third brother, Thomas, was castellan of Norwich Castle in 1215–16. Little is known of Hubert de Burgh’s childhood, upbringing or education, though a letter of 1220 that William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, sent to Hubert de Burgh reminds the justiciar that they were raised together, probably fostered in the same noble household.

A self-made man, coming from a family of minor landowners in East Anglia centred on the manor of Burgh in Norfolk, Hubert de Burgh first appears in official records on 8 February 1198, when he witnessed a charter of John, as count of Mortain, at Tinchebrai in Normandy. In a charter of 12 June in the same year, he was identified as chamberlain of John’s household and in 1199, when John succeeded to the throne, he was created chamberlain of the royal household. Hubert de Burgh’s career in royal service developed rapidly. In December 1200 he was made custodian of two important royal castles, Dover and Windsor. In 1201 he was sheriff of Dorset and Somerset and when John departed for France in June 1201, along with the two senior Marcher lords, the earl of Pembroke and constable of Chester, de Burgh was created custodian of the Welsh Marches with 100 men-at-arms at his disposal. He was also given the castles of Grosmont, Skenfrith and Whitecastle ‘to sustain him in our service.’

Further grants followed, making Hubert de Burgh a significant and powerful figure in the royal administration by 1200. In that year, Hubert de Burgh was one of the ambassadors despatched to Portugal to negotiate a possible marriage between John and a daughter of Portugal’s king, but the embassy was abandoned after John married Isabelle d’Angoulême. Later, in 1202 Hubert de Burgh was sent to France and made constable of Falaise Castle in Normandy, where he was entrusted with guarding Arthur of Brittany, John’s nephew and rival for the English throne, following hiss capture at Mirebeau in August. While he was being held there, John had sent orders for Arthur’s castration and blinding. John gave the order:

Prince Arthur and Hubert de Burgh by William Frederick Yeames, 1882

‘enraged by the ceaseless attacks of his enemies, hurt by their threats and misdeed, at length in a rage and fury, King John ordered three of his servants to go to Falaise and perform this detestable act.’

Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam

Two of the appointed messengers fled the king’s court, to avoid the distasteful duty, while the third carried the order to Falaise where the royal chamberlain, Hubert de Burgh, had custody of Arthur. De Burgh, however, but Hubert had refused to carry out the punishment, believing that

‘having regard for the king’s honesty and reputation and expecting his forgiveness, kept the youth unharmed. He thought that the king would immediately repent of such an order and that ever afterwards would hate anyone who presumed to obey such a cruel mandate.’

Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam

The fact Hubert de Burgh faced no repercussions on refusing the order suggests that he had read the situation perfectly. Moreover, given the persecution John later inflicted on William de Braose, following his complicity in Arthur’s murder at Rouen the following year, it is clear that Hubert de Burgh knew John well.Hubert de Burgh had been partly right and Arthur’s survival at that time helped to pacify the rebellious Bretons. With Arthur imprisoned at Falaise, the Bretons continued to cause trouble. According to Ralph of Coggeshall,

‘the counsellors of the king, realising that the Bretons were causing much destruction and sedition everywhere on behalf of their lord Arthur, and that no firm peace could be made while Arthur lived, suggested to the king that he order Arthur to be blinded and castrated, thus rendering him incapable of rule, so that the opposition would cease from their insane programme of destruction and submit themselves to the king.’

The Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam
King John

Despite balking at mutilating a 15-year-old, de Burgh announced that the sentence had been carried out, hoping to put a stop to the Breton revolt. Although it is recorded that, John ‘was not displeased for the moment that his order had not been carried out.’ The Bretons were so enraged that their revolt rose to a new level of ferocity and the rebels were only pacified when it was announced that Arthur was, in fact, alive and well. However, in 1203 Arthur was removed from de Burgh’s custody and transferred to the castle at Rouen. King Philip and the nobility of Brittany continued to press for the release of the young duke, but John had other ideas. It was in Rouen, at Easter 1203, most likely on 3rd April, that Arthur was put to death. Whether John committed the deed himself, or merely ordered it done, will probably never be proved; of the fact he was present there seems to be little doubt. Whichever way, the act itself has been a black mark against John for centuries.

In 1204 Hubert de Burgh was entrusted with the defence of Chinon, against the king of France. He held out for a year, until the summer of 1205, when the walls of the castle were practically levelled. In a last desperate engagement, de Burgh and his men rushed from the castle to confront the French. A fierce fight followed in which de Burgh was wounded and captured; he was held for two years. King John helped with his ransom, with writs to the treasurer and chamberlain, in February 1207, ordering them to pay William de Chayv 300 marks ‘for the pledge of Hubert de Burgh.’

De Burgh returned to England before the end of 1207 and again began to accumulate land and offices. In May 1208 he was given custody of the castle and town of Lafford in Huntingdon and in the following year he married Beatrice de Warenne, who had succeeded her father in the barony of Wormegay; de Burgh became guardian of William, Beatrice’s young son by her first husband, Doun Bardolf. Beatrice was the mother of at least one son by Hubert, John, who was probably born before 1212. It is possible another son, named Hubert, from whom the Burghs of Gainsborough were descended, was born in 1213 or 1214. In the same year, de Burgh returned to France in royal service, first as deputy seneschal of Poitou and then as seneschal in association with Philip d’Aubigny and Geoffrey de Neville. After the French defeated the English at Bouvines in 1214, de Burgh was one of the witnesses to the truce with King Philp II Augustus of France, which agreed that John should keep all his lands south of the River Loire.

The Warenne coat of arms, Conisbrough Castle

Beatrice de Warenne died sometime before 18 December 1214. Hubert de Burgh retained Beatrice’s lands at Wormegay throughout his lifetime and they only passed to her eldest son, William Bardolf, on de Burgh’s death in May 1243. William Bardolf’s inheritance of Portslade and Harthill, both held from the honour of Warenne, serve to demonstrate the continued connections that this junior branch of the family held with the powerful Warenne earls throughout the thirteenth century.

Beatrice and Hubert’s son, John, was knighted on 3 June 1229, but was specifically excluded from inheriting the earldom of Kent, bestowed on his father on 19 February 1226 or 1227. This earldom was created following
Hubert de Burgh’s third marriage, to Princess Margaret of Scotland, daughter of William I the Lion and therefore granddaughter of Ada de Warenne. The earldom of Kent was to descend exclusively through de Burgh’s children by the Scottish princess. In 1241 John owed relief on the manor of Portslade which had been given to him by his half-sister, Margery – the daughter of Hubert de Burgh by his third wife, Margaret of Scotland. Margery had received the manor from her father, who had held it of Earl Warenne. When John died on 7 January in 1273 or 1274, he held the manor of his older half-brother, Sir William Bardolf. John de Burgh was succeeded by his son, also John, who was married to Cecily, daughter of John Balliol and his wife Dervorguilla; she was also the sister of John Balliol, King of Scots, who was himself married to Isabella de Warenne, daughter of John de Warenne, sixth Earl Warenne.

By the time of the Magna Carta crisis in the spring and summer of 1215, Hubert de Burgh was back in England and supporting the king in his attempts to quell the rebellion. He was tasked, alongside the bishop of Coventry, with speaking to the mayor, sheriff and knights of London, who were instructed to listen to what de Burgh and the bishop had to say; despite this, the Londoners opened their gates to the rebels. In the preamble to Magna Carta, Hubert de Burgh is styled seneschal of Poitou and listed eighth among the list of lay barons. By 25 June 1215 he was being styled as justiciar in official documents. Matthew Paris later claimed he had been appointed to the post in the presence of Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the earls of Surrey and Derby, among other magnates.

As justiciar, in the Magna Carta, Hubert de Burgh is mentioned as being the one to hold ultimate responsibility in the realm whenever the king was abroad; this was a considerable change to the role of justiciar in former reigns, when he was primarily responsible as president of the exchequer and chief justice. He was, essentially, the most powerful man in the land after the king himself, quite an achievement for the younger son of a minor landholder from Norfolk. De Burgh was also made castellan of Dover Castle, the gateway to England from the Continent, and was besieged there from 22 July 1216 until King John’s death in October of the same year, when the Dauphin Louis abandoned the siege.

Henry III

King John was soon writing to the pope to have Magna Carta annulled, plunging England into rebellion. The barons invited the French dauphin, Louis, to join them and make a play for the throne. Louis was the son of John’s erstwhile friend Philip II Augustus, King of France, and the husband of his niece Blanche, who was the daughter of his sister Eleanor, Queen of Castile. Louis and his men had landed on the Isle of Thanet on 14 May 1216. The dauphin advanced through Kent and took Canterbury before moving onto Winchester. Louis was hailed as King of England in London in June of 1216. John seems to have been undecided as to how to act; he sent his oldest son Henry to safety at Devizes Castle in Wiltshire. Dover Castle, under the command of Hubert de Burgh, held out against the French and rebel forces, as did Windsor and Lincoln.

This was the state of the kingdom when King John died on the night of 18/19 October 1216; he was succeeded by his 9-year-old son, Henry, now King Henry III. Despite John’s death, his half-brother and uncle of the new king, William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, had remained with Louis and it was he who called for Hubert de Burgh to surrender Dover to the French. The justiciar refused.

John’s death turned the tide of the war, giving the English royalists the upper hand and allowing Hubert de Burgh and his fellow loyal barons, including William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, to take the initiative and begin the recovery of the kingdom. Hubert de Burgh had done rather well from the reign of King John; he had attained high office, a good marriage and the opportunity to play a major role in the next reign. The new reign offered a new start for everyone, though the struggle was far from over and Hubert de Burgh would rise to new heights.

Look out for Part 2, Hubert de Burgh and the Minority of Henry III, coming next week…

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia except the Warenne coat of arms which is ©Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Sources:

finerollshenry3.org.uk; Oxforddnb.com; magnacarta800th.com; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; Crouch, David, William Marshal; Matthew Paris, Robert de Reading and others, Flores Historiarum, volume III; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of BritainOxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Rich Price King John’s Letters Facebook page;  Elizabeth Hallam, editor, The Plantagenet Chronicles;  Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Medieval Lands Project on the Earls of Surrey, Conisbrough Castle; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey and their Descendants to the Present Time; Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; doncasterhistory.co.uk.

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

A Thwarted Love Match and the Murder of Becket

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury

You may have hears of the murder of Thomas Becket, but did you known one of the four knights involved may have had a more personal motive for attacking the controversial archbishop of Canterbury than his colleagues? Richard Brito had been a knight in the household of Henry II’s youngest brother, William of Anjou, also known as William FitzEmpress. He was also William’s friend. William was the youngest son of Empress Matilda and her husband Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. Empress Matilda had been one of the rival claimants for the English throne during the Anarchy, fighting against her cousin, King Stephen.

King Stephen’s youngest son, William of Blois, had been married to the great heiress, Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey and Warenne in her own right. His death while returning from campaigning in Toulouse, left Isabel a wealthy young widow, and highly desirable marriage prize.

Though recently widowed, Isabel would have been well aware that she was expected to remarry, just as her mother had done. The fact she held the mighty earldom of Surrey would have made settling her future even more pressing; the earl of Warenne had contributed knights and men from his own lands to the armies of both King Stephen and Henry II. This was expected to continue, but Isabel could not be expected to lead men into battle. It is all the more surprising, therefore, that Isabel was allowed some respite in the marriage market and the prospect of a husband is not mentioned until 1162.

By this time Henry II’s youngest brother, William FitzEmpress, was seeking a dispensation to marry her. The dispensation was refused by Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, on the grounds of consanguinity. The
objection was not due to a blood relationship between Isabel and William, but between William and Isabel’s first husband, William of Blois, who were second cousins. It has often been suggested that this was a love-match rather than an arranged marriage. We will, of course, never know how Isabel felt but William died shortly afterwards, at Rouen on 30 January 1164, whilst visiting his mother, possibly seeking her assistance in the matter. Many of his friends claimed that he died of a broken heart after being disappointed in his desire to marry Isabel. He was 27.

Seal of Isabel de Warenne, Conisbrough Castle

The relationship between Henry II and Thomas Becket had been rocky ever since Becket became archbishop of Canterbury. Henry had thought that putting his friend in charge of the church in England would mean the two would be able to work together. However, once in the post, Becket had essentially abandoned Henry’s policies and sought to defend and extend the influence and rights of the church in England, while Henry sought to curb them. A clash was inevitable and came about when Henry sought to extend the jurisdiction of secular courts over English clergymen and to protect the traditional rights of royal government in regard to the church. In January 1164 Henry had issued the Constitutions of Clarendon. The sixteen constitutions were intended to curb clerical independence and weaken the connection of the English church with Rome. Becket consented to the Constitutions, but disputes continued throughout 1164. Henry called for the archbishop to appear at a great council at Northampton Castle on 12 October 1164, to answer to the charges laid against him.

Among numerous other issues, Becket was called to account for his behaviour concerning land disputes between the church and crown, contempt of royal authority and malfeasance in the chancellor’s office. The bishops, earls and barons of the realm were all present, including Roger, archbishop of York, the most senior clergyman in England after the archbishop of Canterbury. Henry II’s brother, Hamelin, was at the trial and spoke in support of Henry. Indeed, the new earl and the archbishop appear to have started a war of words; Hamelin defended Henry’s dignity and called Becket a traitor. Ironically, it is thought that Hamelin’s denunciation of Becket was motivated by the injury caused to the royal family in Becket’s refusal to allow King Henry’s brother, William, to marry Isabel de Warenne; who was now Hamelin’s wife. Convicted of the charges against him, Becket stormed out and fled to exile in France, where he received protection from Louis VII.

There followed six years of negotiations, accusations and counter-accusations, before an accord was agreed and Becket was finally able to return to England and his see at Canterbury. Henry II wrote to his son Henry, the Young King, saying:

Henry king of England to his son Henry, king of England, greeting.

May you know that Thomas archbishop of Canterbury has made peace with me in accordance with my wishes. Therefore I order that he and his followers may have peace and that you see to it that he and his followers, who on his behalf left England, should have their possessions in peace and with honour, as they did three months before they left England. Summon before you some of the best and oldest knights of the honour of Saltwood and on their oath you should make an inquiry as to what of the fief of the archbishopric of Canterbury is there, and make sure that the archbishop gets what has been recognised as part of his fief. Witness Archbishop Rotrou of Rouen, at Chinon.

The Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam

After six years of exile, Thomas Becket arrived at Sandwich, on the Kent coast, on 1 December 1170. Shortly before arriving on England’s shores, however, in November 1170 Becket, rather than being conciliatory, had sent representatives ahead to pronounce the excommunication of those clerics (the archbishop of York and the bishops of London and Salisbury) who had been involved in the coronation of Henry II’s son and heir, Henry the Young King, in June 1170. He then proceeded to impose his discipline on his monks, refusing to ordain all but one of those who had been admitted during his six-year absence.

On hearing of the excommunications, during his Christmas court in Normandy, Henry is said to have pronounced the fateful words:

‘What miserable drones and traitors have I nurtured and promoted in my household who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born clerk!’ 

Franck Barlow, Oxforddnb.com
Contemporary illustration of the murder of Thomas Becket

Four knights heeded Henry’s words and left Normandy to confront the archbishop. One of William FitzEmpress’s former knights, Richard Brito, was among the quartet who murdered Thomas Becket on 29 December 1170. The knights had travelled from Normandy to demand that the archbishop restore the English bishops who had been suspended from their offices, and to absolve those under sentence of excommunication. Becket refused, saying that it was not

‘for a lesser judge to dissolve the sentence of a superior, and that it was not for any man to undermine what had been decreed by the apostolic see.’

The Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam

According to William FitzStephen the knights attempted to arrest the archbishop and a struggle ensued after he refused to go with them. The archbishop’s companion, Master Edward Grim, stepped into the path of the first stroke meant for Becket. The archbishop then gave thanks to God, saying

‘Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.’ As he knelt down, clasping and stretching out his hands to God, a second stroke was dealt him on the head, at which he fell flat on his face hard by an altar there dedicated to St Benedict … On the right hand he fell, as one proceeding to the right hand of God. While he lay there stricken, Richard Brito smote him with such force that the sword was broken against his head, and the pavement of the church: ‘Take that,’ said he, ‘for the love of my lord William, the king’s brother.’

The Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam

Beyond this extreme reaction by William’s knight, Richard Brito, there is little evidence that the proposed marriage between William and Isabel was a true love match, and we have no indication of Isabel’s thoughts on the matter. Even without the love angle, for William, marrying Isabel would have been an attractive prospect and would have given him position and power in England, not only as the king’s brother but also as one of the foremost magnates in England and Normandy.

The Warenne coat of arms

For King Henry, the proposed marriage would have been a very practical match. It would have been the perfect solution to the dilemma of what to do with Isabel and the vast Warenne holdings in England and Normandy; to bring them into the royal family and to have them held by the king’s own brother. Henry II was not to be so easily thwarted, however, and indeed did not object to Thomas Becket’s ruling against the marriage of William FitzEmpress and Isabel de Warenne. He came up with a solution that would achieve the same end, while satisfying the restrictions of the church: his brother Hamelin.

In the aftermath of the murder, Richard Brito and his three accomplices

plundered the property of the archbishop, the clothes of the clergy and servants, and even the utensils from the workshop. They swiftly made off with all the which they found in his stables, as spoils.

The Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam

Brito and the three other knights, Riginald Fitzurse, Sir William Traci and Hugh de Morville fled to Scotland and then to Knaresborough Castle in Yorkshire. All four were excommunicated by Pope Alexander III at Easter 1171. They were each ordered to make a 14-year pilgrimage to the Holy Land in penitence. Brito, also known as Richard le Breton, is said to have eventually retired to the island of Jersey, but nothing more is known of his eventual fate.

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was canonised on Ash Wednesday, 21 February 1173.

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia except seal of Isabel de Warenne which is ©Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Sources:

Robert Batlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; Elizabeth Hallam, editor, The Plantagenet Chronicles; Dan Jones, The Plantagenets; Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Medieval Lands Project on the Earls of Surrey, Conisbrough Castle; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey and their Descendants to the Present Time; Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; doncasterhistory.co.uk; Oxforddnb.com.

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Corner: His Castilian Hawk by Anna Belfrage

For bastard-born Robert FitzStephan, being given Eleanor d’Outremer in marriage is an honour. For Eleanor, this forced wedding is anything but a fairy tale.

Robert FitzStephan has served Edward Longshanks loyally since the age of twelve. Now he is riding with his king to once and for all bring Wales under English control.

Eleanor d’Outremer—Noor to family—lost her Castilian mother as a child and is left entirely alone when her father and brother are killed. When ordered to wed the unknown Robert FitzStephan, she has no choice but to comply.

Two strangers in a marriage bed is not easy. Things are further complicated by Noor’s blood-ties to the Welsh princes and by covetous Edith who has warmed Robert’s bed for years.

Robert’s new wife may be young and innocent, but he is soon to discover that not only is she spirited and proud, she is also brave. Because when Wales lies gasping and Edward I exacts terrible justice on the last prince and his children, Noor is determined to save at least one member of the House of Aberffraw from the English king.

Will years of ingrained service have Robert standing with his king or will he follow his heart and protect his wife, his beautiful and fierce Castilian hawk?

His Castilian Hawk is the first book in what promises to be a very exciting new series, The Castilian Saga, from Anna Belfrage. Set in the time of Edward I and the conquest of Wales, it follows the exploits of an experienced knight, Robert FitzStephan and his young bride, Eleanor of Outremer. With the marriage off to a shaky start, Robert and Eleanor take a little while to warm to each other, their relationship complicated by Robert’s rather possessive former lover. The love triangle makes for a rather entertaining and engaging story, with many twists and turns.

Set in the time of Edward I’s conquest of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is one of those books that grabs your attention from the first page. Ann Belfrage is a rather accomplished student of people and puts her knowledge to good use in recreating the personalities of not only her fictional characters, Eleanor and Robert, but also of her historical characters, such as King Edward I and Queen Eleanor of Castile.

Anna Belfrage has quickly become one of my favourite authors and with His Castilian Hawk it is not difficult to see why. The flowing narrative and engaging storyline means this is one book that is impossible to put down. Who needs sleep when you are desperate to know what happens next? His Castilian Hawk is a wonderfully diverting novel for these long winter nights!

Over the bridge, through the gate – a strong, sturdy gatehouse, Robert concluded, the heavy doors set on huge hinges affixed to the stonework – and they were in the bailey. At the top of the stairs leading to the hall stood a group of women, all but one in veil and wimple. The youngest was standing a few feet in front of the others, one hand resting on the head of a magnificent hound. A huge beast, it looked like a cross between one of King Edward’s precious greyhounds and a wolf, its brindled coat shifting from the lightest of greys to a sooty black. No wimple, but her hair was not to be seen, a veil covering all but the tip of a heavy braid and a few tendrils that had come undone. Dark hair.

She walked slowly down the stairs, the hound at her side. From the hall erupted a sturdy tonsured man, his robes flapping round his legs as he hurried after her.

“My lady,” Robert said once she’d come to a halt before him.

“My lord.” She bowed her head in greeting. No one had called him a lord before. It almost made him grin. Lord Robert of Orton, master of all he presently surveyed, including the young woman in front of him. What would his dear sire have to say about that, he wondered, teeth grinding together for an instant.

Robert shook himself free of dark thoughts and dismounted. “I come – “

“I know why you come,” she interrupted. “Our liege has sent me a messenger.” Her voice shook. “He has ordered me to wed you at the soonest – for my own safety.” She looked at the cart, and for an instant her eyes glittered. Her lashes swept down, and he heard her mutter, “Unus, duo, tres,” counting all the way to ten before she opened her eyes again. “Is that…” She cleared her throat. “Are they…”

“Yes, my lady.” John bowed. “We are sorry to bring you such gruesome tidings.”

She nodded, no more. “No mother, now no father, no brother.” She gave a little laugh, a sad sound that caused Robert’s innards to twist. “The king is right: I am without protection, without family.”

“Come, come,” the priest said. “the king has seen to that, my lady.” He gave Robert an ingratiating smile. “Behold your new protector, your husband.”

Anna Belfrage’s love of history and storytelling combines to create a wonderful book, infused with the medieval atmosphere and believable personalities. Her historical research is impeccable and goes to recreate the world of thirteenth century England and Wales; the court, the fighting and the power struggle that saw Edward become master of Wales.

Eleanor d’Outremer, Noor, is a wonderful, spirited heroine. She turns from a young girl into a woman before our eyes, negotiating her way through a world entirely unfamiliar. Discovering love, duty and family secrets along the way, she is a most sympathetic and relatable character. I like her! Robert FitzStephan, on the other hand, gets off to a bad start, with his wife and the reader alike, as his decisions and actions leave a lot to be desired. However, in the end his love and loyalty get the better of his initial insensitivity and he becomes a hero you can admire. Together, they make a remarkable couple.

Anna Belfrage has the ability to bring all your emotions to the fore in His Castilian Hawk – you will be laughing, crying and gritting your teeth as our hero and heroine negotiate their way through married like and Edward’s court. It is a gripping read!

His Castilian Hawk is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon UK.

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About the Author:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours. Plus she always finds the time to try out new recipes, chase down obscure rose bushes and initiate a home renovation scheme or two.

Her most recent release, A Torch in His Heart, is a step out of her comfort zone. Having previously published historical fiction & historical romance, with this first book about Jason and Helle Anna offers a dark and titillating contemporary romance, complete with a time-slip angle and hot & steamy scenes.

Her first series, The Graham Saga, is set in 17th century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland. It tells the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him. With this heady blend of time-travel, romance, adventure, high drama and historical accuracy, Anna hopes to entertain and captivate, and is more than thrilled when readers tell her just how much they love her books and her characters. There are nine books in the series so far, but Anna is considering adding one or two more…

Her second series is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The King’s Greatest Enemy is a series where passion and drama play out against a complex political situation, where today’s traitor may be tomorrow’s hero, and the Wheel of Fortune never stops rolling.

If you want to know more about Anna, why not visit her website, https://www.annabelfrage.com

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Guest Post: The Women of the House of Montfort by Darren Baker

It is a pleasure to welcome historian Darren Baker to History … the Interesting Bits today, with a guest article about the women of the family of Simon de Montfort. Darren is the author of The Two Eleanors, a book telling the dual biography of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, and Eleanor of England, wife of Simon de Montfort. Darren’s latest book, Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort, was released in November from Pen & Sword and is a stunning biography of the the Montfort family.

So, over to Darren …

The Women of the House of Montfort

Darren Baker

King Philip I of France leaving his wife for Bertrade de Montfort

The house of Montfort arose some 50 kilometres west of Paris in a place known today as Montfort l’Amaury. Their family name ‘de Montfort’ is usually associated with two Simons, father and son, the relentless Albigensian crusader and the determined English revolutionary, both men of the 13th century. Other family members went further afield and established lordships in Italy and the crusader states.

Less known is the prominence of the de Montfort women. Their influence reaches back to the 11th century, starting with Isabella. Her father, Simon I, gave her in marriage to Ralph de Tosny, who in turn forced his sister Agnes to marry this first Simon. When Isabella fell out with her father’s children with Agnes, she put on armour and led a body knights in the field against her half-brothers.

Isabella’s half-sister Bertrade was married to Fulk IV of Anjou. She grew tired of his lecherous ways and took as her next husband the king of France, Philip I, who deserted his wife to marry her. Hoping to see her son with Philip succeed to the throne over her stepson Louis (VI), Bertrade had the older youth poisoned, but the attempt failed and brought about her disgrace. She died in a nunnery in 1117, not living to see her son from her first marriage, Fulk V of Anjou, become king of Jerusalem.

Two generations later, Simon III stood loyally by the English in their fight with the French. He was rewarded with marriages for his three children into the Anglo-Norman nobility. His oldest son Amaury V married Mabel, daughter of the earl of Gloucester, the next son Simon IV married Amicia, daughter of the earl of Leicester, and daughter Bertrade II married Hugh, the earl of Chester. This Bertrade was the mother of the legendary Ranulf de Blondeville, arguably the last of the great Anglo-Norman barons.

The senior branch of the house of Montfort died out in 1213, but Amicia’s son Simon V (the crusader), who was already the count of Montfort, inherited the earldom of Leicester. It was confiscated by King John in 1207 and ended up in the custody of Ranulf. It was from Ranulf that Simon VI acquired Leicester in 1231 and became an English noble, but that’s getting ahead of the story.

Eleanor de Montfort and children

Simon V’s wife was Alice de Montmorency. She was very much an active crusader against the Albigensians and often participated in her husband’s war councils. Their daughter Petronilla was born during the crusade and baptised by Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Dominican order. After Simon’s death in 1218, Alice placed Petronilla in a nunnery, where she became the abbess later in life. Alice’s oldest daughter Amicia founded the nunnery of Montargis, south of Paris, and died there in 1252.

In England, Alice’s son Simon VI rose high in royal favour and married Eleanor, the youngest sister of King Henry III and widow of William Marshal II. Together she and Simon had five sons and one daughter. The clash between Eleanor’s husband and brother ended in civil war and Simon’s death in 1265 at the battle of Evesham. Eleanor left England to live out the rest of her life in Montargis and took her namesake daughter with her.

Guy de Montfort was the only one of Eleanor’s sons to marry. He found service under Charles of Anjou, the king of Sicily, and rapidly advanced to become the count of Nola. He received a Tuscan heiress as his bride, but he scandalised the family in 1271 by vengefully murdering his cousin. Guy escaped punishment for the most part and had two daughters, of whom only the youngest Anastasia survived to adulthood. She became the countess of Nola at her father’s death in 1292 and married into the Orsini family of Rome.

Eleanor de Montfort died in 1275, living long enough to see her daughter marry Llywelyn of Wales by proxy. Later that year, the boat carrying young Eleanor and her brother Amaury VIII was captured by the forces of their cousin King Edward I, who had been alerted to their intentions. Eleanor was confined at Windsor Castle and not freed to marry Llywelyn until 1278.

She died four years later giving birth to a daughter Gwenllian. When Llywelyn was then killed, the baby girl was placed in a nunnery in Lincolnshire. By the time of her death in 1337, the de Montfort family, once so admired and respected across Europe and the Mediterranean, seemed long extinct. But their fortunes were about to be revived.

Joan of Navarre, Queen of England

This part of the story goes back to Simon V and Alice’s oldest son Amaury VII, who succeeded his father as the count of Montfort. He was followed by his son John, whose wife was pregnant when he left on crusade and died overseas. The daughter born to her, Beatrice, became the countess of Montfort when she came of age. She married Robert of Dreux and had a daughter Yolande, who became the second wife of King Alexander III of Scotland in 1285 in the hope of producing an heir to that throne.

It didn’t happen, and after Alexander died, Yolande married Arthur II of Brittany. Their son John succeeded her as the count of Montfort, and when his half-brother the duke of Brittany died in 1341 without an heir, John put in a claim for the duchy. It turned into a war of succession, which was won by his son, another John of Montfort, in 1365, a hundred years after Evesham.

In 1386, this John of Montfort took as his third wife the famous Joan of Navarre. She was the mother of his children and after his death became the queen of England with her marriage to King Henry IV. It was through her and Yolande that the Montfort family line returned to England.

About the Author:

Darren Baker was born in California, raised in South Carolina, and came to Europe in 1990, settling permanently in the Czech Republic. A former submariner in the US Pacific fleet, he later studied languages at the University of Connecticut and works as a translator. A trip to the UK inspired him to revisit the events of 13th century England, which he does on his website simon2014.com and in his books. His newly released Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort is his fourth on the subject.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Reading Round up 2

As I said the other day, I am well behind on the list of book reviews I still have to write up, so the second article to include mini-reviews of several books that I have read and enjoyed over the last few months, to clear the backlog and give you some fabulous ideas if you’re looking for that next read (or a last minute Christmas pressie).

Four Queens and a Countess by Jill Armitage

When Mary Stuart was forced off the Scottish throne she fled to England, a move that made her cousin Queen Elizabeth very uneasy. Elizabeth had continued the religious changes made by her father and England was a Protestant country, yet ardent Catholics plotted to depose Elizabeth and put Mary Stuart on the English throne. So what was Queen Elizabeth going to do with a kingdomless queen likely to take hers? She had her placed under house arrest with her old friend Bess of Hardwick, then married to her fourth husband, the wealthy and influential Earl of Shrewsbury. The charismatic Scotswoman was treated more like a dowager queen than a prisoner and enjoyed the Shrewsbury’s affluent lifestyle until Bess suspected Mary of seducing her husband. But for sixteen years, with the never-ending threat of a Catholic uprising, Bess was forced to accommodate Mary and her entourage at enormous cost to both her finances and her marriage. Bess had also known the doomed Jane Grey and Mary Tudor, Queen of France. She had been in service in the Grey household and companion to the infant Jane. Mary Tudor had been godmother to Bess’s fifth child. Four Queens and a Countess delves deep into the relationships of these women with their insurmountable differences, the way they tried to accommodate them and the lasting legacy this has left. The clash of personalities and its deadly political background have never been examined in detail before.

Jill Armitage looks at the second half of the Tudor period through the lives of the four queens that shaped it and one remarkable countess. The flowing narrative tells the stories of Lady Jane Grey – the queen for 9 days – Mary I, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots alongside that of Bess of Hardwick, jailer of the Scottish queen. Four Queens and a Countess is a wonderful study of these remarkable women; women who, between them, influenced the direction of England for generations to come.

Jill Armitage investigates their various characters, relationships and disagreements, and explains how their relationships with each other affected the nations as a whole, and each other on an individual basis. Four Queens and a Countess is a thoroughly enjoyable and absorbing read, providing new insight and a refreshing change of focus on the Tudor era.

I highly recommend it!

Katherine Parr: Oppportunist, Queen, Reformer by Don Matzat

Don Matzat here provides a new perspective on the life of Katherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of the infamous Henry VIII. While most biographers suggest that Katherine chose to marry the obese, irascible monarch in order to further some reformation or obey a divine imperative, the author goes against the tide and concludes that Katherine was an opportunist who married the king in order to enjoy the comforts of being the Queen of England, proven by her sumptuous lifestyle. But everything changed for Katherine when she had a dramatic conversion experience, embracing the primary tenets of the Protestant Reformation as described in her seminal work, The Lamentation of a Sinner. Her newly found belief placed her in a precarious position, not only with her husband but with the heresy hunters who, with the king’s blessing, beheaded those who held such beliefs. Yet Katherine had the courage to discuss her faith with her dangerous husband during the final months of his life. The life of Katherine Parr was one of drama, intrigue, danger, deceit, clandestine romance, scandal, tragedy and mystery. She came to a tragic end, and for three hundred years her burial site remained unknown. Katherine ruled England while Henry went to war against France. She was the first woman published in England under her own name. Her Lamentation of a Sinner is a little-known gem of the Protestant Reformation. Her influence upon the children of Henry, the future monarchs Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, would affect English history for many years to come.

I think, out of all Henry VIII’s queens, Katherine Parr’s story fascinates me the most. And its not just because she lived at Gainsborough Old Hall – one of my favourite haunts – for a time. Henry VIII was Katherine’s third husband – and she was his sixth wife. But Katherine Parr was so much more than Henry VIII’s wife. She was an intelligent woman and a proponent of the new Protestant faith – indeed, she almost met the fate of her predecessors, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, when Henry suspected her of heresy.

Author Don Matzat looks at Katherine’s life and her religious outlook using The Lamentations of a Sinner, written by Katherine herself, to give him an insight into Katherine the woman and Katherine the queen.

In Katherine Parr: Opportunist, Queen, Reformer Don Matzat uses Katherine Parr’s own writings and letters to paint a vivid picture of this remarkable queen. Beautifully written, engaging and thoroughly researched, this book is a wonderful addition to any Tudor library.

The Bastard’s Sons by Jeffrey James

“William the Conqueror’s intellect is said to have remained clear right up to his death. He would have questioned whether any of his three sons individually had the ability to rule the troublesome amalgam of England, Normandy and Maine once he was gone. The Bastard’s Sons is the story of those three men: Robert, William and Henry of Normandy.

Of Robert, the dying king is said to have claimed he was ‘a proud and silly prodigal’, adding that ‘the country which is subject to his dominion will be truly wretched’. Yet Robert became a great crusader. William got on better with his namesake, known to us as William Rufus for his florid looks. He was, like his father, of kingship material, and might have gained the throne of England on his father’s nod, but, equally plausibly, orchestrated a coup. The youngest of the Bastard’s sons, Henry, inherited money from his father, but not land. To placate Henry, the Conqueror is alleged to have told him that one day he would gain both England and Normandy.

The stage was set for an epic power struggle between the three men and their barons, who held lands on both sides of the Channel and were thus caught in a difficult position. A mysterious death in the forest, a crusading hero’s return and the tenacity of an overlooked third son would all combine to see this issue settled once and for all.”

The Bastard’s Sons: Robert, William and Henry of Normandy by Jeffrey James is a wonderful book telling the story of the post-Conquest years through the power struggles of William the Conqueror’s three surviving sons. In a wonderful, engaging narrative, Jeffrey James provides a unique insight into these three, very different brothers.

By looking at their relationships with each other, at the nobles who surrounded and supported them, and at the events of the latter part of the eleventh century and beginning of the twelfth, Jeffrey James shows us how these three brothers influenced each other’s lives, and the lives of those around them; as well as the politics of England and Normandy and of Europe in general.

The Bastard’s Sons: Robert, William and Henry of Normandy is an absorbing read, offering a new perspective on the post Conquest years and demonstrating the far reaching influences of all three of William the Conqueror’s surviving sons. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the post Conquest years of England and Normandy, and in the establishment of the Norman dynasty.

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Sara Cockerill

“In the competition for remarkable queens, Eleanor of Aquitaine tends to win. In fact her story sometimes seems so extreme it ought to be made up.

The headlines: orphaned as a child, Duchess in her own right, Queen of France, crusader, survivor of a terrible battle, kidnapped by her own husband, captured by pirates, divorced for barrenness, Countess of Anjou, Queen of England, mother of at least five sons and three daughters, supporter of her sons’ rebellion against her own husband, his prisoner for fifteen years, ruler of England in her own right, traveller across the Pyrenees and Alps in winter in her late sixties and seventies, and mentor to the most remarkable queen medieval France was to know (her own granddaughter, obviously).

It might be thought that this material would need no embroidery. But the reality is that Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life has been subjected to successive reinventions over the years, with the facts usually losing the battle with speculation and wishful thinking.

In this biography Sara Cockerill has gone back to the primary sources, and the wealth of recent first-rate scholarship, and assessed which of the claims about Eleanor can be sustained on the evidence. The result is a complete re-evaluation of this remarkable woman’s even more remarkable life. A number of oft-repeated myths are debunked and a fresh vision of Eleanor emerges. In addition the book includes the fruits of her own research, breaking new ground on Eleanor’s relationship with the Church, her artistic patronage and her relationships with all of her children, including her family by her first marriage.”

Sara Cockerill’s Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France and England, Mother of Empires was one of the most anticipated history books of 2019 and it did not disappoint. Dispelling many of the rumours and stories that float around whenever Eleanor of Aquitaine is mentioned, Sara Cockerill looks for the real woman behind the legend.

Mainly using primary sources, Sara Cockerill re-examines every aspect of Eleanor’s life. The research is impeccable and Sara Cockerill’s arguments and analysis are well reasoned and compelling. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France and England, Mother of Empires is essential reading for anyone interested in the era in general and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s story in particular.

This is one of those books that should sit in all medieval history lovers’ libraries, to be read and devoured.

The Anarchy by Teresa Cole

When the mighty Henry I died in December 1135, leaving no legitimate son, who was to replace him on the throne of England? Would it be Stephen, nephew to the king and showered with favours that maybe gave him ideas above his station? Or could it be a woman, Henry’s own choice, his daughter Matilda, who had been sent away when eight years old to marry the Holy Roman Emperor, widowed, then forced into a hated second marriage for political reasons? Stephen was the first to act, seizing the throne that had been promised to Matilda, but he would find taking a crown far easier than keeping it. The resulting struggle became known as ‘the Anarchy,’ a time when fortune changed sides as frequently and dramatically as in any page-turning thriller, and with a cast of characters to match – some passionately supporting Stephen or Matilda, others simply out to grab what they could from the chaos. These supporting players are not overlooked here: Henry of Blois, brother of Stephen, Bishop of Winchester, and largely orchestrator of the church’s response to the conflict; Robert of Gloucester, illegitimate son of Henry I and chief supporter of his half-sister; and Geoffrey of Anjou, husband of Matilda, determined to secure Normandy (traditional enemy of Anjou) for himself. Covering all the twists and turns of this war between cousins, as first one side then the other seemed within touching distance of total victory, The Anarchy blends contemporary, sometimes eyewitness accounts with modern analysis to describe a period of England’s history so dark and lawless that those who lived through it declared that ‘Christ and his saints slept.’

When I told Amberley I wanted to do a book about the Anarchy, they were reluctant, saying that Teresa Cole had a book coming out about the Anarchy, and they were worried the books would be too similar. So I promised to concentrate on the Women of the Anarchy (my book’s working title), but was – from that moment – curious to read Teresa Cole’s take on the events. Luckily I got the chance.

The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England is an intelligent, engaging study of the 19 years of English history during which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle bemoaned that ‘Christ and his Saints slept’. Told in a chronological narrative, Teresa Cole examines every aspect of the period; the personalities involved and the extent of devastation and destruction caused by the conflict – both in England and Normandy.

Using eyewitness accounts and contemporary chronicles, Teresa Cole examines the motives behind the two protagonists, King Stephen and Empress Matilda, looking at their reasons for wanting the throne – and for wanting to keep it. The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England also provides insight into the leading supporters on both sides of the conflict and demonstrates that though war was waged over a 19 year period, the main battles were fought in the early years and by 1147 the nobles were getting so tired of war they were looking to make mutual protection treaties between themselves, or go on crusade, rather than continue a war that had been fought to a stalemate.

The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England is an interesting, enjoyable read offering new insight and perspective on an often overlooked period of English history, the only time that a woman led a faction to war on English soil.

All these books are available from Amberley Publishing.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly