As part of The Tudor Tracker‘s Alternative August programme of talks, I had a nice long chat with Catherine Brooks about the history behind Magna Carta, King John and some of the remarkable women I wrote of in Ladies of Magna Carta.
The story of Eleanor of Brittany is one that highlights how women in the Middle Ages could feel truly powerless, if the men around them wanted it so. Her story also highlights the limitations of the Great Charter, or Magna Carta as it is better known, in protecting and supporting the rights of women – even princesses. Eleanor was born around 1184; she was the daughter of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Duke of Brittany by right of his wife, and Constance of Brittany. Described as beautiful, over the years she has been called the Pearl, the Fair Maid and the Beauty of Brittany.
A granddaughter of the medieval power couple, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, she was the eldest of her parents’ three children; Matilda, born the following year, died young and Arthur, who was killed by – or at least on the orders of – King John in 1203.
Initially, Eleanor’s life seemed destined to follow the same path as many royal princesses; marriage. Richard I, her legal guardian after the death of her father in 1186, offered Eleanor as a bride to Saladin’s brother, Al-Adil. Eleanor’s aunt, Joanna, King Richard’s sister had adamantly refused to consider such a marriage and so Eleanor had been offered as an alternative. This was part of an attempt at a political settlement to the 3rd Crusade that never came to fruition.
At the age of 9, Eleanor was betrothed to Friedrich, the son of Duke Leopold VI of Austria. Duke Leopold had made the betrothal a part of the ransom for Richard I’s release from imprisonment. Young Eleanor travelled to Germany with her grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the rest of the ransom and hostages. She was allowed to return to England, unmarried, when Duke Leopold died suddenly, and his son had ‘no great inclination’ for the proposed marriage. Further marriage plans were mooted in 1195 and 1198, to Philip II of France’s son, Louis, and Odo Duke of Burgundy, respectively; though neither came to fruition.
Eleanor’s fortunes changed drastically when Arthur rebelled against Richard’s successor, King John, in the early 1200s. As the son of John’s older brother, Geoffrey, Arthur had a strong claim to the English crown, but had been sidelined in favour of his more mature and experienced uncle. Arthur was captured while besieging his grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Mirebeau on 1st August 1202. Eleanor was captured at the same time, or shortly after. And while her brother was imprisoned at Falaise, she was sent to England, to what would be a life-long imprisonment.
If the laws of primogeniture had been strictly followed at the time, Eleanor would have been sovereign of England after her brother’s death. John and his successor, Henry III could never forget this. However, primogeniture was far from being the established rule of succession that it is today. Further, the experiences of Empress Matilda and her fight with King Stephen over her own rights to the crown – and the near-20 years of civil war between 1135 and 1154, had reinforced the attitude that a woman could not rule.
Not only was Eleanor her brother Arthur’s heir, but with King John still having no legitimate children of his own, she was also the heir to England and would be until the birth of John’s eldest son, Henry, in October 1207. If the laws of inheritance had been strictly followed, Eleanor would have been sovereign of England after her brother’s death: John and his successor, Henry III, could never forget this. In 1203 she was moved to England and would be held a prisoner of successive English kings to her dying day. Although her confinement has been described as ‘honourable’ and ‘comfortable’, Eleanor’s greater right to the throne meant she would never be freed or allowed to marry and have children, despite repeated attempts over the years by King Philip and the Bretons to negotiate her release.
It seems Eleanor did spend some time with the king and court, particularly in 1214 when she accompanied John to La Rochelle to pursue his war with the French. John planned to use Eleanor to gain Breton support and maybe set her up as his puppet duchess of Brittany, replacing her younger half-sister Alice. Alice was the daughter of Eleanor’s mother, Constance, by her third marriage to Guy of Thouars. She was married to Peter of Dreux, a cousin of King Philip of France and duke of Brittany by right of Alice. Using the carrot and stick approach, John offered Peter the earldom of Richmond to draw him to his side, while at the same time dangling the threat of restoring Eleanor to the dukedom, just by having her with him. Peter, however, refused to be threatened or persuaded and chose to face John in the field at Nantes. John’s victory and capture of Peter’s brother in the fighting persuaded Peter to agree to a truce, and John was content to leave Brittany alone, thereafter, instead advancing on Angers. His plans to restore Eleanor abandoned and forgotten.
As John’s prisoner, Eleanor’s movements were restricted, and she was closely guarded. Her guards were changed regularly to enhance security, but her captivity was not onerous. She was provided with ‘robes’, two ladies-in-waiting in 1230, and given money for alms and linen for her ‘work’.1 One order provided her with cloth; however, it was to be ‘not of the king’s finest.’2 Eleanor was well-treated and fed an aristocratic diet, as her weekly shopping list attests: ‘Saturday: bread, ale, sole, almonds, butter, eggs. Sunday: mutton, pork, chicken and eggs. Monday: beef, pork, honey, vinegar. Tuesday: pork, eggs, egret. Wednesday: herring, conger, sole, eels, almonds and eggs. Thursday: pork, eggs, pepper, honey. Friday: conger, sole, eels, herring and almonds.’3
Eleanor was granted the manor of Swaffham and a supply of venison from the royal forests. The royal family sent her gifts and she spent some time with the queen and the daughters of the king of Scotland, who were also hostages in the king’s custody after July 1209. King John gave her the title of Countess of Richmond on 27 May 1208, but Henry III’s regents would take it from her in 1219 and bestow the title elsewhere. From 1219 onwards she was styled the ‘king’s kinswoman’ and ‘our cousin’. In her sole surviving letter, written in 1208 with John’s consent, she is styled ‘Duchess of Brittany and Countess of Richmond.’4 Throughout her captivity she is said to have remained ‘defiant’.5
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where Eleanor was imprisoned at any one time. Over the years, she was held in various strongholds, including the castles of Corfe (Dorset), Burgh (Westmorland), and Bowes (Yorkshire). Corfe Castle is mentioned at various times, and it seems she was moved away from the is fortress on the south coast in 1221, after a possible rescue plot was uncovered. She was also held at Marlborough for a time, and was definitely at Gloucester castle in 1236. By 1241 Eleanor was confined in Bristol castle, where she was visited regularly by bailiffs and leading citizens to ensure her continued welfare. Eleanor was also allowed her chaplain and serving ladies to ensure her comfort.
Eleanor of Brittany died at Bristol Castle, on 10 August 1241, at the age of about 57, after thirty-nine years of imprisonment, achieving in death, the freedom that had eluded her in life. She was initially buried at St James’s Priory church in Bristol but her remains were later removed to the abbey at Amesbury, as instructed in her will; a convent with a long association with the crown.
The freedoms and rights enshrined in Magna Carta in 1215, and reissued in 1216 and 1225 under Henry III, unfortunately held no relevance or respite for Eleanor. Every other subject of the king was afforded the right to judgement of his peers before imprisonment thanks to 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.”
Magna Carta 1215
And clause 40:
“To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.”
Magna Carta 1215
Eleanor’s royal blood and claim to the throne meant that she was awarded no such privilege; justice and freedom were perpetually denied her. Of all the royal family and noblewomen of the time, it is Eleanor who proves that Magna Carta was not always observed and implemented, especially where women were involved, and particularly where the royal family – and the interests of the succession – were concerned.
1David Williamson, ‘Eleanor, Princess (1184–1241)’, Brewer’s British Royalty.
2Rotuli litterarum clausarum quoted in Michael Jones, ‘Eleanor suo jure duchess of Brittany (1182×4–1241)’, Oxforddnb.com.
3Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta
4 Rotuli litterarum clausarum quoted in Michael Jones, ‘Eleanor suo jure duchess of Brittany (1182×4–1241)’, Oxforddnb.com.
5 Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta
Douglas Boyd, Eleanor, April Queen of Aquitaine; Dan Jones, The Plantagenets: the Kings who made England; Robert Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Britain’s Royal Families; Oxford Companion to British History; The History Today Companion to British History; Robert Lacey, Great Tales from English History; Mike Ashley, A Brief History of British Kings and Queens and The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens; findagrave.com; spokeo.com; Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; Michael Jones, ‘Eleanor suo jure duchess of Brittany (1182×4–1241)’, Oxforddnb.com
Other than the Queen of England, Isabelle d’Angoulême, only two women who can be clearly identified in Magna Carta itself. Though they are not mentioned by name, they are two Scottish princesses. The older sisters of King Alexander II had been held hostage in England since 1209, when John forced the humiliating Treaty of Norham on their ailing father, King William the Lion. Clause 59 of Magna Carta promised:
‘We will treat Alexander, king of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and hostages and his liberties and rights in the same manner in which we will act towards our other barons of England, unless it ought to be otherwise because of the charters which we have from William his father, formerly king of Scots; and this shall be determined by the judgement of his peers in our court.’
Taken from Marc Morris, King John
The king of Scots’ two sisters referred to in the clause were Margaret and Isabella, the oldest daughters of William I (the Lion), King of Scots, and his wife, Ermengarde de Beaumont. The two girls had been caught up in the power struggle between their father and the Plantagenet kings. William I had been the second of three sons of Henry, Earl of Northumberland, and his wife, Ada de Warenne. He was, therefore, a grandson of David I and great-grandson of Malcolm III Canmor and St Margaret, the Anglo-Saxon princess. William had succeeded to his father’s earldom of Northumberland in June 1153, when his older brother, Malcolm IV, succeeded their grandfather as King of Scots. William himself became King of Scots on Malcolm’s death on 9 December 1165, aged about 23.
When William was looking for a wife, in 1186, King Henry II suggested Ermengarde de Beaumont, daughter of Richard, Vicomte de Beaumont-sur-Sarthe, and great-granddaughter of Henry I of England through one of the king’s many illegitimate offspring. With such diluted royal blood, she was hardly a prestigious match for the king of Scots, but he reluctantly accepted the marriage after consulting his advisers. The wedding took place at Woodstock on 5 September 1186, with King Henry hosting four days of festivities and Edinburgh Castle was returned to the Scots as part of Ermengarde’s dowry.
After the wedding, King William accompanied King Henry to Marlborough whilst the new Scottish queen was escorted to her new home by Jocelin, Bishop of Glasgow, and other Scottish nobles. Before 1195 Queen Ermengarde gave birth to two daughters, Margaret and Isabella. A son, the future Alexander II, was finally born at Haddington on 24 August 1198, the first legitimate son born to a reigning Scottish king in seventy years; a contemporary remarked that ‘many rejoiced at his birth.’1 A third daughter, Marjorie, was born sometime later.
Margaret, the eldest daughter of William I and Ermengarde de Beaumont, had been born sometime between her parents’ marriage in 1186 and 1195, unfortunately we cannot be more specific. Given the apparent youth of Ermengarde on her wedding day, Margaret’s date of birth is more likely to have been 1190 or later. We do know that she was born by 1195, as she was mooted as a possible heir to King William I in the succession crisis of that year, when the king fell gravely ill. Primogeniture was not yet the established order of succession, nor was the idea of a female ruler a welcome one; the period known to history as the Anarchy, which followed King Stephen’s usurpation of the throne from Empress Matilda, would have still been fresh in people’s memories, even in Scotland. King David had, after all, supported his niece’s claims against those of her cousin. The lesson of 20 years of civil war, albeit over the border, would have given William’s counsellors pause for thought in their own succession issue.
Several options were proposed at the time, including marrying young Margaret to Otto of Saxony, son of Henry II’s eldest daughter Matilda and nephew of King Richard I. However, it was also proposed that Margaret should not even be considered as heir, that the kingdom should pass to her father’s younger brother, David. In the event, King William recovered and none of the options were pursued, but at least it means that we know Margaret was born before 1195. And when her brother, Alexander, was born in 1198, Margaret’s position as a possible heir was diminished further.
Margaret’s younger sister, Isabella’s date and year of birth is unknown; she was older than her brother, Alexander, who was born in 1198, but may have been born any time in the ten years before. She is not mentioned in the succession crisis of 1195, but that does not mean that she was born after, just that, being the younger daughter, she was not a subject of discussions. Jessica Nelson, in her article for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, suggests that Isabella was born in 1195 or 1196.
The two young princesses became the unwitting pawns in political relations between England and Scotland when the two kings, John and William the Lion, met at Norham, Northumberland, in the last week of July and first week of August 1209. The Scots were in a desperate position, with an ailing and ageing king, and a 10-year-old boy as heir, whilst the English, with their Welsh allies and foreign mercenaries, had an army big enough to force a Scottish submission. The subsequent treaty, agreed at Norham on 7 August, was humiliating for the Scots. John would have the castle at Tweedmouth dismantled, but the Scots would pay an extra £4,000 compensation for the damage they had caused to it. The Scots also agreed to pay 15,000 marks for peace and to surrender hostages, including the king’s two oldest legitimate daughters, Margaret and Isabella.
As a sweetener, John promised to marry the princesses to his sons; although Henry was only 2 years old at the time and Richard was just 8 months, whilst the girls were probably in their early-to-mid teens. The king’s daughters and the other Scottish hostages were handed into the custody of England’s justiciar, at Carlisle on 16 August. How the girls, or their parents, thought about this turn of events, we know not. Given John’s proven record of prevarication and perfidy, King William may have hoped that the promised marriages would occur in good time, but may also have expected that John would find a way out of the promises made.
John’s demand of Margaret and Isabella as hostages, with the sweetener that they would be brides for his own sons, may well have been to prevent Margaret marrying elsewhere. King Philip II of France had expressed interest in a marriage between himself and Margaret, a union John would be keen to thwart. Thus, John’s control of the marriages of Margaret and Isabella would mean that they could not marry against the king of England’s own interests. It also meant that King William had lost two useful diplomatic bargaining chips; marriage alliances could be used to cement political ones, and these had been passed to John, weakening William’s position on the international stage. According to the chronicler Bower, the agreement specified that Margaret would marry John’s son, Henry, while Isabella would be married to an English nobleman of rank.
When the sisters were brought south, they were housed comfortably, as evidence demonstrates. While hostages in England, Margaret and Isabella were kept together, and lived comfortably, although John’s promise of arranging marriages for the girls remained unfulfilled. Payments for their upkeep were recorded by sheriffs and the king’s own wardrobe, which suggests the two princesses spent some time at court. In 1213 Isabella was residing at Corfe Castle in the household of John’s queen, Isabelle d’Angoulême; John’s niece, Eleanor of Brittany, held captive since the failed rebellion of her brother, Arthur of Brittany in 1202, was also there.
One can imagine the frustration of the Scots, to see their princesses languishing in the custody of the English; their inclusion in clause 59 of Magna Carta evidence of this. Unfortunately, King John tore up Magna Carta almost before the wax seals had dried, writing to the pope to have the charter declared void, leaving Alexander to join the baronial rebellion.
When Alexander came to terms with the government of Henry III in December 1217, he pressed for a resolution to the marriages of himself and his sisters, Margaret and Isabella, still languishing in English custody. In June 1220, at a meeting of King Henry III’s minority council, it was agreed that Margaret and Isabella would be married by October 1221 or allowed to return to Scotland.
King John had promised that Alexander would marry one of his daughters and Henry III, or rather his ministers, finally fulfilled this promise in June 1221, when his sister, Joan, was married to the Scots king at York. And it was probably at this event, when the Scottish and English royal families came together in celebration, that Margaret’s own future was finally resolved.
It was decided that she would marry Hubert de Burgh, the king’s justiciar and one of the leading figures of Henry III’s minority government. They were married in London on 3 October 1221, with King Henry himself giving the bride away. It was a major coup for Hubert de Burgh, who came from a gentry family rather than the higher echelons of the nobility; though it was a less prestigious match for Margaret, the daughter of a king. The couple had one child, a girl named Margaret but known as Megotta, who was probably born in the early 1220s.
Isabella, however, remained unmarried and returned to Scotland in November 1222. Isabella’s own marriage prospects may have been damaged by the relatively lowly marriage of her older sister. Nevertheless, Alexander II was keen to look after his sister’s interests and continued to search for a suitable husband. A letter from Henry III alludes to a possible match between Isabella and William (II) Marshal, Earl of Pembroke but the earl was, instead, married to the king’s own younger sister, Eleanor
Isabella’s future was finally settled in June 1225, when she married Roger Bigod, fourth Earl of Norfolk, at Alnwick in Northumberland. On 20 May, the archbishop of York was given respite from his debts in order to attend the wedding of the King of Scots’ sister:
Order to the barons of the Exchequer to place in respite, until 15 days from Michaelmas in the ninth year, the demand for debts they make by summons of the Exchequer from W. archbishop of York, because the archbishop has set out for Alnwick where he is to be present to celebrate the marriage between Roger, son and heir of Earl H. Bigod, and Isabella, sister of the King of Scots.
finerollshenry3.org.uk /content/calendar/roll_022.html#it204_001, 20 May 1225.
Roger was the young son of Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who had died earlier in the year, and Matilda Marshal, eldest daughter of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. Roger was still a minor, aged about 13, and possibly as much as seventeen years his wife’s junior. In 1224 King Alexander II had levied an aid of 10,000 marks towards the costs of his sisters’ marriages, as well as contributing £1,000 towards Henry III’s 1225 expedition to Gascony, suggesting the Scots king was eager to see both his sisters comfortably settled.
At the time of the marriage, Roger’s wardship was in the hands of Henry III’s uncle, William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, but it was transferred to King Alexander II in 1226, after Longespée’s death. Now in the custody of the king of Scots, Roger and Isabella moved to Scotland, living at the Scottish court until Roger attained his majority in 1233 and entered into his inheritance.
Ten years after the sealing of Magna Carta, and 16 years after they had been taken hostage, the two Scottish princesses were both finally settled into marriage, though less exalted marriages than their father had wished and hoped for, with English barons, rather than princes or kings. Their younger sister, Marjorie, would also marry into the English nobility in 1235, becoming the wife of Gilbert Marshal, 3rd son of the famed William Marshal who had become Earl of Pembroke the previous year.
Marjorie died in 1244, Isabella in 1253 and Margaret, the eldest, in 1259. Rather unusually for princesses, who would often be married off in foreign lands and separated from family, the 3 sisters would share their final resting place and be buried at the Church of the Black Friars in London.
1W.W. Scott, ‘Ermengarde de Beaumont (1233)’, Oxforddnb.com.
finerollshenry3.org.uk; W.W. Scott, ‘Ermengarde de Beaumont (1233)’, Oxforddnb.com; Marc Morris, King John; Jessica Nelson, ‘Isabella [Isabella Bigod], countess of Norfolk (b. 1195/1196, 1270)’, Oxforddnb.com; Nelson, Jessica A., ‘Isabella, Countess of Norfolk’, magnacarta800th.com; Louise J. Wilkinson, ‘Margaret, Princess of Scotland’, magnacarta800th.com; W.W. Scott, ‘Margaret, countess of Kent (b. 1187×1195, d. 1259)’, Oxforddnb.com; Keith Stringer, ‘Alexander II (1198–1249)’, Oxforddnb.com; Mackay, A.J.G. (ed.), The Historie and Chronicles of Scotland … by Robert Lindesay of Pitscottie; Ross, David, Scotland: History of a Nation; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; Crouch, David, William Marshal; The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Matthew Paris, Robert de Reading and others, Flores Historiarum, volume III.
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century Europe is going on tour – virtually at least. With articles, book reviews and interviews coming over the next 2 weeks, we will be visiting such exotic places as Barnsley, Tennessee, the Yorkshire Dales, Sussex and Michigan – all from the desktop!
Here’s the itinerary!
First stop is 1st July at my amazing publishers, Pen and Sword, who have done a wonderful job of organising the tour. Here’s an article on the inspiration behind the book.
5th July, Joanna Arman, The History Lady, will publishing her thoughts on Ladies of Magna Carta. I’m not nervous – much!
6th July, I will be stopping by for a cuppa with Samantha Wilcoxson to talk about The Marshal Sisters.
7th July, I will be chatting with Susan Higginbotham on History Refreshed about why it is so hard to love Isabelle d’Angoulême.
I will be making 2 stops on 8th July, visiting Simon Turney’s S.J.A. Turney’s Books and More, with an article on the many Family Ties of the women of the Magna Carta a story, plus Simon has written a wonderful review of Ladies of Magna Carta. And then it’s a quick hop over to visit Carol McGrath for her review of Ladies of Magna Carta and a chat about history, research and writing in general.
9th July I’ll be visiting the inimitable author, Tony Riches, with an article on Matilda de Braose.
I would like to thank Rosie and Rebecca at Pen & Sword and all the authors and bloggers involved for taking part in this amazing tour. I am truly humbled and grateful that you have all taken the time to read Ladies of Magna Carta and shared your thoughts and blog space with me.
Signed book plates
If you have a copy of Ladies of Magna Carta and would like a signed book plate to pop in the front, for you or someone else, just drop me a line via the ‘Contact Me‘ page with your address and who you would like the dedication made out to, and I will get one out to you.
Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history her whole life. She has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. For Christmas 2014, her husband gave her a blog as a gift – http://www.historytheinterestingbits.com – and Sharon started researching and writing about the stories that have always fascinated, concentrating on medieval women. Her latest book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England, released in May 2020, is her third non-fiction book. She is also the author of Heroines of the Medieval World and Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest. Sharon regularly gives talks on women’s history; she is a feature writer for All About History magazine and her TV work includes Australian Television’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?‘
There is only one clause in Magna Carta that mentions particular women. Although they are not identified by name, they are easily identifiable due to their positions. These two women were the daughters of William I, the Lion, King of Scots. They were the sisters of the new King of Scots, Alexander II, and had been hostages in England since the treaty of Norham in 1209. Clause 59 of Magna Carta agrees to negotiate for their release, alongside a number of other Scottish hostages:
We will treat Alexander, king of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and hostages and his liberties and rights in the same manner in which we will act towards our other barons of England, unless it ought to be otherwise because of the charters which we have from William his father, formerly king of Scots; and this shall be determined by the judgement of his peers in our court.1
The king of Scots’ two sisters referred to in the clause were Margaret and Isabella, the oldest daughters of William I (the Lion), King of Scots, and his wife, Ermengarde de Beaumont. The two girls had been caught up in the power struggle between their father and the Plantagenet kings. William I was the second of the three sons of Henry, Earl of Northumberland, and his wife, Ada de Warenne. He was, therefore, a grandson of David I and great-grandson of Malcolm III Canmor and St Margaret, the Anglo-Saxon princess.
William had succeeded his father as earl of Northumberland in June 1153, when he was about 11 years old; during his time as earl, William used ‘Warenne’ as his family name when earl of Northiumberland. He lost the earldom, however, when his brother, Malcolm IV (known as Malcolm the Maiden) surrendered the northern counties of England to Henry II; he was given lands in Tynedale, worth £10 per annum, in compensation. This loss of Northumberland was never forgotten and was to colour William’s future dealings with the English crown throughout his reign.
William was probably knighted in 1159, when he accompanied his brother Malcolm on an expedition to Toulouse and in 1163 he was in attendance in a meeting with King Henry II at Woodstock where the Scots king did homage to the English king. The youngest of the royal brothers, David, was to remain in England as a hostage to Malcolm’s good behaviour. William ascended the Scottish throne on Malcolm’s death on 9 December 1165, aged about 23; his coronation took place at Scone on Christmas Eve, 24 December. In 1166 William travelled to Normandy to meet with King Henry II and, although we do not know what they spoke of, it was reported that they parted on bad terms.
Nevertheless, in 1170 William and his brother David were at the English court, attending Henry II’s council at Windsor in April and were in London on 14 June, at the coronation of Henry’s eldest son, also Henry, the Young King; he died in 1183, six years before his father. Both William and his brother David did homage to the Young King after the coronation. In 1173 when the Young King and his brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, rebelled against their father, Henry II, they sought William’s support. The younger King Henry promised that he would give the northern counties of England to the Scots king, and the earldoms of Huntingdon with Cambridgeshire to the king’s brother, David, in return for their support in the rebellion.
William considered the offer, but after consulting his barons in the summer of 1173, he decided to ask Henry II to return Northumberland. He would renounce his homage if the English king refused. Henry II did refuse and William joined the Young King’s rebellion. He formed an alliance with Louis VII of France and Count Philippe of Flanders, who both promised mercenaries would be sent to England in support. This was the start of the long Scottish tradition of alliances with France, against England, which would become known as the Auld Alliance. On 20 August 1173 the Scottish forces moved south, to Alnwick, Warkworth and Newcastle.
Although they devastated the countryside, the campaign in Northumberland achieved very little; they were unable to take the strategically important castles. They moved on to Carlisle, but pulled back to Roxburgh after receiving news that a new English force was advancing. This force, under Ranulf de Glanville, the justiciar, burned Berwick before agreeing to a truce until 13 January 1174. The truce was later extended to 24 March 1174, after a payment of 300 marks by the bishop of Durham to King William. At the end of the truce, the Scots, accompanied by Flemish mercenaries, again advanced into England. They ravaged the Northumberland coast and besieged both Wark-on-Tweed and Carlisle castles, but failed to take either.
On 13 July, while much of the Scottish army was spread out in raiding parties, the Scots were the victims of a surprise attack. King William’s horse was killed, the king trapped underneath. William surrendered to Ranulf de Glanville and was taken first to Newcastle and then to Northampton, where he appeared before Henry II on 24 July. The Scots king was sentenced to imprisonment at Falaise in Normandy and the price of his freedom was to submit himself, his kingdom and the castles of Berwick, Roxburgh and Edinburgh to King Henry II. The Convention of Falaise on 1 December 1174 also granted that ‘the church of Scotland shall henceforward owe such subjection to the church of England as it should do.’2 It was a humiliating treaty for the Scots, which also required twenty Scottish noble hostages be handed to the English in return for their king’s freedom.
King William arrived back in Scotland in February 1175, having spent two months in England until the handover of the Scottish castles had been completed. He returned to a revolt in Galloway, which he managed to quash, he was then faced with a threat from Donald Ban Macwilliam, grandson of Duncan II, who was gaining support for a challenge to the throne and a return to the royal line of Duncan II. Things quietened down for a time, but in April 1181, when the king and David were in Normandy Donald Ban Macwilliam led an uprising in Moray and Ross, apparently gaining full control of the two earldoms. One royal retainer, Gillecolm the Marischal, surrendered the castle of Auldearn and then joined the rebels.
The king was also faced with unrest in Galloway, where Gilbert of Galloway was vying with his nephew Roland for control of the region. Gilbert died on 1 January 1185 and shortly after King William invaded Galloway, alongside Gilbert’s nephew Roland. On 4 July 1185 William and his allies defeated the main force of Gilbert’s followers and by 1190 Roland had been granted the lordship of Galloway by King William while Gilbert’s son, Duncan, was made lord of Carrick.As a result, Galloway remained at peace well into the 13th century, until the death of Roland’s son, Alan, in 1234.
With Galloway subdued, in 1187 King William was finally able to quash the rebellion in the north, leading his considerable army as far as Inverness. On 31 July, at the now-lost site of ‘Mam Garvia’, Roland of Galloway faced the rebels in battle where over 500 of them were killed, including Donald Macwilliam, whose head was sent to King William.
The overlordship of Henry II caused additional problems for King William in the Scottish church; the archbishops of York and Canterbury both claimed the homage of the Scottish clergy. William also had a long running dispute with the papacy, with five successive popes, in fact, over the appointment of a bishop of St Andrews; neither king nor pope approved the other’s choice of candidate. The English king sided with the popes on the matter and in 1181 King William was excommunicated by the archbishop of Canterbury; the Scottish people, as a whole, were subsequently excommunicated by the bishop of Durham. Within two years, however, the papacy and the Scots king were on such good terms that the pope sent William the Golden Rose as a tribute to ‘a king of exceptional religious zeal’.3 On 13 March 1192 Pope Celestine III issued the papal bull, Cum universi, recognising the Scottish church as a ‘special daughter’ of the apostolic see and subject to Rome without an intermediary. Thereby denying the claims to superiority of both York and Canterbury.
Unusually for a king in this period, by 1180 William had been on the throne for fifteen years and was still unmarried. He had several illegitimate children but until he married, William’s heir was his younger brother, David. With this in mind, in 1184, William was at King Henry’s court to discuss a possible marriage with Henry’s granddaughter, Matilda of Saxony. The match was forbidden by the pope on the grounds of consanguinity. In May 1186, during a council at Woodstock, King Henry suggested Ermengarde de Beaumont as a bride for William. Ermengarde was the daughter of Richard, Vicomte de Beaumontsur-Sarthe, who was himself the son of Constance, one of the many illegitimate daughters of King Henry I of England.
With such diluted royal blood, she was hardly a prestigious match for the king of Scots, but he reluctantly accepted the marriage after consulting his advisers. The wedding took place at Woodstock on 5 September 1186, with King Henry hosting four days of festivities. Edinburgh Castle was returned to the Scots as part of Ermengarde’s dowry.Although we do not know Ermengarde’s birth date, at the time of the marriage, she was referred to as ‘a girl’, suggesting that she may have only just reached the age of 12.
King William agreed to provide Ermengarde with £100 of rents and forty knights’ fees in Scotland, for the financial maintenance of her household; she also had dwellings and lands at Crail and Haddington, lands which had previously been held by William’s mother, Ada de Warenne.Between 1187 and 1195 Queen Ermengarde gave birth to two daughters, Margaret and Isabella. A son, the future Alexander II, was finally born at Haddington on 24 August 1198, the first legitimate son born to a reigning Scottish king in 70 years; a contemporary remarked that ‘many rejoiced at his birth.’4 A third daughter, Marjorie, was born sometime later.
On the death of King Henry II in 1189, King William again went south, and met with the new king, Richard I, at Canterbury, where he did homage for his English lands. Desperate for money for his crusade, on 5 December 1189, Richard abandoned his lordship of Scotland in the quitclaim of Canterbury; King William was released from the homage and submission given to Henry II, the castles of Roxburgh and Berwick were returned and the relationship between the kingdoms reverted to that in the time of Malcolm IV. The cost to the Scots was to be 10,000 marks, but Scotland was independent once again. However, Richard still refused to sell Northumberland back to William. The Scots king remained on good relations with King Richard, paying 2,000 marks towards his ransom in 1193. The Scots king carried one of the three swords of state at Richard’s second coronation at Winchester on 17 April 1194.
In the spring of 1195 King William fell gravely ill at Clackmannan, causing a succession crisis, the king’s only legitimate children being daughters. The Scottish barons appear to have been divided, between recognising William’s oldest legitimate daughter, Margaret, as his heir, or marrying Margaret to Otto, Duke of Saxony, grandson of Henry II, and allowing Otto to succeed to the throne. A 3rd faction claimed that either solution was contrary to the custom of the land, so long as the king had a brother who could succeed him.In the event, the king recovered from his illness and three years later the queen gave birth to Alexander, the much-desired son and heir. For the last years of the century, William was again occupied with unrest in the north. Before going on campaign in October 1201, he had the Scottish barons swear fealty to his son, Alexander, now 3 years old, a sensible precaution, given that he was approaching his sixtieth birthday.
Relations with England changed again 1199, with the accession of King John. During the reign of King Richard, William had agreed with the justiciar, William Longchamp, and backed Arthur of Brittany as the king’s heir. John may well have remembered this and soon after his accession, in 1200, the two kings met at Lincoln, with William doing homage for his English lands. The matter of Northumberland, still in English hands, was raised and deferred on several occasions between 1199 and 1205. The two kings finally met for formal talks at York from 9 to 12 February 1206 and again from 26 to 28 May 1207, although we have little record of what was discussed. However, John appears to have been prevaricating, suggesting another meeting in October 1207, which the Scots rejected.
In the meantime, the death of the bishop of Durham meant John took over the vacant see and set about building a castle at Tweedmouth. The Scots, seeing this as a direct threat to Berwick, destroyed the building works and matters came to a crisis in 1209. After many threats, and with both sides building up their armies, the two kings met at Norham, Northumberland, in the last week of July and first week of August 1209. The Scots were in a desperate position, with an ailing and ageing king, and a 10-year-old boy as heir, whilst the English, with their Welsh allies and foreign mercenaries, had an army big enough to force a Scottish submission.
The subsequent treaty, agreed at Norham on 7 August, was humiliating for William and the Scots. They agreed to pay 15,000 marks for peace and to surrender hostages, including the king’s two oldest legitimate daughters, Margaret and Isabella. As a sweetener, John promised to marry the princesses to his sons; although Henry was only 2 years old at the time and Richard was just 8 months, whilst the girls were probably in their early-to-mid teens. John would have the castle at Tweedmouth dismantled, but the Scots would pay an extra £4,000 compensation for the damage they had caused to it. The king’s daughters and the other Scottish hostages were handed into the custody of England’s justiciar, at Carlisle on 16 August. How the girls, or their parents, thought about this turn of events, we know not. Given John’s proven record of prevarication and perfidy, King William may have hoped that the promised marriages would occur in good time, but may also have expected that John would find a way out of the promises made.
There is no mention of Queen Ermengarde being present for the treaty at Norham, although she did act as mediator in 1212, when her husband was absent, in negotiations with John at Durham. A contemporary observer described the Scottish queen as ‘an extraordinary woman, gifted with a charming and witty eloquence’.5 It seems likely that King John was not immune to the queen’s charms, as he did not ask for more hostages and agreed that the Scottish heir, Alexander, would be knighted and one day marry an English princess. Alexander was knighted at Clerkenwell on 4 March 1212.
King William I, later known as William the Lion, died on 4 December 1214, aged about 72, having reigned for a total of forty-nine years, almost to the day. He was buried before the high altar of Arbroath Abbey. William’s daughters were still in English custody, the conditions for their release would form one of the clauses of Magna Carta. He was succeeded by Alexander, his only legitimate son, who was proclaimed king at Scone on 6 December 1214, aged just 16. Queen Ermengarde was said to be distraught at her husband’s death. She lived for 19 more years, devoting her time to the founding of a Cistercian abbey at Balmerino in Fife. She died on 11 February 1233.
Footnotes: 1 Marc Morris, King John; 2E.L.G. Stones quoted in Scott, W.W., William I; 3Ross, David, Scotland: History of a Nation; 4W.W. Scott, Ermengarde de Beaumont (1233); 5Bower quoted in W.W. Scott, Ermengarde de Beaumont (1233),
Further reading: W.W. Scott, Ermengarde de Beaumont (d. 1233), Oxforddnb.com; Scott, W.W., William I [known as William the Lion] (c. 1142–1214) Oxforddnb.com; Scott, W.W., Malcolm IV (c. 1141–1165) Oxforddnb.com; Mackay, A.J.G. (ed.), The Historie and Chronicles of Scotland … by Robert Lindesay of Pitscottie; Ross, David, Scotland: History of a Nation; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; 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; Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; Crouch, David, William Marshal; fmg.ac; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Ada, Queen Mother of Scotland (article) by Victoria Chandler.