It was an honour and a privilege to be asked to present the David Hey Memorial Lecture for the Doncaster Local Heritage Festival 2020. Due to the current Coronavirus outbreak, the lecture was moved online and broadcast via You Tube.
To keep it relevant with Doncaster and South Yorkshire, I decided to talk about one of my favourite subjects, and my current research project; the Warennes, the earls of Surrey who held Conisbrough from the Norman Conquest until the death of the last earl in 1347.
A family at the centre of English history for almost 300 years. It is a story of strong family loyalties, national and international rivalries, rebellion and civil wars, lost loves and royal connections. It’s also the story of Conisbrough’s iconic castle!
This talk is dedicated to David Hey. In the 1970s he was one of few professional historians to respond in a positive way to the growing interest in family and local history. David was a highly regarded and pioneering figure in this field.He held posts of importance such as being Professor of Local and Family History at the University of Sheffield and President of the British Association of Local History. But he was first and foremost a Yorkshireman at heart and never forgot his roots. He was the Patron of the Doncaster and District Heritage Association and gave a talk at the 2013 Heritage Festival.
So, here it is:
I hope you enjoyed it!
I would like to express my immense gratitude to the Doncaster Local Heritage Festival for inviting me to present such a prestigious lecture. I truly hope I did justice to the memory of David Hey.
The story of Alice de Lacey is like something straight from a novel, with rebellion, kidnappings and love all wrapped up in the life of this one was born Countess. Alice was born at Denbigh Castle on 25th December 1281. She was the daughter of Henry de Lacey, 5th Earl of Lincoln and, through her mother Margaret, granddaughter of William (II) Longspee, Earl of Salisbury.
Alice was one of 3 children. With 2 brothers, Edmund and John, she was, of course, not expected to inherit her father’s earldom. However, 2 family tragedies made Alice one of the richest heiresses in England. Young Edmund, it appears, drowned in a well at Denbigh Castle and John fell to his death from the parapet at Pontefract Castle, leaving Alice as her parents’ sole heir.
In 1294 Alice’s marriage was arranged by no-less than the king – Edward I – who saw her as a suitable bride for his nephew Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and son of the king’s brother Edmund Crouchback. Alice and Thomas were married on or before 28th October 1294; he was about 16 years old and Alice was not yet 13.
Edward I had shown his unscrupulous nature in the marriage settlement in that Thomas was given part of the Lacey inheritance on the marriage, with the rest to pass to Thomas on Henry de Lacey’s death. The settlement further stipulated that the de Lacey lands would pass to Lancaster in the event of Alice’s dying without issue; thus excluding all collateral heirs to the earldoms of Salisbury and Lincoln.
Alice’s mother Margaret, Countess of Salisbury in her own right, died in 1309 and by June 1310 her father had remarried; probably in the hope of securing an heir for his earldom. In the event, it wasn’t to be and the Earl of Lincoln died in 1311, with his estates passing through his daughter, to Thomas Earl of Lancaster and Leicester.
With 5 earldoms to his name, Thomas now became one of the richest and most powerful men in the kingdom. Although he was initially a supporter of the new king, his cousin Edward II, he would soon turn against him and his favourites, making enemies along the way.
Poor Alice got caught in the middle of one of Thomas’s feuds.
According to the chronicler Walsingham:
“The Countess of Lancaster … was seized at Canford, in Dorset, by a certain knight of the house and family of john, Earl Warenne, with many English retainers called togetherfor the detestable deed, as it is said, with the royal assent. … With them was a certain man of a miserable stature, lame and hunchbacked, called Richard de St Martin, exhibiting and declaring constantly his evil intentions towards the lady, so miserably led away.“
Alice was kidnapped in 1317 from her manor in Canford, Dorset, by John de Warenne’s man, Sir Richard de St Martin, supposedly with the king’s knowledge. Several reasons for the abduction have been put forward; one is, of course, that Alice and St Martin were having an affair while another is that the affair was between Alice and John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, himself.
Given the king’s involvement, a more likely explanation is that the kidnapping was organised by de Warenne in retaliation for Lancaster’s objections to de Warenne’s attempts to divorce his wife, Joan of Bar, in 1315/16. Joan was a cousin of Thomas of Lancaster and niece of King Edward II, but her marriage to John de Warenne was a disaster and John openly lived with his mistress, Maud Nerford. When he attempted to divorce Joan, Lancaster was one of his most vocal opponents; the divorce was eventually refused and de Warenne was even excommunicated for a time.
Alice was held at Reigate Castle, Surrey. Her abduction set off a private war between the 2 magnates, with Lancaster targeting Warenne’s Yorkshire estates and successfully besieging the Earl’s castle at Conisbrough in retaliation. Although he seems to have made little effort to actually rescue his wife and there is no record of how and when she was eventually released.
Alice and Thomas’s marriage does not appear to have been a happy one and there is some evidence that they were actually divorced in 1318, with Thomas retaining Alice’s earldoms after enforcing the marriage contract. The divorce was supposedly on account of her adultery with the Earl of Surrey’s squire, Sir Eubolo Lestrange (although this may be a confusion of facts from her abduction and her later marriage). It has also been claimed that Alice and her abductor, Richard de St Martin, were pre-contracted before her marriage to Thomas of Lancaster. However, although this is not impossible, it does seem unlikely, given Alice’s tender age on her wedding day.
Whether or not Alice and Thomas did divorce is still open to debate. If the divorce occurred, it did not protect her from the reprisals meted out after her husband’s failed rebellion and defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge on 16th March 1322. While Thomas was executed Alice, along with her step-mother, Joan, was imprisoned in York Castle.
It must have been a truly terrifying time for the 2 women; with no protectors they were at the mercy of the king’s favourites, the Despensers, father and son. Threatened with execution by burning they were forced to turn over the majority of their estates. Having paid an enormous ransom of £20,000 Alice was finally released, securing her titles, a small number of estates and the right to remarry.
Her step-mother, Joan, died in October 1322; we can only surmise as to whether or not her demise was as a consequence of her imprisonment.
Alice would eventually recover Lincoln Castle and the Earldom of Lincoln, but many of her estates were given to her erstwhile abductor, John de Warenne, and only returned to her by Edward III, many years later.
By November 1324 Alice had married again, this time to a minor baron from the Welsh Marches, Sir Ebule, or Eubolo, Lestrange of Shropshire. The marriage demonstrated that Alice had managed to come out of the disaster of her first husband’s downfall with enough income and property to make her an attractive proposition as a wife. Although, it does seem possible that this marriage was a love-match.
This marriage appears to have been a happier one, given that Lestrange moved over to Lincolnshire to look after his wife’s interests, and that it was with Sir Eubolo that Alice chose to be buried, when the time came. Alice and Sir Eubolo were married for over 10 years, although towards the latter part Lestrange was away campaigning in Scotland, where he died in September 1335. Alice was named as one of his executors and he was buried in Barlings Abbey, Lincolnshire.
Following his death, Alice took a vow of chastity and looked determined to settle into a life of quiet retirement. However, her adventures were not quite at an end. In 1335, or early 1336, Alice was kidnapped for a 2nd time; she was abducted from her castle at Bolingbroke and raped, by Sir Hugh de Freyne. Freyne was a Herefordshire knight and royal keeper of the town and castle of Cardigan.
There appears some suggestion that Alice was in collusion with Sir Hugh, with the theory being that her abduction was a way for her to escape her vow of chastity. It seems more likely that Alice acquiesced to a situation over which she had little control. Edward III was furious and ordered the imprisonment of the couple, but they were reconciled with the king 1336 and allowed to marry. The marriage did much to improve Freyne’s status and brought him a summons to Parliament in November 1336.
However, such success was short-lived as he died at Perth in December 1336 or January 1337.
Shortly after her 3rd husband’s death, the Bishop of Lincoln issued a demand that Alice keep her prior vow and chastity. As there were no further marriages – or abductions – we can probably assume that she did. Alice died on the 2nd October 1348 at the grand age of 66. She was buried with her 2nd husband at the Premonstratensian House of Barlings, in Lincolnshire.
Having had no children from any of her 3 marriages, Alice’s lands and titles, as according to her marriage settlement 54 years earlier, passed to the house of Lancaster and her husband’s nephew, Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster and father of Blanche of Lancaster, John of Gaunt’s 1st wife.
Sources: The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; findagrave.com; oxforddnb.com; royaldescent.net.
You would think that a man who was given a king’s granddaughter as a wife would relish the glamour and connections such a bride brought. However, this was not always the case and nowhere is it more obvious than in the life and marriage of Joan of Bar.
Joan was the granddaughter of the mighty Edward I and his queen, Eleanor of Castile. Her mother was Eleanor, Edward and Eleanor’s eldest surviving child. Eleanor of England had been born in 1264 and was first married to Alfonso III, King of Aragon, by proxy on 15th August 1290 at Westminster Abbey.
However the groom died before the marriage could be consummated and Eleanor married again at Bristol on 20th September 1293, to Henry III, Count of Bar. Henry and Eleanor had at least 2 children together. Their son, Edward, and daughter, Joan, were born in successive years, in 1294 and 1295. Although there seems to be some confusion of who was the oldest. A possible 3rd child, Eleanor, is said to have married Llywelyn ap Owen of Deheubarth; but her actual existence seems to be in question.
As usual with Medieval women – even royal ones – we know very little of Joan’s childhood. Her mother died in Ghent in 1298 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, London. Joan’s father, the Count of Bar, died in 1302, sources say as a result of injuries received in battle while fighting in Sicily.
The count was succeeded by his only son, Edward, who was then only 6 or 7 years old. The county of Bar was run by his grandfather, Edward I, during young Edward’s minority, with the child’s uncle John of Puisaye and the bishops of Liege and Metz acting as governors. It’s possible the children came to live at the English court, or at least spent some time there.
By 1310 Edward’s majority was declared. He married Mary, daughter of Robert II, Duke of Burgundy, in the same year. By this time, young Joan had already been married 4 years. In 1306 Joan had returned to England, arriving on 13th April. Barely 10 years old, she was escorted to the palace at Westminster with great pomp.
During the parliament of 1306 Edward I had settled Joan’s future. On 15th May of that year Edward offered Joan’s hand in marriage to 20-year-old John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, who had recently been granted his grandfather’s lands, despite the fact he wasn’t yet 21.
John was not without royal connections himself. His aunt, Isabella had been married to Scots King John Balliol, and their son, John’s cousin, was Edward Balliol, sometime King of Scots and John’s ward. John was the grandson of Edward’s good friend, also named John de Warenne, the 6th Earl of Surrey and former Warden of Scotland. Young John’s father, William de Warenne, had died in a tournament within a year of John’s birth and so he was raised by his grandfather, until John Senior’s death in 1304.
In the week following the betrothal of John and Joan, Edward I held a magnificent ceremony for the knighting of his eldest son, Edward. The ceremony was also to include the knighting of almost 300 men, John de Warenne included. As the celebrations continued a number of weddings also took place, involving several barons and nobles.
John de Warenne and Joan of Bar were married on 25th May, with John’s sister, Alice, marrying Edmund Fitzalan, 9th Earl of Arundel, at about the same time. Edmund had been a ward of John’s grandfather. The 2 young men were very close in age and were political allies and friends.
Following the wedding the couple lived on the Warenne Yorkshire estates, sharing their time between their castles at Conisbrough and Sandal.
In the wider world, Edward I died in the summer of 1307 and was succeeded by his son, Edward II. Initially John de Warenne was a supporter of Edward; witnessing the charter which made Edward’s favourite, Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall and accompanying the king to France to claim his bride, Isabella, daughter of Philip IV of France.
However, John was not immune to the turbulence and distrust of Edward’s reign and changed sides several times in the arguments between the king and his barons. The uncertainty of Edward’s reign cannot have helped the marriage of John and Joan, but neither, it seems, did John.
The couple was soon estranged – Joan was half John’s age when they married, which must have put an incredible strain on the relationship. There had been indications of problems as early as 1309, when the king had given John permission to name whoever he wished as his heir, as long as any children he may have by Joan were not disinherited.
By 1313 the marriage was still childless, and blatantly unhappy. In the spring of that year, Edward sent his yeoman, William Aune, to bring Joan to the king. She was taken from Warenne’s castle at Conisbrough and lodged in the Tower of London, at the king’s expense.
John, on the other hand, was living openly with his mistress, Maud Nereford, for which he was threatened with excommunication in May; a sentence which was finally carried out by the bishop of Chichester when Edward’s attempts to prevent it failed.
A long legal battle followed, eager to marry Maud and legitimise his 2 sons by her, John attempted to dissolve his marriage to Joan on the grounds of consanguinity – they were related in the 3rd and 4th degrees. He also claimed that he was pressured into marrying Joan against his will. Maud added her own suit to the legal proceeding by claiming that John had contracted to marry her before his marriage to Joan.
The church council registered disapproval of John and Maud’s relationship; as did a council of nobles which included the king’s cousin and most powerful nobleman in the land, Thomas of Lancaster. John had even been Thomas’s retainer in the early years of the king’s reign, but relations had soured following the murder of Gaveston in 1312.
The case would drag on for 2 years, with John unable to find a friendly ecclesiastical court who would pronounce in his favour. In 1316 he agreed to pay Joan a sum of £200 annually while the suit was ongoing, and to provide Joan with lands worth 740 marks once the marriage was dissolved.
As the hopes of an annulment faded, John enlisted the help of the earl of Pembroke in presenting a petition to the pope seeking an annulment. John also rearranged his estates, surrendering them to the king to have them re-granted with specifications that some of the lands could pass to his sons be Maud Nereford on his death. In the mean time, in August 1316, Joan had left England for France.
While the troubles in England intensified, John’s marriage troubles seem to have abated somewhat. The rebellion of Thomas of Lancaster was crushed at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, but war simmered on with France adding to the king’s troubles by demanding he personally pay homage for his French lands. In 1325 John de Warenne was appointed captain of an English expedition to Aquitaine and was away from home for the next year.
Joan had been in France at the same time, spending some of her time with Edward II’s queen, Isabella, and eldest son Prince Edward. Some sources say that when Warenne returned to England in 1326, Joan accompanied him and they even received permission to go abroad in February 1327 – as a couple.
Following the downfall of Edward II, his son and the new king, Edward III, in gratitude for her service to his mother, Queen Isabella, settled lands on Joan for life, and granted her some of the goods forfeited by Edmund Fitzalan. John’s erstwhile brother-in-law had been caught up in the turbulence of Edward II’s downfall and executed.
John de Warenne proved a faithful servant to Edward III, acting as keeper of the realm, jointly with young prince Edward, during the king’s absences in 1338 and 1340. However, his domestic life was as unsettled as ever in the last years of his life. Joan was in his company and treated as his wife in the years between 1331 and 1337, but went abroad with her entire household in 1337 shortly after her brother’s death; Edward, Count of Bar, had died in a shipwreck on his way to the Crusades and its possible Joan was acting as regent for her nephew, Henry IV, Count of Bar.
By the 1340s Maud Nereford and her sons had predeceased him, but John had a new lover in Isabella Holland, daughter of Sir Robert Holland, a leading retainer of Thomas of Lancaster. And it seems he was again contemplating divorce. In a 1344 letter from the Bishop of Winchester charges him to hold Joan in marital affection and honour the dispensation that had been granted for his marriage.
Joan was abroad again, possibly acting as regent for her great-nephew, Edward II Count of Bar. Amid fears that John de Warenne would try to take Joan’s lands Edward III acted to guarantee them in her absence. By 1345, in one final attempt to dissolve his marriage John was claiming that he had had an affair before marrying Joan, with his wife’s maternal aunt Mary of Woodstock. This was indeed a drastic claim, as Mary had been a nun since she was about 7 years old, and was probably born out of desperation; John was getting increasingly infirm and still had no heir to succeed him. It was a last-ditch attempt to marry Isabella and have legitimate children.
It failed, however, and John died at Conisbrough Castle between 28th and 30th June 1347, aged 61. His will, written just before his death and dated 24th June 1347, left various gifts to Isabella and his illegitimate children – but nothing to Joan, his wife. Warenne left several illegitimate children, including at least 3 boys and 3 girls.
Joan de Bar was abroad when her husband died. She lived for another 14 years, retaining the title of Countess of Surrey until her death; Richard Fitzalan, John’s heir, took possession of the Warenne estates on John’s death, but didn’t use the title earl of Surrey until after Joan died. In the 1350s Joan is said to have often visited the French king, Jean II, who was a prisoner of Edward III in London.
After a long and turbulent life, and at around 66 years of age, Joan died in London in 1361. Her body was conducted to France by her valet. She was buried at Sainte-Maxe Collegiate Church in Bar-le-Duc in October 1361.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; oxforddnb.com; royaldescent.net.