William Montagu, the Man Who Married – and Lost – the Fair Maid of Kent

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William Montagu, 2nd Earl of Salisbury

Born on the 28th June, 1328, at Donyatt in Somerset, William Montagu – or Montacute – was the son of William Montagu, 1st Earl of Salisbury and Katherine Grandison (died 1349), 3rd daughter of William Lord Grandison. Young William was the eldest of the couple’s 2 sons and 4 daughters.

William Montagu was a friend and contemporary of Edward, the Black Prince, son and heir of Edward III, who was raised alongside William in the Salisbury household. Also among the young aristocrats in the care of the Earl of Salisbury was Joan of Kent, daughter and heir of Edmund, Earl of Kent.

Before 10th February, 1341, young Montagu and Joan were married; a union arranged by the young couple’s parents and the King, Edward III, seeing as they were both only 12 years old at the time. Although it is possible Montagu and Joan lived together as husband and wife from the moment of their marriage, they were still very young and may well have delayed consummating the marriage for another year or so. It is more than likely that they carried on with their education, much the same as before, with Lady Joan learning how to manage a  noble household and Montagu continuing his knightly training.

On 30th January 1344, still only 15, Montagu became the 2nd Earl of Salisbury when his father died after receiving heavy bruising in the Windsor jousts. He was knighted at La Hogue, during the 1346 expedition to France, though whether this was by the King or the Prince of Wales seems to be in question. During the hostilities Montagu assisted in the Siege of Caen and may have been at the Battle of Crécy.

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Joan of Kent

Following the successes of the French campaign, Montagu became one of the Founders of the Order of the Garter when it was created by Edward III in April 1348. However,  in the following month poor Montagu became embroiled in the biggest bigamy scandal to hit medieval England, when Thomas Holland, Montagu’s steward and recently returned from crusading in Eastern Europe, petitioned the pope for the nullification of the marriage between Montagu and Joan, on the grounds of his prior marriage to Joan.

William contested the annulment; after all, Joan was only 12 when he married her and Holland was claiming that his marriage to Joan had been consummated about 2 years earlier, making Joan 9 or 10 at the time. However, when it came time for Joan to testify, she supported Holland’s claims; the annulment was granted on 17th November 1349 and Joan returned to her 1st husband.

Montagu wasted little time in finding himself another wife and married Elizabeth de Mohun shortly after the annulment had been granted. Elizabeth was the daughter of John, Lord Mohun of Dunster and, given that she was born around 1343, was only 6 or 7 at the time of the marriage. They would have one child, a son, William, who was born in 1361.

No longer a minor, in 1349 William Montagu had made proof of his age and was given the livery of his lands, as Earl of Salisbury. His mother passed away in the same year and he succeeded to her dower lands.

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Battle of Poitiers

The 1350s saw Montagu pursuing a highly successful military career. In 1350 he had served at Winchelsea, which saw the defeat of the Castilian fleet. In 1356 he distinguished himself serving as commander of the rearguard, alongside the Earl of Suffolk, in the Black Prince’s march through southern France; however, it was Montagu alone who commanded the rearguard during English victory at the battle of Poitiers. Some sources credit Montagu with having chosen the English defensive position, along the gap of a hedge, which proved invaluable to the Black Prince’s forces. He defeated the 1st major French attack, led by the marshals, Clermont and d’Audenahm; Clermont was killed and the other leaders captured.

William Montagu saw more fighting with the king, Edward III, in his expedition of 1359, before taking part in the negotiations for the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360.

During the relative peace of the 1360s Montagu served as a justice of the peace, at various times,  in Hampshire, Somerset and Devon; and he served on various commissions in Somerset and Devon. He was also embroiled in a legal dispute with the Mortimer earls of March over Denbigh, which had originally been a Mortimer possession, but was given to Montagu’s father for his part in the overthrow of Roger Mortimer in 1330. Montagu had done homage for it in 1353, but by 1355, due to his gaining royal favour, it was back in the hands of the Mortimer heir, Roger.

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Coat of Arms of Sir William Montagu, 2nd Earl of Salisbury

The dispute rumbled on during the minority of the next Mortimer heir, Edmund, earl of March. Resolution was delayed even after Mortimer came of age, due to technicalities and Mortimer’s subsequent departure for duties in Ireland; where he died, and the Mortimer lands fell subject to yet another minority. By 1396 the earl of Salisbury was prepared to give the Mortimer’s a quitclaim, but this remained undelivered at William’s death and was left to his heir to resolve.

By the late 1360s war had resumed and William Montagu was sent to Calais with the earl of Warwick, in a futile raid commanded by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. He was part of the king’s 1372 expedition to the relief of Thouars, which was forced to return to England due to unfavourable winds. In 1373 after commanding the English fleet which destroyed 7 Spanish ships in the harbour of St Malo, he relieved Brest; which had promised to yield if not relieved within 40 days. Negotiations ensued, thus avoiding a battle but enabling Montagu to resupply Brest and prevent its capture.

Still fighting the French, in 1377 Montagu served alongside the Earl of Arundel in a raid around la Rochelle, but was beaten off by local forces. By 1379, following the accession of Richard II, he was serving as Captain of Calais when he captured and burned the French fortified monastery of Beaulieu.

Montagu must have wondered at the strange twist of fate that had him serving a king, Richard II, who just happened to be the son of his 1st wife, Joan of Kent, and his childhood companion, Edward, the Black Prince.

On a personal front, 1378 had seen the marriage of Montagu’s son and heir, another William, to Elizabeth Fitzalan, daughter of the earl’s companion in arms Richard, Earl of Arundel. Their happiness was short-lived, however, when William died after only 4 years of marriage. In a tragedy that must have rocked Montagu to the core, on 6th August 1382 at Windsor, young William was killed in a tilting match by his own father, the earl. It must have been a horrendous scene to behold.

In the same year, 1382, Montagu had become involved in a legal dispute with his younger brother, John, concerning a statute merchant whose conditions were violated by John. The proceedings would rumble on and on; although a court of chivalry was established, with John Montagu being steward of the king’s household, no one was in a hurry to pronounce judgement on him. The case was not settled until after John’s death in 1390 and John’s son surrendered the disputed statute merchant in 1391.

The family disputes appear to have prevented Montagu from playing a major role in the reign of Richard II, as you might expect from the earl of Salisbury. He is thought to have stayed with the king throughout the Peasants Revolt of June 1381, and advised Richard II to show mercy to the rebels. Loyalty to the crown was a family tradition, but he seems to have been well-regarded by the Lords Apellant who opposed Richard’s favourites. And when Richard II resumed power on a more moderate basis, Montagu cooperated with him. He served in various commissions during the 1390s, but appears only on the periphery of national politics.

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Bisham Abbey Berkshire

Unfortunately the case had served to alienate William Montagu from his brother and nephew – both called John – who were also his heirs. As a result, Montagu started selling off substantial parts of his property, in order to keep them out of his brother’s hands. In 1393 he sold the Isle of Man to William Scrope and in his will, he left half of his goods to his wife and the rest to servants and the church, leaving nothing of his disposable property to his nephew, the new earl. John Montagu was left to inherit the title and landed estates not mentioned in the will.

Montagu had lived through the worst years of plague and the resultant Peasants’ Revolt; he had survived war with France on numerous occasions and suffered the personal tragedy of accidentally killing his only child. The last survivor of Edward III’s great captains of the Hundred Years War, William Montagu died on 3rd June 1397, just shy of his 69th birthday. He was buried at Montacute Priory at Bisham in Berkshire; unfortunately nothing remains of his tomb. His wife, Elizabeth, survived him by 18 years, later becoming a nun; she was received into the sisterhood of the convent of St Albans on 10th October. Having made her will in 1414, leaving her sister, Philippa, Duchess of York, and her nephew Richard, Lord Strange of Knockyn, as her heirs, she died on 14th January 1415.

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Life and Time of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Reign of Edward III  by WM Ormrod; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; englishmonarchs.co.uk; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; oxforddnb.com; britannia.com; themcs.org.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

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Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Eternal Legacy of Magna Carta

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Lincoln Cathedral’s Magna Carta

June 15th 2015 was the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta.

On 1 April 2015 Lincoln Castle reopened its doors after an extensive refurbishment. The renovations included a new purpose-built, state-of-the-art, underground vault for its most prized possession: one of only four surviving copies of the original 1215 Great Charter – the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta’s new home cannot fail to emphasise the importance of this charter in the history of not only England, but also the rest of the world. Two films – Magna Carta: Challenging the Power of the King and Magna Carta: Meaning and Myth – reconstruct the events leading up to Magna Carta and chart its significance through the centuries, respectively.

But what is Magna Carta? And what makes it so important?

n many ways, the reign of King John had been a continuation of that of his father, Henry II, and of his brother, Richard I, with one significant difference. Early in his reign John had lost the French part of the great Angevin empire: Normandy and Aquitaine were now held by France. In 1214 King John returned to England following his defeat by the French at the Battle of Bouvines. The battle ended the king’s hopes of regaining the lost empire.

Added to this catastrophe was the character and personality of John himself. By nature John was paranoid, secretive and distrustful. John’s cruelty is widely known. He is accused of killing his nephew and rival claimant to the English throne, Arthur of Brittany; he hanged 28 Welsh hostages (sons of rebel chieftains) and he hounded William de Braose and his family all the way to Ireland and back. De Braose’s wife and son died in one of John’s prisons, probably from starvation.

The History of William Marshal, a biography of the great knight and statesman, states of John: ‘He kept his prisoners in such a horrible manner, and in such abject confinement that it seemed an indignity and a disgrace to all those with him who witnessed such cruelty’.

Although John faced the fallout of Magna Carta, many of the injustices targeted by the barons can be seen in the reigns of his predecessors. Heavy taxes, arbitrary fines and the exploitation of wardships were long-established royal revenue earners. However, where Henry and Richard had a whole empire to exploit, John’s need for money had to be met by England alone.

Even John’s disagreement with the Church can see parallels in the reign of Henry II and his clashes with Thomas Becket. John opposed the election of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury, and refused to allow his consecration. Pope Innocent III went so far as to excommunicate John and place England under interdict; in 1213 Philip II of France was even invited to depose him.

John finally came to an agreement with the Church in May 1213, swearing that the liberties established under Henry I would be strictly observed and allowing Langton to take up his post as archbishop. However, John broke his oath almost immediately and Langton became one of the leaders of the opposition to the king.

The barons’ objections to John were almost beyond number. He had failed to face the French and had lost not only his family’s Continental possessions, but also those of his barons. Few had forgotten his treachery against his brother – his attempt on the throne whilst Richard was away on Crusade. His barons even complained that he forced himself on their wives and daughters.

The barons had had enough.

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Lincoln Cathedral

The rebels were ready to fight. After occupying London they made one final attempt to prevent war, presenting the king with a list of their demands.

Following further negotiations a long detailed document was produced, dealing with particular grievances of the time and with injustices in general. It touched on the whole system of royal government. And it was granted to ‘all free men of the realm and their heirs forever’.

Magna Carta

Of its 63 clauses, some terms were asking for immediate remedies, such as the removal of corrupt administrators and the sending home of foreign mercenaries. The clause stating that fighting outside of the kingdom could not be imposed by the king was a reaction to John’s recent attempts to force his English barons to help him recover his Continental domains.

Others had long-term aims. The document sought to guarantee the privileges of the Church and the City of London. Restrictions were placed on the powers of regional officials, such as sheriffs, to prevent abuses. The royal court was fixed at Westminster, for justice to be obtainable by all, and royal judges were to visit each county regularly. Taxes could no longer be levied without the consent of the Church and the barons.

Clauses included the fixing of inheritance charges and protection from exploitation for under-age heirs; the king was to take only what was reasonable from an estate (although ‘reasonable’ remained undefined). From henceforth a widow was to be free to choose whether or not to remarry and her marriage portion (dowry) would be made available to her immediately on her husband’s death. Another clause sought to prevent the seizure of land from Jews and the king’s debtors.

Magna Carta even went so far as to regulate weights and measures. It also reduced the size of the king’s forests and limited the powers of forest justices.

Although most of the 63 clauses of Magna Carta are now defunct, three still remain as major tenets of British law, including ‘to no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice’. That no person could be imprisoned, outlawed or deprived of his lands except by judgement of his peers and the law of the land has remained the cornerstone of the English legal system ever since.

Magna Carta was sealed at Runnymede, Berkshire, on 15 June 1215. John ordered that the charter be circulated around the towns and villages.

As a peace agreement between King John and his rebellious barons, however, it failed miserably. By July John was appealing to the Pope for help. Pope Innocent III’s response arrived in England in September. The treaty was declared null and void; it was ‘not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust’. By the time the letter arrived in England, the dispute had already erupted into the Barons’ War.

Deciding they could no longer deal with John’s perfidy, the rebel barons invited the King of France, Philip II, to claim the throne. Philip’s son and heir, the future Louis VIII, accepted the offer. Having landed on the south coast, he marched for London, where he was proclaimed King of England on 2 June 1216.

John’s fortuitous death at Newark in October 1216 turned the tide against Louis and the rebels. The highly respected knight and statesman, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, was appointed regent for John’s nine-year-old son, Henry III. Marshal’s staunch loyalty was renowned throughout Europe; he was the embodiment of the chivalric code. Many barons who had previously sided with Louis saw the opportunity to come back from the brink, and rally around the young king. Marshal reissued Magna Carta and faced and defeated the joint French and rebel army at Lincoln on 20 May 1217.

Afterwards, the English were able to dictate peace terms to Louis, and the French went home. Magna Carta was issued a third time, along with a new Forest Charter (also on display at Lincoln Castle). Its reissue in 1225, on Henry III attaining his majority, is the one that made it onto the statute books.

The Legacy of Magna Carta

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Lincoln Castle

It is hard to overstate the enduring significance of Magna Carta. Although it was initially a document conceived by rebel barons, the regents of Henry III exploited Magna Carta as a royalist device to recover the loyalty of the rebel barons. However, once it was issued it was used as a curb to all regal excesses. In 1265 it was invoked to create the first parliament.

By the late 1200s Magna Carta was regarded as a fundamental statement of English liberties.

Magna Carta set the precedent for future reform programmes, such as the Provisions of Oxford of 1258, the Ordinances of 1311, the Petition of Right of 1628 and the Grand Remonstrance of 1641.

The influence of Magna Carta has spread far beyond England’s shores. It can be seen in the United States’ 1791 Bill of Rights, in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

Although a failure in the short term, in the long term, Magna Carta established defined limitations to royal rights, laying down that standard to be observed by the crown and its agents.

It is the closest thing England has to a Constitution.

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Article and Photos © Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015

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Article originally published on The Review in June 2015.

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Sources: Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; The Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Oxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty.

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Maud de Braose, the King’s Enemy

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Arms of William de Braose

Matilda de Braose was probably born in the early 1150s in Saint-Valery-en-Caux, France, to Bernard IV, Seigneur de Saint-Valery and his wife, Matilda. Contemporary records describe her as tall and beautiful, wise and vigorous.

Made famous by the de Braose’s spectacular falling-out with King John – and the manner of her death – very little is known of Matilda’s early years; though she probably spent time at her family’s manor of Hinton Waldrist in Berkshire.

Sometime around 1166 she married William de Braose, 4th Lord of Bramber, a Norman lord with land on the Welsh Marches. William was highly favoured by both Richard I and, later his brother King John.

Whilst William was away campaigning in Normandy, Matilda would be left to manage their estates in Wales. In 1198, Matilda defended Painscastle in Elfael against a massive Welsh attack by Gwenwynyn, Prince of Powys. She held out for 3 weeks until English reinforcements arrived, earning the castle its nickname of Matilda’s Castle.

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Hay Castle

One of Matilda’s titles was the Lady of Hay and Welsh folklore has her building the Castle of Hay in one night, single-handed, carrying the stones in her skirts.

The couple had around 16 children together, who married into some of the most powerful families of the time. Their eldest son, William, married Maud de Clare, daughter of the Earl of Hertford. Another son, Giles, became Bishop of Hereford.

Of their daughters Loretta, married Robert de Beaumont, 4th Earl of Leicester and another, Margaret, married Walter de Lacy, Lord of Meath.

A third son, Reginald, married, as his 2nd wife, Gwladus Ddu, daughter of Llewelyn the Great, Prince of Wales. Reginald’s son, William, by his 1st wife married Eva Marshal, daughter of the great knight, William Marshal. It was this William de Braose who was ignominiously hanged by Llewelyn the Great, after being found in the bedchamber of Llewelyn’s wife Joan, the Lady of Wales and natural daughter of King John. William had been at the Welsh court to arrange the marriage of his daughter, Isabel, to Llewelyn and Joan’s son, David. Interestingly, the marriage still went ahead, although it was to be childless.

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King John

William de Braose was greatly favoured by King John in the early part of his reign. He was given  Limerick in Ireland for 5,000 marks and also received the castle at Glamorgan and the lordship of Gower. William de Braose was the knight who captured the rival to John’s throne, Arthur of Brittany, at the Siege of Mirebeau in 1202 and possibly witnessed Arthur’s murder at Rouen in Easter 1203.

It was following Arthur’s murder that things started to go wrong for the Lord and Lady of Bramber. John became increasingly suspicious of de Braose’s loyalty and turned against him. This could have been for several reasons, not least being de Braose’s knowledge of Arthur’s fate.

Elsewhere, De Braose had fallen behind in his payments to the Exchequer for the honour of Limerick, but he had also sided with his friend William Marshal in his disagreements with the king. In addition, de Braose’s son, Giles had been one of the bishops to approve an Interdict against John.

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Trim Castle, Meath

Whatever the reason, in 1207 King John moved to make a public example of one of his most powerful barons, and punish him for his debts to the Exchequer. John demanded William and Matilda give up their sons as hostages.

Matilda refused and Roger of Wendover recorded her response to the soldiers sent to collect the boys, as; “I will not deliver my sons to your lord, King John, for he foully murdered his nephew Arthur, whom he should have cared for honourably.”

There is some suggestion that William and Matilda realised she had gone too far, and tried to placate John with gifts. But it was too late.

John took possession of de Braose’s castles and moved to arrest William. Forewarned, the couple fled to Ireland with 2 of their sons, where they took refuge with Walter de Lucy, their son-in-law and Lord of Meath. John followed after them, bringing other recalcitrant barons to heal along the way. While William de Braose tried to come to terms with the king, Matilda and their eldest son, William, escaped by taking ship for Scotland.

However, Matilda and her son were captured in Galloway by Duncan of Carrick, and having been returned to England in chains, they were imprisoned in Windsor Castle. King John made an agreement with both William and Matilda; freedom for her and a pardon for William in return for 40,000 marks.

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Corfe Castle

However, being either unwilling or unable to pay, Matilda and her son remained in prison – either at Windsor or Corfe Castle – and William was outlawed, eventually escaping into exile in France, disguised as a beggar, where he died in 1211.

Matilda’s fate was more gruesome; she and her son were left to starve to death in John’s dungeons (though whether this was at Corfe or Windsor is unclear). Tradition has it, that when their bodies were found, William’s cheeks bore his mother’s bite marks, where she had tried to stay alive following his death.

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Magna Carta

John’s treatment of the de Braose family did not lead to the submission of his barons, as John had intended, and the remainder of his reign was marred by civil war.

However when Magna Carta was written in 1215, Clause 39 may well have been included  with Matilda and her family in mind:

“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.”

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Sources: sussexcastles.com; genie.com; steyningmuseum.org.uk; berkshirehistory.com; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 by Robert Bartlett; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; The Life and Times of King John by Maurice Ashley; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Out Now!

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

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Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly