Book Corner: The Legitimacy of Bastards by Helen Matthews

For the nobility and gentry in later medieval England, land was a source of wealth and status. Their marriages were arranged with this in mind, and it is not surprising that so many of them had mistresses and illegitimate children. John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, married at the age of twenty to a ten-year-old granddaughter of Edward I, had at least eight bastards and a complicated love life. In theory, bastards were at a considerable disadvantage. Regarded as filius nullius’ or the son of no one, they were unable to inherit real property and barred from the priesthood. In practice, illegitimacy could be less of a stigma in late medieval England than it became between the sixteenth and late twentieth centuries. There were ways of making provision for illegitimate offspring and some bastards did extremely well: in the church; through marriage; as soldiers; a few even succeeding to the family estates. _The Legitimacy of Bastards_ is the first book to consider the individuals who had illegitimate children, the ways in which they provided for them and attitudes towards both the parents and the bastard children. It also highlights important differences between the views of illegitimacy taken by the Church and by the English law.

I often come across non-fiction books about which I think ‘ooh, this could be handy for research’, but every once in a while I come across a book and I just think ‘wow! This is so useful! Every one needs a copy!’ The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England by Helen Matthews definitely falls in this latter category.

The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England examines the church and lay laws governing illegitimacy in later medieval England, and portrays the reality of bastard children. Based on the author’s own thesis, the book should be the ‘go to’ tool for anyone who needs to study the stigma, status and reality of illegitimacy in medieval England.

Divided into 6 chapters, The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England explores the legal status of illegitimate children and the various types – or categories – of illegitimacy within medieval society; whether they be children of unmarried parents, married parents or of members of the clergy dictated their prospects in life and career opportunities. The book also examines the methods used by parents in order to get around the various limitations placed on illegitimate children, such as legal devices, church careers and, of course, marriage.

One of the challenges of researching illegitimacy in later medieval England is that there is no single source of reliable records of the kind that is available, for example, for some of the Italian city states. It is no accident that the comprehensive study of bastardy in England begins with the sixteenth century and the introduction of parochial registration of births, marriages and deaths in 1538. Even then, the level of detail prior to 1850 is limited. Any attempt to establish the prevalence of illegitimacy in the period before parish registers are available is clearly even more problematic. Illegitimate children cannot be identified by their name alone. Bastards who were recognised by their fathers would very often take their father’s name, though some were known by their mother’s surname. It should be noted that a surname beginning with ‘Fitz-‘ simply means ‘son of’ and does not itself denote illegitimacy, although it became common for royal bastards to have names of this type, for example Henry Fitzroy, the son of Henry VIII (1509-47) and Elizabeth Blount, a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon.

However, some attempt has been made to do so at the level of peasant society by exploiting manorial records, mainly in the context of wider studies of a particular peasant community. As in the Italian city states, it is the existence of financial records that makes this possible. In this case the records concerned are payments of fines. These were either leyrwite, a fine for single women and widows of unfree status who committed fornication, or childwyte, a fine for giving birth to an illegitimate child.

The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England looks into illegitimacy throughout all levels of society, from the royal family to the lowly peasant. Incredibly useful to my own research, Helen Matthews presents the experiences of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, as a case study of the practicalities of illegitimacy. This chapter helps the reader to understand the life and limitations of a child born outside of marriage, as well as the extraordinary lengths that parents were willing to go in order to advance the prospects of their children.

I had no idea how complex the laws surrounding illegitimacy in England, not just on inheritance, but also on marriage prospects, on the difference between church and state and on the difference between clerical and lay requirements for the legitimisation of a child.

An easy book to read, Helen Matthews has made good use of the materials and evidence available to build a picture of the realities of illegitimacy in later medieval England, not just for the child themselves, but for their families and the legitimate heirs. Impeccably researched and rich in detail The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England is a wonderful research tool and an engaging read, with none of the dryness that you often find in books developed from academic theses.

The only downside of The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England is that there are no footnotes, which makes it hard for the researcher to follow up some of the details; however, there is an exhaustive and impressive bibliography and an impressive list of the subjects used in the book for ease of cross-referencing.

The further I read into The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England the more I realised how useful this book will be to any researcher, student of history or casual reader around the subject. The impeccable research and engaging writing style make this a valuable addition to anyone’s medieval library.

I cannot recommend it highly enough!

To buy the book:

The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England is available from Pen & Sword and Amazon in the UK and US.

About the Author:

Helen Matthews studied medieval history at UCL and Royal Holloway. A chance remark in a footnote inspired her to embark on the thesis on medieval bastards, on which this book is based.

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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, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly


My News

Hi all. I know I have been quiet recently, so I thought I would write a post with all my latest news.

Book News

Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest

I have been working hard to finish my latest book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, which went off to the publishers yesterday. I have thoroughly enjoyed delving into the lives of the women of the 11th century and looking at the events of 1066 through their eyes.

Here’s the synopsis:

Everyone knows about the events of 1066; the story of invasion and conquest.

But what of the women?

Harold II of England had been with Edith Swan-neck for twenty years but in 1066, in order to strengthen his hold on the throne, he married Ealdgyth, sister of two earls. William of Normandy’s duchess, Matilda of Flanders had, supposedly, only agreed to marry the Duke after he’d pulled her pigtails and thrown her in the mud. Harald Hardrada had two wives – apparently at the same time.
So, who were these women? What was their real story? And what happened to them after 1066?

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æ II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, ‘Silk and the Sword’ traces 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 due for release in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK, Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. I have no date for the US release, but will keep you posted.

Heroines of the Medieval World

In other exciting news, Heroines of the Medieval World is released today in hardback the US and Canada, and is available from Amazon US.

These are the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history.

Today, it is easy to think that all women from this era were downtrodden, retiring and obedient housewives, whose sole purpose was to give birth to children (preferably boys) and serve their husbands. Heroines of the Medieval World looks at the lives of the women who broke the mould: those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and even the course of history.

Some of the women are famous, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not only a duchess in her own right but also Queen Consort of France through her first marriage and Queen Consort of England through her second, in addition to being a crusader and a rebel.

Then there are the more obscure but no less remarkable figures such as Nicholaa de la Haye, who defended Lincoln Castle in the name of King John, and Maud de Braose, who spoke out against the same king’s excesses and whose death (or murder) was the inspiration for a clause in Magna Carta.

Women had to walk a fine line in the Middle Ages, but many learned to survive – even flourish – in this male-dominated world. Some led armies, while others made their influence felt in more subtle ways, but all made a contribution to their era and should be remembered for daring to defy and lead in a world that demanded they obey and follow.

 

Other News

I have recently confirmed two new projects that I will be working on over the next couple of years.

Ladies of the Magna Carta

Ladies of the Magna Carta will look at the wives and families of the barons who were involved in the creation and implementation of the 1215 Magna Carta, and will be published by Pen & Sword Books in 2020.

The De Warenne Earls of Surrey: From the Conquest to the Reign of Edward III

The De Warenne Earls of Surrey: From the Conquest to the Reign of Edward III is a biography of the De Warenne family, from the first Earl, William de Warenne, who fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, to the seventh and last earl, John de Warenne and his unfortunate wife, Joan of Bar.

Newark Book Festival

On Sunday 15 July, 2018, I will be appearing at the Newark Book Festival, Nottinghamshire, UK. I will be talking on a Historical Fiction panel with the wonderful Elizabeth Chadwick and hosted by Nick Quantrill.

It would be great to see you there.

Here’s the details::

Historical Fiction Panel
Elzabeth Chadwick & Sharon Bennett Connolly
Newark Town Hall
Sunday 15th July
3.15pm – 4.30pm
£5/£4 FESTIVAL FRIENDS
Festival Box Office: 01636 655755 palacenewark.com

 

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK, Amberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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©2018 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.

170px-John_of_England_(John_Lackland)
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.

Magna_Carta_(British_Library_Cotton_MS_Augustus_II.106)
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.

fave

 

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