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.
Today it is my turn on the Historical Writers Forum Blog Hop: Momentous Events. Given my recent book is Ladies of Magna Carta, it only seems right that the momentous event I talk about should be the birth of Magna Carta itself.
1214 ended badly for King John. Attempts to appease his continental enemies had not had the desired results and he was at war in France. As a consequence, John sought a reconciliation with the Lusignans, agreeing to grant them Saintes and Oléron and to marry his daughter Joan to Hugh X de Lusignan, the son of Hugh IX de Lusignan, who had been betrothed to John’s wife, Isabelle d’Angoulême, in return for their support. A similar peace offering, of the earldom of Richmond, to Pierre, Duke of Brittany, was less well received and the duke remained aloof. John’s campaign was successful at first, with him entering Angers unopposed before he laid siege to Roche-au-Moine. However, he was forced to retreat on 2 July, with the approach of the army of Prince Louis of France and the refusal of the Poitevins to fight by his side.
Although he was able to keep his own army intact, John’s fate was sealed on 27 July when his half-brother William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, and John’s German and Flemish allies faced King Philip II of France at the battle of Bouvines. They were decisively defeated. Otto IV managed to escape, but William Longespée was captured and taken to Paris, along with the counts of Flanders and Boulogne. With the threat in the north neutralised, Philip was now able to join his army to that of his son, Prince Louis, and challenge John in the south. John had no choice but to seek peace and a 5-year truce was agreed on 13 October, with Ralph of Coggeshall reporting rumours that it had cost John 60,000 marks.1
At home, John’s policy of reform of the sheriffs and forest officials in 1212–1213 had resulted in a significant reduction in royal revenue, and the military campaign had drained John’s treasury further. He was no longer a wealthy king. In October 1214 John returned to England; the defeat by the French at the Battle of Bouvines had ended the king’s hopes of regaining the lost Angevin empire. Baronial opposition to John now gathered pace. The refusal to pay scutage of 3 marks on the knights’ fee demonstrating a coordinated effort by the magnates, rather than the individual disobedience that had been seen earlier in the reign.
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 in trying to take the throne whilst Richard was on crusade. Added to these catastrophes was the character and personality of John himself. By nature, John was paranoid, secretive and distrustful. His cruelty was widely known. He stood accused of killing his nephew, Arthur, a rival claimant to the English throne; he had hanged twenty-eight Welsh hostages (sons of rebel chieftains); and he had 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, claimed that John treated his prisoners harshly and with such indignity that it was a disgrace to all involved.2 His barons even complained that he forced himself on their wives and daughters. With such military losses, accusations of murder and seemingly acute character flaws stacked against him, it is no wonder England’s king faced opposition by many of the most powerful in his realm.
In January 1215 John arranged to meet with his challengers in London to hear their demands, and it was agreed that they would reconvene at Northampton on 26 April to hear the king’s response. The disaffected barons demanded reform and the confirmation of the coronation charter of King Henry I, in which the king promised;
‘Know that by the mercy of God and by the common counsel of the barons of England I have been crowned king of this realm. And because the kingdom has been oppressed by unjust exactions, being moved by reverence towards God and by the love I bear you all, I make free the Church of God … I abolish all the evil customs by which the kingdom of England has been unjustly oppressed.’ 3
Although many of the clauses of this charter, also referred to as the Charter of Liberties, were now outdated, several still resonated with the barons, including that a baron’s widow could not be married without her consent, that an heiress could not be married without the consent of her relatives and that, on the death of a baron, his heir would only pay a relief that was ‘just and lawful.’4
Whilst John was ruminating on these demands, both sides were preparing for war. John borrowed from the Templars to pay his mercenaries and on 4 March he took the cross. This latter move was seen as being highly cynical and no one seems to have believed that John would actually go on crusade. His purpose for doing so was political: a crusader’s lands and properties were protected by the church and this action firmly identified the king’s opponents as the ‘bad guys’.
John failed to appear at Northampton in April. He did, however, send messages to the rebels. According to the Barnwell annalist the king ‘tried to win them back through many emissaries, and there was much discussion amongst them, the archbishop, bishops and other barons acting as intermediaries, the king himself staying at Oxford.’5 On 5 May the rebels formally renounced their fealty. John retained the support of some magnates, such as William Marshal and William de Warenne, but the majority were now standing against him. As was London, which opened its gates to the rebels on 17 May, despite John’s granting the city the right to elect its mayor only eight days before. In the Welsh Marches the Braose family had allied with Llywelyn ap Iorwerth and had taken Shrewsbury.
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. John had no choice but to make concessions and on 10 June agreed to further discussions of the rebels’ terms. Following these negotiations, a long, detailed document was produced, dealing with the 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.’6
Of its sixty-three clauses some terms were asking for immediate remedies, such as the removal of corrupt administrators and the sending home of foreign mercenaries. A 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 the 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 sixty-three 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 would 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, throughout the realm; only 4 original copies survive today, 2 at the British Library and 1 each at Lincoln and Salisbury. As a peace agreement between the king 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; according to Innocent, Magna Carta was:
‘not only shameful and base but also illegal and unjust. We refuse to overlook such shameless presumption which dishonours the Apostolic See, injures the king’s right, shames the English nation, and endangers the crusade. Since the whole crusade would be undermined if concessions of this sort were extorted from a great prince who had taken the cross, we, on behalf of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and by the authority of Saints Peter and Paul His apostles, utterly reject and condemn this settlement. Under threat of excommunication we order that the king should not dare to observe and the barons and their associates should not insist on it being observed. The charter with all its undertakings and guarantees we declare to be null and void of all validity for ever.’7
The letter was accompanied by more papal letters, excommunicating rebels, including nine barons and the Londoners. However, by the time the letters arrived in England, the dispute had already erupted into the Barons’ War. John laid siege to Rochester Castle with his mercenaries and the castle surrendered on 30 November, after a seven-week siege. Deciding they could no longer deal with John’s perfidy, the rebel barons had invited the King of France, Philip II Augustus, to claim the throne.
Philip’s son and heir, the future Louis VIII, accepted the offer. He sent an advanced guard, which arrived in December of 1215. Louis himself would arrive in the spring of 1216. He landed on the south coast and marched for London, where he was proclaimed King of England on 2 June 1216, just 13 days before the 1st anniversary of Magna Carta…
1 John Gillingham, John (1167–1216), Oxforddnb.com; 2L’Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchale quoted in John Gillingham, John (1167–1216), Oxforddnb.com; 3 Coronation Charter of Henry I in bl.uk; 4 Select Charters quoted in Marc Morris, King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; 5 The Barnwell annalist quoted in Elizabeth Hallam (editor), The Plantagenet Chronicles; 6 Danny Danziger and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; 7 Letter from Pope Innocent III, quoted in Danny Danziger and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta
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; Danny Danziger and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; John Gillingham, John (1167–1216), Oxforddnb.com; Marc Morris, King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta
John, Count of Mortain, Lord of Ireland, and youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine knew that the stars were finally aligning in his favor, and the impossible dreams of his youth were now within his grasp. Bold action was required, and he was confident in his ability to seize this auspicious opportunity.
It was early January 1193 when John received a letter from King Philip II of France informing him that his brother, King Richard the Lionheart, was being held captive by the Duke of Austria and his liege lord, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI.
John immediately traveled to the nearest port and secretly crossed the Channel into Normandy. He might have already been imagining his future as King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and ruler over the Angevin lands lying between those valuable duchies. No one would ever call him “Lackland” again.
It’s likely that John’s ambitions were buoyed by his knowledge of family history. His great-grandfather, Henry I, was the youngest son of William the Conqueror. Upon William’s death, his lands were divided between his two oldest surviving sons: William Rufus, who became King of England and Robert Curthose, who became Duke of Normandy. Henry Beauclerc, as Henry I was known before his ascension, was the original “Lackland” as the only inheritance he received was money.
Yet, only 13 years after William the Conqueror’s death, this youngest son had seized the throne of England after the sudden death of William Rufus in 1100. Six years later, Henry defeated
Robert Curthose at the Battle of Tinchebray and became Duke of Normandy. Robert Curthose would spend the rest of his life in captivity.
Did visions of Richard, his formidable older brother, imprisoned for the rest of his natural life inspire John as he rode across Normandy that cold January?
John’s story during Richard’s captivity stretches from January 1193 to the brothers’ reconciliation in May 1194. It’s a tale of persistence, audacious risk-taking, and a single-minded resolve to achieve power at any cost.
If John had succeeded, perhaps we would admire him just as Henry I is admired for his unexpected rise to power. But John’s failures and reckless schemes during these 17 months would not only determine the course of Richard’s remaining years as king, they would also play an important role in establishing John’s reputation as a deceitful, untrustworthy, and avaricious man.
When John met with the Norman barons at Alençon in January 1193, he announced that Richard would not return, and that he was likely dead. John proclaimed that he was ready to assume control of Normandy and help the barons defend against potential attacks from King Philip. These loyal liegemen of Richard flatly refused to accept John as their new lord. As long as Richard lived, they would honor their oaths of fealty to him. Undeterred, John left them and went to Paris.
King Philip had spent his reign cleverly pitting one Plantagenet against another, and he was delighted to receive John at his court. In return for Philip’s support, John vowed to annul his marriage and marry Philip’s sister. He then paid homage to Philip for Normandy and the Angevin lands, and he promised to give Philip the strategic fortress of Gisors and the Norman Vexin.
This was a stunning betrayal of his brother, and as news of John’s actions in Paris made its way back to England, many of those who might have otherwise supported John as heir were outraged.
In February, John returned to England where he captured and garrisoned the castles of Windsor and Wallingford. He then entered London and declared that Richard would never return; he even insisted that Richard was dead. John demanded the Great Council recognize him as king.
His mother, the indomitable Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the Great Council were now ruling England. They had not yet received word of Richard’s location or condition, and it was a precarious time. Since Richard had no legitimate children, only John and a nephew, Arthur of Brittany, were potential successors. Arthur’s father, Geoffrey, had been born before John, but Arthur’s youth and Breton upbringing worked against him. Eleanor preferred that John ascend to the throne should Richard die.
By early March, John’s castles at Windsor and Tickhill were under siege. It was an awkward moment for the men leading these sieges. If they pursued victory too vigorously, they might make an enemy of the future king.
On April 20, Eleanor and the Great Council began receiving dispatches from Richard, who outlined the terms of his release and offered recommendations for raising the staggering king’s ransom required for his freedom. The government could not simultaneously conduct sieges against John’s castles and raise the ransom.
Even though Windsor and Tickhill were on the verge of surrender, a six-month truce was negotiated. Eleanor took control of Windsor and Wallingford, while John kept Tickhill and Nottingham. Along with other stipulations, John was expected to help raise the ransom, and he was required to stay in England.
After this setback, John spent May and June in Dorset, pouting and plotting his next move. Historians differ on how much effort he put into raising the ransom.
In early July, news reached both England and France that the terms of Richard’s release had been renegotiated and finalized. Although Richard knew that his release was still months away, Philip believed the Lionheart could be freed at any time.
In response, a frantic King Philip sent his famous message to John: “Look to yourself, the Devil is loosed!”
Despite his pledge to remain in England, a terrified John fled across the Channel to Paris. Because he had broken the truce, John’s estates were confiscated.
John was at Philip’s side when emissaries from the Lionheart arrived, proposing a treaty with the French king. The Treaty of Mantes was signed on July 9, 1193, and it was a generous settlement intended to stop Philip from further incursions into Normandy and to avoid a possible French invasion of England.
Richard’s secondary goal was to separate Philip and John. If John renewed his oath of loyalty to his brother, his titles and lands on both sides of the Channel would be restored, and a series of castles in Normandy would be awarded to him. John promptly pledged his allegiance to Richard and set off to claim his castles. However, he was so distrusted that the castellans refused to relinquish control to John. A furious John returned to Paris, and Richard’s scheme to remove John from Philip’s influence failed.
The emperor’s December announcement that Richard would be released in January resulted in another panicked response from Philip and John. They sent a letter to Henry offering either monthly payments to keep Richard imprisoned until autumn or a lump sum matching the ransom raised by Eleanor, as long as Henry transferred custody of his prisoner to Philip.
By January 1194, John was desperate, but he was not ready to admit defeat. He made one last treaty with Philip, and its extraordinary terms must have astounded the French king. John surrendered the whole of Normandy east of the Seine except for the city of Rouen. He gave key castles in Maine, Anjou, Touraine, and Aquitaine to Philip. And perhaps the most shocking concession was his agreement to hold the remaining continental lands as a baron of the French court. This would end the long-standing tradition of the Duke of Normandy meeting the King of France as an equal.
The January treaty was so astonishing that it only raised Philip’s suspicions. Although Philip signed the treaty, the shrewd French king probably doubted that John would abide by it.
Philip and John’s offer tempted Henry VI, and he showed their letter to Richard. Although he could not renege on his promises, Henry delayed Richard’s release until February 4, 1194.
Eleanor and Richard immediately left the German court, and they landed in England on March 13. Richard soon subdued John’s remaining supporters, and John’s titles and lands were again confiscated.
On May 13, Richard and Eleanor disembarked in Normandy. By May 19, they were in Lisieux at the home of John of Alençon. It is here that a shaken and contrite John arrived, falling at his brother’s feet, shedding the required tears, and begging for mercy. Richard forgave him, but his words were casual and full of contempt. He called the 27-year-old John a “child” who had been led astray by evil advisors.
Eleanor and Richard had already determined that it was more important to separate John from Philip and bring him back into the family fold than to impose the punishment he deserved for his treason.
The following day, John returned to Evreux, a strategic castle he had been holding for Philip since January. He then demonstrated why he could not be trusted. He invited the town’s French officials to meet with him, perhaps for dinner, and he announced to them that he now held the town for Richard before ordering their slaughter.
Twelve months later, in May 1195, Richard restored the counties of Mortain and Gloucester to John, although not the castles. In September 1197, Richard formally named John as his heir. John did not return to England until after Richard’s death in 1199.
The story of John’s 17 month quest for power during Richard’s captivity shows a man willing to promise anything and risk everything, regardless of whether he could deliver. Yet, he never suffered the consequences he deserved for his actions, mostly because he was the favored choice to succeed Richard, as long as the Lionheart remained childless.
Consider these examples:
· During his initial bid to take the crown, when his castles were on the verge of surrender, he was offered a generous truce.
· He lost his titles and lands when he fled to Paris in July 1193, but the Treaty of Mantes restored them to him.
· He ceded valuable strategic castles to Philip, and Richard would spend the remainder of his life fighting to recover them. John’s penalty was to lose his lands and titles for a time, but they were eventually returned to him.
This raises the question of whether John learned any lessons from his disastrous attempt to take the throne from Richard, and how that lack of meaningful consequences for his reckless and risky gambles might have impacted his reign, particularly when dealing with a cunning foe like King Philip and aggrieved barons looking for a measure of justice.
About the authors:
J. C. Plummer graduated Summa Cum Laude from Washburn University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Anthropology. She later earned a Master of Science degree in Computer Information Science from Dartmouth College.
As an author and historian, J.C.’s goal is to provide thoughtful and entertaining storytelling that honors the past, is mindful of the present, and is optimistic for the future.
She has joined with author Olivia Longueville to co-author The Robin Hood Trilogy.
About Olivia Longueville: Olivia has always loved literature and fiction, and she is passionate about historical research, genealogy, and the arts. She has several degrees in finance & general management from London Business School (LBS) and other universities. At present, she helps her father run the family business.
Olivia’s first book was Between Two Kings, a novel set in Tudor England, which will be re-published by Penmore Press later this year.
Set in late 12th century England, France, and Outremer, this re-imagining of the Robin Hood story closely follows history while incorporating popular aspects of the Robin Hood legends.
From the mists of an ancient woodland, to lavish royal courts teeming with intrigue, to the exotic shores of the Holy Land—Robin Hood leads the fight in a battle between good and evil, justice and tyranny, the future and the past.
Historical figures such as King Philip II of France, Richard the Lionheart, Prince John, and Eleanor of Aquitaine are featured in the trilogy.
I recently shared an article about Joan, Lady of Wales, illegitimate daughter of King John. Now, John had several illegitimate children, and while Joan is probably the most famous, and certainly had the highest profile, as a Welsh princess, she was not the only one who made it into the history books. Whilst researching the Warenne earls of Surrey recently, I had the chance to look deeper into the story of another of John’s illegitimate brood, Richard of Chilham.
From the late 1180s or early 1190s onwards, Earl Hamelin de Warenne’s relationship with King John was complicated by the fact that John had a brief affair with one of Hamelin’s daughters. Although it has been impossible to determine which of the daughters, the result of the affair was an illegitimate son, named Richard, after John’s older brother. He was known in various guises as Richard of Chilham, Richard of Dover, Richard fitzRoy or even Richard fitz John. He was also known as Richard de Warenne, referring to his maternal line, which is the name that is inscribed on his seal; this seal bears his arms, a derivative of the royal arms, albeit with 2 lions rather than 3, emphasising his Plantagenet descent.
Richard was probably born in the 1190s and was the only one of John’s illegitimate children to gain honorific title, following his marriage to Rose of Dover in 1214, by which he became lord of the castle and honour of Chilham, in Kent. Richard’s lordship held in the region of fifteen knights’ fees, in Kent and Essex. Richard served his father and, subsequently, his royal half-brother, Henry III, as a royalist captain and administrator during the First Barons’ War of 1215-17.
From 1216, just days before his death, John appointed Richard as constable of Wallingford Castle and custodian of the honour of Wallingford; it was a strategically important castle and the honour held some 120 knights’ fees. In May 1218, he was granted the honour at royal pleasure and held it until 1227. Between 1217 and 1221 he was also sheriff of Berkshire, though it appears he had little involvement in the day-to-day duties of the position; Henry Saccario did the accounting for him at the exchequer, with Richard always finding reason to be elsewhere.
Richard distinguished himself at the Battle of Sandwich on 24 August 1217, the sea battle in which the English naval forces intercepted the French bringing equipment and supplies to Prince Louis, the Dauphin of France, who had invaded England in 1216 in an attempt to seize the throne. The dauphin’s French forces and baronial allies had been defeated at the Battle of Lincoln in May but were still causing trouble in other parts of England.
Richard commanded one of the ships in the battle, which he brought alongside the French flagship, the most formidable of the enemy’s vessels, commanded by Eustace the Monk. Richard and his men boarded the ship. Roger of Wendover suggests that it was Richard himself who beheaded Eustace the Monk after his capture; and though other sources disagree with this, none deny that Richard’s actions in the battle were significant. The Battle of Sandwich was an important action in that it forced Prince Louis to come to terms with the regency government of King Henry III. As a consequence, Louis agreed to a settlement of £10,000 as an inducement to go home.
In 1218 Richard left to join the fifth crusade in Egypt. He returned home in 1220 or, more likely, 1221. He is known to have reached the crusader camp at Damietta as he borrowed money whilst there, 20 marks from an Italian cardinal, and was pressured for its repayment in 1128. Henry III eventually repaid the loan on Richard’s behalf. Richard was perhaps as much as seventeen years older than his half-brother, King Henry III, and doesn’t appear to have had a close relationship with him and he never appeared on the king’s witness lists. He did receive some gifts from the king, though nothing extravagant or extraordinary, such as venison or estates. Despite the trust his father had held in him, he played a limited role in England’s affairs after his return from crusade.
He fought against the Welsh in 1223 and in the same year accompanied Alexander II, King of Scots, his second cousin once removed through his Warenne family, on pilgrimage to Canterbury. Though it has to be said that the records are unclear, and the Richard involved in either, or both, of these events could have been Richard of Cornwall, the full brother of Henry III and half-brother of Richard of Chilham. It was certainly Richard of Chilham who was one of the tax collectors for Kent in 1225, when the fifteenth was granted for Henry III’s campaign to Poitou.
Most of the evidence of Richard of Chilham comes from the debts and lawsuits held against him. Indeed, one of the advantages of his joining the fifth crusade was that it resulted in the deferment of a court case he was defending. His debts to the crown started with the scutage of 1217, a tax of 2 marks per fee on the fourteen knights’ fees of his Chilham barony. The debts piled up through the 1220s, with Richard failing to appear when summoned. He was threatened with having his land taken into the king’s custody. The debts he owed to one William Scissor (or the tailor) were to be recovered by distraint of land and chattels, with his land to be returned when he paid his debts.
The king stepped in at this point, though for the sake of his sister-in-law, Rose, rather than his brother. Henry III ordered the sheriff of Kent to prevent Richard from wasting, selling or damaging the manor of Northwood, which was assigned to Rose for her maintenance. Richard and Rose were also locked in a long-running dispute with Robert fitz Walter and Richard de Montfichet over Rose’s rights to the manor of Lesnes, which arose out of Rose’s rights to the inheritance of Richard de Lucy, Henry II’s justiciar. The eyre in Kent in 1227 decided that the dispute should be settled by a duel, with each side nominating champions. In all honesty, it was little more than a brawl, which Richard and Rose won. After the duel, Robert fitz Walter recognised Rose’s right to Lesnes and quitclaimed to Richard, Rose and their heirs, for which Richard and Rose paid him 40 marks, which they had to borrow for the purpose.
Their debts thus increased further, in 1229, sheriffs were ordered to take possession of all the manors of Richard and Rose, save Lesnes, which Rose was to keep for her maintenance. Richard joined Henry III’s forces sailing for Brittany, which put two pending court cases against him into abeyance and he was granted respite from his debts. Later in the 1230s, sheriffs were ordered to prevent the sale of lands and woods by Richard, lands which were a part of Rose’s inheritance. By 1242 Richard was back in the king’s favour and was advanced 20 marks to buy equipment and supplies for an expedition to Lundy, although it is possible that this was Richard’s son, also Richard, who would join the king’s expedition to Gascony that same year, receiving an annual fee of 50 marks.
Richard of Chilham and William Bardrolf led the seaborne operations against the notorious outlaw and pirate, William de Marisco. In 1238 the would-be assassin of Henry III, whose attack was foiled by the king spending the night with the queen instead of his own bed, claimed that Marisco was behind the plot. Marisco had based himself on the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel, from where he attacked shipping, taking ransoms and plunder. Richard successfully captured Marisco and his accomplices, after scaling the island’s cliff to reach them, most of the gang were later executed in London.
In 1243 Richard was granted a pardon for £100 for a debt to the moneylender Benedict Crispin. This seems to have come about, not by Richard’s actions, but by the affection the king held for Richard’s son, King Henry’s nephew, Richard, who is referred to in the fine roll, alongside the paynment of his fee for the Easter term, as ‘our beloved and faithful Richard of Dover.’
Richard of Chilham died in 1246, leaving his wife, Rose of Dover, still burdened by her husband’s debts, his son Richard and a daughter, Isabel, who eventually inherited the honour of Chilham. One argument for the identity of Richard’s mother is in the naming of his daughter. It has been suggested that Richard named his daughter after his mother, Isabel, but this is hardly incontrovertible proof; he could have just as easily named her after his grandmother, Countess Isabel. It could just as easily have been Ela, whose marriages were that bit less prestigious than her sisters’, being to men we known little-to-nothing of besides their names, perhaps suggesting a scandalous past.
Unfortunately, a strange entry in the Annales Cestriensis only adds to the confusion. In 1200, it records that ‘W. de Waren meunch fil Regis‘ was killed, suggesting that Richard’s mother was killed in 1200. Earl Hamelin and Countess Isabel did not have a daughter with the initial ‘W’, however, and neither did any of their children died in 1200. In the Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester, Richard’s mother is merely identified as ‘the erles daughter of Wareine’. With such little information to go on, we can only speculate.
Images courtesy of Wikipedia
Further reading: Cassidy, Richard, Rose of Dover (d.1261), Richard of Chilham and an Inheritance in Kent; Turner, Ralph V., Two Illegitimate Sons of King John: A Comparison of Their Careers; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Lloyd, Simon, Chilham, Sir Richard of (d. 1246) (article); 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
Many daughters, especially those of kings, had little or no say in who they would marry; they were bargaining pieces in the search for alliances. Even their legitimacy mattered little compared to what they could bring to the table, if their fathers were powerful enough. Joan, or Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of King John, was one such young lady.
Very little is known of Joan until her appearance on the international stage in 1203, aged twelve or thirteen. It was in that year mention is made of a ship, chartered in Normandy, ‘to carry the king’s daughter and the king’s accoutrements to England’.¹ The daughter in question appears to be Joan, born around 1191 to an unknown mother, possibly a lady by the name of Clemencia or Clementina. Nothing is known of Joan’s childhood, which appears to have been spent in Normandy. However, although she grew up in obscurity, Joan must have received an education suitable to her rank as the daughter of a prince and, later, king; after all, her father intended to marry her to a prince and so would need her to be able to act the part of a princess.
By 15 October 1204 Joan was betrothed to the foremost prince in Wales; Llywelyn ab Iorweth, prince of Gwynedd, also known as Llywelyn Fawr, or Llywelyn the Great. In the summer of 1204, he had paid homage to King John for his Welsh lands, having recognised the English king as overlord by treaty in July 1201; allowing him to marry Joan was a sign of John’s favour. By the time of his marriage, Llywelyn was already an accomplished warrior and experienced statesman; and was the father of at least two children, a son and daughter, Gruffuddd ab Llywelyn and Gwenllian. Their mother was Tangwystl, but her union with Llywelyn was not recognised by the Church and the children were considered illegitimate under Church law.
Joan and Llywelyn were probably married in the spring of 1205; part of Joan’s dowry, the castle and manor of Ellesmere, were granted to Llywelyn on 16 April 1205, suggesting the wedding took place around that time. Joan was fourteen or fifteen at the time; at thirty-two, Llywelyn was about eighteen years her senior. Having been uprooted from her home in Normandy, she had probably spent a year at the English court, learning of the politics and duties associated with her new home in Wales. The language and traditions of her new homeland would have been completely alien to the young woman. Even her name was not the same, in Welsh, she was known as Siwan.
For someone barely into her teenage years, all these changes must have been daunting. Not only was she expected to become a wife and a princess to a nation that was totally alien to her, but her responsibilities also included the role of peacemaker. In a prestigious marriage for an illegitimate daughter, Joan was thrown into the heart of Anglo-Welsh relations. She was to become an important diplomatic tool for her father and, later, her half-brother, Henry III; acting as negotiator and peacemaker between the English crown and her husband, almost from the first day of her marriage.
Despite the marriage of Joan and Llywelyn, relations between England and Wales were rarely cordial. Following a devastating defeat by the English in 1211, in which the invading army had swept into Gwynedd, capturing the Bishop of Bangor in his own cathedral, Joan’s skills were sorely needed and
‘Llywelyn, being unable to suffer the King’s rage, sent his wife, the King’s daughter, to him by the counsel of his leading men to seek to make peace with the King on whatever terms he could.’
Brut y Tywysogyn or The Chronicle of the Princes: Peniarth MS 20 Version, editor T. Jones
Joan managed to negotiate peace, but at a high price, including the loss of the Four Cantrefs (the land between the Conwy and the Dee rivers), a heavy tribute of cattle and horses and the surrender of hostages, including Llywelyn’s son, Gruffudd.
Following a deterioration of Anglo-Welsh relations, and as a precursor to invasion, twenty-eight of the Welsh hostages were hanged in 1212. However, the attack was called off when John received word from Joan that his barons were planning treason closer to home. The last years of John’s reign were taken up with conflict with his barons, leading to the issuing of Magna Carta in 1215 and a French invasion by Louis, eldest son of Philip II Augustus. The last thing John needed, if he was to save his kingdom, was to be distracted by discontent in Wales. In 1214 Joan successfully negotiated with her father for the release of the Welsh hostages still in English hands, including Llywelyn’s son, Gruffudd; they were freed the following year.
Following her father’s death in October 1216, Joan continued to work towards peace between Wales and England. She visited Henry in person in September 1224, meeting him in Worcester; Joan seems to have had a good relationship with her half-brother, evidenced by his gifts to her of the manor of Rothley in Leicestershire, in 1225, followed by that of Condover in Shropshire, in 1226. An extant letter to Henry III, addressed to her ‘most excellent lord and dearest brother’ is a plea for him to come to an understanding with Llywelyn.
In the letter, Joan uses her relationship with Henry to try to ease the mounting tensions between the two men. She describes her grief ‘beyond measure’ that discord between her husband and brother had arisen out of the machinations of their enemies, and reassures her brother of Llywelyn’s affection for him. In the mid-1220s, Henry acted as a sponsor, with Llywelyn, in Joan’s appeal to Pope Honorius III to be declared legitimate; in 1226 her appeal was allowed on the grounds that neither of Joan’s parents had been married to others when she was born.
Joan and Llywelyn’s marriage appears to have been, for the most part, a successful one. Joan’s high-born status, as the daughter of a king, brought great prestige to Gwynedd. As a consequence, her household was doubled from four to eight staff, including a cook who could prepare Joan’s favourite dishes. Llywelyn seems to have valued his wife’s opinion; as we have seen, he often made use of her diplomatic skills and relationship with the English court and he often consulted her on other matters. Her influence extended to Welsh legal texts, which, from this period onwards, included French words. Joan’s position was strengthened even further by the arrival of her children. Sometime between 1212 and 1215, her son, Dafydd, was born; in 1220 he was recognised as Llywelyn’s heir by Henry III, officially supplanting his older, illegitimate, half-brother, Gruffudd, who was entitled to his father’s lands under Welsh law.
The move received papal approval in 1222. As a result, in 1229 Dafydd performed homage to Henry III, as his father’s heir. A daughter, Elen, was probably born around 1210, as she was first married in 1222, to John the Scot, Earl of Chester. Her second marriage, in 1237 or 1238, was to Robert de Quincy. Joan was the mother to at least two more of Llywelyn’s daughters, Gwladus and Margaret. Gwladus was married to Reginald de Braose. Her stepson, William (V) de Braose, was to play a big part in Joan’s scandalous downfall in 1230.
Joan’s life in the first quarter of the 13th century had been exemplary; she was the ideal medieval woman, a dutiful daughter and wife, whose marriage helped to broker peace, if an uneasy one, between two countries. She had fulfilled her wifely duties, both by providing a son and heir and being supportive of her husband to the extent that she should not be included in the roll call of scandalous women – however, in 1230, everything changed.
William de Braose was a wealthy Norman baron with estates along the Welsh Marches, he was the grandson of Maud de Braose, who starved to death in King John’s dungeons. Hated by the Welsh, who had given him the nickname Gwilym Ddu, or Black William, he had been taken prisoner by Llywelyn in 1228, near Montgomery. Although he had been released after paying a ransom, de Braose had returned to Llywelyn’s court to arrange a marriage between his daughter, Isabella, and Llywelyn’s son and heir, Dafydd. During this stay, William de Braose was ‘caught in Llywelyn’s chamber with the King of England’s daughter, Llywelyn’s wife’. ²
Contemporaries were deeply shocked at Joan’s betrayal of her husband; indeed, following this scandal, Welsh law identified the sexual misconduct of the wife of a ruler as ‘the greatest disgrace’. Joan was no young girl struggling to come to terms with her position in life; she was about forty years old, had been Llywelyn’s consort for twenty-five years and had borne him at least two children when the affair was discovered. The most surprising thing about the whole affair, moreover, is Llywelyn’s response. His initial anger saw William de Braose impoverished, put on trial and hanged from the nearest tree on 2 May 1230. Joan was imprisoned in a tower. This rage, however vicious, was remarkably brief.
Maybe it was due to the strength of the previous relationship between Llywelyn and Joan, or maybe it was the high value placed on Joan’s diplomatic skills and her links with the English court; but within a year the terms of Joan’s imprisonment had been relaxed and just months after that, she was back on the political stage. Llywelyn appears to have forgiven her; the couple were reconciled and Joan returned to her life and position as Lady of Wales. Indeed, Joan soon reprised her diplomatic duties. She attended a conference between her husband, son and her brother, Henry III at Shrewsbury, in 1232. Despite William de Braose’s betrayal of Llywelyn, and subsequent violent death, the wedding between his daughter, Isabella, and Llywelyn’s son, Dafydd, was not derailed and by 1232 they were married.
Joan’s indiscretion was forgiven by Llywelyn, maybe even forgotten, and when she died on 2 February 1237, the Welsh prince was deeply affected by grief. Joan died at Garth Celyn, Abergwyngregyn, on the north coast of Gwynedd. She was buried close to the shore of Llanfaes, in the Franciscan friary that Llywelyn founded in her memory – a testament to his love for her. The friary was consecrated in 1240, just a few months before Llywelyn’s own death in April of that year. The friary was destroyed in 1537, during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.
Joan’s remains were lost, but her coffin was eventually found, being used as a horse trough in the town of Beaumaris, on Anglesey. It is a testament to Joan’s personality, and the strength of her relationship with Llywelyn, that her affair with de Braose had few lasting consequences for her. Had she been younger, when the legitimacy of her children could have been called into question, her punishment could have been much harsher and the consequences more far-reaching.
Footnotes: ¹ Magna rotuli, 2–569, quoted in Joan, d. 1237, by Kate Norgate and Rev. A.D. Carr in Oxfroddnb.com; ² ibid.
Images courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: Oxforddnb.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; Oxforddnb.com; magnacartareseearch.org; Magna Carta by David Starkey; King John by Marc Morris; King John, England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant by Stephen Church; 1215, the Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham; Women in Thirteenth Century Lincolnshire by Louise J. Wilkinson.
Robert de Breteuil, also known as Robert de Beaumont, was a remarkable individual whose adventures in the Holy Land would make a wonderful novel. A renowned warrior and a powerful magnate, he was a companion to the Plantagenet princes, both Richard the Lionheart and King John. Robert was the son-in-law of Matilda de Braose, whose horrific persecution by King John led to her death by starvation in one of John’s dungeons – and the inclusion of clause 39 in Magna Carta:
“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.”
Robert was the second son of Robert de Breteuil, 3rd earl of Leicester, and his wife, Petronilla de Grandmesnil and the great-grandson of Robert de Beaumont, Count of Meulan and 1st Earl of Leicester, and his wife, Elizabeth de Vermandois. Robert was probably born in the early-1160s and was closely associated with his elder brother William. As they grew up and entered public life they were linked with the household of their cousin, Robert, Count of Meulan, and they regularly appeared on their father’s charters together. Their younger brother, Roger, was bishop of St Andrews. William died in 1189, sometime after the accession of King Richard I. A later legend suggests he suffered from leprosy, though there is no contemporary evidence to corroborate this. William’s death meant Robert therefore became heir to their father’s earldom of Leicester.
Both Robert and his father were at the royal court at Verneiul on 2 January 1190 and joined the Third Crusade of Richard the Loinheart. Robert’s father took an overland route to the Holy Land, while it appears that Robert travelled with the king. Robert was with the king at Messina, Sicily, when news reached him of his father’s death. The 3rd earl had died on 31 August or 1 September 1190 and so Robert was invested as earl by the king on 2 February 1191, in Sicily.
During his time in the Holy Land, Robert was one of the leaders of the assault on Acre on 11 July 1191 and fought in the battle of Arsuf on 7 September. In November he rescued some ambushed Templars at Ibn-Ibrak and then was himself surrounded, with his knights, by a party of Turks outside the camp at Ramlah. Robert was rescued by his cousin Robert de Neubourg; in the process he nearly drowned in a river and had two horses killed under him.
Robert and his men were prominent among the forces who stormed Deir al-Bela on 22 May 1192 and on 5 August 1192 he was one of the ten knights who helped to thwart an attempt to kidnap the king from his tent at Jaffa and the king himself rescued Robert when he was thrown from his horse. He probably set out for home in September or October 1192, having distinguished himself and earned the king’s eternal goodwill.1
Following his return from the crusade, Robert was occupied with the defence of Normandy, but was captured by King Philip Augustus’ forces in June 1194, after a skirmish outside Gourany. He was imprisoned at Étampes for more than a year and only freed after surrendering his castle and lordship of Pacy-sur-Eure to King Philip. His freedom was achieved sometime around February 1196 and in the same year he was married to the teenage Loretta de Braose. Loretta de Braose, was probably born in the early-to-mid-1180s,. She was one of the sixteen children of Matilda and William de Braose. Four of her sisters married prominent Welsh Marcher lords, but Loretta was married to Robert de Breteuil, 4th earl of Leicester.
The marriage was an alliance of two of the leading Anglo-Norman families of the Plantagenet world. He was a powerful earl who had made a name for himself on the crusades, whilst she was a daughter of one of the most powerful barons of the Welsh March. As her marriage portion, Loretta was given Tawstock, near Barnstaple in Devon.
Robert de Breteuil was back
campaigning in 1197 and 1198 and was with King Richard when he was mortally
wounded at Châlus in April 1199. He had had a long association with Richard’s
brother since John had been Count of Mortain, and so was a firm supporter of
John’s succession, acting as steward at his coronation on 27 May 1199, claiming
the office his grandfather had relinquished in 1153. Robert was highly
influential in the early years of John’s reign. He also fought for John in
Normandy, being one of the major landholders in the duchy, and was rewarded
generously for his support; he was granted Richmondshire in Yorkshire in
September 1203. The following year he suffered the loss of his Continental
estates when Normandy fell and was the biggest loser of the Anglo-Norman
Although he was one of the two barons (the other being William Marshal) who was given a year to decide whether to pay homage to King Philip of France to try to retain his Norman estates, Robert was not punished by John. Indeed, he was given more lands in England, English lands that had belonged to families who had chosen to remain in Normandy, such as the Harcourts. Robert died before King Philip’s deadline, and so never did have to decide where and how to share his allegiances in order to keep all his lands.
Robert died on 20 or 21 October 1204; the life of St Hugh of Lincoln reported that he died a leper, although this seems highly unlikely.1 He was buried in the choir of the Augustinian Abbey in Leicester. Robert and Loretta had remained childless, so Robert’s lands were divided between his two sisters. The earldom and the town of Leicester went to his eldest sister, Amice, the wife of Simon de Montfort and therefore grandmother of the Simon de Montfort who would marry King John’s daughter, Eleanor, and claim the earldom of Leicester for himself. Half of the old earldom, centred around Brackley in Northamptonshire, went to Robert’s younger sister, Margaret, wife of Saher de Quincy, Earl of Winchester.
It is a sad legacy that Robert’s death before John began the persecution of Loretta’s family meant that she was without her husband’s powerful protection when she needed it most. King John’s pursuit of the family did not end with the deaths of Matilda, who died in custody in 1210, and William de Braose, Lord of Bramber, who died in exile in France in 1211. In November 1207 John extracted a promise from Loretta that she would not remarry without the king’s permission and her lands were taken from her. She probably left for France shortly afterwards and only returned to England in 1214.
Once in England, Loretta was allowed to recover her confiscated estates after again to only marry as the king directed. The restoration of Loretta’s estates were complicated by the king’s desire to keep happy those who had benefited from tehir confiscation, such as the powerful Saher de Quincy, earl of Winchester. Loretta’s experiences in this respect may well have inspired clauses 7 and 8 of Magna Carta, which guaranteed that widows should have their marriage portions without hindrance and that they could remarry at their own pleasure, so long as it was with the king’s consent.
Loretta took her future into her own hands, however, and in early 1221, took a vow of chastity and became an anchorite in Hackington, near Canterbury. An anchorite was a religious recluse who lived in a small cell within a church, allowed on the briefest of contact with others, although she was allowed attendants to help with her daily needs. Loretta’s influence was still in evidence, however, in that she obtained a pardon for a man who had accidentally killed another and helped to establish the Franciscan order in England. She died on 4 March, probably in 1266, and was buried at the church of St Stephen, Hackington.
It is a fact of life that whilst researching one particular person, you come across several others who spark your interest. I stumbled upon the stories of Robert de Breteuil and Loretta de Braose while researching for my new book, Ladies of Magna Carta, which will be out in Spring 2020.
Sources: sussexcastles.com; genie.com; steyningmuseum.org.uk; berkshirehistory.com; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 byRobert 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; Oxforddnb.com; magnacartareseearch.org; Magna Carta by David Starkey; King John by Marc Morris; King John, England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant by Stephen Church; 1215, the Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham; Women in Thirteenth Century Lincolnshire by Louise J. Wilkinson.
Saturday 20th May, 2017, marked the 800th anniversary of one of Medieval England’s most decisive battles. The Second Battle of Lincoln, also known as “The Lincoln Fair”, rescued England from the clutches of Louis, Dauphin of France and future King Louis VIII.
England had been in turmoil during the last years of the reign of King John, with the barons trying to curtail the worst of his excesses. It had been hoped that he 1215 issuing of Magna Carta would prevent war, but when John reneged on the Great Charter, war was inevitable. England’s disgruntled barons even went so far as to write to Philip II, King of France, and invite his son, Louis, to come and claim the throne. Louis had jumped at the chance and landed on England’s shores in 1216.
Strategically placed in the centre of the country, Lincoln was a target for the rebel barons and their French allies. An important Royalist stronghold, it was held by the redoubtable hereditary castellan, Lady Nicholaa de la Haye; it had already been under siege in both 1215 and 1216. In 1215, the northern rebels had been paid to go away, while the 1216 besiegers – including the King of Scotland – fled as John’s army advanced on the city. It was probably after the 1216 siege that Nicholaa made a show of relinquishing her post as castellan; however, John had other ideas:
And once it happened that after the war King John came to Lincoln and the said Lady Nicholaa went out of the eastern gate of the castle carrying the keys of the castle in her hand and met the king and offered the keys to him as her lord and said she was a woman of great age and was unable to bear such fatigue any longer and he besought her saying, “My beloved Nicholaa, I will that you keep the castle as hitherto until I shall order otherwise”.¹
John went even further to show his trust in Nicholaa, who was a long-time supporter of the unpopular king. As Louis consolidated his position in the south, John made an inspection of Lincoln castle in September 1216. During the visit Nicholaa de la Haye, who held the castle for John, even though the city supported the rebels, was appointed Sheriff of Lincolnshire in her own right, a very unusual move in a male-dominated world.
Moving south, just 2 weeks later, the king’s baggage train was lost as he crossed the Wash estuary and within a few more days John was desperately ill. King John died at Newark on 19th October 1216, with half his country occupied by a foreign invader and his throne now occupied by his 9-year-old son, Henry III. The elder statesman and notable soldier William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke was appointed Regent and set out to save the kingdom.
Following the coronation of young Henry, Magna Carta was reissued and some of the rebel barons returned to the fold, not wanting to make war on a 9-year-old king. However, Louis still had powerful supporters and did not seem keen to give up on his dream to rule England.
Louis’ forces, under the Comte de Perche, marched north intending to relieve Mountsorel Castle, which was being besieged by the Earl of Chester. Chester had withdrawn as the French arrived and Perche’s forces diverted to Lincoln. In early 1217, they took the city and laid siege to the castle with a small force. Now in her 60s, Nicholaa de la Haye took charge of the defences, with the help of her lieutenant, Sir Geoffrey de Serlant. Shortly afterwards, Prince Louis personally travelled up to Lincoln to ask for her surrender, assuring her no one would be hurt, but Nicholaa refused to yield.
For almost 3 months – from March to mid-May – siege machinery bombarded the south and east walls of the castle. When the small force proved insufficient to force a surrender, the French had to send for reinforcements. This meant that half of Louis’ entire army was now outside the gates of Lincoln Castle and provided William Marshal with an opportunity; one decisive battle against Louis’ forces at Lincoln could destroy the hopes of Louis and the rebel barons, once and for all.
Risking all on one battle was a gamble, but one that Marshal was determined to take. Spurred on by the chivalrous need to rescue a lady in distress – the formidable Lady Nicholaa – Marshal ordered his forces to muster at Newark by 17th May. While the young king, Henry III, waited at Nottingham, Marshal’s forces prepared for war. The papal legate, Guala, absolved the Royalist army of all their sins – of all the sins they had committed since their birth – and excommunicated the French forces, before riding to join the king at Nottingham.
While at Newark, Marshal set out the order of battle, although not without some argument. The Norman contingent and Ranulf, earl of Chester, both claimed the right to lead the vanguard. However, when Ranulf threatened to withdraw his men, it was decided to acquiesce to his demands.
Lincoln is an unusual city; its castle and cathedral sit at the top of a hill, with the rest of the city to the south, at the hill’s base. In the 12th century it was enclosed in a rectangular wall, which had stood since Roman times, with 5 gates, and the castle abutting the wall at the north-west corner. William Marshal decided not to attack Lincoln from the south, which would have meant heading up the Fosse Way (the old Roman road) and forcing a crossing of the River Witham, before climbing the steep slope to the castle and cathedral (so steep, the road going up is called Steep Hill to this day). Instead he chose to take a circuitous route, so he could come at the city from the north-west and attack close to the castle and cathedral, directly where the enemy troops were concentrated.
On the 19th May Marshal’s forces crossed the River Trent and set up camp at Torksey, about 8 miles to the north of Lincoln, with some troops possibly camped 3 miles closer to the city, at Stowe.
The English commanders included William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, his son, Young William Marshal, and nephew, John Marshal, in addition to Ranulph, Earl of Chester, William Longspée, earl of Salisbury, Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, and Faulkes de Breauté. They led 406 knights, 317 crossbowmen and a large number of sergeants-at-arms, foot soldiers and camp followers.
Although Louis was in charge of the French forces in England, those in Lincoln were led by Thomas, Comte de Perche, himself a grandson of Henry II’s daughter Matilda, and therefore a cousin of King Henry III. Perche was also related to William Marshal, both were descended from sisters of Patrick, 1st earl of Salisbury. The commanders, of the English rebels in the city included Robert FitzWalter and Saer de Quincey. They led over 600 knights and several thousand infantry.
At various points in the lead up to the battle, William Marshal is known to have made some stirring speeches. When battle was imminent, he made one more;
Now listen, my lords! There is honour and glory to be won here, and my opinion is that we have the chance to free our land. It is true that you can win this battle. Our lands and our possessions those men have taken and seized by force. Shame be upon the man who does not strive, this very day, to put up a challenge, and may the Lord our God take care of the matter. You see them here in your power. So much do I fully guarantee, that they are ours for the taking, whatever happens. if courage and bravery are not found wanting.
And, if we die …, God, who knows who are his loyal servants, will place us today in paradise, of that I am completely certain. And, if we beat them, it is no lie to say that we will have won eternal glory for the rest of our lives and for our kin. And I shall tell you another fact which works very badly against them: they are excommunicated and for that reason all the more trapped. I can tell you that they will come to a sticky end as they descend into hell. There you see men who have started a war on God and the Holy Church. I can fully guarantee you this, that God has surrendered them into our hands.
Let us make haste and attack them, for it is truly time to do so!²
As with all battles, the information gets confusing as battle commences, timings get distorted and facts mixed. No two sources give exactly the same information. So the story of a battle is a matter of putting the pieces together and making sense of various snippets of information – much as it would have been for the commanders on the day.
In the dawn of 20th May the English Royalist army marched south towards Lincoln. Marshal had hoped that, on reaching the plain in front of the city walls, the French would come out and meet him and a pitched battle would be fought outside of the city. Marshal was resting everything – the very future of England – on the outcome of that one battle. However, it seems that, although the French leaders did come out and take a look at the forces arrayed before them, they then chose to stay inside the city walls and wait for the Royalists to come to them.
William Marshal’s nephew, John Marshal was sent to the castle, to ascertain the situation within the city, but as he approached, Nicholaa’s deputy, Geoffrey de Serlant, was making his way out to report to the English commanders that the castle was still in Nocholaa’s hands. It is not hard to imagine Nicholaa or her deputy climbing the tallest towers of the castle, to watch out for an approaching relief force. Seeing the Marshal’s banners appearing in the north must have been an amazing feeling.
The castle itself had 2 main gates, one in the eastern wall and one in the west, with postern gates were in the Lucy Tower to the south-east of the castle and the Cobb Hall to the north-east corner. On ascertaining that the castle still held, Peter des Roches then made his way inside, probably by the postern gate in Cobb Hall. Having met with Nicholaa de la Haye in the Lucy Tower, it seems he then made his way into the town via the postern, to check the defences and try to find a way into the city.
Des Roches’ reconnaissance proved successful and he reported to Marshal that there was a gate within the north-west wall of the city, which, although blockaded, could be cleared. As Marshal set men to clearing the blockaded gate, the earl of Chester was sent to attack the North Gate as a diversion and Faulkes de Breauté took his crossbowmen into the castle via the West Gate and set them on the ramparts above the East Gate, so their bolts could fire down on the besiegers.
De Breauté fell into disgrace in 1224 and so the major source for the Battle of Lincoln – the Histoire de Guillaume le Maréschale – plays down his role in the battle. However, his crossbowmen managed to keep the French forces focussed on the castle, rather than Marshal’s forces outside the city. De Breauté did make a sortie out of the East Gate, to attack the besiegers, but was taken prisoner and had to be rescued by his own men; although at what stage of the battle this happened is uncertain.
It took several hours, it seems, for Marshal’s men to break through the gate; but when they did, the 70-year-old William Marshal was so eager to lead the charge that he had to be reminded to don his helmet. Once safely helmeted, he led his men down West Gate, turning right to approach the castle from the north, his men spilling into the space between castle and cathedral, where the main force of the besiegers were still firing missiles at the castle.
The English forces took the enemy so totally by surprise that one man – according to the Histoire he was the enemy’s ‘most expert stonethrower’² – thought they were allies and continued loading the siege machinery, only to head struck from his shoulders.
Almost simultaneously, it seems, the earl of Chester had broken through the North Gate and battle was joined on all sides. Vicious, close-quarter combat had erupted in the narrow streets, but the fiercest fighting was in front of the cathedral. In the midst of the melee, William Longspée took a blow from Robert of Roppesley, whose lance broke against the earl. The aged Marshal dealt a blow to Roppesley that had the knight who, having crawled to a nearby house ‘out of fear, [he] went to hide in an upper room as quickly as he could’.³
The Comte de Perche made his stand in front of the cathedral, rallying his troops; and it was there he took a blow from Reginald Croc which breached the eye slit of his helmet. Croc himself was badly wounded and died the same day. The Comte continued to fight, striking several blows to the Marshal’s helmet (the one he had almost forgotten to don), before falling from his horse. It was thought the Comte was merely stunned until someone tried to remove his helmet and it was discovered that the point of Croc’s sword had pierced the count’s eye and continued into his brain, killing him.
With the death of their leader, the French and rebel barons lost heart and started pulling back. They fled downhill, to the south of the city. Although they briefly rallied, making an uphill assault, but the battle was lost and there was a bottleneck at the South Gate and the bridge across the Witham as the enemy forces fled. The rebel leaders, Saer de Quincey and Robert FitzWalter were both taken prisoner, as were many others. In total, about half of the enemy knights surrendered.
A sad story is related that, after the battle, women took to the river with their children, in small boats, to escape the attentions of the victorious army. However, not knowing how to control the overloaded craft, many capsized and the women and children drowned.
The city, which had supported the rebels, was sacked, churches included; the excommunication seen as permission that everything was fair game. The battle earned the name ‘The Lincoln Fair’, probably because of the amount of plunder gained by the victorious English army.
Immediately the battle was won, William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, rode to Nottingham to inform the king of the victory. The Battle of Lincoln turned the tide of the war. On hearing of the battle, Louis immediately lifted his siege of Dover Castle and withdrew to London. His situation became desperate, his English allies were bristling against the idea of Louis giving English land as reward to his French commanders and were beginning to see the young Henry III as rightful king – after all, the son couldn’t be blamed for the actions of the father. In August of the same year Louis was soundly defeated at sea in the Battle of Sandwich, off the Kent coast. By September he had sued for peace and returned to France.
In an incredible demonstration of ingratitude, within 4 days of the relief of the Castle, Nicholaa de la Haye’s position of Sheriff of Lincolnshire was given to the king’s uncle William Longspée, Earl of Salisbury, who took control of the city and seized the castle. However, not one to give up easily Nicholaa travelled to court to remind the king’s regents of her services, and request her rights be restored to her. A compromise was reached whereby Salisbury remained as Sheriff of the County, while Nicholaa held the city and the castle.
The battle had been a magnificent victory for the 70-year-old regent, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, and is a testament to his claim to the title ‘The Greatest Knight’. He staked the fate of the country on this one battle and pulled off a decisive victory, saving his king and country.
Footnotes: ¹Irene Gladwin: The Sheriff; The Man and His Office; ²Histoire de Guillaume le Maréschal translated by Stewart Gregory; ³ Quoted in Thomas Asbridge’s The greatest Knight
The stories of Nicholaa de la Haye, William Marshal and the Battle of Lincoln all feature in my forthcoming book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England.
Sources: King John by Marc Morris; Henry III The Son of Magna Carta by Matthew Lewis; The Demon’s Brood by Desmond Seward; The Greatest Knight by Thomas Asbridge; The Knight Who Saved England by Richard Brooks; The Plantagenet Chronicles edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Brassey’s Battles by John Laffin; 1215 The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger & John Gillingham; The Life and times of King John by Maurice Ashley; The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Bartlett; lincolnshirelife.co.uk; catherinehanley.co.uk; magnacarta800th.com; lothene.org; lincolncastle.com; Nick Buckingham; The Sheriff: The Man and His Office by Irene Gladwin; Elizabeth Chadwick; swaton.org.uk; Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal translated by Stewart Gregory, usna.edu.
Ela of Salisbury was intended to be one of my Heroines of the Medieval World; however I ran out of words before I could tell her story – I had a word limit of 110,000 and poor Ela was one of the victims of this. So, I decided I would turn her into a blog post instead.
Ela was born at Amesbury in Wiltshire in 1187. She was the only surviving child – and sole heir – of William FitzPatrick, earl of Salisbury, and his wife, Eleanor de Vitré. Her father was a descendant of Walter, an ally of William the Conqueror, who had rewarded his support at Hastings with great estates which eventually passed to Ela. When her father died in 1196, Ela became Countess of Salisbury in her own right, and the most prized heiress in England.
There is a story that little Ela, only 9 years old at the time of her father’s death, was kidnapped by her uncle and hidden away in a castle in Normandy, so that he could gain control of the vast Salisbury inheritance. The tale goes, that an English knight, named William Talbot, toured the Norman castles in search of poor Ela, he would sing ballads beneath castle windows in the hope that the little Countess would hear him and join in with his singing. Whether a romantic legend or a true story, who can tell?
Whether she was rescued, or never kidnapped in the first place, we do not know. However, what we do know is that, on her father’s death, Ela’s wardship passed into the hands of the king himself, Richard I, the Lionheart. The king saw Ela as the opportunity to reward his loyal, but illegitimate, brother, William Longspée (or Longsword), by offering him her hand in marriage. The Salisbury lands were a suitable reward for a king’s son, especially one born out of wedlock.
William Longspée was the son of Henry II by Ida de Tosney, wife of Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk, from a relationship she had with the king before her marriage. For many years, it was thought that Longspée was the son of a common harlot, called Ikenai, and a full brother of another of Henry’s illegitimate sons, Geoffrey, Archbishop of York. There were also theories that his mother was, Rosamund Clifford, famed in ballads as ‘the Fair Rosamund’. However, it is now considered beyond doubt that his mother was, in fact, Ida de Tosney, with two pieces of evidence supporting this. There is a charter in the cartulary of Bradenstoke Priory, made by William Longspée, in which he identifies his mother as the Countess Ida. There is also a prisoner roll from after the Battle of Bouvines, in which William Longspée is listed as the brother of Ralph Bigod.
Despite the misunderstandings over his mother, the identity of William Longspée’s father was never in doubt. He was Henry II’s son and served two of his half-brothers; Richard I and King John. At the time of his marriage to Ela, Longspée was in his early-to-mid-20’s, while his bride was not yet 10 years old, although she would not have been expected to consummate the marriage until she was 14 or 15.
William I Longspée had an impressive career during the reigns of his half-brothers, he served in Normandy with Richard between 1196 and 1198, and took part in John’s coronation in May, 1199. In 1213 he destroyed the French fleet off the Flemish coast. He commanded an army in northern France for John in 1214; and in July of the same year, he was captured at the Battle of Bouvines, after being clubbed on the head by the Bishop of Beauvais. Longspée was held for ransom and eventually exchanged, in March 1215, for John’s prisoner, Robert of Dreux, who had been captured at Nantes in 1214.
Longspée returned to England shortly afterwards and was one of the signatories of Magna Carta in 1215. Longspée was still supporting John when Louis, the Dauphin, invaded England and took London; however, after Winchester fell to the French, in June 1216, Longspée defected to the Dauphin and remained in opposition to his brother for the rest of John’s life.¹
Following the death of King John in October 1216, Longspée swore loyalty to his 9-year-old nephew, Henry III in March 1217. He was part of William Marshal’s army at the Battle of Lincoln Fair, when Lincoln Castle and its formidable castellan, Nicholaa de la Haye, were finally relieved from a 3-month siege by the French under the Comte de Perche.
Although we know little-to-nothing of their married life, it appears to have been happy. The couple had at least 8 children together, if not more; 4 boys and 4 girls. Of their younger boys, Richard became a canon at the newly built Salisbury Cathedral, while Nicholas eventually rose to be Bishop of Salisbury and Stephen became Senschal of Gascony and Justiciar of Ireland. The oldest son, William II Longspée, 4th Earl of Salisbury, was married to Idonea, granddaughter and sole heiress of the formidable Nicholaa de la Haye, who held Lincoln Castle against the French. Young William and Nicholaa de la Haye would spend several years in legal disputes over the inheritance of Nicholaa’s Lincolnshire holdings; a compromise was finally reached in which Nicholaa retained possession of Lincoln Castle, while William held the city of Lincoln, itself.
William II Longspée went on Crusade with Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in 1240-1 and later led the English contingent in the Seventh Crusade, led by Louis IX of France. His company formed part of the doomed vanguard, which was overwhelmed at Mansourah in Egypt, in on 8th February 1250. William’s body was buried in Acre, but his effigy lies atop an empty tomb in Salisbury Cathedral. His mother is said to have experienced a vision of her son’s last moments at the time of his death.
Of the couple’s 4 daughters, Petronilla died unmarried, possibly having become a nun. Isabella married William de Vescy, Lord of Alnwick and had children before her death in 1244. Named after her mother, Ela married, firstly Thomas de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick and, secondly, Phillip Basset; sadly, she had no children by either husband. A fourth daughter, Ida, married Walter Fitzrobert; her second marriage was to William de Beauchamp, Baron Bedford, by whom she had 6 children.
As a couple, William Longspée and Ela were great patrons of the church, laying the 4th and 5th, respectively, foundation stones for the new Salisbury Cathedral in 1220. In 1225 Longspée was shipwrecked off the coast of Brittany and a rumour spread that he was dead. While he spent months recovering at an island monastery in France Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent and husband of Isabel of Gloucester, proposed a marriage between Ela and his nephew, Reimund. Ela, however, would not even consider it, insisting that she knew William was alive and that, even were he dead, she would never consider marrying below her status. It has been suggested that she used the 8th clause of Magna Carta to support her rejection of the offer; “No widow is to be distrained to marry while she wishes to live without a husband…”
As it turned out, William Longspée was still alive and eventually returned to his wife. However, he never seems to have recovered fully from his injuries and died at the royal castle at Salisbury shortly after his return home, on 7th March 1226. He was buried in a splendid tomb in Salisbury Cathedral.
Ela did not marry again. On her husband’s death, she was forced to relinquish her custody of the castle (although she did eventually buy it back), but was allowed to take over her husband’s role as Sheriff of Wiltshire, which he had held 3 times, holding the office continuously from 1213 until his death in 1226. Ela acted as Sheriff until 1228. She was known as a great patron of religious houses; she and her husband had co-founded Salisbury Cathedral and Ela herself founded 2 Augustinian religious houses. She managed to lay the foundation stones of both, at Hinton and Lacock, 16 miles apart, on the same day. The abbey at Hinton, Somerset, was endowed for monks, in memory of her husband, after they had found the original house, founded by Longspée at Hathorp unsuitable.
Lacock Priory was established in 1230 as a house for Augustinian canonesses at the village of Lacock in Wiltshire. Ela herself entered the priory in 1237 and became the first Abbess when it was upgraded to an Abbey in 1239. As Abbess, Ela was able to secure many rights and privileges for the abbey and its village. She obtained a copy of the 1225 issue of Magna Carta, which had been given to her husband for him to distribute around Wiltshire. She remained Abbess for 20 years, resigning in 1259. Ela remained at the abbey, however, and died there on 24th August, 1261.
Ela of Salisbury outlived both her eldest son and grandson. She was succeeded as Countess of Salisbury by her great-granddaughter, Margaret, who was the daughter of William III Longspée. Margaret was married to Henry de Lacey, 3rd Earl of Lincoln, and was the mother of Alice de Lacey, 4th Countess of Lincoln and the unfortunate, unloved wife of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who was killed in rebellion against Edward II, at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322.
The 3rd Countess of Salisbury was described in the Register of St Osmund as “a woman indeed worthy of praise because she was filled with the fear of the Lord.”² Ela was not buried alongside her husband in Salisbury Cathedral, but within the Abbey that she had founded and ruled – and had called her home for the last 24 years of her life. Her tombstone demonstrates the high esteem in which she was held and records the words; “Below lie buried the bones of the venerable Ela, who gave this sacred house as a home for the nuns. She also had lived her as holy abbess and Countess of Salisbury, full of good works.”³
Ela’s story appears in greater detail in my forthcoming book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England.
Footnote: ¹With thanks to Rich Price for clarification of events; Rich is currently translating King John’s letters; ²Ela, suo jure Countess of Salisbury, Jennifer C Ward, Oxforddnb.com, October 2009; ³ Ela of Salisbury stanfordmagnacarta.worpress.com
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: The Plantagenet Chronicles edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Brassey’s Battles by John Laffin; 1215 The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger & John Gillingham; The Life and Times of King John by Maurice Ashley; The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Bartlett; lincolnshirelife.co.uk; catherinehanley.co.uk; magnacarta800th.com; lothene.org; lincolncastle.com; The Sheriff: The Man and His Office by Irene Gladwin; Oxforddnb.com; stanfordmagnacarta.wordpress.com; A Year in the Life of Medieval England by Toni Mount; The Demon’s Brood by Desmond Seward; The Oxford Companion to British History, Edited by John Cannon; The Greatest Knight by Thomas Asbridge; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; chitterne.com
Nearly everyone knows that Henry I’s daughter Matilda, Lady of the English, was Holy Roman Empress as the wife of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. What is less well-known is that, almost 70 years after Matilda’s death, her great-granddaughter followed in her footsteps.
Isabella of England was born in 1214; she was the 4th of 5 children born to King John and his 2nd wife Isabella of Angouleme. She had 3 older siblings, Henry, Richard and Joan, and a baby sister Eleanor. Born at a time when her father’s strife with his barons was at its height, her early childhood was turbulent, to say the least. John died just 2 years later, in October 1216, leaving 9-year-old Henry as king of a country in the midst of civil war while fighting off an occupying French army.
Even before her father’s death, Isabella’s older sister Joan (born in 1210) had left England, to be raised by the family of her intended husband, Hugh de Lusignan. However, by 1220, amidst great scandal, Hugh had repudiated Joan and married her mother in her stead, whilst still holding Joan as hostage in order to gain Queen Isabella’s dower.
Whilst Joan was still in the hands of the Lusignans, her marriage to Alexander II of Scotland was negotiated, with an added clause that Isabella could be substituted for her older sister, should Joan not make it back to England in time. In the event Joan returned in time and Henry III looked elsewhere for a husband for Isabella.
Becoming part of his policy of continental diplomacy, Henry looked at several possible husbands, such as Henry VII, king of the Romans and Louis IX of France. After some prompting by Pope Gregory IX, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (father of Henry VII) sent an embassy to England to pursue his own suit for the English princess to become his 3rd wife.
Within 3 days of the Sicilian embassy’s arrival Henry was agreeable to the match, which complimented his keen interest in the Holy Roman Empire. He had Isabella brought from the Tower of London to Westminster to be interviewed by the ambassadors. They were so impressed with her that they hailed Isabella “Vivat imperatrix! Vivat!”
The marriage contract was signed on 22nd February 1235, with Henry giving Isabella a dowry of 30,000 marks. Although Isabella already had her own fine chapel silver, Henry gave her a magnificent trousseau, which included a service of gold and silver plate. The English people were irritated by Henry’s demand for a substantial marriage aid, but Henry saw the marriage as adding to his personal prestige, and a possible alliance against Louis IX of France.
On 11th May 1235 Isabella set sail from Sandwich, escorted by the bishop of Exeter, the archbishop of Cologne and the duke of Brabant; she arrived at Antwerp 4 days later. With a substantial escort, to guard against kidnap threats from Frederick II’s enemies, Isabella arrived in Cologne on 24th May. She made a processional entry into the city, to the cheers of a 10,00 strong crowd, endearing herself to the noble ladies by throwing her veil back.
She was to spend 6 weeks in Cologne waiting for Frederick, who was dealing with a rebellion by his oldest son, Henry VII.
By July 1235, however, they were together in Worms where, on Sunday the 15th, they were married in the cathedral by the archbishop of Mainz. Isabella was crowned Holy Roman Empress at the same time. Four days of wedding festivities followed, with guests including – according to Matthew Paris – 4 kings, 11 dukes and 30 counts and marquesses.
Frederick, it seems, put great store by astrology; in 1228 Michael Scot had completed his encyclopedia of astrology while at Frederick’s court. And it was on the advice of the emperor’s court astrologers that the marriage was not consummated until the 2nd night.
Isabella was the emperor’s 3rd wife; his 1st, Constance of Aragon, had died of malaria in 1222 and his 2nd wife, Queen Isabella-Yolanda of Jerusalem had died in childbirth in 1228. Frederick was 20 years Isabella’s senior and expended all his energy on war, travelling and ceremonials in order to maintain his authority throughout his vast empire.
Frederick was delighted with his bride; she was beautiful and popular. He sent 3 leopards to Henry III in England as a sign of his appreciation. However, following the celebrations he also dismissed the majority of Isabella’s English attendants; she was allowed to retain only her nurse, Margaret Biset – who and been with her since her early childhood – and a maid, called Kathrein.
Isabella travelled with Frederick’s slaves to his palace at Hagenau, where Frederick spent the winter with his new empress. Their first child was probably born around 1237/8, although there does seem to be some confusion over how many children there were, and when they were born. What is certain is 2 children survived childhood; Henry, King of Jerusalem, died unmarried in his teens in 1254 and Margaret married Albert I, Margrave of Meissen and Langrave of Thuringia and Misnes, in 1256.
Isabella travelled extensively through her husband’s lands, residing in Apulia, Lombardy, Noventa between 1238 and 1239. Frederick was always close by, despite his battles with the papacy, and arrived in southern Italy shortly after his wife’s arrival in February 1240.
Isabella was expected to live in some magnificence, but Henry III was irritated that she was only rarely allowed to appear in public. There were rumours that Frederick kept his wives in a harem, although these were probably unfounded and arose from the seclusion that firstly Isabella-Yolanda and then Isabella lived in.
When Richard Earl of Cornwall visited the Emperor in 1241, he didn’t immediately see his sister, although this was probably down to court protocol, as the Empress was pregnant at the time. When they did meet the brother and sister were treated to a lavish court entertainment, being delighted by a magnificent display of jugglers and Muslim dancers.
Following Richard’s visit, Frederick II returned to war. He was besieging Faenza in northern Italy when his wife died in childbirth on 1st December 1241; the baby died with her. Before his departure on campaign, Isabella had urged Frederick to stay on good terms with her brother Henry III, who was leaning more and more towards the papacy.
She was buried at Andria, Sicily, alongside the emperor’s 2nd wife, Isabella-Yolanda. Isabella had been married for just over 6 years and was only 27 years of age.
Through her daughter Margaret, Isabella is the ancestor of Queen Victoria’s beloved husband, Prince Albert.
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; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Bartlett; http://www.britannica.com; oxforddnb.com.