The ‘Comfortable Confinement’ of Eleanor of Brittany

Eleanor of Brittany

The story of Eleanor of Brittany is one that highlights how women in the Middle Ages could feel truly powerless, if the men around them wanted it so. Her story also highlights the limitations of the Great Charter, or Magna Carta as it is better known, in protecting and supporting the rights of women – even princesses. Eleanor was born around 1184; she was the daughter of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Duke of Brittany by right of his wife, and Constance of Brittany. Described as beautiful, over the years she has been called the Pearl, the Fair Maid and the Beauty of Brittany.

A granddaughter of the medieval power couple, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, she was the eldest of her parents’ three children; Matilda, born the following year, died young and Arthur, who was killed by – or at least on the orders of – King John in 1203.

Initially, Eleanor’s life seemed destined to follow the same path as many royal princesses; marriage. Richard I, her legal guardian after the death of her father in 1186, offered Eleanor as a bride to Saladin’s brother, Al-Adil. Eleanor’s aunt, Joanna, King Richard’s sister had adamantly refused to consider such a marriage and so Eleanor had been offered as an alternative. This was part of an attempt at a political settlement to the 3rd Crusade that never came to fruition.

At the age of 9, Eleanor was betrothed to Friedrich, the son of Duke Leopold VI of Austria. Duke Leopold had made the betrothal a part of the ransom for Richard I’s release from imprisonment. Young Eleanor travelled to Germany with her grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the rest of the ransom and hostages. She was allowed to return to England, unmarried, when Duke Leopold died suddenly, and his son had ‘no great inclination’ for the proposed marriage. Further marriage plans were mooted in 1195 and 1198, to Philip II of France’s son, Louis, and Odo Duke of Burgundy, respectively; though neither came to fruition.

Arthur of Brittany

Eleanor’s fortunes changed drastically when Arthur rebelled against Richard’s successor, King John, in the early 1200s. As the son of John’s older brother, Geoffrey, Arthur had a strong claim to the English crown, but had been sidelined in favour of his more mature and experienced uncle. Arthur was captured while besieging his grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Mirebeau on 1st August 1202. Eleanor was captured at the same time, or shortly after. And while her brother was imprisoned at Falaise, she was sent to England, to what would be a life-long imprisonment.

If the laws of primogeniture had been strictly followed at the time, Eleanor would have been sovereign of England after her brother’s death. John and his successor, Henry III could never forget this. However, primogeniture was far from being the established rule of succession that it is today. Further, the experiences of Empress Matilda and her fight with King Stephen over her own rights to the crown – and the near-20 years of civil war between 1135 and 1154, had reinforced the attitude that a woman could not rule.

Not only was Eleanor her brother Arthur’s heir, but with King John still having no legitimate children of his own, she was also the heir to England and would be until the birth of John’s eldest son, Henry, in October 1207. If the laws of inheritance had been strictly followed, Eleanor would have been sovereign of England after her brother’s death: John and his successor, Henry III, could never forget this. In 1203 she was moved to England and would be held a prisoner of successive English kings to her dying day. Although her confinement has been described as ‘honourable’ and ‘comfortable’, Eleanor’s greater right to the throne meant she would never be freed or allowed to marry and have children, despite repeated attempts over the years by King Philip and the Bretons to negotiate her release.

King John

It seems Eleanor did spend some time with the king and court, particularly in 1214 when she accompanied John to La Rochelle to pursue his war with the French. John planned to use Eleanor to gain Breton support and maybe set her up as his puppet duchess of Brittany, replacing her younger half-sister Alice. Alice was the daughter of Eleanor’s mother, Constance, by her third marriage to Guy of Thouars. She was married to Peter of Dreux, a cousin of King Philip of France and duke of Brittany by right of Alice. Using the carrot and stick approach, John offered Peter the earldom of Richmond to draw him to his side, while at the same time dangling the threat of restoring Eleanor to the dukedom, just by having her with him. Peter, however, refused to be threatened or persuaded and chose to face John in the field at Nantes. John’s victory and capture of Peter’s brother in the fighting persuaded Peter to agree to a truce, and John was content to leave Brittany alone, thereafter, instead advancing on Angers. His plans to restore Eleanor abandoned and forgotten.

As John’s prisoner, Eleanor’s movements were restricted, and she was closely guarded. Her guards were changed regularly to enhance security, but her captivity was not onerous. She was provided with ‘robes’, two ladies-in-waiting in 1230, and given money for alms and linen for her ‘work’.1 One order provided her with cloth; however, it was to be ‘not of the king’s finest.’2 Eleanor was well-treated and fed an aristocratic diet, as her weekly shopping list attests: ‘Saturday: bread, ale, sole, almonds, butter, eggs. Sunday: mutton, pork, chicken and eggs. Monday: beef, pork, honey, vinegar. Tuesday: pork, eggs, egret. Wednesday: herring, conger, sole, eels, almonds and eggs. Thursday: pork, eggs, pepper, honey. Friday: conger, sole, eels, herring and almonds.’3

Eleanor was granted the manor of Swaffham and a supply of venison from the royal forests. The royal family sent her gifts and she spent some time with the queen and the daughters of the king of Scotland, who were also hostages in the king’s custody after July 1209. King John gave her the title of Countess of Richmond on 27 May 1208, but Henry III’s regents would take it from her in 1219 and bestow the title elsewhere. From 1219 onwards she was styled the ‘king’s kinswoman’ and ‘our cousin’. In her sole surviving letter, written in 1208 with John’s consent, she is styled ‘Duchess of Brittany and Countess of Richmond.’4 Throughout her captivity she is said to have remained ‘defiant’.5

Bowes Castle

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where Eleanor was imprisoned at any one time. Over the years, she was held in various strongholds, including the castles of Corfe (Dorset), Burgh (Westmorland), and Bowes (Yorkshire). Corfe Castle is mentioned at various times, and it seems she was moved away from the is fortress on the south coast in 1221, after a possible rescue plot was uncovered. She was also held at Marlborough for a time, and was definitely at Gloucester castle in 1236. By 1241 Eleanor was confined in Bristol castle, where she was visited regularly by bailiffs and leading citizens to ensure her continued welfare. Eleanor was also allowed her chaplain and serving ladies to ensure her comfort.

Eleanor of Brittany died at Bristol Castle, on 10 August 1241, at the age of about 57, after thirty-nine years of imprisonment, achieving in death, the freedom that had eluded her in life. She was initially buried at St James’s Priory church in Bristol but her remains were later removed to the abbey at Amesbury, as instructed in her will; a convent with a long association with the crown.

Magna Carta

The freedoms and rights enshrined in Magna Carta in 1215, and reissued in 1216 and 1225 under Henry III, unfortunately held no relevance or respite for Eleanor. Every other subject of the king was afforded the right to judgement of his peers before imprisonment thanks to clause 39:

“No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.”

Magna Carta 1215

And clause 40:

“To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.”

Magna Carta 1215

Eleanor’s royal blood and claim to the throne meant that she was awarded no such privilege; justice and freedom were perpetually denied her. Of all the royal family and noblewomen of the time, it is Eleanor who proves that Magna Carta was not always observed and implemented, especially where women were involved, and particularly where the royal family – and the interests of the succession – were concerned.

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Footnotes:

1David Williamson, ‘Eleanor, Princess (1184–1241)’, Brewer’s British
Royalty.

2Rotuli litterarum clausarum quoted in Michael Jones, ‘Eleanor suo jure duchess of Brittany (1182×4–1241)’, Oxforddnb.com.

3Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta

4 Rotuli litterarum clausarum quoted in Michael Jones, ‘Eleanor suo jure duchess of Brittany (1182×4–1241)’, Oxforddnb.com.

5 Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta

Sources:

Douglas Boyd, Eleanor, April Queen of Aquitaine; Dan Jones, The Plantagenets: the Kings who made England; Robert Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Britain’s Royal FamiliesOxford Companion to British History; The History Today Companion to British History; Robert Lacey, Great Tales from English History; Mike Ashley, A Brief History of British Kings and Queens and The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queensfindagrave.comspokeo.com; Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; Michael Jones, ‘Eleanor suo jure duchess of Brittany (1182×4–1241)’, Oxforddnb.com

Pictures: Wikipedia, except Bowes Castle which is ©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly


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My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Medieval She-Wolves: Part One

Throughout history – and particularly in medieval times – strong, determined women have been labelled ‘she-wolves’. It is a term that has been used as a criticism or insult. It has often been applied to suggest a woman of serious character flaws who would invariably put her own interests ahead of others, who fought for what they wanted, be it a crown, their children or independence. Men who performed similar actions and had similar aims tended to be called strong and determined rulers. However, the term can also be used to show women in a positive light, women who didn’t give up, fought for themselves and their families. So I have chosen 6 women who could have been termed ‘she-wolves’ to show women from both viewpoints, and to demonstrate the strength of the characters and the challenges they faced. And while their actions were not always exemplary, their stories were always remarkable.

Æthelflæd, Lady of Mercia

Æthelflæd, Lady of Mercia

The daughter of King Alfred the Great, Æthelflæd was married to Æthelred, ealdorman of Mercia. Æthelflæd was a strong, brave woman and is often regarded more as a partner to Æthelred than a meek, obedient wife. Although she exercised regal rights in Mercia even before her husband’s death, after Æthelred died in 911, it was left to Æthelflæd to lead the Mercians in the fight against the Danes. Alongside her brother, King Edward of Wessex. It is universally acknowledged that Æthelflæd helped to push back the Viking incursions. Losing four of her greatest captains in the battle to capture Derby in 917, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reported:

‘With God’s help Ethelfleda, lady of Mercia, captured the fortress known as Derby with all its assets. Four of her favoured ministers were slain inside the gates.’

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles edited by Michael Swanton

In 918, Æthelflæd captured Leicester, ravaging the countryside around the town until the Danes surrendered. The combination of her indefatigable forces and compassion in victory saw the Danes soon suing for peace; in the summer of 918, the noblemen and magnates of York sent emissaries to Æthelflæd, promising that they would surrender to her. She personally led campaigns against the Welsh, the Norse and the Danes – though whether she actually wielded a sword in battle is unknown.

While often magnanimous in victory, Æthelflæd could be ruthless when it was her friends who were attacked; even she was not immune from the desire for revenge. In June 916, on the feast of St Cyriac, Æthelflæd’s good friend, Abbot Egbert, was murdered for no known reason. The Mercian abbot and his retainers were ambushed and killed while travelling in the Welsh mountain kingdom of Brycheiniog. The abbot had been under Æthelflæd’s protection and within three days she was leading an army into the Wales to exact revenge.

Statue of Aethelflaed and Athelstan

Æthelflæd’s army ravaged Brycheiniog, burning the little kingdom and taking many hostages. Although King Tewdr escaped Æthelflæd, his wife did not; Queen Angharad and thirty-three others, many of them relatives of the Welsh king, were taken back to Mercia as hostages. Æthelflæd’s strength and determination was complemented by her quick actions and an impressive ruthless streak. When the Welsh king eventually submitted to Æthelflæd, he promised to serve her faithfully, and to pay compensation for the murder of the abbot and his people.

Æthelflæd died suddenly in June 918. She did not live to see the successful conclusion to the work she and her brother had worked tirelessly to achieve; between 910 and 920 all Danish territories south of Yorkshire had been conquered.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France, Queen of England (died 1204)

Tomb effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Fontevraud Abbey, France

Eleanor of Aquitaine is iconic. Probably the most famous woman of the middle ages, she is the only woman to have ever worn the crowns of both England and France. She has even been promoted as the first feminist.

Eleanor’s long life saw her weather the dangers of crusade, scandal, siege, imprisonment and betrayal to emerge as the great matriarch of Europe.

When her first husband, Louis VII, led the Second Crusade, Eleanor went with him, only to find herself mired in scandal.  Eleanor’s uncle Raymond of Toulouse, Prince of Antioch, welcomed Eleanor warmly and lavished such attention on her that rumours soon arose of an affair. Despite a lack of concrete evidence, but accused of adultery and incest, Eleanor spent most of the crusade under close guard on her husband’s orders.

Louis and Eleanor’s marriage had been dealt a fatal blow; they left the Holy Land in 1149 and their divorce was finally proclaimed 21 March 1152. By May 1152 Eleanor was married again, to the man who would become her first husband’s greatest rival. Henry of Anjou would become King of England in 1154 and eventually built an empire that extended 1,000 miles, from the Scottish border in the north to the Pyrenees in the south and incorporating most of western France.

Later rumours again mired Eleanor in scandal, accusing her of murdering Henry’s lover Rosamund Clifford. In one extravagant version, Rosamund was hidden in her secret bower within a maze but, with the help of a silken thread, a jealous Eleanor still found her and stabbed her while she bathed. In another the discarded queen forced Rosamund to drink from a poison cup. Of course, a closely guarded prisoner in Old Sarum or at Winchester as Eleanor was at the time of Rosamund’s death, it was impossible for her to do any such thing. But who are we to let facts get in the way of a good story?

Eleanor did, however, commit one of the most heinous crimes a woman could in the medieval world. As a she-wolf, protecting her cubs, she rebelled against her husband. In 1173 her eldest son by Henry, also called Henry, rebelled against his father and fled to the French court for support. His father-in-law, King Louis VII welcomed the disgruntled Angevin prince and Eleanor of Aquitaine, having sided with her sons against her husband, sent two of her other sons, fifteen-year-old Richard and fourteen-year-old Geoffrey, to join their older brother at the French court, while she rallied her barons in Poitou to their cause. In 1174, when the rebellion failed, Henry accepted the submission of his sons.

Eleanor, who was captured as she rode towards safety in France, wearing men’s clothing – an act itself highly frowned upon – was not so fortunate. While it was not encouraged for sons to rebel against their father, it could be seen as boys flexing their muscles. For a wife to rebel against her husband was practically unheard of, and went against the natural order of society, and therefore deserved harsher punishment – where would the world be if women refused to behave?

Unforgiven and defeated, Eleanor was sent to perpetual imprisonment in various castles throughout southern England. She was only released after Henry II’s death in 1189, when her favourite son, Richard I, the Lionheart, ascended England’s throne. If she had done everything of which she was accused – murder, incest, adultery and rebellion – Eleanor would be the ultimate she-wolf. As it was, her rebellion, an act unprecedented for a queen, meant she paid the price with her freedom for the next fifteen years.

Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France

Isabeau of Bavaria

If all the stories of Isabeau of Bavaria were to be believed, she would be the most ruthless and wicked queen to have ever lived. For centuries Isabeau has been accused of almost every crime imaginable, from adultery and incest to treason and avarice. Variously described as being beautiful and hypnotic or so obese that she was crippled, the chroniclers have not been kind to Isabeau. According to them, her moral corruption led to the neglect of her children and betrayal of her husband and country.

However, they ignored the challenges faced by a queen whose husband was sinking deeper and deeper into the realms of insanity, going so far as killing four of his own knights during one mental breakdown and thinking he was made of glass in another. Married to King Charles VI of France, also known as Charles ‘the Mad’, Isabeau was left to raise her children and navigate the dangers and intrigues of court politics with little assistance from her mentally disturbed husband. Her political alliance with Louis of Orléans, her husband’s brother, led to her imprisonment amid slanderous rumours of adultery and incest – from the opposing political party.

To add to this, France was – not that they knew it at the time – halfway through the conflict with England that would become known as the Hundred Years’ War. The war was going badly for France – Henry V defeated them decisively at Agincourt – and Isabeau was forced to put her signature to the Treaty of Troyes in 1420. In that instant she disinherited her own son, the Dauphin, making Henry V heir to King Charles and handing France over to England. Much of Isabeau’s life and career has been re-examined in the twentieth century and she has been exonerated of many of the accusations against her, but, despite the fact Isabeau was backed into a corner, she still signed away her son’s inheritance in favour of a foreign power…

Although not all their actions were womanly, and some of what they did could be seen as dishonourable and ruthless, what is certain is that these women – and many others from their time – left their mark on history. With each of them, applying the term ‘she-wolf’ highlights their strengths, their determination, and the challenges they faced and overcame. They fought for what they wanted, often against impossible odds, and achieved much. At a time when the perceived main purpose of a wife was to produce and raise children, these women made a remarkable imprint on history that has ensured their stories are still being told today.

Look out for Part Two of Medieval She-Wolves, next week.

Selected 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; finerollshenry3.org.uk; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles by Michael Swanton; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle by James Ingram; Chronicles of the Kings of England, From the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen, c. 1090–1143 by William of Malmesbury; The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon by Thomas Forester; Alfred the Great by David Sturdy; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by JP Kenyon; The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall; Kings, Queens, Bones and Bastards by David Hilliam; Mercia; the Rise and Fall of a Kingdom by Annie Whitehead.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia

A version of this article first appeared in the 2019 edition of All About History magazine.

My Books

Coming soon! 

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Amazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Robert de Breteuil, the Crusader Earl

Arms of Robert de Breteuil, 4th Earl of Leicester

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.”

Magna Carta, magnacartaresearch.og

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.

Seal of Robert de Breteuil

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 barons.

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.

The ruins of Leicester Abbey, where Robert de Breteuil is buried

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.

Arms of William de Braose, Loretta’s father

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.

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Footnote: ¹Oxforddnb.com

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

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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My Books

Out Now!

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Struggles of Alice

tickhill_castle
The bailey of Tickhill Castle, South Yorkshire

Alice, Countess of Eu, was born into 2 of the noblest families of England and France, and married into a 3rd. The daughter of Henry, Count of Eu and Lord Hastings, her mother was Matilda, daughter of Hamelin and Isabel de Warenne, Earl and Countess of Surrey.

Through her maternal grandparents, Alice was closely related to the kings of England. Her grandfather, Hamelin, was the illegitimate  half-brother of King Henry II of England. Richard I and King John, therefore, were her cousins. Alice’s grandmother, Isabel de Warenne, had been one of the richest, most prized heiresses in England and had first been married to the younger son of King Stephen, before she married Hamelin.

Alice’s father, Henry, held lands in England and Normandy. The Honour of Tickhill, in Yorkshire, had been granted to Henry’s father John, Count of Eu, by King Stephen, in 1139, after proving his rights as heir to the original owners, the de Busil family, through Beatrice, the sister of Roger de Busil, who died in 1102. However, in 1141, Empress Matilda captured the castle after Count John was taken prisoner at the Battle of Lincoln. The castle seems to have stayed in  royal hands for many years afterwards, with Richard I taking possession on his accession; he then gave it to his brother John, as part of his holdings. As a consequence, the castle was besieged by the Bishop of Durham when John rebelled against Richard in 1194 and was surrendered only when the king returned to England following his capture and imprisonment in Germany, 3 years after Henry’s death.

Matilda and Henry had 4 children, 2 sons and 2 daughters. Alice was the eldest of the daughters, her sister Jeanne being younger. Sadly, both sons, Raoul and Guy, died young and in consecutive years, with Guy dying in 1185 and Raoul in 1186, leaving Alice as heir to her father’s lands.

Alice’s father died in 1191, and Alice became suo jure Countess of Eu and Lady Hastings. Alice’s mother, Matilda, later married again; her second husband was Henry d’Estouteville of Eckington, Lord of Valmont and Rames in Normandy. Matilda had a son, John, by d’Estouteville, and it was Alice’s half-brother, therefore, who became the heir to all the lands Matilda held in her own right, leaving Alice solely with the inheritance from her father.

Very little is known of Alice’s early years; we do not even have a year for her birth. Given that her grandparents did not marry until 1164, her parents would not have married until the early 1180s, which would mean is likely that Alice was born sometime around the mid-1180s. On her father’s death in 1191, she came into possession of lands in both England and Normandy, France. In August, 1209, Alice officially received the Comté of Eu from Philip II Augustus, King of France, when she also made a quitclaim of all rights to Neufchatel, Mortemer and Arques. Mortemer was a part of the de Warenne ancestral lands in Normandy, given to William I de Warenne by Willliam the Conqueror; suggesting that Alice was renouncing her own rights to the French de Warenne lands, as a granddaughter of Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey.

Alice made a prestigious marriage to Raoul de Lusignan, the second son of Hugh IX de Lusignan and a powerful Poitevin lord. It was Raoul’s brother, Hugh X, who would repudiate Joanna, the daughter of King John, in order to marry the dead king’s widow and queen, Isabelle d’Angoulême.

Raoul had been previously married to Marguerite de Courtney, but the marriage had been annulled by 1213, suggesting Alice and Raoul married around that time. On marrying Alice, Raoul became Raoul I, Count of Eu in right of his wife.

Arms of Humphrey de Bohun, 2nd Earl of Hereford and Earl of Essex, Constable of England

Raoul and Alice had two children together; a son, Raoul and a daughter, Mathilde. Raoul II de Lusignan, Count of Eu and Guînes, was married 3 times and had one daughter, Marie de Lusignan, by his 2nd wife, Yolande de Dreux. Raoul died sometime between 1245 and 1250 and was buried at the Abbey of Foucarmont. Mathilde married Humphgrey de Bohun, 2nd Earl of Hereford and Earl of Essex, and had 7 children together, including 4 boys. Mathhilde died in August 1241 and was buried in Llanthony Secunda Priory, Gloucester. Her husband was buried beside her when he died in September 1275.

In 1214 Alice, as Countess of Eu, was restored to the Honour of Tickhill by King John as part of the conditions of an agreement with her husband’s family, the de Lusignans. However, Robert de Vipont, who was in physical possession of the castle, refused to relinquish it, and claimed the castle in his own right. It took many years and much litigation before Alice finally took possession of the castle in 1222. Her husband, Raoul, died on 1st May, 1219, and was succeeded as Count of Eu by their son, Raoul II, still only a child.

It was left to Alice, now Dowager Countess, to administer the Eu inheritance. She paid 15,000 silver marks to the French King to receive the county of Eu in her own name and regained control of her English lands, entrusted to her uncle, the Earl of Surrey, as her representative, following her husband’s death.

Alice was a shrewd political survivor. However, with lands in France and England, two countries often at war, she found herself caught between a rock and a hard place. In 1225 she handed Tickhill Castle to Henry III, until the end of hostilities with France, as a means of safeguarding her lands. Nevertheless, this did not save her when she was ordered to levy troops for the French king, Louis IX, as Countess of Eu, and send her forces to fight for him. Henry III seized Tickhill Castle, although it was only permanently attached to the English crown after Alice’s death.

Alice was renowned for her wide patronage, both secular and religious, and has left numerous charters as testament. She was a benefactor of both French and English religious houses, including Battle Abbey and Christ Church, Canterbury in England and Eu and Foucarmont – where her son would be laid to rest – in France. Alice issued a charter in 1219, to Roche Abbey, which was witnessed by her uncle William, Earl de Warenne. She also granted an annual allowance to Loretta, Countess of Leicester, who was living as a recluse at Hackington.

Alice also granted several lands to others, such as Greetwell in the county of Lincoln, which had previously been held by Walter de Tylly in Alice’s name and was given to Earl de Warenne in August 1225; the earl was to annually render a sparrowhawk to Philippa de Tylly in payment.  In 1232 Alice issued a charter to Malvesin de Hersy, of Osberton in the county of Nottingham, providing him with all customs due to Tickhill in return for 2 knights’ fees. Malvesin had been constable of Tickhill in 1220-1 and his brother Sir Baldwin de Hersy was Constable of Consibrough Castle, seat of Earl de Warenne.

The gatehouse of Tickhill Castle

Having spent most of her life fighting for her rights to her lands in England and France, caught between 2 great nations, whose relations were acrimonious to say the least, Alice appears to have conducted herself admirably. Her connections to the powerful de Lusignan and de Warenne families could not have harmed her situation.

Now in her early 60s, and having been a widow for almost 30 years, Alice died sometime in May 1246, probably between the 13th and 15th, at La Mothe St Héray in Poitou, France, leaving a will. It seems likely that she was buried at her husband’s foundation of Fontblanche Priory in Exoudon.

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Alice’s story features in my latest book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century Europe.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Sources: Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Batlett; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; british-history.ac.uk; kristiedean.com; English Heritage Guidebook for Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadrei; oxforddnb.com; Tickhill Castle Guide Leaflet, Lords of the Honour of Tickhill.

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My Books

Coming soon! 

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Eleanor of England, Queen Leonor of Castile

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Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile

On 13th October 1162 (1161 has also been suggested, but most sources agree on 1162) the Queen of England gave birth to a 2nd daughter at Domfront Castle in Normandy, Eleanor. She was the 6th child of Europe’s most glamorous and controversial couple; Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Named after her mother Eleanor was baptised by Cardinal Henry of Pisa, with the chronicler Robert de Torigny standing as her godfather.

Of Eleanor’s 4 older brothers 3 had survived infancy; Henry, the Young King, Richard the Lionheart and Geoffrey – later Duke of Brittany. Geoffrey was nearest to Eleanor in age, but already 4 years old when she was born. Eleanor’s older sister, Matilda, had been born in 1156 and would be married to Henry V ‘the Lion’, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, when Eleanor was just 6 years old. At the age of 3 Eleanor would be joined by a baby sister, Joanna, in the Plantagenet nursery and by a last brother, John, in 1166.

Eleanor’s birth coincided with an awkward period in her parents’ marriage. Eleanor of Aquitaine’s vassals, unhappy with Henry’s rule, were attempting to get her marriage to Henry annulled on the grounds of consanguinity. Although the plot was unsuccessful and the Cardinals were unimpressed with the argument, it cannot have been an easy time for the King and Queen.

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Domfront, Eleanor’s birthplace

Eleanor’s early childhood was quite nomadic. She travelled often with her parents, in her mother’s entourage. Henry had been absent from the country for 5 years when Eleanor 1st came to England with her parents in 1163. The Royal family would spend the Christmas of 1164/5 at Marlborough, while in the midst of the crisis of Henry’s disagreements with his archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket. Eleanor of Aquitaine would then take her children to Winchester, from where they visited Sherborne Castle in Dorset and the Isle of Wight before moving to Westminster.

In February 1165 3-year-old Eleanor was betrothed to the infant son of Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick, in order to cement a treaty with the Emperor. And following the conclusion of the treaty the Archbishop of Cologne was introduced to Eleanor and Matilda (who was to marry Henry the Lion). However, where Matilda departed for her new life in Germany in 1168, Eleanor’s proposed marriage was still in the distant future.

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Alfonso VIII of Castile

Some historians have speculated that Eleanor was educated for some time at Fontevrault Abbey, along with her younger sister Joanna and her baby brother, John, who spent 5 years there after initially being intended for the church. However, by 1168 she was with her mother, who had decided to settle in Aquitaine and was allowed, by Henry II, to have her children with her.

By 1170 Eleanor’s marriage to the Emperor’s son was no longer a part of Henry II’s plans, and he decided to look elsewhere for an alliance. Seeking to extend his influence across the Pyrenees and to prevent a French alliance with Castile, Henry betrothed Eleanor to 14-year-old Alfonso VIII, king of Castile since he was just 2 years old. Raoul de Faye, Seneschal of Poitou for Eleanor of Aquitaine, was influential in negotiating the marriage; arranging for Eleanor to receive Gascony as her dowry, but only after the death of her mother.

September 1177 saw Eleanor on her way to Castile. A month short of her 15th birthday, some historians suggest she was escorted as far as Bordeaux by her mother, but this is not supported by the contemporary chronicles. However, she would have been given a suitable escort – as the daughter of a king and as a future queen herself – to see her safely to her wedding at Burgos Cathedral.

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Henry I, King of Castile

Eleanor and Alfonso appear to have had a very successful marriage, and a close, trusting relationship. Eleanor is renowned for introducing her mother’s Poitevin culture into the Castilian court. The court encouraged the culture and architecture of Eleanor’s youth, whilst blending it with the luxuries offered by the neighbouring Moorish culture. Castilian poet Ramon Vidal described Eleanor as “Queen Leonore modestly clad in a mantle of rich stuff, red, with a silver border wrought with golden lions.” While the troubadour Pierre Vidal described to Eleanor as elegant and gracious.

Eleanor and Alfonso would have 7 children that survived infancy. Their eldest daughter Berengaria would marry Alfonso IX, King of Leon, and would act as regent in Castile for her younger brother, Henry I, before succeeding him as queen regnant. Berengaria and Alfonso’s marriage was dissolved by the papacy, on the grounds of consanguinity; but their children were declared legitimate. Shortly after succeeding to the throne of Castile, Berengaria abdicated in favour of her son, Ferdinand III, but continued to act as his closest adviser.

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Berengaria, Queen of Castile

One daughter, Eleanor, married James I, king of Aragon, but they divorced in 1229. While another, Constance, was dedicated as a nun and eventually became abbess of the abbey of Las Huelgas, founded by her parents in 1187. The abbey’s nuns were drawn from the highest ranks of the Spanish nobility, they belonged to the  Cistercian Order, a closed community mainly cut off from the world.

Alfonso and Eleanor had 2 sons who would survive childhood. The eldest, Ferdinand, predeceased his parents, dying of a fever in 1209 or 1211. Henry I would succeed his father, but died in 1217 when a loose roof tile fell on his head. He was 13 years old.

Two other daughters survived childhood. Eleanor’s 2nd eldest daughter, 14-year-old Urraca, was initially suggested as the bride of the future Louis VIII of France, son of Philip II Augustus. In 1200 the girls’ grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was instrumental in arranging the marriage; her dowry was to be provided from the territories Richard I had won from France at the end of the 12th century.

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Urraca, Queen of Portugal

Eleanor of Aquitaine outlived all but 2 of her children With the deaths of Richard I and his sister Joanna in 1199, only Eleanor in Castile and her baby brother John, now King of England, remained of the once large brood of 4 boys and 3 girls who had survived infancy.

Such recent losses may have helped to persuade the 77-year-old Eleanor of Aquitaine to travel to Castile, in person and in the depths of winter, to collect the granddaughter who would be Louis’ bride. The reunion of the 2 Eleanors would surely have been highly emotional.

She was received at Alfonso’s court with all the pageantry and courtesies appropriate for most remarkable woman of her time. The Dowager Queen of England stayed with her daughter for over 2 months, taking the opportunity to spend some time with her daughter and grandchildren, as the marriage would not be able to take place until after Lent.

In getting to know her granddaughters, Eleanor of Aquitaine seems to have decided that 12-year-old Blanca would make a more suitable bride for Louis. Whether it was because of the girls’ temperaments or simply a matter of names, as some historians have suggested. Urraca was not a name easily translated into French, whereas Blanca, as Blanche, was easily  recognisable.

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Blanche of Castile, Queen of France

It was, therefore, 12-year-old Blanche who travelled back to France with her grandmother to marry the Dauphin, Louis – the same Louis who would be invited to become England’s king by the rebel barons and laid siege to Lincoln Castle in 1216. Blanche and Louis were married in Normandy, as France was under papal interdict at the time; Blanche would be the mother, and lifelong adviser, of Louis IX (St Louis).

In 1206 Urraca married the heir to the throne of Portugal – the future King Alfonso II.

Eleanor of England and Alfonso VIII appear to have had a happy, successful marriage, producing a family of 4 sons and 8 daughters over a 16 year period. Eleanor enhanced the culture of the Castilian court and acted as a diplomatic conduit between her husband and brothers, Richard and John, in order to aid each other and keep the peace – most of the time. However, in 1204, following the death of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Alfonso had to resort to a show of military force in order to successfully claim his wife’s dower rights over Gascony from John.

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Abbey of Las Huelgas

Their happy marriage came to an end when Alfonso died in Burgos on 6th October 1214. He was buried in the Abbey of Las Huelgas, where their daughter, Constance, was now Abbess, leaving Eleanor as regent for their 10-year-old son, Henry I. Broken-hearted Eleanor, however, only survived her husband by a little over 3 weeks. Overcome with grief she died in Burgos on 31st October 1214, and was laid to rest beside her beloved husband; leaving their daughter Berengaria to take up the regency for Henry.

Of Eleanor’s grandchildren 2 were to become saints, Louis IX of France and Berengaria’s son Ferdinand III, king of Castile; her great-granddaughter and namesake, Eleanor of Castile (Ferdinand’s daughter), would become Queen of England as the wife of Edward I.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: Brewer’s Royalty by David Williamson; The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Bartlett; Eleanor of Aquitaine, by the Wrath of God, Queen of England by Alison Weir; Eleanor, April Queen of Aquitaine by Douglas Boyd; oxforddnb.com.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

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Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016