Mary and Isabella – the Women in Cages

Isabella Buchan crowning Robert the Bruce at Scone

When watching Outlaw King a couple of weeks ago, I was disappointed to see that they had omitted the stories of Robert the Bruce’s sister, Mary, and the woman who crowned him, Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan. And yet, they managed to keep the punishment Edward I meted out to them, but inflicted it on Robert the Bruce’s wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, instead. In a great example of dramatic licence, they also insisted on retelling the age-old fallacy that the cage was hung from the castle walls, exposing the poor woman to ridicule and the elements.

While it is necessary to change stories, and limit the number of protagonists in a movie, in order to avoid confusion, produce a fabulous story and, probably, keep down costs, I thought it a shame that the remarkable stories of Mary and Isabella were ignored, or rather circumvented for the dramatic benefit of the movie.

We know very little of Mary Bruce. She was a younger sister of King Robert, probably born around 1282. A younger daughter of Robert de Brus, 6th Earl of Annandale, and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick in her own right. It may be that she took care of her brother’s daughter, Marjorie, after Robert’s first wife, Isabella of Mar, died giving birth to the baby girl.

Her story has long been intertwined with that of her brother.

From that fateful moment  in Greyfriars Church in Dumfries when Robert the Bruce stabbed to death John Comyn, his rival to the Scottish throne, it was a race against time for Robert to establish himself as king. Whether Comyn’s death was accidental or murder, we’ll probably never know. Almost immediately, Robert made the dash for Scone, hoping to achieve his coronation before the Christian world erupted in uproar over his sacrilege. An excommunicate could not be crowned. His sisters Christian and Mary accompanied him to Scone Abbey, as did his wife Elizabeth and daughter Marjorie. The Stone of Scone was the traditional coronation seat of the kings of Scotland and, although the stone had been stolen by the English and spirited away to London, holding the coronation at the Abbey sent a message of defiance to the English king, Edward I.

The killing of Comyn, by Felix Philippoteaux

On 25 March 1306 Mary, Christian, Elizabeth and little Marjorie were all present when Robert the Bruce was crowned King Robert I by Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, who claimed her family’s hereditary right to crown Scotland’s kings (despite her being married to a Comyn). The ceremony was repeated on 27 March, following the late arrival of William Lamberton, Bishop of St Andrews. Robert’s coronation was the start of the most desperate period of his life – and that of his supporters. Edward I of England was never one to acquiesce when his will was flouted; he sent his army into Scotland to hunt down the new king and his adherents. After Robert’s defeat by the English at Methven in 1306, he went into hiding in the Highlands.

Robert sent his wife and daughter north to what he hoped would be safety. Mary, her sister Christan and Isabella, Countess of Buchan accompanied them, escorted by the Earl of Atholl and Mary and Christian’s brother, Sir Neil Bruce. It is thought that the Bruce women were heading north to Orkney to take a boat to Norway, where Robert’s sister, Isabel, widow of King Erik II, was still living. Unfortunately, they would never make it. The English caught up with them at Kildrummy Castle and laid siege to it. The defenders were betrayed by someone in their garrison, a blacksmith who set fire to the barns, making the castle indefensible.

The women managed to escape with the Earl of Atholl, but Neil Bruce remained with the garrison to mount a desperate defence, to give the queen, his niece and sisters enough time to escape. Following their capitulation, the entire garrison was executed. Sir Neil Bruce was subjected to a traitor’s death; he was hung, drawn and quartered at Berwick in September 1306 (not in front of the women he had protected, as portrayed in the film). Mary and her companions did not escape for long; they made for Tain, in Easter Ross, probably in the hope of finding a boat to take them onwards. They were hiding in the sanctuary of St Duthac when they were captured by the Earl of Ross (a former adherent of the deposed king John Balliol), who handed them over to the English. They were sent south, to Edward I at Lanercost Priory in Cumbria.

Edward I’s admirer, Sir Maurice Powicke, said Edward treated his captives with a ‘peculiar ferocity’.¹ Mary was treated particularly harshly by Edward I. The English king had a special cage built for her, although within the castle and not, as previously believed, hung from the walls of the keep at Roxburgh Castle, exposed to the elements and the derision of the English garrison and populace. In contrast, her sister Christian was sent into captivity to a Gilbertine convent at Sixhills, an isolated location, deep in the Lincolnshire Wolds. Christian languished at Sixhills for eight years, until shortly after her brother’s remarkable victory over the English at Bannockburn, in 1314. Despite Edward II escaping the carnage, King Robert the Bruce had managed to capture several notable English prisoners, including Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Essex. Suddenly in a strong bargaining position, the Scots king was able to exchange his English captives for his family, held prisoners in England for the last 8 years.

The remains of Berwick Castle

Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, also suffered the harshly under Edward I’s not inconsiderable wrath. Isabella was probably born around 1270; she was the daughter of Colban, Earl of Fife, and his wife, Anna. Isabella was married to John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, and was first mentioned in 1297, when she was in England, managing her husband’s estates while he was in Scotland. Captured after the Scottish defeat at Dunbar in 1296, the Earl of Buchan had been sent north by Edward I, ordered to take action against Andrew Murray; however, he only took cursory action against the loyal Scot and soon changed sides, possibly fighting for the Scots at Falkirk in 1298. The Comyn family were cousins of Scotland’s former king, John Balliol, and constantly fought for his return to the throne, putting them in direct opposition to Robert the Bruce.

Isabella’s story remained unremarkable throughout Scotland’s struggles in the early years of the 1300s; until Robert the Bruce made his move for the throne in 1306. By birth, Isabella was a MacDuff, her father had been Earl of Fife and, in 1306, the current earl was her nephew, Duncan, a teenager who was a loyal devotee of Edward I. The Earls of Fife had, for centuries, claimed the hereditary right to crown Scotland’s kings. Although Duncan had no interest in being involved in the coronation of Robert the Bruce, Isabella was determined to fulfil her family’s role. It cannot have been an easy decision for her. Isabella’s participation was an act of bravery and defiance. She went against not only Edward I but her own husband, the Earl of Buchan. Isabella’s husband and the murdered John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, were not only cousins but had a close relationship. It seems likely that Isabella’s husband was in England at the time of Bruce’s coronation, and she did not have to face him personally; but she would have known that her actions would mean there was no going back. Supporting Robert the Bruce, the man who stood accused of John Comyn’s murder, meant she turned against her husband and his entire family, people she had lived among for her entire married life.

Isabella reached Scone by 25 March 1306, in time to claim her family’s hereditary right to crown the new king, with Isabella placing the crown on the new Robert’s head. There are some rumours of a more intimate relationship between Isabella and Bruce, but these seem to be without foundation and are only to be expected, given that Isabel acted so decisively – and publicly – against her husband.

There was no going back for Isabella – crowning Robert the Bruce meant she was on her own; she couldn’t go back to her family, so she stayed with the royal party, travelling with Elizabeth de Burgh, the new queen, when Bruce sent her, his daughter and sisters, north for their safety. Isabella was with them when they escaped Kildrummy Castle by the skin of their teeth, and when they reached the shrine of St Duthac at Tain and were captured by William, Earl of Ross, in September 1306. As the party were sent south, Isabella must have faced the future with trepidation. Her placing the crown on Robert the Bruce’s head was the clearest challenge to Edward I and guaranteed that she would receive no sympathy from England’s king.

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn

Even knowing that she would receive harsh treatment, it is doubtful that she, or indeed anyone, could have foreseen the punishment that Edward I would mete out. He ordered the construction of wooden cages, for Isabella and Bruce’s sister Mary; the two women were to be imprisoned in these cages close to the Scottish border, Isabella at Berwick Castle and Mary at Roxburgh Castle. Tradition has these cages were suspended from the walls of the castles’ keeps, open to the elements and the harsh Borders weather, the only shelter and privacy being afforded by a small privy. According to the Flores Historiarum, written at the Abbey of St Albans, Edward I said of Isabel’s punishment:

“[o]ne who doesn’t strike with the sword shall not perish by the sword. But because of that illicit coronation which she made, in a little enclosure made of iron and stone in the form of a crown, solidly constructed, let her be suspended at Berwick under the open heavens, so as to provide, in life and after death, a spectacle for passers-by and eternal shame.”²

It is doubtful, however, that the St Albans annalist was present when the order was given. The original royal writ still survives, written in French and reads a little differently;

“It is decreed and ordered by letters under the privy seal sent to the Chamberlain of Scotland, or his Lieutenant at Berwick-uponTweed, that, in one of the turrets within the castle at the same place, in the position which he sees to be most suitable for the purpose, he cause to be made a cage of stout lattice work of timber, barred and strengthened with iron, in which he is to put the Countess of Buchan.”³

This type of cage, within a room in the keep, was also used by Edward I to hold Owain, the son of Daffydd ab Gruffuddd; he had been held at Bristol Castle since 1283 and had been secured in a cage, overnight, since 1305. The construction of the cages was intended to humiliate their occupants and, at the same time, Scotland’s new king. They were also a taunt; placing Isabella and Mary in these cages, in castles on the border with Scotland, it is possible they were intended as a challenge to Robert the Bruce, showing him that he was not powerful enough to protect his women, but also teasing him, hoping he would be drawn into a rescue attempt that would, almost certainly, lead to the destruction of his limited forces.

Despite Edward I’s death in 1307, Isabella, Countess of Buchan was held in her little cage in Berwick Castle for four years in total. Attempts to secure her release were made by Sir Robert Keith and Sir John Mowbray, by appealing to Duncan, Earl of Fife, but the appeals came to nought. It was only in 1310 that Mary and Isabella were released from their cages; Isabella was moved to the more comfortable surroundings of the Carmelite friary at Berwick. In 1313 she was put into the custody of Sir Henry de Beaumont, who was married to Alice, niece and co-heir of Isabella’s husband, John Comyn, Earl of Buchan. This is the last we hear of Isabella, Countess of Buchan, as she slips from the pages of history. It seems likely that Isabella died within the next year, probably due to her health being destroyed by the years of deprivation; she was not among the hostages who were returned to Scotland following the Scots’ victory at Bannockburn.

The ruins of Roxburgh Castle

Mary, on the other hand, survived her ordeal and was returned to Scotland with the prisoner exchange that followed her brother’s victory at Bannockburn. She would be married twice after her release. Mary’s first husband was Sir Neil Campbell, a staunch supporter of her brother; the marriage being Neil’s reward for a lifetime of service to his king. The couple was to have one son, Iain (also John), and received the confiscated lands of David Strathbogie from the king; lands which passed to Iain on Neil’s death in 1316.  In 1320 Iain was created Earl of Atholl as a consequence of his possession of the Strathbogie lands, and despite the rival claims of Strathbogie’s son. After Neil’s death Mary married a second time, to Alexander Fraser of Touchfraser and Cowie, by whom she had 2 sons, John of Touchfraser and William of Cowie and Durris.

Mary died in 1323, she had survived four years imprisoned in a cage at Roxburgh Castle before being transferred to a more comfortable imprisonment in 1310. It wouldn’t be surprising if this inhumane incarceration had contributed to Mary’s death in her early forties, as it had shortened the life of poor Countess Isabella.

The strength and bravery of these  two women should never be underestimated, nor ignored. To survive 4 years imprisoned in a cage within a castle is remarkable. Even though they were not exposed to the elements, their movements, ability to exercise and exposure to fresh air were severely limited. Their courage and tenacity deserves to be remembered and celebrated. Their story deserves to be told.

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Footnotes: ¹Marc Morris, A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain; ²Interim annalist, Flores Historiarum, Volume III; ³Pilling, David, Ladies in Cages (article)

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Ladies in Cages (article) by David Pilling; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandhistory Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; Edward I A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain by Marc Morris; Buchan, Isabel, Countess of Buchan (b. c.1270, d. after 1313) by Fiona Watson, oxforddnb.com thefreelancehistorywriter.comenglishmonarchs.co.uk.

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

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Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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Joan Makepeace, Scotland’s Lonely Queen

joan_queen_of_scotland1
Joan of the Tower, Queen of Scotland

In my research I frequently discover instances of happy medieval marriages – and even if a marriage was not based on love, it did not mean that it would not be successful. Indeed, in many such instances the young woman concerned found her own way of succeeding, whether it was through her children or the management of estates – or the fact that a lasting peace was achieved between her 2 countries.

Unfortunately for Joan of the Tower, later to be known as Joan Makepeace, her marriage achieved none of these things.

Joan was born in the Tower of London on 5 July, 1321; hence her rather dramatic name. She was the youngest of the 4 children of Edward II and his queen, Isabella of France, and had 2 older brothers and 1 sister. Her eldest brother, Edward, who was 9 years older than Joan, succeed his father as King Edward III in 1327, following Edward II’s deposition. While her 2nd brother, John of Eltham, was born in 1316 and died shortly after his 20th birthday, while campaigning against the Scots. Joan’s only sister, Eleanor of Woodstock, born in 1318, was only 3 years older than her baby sister and would go on to marry Reginald II, Count of Guelders.

Joan also had an illegitimate brother, Adam FitzRoy, a son of Edward II by an unknown woman. He was born in the early 1300s, but died whilst campaigning in Scotland with his father, in 1322.

Little Joan was named after her maternal grandmother, Queen Joan I of Navarre, wife of Philip IV of France. The king, also in London at the time of Joan’s birth, but not at the  Tower, granted an £80 respite on a £180 loan to Robert Staunton, the man who brought him news of the birth.¹ By 8th July Edward was visiting his wife and baby daughter at the Tower of London and stayed with them for several days.

Joan’s father, Edward II

As the last of the children of Edward II and Isabella, it seems likely that the royal couple’s relationship changed shortly after her birth, their marriage heading for an irretrievable breakdown that would see the king deposed in favour of his son. Edward II was well known for having favourites; the first, Sir Piers Gaveston, met a sticky end in 1312, when he was murdered by barons angry at the influence he held over the king. Isabella’s estrangement with her husband followed the rise of a new favourite, Sir Hugh le Despenser, and, by the time of Joan’s birth, his influence on the king was gaining strength and alienating powerful barons at court. In March 1322 those barons were defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge, Yorkshire, with many prominent barons killed, including the king’s erstwhile brother-in-law Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford. The leader of the insurrection, the king’s cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster, was executed 6 days later at Pontefract Castle.

Joan was, therefore, growing up amid a period of great turmoil, not only within England, but within her own family. It is doubtful that, as she grew, she was unaware of the atmosphere, but  Isabella and Edward were both loving parents and probably tried to shield their children as much as they could, ensuring stability in their everyday lives. Joan was soon placed  in the household of her older siblings, and put into the care of Matilda Pyrie,  who had once been nurse to her older brother, John of Eltham.

Sometime before February 1325, Joan and her sister were established in their own household, under the supervision of Isabel, Lady Hastings and her husband, Ralph Monthermer. Isabel was the younger sister of Edward II’s close companion, Hugh Despenser the Younger, and this act has often been seen by historians as the king removing the children from the queen’s custody. Although it could have been a malicious act it must be remembered, however, that Ralph Monthermer was the girls’ uncle-by-marriage through his first wife, Joan of Acre, Edward II’s sister, and it was a custom of the time that aristocratic children were fostered among the wider family.

Joan’s brother Edward III

Joan and her elder sister, Eleanor, remained with Isabel even after Ralph’s death in the summer of 1325; however, the following year, they were given into the custody of Joan Jermy, sister-in-law of the king’s younger half-brother Thomas, Earl of Norfolk. Joan was the sister of Thomas’s wife, Alice Hales, and took charge of the girls’ household in January 1326, living alternately at Pleshey in Essex and Marlborough in Wiltshire.

As with all her siblings, Joan played a part in her father’s diplomatic plans; an attempt to form an alliance against France, Edward sought marriages in Spain for 3 of his 4 children. While Eleanor was to marry Alfonso XI of Castile, little Joan was proposed as the bride for the grandson of Jaime II of Aragon – the future Pedro IV – but this would come to nought.

By this time their mother, Isabella, was living at the French court, along with her eldest son, Edward, refusing to return to her husband whilst he still welcomed Hugh Despenser at his court. Within months Isabella and her companion (possibly her lover), Roger Mortimer, were to invade England and drive Edward II from his throne, putting an end to the proposed Spanish marriages. He was captured and imprisoned in Berkley Castle, forced to abdicate in favour of his eldest son, who was proclaimed King Edward III in 1327.

With her father exiled or murdered (his fate remains a bone of contention to this day), Joan became the central part of another plan – that of peace with Scotland. Isabella and her chief ally, Roger Mortimer, were now effectively ruling the kingdom for the young Edward III – still only in  his mid-teens. With the kingdom in disarray Isabella sought to end the interminable wars with Scotland, much to the young king’s disgust. Joan was offered as a bride for David, Robert the Bruce’s only son and heir, by his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh.

David II

The 1328 Treaty of Northampton was seen as a major humiliation by Edward III – and the 16-year-old king made sure his displeasure was known. However, he was forced to sign it, agreeing to Scotland’s recognition as an independent kingdom, the return of both the Ragman Roll (a document showing the individual acts of homage by the Scottish nobility) and the Stone of Scone (the traditional stone on which Scotland’s kings were crowned and which had sat in Westminster Abbey since being brought south by Edward I) and the marriage of Bruce’s 4-year-old son, David, to his 7-year-old sister, Joan.

Although the Stone of Scone and Ragman Roll were never returned to Scotland, the marriage between Joan and David did go ahead, although with a proviso that, should the marriage not be completed within 2 months of David reaching his 14th birthday, the treaty would be declared invalid. With neither king present – with Edward III refusing to attend, Robert the Bruce did likewise, claiming illness – the children were married at Berwick-on-Tweed on 17 July 1328, in the presence of Queen Isabella. The wedding was a lavish occasion, costing the Scots king over £2500.²

Following the wedding, and nicknamed Joan Makepeace by the Scots, Joan remained in Scotland with her child-groom. With Robert the Bruce’s death the following year, and David’s accession to the throne as David II, Joan and David attained the dubious record of being the youngest married monarchs in British history. They were crowned, jointly, at Scone Abbey in Perthshire, on 24th November 1331. It was the 1st time a Scottish Queen Consort was crowned.

Virtually nothing is known of Joan’s early years in Scotland. We can, I’m sure, assume she continued her education and maybe spent some time getting to know her husband. Scotland, however, was in turmoil and Edward III was not about to let his sister’s marriage get in the way of his own ambitions for the country. Unfortunately for Joan, Edward Balliol, son of the erstwhile king, John Balliol, and Isabella de Warenne, had a strong claim to the crown and was, as opposed to her young husband, a grown man with the backing of Edward III. What followed was a tug-of-war for Scotland’s crown, lasting many years.

David II and Joan being greeted by Philip VI of France

David’s supporters suffered a heavy defeat at Halidon Hill in July 1333 and shortly after Joan, who was residing at Dumbarton at the time, and David were sent to France for their safety, where they spent the next 7 years. An ally of Scotland and first cousin of Joan’s mother, Philip VI of France gave the king and queen, and their Scottish attendants, accommodation in the famous Château Gaillard in Normandy.

Their return to Scotland, on 2nd June 1341, was greeted with widespread rejoicing that proved to be short-lived. When the French asked for help in their conflict with the English, David led his forces south. He fought valiantly in the disastrous battle at Neville’s Cross on 17th October 1346, but was captured by the English; he was escorted to a captivity in England that would last for the next 11 years, save for a short return to Scotland in 1351-2.

Joan and David’s marriage had proved to be an unhappy, loveless and childless union and, while a safe conduct was issued for Joan to visit her husband at Windsor for the St George’s Day celebrations of 1348, there is no evidence she took advantage of it. Although we know little of Joan’s movements, it seems she remained in Scotland at least some of the time, possibly held as a hostage to David’s safety by his Scottish allies. She may also have visited David in his captivity, taking it as an opportunity to visit with her own family, including her mother; Queen Isabella is said to have supported Joan financially while her husband was imprisoned, feeding and clothing her. Joan does not appear to have taken an active role in negotiations for David’s release, despite her close familial ties to the English court.

When David returned to Scotland he brought his lover, Katherine Mortimer, with him. They had met in England and it was said “The king loved her more than all other women, and on her account his queen was entirely neglected while he embraced his mistress.”³ Katherine met a grisly fate and was stabbed to death by the Earl of Atholl.

At Christmas 1357 Joan was issued with a safe conduct from Edward III “on business touching us and David” and again in May 1358 “by our licence for certain causes”.² Although the licences are understandably vague on the matter, Joan had, in fact, left David and Scotland.

Joan spent the rest of her life in England, living on a pension of £200 a year provided by her brother, Edward III. She renewed family connections and was able to visit her mother before Isabella’s death in August 1358. As Queen of Scotland, she occasionally acted on her husband’s behalf. In February 1359 David acknowledge her assistance in the respite of ransom payments granted by Edward III saying it was “at the great and diligent request and instance of our dear companion the Lady Joan his sister.”²

Little is known of Joan’s appearance or personality. Several years after her death she was described as “sweet, debonair, courteous, homely, pleasant and fair” by the chronicler Andrew of Wyntoun.² Having led an adventurous life, through no choice of her own, if unhappy in love, Joan of the Tower, Queen of Scotland, died at the age of 41 on 7th September 1362, and was buried in the Church of the Greyfriars, Newgate, in London, where her mother had been laid to rest just 4 years earlier.

Following his wife’s death David II married his lover, Margaret Drummond, the widow of Sir John Logie, but divorced her on 20th March 1370. He died, childless, at Edinburgh Castle in February 1371, aged 47, and was succeeded by the first of the Stewart kings, his nephew, Robert II, son of Robert the Bruce’s eldest daughter, Marjorie.

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Footnotes: ¹Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen by Kathryn Warner; ² Oxforddnb.com; ³Walter Bower quoted in Oxforddnb.com

Sources: The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandhistory; englishmonarchs.co.uk; berkshirehistory.com; thefreelancehistorywriter.com; The Perfect King by Ian Mortimer; Scotland, History of a Nation by David Ross; The Life & Times of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Reign of Edward III by W.M. Ormrod; Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen by Kathryn Warner; Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II by Paul Doherty; Edward II: The Unconventional King by Kathryn Warner; Oxforddnb.com.

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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, on Kindle and in hardback, from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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Isabella de Warenne, Queen of Scotland?

Whilst researching for my post on Ada de Warenne I discovered that 100 years later, a kinswoman of hers also, briefly, made an appearance on the stage of Scottish history.

Isabella de Warenne was the daughter of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey, and Alice de Lusignan. Alice was the daughter of King John of England’s widow, Isabella of Angouleme, and Hugh X de Lusignan and half-sister to Henry III of England. Isabella was, therefore, Henry’s niece. Through her paternal grandmother, Maud Marshal, Isabella was also a great-granddaughter of the ‘Greatest Knight’ William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and onetime Regent of England.

Born around 1253 Isabella married John Balliol, Lord of Bywell, sometime before 7th February 1281.

John Balliol and Isabella de Warenne

In the early 1290s, John was one of the 13 Competitors for the Scottish throne. He was the great-grandson of Ada de Warenne’s youngest son, David of Huntingdon, by David’s daughter, Margaret.

With 13 claimants to the Scottish throne it was Edward I of England who was given the duty of selecting Scotland’s next king. Isabella’s close family links to the English crown may have helped Edward decide in John’s favour and he was installed as King of Scotland in November 1292.

John and Isabella had at least 3, but possibly 4, children together.

A daughter, Margaret, died unmarried. There is mention of another daughter, Anne; but there is  doubt as to whether she ever existed.

Their eldest son, Edward, was born around 1283. With English support, Edward made his own bid for the Scottish throne in the 1330s, and was crowned king following his defeat of David II at the Battle of Dupplin Moor in 1332. David and Edward struggled against each other, until David II’s eventual triumph – and Edward’s deposition – in 1336.

Edward finally surrendered his claim to the Scottish throne in 1356 whilst living in English exile; he died in Wheatley, Doncaster, probably in 1363 or 1364. Although his final resting place has recently been claimed to be under Doncaster Post Office, the former site of Doncaster Priory, it remains elusive.

John and Isabella’s younger son, Henry, was killed on 16th December 1332 at the Battle of Annan, a resounding victory for supporters of David II against Henry’s brother, Edward.

Although Edward was briefly married to Margaret of Taranto, the marriage was annulled. Neither Edward nor Henry had any children.

Very little is known of John and Isabella’s life together. Her death date and final resting place are both unknown. It is by no means certain that Isabella was still alive when John became king. She was no longer living, however, when her own father defeated John and the Scottish army at the Battle of Dunbar in April 1296; John abdicated in July of the same year and died in French exile in 1314.

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Picture: John Balliol and Isabella de Warenne from britroyals.com.

Further reading: britroyals.com; royal.gov.uk/HistoryoftheMonarchy/ScottishMonarchs; englishmonarchs.co.uk; Alison Weir, Britain’s Royal Families; David Williamson, Brewer’s British Royalty; Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens; Nigel Tranter, The Story of Scotland.

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Out Now!

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

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Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly