The Mysterious Knight in the Graveyard

The imposing keep of Conisbrough Castle

Whilst I was researching the Warenne earls of Surrey my cousin, who lives in Conisbrough, passed on to me a story of the accidental discovery of a long-dead knight during road-widening work in the village. Whether he has any relation to the Warenne family is open to conjecture, of course, although it is entirely possible. His identity is a mystery…

The story starts in 1955, with a road widening programme that was carried out along Church Street in Conisbrough. Conisbrough was a tightly packed village, with the road so narrow in places that cars had to mount the pavement if they met oncoming traffic. The ‘pinch’ was outside the parish church of St Peter’s. As a consequence, Conisbrough Urban District Council set to work to widen the road where Church Street meets Church Yard. As this was church property, and graves would have to be disturbed, strict rules were put in place to allow the work to proceed. The then vicar, Rev. G.F. Braithwaite allowed that the boundary wall could be removed and rebuilt a metre further into the churchyard. It was stipulated, however, that no photographs or archaeological examinations could be undertaken during the works. They expected to find twelve lots of human remains in the area to be excavated, and these were to be removed and reinterred speedily, and with reverence and solemn prayer, elsewhere within the churchyard.

When the boundary wall was removed, the stones were carefully stacked for reuse. One stone proved particularly interesting. It was a large stone which had been situated close to the base of the wall, was about a metre long and half a metre wide, with the image of a sword blade carved into the façade; the part of the stone which would have shown the hilt was missing. Work then began on excavating that area of the church yard that was to make way for the widened road. It was expected that twelve graves, dating from Victorian times, would need to be removed. The remains were removed only a short distance and reinterred in an area which is now the memorial garden. As work continued, however, the number of graves had been sorely underestimated, and several dozen graves were uncovered. It was discovered that graves had been stacked, one on top of another, going back through the years.

The Warenne coat of arms

Among the remains found was one who had been buried with a small shield. The shield was about 60cm long and 50cm wide, decorated with a lion rampant (where the lion is stood on his two back legs). It was, therefore, assumed that the remains were that of a knight; although the stipulation that there could be no archaeological investigation, nor photographs taken, means that we know nothing beyond this. We do know that the knight did not belong to the household of the Warenne earls, who had owned Conisbrough and its castle since the time of the Normans; their coat of arms was a shield of blue and gold checks, adopted by the second earl in the first half of the twelfth century.

Although the colour of the lion on the shield was black, this is unlikely to have been the original colour; several hundred years in the ground had erased any indication of the colours of the lion or the background of the shield, thus making it impossible to identify the coat of arms. The remains were reinterred along with the others, according to the conditions imposed for the road widening scheme. The work was then continued, the road widened and a new boundary wall built, with steps into the church yard and a memorial park marking where the disturbed remains had been reburied.

St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough

The incident was then forgotten about with the passage of time. Indeed, when I came to look into it, few had heard of the mysterious knight buried in Conisbrough church yard. Internet searches brought up nothing. The story re-emerged in 1990, when Conisbrough Castle installed new floodlights and hosted a grand ‘switch on’ ceremony for the residents of Conisbrough. An article sent to me by a Conisbrough resident talks of meeting re-enactors at the ceremony, who were dressed as knights of the Earl of Norfolk, with a lion rampant on their shields.

It was then suggested that Earl Hamelin’s daughter Isabel had married Roger Bigod, the first Earl of Norfolk, who died in 1221. Unfortunately, this relationship is not supported by history; Earl Roger was, in fact, the second earl of Norfolk and married to Ida de Tosny, former mistress of Henry II. However, Earl Roger’s son, Hugh, who died in 1225, was married to Matilda Marshal, the eldest daughter of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and regent for Henry III. On Hugh’s death, Matilda had married William de Warenne, Earl Hamelin’s son and fifth Earl of Warenne and Surrey. It is entirely possible that Matilda was accompanied by knights of her first husband when she visited Conisbrough, or was visited there by a Norfolk knight who then perished and was buried in the church yard of St Peter’s at Conisbrough. However, the emblem of the earls of Norfolk, in Matilda’s time, was a red cross on a yellow background. The red lion rampant, on a field of gold and green, was only adopted until 1269, when Roger Bigod, fifth earl of Norfolk and Matilda Marshal’s grandson, inherited the title of Marshal of England, which had passed to the family through his grandmother. This also means that it is just as likely, or even more so, that the shield belonged to a Marshal retainer who was visiting Matilda, or in Matilda’s employ.

The coat of arms of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke

There are several other possibilities for a Warenne connection to the knight in the churchyard. The emblem of the lion rampant was not an uncommon feature among medieval heraldry in England and Scotland. The royal arms of Scotland, for example, are of a red lion rampant on a yellow field. Edward Balliol, King of Scotland at various points in the 1330s, was a grandson of John de Warenne, sixth Earl of Warenne and Surrey, through his mother, Isabella de Warenne. Edward did not officially relinquish his claim to the Scottish throne until 1356 and died near Doncaster in around 1367. The mysterious knight may have been one of his household retainers. Another daughter of the sixth earl, Eleanor, married Henry Percy, the son of a cadet branch of the earls of Northumberland. The Percy family arms are a yellow lion rampant on a blue field. Other families associated with the Warennes also used the lion rampant on their shields, not least being the d’Aubigny earls of Arundel, whose arms were a yellow lion rampant on a red field; Isabel, daughter of William, the fifth Earl of Warenne and Surrey, married Hugh d’Aubigny, the fifth Earl of Arundel.

One final possibility is that the knight was a natural son of the last earl. John de Warenne, seventh Earl of Warenne and Surrey, had no legitimate children with his wife Joan of Bar, a granddaughter of Edward I but fathered a number of illegitimate children by his mistress, Maud Nerford. Maud was from a knightly family in Norfolk; their coat of arms was a lion rampant. It is known that at least one of their sons, —–, used the Nerford arms as his own. Further, the arms of John’s last mistress, Isabella Holland, who he called ‘ma compaigne’ in his will, was a white lion rampant of a blue field, surrounded by white fleur de lys.1

As to the stone, mentioned earlier, with the carving of a sword blade upon it, it was suggested that this stone was previously a grave marker for the mysterious knight and was found lying in the church grounds sometime in the early 1800s. There was extensive building going on in Conisbrough between 1800 and 1810 and it is assumed that stone was used to rebuild the boundary wall of the churchyard. The fact that the two were found in the vicinity of each other is no suggestion of a link. As archaeologist James Wright explained to me, such stones were often used to decorate churches, castles and important buildings, then repurposed elsewhere once those buildings fell into disuse. The stone could have come from anywhere, and not necessarily a grave marker at all. The stone in question can still be seen at St Peter’s church, to the side of the church porch.

Scotland’s King John Balliol with the arms of a red lion rampant on his surcoat

Although we have no definitive answers as to the identity of the mysterious knight who rests in the grounds of St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough, there are many possibilities that suggest a familial link with the Warenne family. As we have no archaeological survey or photographs to aid the investigation, definitive identification is impossible. Indeed, we do not even have any useful dates through which we can narrow down the possibilities. Although the last earl of Warenne and Surrey died in 1347, it seems unlikely that the knight is from a later period and had no relationship whatsoever with the Warenne earls. Conisbrough Castle passed into royal hands after the earl’s death and was given to Edward III’s fourth surviving son, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York; although the arms of Edmund and his sons were derived from the royal arms of England, which are three lions passant quartered with the fleur de lys of France.

It seems likely, therefore, that although we do not know the identity of century of the knight, he died sometime during the 300 years that the Warenne family held the castle and honour of Conisbrough; and there are several possible explanations for his association with the family, through their many and varied prestigious marriage alliances. There is also a chance that the knight was a Warenne himself, as the illegitimate son of the seventh and final earl, John de Warenne, and his mistress, Maud de Nerford.

The possibilities may not be endless, but they are numerous; without further information, however, it is impossible to narrow it down.

Footnotes:

1 Warner, Kathryn, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation

Images:

Conisbrough Castle and Warenne coat of arms by Sharon Bennett Connolly, St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough by Andrea Mason, John Balliol and Marshal arms courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources:

Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8 Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volume I; Alfred S. Ellis, Biographical Notes on the Yorkshire Tenants Named in Domesday Book (article); 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; Conisbrough Castle Giudebook by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; F. Royston Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of his Possessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX; Scott L. Waugh, ‘Warenne, John de, seventh earl of Surrey earl of Surrey and Sussex, Earl Warenne’, ODNB; Kelcey Wilson-Lee, Daughters of Chivalry: The Forgotten Children of Edward I; Kathryn Warner, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation; Vincent, Nicholas, ‘William de Warenne, fifth earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1240)’, Oxforddnb.com; Marc Morris, King John; David Crouch, William Marshal; Crouch and Holden, History of William Marshal; Crouch, David, ‘William Marshal [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c. 1146–1219)’, Oxforddnb.com; Flanagan, M.T., ‘Isabel de Clare, suo jure countess of Pembroke (1171×6–1220)’, Oxforddnb.com; Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight; Chadwick, Elizabeth, ‘Clothing the Bones: Finding Mahelt Marshal’, livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com; Stacey, Robert C., ‘Roger Bigod, fourth earl of Norfolk (c. 1212-1270)’, Oxforddnb.com; finerollshenry3.org.uk.

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Daughters of the Greatest Knight

Arms of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke

It is impossible to talk about anything related to Magna Carta without mentioning the man who has come to be known as ‘the Greatest Knight’: William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, and his family. Marshal was one of the few nobles to stay loyal to King John throughout the Magna Carta crisis. That is not to say that the king and Marshal did not have their differences, nor that their relationship was always smooth sailing. However, William Marshal was famed for his loyalty and integrity and maintained his oaths to King John throughout his reign, regardless of the distrust between the two men.

The children of William and his wife, Isabel de Clare, cannot fail to have benefited from William Marshal’s rise through the ranks from fourth son and humble hearth knight, to earl of Pembroke and, eventually, regent for King Henry III. Their father’s position as a powerful magnate on the Welsh Marches, and the most respected knight in the kingdom, saw William’s daughters make advantageous marriages in the highest echelons of the English nobility.

William and Isabel were the parents of 10 children who survived to adulthood, 5 boys and 5 girls. In a bizarre and sad twist of fate, each of the boys would, in turn, succeed to the earldom, with not one leaving a male heir to continue the Marshal line. Of the girls, the couple’s eldest daughter was Matilda, also known as Maud or Mahelt. Given that her parents married in 1189 and she had two elder brothers, Matilda was probably born in 1193 or 1194. The Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal wrote glowingly of Matilda, saying she had the gifts of

‘wisdom, generosity, beauty, nobility of heart, graciousness, and I can tell you in truth, all the good qualities which a noble lady should possess.’

 Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal 

The Histoire goes on to say;

‘Her worthy father who loved her dearly, married her off, during his lifetime to the best and most handsome party he knew, to Sir Hugh Bigot.’

 Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal 

Unfortunately for Matilda, her husband Hugh, the eldest son of the earl of Norfolk, was among the rebels during the Magna Carta crisis; their eldest son was taken hostage by the king when their castle at Framlingham surrendered to the royal army. It must have been a comfort to Matilda that, on John’s death, her son’s welfare, while still a hostage, would have been supervised by the new regent, the boy’s grandfather. When Hugh died in 1225, Matilda married for a second time just a few months later, to William de Warenne, Earl of Warenne and Surrey, thus uniting the Bigod, Warenne and Marshal families. The marriage appears to have been one of convenience rather than love but produced 2 children, a boy and a girl. Matilda’s son by her second marriage, John de Warenne, joined his 3 older Bigod half-brothers, Roger, Hugh and Ralph as pall bearers for their mother’s coffin at her funeral in 1248, when she was laid to rest beside her mother at Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire.

Seal of Matilda Marshal’s youngest son John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Warenne and Surrey

The next daughter, Isabel, was at least six years younger than Matilda, born in 1200. She was married to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, who was twenty years her senior. Gilbert was the son of Richard de Clare, earl of Hertford, and Amicia, coheiress of William, Earl of Gloucester; through his mother he could trace his ancestry back to King Henry I, albeit through king’s illegitimate eldest son, Robert of Gloucester, the stalwart supporter of his half-sister, Empress Matilda. Gilbert’s aunt, Amicia’s sister, was Isabella of Gloucester, the discarded first wife of King John, who had held the earldom of Gloucester until her death on 14 October 1217, when it passed to Gilbert.

Both Gilbert and his father were named among the twenty-five barons appointed as Enforcers of Magna Carta in 1215; as a consequence, father and son were excommunicated at the beginning of 1216. After the death of King John, Gilbert sided with Prince Louis of France and was only reconciled with the royalist cause after the Battle of Lincoln in May 1217. This was despite having married Isabel, the second daughter of William Marshal, in 1214; Marshal had been regent of England for 9-year-old Henry III since King John’s death in October 1216. Like her older sister, Isabel had found her husband’s family were on the opposing side to her father in the Magna Carta crisis and the civil war that followed. They had 6 children together before Gilbert’s death in October 1230; he died on the return journey from an expedition to Brittany. Isabel was married again, not 6 months later, to the king’s younger brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall. The early deaths of at least 2 children put a strain on this marriage and Richard had been seeking a divorce when Isabel found herself pregnant again. She was safely delivered of the longed-for son and heir, Henry of Almain in 1235. Tragically, Isabel herself died in childbirth, in 1240. Her baby son, Nicholas, died the same day.

The next-youngest of the Marshal sisters, Sibyl, was born around 1201: she was married to William de Ferrers, fifth earl of Derby. Unlike her elder sisters, Sibyl and her husband played little part in national affairs. Ferrers had been plagued by gout since his youth and led a largely secluded life. He was regularly transported by litter. Further, he had never fully recovered from an accident that had happened sometime in the 1230s. While crossing a bridge at St Neots in Huntingdonshire, Ferrers was thrown from his litter, into the water. It must have been a terrifying experience. He succeeded to the earldom of Derby on his father’s death in 1247 but died in 1254. During the marriage Sibyl gave birth to 7 children, all daughters: Agnes, Isabel, Maud, Sibyl, Joan, Agatha and Eleanor. Sibyl died sometime before 1247 and was laid to rest at Tintern Abbey, alongside her mother.

Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, resting place of several members of the Marshal family

William and Isabel Marshal’s fourth daughter, Eva, was born in about 1203 in Pembroke Castle, and so was only 16 when her father died – and 17 when she lost her mother. As a child, she spent several years with her family in exile in Ireland, only returning to England when her father was finally reconciled with King John in 1212. Sometime before 1221, Eva was married to William (V) de Braose, Lord of Abergavenny, son of Reginald de Braose and grandson of Matilda de Braose, who had died of starvation in King John’s dungeons in 1210. William de Braose was a wealthy Norman baron with estates along the Welsh Marches. He was hated by the Welsh, who had given him the nickname Gwilym Ddu, or Black William, and had been taken prisoner by Llywelyn ap Iorweth – Llywelyn the Great – in 1228.

Although he had been released after paying a ransom, de Braose later returned to Llywelyn’s court to arrange a marriage between his daughter, Isabella, and Llywelyn’s son and heir, Dafydd. During this stay, Eva’s husband was ‘caught in Llywelyn’s chamber with the King of England’s daughter, Llywelyn’s wife’. Whilst Llywelyn’s wife, Joan, Lady of Wales, the illegitimate daughter of King John, was imprisoned for a year, a much worse fate was meted out to William de Braose. He was publicly hanged on Llywelyn’s orders, leaving Eva a widow at the age of 27, with 4 young daughters, all under the age of 10. Despite the discomfort caused by Llywelyn’s execution of Braose, the marriage of Isabella and Dafydd went ahead, following some impressive diplomacy on Llywelyn’s part. Eva never remarried and spent her widowhood managing her own lands. She was caught up the revolt of her brother, Richard, in 1234, and appears to have acted as intermediary between her brother and the king to help resolve the situation. She died in 1246.

The youngest Marshal sister was Joan, who was still only a child when William Marshal died in 1219, being born in 1210. She is mentioned in the Histoire as having been called for by her ailing father, so that she could sing for him. Joan was married, before 1222, to Warin de Munchensi, a landholder and soldier who was born in the mid-1190s. When his father and older brother died in 1204 and 1208 (possibly), respectively, Warin was made a ward of his uncle William d’Aubigny, Earl of Arundel. He was ill-treated by King John, who demanded 2,000 marks in relief and quittance of his father’s Jewish debts on 23 December 1213. He was ordered to pay quickly and pledged his lands as a guarantee of his good behaviour.

Effigy identified as William Marshal, Temple Church, London

This harsh treatment drove him to ally with the rebel barons and he was captured fighting against the royalist forces, and his father-in-law, at the Battle of Lincoln, on 20 May 1217. He was, soon after, reconciled with the crown and served Henry III loyally on almost every military campaign of the next forty years. His marriage to Joan Marshal produced two children; John de Munchensi and a daughter, Joan, who would marry the king’s half-brother, William de Valence, fourth son of Isabelle d’Angoulême and her second husband, Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche. It was through his wife and, more accurately her mother, that William de Valence was allowed to accede to the earldom of Pembroke following the extinction of the Marshal male line. Joan Marshal died in 1234 and so never saw her daughter marry and become countess of Pembroke in 1247.

The various experiences of the 5 Marshal daughters serve as a demonstration of the divisions among the nobility, caused by the Magna Carta crisis, with several of them finding themselves on the opposing side to that of their father. It must have been a source of great anxiety for a family which appears to have been otherwise very close. These 5 young women also provide a snapshot of the fates of women in thirteenth century England, death in childbirth, early widowhood and second marriages arranged for personal security rather than love. What is evident is that, just like their father, these girls were an integral part of the Magna Carta story.

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An earlier version of this article first appeared on Samantha Wilcoxson’s blog.

Sources:

Rich Price, King John’s Letters Facebook group; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made EnglandThe Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of BritainOxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Ralph of Diceto, Images of History; Marc Morris, King John; David Crouch, William Marshal; Crouch and Holden, History of William Marshal; Crouch, David, ‘William Marshal [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c. 1146–1219)’, Oxforddnb.com; Flanagan, M.T., ‘Isabel de Clare, suo jure countess of Pembroke (1171×6–1220)’, Oxforddnb.com; Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight; Chadwick, Elizabeth, ‘Clothing the Bones: Finding Mahelt Marshal’, livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com; Stacey, Robert C., ‘Roger Bigod, fourth earl of Norfolk (c. 1212-1270)’, Oxforddnb.com; finerollshenry3.org.uk; Vincent, Nicholas, ‘William de Warenne, fifth earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1240)’, Oxforddnb.com.

My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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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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.

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Giveaway: Ladies of Magna Carta

Giveaway results!

First of all, i would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway. There were 156 entries, which is truly incredible. But unfortunately there can be only one winnerAnd the winner is…Charlotte Clark.

Congratulations Charlotte. Thank you all for taking part and giving me such a confidence boost with your lovely comments.

If you do get your hands on a copy of Ladies of Magna Carta – or any of my books – do get in touch and I will send you a signed bookplate to pop in the front. Alternatively, I do have copies of all my books in stock if you’d like to purchase a signed and dedicated copy.

Love Sharon x

I realise that I haven’t done a giveaway in over a year. So, to celebrate the release of Ladies of Magna Carta in paperback in the UK this week, I thought I would do a giveaway. One signed copy of the brand spanking new paperback (it looks very pretty!) will go to the lucky competition winner.

Inspired by the lives of Matilda de Braose and Nichoaa de la Haye, My third book looks at the events surrounding the issuing of Magna Carta with a view to how it affected the women.

Praise for Ladies of Magna Carta:

“Sharon Bennett Connolly throws much needed light on the lives of the high-born women of thirteenth-century England…Connolly’s version of the first Plantagenets is superbly concise. No distractions or detours, hitting all the right nails on the head…Connolly’s book is an informative and delightful read about women aspiring to control their destiny against this backdrop, but their success or failure had less to do with Magna Carta than with the timeless principles of resourcefulness, determination and knowing how to skilfully handle the big guy. It’s these qualities that make their stories inspiring.”

Darren Baker, author of The Two Eleanors

“A well-researched and comprehensive study of the women who lived through, and were affected by, the Barons’ Revolt and the sealing of the Magna Carta. Ms Bennett Connolly has skilfully brought to the fore the lives of the women who have hitherto been hidden in the background. A must-read for anyone interested in this pivotal moment in English and Scottish history.”

Annie Whitehead, author of Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England

It’s easy to enter!

The competition is open to everyone, wherever you are in the world. To win a signed and dedicated copy of Ladies of Magna Carta, simply leave a comment below or on my Facebook page and I will include you in the prize draw.

The draw will be made on Sunday 21 November.

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.

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.

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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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Earl Warenne and the Second Crusade

Coat of arms of the Warenne earls of Surrey, in the Gundrada Chapel of Trinity Church, Southover

William (III) de Warenne was the son of William (II) de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and Isabel de Vermandois, a granddaughter of King Henry I of France. William was born in 1119, a year after his parents’ marriage. He was the eldest of five children. His two brothers, Reginald and Ralph, appear frequently in his story, suggesting a close family bond. Of his sisters, Ada married Prince Henry of Scotland, and was the mother of two Scottish kings, Malcolm IV and William the Lion. Gundreda de Warenne married Roger de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick, who was a cousin of Gundreda’s half-brothers, the famous Beaumont twins, Waleran and Robert.

Waleran and Robert de Beaumont were the eldest sons of Isabel de Vermandois by her first husband, Robert de Beaumont, Count of Meulan and Earl of Leicester. Isabel had nine children with her first husband and five more with Earl Warenne. Interestingly, the two families appear to have got on rather well together. William (III) can often be found in the company of one or both of his older, twin, half-brothers, such as at the deathbed of Henry I, at Lyons-la-Forêt in 1135; William was there alongside his father, the second earl, and his brothers Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, and Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester.

Following his father’s death in 1138, William (III) inherited the lands and titles of the earl of Warenne and Surrey. As such, he was heavily involved in that period of history known as the Anarchy, the contest between King Stephen and Empress Matilda for Stephen’s crown. As his father had done, the 3rd earl supported King Stephen, fighting at both the First Battle of Lincoln and the siege of Winchester in 1141. By the late 1140s, although the conflict between Stephen and Matilda was still not resolved, Earl Warenne and his half-brother, Waleran de Beaumont, appear to have wanted to get away from the constant unrest of the cousins’ war and looked to join a more noble enterprise.

Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk

On 24 March 1146, Palm Sunday, near Vézélay, and perhaps motivated by the example of his royal cousin, Louis VII of France, William de Warenne took the cross and committed himself to the Second Crusade. From this moment on, the earl’s time was taken up with preparations for the expedition and making arrangements to ensure the security and administration of his earldom during his absence. Among others, he confirmed grants to Castle Acre Priory of the land of Thexton in Norfolk which Osmoda de Candos had given with the consent of her husband Philip: William’s brother Reginald is named in the charter and his brother Ralph, as well as his wife, Countess Ela, are both listed among the witnesses. He also confirmed a gift made to his brother Reginald whereby William son of Philip, gave his land of Harpley in Norfolk. During the winter of 1146–47, the earl granted to the monks of Castle Acre, a confirmation of any acquisitions which they might make, ‘from my fee of whatever tenancy within my tenseria [authority], whether by way of gift or purchase.’1

In 1147, before leaving England’s shores, the earl, his family and leading magnates congregated at Lewes Priory for the dedication of the new priory church. Most of the royal court were present, as were Ralph and Reginald de Warenne, the earl’s brothers; four leading church prelates attended, including Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury and Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester as well as the bishops of Rochester and Bath. Also present were the abbots of Reading and Battle, the prior of Canterbury and William d’Aubigny, Earl of Sussex. Earl Warenne appears to have used the occasion to set his affairs in order and guarantee the security of his earldom during his absence.

St Pancras Priory, Lewes

The most significant charter issued on this occasion added to the endowment of Lewes’ priory church and promised that the earl would pay the taxes that the priory would ordinarily owe to the king. In it, the earl confirmed ‘all its lands of his fee, undertaking to acquit it of danegeld and all other services due to the king; and gift of tithe of corn, etc., from all his demesne lands and a full tenth penny of all his rents in England. He issued the charter when he caused the priory church to be dedicated and endowed it with the tenth penny of his rents, giving it seisin thereof by hair from his own head and that of Ralph de Warenne his brother, cut with a knife by Henry, bishop of Winchester, before the altar.’2 The locks of hair of Earl William and his brother Ralph, ceremoniously cut off by Bishop Henry before the altar, would afterwards have been placed on the altar, alongside the knife used in the ceremony, and may have later been ‘filed’ within the charter when it was sealed.

His affairs in order, the earldom was placed under the supervision of his very capable brother, Reginald de Warenne. The pope stipulated that church sanctions should not be invoked, ‘in respect of those men whom our beloved son Stephen the illustrious king of the English or his adversaries disinherited on the occasion of the war held for the realm before they took the cross.’3 In a time of continued civil war, this guaranteed protection of a crusader’s lands was a necessity. Earl William was now able to depart on crusade, secure in the knowledge that the family and lands he left behind were well protected from anyone wishing to take advantage of his absence:

At Whitsuntide Lewis [Louis], king of France, and Theodorie, earl of Flanders, and the count of St Egidius, with an immense multitude from every part of France, and numbers of the English, assumed the cross and journeyed to Jerusalem, intending to expel the Infidels who had taken the city of Rohen. A still greater number accompanied Conrad, emperor of Germany; and both armies passed through the territories of the emperor of Constantinople, who afterwards betrayed them.

Henry of Huntingdon
Louis VII, King of France

There were, in fact, two crusades that departed England’s shores in 1147. Some of the crusaders, an Anglo-Flemish force, went to Portugal and successfully captured Lisbon from the Muslims. Earl William de Warenne and his older brother Waleran de Beaumont joined their cousin King Louis VII of France and set out for the Holy Land. Taking the overland route, they followed in the footsteps of the German emperor, Conrad III, who had left Germany in May and arrived in Constantinople in September. Louis, accompanied by his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, arrived in Constantinople with his army, on 4 October. Tensions ran high from the start. On initially hearing of the proposed crusade, Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus, afraid of losing local trading connections, made a truce with the Turkish sultan of Rum in 1146 to protect Constantinople’s Asian lands from attack. To the Western crusaders, this was more proof of the apostasy of the Eastern church. The more fervent of Louis’ followers accused Emperor Manuel of treason and urged Louis to attack the emperor. Louis, on the other hand, was persuaded to appease the emperor by his less volatile advisers and the king promised to restore any imperial lands they may capture.

The German and French contingents met at Nicaea in November, with the Germans having already suffered a defeat at Dorylaeum on 25 October, after taking the inland route towards the kingdom of Jerusalem. The two armies combined now set off on the coastal route, following the path of the first crusaders’ advance into Philadelphia in Lydia. By the time they reached Ephesus, Conrad was seriously ill and returned to Constantinople to recover. The French king and his army continued on to Antioch; marching through difficult terrain in mid-winter proved particularly harrowing. The Seljuk Turks waited for the crusaders on the banks of the river Meander, but Louis’ army forced their way through. On 6 January 1148, they reached Laodicea and from there marched into the mountains that separate the Phrygia of the Pisidia. It was here that the army met with disaster.

As they crossed Mount Cadmus, the vanguard advanced too far ahead under the leadership of Geoffrey de Rançon, thus becoming detached from the main body of the army. As the vanguard progressed across Mount Cadmus, the French column followed behind, secure in the knowledge that the vanguard occupied the high ground to their front. William de Warenne was in the king’s bodyguard, towards the rear of the column, as they advanced. When the Turks appeared, the French broke their ranks and rushed upon them with swords drawn; the disorder in the ranks handing the advantage to their enemy. Retreating, the French found themselves in a narrow gorge, with a steep precipice on one side and crags on the other. Horses, men and baggage were forced over the precipice by the advancing Turks. Louis VII’s biographer, Odo de Deuil, related the events:

“…the king, who had been left behind in peril with certain of his nobles, since he was not accompanied by common soldiers or serjeants with bows (for he had not fortified himself for crossing the pass, which by common agreement he was to cross the next day), careless of his own life and with the desire of freeing the dying mob, pushed through the rear-guard and courageously checked the butchery of his middle division. He boldly assaulted the infidel, who outnumbered him a hundred times and whom the position aided a great deal; for there no horse could stand, I shall not say gallop, but barely stand, and the slower attack which resulted in the weakened knights’ thrust when wounding the enemy. On the slippery slope our men brandished their spears with all of their own might, but without the added force of their horses, and from the safe shelter of rocks and trees the Turks shot arrows. Freed by the knights’ efforts, the mob fled, carrying their own packs or leading the sumpter animals, and exposed the king and comrades to death in their stead….During the engagement the king lost his small but renowned royal guard; keeping a stout heart; however, he nimbly and bravely scaled a rock by making use of tree roots which God had provided for his safety. The enemy climbed after, in order to capture him, and the more distant rabble shot arrows at him. But by the will of God his cuirass protected him from the arrows, and to keep from being captured he defended the crag with his bloody sword, cutting off heads and hands of many opponents in the process…”

 Odo of Deuil, De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem
Laodicea

King Louis’ bodyguard was cut down in the fighting and William de Warenne was among the fallen. Louis himself was able to escape the carnage, standing alone against a number of attackers. As the night drew in, the king and survivors were able to take advantage of the darkness to reunite with the vanguard, which had believed the king lost.61 In one of his letters to Abbot Sugar, King Louis wrote of the disaster on Mount Cadmus, explaining how he had been separated from the vanguard and his escort had been cut down, with the loss of his cousin, William de Warenne. He was too upset to give any more details and Mount Cadmus remains a battle of which very little is known beyond the basic details.

“Nearby the baggage train was still crossing the pass, because the closer packed it was, the slower it fled over the crags. When he came upon it, the king, who was on foot, secured a horse and accompanied the men through the evening, which had already fallen. At that time breathless cohorts of knights from the camp met him and groaned when they saw him alone, bloody, and tired, for, without asking, they knew what had happened and mourned inconsolably for the missing royal escort, which numbered about forty (to wit, the count of Warenne and his brother Evrard of Breteuil, Manasses of Bulles and Gautier of Montjay and others; but I shall not record the names of all, lest I be considered unnecessarily wordy.)”

 Odo of Deuil, De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem


Despite the heavy losses, King Louis’ crusade continued, reuniting with the German contingent between March and June 1148. They failed to take Edessa and were forced to withdraw from Damascus after a week of heavy fighting, when fresh Muslim forces arrived. The crusade ended in failure and the French king, who blamed Emperor Manuel Comnenus for the fiasco, accepted the aid of Manuel’s enemy Roger of Sicily, who sent ships to take the French forces home. Of the English forces, while William de Warenne was lost at Mount Cadmus, his brother Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan and Earl of Worcester, made it back to England’s shores, narrowly surviving a shipwreck along the way; he founded a monastery in gratitude. Of the two Anglo-Norman bishops who accompanied the crusade, Roger of Chester died at Antioch and was buried there, whereas Arnulf of Lisieux, who had served as one of the leading diplomats, returned but with his reputation faded.

Seal of Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey

Perhaps it was always on the cards that the 3rs Earl Warenne’s unspectacular military career would end with his death in battle. He was only 28 years old and had held the earldom for just over nine years. The earl had been a stalwart supporter of King Stephen, not once wavering in his allegiance, despite his failures in Normandy and at Lincoln early on in his career. He had done extensive work on the family’s property at Castle Acre, reinforcing the castle and replanning the town, building the ramparts that now surround it. William de Warenne had been a generous benefactor to the church, especially the Warenne foundations at Lewes and Castle Acre.

Even in his absence on crusade, the earl was still technically in charge; his brother, Reginald, issued a number of charters, each with the proviso that ‘if Jesus Christ brought back the earl [from the crusade] he would cause him to confirm it’ or ‘do his best to obtain the earl’s confirmation.’4

The death of William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Warenne and Surrey brought an end to the senior male line that had been founded with the creation of the earldom for William (I) de Warenne in 1088. The earl was survived by his wife, Ela de Talvas, still a young woman, and his daughter, Isabel de Warenne, still only a child. Isabel was now the richest heiress in England and married to King Stephen‘s youngest son, William of Blois. The earl’s estates were left in the capable hands of his youngest brother, Reginald de Warenne, Baron of Wormegay, who would watch over them for his niece and her young husband.

Notes:

1 Edmund King, King Stephen; 2 Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; 3 Epistolae Pontificum Romanorum ineditae quoted in Edmund King, King Stephen; 4 Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Odo of Deuil, De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem, magnacharta.com.

Sources:

Robert Batlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; Dan Jones, The Plantagenets; Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Medieval Lands Project on the Earls of Surrey, Conisbrough Castle; 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; doncasterhistory.co.uk; A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2 edited by William Page; W.H. Blaauw, On the Early History of Lewes Priory, and its Seals, with extracts from a MS. Chronicle, Sussex Archaeological Collections; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volume I;  Odo of Deuil, De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem; magnacharta.com; Cokayne, G.E., The Complete Peerage, Vol. XII; Henry of Huntingdon, The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon.

Images:

Louis VII and Laodicea courtesy of Wikipedia; Warenne seal, Castle Acre Priory, St Pancras Priory and Seal of Isabel de Warenne are ©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

My Books

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Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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, Bookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.  vailable now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Introducing the Earls of Warenne and Surrey

William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Warenne and Surrey, Trinity Church, Southover

The Warenne earls of Surrey were a fascinating family, right at the heart of English history and politics for almost 300 years, from the time of the Norman Conquest to the reign of Edward III. They held lands throughout England, acted as justiciars, sheriffs and generals – and yet, few people know their story.

But who were they?

William I de Warenne was rewarded for his support of King William II in the 1088 rebellion with the earldom of Surrey. However, the earls thereafter were as often referred to as the earls of Warenne – or the familial Earl Warenne, rather than earls of Surrey. The earldoms of Sussex and Strathearn (Scotland) were later added to these titles. As they appear to have preferred the simple familial title of Earl Warenne, that is how I have chosen to refer to them, except when establishing their titles. The Warenne’s extensive lands were spread over 13 counties and spanned the country from Lewes on the south coast to their castles of Conisbrough and Sandal in Yorkshire, with their family powerbase in East Anglia, where they built a magnificent priory, castle and medieval village at Castle Acre.

Wakefield, including Sandal Castle, appears to have come into the hands of the Warenne family at some point before 1121, during the tenure of the 2nd Earl Warenne. It is possible that they were acquired possibly in an exchange of lands with William Meschin, who had taken control of the Warenne holdings of Kimbolton in Huntingdonshire and Dean in Bedfordshire some time before 1130.

The family mausoleum was at St Pancras Priory in Lewes, founded by the first earl and his wife, Gundrada. It is the burial place of all but two subsequent earls and numerous other family members, as well as several earls of Arundel and their countesses.

For almost 300 years the Warenne earls of Surrey were some of the most influential men in the country, but the family died out rather ingloriously, with the seventh – and last – earl’s marital difficulties. Despite a prestigious marriage to a granddaughter of the king of England, John de Warenne, 7th Earl Warenne, died with no legitimate son to succeed him, though he had numerous acknowledged illegitimate children to whom he had given the family name.

Gundrada de Warenne, wife of the 1st earl

The first Warenne earl, William de Warenne, Earl of Warenne and Surrey, came to England with William the Conqueror’s invasion force and fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. As a younger son, he had little hope of an inheritance and had acquired his fortune and reputation fighting for the duke of Normandy, making his name as a young man at the 1054 Battle of Mortemer.

The Warennes were at the heart of English history and politics from the time of the Conquest to the death of John de Warenne, the 7th and last earl in 1347

So who were the Warenne earls?

Briefly,

William de Warenne was a distant cousin of William the Conqueror and fought at the Battle of Hastings. William was a trusted advisor and companion of King William I and was appointed justiciar in England during the king’s absences in Normandy. He pursued a personal feud against English freedom fighter, Hereward the Wake, after Hereward murdered his brother-in-law, Frederic. William was created Earl of Surrey by King William II, just weeks before his death in 1088, having been fatally wounded at the siege of Pevensey. William and his wife, Gundrada, founded the first Cluniac priory in England, St Pancras, at Lewes in Sussex. It would become the family mausoleum. William and Gundrada’s coffins were found in the 19th century, when the railway line was being laid, and are now interred in the Gundrada Chapel of Trinity Church, Southover.

The Warenne coat of arms, adopted by William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Warenne and Surrey

He was succeeded by his oldest son, William II de Warenne (it was a popular name) who was earl for 50 years. This William had an awkward relationship with Henry I – William was thwarted in love by Henry when they both set their sights on the same woman, Matilda of Scotland. William supported Robert Curthose’s claim for the throne against Henry, but was persuaded to abandon the duke of Normandy in favour of the king of England after the former’s failed attempt to invade England led to Earl Warenne’s lands being confiscated by King Henry. From that moment on Earl Warenne was loyal to Henry and gave a rousing speech in favour of King Henry before the 1119 Battle of Bremule. He married Isabel de Vermandois, granddaughter of King Henry I of France and widow of Robert, Earl of Gloucester. The relationship caused some scandal as one chronicler suggests Isabel and William ran away together, before Isabel’s first husband was dead. William’s royal ambitions would be realised when his daughter, Ada de Warenne, married Prince Henry of Scotland in 1139; William’s grandsons, Malcolm IV and William the Lion, both succeeded to the Scottish throne.

The 3rd earl fought on the wrong side (in my opinion) during the Anarchy; he supported King Stephen. Also named William, he and his forces were ignominiously routed at the 1141 Battle of Lincoln, leaving King Stephen to be captured by Earl Robert of Gloucester. Earl Warenne redeemed himself by capturing the same Earl Robert during the Rout of Winchester in the summer of 1141, thus facilitating and exchange of commanders that saw King Stephen’s release from imprisonment at Bristol Castle. Perhaps growing tired of the constant civil war, in 1147 the earl left on the Second Crusade with his half-brother, Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, led by the brothers’ second cousin, Louis VII, and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Earl William was killed at the age of 28 at the Battle of Mount Cadmus in January 1148, leaving the earldom to his young daughter, Isabel.

Seal of Isabel de Warenne, 4th Countess of Warenne and Surrey in her own right

The 4th earl. Now this is where the subsequent numbering of earls gets confusing. There were two 4th earls, though some history books count them as the 4th and 5th earls. The earldom actually belonged to Isabel. Isabel de Warenne was 4th Countess of Warenne and Surrey in her own right. Her first husband, William of Blois (the first 4th earl), was the youngest son of King Stephen and her second husband, Hamelin Plantagenet (the second 4th earl), was the illegitimate half-brother of King Henry II; a thoroughly modern Hamelin changed his name from Plantagenet to de Warenne on marrying Isabel. The first marriage produced no children, which was a stroke of luck for Henry II, as William of Blois could have founded a dynasty to rival the mighty Plantagenets. The second marriage proved more fruitful, with three daughters and a son. Hamelin was a loyal supporter of his brother, Henry II, and nephews, Richard I and King John – despite the fact John seduced one of Hamelin’s daughters, fathering an illegitimate child with her. Hamelin also built the magnificent keep at Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire.

Their son, William de Warenne, the 5th Earl, was first cousin to both King Richard I and King John. He probably grew up in Normandy, and served with King Richard in France in the 1190s. William played an active role in English politics, negotiating with the rebels on John’s behalf in Spring 1215, attempting to avert civil war. He was a signatory of the Magna Carta in 1215 and again on its reissue in 1225; he was one of the few surviving earls to have witnessed both issues of the charter. He did side with the rebel barons and their French allies, for a time, but returned to the fold following King John’s death in October 1216. He then helped to negotiate the peace, in September 1217, which saw the French Prince Louis give up his claim to England and return home. He married Matilda Marshal, daughter of the great William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and regent of England for the first few years of Henry III’s reign. The couple had two children; their daughter, Isabel d’Aubigny, Countess of Arundel, became famous for berating King Henry III over the appropriation of a wardship that was rightfully hers.

Seal of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Warenne and Surrey

John de Warenne, the 6th earl, was the longest serving earl of them all, holding the title for 64 years. His father died when he was 8 years old. Henry III became his brother-in-law when he married the king’s half-sister, Alice de Lusignan, daughter of Queen Isabella of Angouleme and her second husband, Hugh X de Lusignan. The marriage was a happy one and the couple truly loved each other; following Alice’s death in childbirth, John did not take another wife. John de Warenne fought in the Second Barons’ War and was a close associate of the future king, Edward I. He was at the Battle of Lewes in 1264, fighting for King Henry III against Simon de Montfort, but escaped to the continent when the battle was lost. John was probably at Evesham for the defeat and death of Simon de Montfort, though his presence is not recorded; he was certainly with Henry III’s son, Edward, in the days before the battle. His daughter, Isabella, was married to John Balliol, King of Scots, and the mother of Edward Balliol, who pursued his own claim to the Scottish throne in the 1330s. John was guardian of Scotland for a time and lost the Battle of Stirling to William Wallace in 1298. John de Warenne was a brutal man with a sense of humour; he once claimed the rights to all the rabbit warrens in Surrey – because it was his name! His son, William de Warenne, had died during a tournament in 1286, so when John died in 1304, aged 68, he was succeeded by his 18-year-old grandson, John II de Warenne.

Lewes Castle, Sussex, seat of the earls of Warenne and Surrey

John II de Warenne, the 7th and last earl of Warenne and Surrey, spent most of his adult life trying to divorce his wife, Jeanne de Bar (Joan of Bar), a granddaughter of King Edward I, in order to marry his mistress. He made various claims to try and effect a divorce, including that he had had an affair with his wife’s aunt, Mary of Woodstock, who had been a nun from the age of 7. John was embroiled in a private – but very public – feud with Thomas of Lancaster, Edward II’s most powerful vassal, and even went so far as kidnapping Lancaster’s wife, Alice de Lacey. In retaliation, Lancaster seized the Warenne castles of Conisbrough and Sandal, both being close to his own castle of Pontefract. The castles were only restored to John after Lancaster’s execution following his defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge, in 1322. John was involved in many of the events that shaped the reign of Edward II, though he did not fight in the 1314 English defeat by the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn. He supported Edward II to the end – almost, only adding his to support to Isabella of France and the future Edward III, when he saw that the king’s cause was hopeless. He died in 1347 at Conisbrough, still married to Jeanne de Bar and with no legitimate heir to succeed him. The earldom passed to his nephew, Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel, but the Yorkshire lands, including Conisbrough and Sandal castles, passed to the crown and were given to Edward III’s fourth surviving son, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York.

Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk, one of the Cluniac monasteries founded by the Warenne earls

And that is just a – very – brief summary of the earls.

The Warenne family has a fascinating history, right at the heart of English politics for the better part of 3 centuries. They had family bond that is not always found amongst the aristocracy, with brothers and sisters helping and supporting each other and working for the benefit of their family. Strategic marriages forged links with the greatest families in England, Scotland and France; their family connections spanned the greatest noble houses, from the Marshals, the FitzAlans, the Lusignans, the d’Aubignys and Percys to the Scottish, French and English royal families.

One family, over 8 generations, the Warennes were at the centre of 300 years of English history.

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Selected Sources:

Elisabeth Van Houts, Hereward and Flanders (article), Anglo-Saxon England vol. 28; A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2 edited by William Page; W.H. Blaauw, On the Early History of Lewes Priory, and its Seals, with extracts from a MS. Chronicle, Sussex Archaeological Collections; Edward Impey, Castle Acre Priory and Castle, English Heritage; Warenne, Gundrada de (d.1085) (article) by C.P. Lewis, Oxforddnb.com; Elisabeth M.C. Van Houts and Rosalind C. Love (eds and trans), The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle; Jeffrey James, The Bastard’s Sons: Robert, William and Henry of Normandy; Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8 Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volume I; Alfred S. Ellis, Biographical Notes on the Yorkshire Tenants Named in Domesday Book (article); C.P. Lewis, Warenne, William de, first Earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1088) (article), Oxforddnb.com; 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; Conisbrough Castle Giudebook by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; royaldescent.net; F. Royston Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of his Possessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX; Scott L. Waugh, ‘Warenne, John de, seventh earl of Surrey earl of Surrey and Sussex, Earl Warenne’, ODNB; ‘Annals written by a certain monk of Lewes, from the birth of Christ to the year 1312’ quoted in Blaauw, On the Early History of Lewes Priory; Kelcey Wilson-Lee, Daughters of Chivalry: The Forgotten Children of Edward I; Katheryn Warner, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation

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My Books:

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.

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.

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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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Early Years of the Last Earl Warenne

Arms of the Earls of Warenne and Surrey

John de Warenne, 7th and last Earl of Warenne and Surrey (Earl Warenne), was the only son of William de Warenne, who in turn was the only son of the colourful and rather legendary John de Warenne, 6th Earl Warenne. The 6th earl had been married in 1247 to Alice de Lusignan, half-sister of King Henry III as the second eldest daughter of Isabelle d’Angoulême, Queen of England as the wife of King John, and her second husband, Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche and Lord of Lusignan and Valence.

Born in around 1224, Alice was seven years older than her 16-year-old husband. The marriage had formed part of King Henry’s much-despised policy of patronising his Lusignan siblings and thus was condemned by Matthew Paris. Rather harshly, Paris claimed that the marriage was ‘beyond the bride’s station.’1 For John’s son and grandson, it would provide them with powerful royal relations in the future; William de Warenne was a first cousin of Edward I and the younger John de Warenne was a second cousin to Edward II.

Alice de Lusignan, Countess of Warenne and Surrey, died on 9 February 1256, just hours or days after William’s birth. She was ‘placed in the earth before the great altar [Lewes priory] in the presence of her brother Adelmar [Aymer], [bishop] elect of Winchester.’2 Despite being one of the wealthiest and most powerful earls in the country, and with only one legitimate son to succeed him, John de Warenne would never remarry, perhaps an indication of the deep affection that he held for his semi-royal wife.

In his late twenties, William de Warenne was married to Joan, daughter of Richard de Vere, Earl of Oxford, sometime in 1284: ‘Also William de Warenne married the daughter of the Earl of Oxford.’3 Through his mother, William was the nephew of Henry III and first cousin to Edward I. Through his father, William was descended from, among others, William Marshal, Geoffrey of Anjou and six Warenne earls of Surrey. However, William was destined never to succeed to the expansive earldom of Surrey. He was killed in a tournament at Croydon in December 1286, just six months after the birth of his only son and heir, John. The Annals of Lewes Priory recorded the events of 1286:

This year, on June 30, was born the first-begotten son of Sir William de Warenn, by his wife, daughter of the Earl of Oxford, whom he had married, as appears above. He was baptised and called by the name of John, on the 7th of November, with immense rejoicing; but alas! As the prophet testifies, ‘our joys are extinguished, but lamentation possesses us;’ for in the same year, on the first Sunday before the feast of Thomas the Apostle, which was on December 15, the father of the aforesaid youth [Sir William, killed in a tournament at Croydon], concerning whom our gladness had been, expired, and, oh sadness! He in whom flourished entire nobility, generosity and honesty, and the beginning of the glory of all knighthood, now lies buried and covered with stones. But there was present at the entombment of this so noble a man, the lord of Canterbury, who buried him before the high altar, on the left side, near his mother, with the greatest devotion of respect, as was fitting, many nobles of the land being present. The earl marshal [Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk], the Earl of Oxford and several barons … were anxiously afflicted.4

St Pancras priory, Lewes, the Warenne family mausoleum

Some sources suggest that John was the posthumous son of William, stating that William was killed in January 1286; however, this entry in the Annals of Lewes Priory makes it clear that John was born almost six months before his father was killed. John’s sister, Alice, on the other hand, may well have been born the year after her father’s death, in June 1287. Given the chronicle was written by a monk at Lewes, a priory patronised by the Warenne family, the laments and praise of William may be slightly exaggerated. However, that the archbishop of Canterbury conducted the funeral rites, and the presence of many senior nobles, suggests that William was, indeed, well thought of. This fact may give the lie to the rumours of murder that inevitably accompany a medieval death from unnatural causes. Rumours that William’s enemies had taken the opportunity of the tournament to despatch the young lord appear to be without foundation.

Young John suffered a further bereavement on 1293, when his mother, Joan died. Aged only 7, it seems arrangements had already been made should John still be a minor when his parents died. It had been agreed that the custody of John and his lands should go to Joan’s parents, Robert de Vere and his wife, Alice de Sanford. However, Earl Robert died in 1296 and it is not known where 10-year-old John spent the remainder of his childhood. It seems likely that John was raised by his Warenne grandfather, until the 6th Earl’s death in 1304.

At the age of 18, John succeeded to the earldom of his grandfather as the 7th earl of Warenne, Surrey and Sussex. His vast holdings comprised of lands and manors in numerous counties, including Sussex, Surrey, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Wiltshire and Norfolk. John, Earl Warenne, was still a minor and would be for another three years; as a consequence, he was made a royal ward, his lands taken into the custody of the Crown. Although he and his lands were in royal custody, and managed by custodians, John lived on his own estates and in 1305 the king commanded John to provide him with forty dried and salted barrels of deer.5 In the same year, he was sent to attend a tournament at Guildford, part of John’s estates, by Edward I, who provided the young lord with considerable funds for his maintenance.6

On 7 April 1306, in spite of the fact he had not yet performed homage to the king, still only 19 years old, Edward granted John his grandfather’s lands. It may well have been at this time that Edward Balliol was placed in John’s custody. The son of John’s aunt, Isabella, and King John Balliol of Scotland, the younger Balliol had been in the custody of his grandfather, the sixth Earl Warenne, from 1299 until the old earl’s death in 1304.

Seal of Edward Balliol as King of Scots

Given that it is likely his mother was no longer living when John Balliol became king in 1292, and that the couple had been married sometime before 7th February 1281, it seems probable that Edward was born sometime in the 1280s, making him of a similar age to his cousin, John de Warenne. Indeed, the two young men may well have spent their teenage years together in their grandfather’s household, training for knighthood. John was Balliol’s guardian for about 4 years, until it was ordered that he be delivered into royal custody in 1310, by Edward II. Edward Balliol had a strong claim to the Scottish throne, one that he would later be encouraged to pursue by Edward III in the 1330s. In May 1306, John de Warenne attended his first parliament at Westminster, an event which marked his coming of age, although he was not yet 21; in fact, he was still a month shy of his twentieth birthday.

John’s early coming of age appears to have been a part of larger scheme by King Edward, as during the parliamentary session, John was brought before the king and offered Edward’s granddaughter in marriage; the young earl readily agreed to the marriage, even though his bride was only 10 years old. The proposed bride was Joan, or Jeanne of Bar, Edward’s granddaughter by his eldest daughter, Eleanor and her husband Henry, Count of Bar. In the week following the betrothal of John and Joan, and in anticipation of a new expedition against Scotland, on 22 May 1306, Edward I held a magnificent ceremony for the knighting of his eldest son, Edward; the king knighted the prince, who then went on to knight the other candidates, in the glorious setting of Westminster Abbey.

In anticipation of the prince’s knighting, and in order to gather a body of knights who would be loyal to his son, the king proclaimed that all young men of sufficient age and income should travel to Westminster, to be knighted at royal expense alongside their future king, Prince Edward. The ceremony was also to bestow knighthoods on almost 300 men, John de Warenne included: ‘The yong Erle of Warenne with grete nobley was thare / A wif thei him bikenne, the erles douhter of Bare.’7

There were so many young men to be knighted, that it was impossible to find accommodation for all, and apple trees had to be chopped down in the gardens of the New Temple to make room. The prince and his closest companions kept their vigil, the night before the ceremony, watching their arms, in the abbey church at Westminster. Matthew of Westminster records that:

there was such a noise of trumpets and pipes, and such a clamour of voices, that one side of the choir could not hear the other. The others kept their vigil at the New Temple. The King provided them the necessary scarlet cloths, fine linen and belts for their use from his own wardrobe. 8

Arms of the House of Bar

The following morning, the king knighted his son in the palace of Westminster, investing him with his knight’s belt and spurs. The prince then crossed to Westminster Abbey, to invest the others; ‘The crowd was enormous, so great indeed, that two knights were killed. Each candidate was attended by three knights, who saw and assisted him through the ceremony.’9 The prince knighted sixty of the candidates himself, with other knights assisting with the rest. A lavish banquet – which later became known as the Feast of the Swans – followed the proceedings:

when two swans were brought in ornamented with gold network, emblematical of constancy and truth. When they were placed upon the table the King rose and made a vow to God and to the swans, that he would set out for Scotland and avenge the death of Comyn, and punish the treachery of the Scots … It was under these exceptionally interesting circumstances that Warenne received his knighthood.10

The murder of John Comyn, at the hands of Robert the Bruce in the church of the Greyfriars in Dumfries, on 10 February 1306, following an argument, had sent shockwaves through Christendom. Bruce had then raced to Scone where he was crowned King Robert I of Scots. As the celebrations continued a number of weddings also took place, involving several barons and nobles. John’s sister, Alice, married Edmund FitzAlan, 9th Earl of Arundel. Edmund had been a ward of John’s grandfather. The two young men were very close in age and were political allies and friends.

John de Warenne and Joan of Bar were married on 25 May, ‘before an altar spread with glittering cloths-of-gold.’11 Barely 10 years old, Joan was escorted to the palace at Westminster with great pomp and she and John were married in the presence of the ageing king. The Wardrobe Accounts bear witness to the extravagance of the ceremony and celebrations:

‘1306. May 25. In money lent and dispersed in the presence of the King, at the nuptials celebrated in the King’s chapel at Westminster, between John, Earl de Warenne, and the Lady Joanna, daughter of the Count de Barr, xls [40s].’ Other money was paid out ‘for diverse minstrels’, and ‘for letting fly the king’s gyrfalcon.’ More extravagance was expended to Thomas the coachbuilder, ‘advanced on making a chariot for the Earl de Warenne, June 28, lxs [60s],’ and to Walter de Bardeney, ‘advanced on harness being made for the said Earl, on the same day, cs [100s].’ While Walter de Bedewynde was commissioned ‘for a new carriage for the use of the Countess de Warenne, by order of the Treasurer.’12

Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire, where John de Warenne, the last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, died in 1347

The marriage would prove to be a disaster, with John spending most of his adult life trying to obtain a divorce from Joan in order to marry his mistress, Maud de Nerford, and thus legitimise his children by her. Although the relationship with Maud eventually broke down, possibly due to the considerable pressure they couple must have been under with the almost-constant court cases, John was still trying to obtain a divorce from Joan to his dying day. In his latter years, in a last desperate attempt to produce a legitimate heir, he hoped to marry his mistress at that time, Isabella Holland, who his described as ‘ma compaigne’ in his will.13

John de Warenne, seventh and last Earl of Warenne, Surrey, Sussex and Strathern died at Conisbrough Castle between 28 and 30 June 1347, possibly even on his sixty-first birthday (30 June). He asked to be buried at St Pancras Priory, Lewes, in an arch near the high altar. His will, dated 24 June 1347, left various gifts to his illegitimate children and to Isabella, to whom he left plate, jewels, cows, horses and other beasts, ‘and after that my debts and devises be made, I give to my said “compaigne” all the residue of all my goods and chattels, and whatsoever things they find.’14 To Joan, his wife of forty years, he left nothing.

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Footnotes:

1. Scott L. Waugh, ‘Warenne, John de, seventh earl of Surrey earl of Surrey and Sussex, Earl Warenne’, ODNB; 2. ‘Annals written by a certain monk of Lewes, from the birth of Christ to the year 1312’ quoted in Blaauw, On the Early History of Lewes Priory; 3. ibid; 4. ibid; 5. Scott L. Waugh, ‘Warenne, John de, seventh earl of Surrey earl of Surrey and Sussex, Earl Warenne’, ODNB; 6. ibid; 7. F. Royston Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of his Possessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX; 8. ibid; 9. ibid; 10. ibid; 11. Kelcey Wilson-Lee, Daughters of Chivalry: The Forgotten Children of Edward I; 12. Wardrobe Accounts quoted in F. Royston Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of his Possessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX; 13. Katheryn Warner, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation; 14. Calendar of Papal Registers, Papal Letters quoted in F. Royston Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of his Possessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX

Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia except Conisbrough Castle and Lewes Priory which are ©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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; Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; oxforddnb.com; royaldescent.net; F. Royston Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of his Possessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX; Scott L. Waugh, ‘Warenne, John de, seventh earl of Surrey earl of Surrey and Sussex, Earl Warenne’, ODNB; ‘Annals written by a certain monk of Lewes, from the birth of Christ to the year 1312’ quoted in Blaauw, On the Early History of Lewes Priory; Kelcey Wilson-Lee, Daughters of Chivalry: The Forgotten Children of Edward I; Katheryn Warner, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation

My Books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.

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.

*

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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Parentage of Gundrada de Warenne

Gundrada de Warenne, the Gundrada chapel, Trinity Church Southover

When I first volunteered at Conisbrough Castle, in the early 1990s, it was believed that Gundrada de Warenne the wife of William de Warenne, first Earl of Warenne, was the daughter of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders. Royal connections were very important in the 11th century and still provide a fascination to us today, so it was a fabulous piece of history to be able to impart to visitors. Unfortunately, the truth is never quite what it seems.

Sometime in the years either side of the Conquest, William de Warenne married Gundrada. Gundrada’s parentage has long been a subject of debate among historians. Her story throughout history has been coloured by the belief, now thought to be a mistaken one, that she was the daughter of Queen Matilda. Many historians from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries accepted this as fact and obviously started their research from this false assumption, without looking deeper into the origins of the story. For many years Gundrada was believed to be the fifth and youngest daughter of William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders. In 1878 Sir George Duckett wrote an article for the Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological Society arguing that the foundation charter for St Pancras Priory, Lewes ‘expressly states Gundrada to have been the Queen’s Daughter’, the wording within the charter being; ‘pro salute dominæ meæ Matildis Reginæ matrix uxoris mea’ [ ‘for the health of my mistress Queen Matilda, mother of my wife’].1

This statement in the priory’s second founding charter, issued in the reign of King William II Rufus, appeared to contradict the claims by Orderic Vitalis, a near contemporary, that ‘Guillelmo de Guarenna qui Gundredam sororem Gherbodi conjugem habitat, dedit Surregiam.’ [‘William de Warenne, whose wife Gundrada was sister of Gerbod, was given Surrey’.]2 Gundrada’s own tombstone contains enough ambiguity to add to the confusion, rather than clarify the issue:

Gundrada, offspring of dukes, glory of the age, noble shoot,
brought to the churches of the English the balm of her character.
As a Martha …
she was to the wretched; a Mary she was in her piety.
That part of Martha [in her] died; the greater part of Mary survives.
O, pious Pancras, witness of truth and justice,
she makes you her heir; may you in your clemency accept the mother.
The sixth day of the kalends of June, showing itself,
broke the alabaster containing her flesh …3

In 1846 Thomas Stapleton wrote a paper for the Archaeological Journal proposing that Gundrada was Matilda’s daughter from an earlier, undocumented marriage, to Gerbod, advocate of Saint-Bertin, thus explaining her also being a sister to Gerbod, Earl of Chester. In this theory, it was proposed that Gundrada was not a daughter of the king, but his stepdaughter. This notion neatly ties in with Orderic Vitalis identifying Gundrada as ‘Sister of Gherbode, a Fleming, to whom King William the First had given the City and Earldom of Chester.’4 E.A. Freeman, in his six-volume The History of the Norman Conquest of England, published between 1867 and 1879 stated, ‘For a long while, Gundrada was looked on as a daughter of William himself, but there is no doubt that she and her brother Gerbod were the children of Matilda by her first husband.’5

The certainty of Gundrada being the daughter of Matilda of Flanders mean that historians tried to fit the facts to that theory, rather than re-examining the case entirely.

Tomb of Gundrada, Gundrada Chapel, Trinity Church, Southover

Disputing the suggestion of Matilda’s marriage to Gerbod, historian W.H. Blaauw observed that not one of the Norman chroniclers ‘dropped the smallest hint of any husband or child, or consequently any such divorce on the part of Matilda previous to her marriage with the King.’6 Duckett goes on to say that the Norman chroniclers, indeed, said quite the opposite; each of them attesting that Matilda was a young, unmarried girl at the time of her betrothal to William of Normandy. However, Duckett then draws the conclusion that this can only mean that Gundrada was the daughter of both Matilda and William of Normandy, and that Gerbod of Chester was her foster-brother, rather than actual brother. The claim was also made in a charter in which the king gave to the monks of St Pancras (Lewes) the manor of Walton in Norfolk, on the foundation of the priory. In the charter the king distinctly names ‘Guilelmi de Warenna, et uxoris suæ Gundredæ filiæ meæ’ (‘William de Warenne and his wife Gundrada, my daughter’).7

St Pancras Priory at Lewes was founded as a Cluniac monastery by William and Gundrada and it may be that the monks got carried away with the idea of their foundress having royal blood; royal links could prove financially lucrative when a monastery was looking for benefactors, and would help a monastery stand out among the many vying for patronage. However, it may also be that there was a simple error when copying the charter from the original. For whatever reason, the claims by St Pancras Priory at Lewes have caused controversy throughout the ensuing centuries. Other suggestions have included that Gundrada was an adopted daughter, raised alongside William and Matilda’s own children who were of a similar age. Alternatively, due to her Flemish origins, it has been argued that the confusion arose as she had joined Matilda’s household at an early age; an assertion supported by Matilda’s gift to Gundrada of the manor of Carlton in Cambridge – a manor Gundrada later gave to Lewes Priory. In 1888, writing in the English Historical Review, E.A. Freeman returned to the subject and used the priory’s original charter to conclude that there was no familial relationship between Gundrada and William the Conqueror. In it, while the king and William de Warenne, both, mention Gundrada, neither refer to her as being related to the king or queen. Freeman stated, ‘there is nothing to show that Gundrada was the daughter either of King William or of Queen Matilda; there is a great deal to show that she was not.’8

It now seems more likely that Gundrada was a Flemish noblewoman, the sister of Gerbod who would be, for a brief time, earl of Chester. Historian Elisabeth van Houts argues that Gundrada was most likely a distant relative of Queen Matilda and the counts of Flanders, as asserted in her epitaph as ‘offspring of dukes’ and a ‘noble shoot’. Indeed, had her father been William the Conqueror, her epitaph would surely have referred to her as the offspring of kings. Even if she had been the daughter of Matilda by an earlier marriage, off-spring of kings would have still been appropriate, given that Queen Matilda was the granddaughter of King Robert II of France.

William de Warenne, the Gundrada chapel, Trinity Church Southover

Gundrada’s father may also have been called Gerbod, or Gherbode. It is highly likely that this was the same Gerbod who was the hereditary advocate of the monastery of St Bertin; a title which in later generations will pass down through the Warenne family. Another brother, Frederic, appears to have jointly, with Gundrada, held lands in England even before the Conquest, when two people named Frederic and Gundrada are mentioned as holding four manors in Kent and Sussex. It would indeed be a coincidence if there were two other related people, named Frederic and Gundrada, very distinctive foreign names, in England at that time. Gundrada’s brothers, it seems, were deeply involved in the border politics between Flanders and Normandy; indeed, it is thought that Gerbod resigned his responsibilities in Chester in order to return to the Continent to oversee the family’s lands and duties there, following the death of an older brother, Arnulf II of Oosterzele-Scheldewindeke.

Gundrada’s brother, Frederic, along with the count of Flanders, was a witness to Count Guy of Ponthieu’s charter to the Abbey of St Riquier in 1067.9 The ‘dukes’ referred to in Gundrada’s epitaph, although naturally assumed to be of Normandy, could well refer to a kinship with the house of Luxembourg, to which Queen Matilda’s paternal grandmother, Orgive, belonged. Moreover, Frederic was a familial name within the house of Luxembourg. This kinship via the House of Luxembourg with Queen Matilda would also explain the queen’s gift to Gundrada, of the manor of Carlton, which is usually given as evidence that Gundrada belonged to the queen’s household; an association which would be entirely consistent with kinship.

The Warenne coat of arms, the Gundrada chapel, Trinity Church Southover

Marriage between William de Warenne and Gundrada was a good match on both sides. Although William was a second son, he had acquired lands and reputation through his military skills. Warenne’s lands in Normandy lay close to the border with Flanders, while Gundrada, with her politically astute brothers and links to England even before the Conquest, would have been an attractive proposition as a bride. Both Frederic and Gerbod appear to have joined the Norman expedition to England, with Frederic receiving, as reward, lands in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, valued at over £100 a year; lands which had previously belonged to a rich Englishman named Toki. Gerbod, in turn, was given the earldom of Chester, which he held until relinquishing it to return to Flanders in 1071.

Gundrada’s parentage may not be as illustrious as was once thought and her origins are now obscured by time, but the dynasty that she and William founded would be at the heart of the Anglo-Norman political elite for the next three centuries. In the twelfth century, her great grandsons, Malcolm IV and William the Lion, would sit on the Scottish throne and her descendants would, eventually, become the rulers of the United Kingdom, even down to the present incumbent, Queen Elizabeth II.

Footnotes:

1 My translation from quote in George Floyd Duckett, Observations on the Parentage of Gundreda, the Daughter of William Duke of Normandy, and Wife of William de Warenne; 2 ibid; 3 Elisabeth M.C. Van Houts and Rosalind C. Love (eds and trans), The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle; 4 Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; 5 ibid; 6 W.H. Blaauw quoted in Duckett, Observations on the Parentage of Gundreda; 7 Duckett, Observations on the Parentage of Gundreda; 8 Farrer and Clay, Early Yorkshire Charters; 9 C.P. Lewis, ‘Warenne, Gundrada de (d.1085)’, ODNB.

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 BatlettBrewer’s British Royalty by David WilliamsonBritain’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; George Floyd Duckett, Observations on the Parentage of Gundreda, the Daughter of William Duke of Normandy, and Wife of William de Warenne; Elisabeth M.C. Van Houts and Rosalind C. Love (eds and trans), The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle; C.P. Lewis, ‘Warenne, Gundrada de (d.1085)’, ODNB; Elisabeth Van Houts, ‘The Warenne View of the Past’, in Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2003, edited by John Gillingham

Images:

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly. Published with the kind permission of the rector of Trinity Church, Southover

My books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.

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.

*

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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Launch: Defenders of the Norman Crown

In the reign of Edward I, when asked Quo Warranto ‘by what warrant he held his lands’ John de Warenne, the 6th earl of Surrey, is said to have drawn a rusty sword, claiming “My ancestors came with William the Bastard, and conquered their lands with the sword, and I will defend them with the sword against anyone wishing to seize them”

John’s ancestor, William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He was rewarded with enough land to make him one of the richest men of all time.

In his search for a royal bride, the 2nd earl kidnapped the wife of a fellow baron.

The 3rd earl died on crusade, fighting for his royal cousin, Louis VII of France…

For three centuries, the Warennes were at the heart of English politics at the highest level, until one unhappy marriage brought an end to the dynasty. The family moved in the highest circles, married into royalty and were not immune to scandal. Defenders of the Norman Crown tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

It’s finally here!

My fourth non-fiction book, Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, comes out today in hardback in the UK – it will be released in the US and elsewhere on 6 August. Telling the remarkable story of the Earls of Warenne and Surrey, and their family, from the time of the Norman Conquest to the reign of Edward III, Defenders of the Norman Crown follows a family right at the heart of Anglo-Norman England.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

And here’s what early reviewers are saying:

Sharon Bennett Connolly has written an evocative narrative, highlighting the role the Warenne earls of Surrey played in the nation’s history. Her meticulous research is evident in every page, making the book both a reference guide and an immensely enjoyable read.

Kristie Dean, author of On the Trail of the Yorks and The World of Richard III

Another great read from Pen & Sword. I’m vaguely familiar with this family, so reading a book specifically about their history from inception to the end of it, was very interesting. It’s definitely one I’d like to have on my shelf to reference again in the future.

NetGalley, Caidyn Young
Warenne coat of arms

5 out of 5 stars

An impressive and long overdue publication about the earls of Surrey, the Warenne (Varenne in Normandy) and their steadfast contributions and deep loyalties to the English Crown from the heyday of the Norman Conquest and the battlefield of Hastings to the glorious reign of Edward III. Ms. Bennett Connolly has given us a solidly researched portrait of a medieval family and its successful longevity during the three long and troublesome centuries that followed the Norman establishment on the throne and the roles played by its successive and prominent members in the shadows of the crown. A colorful tapestry through all the ups and downs of medieval England, its monarchical shenanigans and its military and political restlessness. Highly recommended to anyone interested in English and European medieval history.

NetGalley, jean luc estrella

Oh my goodness, Sharon Bennett Connolly has done it again! This was the perfect romp through a medieval family! Honor, scandal, marriages, and intrigue all play into the Warrene family lines.
Beginning with William of Normandy, and going down through the Wars of the Roses, this book will read as an action-packed, give me all the information book!

I loved this one! The Warrene family was very prominent throughout the medieval history of England, and this book will dive into their past, and share everything that you could ever want to know about this ambitious family.

And if you would like to hear a little more about the Warenne earls, I presented the David Hey Memorial Lecture in 2020 as part of the Doncaster Local Heritage Festival. The lecture, Warenne: The Earls of Surrey and Conisbrough Castle, is still available to watch on YouTube.

Rebecca Hill, NetGalley

And …

To survive during the reigns of the Norman and Plantagenet Kings of England, one must understand where their loyalty and trust lied. Did they follow the crown or did they take a risk and follow those who opposed the person who wore the crown? For one family, there was no question who they were loyal to, which was the crown. The Warenne Earls of Surrey served the Kings of England from William the Conqueror to Edward III, gaining titles, prestige, and marriages that would cement their names in history books. They survived some of the most turbulent times in English history even if they did have a few scandals in their illustrious history. In Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest non-fiction adventure, “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rose and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey ”, she explores this family’s history that spanned over three centuries.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a fan of Sharon Bennett Connolly’s books for a while now, so when I heard about this title, I knew I wanted to read it. I was going in a bit blind since I have never heard of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, but that is part of the fun of studying a new aspect of history.

The first Earl of Surrey, William de Warenne began this family’s tradition of royal loyalty as he joined William the Conqueror on his journey to England and fought alongside him to establish Norman rule at the Battle of Hastings. William’s descendants would be involved in some of the most important events of the time, from the crusades to the 1st and 2nd Baron’s Wars and the sealing of the Magna Carta. At some points, the earls would briefly switch sides if they thought the king was not in the best interest of the country, but they remained at the heart of English politics and worked hard to help guide the king and the country to become stronger.

What made the Warennes a tour de force when it came to noble families was their ability to marry well, except for the final earl and his scandalous relationships. The second earl desired to marry into the royal family, which did not happen, but his daughter, Ada de Warenne would marry William the Lion, King of Scotland. One of the daughters of Hamlin and Isabel de Warenne would be the mistress of King John and would give birth to his illegitimate son Richard of Chilham. The only woman of the family who inherited the earldom of Surrey, Isabel de Warenne, was married twice and so both of her husbands, William of Blois and Hamelin of Anjou, are considered the 4th earl of Surrey.

Connolly does a wonderful job explaining each story in de Warenne’s long history, including the minor branches of the family. I was able to understand the difference between family members who shared the same first name, (like William, John, and Isabel) but I know that others might have struggled with this aspect. I think it would have been helpful if Connolly had included either a family tree or a list of family members of the de Warennes at the beginning of this book to help readers who did struggle.

I found this particular title fascinating. The de Warenne’s were a family that proved loyalty to the crown and good marriages went a long way to cement one’s legacy in medieval England. Connolly proved that she has a passion for bringing obscure noble families to the spotlight through her impeccable research. If you want a nonfiction book of a noble family full of loyalty, love, and action, you should check out “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Heidi Malagisi, NetGalley and Adventures of a Tudor Nerd

David Hey Memorial Lecture

Last year, I presented the David Hey Memorial Lecture for Doncaster Heritage Festival, entitled Warenne: The Earls of Surrey and Conisbrough Castle. Just press play on the link below if you would like to watch and hear a little more about the Warennes.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is released in the UK today and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Signed copies!

If you would like a signed, dedicated copy of  Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, or any of my books, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Online Book Launch Event

Defenders of the Norman Crown online Book Launch!I am going to do a Zoom online talk to celebrate the launch of Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey.It will be on Saturday 5th June from 7pm UK time, with a talk followed by a Q&A. Bring your own wine and cake!

If you would like to join me (please do!) then just pm me with your email address and I will send you an invite. If you would like to come along, please get in touch via the CONTACT ME form and I will send you an invite. Can’t wait to tell you all about Defenders of the Norman Crown and the Warenne earls of Surrey.

The Warenne stronghold of Conisbrough Castle

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.

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.

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Images: ©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Origins of the Warenne Family

The Warenne coat of arms, Holy Trinity Church Southover

From the time of the Norman Conquest to the death of the seventh and last earl, the Warenne family was at the heart of English politics and the establishment, providing military and administrative support to the Crown. In the years following 1066 William I de Warenne, who became the first Earl of Surrey in 1088, was the fourth richest man in England and the richest not related to the royal family – he ranks at number 18 in MSN.com’s Top 20 Richest People of All Time. The earls of Surrey were at the centre of the major crises of medieval England, from the Norman Conquest itself to the deposition of Edward II and accession of Edward III. Strategic marriages forged links with the leading noble houses in England and Scotland, from the Marshals, the FitzAlans, the d’Aubignys and Percys to the Scottish and English royal families themselves.

But where did they originate?

As with most medieval Anglo-Norman families, the origins of the Warenne family are shrouded in the sands of time and the distance of over a thousand years. Given that the family hailed from Normandy, it is likely that they had Scandinavian ancestry, just like the majority of Normans, including their duke, William (known as William the Bastard, or William the Conqueror). Duke William was descended from the famous Rollo, the first Norse, or Viking, ruler of Normandy. William was the illegitimate son of Robert I the Magnificent, who was duke of Normandy from 1027 until his death in Nicaea in 1035, whilst returning from pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Before departing on this pilgrimage, Robert had named William, then only 7 or 8 years old, as his heir, despite the question mark over his birth.

Several studies were written in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries in an attempt to establish the Warenne family’s origins, and its relationship to the duke of Normandy. The family name is probably derived from the hamlet of Varenne, situated just south of Arques in northern France and 13 miles from Bellencombre. The village is situated on the river of the same name, Varenne (previously known as Guarenne). Varenne was part of the Warenne lands in the département of Seine-Inférieure, Normandy. William de Warenne, the first earl of Surrey, was a younger son of Rodulf, or Ralph, de Warenne.

Rodulf was a minor Norman lord with lands in the Pays de Caux; his first wife, Beatrix, was the mother of William and his older brother, another Rodulf, and possibly an unnamed sister. Although William de Warenne’s ancestry is far from clear, it seems likely that his mother Beatrix was a niece of Duchess Gunnor. As the wife of Duke Richard I of Normandy, Gunnor was the mother of Emma of Normandy and the great-grandmother of Duke William of Normandy. Emma of Normandy was wife of both Ӕthelred II and King Cnut, kings of England; she holds the distinction of being the only woman to have been crowned queen of England twice, with two different husbands. Emma was the mother of Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor, also kings of England, and great-aunt of Duke William, later king of England. If Beatrix’s familial link to Duchess Gunnor is true, it would mean that William de Warenne was a second cousin, once removed, of the victorious duke of Normandy, later to be known as William the Conqueror. The two families were certainly related in some way, as Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, would later forbid a marriage between William de Warenne’s son, another William, and an illegitimate daughter of Henry I on the grounds of consanguinity (meaning the couple was too closely related by blood to be allowed to marry).

William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Warenne and Surrey, Holy Trinity Church, Southover

In 1782 Rev John Watson wrote a two-volume biography of the Warenne earls of Surrey for Sir George Warren, to demonstrate the knight’s descent from the Warenne earls. Watson tried to establish the origins of the Warennes, but his family trees are confusing, and his sources are not cited. He claimed that the Warennes were descended from Herfastus through a daughter who married Walter de Saint Martin. This daughter supposedly gave birth to William de Warenne, Earl of Varenne in Normandy, who in turn married a daughter of Rafe de Torta, a Danish nobleman who was protector of Normandy in the time of Duke Richard I. This William de Warenne was, supposedly, the father of William I de Warenne. Although there are no sources mentioned, it seems likely that Rev Watson got his information from the chronicler Robert de Torigny. There was no mention of Rodulf, who is clearly identified in the cartulary of the Holy Trinity of Rouen as being the father of William de Warenne and his older brother: ‘ filii eorum Rodulfus et Willelmus’.

It was suggested by Robert de Torigny, in his additions to the Gesta Normannorum Ducum of William of Jumièges, that William de Warenne was the brother of another Norman baron, Ralph de Mortemer. However, de Torigny’s genealogies are also rather confusing and it seems more likely that the two lords were cousins, as described by Orderic Vitalis, rather than brothers. Both are said to be descended from Hugh, who later joined the church and became bishop of Coutances. William’s father, Rodulf de Warenne, has been described as ‘ filius episcopi’, as was Roger de Mortemer, Ralph’s father. The cartulary of Rouen’s Abbey of the Holy Trinity describes Rodulf and Roger as co-heirs, implying they were brothers, in the abbey’s purchase of 100 acres of woodland. The relevant charter can be dated to before 1055 as it is witnessed by Mauger, Archbishop of Rouen, who was deposed in that year. Duke William, Rodulf’s wife Beatrix and Roger’s two sons, William and Hugh, were also witnesses to the charter.

William’s father, Rodulf I de Warenne, who survived to a grand old age and died around 1074, is also mentioned in a charter of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, father of William the Conqueror which can be dated to sometime between 1030 and 1035, when Duke Robert left on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and confirmed the foundation of the Abbey of St Amand at Rouen. The duke died on his return journey and was succeeded by his son, William. Briefly, the details of the charter give sufficient information of the landscape to suggest that Rodulf’s lands must have been outside Rouen’s existing city wall; it describes the land ‘as far as the wall of the city that sweeps from there to the land of Ralph de Warenne.’ The land was to the east of the city and close to Mount Saint Catherine, where the Abbey of the Holy Trinity stood.

William the Conqueror depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry

In 1053, the year by which William of Normandy had married Matilda of Flanders, Rodulf, described as ‘quidam miles de Warenna, Radulfus nomine’ (‘a Warenne knight named Ralph’), gave all his land in Vascoeuil, in the Eure département, to the Abbey of St Pierre de Préaux. This charter also granted high justice to the duke of Normandy, which suggests that Vascoeuil was a part of the ducal demesne, another possible indication of a familial link between Rodulf, and his wife, and the ducal house. Rodulf’s wife Beatrix gave her consent to the gift, with Rodulf’s brother Godfrey being a witness on the charter.

Sometime between May 1055 and 1059, Beatrix died and Rodulf married his second wife, Emma. Rodulf and Beatrix had at least three children. The oldest was Rodulf (or Ralph) II de Warenne, who inherited the greater part of the Warenne estates from his father. William de Warenne was the second son of the family. The feodary of Philip II Augustus, King of France, dated between 1210 and 1220 demonstrates that some of the Warenne estates, both in the Pays de Caux and near Rouen, by the dawn of the thirteenth century, formed part of the barony of Esneval. This suggests that Rodulf II had at least one child, and that his lands eventually passed through a daughter, an heiress, who married into the d’Esneval family. These lands are shown to be in the hands of Robert d’Esneval in return of knights’ fees in 1172.13

Rodulf I de Warenne also had a daughter, whose name is unknown, though whether her mother was Beatrix or Emma is undetermined as she does not appear as a witness on any charters, unlike her brothers. This daughter was married to Erneis de Coulances and had two sons, Richard and Roger. Richard became lord of Coulances and a benefactor of the Abbey of St Evroul; he had fifteen children by his wife, Adelaisa and died on 15 September 1125. Roger, also named Roger de Guarenna and described by Orderic Vitalis as nephew of William Earl of Surrey, became a monk at St Evroul in 1081, spending forty-six years there.

Another branch of the Warenne family may have descended from Roger, son of Ralph (or Rodulf) de Warethnæ, who held lands near Arques and was himself witness to a charter in favour of the Abbey of St Wandrille sometime before 1045. There is no extant evidence of a familial link, but it is possible, given that Roger and Rodulf were of the same generation, that they were cousins and that Rodulf is likely to be the Rodulf referred to as Rodulf Warethna in an entry in the Holy Trinity cartulary, undated but probably around 1060, in which Hugh de Flamanville sold to the abbey tithe and land in Emanville, Motteville and Flamanville.

William’s father, Rodulf I de Warenne, appears to have survived well beyond the Norman Conquest of England; he is recorded in 1074 as having made a gift of a church and tithe in the Pays de Caux to the Abbey of Holy Trinity in Rouen. The charter is witnessed by Rodulf, his wife and his sons: ‘Signum ipsius Rodulfi. Signum Emmæ uxoris ejus. Signum Rodulfi filii eorum. Signum Willelmi fratris ejus’ (‘Signed Rodulf our son and William his brother’). This is the last mention of Rodulf I and he is likely to have died shortly afterwards.

By this time William I de Warenne was a wealthy lord in his own right, with extensive lands in England and Normandy.

Sources:

Elisabeth Van Houts, Hereward and Flanders (article), Anglo-Saxon England vol. 28; A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2 edited by William Page; W.H. Blaauw, On the Early History of Lewes Priory, and its Seals, with extracts from a MS. Chronicle, Sussex Archaeological Collections; Edward Impey, Castle Acre Priory and Castle, English Heritage; Warenne, Gundrada de (d.1085) (article) by C.P. Lewis, Oxforddnb.com, oxforddnb.com; Elisabeth M.C. Van Houts and Rosalind C. Love (eds and trans), The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle; Jeffrey James, The Bastard’s Sons: Robert, William and Henry of Normandy; Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8 Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volume I; Alfred S. Ellis, Biographical Notes on the Yorkshire Tenants Named in Domesday Book (article); C.P. Lewis, Warenne, William de, first Earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1088) (article), Oxforddnb.com

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My books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.

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.

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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

William Longespée, the King’s Illegitimate Son

For many years, although William Longespée’s father was known, the identity of his mother was very much in question. William Longespée was the son of Henry II, king of England, and it was thought that his mother was a common harlot, called Ikenai. In that case, he would have been 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, wife of Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, from a relationship she had with the king before her marriage.

Coat of arms of William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury

There are two extant pieces of evidence supporting this. The first is a charter in the cartulary of Bradenstoke Priory, made by William Longespée, in which he refers explicitly to his mother as ‘Countess Ida, my mother’. There is also a prisoner roll from after the Battle of Bouvines, in which a fellow captive, one the sons of Ida and the earl of Norfolk, Ralph Bigod, is listed as ‘Ralph Bigod, brother [halfbrother] of the earl of Salisbury’. Ralph was a younger son of Earl Roger and Ida and had been fighting under Longespée’s command in the battle in which both were taken prisoner.

Ida was probably the daughter of Roger (III) de Tosney, a powerful Anglo-Norman lord, and his wife, also called Ida. She was made a royal ward after her father’s death and became mistress of King Henry II sometime afterwards. She gave the king one son, William Longespée, who was born around 1176, making him ten years younger than the king’s youngest legitimate son, John. Around Christmas 1181, Ida was married to Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and through his mother’s Norfolk family, Longespée had four half-brothers, Hugh, William, Ralph and Roger and two half-sisters, Mary and Margery.

Despite the misunderstandings over his mother, the identity of William Longespée’s father was never in doubt. He was Henry II’s son and acknowledged by his father; as an illegitimate son of Henry II, William Longespée’s fortune and position in society were inextricably linked with the fortunes of his royal half-brothers, King Richard I and King John, both of whom he served. Longespée adopted the coat of arms of his paternal grandfather, Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, of azure, six leoncels rampant or [gold], to emphasise his descent from the Angevin counts.

The moniker of Longespée (also Lungespée or Longsword) harkens back to his Norman forebear and namesake William Longsword, second Duke of Normandy (reigned 928–942), from whom he was descended through his father, the king. Little is known of Longespée’s childhood, upbringing or education, though a letter of 1220 that Longespée sent to Hubert de Burgh reminds the justiciar that they were raised together, probably fostered in a noble household. In 1188, Longespée had been given the manor of Appleby in Lincolnshire by his father, but he did not come into prominence until the reign of his half-brother Richard I.

It was King Richard who arranged Longespée’s marriage to the rich heiress Ela of Salisbury. Ela’s father, William, Earl of Salisbury, had carried the sceptre at Richard I’s coronation, in 1194 he had served as high sheriff of Somerset and Dorset and in 1195 campaigned with King Richard in Normandy. In the same year, he was one of the four earls who supported the canopy of state at Richard’s second coronation, and attended the great council, called by the king, at Nottingham. He died in 1196, leaving his only child, Ela, as his sole heir. Ela became Countess of Salisbury in her own right, and the most prized heiress in England.

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, half-brother, William Longespée, by offering him her hand in marriage; the Salisbury lands being seen as a suitable reward for a king’s son, especially one born out of wedlock. They would give Longespée a power base in England. Ela and Longespée were married in the same year her father died, 1196. At the time of his marriage to Ela, Longespée was in his early-to-20s, 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, and they would not have lived as husband and wife until Ela was at least 12 years old, the church’s legal age of marriage for a girl.

Ela’s new husband was an experienced soldier and statesman and would be able to protect Ela, her lands and interests. William acquired the title Earl of Salisbury by right of his wife and took over the management of the vast Salisbury estates.

Salisbury Cathedral

William (I) Longespée had an impressive military and political career during the reigns of his half-brothers. He first served in Normandy with Richard between 1196 and 1198, attesting several charters for his brother at Château Gaillard, and taking part in the campaigns against King Philip II of France, gaining essential military experience. He took part in John’s coronation on 27 May 1199 and was frequently with John thereafter. The half-brothers appear to have enjoyed a very cordial relationship; the court rolls record them gaming together and John granting Longespée numerous royal favours, from gifts of wine to an annual pension. By 1201 Longespée, along with William Marshal and Geoffrey fitz Peter, Earl of Essex ‘were seen by John at this stage in his reign as the main props to his rule, and lavish gifts followed.’1

Although Longespée’s marriage to Ela of Salisbury gave him rank and prestige, it was not a wealthy earldom. The barony commanded fifty-six knights’ fees and gave the earl custody of the royal fortress of Salisbury, but Longespée had no castle of his own. He was made sheriff of Wiltshire on 3 separate occasions, 1199–1202, 1203–1207 and 1213–1226, but was never granted the position as a hereditary right by the king. As sheriff, it was Longespée’s task to hunt down the famous outlaw Fulk Fitzwarin, whom he besieged in Stanley Abbey in 1202. When Fitzwarin and his band of about 30 men were pardoned in 1203, Longespée was among those who secured the pardon from the king. During his career, William was also entrusted with several important diplomatic missions. In 1202 he negotiated a treaty with Sancho VII of Navarre and in 1204 he and William Marshal escorted the Welsh prince Llywelyn to the king at Worcester. He was also sent to Scotland on a diplomatic mission to King William the Lion in 1205 and was with John at York in November 1206 when the two kings met. The earl was also involved in the election of his nephew, Otto, as German emperor, heading an embassy to the princes of Germany which resulted in Otto’s coronation.

William Longespée’s most prominent role during the reign of King John, however, was as a military leader. He was a commander of considerable ability. In August 1202 he had fought alongside William Marshal and William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, hounding the retreating forces of King Philip of France. The French king had withdrawn from the siege of Arques following news of John’s victory over his nephew, Arthur, at Mirebeau. Longespée and his lightly-armed fellow earls, however, narrowly escaped capture from a counterattack led by William de Barres. Following the fall of Normandy, Longespée was given command of Gascony in May 1204. In September of the same year he was also given custody of Dover castle and made warden of the Cinque Ports; he retained both offices until May 1206. In 1208 Longespée was appointed warden of the Welsh Marches and in 1210 he joined King John on the Irish expedition which had been prompted by William de Braose fleeing to Ireland to escape John’s persecution. In 1213 he allied with the counts of Holland and Boulogne, led an expeditionary force to the aid of Count Ferrand of Flanders against King Philip II and on 30 May he achieved a significant naval victory when his forces destroyed the French fleet off the Flemish coast near Damme, burning many enemy ships and capturing others. The victory forced King Philip to abandon plans for an invasion of England.

In 1214 William Longespée commanded an army in northern France for the king, while John was campaigning in Poitou. He managed to recover most of the lands lost by the count of Flanders and,, in July of the same year, he commanded the right-wing of the allied army at the Battle of Bouvines, alongside Renaud de Dammartin, Count of Boulogne. William fought bravely but was captured, after being clubbed on the head by Philippe, the bishop of Beauvais. According to the Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal the battle had been fought against the earl’s advice, and if it were not for Longespée’s own heroic actions, Emperor Otto would have been taken prisoner or, worse, killed. The battle was a military disaster for the English forces in France and ended John’s hopes of recovering his Continental possessions. William Longespée was held prisoner for almost a year. He was eventually ransomed and exchanged in March 1215, for John’s prisoner, Robert, son of the count of Dreux, who had been captured at Nantes in 1214.

William Longespée was back in England by May 1215 and appointed to examine the state of royal castles. However, England was reaching crisis point by this time, with the rebellion of the barons gathering pace. Although unable to prevent rebels from gaining control of London, he was effective against the rebels in Devon, forcing them to abandon Exeter. He was named among those barons who had advised John to grant Magna Carta, though whether he was actually present at Runnymede, when the charter was sealed, is unknown. He was granted lands from the royal demesne in August 1215 in compensation for the loss of Trowbridge, which had been returned to Henry de Bohun, one of the twenty-five barons appointed to the committee to oversee the enforcement of the terms of Magna Carta. Also in 1215, following the fall of Rochester, Longespée was given the task of containing the rebels in London, while John led the rest of his forces north. Alongside Faulkes de Bréauté and Savaric de Mauléon, he led a punitive chevauchée through Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire. However, in the early weeks of 1216, when Walter Buc’s Brabançon mercenaries ravaged the Isle of Ely, it was Longespée who protected the women from their worst excesses.

Longespée was still supporting John when Louis, the Dauphin, landed on 21 May 1216; however, Louis’ rapid advance through the southern counties, and the fall of Winchester in June 1216, led the earl of Salisbury to submit and ally with Louis. He remained in opposition to his half-brother for the rest of John’s life. Unfounded rumours, recorded by William the Breton, suggested that Longespée’s desertion of John was caused by the king’s seduction of Ela while the earl was a prisoner of war in France. It seems more likely that, like so many others, he saw John’s cause as lost and decided to cut his own losses. With Longespée’s defection, and that of William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, John’s support was severely diminished and in retaliation, John ordered his brother’s lands seized in August 1216.

Battle of Lincoln 1217, from Matthew Paris

Despite the death of King John in October 1216, Longespée remained with Louis and even called for Hubert de Burgh to surrender Dover to the French. However, when Louis returned to France in March 1217, to gather reinforcements, Longespée submitted to the king, swearing loyalty to his 9-year-old nephew, Henry III. He was also absolved of the sentence of excommunication which had been passed on all those who had defected to Louis. Along with Longespée, William Marshal’s eldest son, William (II), and a hundred other men from Wiltshire and the south-west, returned to the king’s peace. Longespée was now instrumental in driving the French from England and defeating the remaining rebel barons. He was part of William Marshal’s army at the Battle of Lincoln Fair on 20 May 1217, when Lincoln Castle and its formidable castellan, Nicholaa de la Haye, were finally relieved following a three-month siege by the French under the Comte de Perche.

We know nothing of William and Ela’s married life, although it appears to have been a happy one. The couple had at least eight children together, if not more; 4 boys and 4 girls. Of their 3 youngest boys, Richard became a canon at the newly built Salisbury Cathedral, Stephen became seneschal of Gascony and justiciar of Ireland, and their youngest son, Nicholas, was elected bishop of Salisbury in 1291; he was consecrated at Canterbury by Archbishop John Pecham on 16 March 1292. Already in his sixties, Nicholas died on 18 May 1297. In 1216, the oldest son, William II Longespée, fourth Earl of Salisbury, was granted marriage by King John to Idonea, granddaughter and sole heiress of the formidable Nicholaa de la Haye. Both children were very young when the grant was made, with Idonea being, possibly, no older than 8, the youngest age that a betrothal was sanctioned by the church, though she could not be married until the age of 12. John ordered that:

Effigy from William Longespée’s tomb

The sheriffs of Oxford and of Berkshire are commanded that they cause William, Earl of Salisbury, to have the right of marriage of the daughter of Richard de Canville, born of Eustacia, who was the daughter of Gilbert Basset and wife of the said Richard, for William his first-born son by his wife Ela, Countess of Salisbury, with all the inheritance belonging to the said Richard’s daughter from her mother in their Bailiwicks. Witness myself, at Reigate, the twenty second day of April.

Letter from King John, 22 April 1216

This order may be the source of Nicholaa de la Haye’s later wranglings with Salisbury, given that it appears to pass all of Idonea’s inheritance into the custody of Longespée, regardless of the fact Nicholaa was still very much alive at this time. It also suggests that Richard de Canville, Idonea’s father, may have already been deceased, despite most mentions of him have him dying in the first quarter of 1217. Young William and Nicholaa de la Haye would spend several years in legal disputes over the inheritance of Nicholaa’s Lincolnshire holdings. William (II) Longespée 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 on 8 February 1250. William’s body was buried in Acre, but his effigy lies atop an empty tomb in Salisbury Cathedral. His mother, Ela, is said to have experienced a vision of her son’s last moments at the time of his death.

Of the William and Ela’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. Another daughter, named Ela after her mother, married firstly Thomas de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick and, secondly, Phillip Basset; sadly, she had no children by either husband. A 4th 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 Longespée and Ela were great patrons of the church, laying the 4th and 5th foundation stones for the new Salisbury Cathedral in 1220. William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey and a cousin to Ela – Ela’s father was half-brother to William’s mother, Countess Isabel de Warenne – also laid a foundation stone. In the first half of the 1220s, Longespée played an influential role in the minority government of Henry III and also served in Gascony to secure the last remaining Continental possessions of the English king. In 1225 he was shipwrecked off the coast of Brittany and a rumour spread that he was dead. While he spent months recovering at the island monastery of Ré in France, Hubert de Burgh, first Earl of Kent and widower of Isabella 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 if he were dead, she would never presume to marry below her status. It has been suggested that she used clause 8 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.’

Clause 8, 1215 Magna Carta
Tomb of William Longespée, Salisbury Cathedral

However, as it turned out, William Longespée was, indeed, still alive and he eventually returned to England and his wife; after landing in Cornwall, he made his way to Salisbury. From Salisbury he went to Marlborough to complain to the king that Reimund had tried to marry Ela whilst he was still alive. According to the Annals and antiquities of Lacock Abbey Reimund was present at Longespée’s audience with the king, confessed his wrongdoing and offered to make reparations, thus restoring peace.

Unfortunately, Longespée never seems to have recovered fully from his injuries and died at the royal castle of Salisbury shortly after his return home, on 7 March 1226, amid rumours of being poisoned by Hubert de Burgh or his nephew. He was buried in a splendid tomb in Salisbury Cathedral.

Although the title earl of Salisbury still belonged to his wife, his son, William (II) Longespée was sometimes called Earl of Salisbury, but never legally bore the title as he died before his mother. Ela did not marry again. On her husband’s death, she was forced to relinquish her custody of the royal castle at Salisbury, although she did eventually buy it back. Importantly, she was allowed to take over her husband’s role as sheriff of Wiltshire, which he had held 3 times in his career and continuously from 1213 until his death in 1226. Ela herself served twice as sheriff of Wiltshire from 1227 until 1228 and again from 1231 to 1237.

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 Longespée. Just over 10 years after she was widowed, Ela entered her own foundation of Lacock 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.

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Footnotes:

1David Crouch, William Marshal

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sources:

finerollshenry3.org.uk; Oxforddnb.com; magnacarta800th.com; 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; Matthew Paris, Robert de Reading and others, Flores Historiarum, volume III; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of BritainOxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Rich Price King John’s Letters Facebook page; Elizabeth Hallam, editor, The Plantagenet Chronicles; Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Medieval Lands Project on the Earls of Surrey, Conisbrough Castle; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey and their Descendants to the Present Time; Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; doncasterhistory.co.uk.

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