William de Warenne, the Conqueror’s Man

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William de Warenne, 1st earl of Surrey

William de Warenne, 1st earl of Surrey, was a younger son of Rodulf de Warenne and his wife Beatrix. It is possible that Beatrix was a niece of Duchess Gunnor of Normandy, making young William a cousin of William the Bastard, duke of Normandy. The family name is probably derived from the hamlet of Varenne, part of the Warenne lands in the department of Seine-Inférieure, Normandy. William’s older brother, Rodulf or Ralph, would inherit the greater part of the Warenne family estates in Normandy.

His birth, as you might expect, is shrouded in the fog of time; a younger son of the minor nobility does not tend to get a mention until he does something remarkable or becomes someone notable. Although still young William was considered a capable and experienced enough soldier to be given joint command of a Norman army, by the mid-1050s. His 1st recorded military action is in the campaign against his own kinsman, Roger (I) de Mortemer of 1054, as one of the commanders of an army which defeated the French.

De Warenne was rewarded with some of the Mortemer lands; some of which he managed to retain even after Mortemer’s restoration to favour, including the castles of Mortemer and Bellencombre. Bellencrombe would become the capital of the de Warenne estates in Normandy. De Warenne received more rewards from the confiscated lands of William, count of Arques in 1053. Duke William’s confidence in de Warenne is demonstrated in the fact he was one of the barons consulted during the planning of the invasion of England in 1066.

In fact, William de Warenne is one of only a handful of Norman barons known to have fought at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October, 1066. De Warenne was rewarded with vast swathes of land throughout the country. According to the Domesday survey his lands extended over 13 counties; stretching from Conisbrough in Yorkshire to Lewes in Sussex. His territories were acquired over the course of the reign of William I and elevated him the highest rank of magnates. By 1086 his riches were only surpassed by the king’s half-brothers and his own kinsman, Roger de Montgomery.

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Battle of Hastings, 1066

Throughout his career, William de Warenne acquired lands in numerous counties, sometimes by nefarious means. Much of the property, such as Conisbrough, had formerly belonged to the late king, Harold. In Norfolk he is said to have asserted lordship over freemen not necessarily assigned to him. He had disputes with neighbouring landowners in Conisbrough, over which properties were sokelands and he is said to have stolen lands from the bishop of Durham and the abbot of Ely. Some acquisitions were obtained peacefully, such as the manor of Whitchurch in Shropshire, which was left to him by his kinsman Roger de Montgomery. William was an energetic and attentive landowner, and improved the economy of most of his estates; more than tripling his sheep flock at Castle Acre and doubling the value of his Yorkshire estates in just 20 years (at a time when the county was devastated by the Harrying of the North.

In 1067 William de Warenne was one of 4 prominent Normans appointed to govern England during William the Conqueror’s absence in Normandy. Following the Conquest, he continued to support the king and – subsequently – his son, William II Rufus – as a military commander for over 20 years. In 1074 he was with is father at  the abbey of Holy Trinity in Rouen and in 1083-85 he fought with the king on campaign in Maine, being wounded at the siege of the castle of Sainte-Suzanne.

In 1075, along with Richard de Clare, his fellow justiciar, he was sent to deal with the rebellion of Earl Ralph de Gael of East Anglia. De Gael had failed to respond to their summons to answer for an act of defiance and so the 2 lords faced and defeated the rebels at Fawdon in Cambridgeshire, mutilating their prisoners afterwards. Ralph withdrew to Norwich Castle; besieged for 3 months he managed to escape his attackers by boat, while the castle surrendered and was occupied by de Warenne.

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Gundrada de Warenne

William de Warenne was married to a Flemish noblewoman, Gundrada; her brother Gerbod was sometime earl of Chester and another brother, Frederic, held lands in Norfolk which eventually passed to Gundrada. There was some debate among historians that Gundrada may have been the daughter of William the Conqueror, but the confusion appears to have come from her being part of the household of William’s wife, Matilda. Gundrada and William were married sometime around the time of the Conquest, possibly shortly before the expedition to conquer England.

They had 3 children together. Their eldest son, William, would succeed his father as Earl of Surrey and de Warenne. He married Isabel de Vermandois, widow of Robert de Beaumont, earl of Leicester; with whom he had, apparently, been having an affair even before the earl’s death. Young William had a chequered career, he supported the claims of Robert Curthose, duke of Normandy, to the English throne against the duke’s younger brother, Henry I. However, duke Robert lost and was captured and imprisoned by Henry. Henry eventually forgave William, who fought for the king at the Battle of Bremule and was with Henry he died in 1135.

A 2nd son, Reynold de Warenne, led the assault on Rouen in 1090, for William II Rufus, in the conflict between the English king and his older brother, Duke Robert. However, by 1105 Reynold was now fighting for the duke against the youngest of the Conqueror’s sons, Henry I, defending the castle of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives for the duke. He was captured by Henry the following year, but had been freed by September 1106. It is possible he died shortly after, but was certainly dead by 1118 when his brother issued a charter, in which he gave 6 churches to Lewes Priory, for the soul of deceased family members, including Reynold.

Gundrada and William also had a daughter, Edith, who married Gerard de Gournay, son of the lord of Gournay-en-Bray. Gerard also supported William II Rufus against Duke Robert and took part in the Crusade of 1096. Edith later accompanied him on pilgrimage back to Jerusalem, sometime after 1104, where he died. Gerard was succeeded by their son, Hugh de Gournay, whose daughter Gundreda would be the mother of Roger de Mowbray. Edith then married Drew de Monchy, with whom she had a son, Drew the Younger.

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Castle Acre Castle, Norfolk

Gundrada died in childbirth at Castle Acre in Norfolk on 27th May 1085. She was buried in the chapter-house of the couple’s own of foundation Lewes Priory.

William’s 2nd wife was a sister of Richard Guet, who was described as ‘frater comitissae Warennae’ when he gave the manor of Cowyck to Bermondsey Abbey in 1098.¹ Guet was a landowner in Perche, Normandy, but his sister’s name has not survived the passage of time. All we know of her is that, a few days after her husband’s death, she attempted to gift 100 shillings to Ely Abbey in restitution for damage caused by William de Warenne. The monks refused the donation, hoping that Warenne’s departing soul had been claimed by demons.²

Despite this reputation at Ely, William de Warenne and his wife, Gundrada, had a reputation for piety. At some point in their marriage, probably 1081-3, they went on pilgrimage to Rome. Due of war in Italy they only got as far as the great abbey of Cluny in Burgundy, where they were received into the fellowship of monks. On their return to England they founded a priory at Lewes, following the Cluniac rule and a prior and 3 monks were sent from Cluny to establish the foundation. It was the 1st Cluniac foundation in England.

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Pevensey Castle

Following the Conqueror’s death, William fought in support of the late king’s 2nd son, William II Rufus against his older brother, Robert Curthose, who had inherited the dukedom of Normandy. He was rewarded in early 1088 with the earldom of Surrey. The new earl fought for William II Rufus during an invasion by Robert’s supporters and was badly wounded at the siege of Pevensey Castle, East Sussex, in the spring of 1088. He was taken to Lewes, where he died of his wounds on 24th June of the same year. Earl Warenne was buried beside his 1st wife, Gundrada, in the chapter-house of Lewes Priory.

Following the dissolution of Lewes Priory in the 16th century, the tombs were moved. The remains of Gundrada and William were discovered in 2 leaden chests in the parish church of St John at Southover in Lewes in 1845 and laid to rest, for a final time, at the Southover church in 1847.

Footnote: ¹ Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; ² ibid

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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Pictures: Gundrada and William de Warenne church windows ©lewespriory.org.uk; Bayeux Tapestry, Castle Acre and Pevensey Castle courtesy of Wikipedia.

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

Book Corner:1066 What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway

51dwzulugglMy latest book review, of Glynn Holloway’s epic novel 1066: What Fates Impose has gone live over at The Review today!

Glynn Holloway’s 1066: What Fates Impose is an experience in itself. It takes you on the epic journey of Harold Godwinson, earl of Wessex, and William, duke of Normandy – Harold’s rival for the throne of England – that ends at Senlac Hill, Hastings on 14th October 1066. It is a riveting tale, weaving together the lives, loves and conflicts of those who held the fate of England in their hands. Impossible to put down, 1066: What Fates Impose, gives the reader a panoramic view the events that would change the course of English history forever….

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning a paperback copy in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

The Jilted Princess

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Joan of England, Queen of Scotland

Joan of England was the oldest of daughter of King John and his 2nd wife, Isabella of Angouleme. Born 10th July 1210 she was the 3rd of 5 children; she had 2 older brothers and 2 younger sisters would join the family by 1215.

Even before her birth, she was mooted as a possible bride for Alexander of Scotland, son of King William I of Scotland. A verbal agreement between the 2 kings in 1209 provided for John to arrange the marriages of William’s 2 daughters, with 1 marrying a son of John’s, and Alexander marrying one of John’s daughters.

Following the death of William I a further treaty in 1212 agreed to the marriage of 14-year-old Alexander II to 2 year-old Joan. However, the agreement seems to have been made as a way of preventing Alexander from looking to the continent – and especially France – for a potential bride, and by extension allies.

It did not stop John from looking further afield, nevertheless, for a more favourable marriage alliance. Nor did it stop Alexander from siding with the Barons against King John; Alexander was one of the Magna Carta signatories. John refused a proposal from King Philip II of France, for his son John, and settled in 1214 for a marriage with his old enemies the de Lusignan’s.

In 1214 Joan was betrothed to Hugh X de Lusignan. Hugh was the son of John’s rival for the hand of Isabella in 1200; Isabella’s engagement to Hugh IX was broken off  in order for her to marry John. Following the betrothal Hugh, Lord of Lusignan and Count of La Marche, was given custody of Joan and of Saintes, Saintonge and the Isle of Oleron as pledges for her dowry. Joan was just 4 years old when she travelled to the south of France to live with her future husband’s family. She was away from England at the height of the Baron’s War, and at her father’s death in October 1216.

It’s possible she was reunited with her mother in 1217 when Isabella of Angouleme left England, abandoning her 4 other children, in order to govern her own lands in Angouleme.

In 1220 in a scandalous about-face Hugh repudiated Joan and married her mother, his father’s former betrothed. And poor 9-year-old Joan’s erstwhile future husband was now her step-father!

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Hugh X de Lusignan, Joan’s betrothed and step-father

And worse was to come…

Instead of being sent back to England, as you would expect, Joan went from being Hugh’s betrothed – to being his prisoner. She was held hostage to ensure Hugh’s continued control of her dower lands, and to ensure the transfer of his new wife’s dower, while England was withholding Queen Isabella’s dower against the return of Joan’s dower lands.

Negotiations to resolve the situation were ongoing. In the mean time, Henry III was already looking to arrange a new marriage for Joan. On 15th June 1220, in York, a conference between Alexander II and Henry III saw the Scots king agree to marry Joan, with a provision that he would marry Joan’s younger sister, Isabella, if Joan was not returned to England in time.

Negotiations for Joan’s return were long and difficult and not helped by the fact Hugh was threatening war in Poitou. Eventually, after Papal intervention, agreement was reached in October 1220 and Joan was surrendered to the English.

Joan and Alexander II were married on the 19th June 1221, at York Minster. Joan was just weeks from her 11th birthday, while Alexander was 22. The archbishop of York performed the ceremony, which was witnessed Henry III and the great magnates of both realms. Henry III’s Pipe Rolls suggest the wedding was followed by 3 days of celebrations, costing £100. According to the Chronicle of Melrose ‘having celebrated the nuptials most splendidly, as was befitting, with all the natives of either realm rejoicing, [Alexander] conducted [Joan] to Scotland.’

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York Minster

The day before the wedding Alexander had assigned dower estates to Joan, worth an annual income of £1,000, including Jedburgh, Crail and Kinghorn. However, part of the dower was still held by Alexander’s mother, the dowager Queen Ermengarde, and Joan was not entitled to the income until after her mother-in-law’s death. This left Joan financially dependent on Alexander from the beginning.

There is a suggestion that Joan was not enamoured with Scotland and its society. She was hampered by her youth, her domineering mother-in-law and, eventually, by the fact she failed  to produce the desired heir. Her position was further hindered by tensions between her husband and brother from time to time.

In this, though, she seems to have found her purpose. Joan regularly acted as intermediary between the 2 kings. Alexander often used Joan’s personal letters to her brother as a way of communicating with Henry, while bypassing the formality of official correspondence between kings.

One such letter is a warning, possibly on behalf of Alexander’s constable, Alan of Galloway, of intelligence that Haakon IV of Norway was intending to aid Hugh de Lacy in Ireland. In the same letter she assured Henry that no one from Scotland would be going to Ireland to fight against Henry’s interests. Another letter, this time from Henry, was of a more personal nature, written in February 1235 it informed Joan of the marriage of their “beloved sister” Isabella to the holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, news at which he knew Joan “would greatly rejoice”.

In December 1235 Alexander and Joan were summoned to London, possibly for the coronation of Henry’s new queen, Eleanor of Provence. This would have been a long and arduous journey for the Scots monarchs, especially in the deepest part of winter.

Henry’s use of Joan as an intermediary suggests she did have some influence over her husband, this theory is supported by the fact that Joan accompanied Alexander to negotiations with the English king, at Newcastle in September 1236 and again at York in September 1237.

In 1234 Henry had granted Joan Fenstanton in Huntingdonshire and during the 1236 negotiations she was granted Driffield in Yorkshire, giving Joan an income independent of Scotland. Many have seen this as an indication that Joan was intending to spend more time in England, especially seeing as the chronicler Matthew Paris hints at an estrangement, although we cannot be certain.

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Alexander II

The 1236 and 1237 councils were attempts at resolving the ongoing claims of Alexander that King John had agreed to gift Northumberland to Alexander as part of the marriage contract between Alexander and Joan. Henry, of course, denied this. With the mediation of a papal legate, agreement was eventually reached in York at the 1237 council, with both queens present, when Alexander gave up the claim to Northumberland in return for lands in the northern counties with an annual income of £200.

Following the 1237 council Joan and her sister-in-law Eleanor of Provence departed on pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. Given that Joan was now 27 and Eleanor already married for 2 years, it is possible both women were praying for children, and an heir.

Joan stayed in England for the rest of the year; much of the stay seems to have been informal and pleasurable. She spent Christmas at Henry’s court and was given new robes for herself, her clerks and servants, in addition to gifts of does and wine. Her widowed sister Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke, was present, along with the Countess of Chester and Joan’s cousin, the captive Eleanor of Brittany.

In late January arrangements were being made for Joan’s return to Scotland, but she fell ill before she could travel north. Still only 27 years of age Joan died on 4th March 1238 at Havering-atte-Bower in Essex, her brothers, King Henry III and Richard, Earl of Cornwall, were at her side.

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Henry III

According to Matthew Paris ‘her death was grievous, however she merited less mourning, because she refused to return [to Scotland] although often summoned back by her husband’. And even in death Joan elected to stay in England. her will requested that she be buried at the Cistercian nunnery of Tarrant in Dorset.

The convent benefited greatly from Henry III’s almsgiving for the soul of his sister; in 1252, over 13 years after her death, the king ordered a marble effigy to be made for her tomb (which unfortunately has not survived).

Talking of her wedding day, the Chronicle of Lanercost had described Joan as ‘a girl still of a young age, but when she was an adult of comely beauty.’

Alexander II married again just over a year after Joan’s death, to Marie de Coucy and their son, Alexander III, the longed-for heir, was born in 1241. Alexander II died of a fever in 1249.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett; http://www.britannica.com; oxforddnb.com; finerollshenry3.org.uk.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly