Eleanor, daughter of a king, Countess of Pembroke

King John with his children Henry, Richard, Joan, Isabella and Eleanor

There was one daughter of King John for whom the legacy of Magna Carta and the struggle for political reform held particular significance. The life of Eleanor of England, and her husband Simon de Montfort, stands as the epilogue of the Magna Carta story. Although democratic government was still many centuries in the future, Magna Carta was the first step. The political movement led by Simon de Montfort was the second step …

However, had fate not stepped in, Eleanor may never have married Simon. From an early age, she had been the wife of another, until tragedy struck.

Eleanor of England was the youngest child of John and Isabelle d’Angoulême; she is said to have inherited her mother’s beauty and feisty temperament.1 Eleanor was thought to have been born at the height of her father’s troubles, in the midst of the Magna Carta crisis in 1215. However, historians are now inclined to the theory that she was born posthumously, sometime after the death of King John, either in late 1216 or early in 1217. She was named for her famous grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. As a baby, little Eleanor was placed in the household of the bishop of Winchester, where her eldest brother, Henry, had been living since 1212.2 Eleanor’s father had died whilst the country was riven by war, on the night of 18/19 October 1216 at Newark. He was succeeded by Eleanor’s eldest brother Henry – now King Henry III. Eleanor’s mother, frozen out from any role in her son’s regency or life, returned to her native Angoulême and in 1220 married Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche.

In 1224 Eleanor’s future was decided when she was married to William (II) Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. The younger Marshal was the son of the first earl of Pembroke who had been regent in the early years of Henry III’s reign, and who had driven the French out of England following his victory at the Battle of Lincoln in May 1217. The first earl had a reputation for integrity and loyalty, having remained unwavering in his loyalty to King John during the Magna Carta crisis. The second earl, Eleanor’s husband, had been a hostage of the king between 1207 and 1213, as a guarantee of his father’s good behaviour. He later joined the baronial rebellion and was appointed marshal of the forces of the invader, Prince Louis. However, he returned to the Royalist cause when Louis refused him possession of Marlborough Castle, which had previously belonged to the younger Marshal’s grandfather.3

William (II) Marshal fought alongside his father at the Battle of Lincoln. On his father’s death in 1219, Marshal had succeeded him as earl of Pembroke and marshal of England; when his mother died in 1220, he succeeded to her lordships of Leinster and Netherwent. His younger brother, Richard Marshal, succeeded to the Clare lands in Ireland. In 1214 Marshal married Alice, the daughter of Baldwin de Béthune, Count of Aumâle, to whom he had been betrothed in 1203. The marriage was short-lived, however, as poor Alice died in 1216.

On 23 April 1224, William (II) Marshal was married to Eleanor; born in the 1190s, he was some twenty-or-so years older than his bride, who was no more than 9 years old on her wedding day, and may have been as young as 7.4

Eleanor of England, Countess of Pembroke

The marriage was agreed at the behest of the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, and the papal legate, Pandulf, as a way of guaranteeing Marshal remained firmly in the justiciar’s camp, and to prevent the marshal making a foreign marriage. The match put an end to three years of indecision, as to whether Eleanor should marry a foreign prince or an English magnate. The king settled ten manors, confiscated from a French nobleman and already administered by Marshal, on his sister as her marriage portion.5

For the first five years of her marriage Eleanor continued to live at court, under the guardianship of Cecily of Sandford.6 In 1229, when she was 13 or 14, she went to live with her husband, and would spend her time travelling with him in England, France and Ireland. In May 1230, Marshal had taken twenty knights with him on Henry III’s expedition to Poitou. He also took his wife, probably at the behest of the king. Eleanor became seasick during the voyage to France and Henry had his ship drop anchor at the nearest landfall to give her time to recover, ordering the fleet to continue without them.7

Henry was probably hoping that Eleanor’s presence would help to secure the support of his mother and her second husband, Hugh de Lusignan, to his expedition against the French. Mother and daughter had not seen each other since Eleanor was a baby. Isabelle’s maternal affection for the children of her first husband, however, was practically non-existent, or deeply hidden, and Eleanor’s presence failed to persuade her mother and stepfather to remain loyal to Henry III. As we have seen in a previous article, Isabelle d’Angoulême‘s priorities as a French countess often clashed with those of her English family.

Marshal and Eleanor returned from France in the spring of 1231, with William handing over command of the English forces to Ranulf, Earl of Chester. Shortly after their return, the couple attended the wedding of Marshal’s widowed sister, Isabel, to the king’s brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Family happiness turned to grief, however, when William (II) Marshal died suddenly in London a week later, on 6 April. He was buried beside his father at the Temple Church on 15 April 1231.

At the still very tender age of between 14 and 16, Eleanor was a now childless widow.

The arms of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke

The earldom of Pembroke passed to William’s younger brother, Richard, and Eleanor would spend many years fighting unsuccessfully to get the entirety of her dowry from the Marshal family, which amounted to one third of the Marshal estates, according to the guarantees established by Magna Carta. The Great Charter stipulated a widow should receive the allocation of a dower within forty days of her husband’s death.

A year after William’s death Richard Marshal offered Eleanor £400 a year as her settlement. Henry III persuaded his sister to take it, wanting to be done with the business and probably well aware that it was as much as Eleanor was likely to get, despite the Marshal holdings amounting to an income of £3,000 a year.8 Henry stood as guarantor for the settlement but the payments would always be sporadic and unreliable, not helped by the fact that the earldom passed through four successive Marshal brothers between 1231 and 1245, each with differing priorities and more Marshal widows to assign their dowers.

In the midst of her grief, and influenced by her former governess, Eleanor took a vow of chastity in the presence of Edmund of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1234. Although she did not become a nun, the archbishop put a ring on her finger, to signify that she was a bride of Christ; she was, therefore, expected to remain chaste and virtuous for the rest of her life. As a result, the king seized her estates and Richard Marshal, as her husband’s heir, took many of her valuable chattels.

Knowing how teenagers see lost love as the end of the world, even today, one can understand Eleanor’s decision to take a vow of chastity, even if we cannot comprehend anyone giving such advice to a grieving 16-year-old. Eleanor may also have seen taking such a vow as a way of staving off her brother, the king, forcing her to remarry in the interests of the crown. Moreover, it put Eleanor’s life in her own hands and also served to appease the Marshal family, who would have seen their own lands, which made up Eleanor’s dower, controlled by another magnate or foreign prince had she remarried.

Eleanor’s seal as Countess of Leicester

The widowed Eleanor retired to the castle of Inkberrow in Worcestershire. King Henry III continued to watch over his sister throughout the 1230s; he sent her gifts of venison and timber for her manors. Throughout her life, Eleanor was known for her extravagant spending, which led to substantial debts; Henry lent her money and made sporadic payments to reduce the debts. And in 1237 her brother granted her Odiham Castle in Hampshire, which would become her principal residence.9

Although Eleanor spent the 7 years after William Marshal’s death as a young widow sworn to chastity, most people may have predicted that such a life would not last. And at some point after the mid-1230s, possibly at the wedding of Henry and Eleanor of Provence, Eleanor met Simon de Montfort, the man who would dominate English politics in the mid-thirteenth century.

The couple fell in love.

But that story is for another time…

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Footnotes:

1. Carol, ‘Eleanor of Leicester: A Broken Vow of Chastity’, historyofroyalwomen.com, 28 February 2017; 2. Elizabeth Norton, She Wolves; 3. R.F. Walker, ‘William Marshal, fifth earl of Pembroke (c. 1190–1231)’, oxforddnb.com; 4. Ibid; 5. Darren Baker, With All For All; 6. Elizabeth Hallam, ‘Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke and Leicester (1215?–1275)’, Oxforddnb.com; 7. Darren Baker, With All For All; 8. Ibid; Elizabeth Hallam, ‘Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke’.

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.

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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 & SwordAmazonBookshop.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.

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Book Corner: Dark Waters Rising by Cassandra Clark

A storm is coming . . . Can nun sleuth Hildegard solve the murder of a lay sister before the rising flood waters trap her with a cunning killer?

Autumn, 1394. All is not well at Swyne Priory. Dissension has arisen amongst the nuns. The new novices whisper in corners, spreading malicious rumours and sharing dark secrets.

The Prioress gives Hildegard an order: search out the cause of this unrest, and put a stop to it. But before Hildegard can investigate, she’s forced to deal with a new problem: the arrival of a mysterious stranger in the middle of the night, claiming his life is in danger.

Hildegard isn’t sure whether to believe him, but when a body is discovered near the priory, she’s soon plunged into a dark and dangerous puzzle where nothing is as it seems. All she knows for certain is that a storm is coming, threatening to cut the priory off from the outside world and trap them with a killer . . .

Dark Waters Rising is the twelfth and final novel of Cassandra Clark’s fabulous series charting the adventure of her nun-turned-sleuth Hildegard of Meaux. Deep in the wilds of Yorkshire, amidst a storm that threatens to drown everything and everyone, Hildegard is thrown into yet another mystery when a court musician appears at the gates of her abbey, just as one of the abbey’s servants is viciously murdered. Coincidence?

Dark Waters Rising is set in the turbulent reign of King Richard II, when the king’s own relatives are always looking to their own advantage – to the detriment of the king and those who support him. It is a thrilling murder mystery, tinged with court intrigue, despite the distance between Yorkshire and London. The political connotations are never far from the minds of Hildegard and her colleagues. Hildegard has to consider the motives of the major players on the national stage, and of those closer to home if she is to uncover the murderer and keep her fellow nuns safe.

Cassandra Clark is the consummate story teller and draws the reader in from the very first pages, taking them on a journey of deceit and discovery as the tale unravels and the villains – and friends – are unmasked.

Hildegard took charge. ‘He’s going to wake the entire priory. Keep the beam in place.’

Speaking through the peephole she demanded, ‘Who’s there?’

From the lane a voice gasped something and Hildegard had to ask again. ‘Who is it? Declare yourself.’

‘I beg you – please, sister, for the love of God, let me in – I beg you, let me inside or I’m a dead man!

‘Your name, sir?’

‘Master Leonin, King’s musician, and I beg entry to your convent. Sister, I mean you no harm – I am alone. One man only. Help me!’

‘Are you armed?’

A pause followed.

Hildegard repeated the question. Eventually a hesitant voice replied, ‘Only with my one knife, for eating and practical purposes while travelling.’

‘That could mean anything, ‘ whispered Blanche the porteress.

Hildegard whispered back. ‘Fear not. I have my own knife, equally practical.’

She gave a glance towards several nuns who, roused from their beds, had crowded into the lodge. She noticed one or two looking as formidable as ever and decided to take a risk.

Peering back through the peephole she could just about discern a hooded figure move into view. Behind him was the short bridge over the moat and beyond that only the dense black of the thicket at the edge of the woods. Apart from this one fellow battering at the door there was no sign of anyone else, no band of cut-throats, nothing but the swish of rain and the gurgling in the gutters as it spewed down through the waste pipes.

She whispered to Blanche, ‘Go on. Open it slowly.’ She gave a last hurried glance outside before stepping back as the bar slid out, the door flew open, and the stranger fell inside.

He was clawing for breath and gasping, ‘I thank you with all my heart, dear sisters! Thank you, thank you!’

His hood fell back and they saw he had black hair plastered to his skull and a clean-shaven face washed by rain. Kneeling in the puddle he brought in he seemed incapable of rising to his feet. With hands clasped he lifted his face to them, eyes stark with something liker terror. He was no more than a boy, a very handsome, exotic-looking boy, wearing filthy but expensive velvet and worn-out embroidered Spanish-leather boots.

‘My blessed saviours – my dear angels of mercy,’ he whispered in a strange accent, then he astonished them all by leaning forward to kiss the flagstones in front of them.

‘Can you stand on your feet, young fellow?’ Hildegard demanded. ‘Come, get up. You’re safe from whatever threatens you outside our precinct.’

‘A moment.’ He was gasping for air. With what seemed like fear, head bent over his clasped hands as a prayer issued from his lips, he broke off with a sob then took another gulping breath before slowly subsiding to the floor in a dead faint.

In Dark Waters Rising Cassandra Clark evokes an atmosphere of desolation and isolation within a storm-swept Yorkshire of the 14th century. Her knowledge of the landscape and its people adds to the authenticity of the story and the history. All is intricately woven into the story to draw the reader into the world of late 14th century England – and the intrigues that abounded.

The reign of Richard II is woefully underrepresented in fiction and non-fiction alike, so it is refreshing to see an entire series of stories set in the period. It s even more refreshing to see them sympathetic to Richard II, rather than championing the Lancastrian cause of Henry of Bolingbroke, the future King Henry IV.

I like Hildegard. She is a no-nonsense, practical nun who just gets on with things. You can imagine that she is the one everyone goes to for advice. The sensible one. Cassandra Clark manages to include a wide range of diverse and individual characters, both in the religious houses and those around them, creating a rich tapestry of personalities for this medieval tale.

If you haven’t met Hildegard of Meaux, yet, I suggest you acquaint yourself with this amazing series.

Beautifully written and expertly told, the story and plot reveals itself gradually, building to the inevitable climax, and the ending of a fabulous series of stories.

Hildegard of Meaux will be sorely missed!

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To Buy the Book:

Dark Waters Rising by Cassandra Clark is now available from Amazon.

About the author:

Cassandra Clark is an award-winning scriptwriter for theatre, radio and television, and the author of nine previous novels in the Hildegard of Meaux medieval mystery series. Running wild near the ruins of the Abbey of Meaux in the East Riding as a child became her inspiration for the series while the discovery in a dusty archive of the Chronicle of Meaux written in 1395 is the secret source for her research.

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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 Books, Amazon 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 & SwordAmazonBookshop.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.

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

*

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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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly, FRHistS

Book Corner: Femina by Janina Ramirez

The middle ages are seen as a bloodthirsty time of Vikings, saints and kings: a patriarchal society which oppressed and excluded women. But when we dig a little deeper into the truth, we can see that the ‘dark’ ages were anything but.

Oxford and BBC historian Janina Ramirez has uncovered countless influential women’s names struck out of historical records, with the word FEMINA annotated beside them. As gatekeepers of the past ordered books to be burnt, artworks to be destroyed, and new versions of myths, legends and historical documents to be produced, our view of history has been manipulated.

Only now, through a careful examination of the artefacts, writings and possessions they left behind, are the influential and multifaceted lives of women emerging. Femina goes beyond the official records to uncover the true impact of women like Jadwiga, the only female King in Europe, Margery Kempe, who exploited her image and story to ensure her notoriety, and the Loftus Princess, whose existence gives us clues about the beginnings of Christianity in England. See the medieval world with fresh eyes and discover why these remarkable women were removed from our collective memories.

When I wrote Heroines of the Medieval World five years ago, I said at the time that it was a book that needed to be written – I just wasn’t sure if I was the person to write it. If I had been asked who should write it, one of the top names on my list would have been Janina Ramirez. So I was not surprised when I discovered that Janina had written a book on medieval women, Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It.

I admit I was a little worried that Femina would make my Heroines obsolete or redundant, but I probably shouldn’t have been. After all, every writer has their own style and approach and every book – even if on the same topic – is written differently. And while the two books do overlap in places, we do not always reach the same conclusion and they really would complement each other on a book shelf (hint, hint!).

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It looks at some of the most remarkable women of the medieval period, including two women you will be familiar with if you have read Heroines of the Medieval World, Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians and Jadwiga, ‘King’ of Poland. And the chapter on Jadwiga is particularly illuminating as Dr Ramirez applies her background in Art History to the symbolism and significance of Jadwiga’s reign, both on a political and spiritual level.

Janina Ramirez also provides great insight in to Emma of Normandy, who I looked at in detail for my own book, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest. Study is even made of Ӕlfgyva, the mysterious woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, though Janina and I come to very different conclusions – and I would dearly love to have a face-to-face conversation with her to thrash out our theories. That would be fun!

Hild moved from Hartlepool to the site known then as Strenaeshalch and now as Whitby, in AD 657. Here she was granted land to build a double monastery where both men and women could learn the scriptures and dedicate themselves to a monastic life. And engraved stone slab commemorates her successor as abbess, Ælfflæd, and the use of the Latin script and alphabet supports Bede’s suggestion that Whitby was a centre of learning and literacy. But like at Hartlepool, finds from Hild’s abbacy include many luxuries such as decorative hairpins, golden book covers and even a comb with a runic inscription. Runes were the alphabet of the pre-Christian English, but the inscription is clearly Christian: My God. May God Almighty help Cy …’ Again, we find an object which links the Germanic warrior world to the new Christina one. Like Hild herself it straddles ideologies and a time of transition.

Hild was at the top of the tree in terms of influence in seventh-century Northumbria. Bede states that ‘even kings and princes sought and received her counsel’, and she acted as mentor to the daughter of Oswui, King of the Northumbrians from 642-670. What’s more, it was under her rule, in the monastery she founded herself, that the leaders of the English church gathered for the famous Synod of Whitby in AD 664. With Hild in charge of proceedings, the good and the great, representatives of Rome and Ireland, argued which traditions the Northumbrian church should follow. The result went the way of Rome. The variety and uniqueness of Celtic monasteries was lost to the rigour and routine of the Benedictine Rule, and monasticism in the north was transformed forever. For a woman to be involved in such high-level synodal processes is something extraordinary even today. It is also significant that five men who trained under Hild were all made bishops; if there were king-makers in the medieval world, then she was the bishop-maker. Whitby was the training ground for a new, Roman Christian, learned and respected English church. From Hild’s northern headland, educated men and women would stretch out the length and breadth of the country, assuming the very highest positions within churches and monasteries, including the archbishop of York. Hild’s influence would permeate the fabric of Christianity in this part of the world and its effects were felt down the centuries.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It is a fabulous study of a number of medieval women – and medieval woman in general. Dr Ramirez manages to combine what it was like to be a woman in medieval times, including their rights and the dangers they faced, such as childbirth, with the histories of particular women – and not always women you would expect to see in history book. The most fascinating chapter is that which is devoted to the Cathars, a religious sect much misunderstood and persecuted to extinction by the church. Janina Ramirez highlights not only their suffering and personal testimonies, but also the strength and respect that women held within the community. It truly is illuminating.

From warrior Viking women, to the successes of Æthelflæd and the excessive crying of Margery Kempe, Janina Ramirez shines a light on the lives and experiences of a huge variety of medieval women. Archaeological discoveries, religious artefacts and medieval artwork are used to describe and illuminate the world in which these women lived and died.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It is an engaging, entertaining read, with Janina Ramirez’s unique and wonderful take on medieval history. Introducing her vast knowledge of Art History into the mix adds vibrancy to the individual stories and brings these incredible women to life. Dr Ramirez is fabulous writer and communicator and takes the reader on an incredible journey of discovery through the medieval world. Her enthusiasm and fascination for the topic shines through on every page.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It by Janina Ramirez is truly a pleasure to read.

About the author:

Dr Janina Ramirez is a Sunday Times bestselling author, an Oxford lecturer, BBC broadcaster and researcher. She has presented and written over 30 hours of BBC history documentaries and series on TV and radio, and written five books for children and adults.

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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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.

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: The Women of the House of Montfort by Darren Baker

It is a pleasure to welcome historian Darren Baker to History … the Interesting Bits today, with a guest article about the women of the family of Simon de Montfort. Darren is the author of The Two Eleanors, a book telling the dual biography of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, and Eleanor of England, wife of Simon de Montfort. Darren’s latest book, Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort, was released in November from Pen & Sword and is a stunning biography of the the Montfort family.

So, over to Darren …

The Women of the House of Montfort

Darren Baker

King Philip I of France leaving his wife for Bertrade de Montfort

The house of Montfort arose some 50 kilometres west of Paris in a place known today as Montfort l’Amaury. Their family name ‘de Montfort’ is usually associated with two Simons, father and son, the relentless Albigensian crusader and the determined English revolutionary, both men of the 13th century. Other family members went further afield and established lordships in Italy and the crusader states.

Less known is the prominence of the de Montfort women. Their influence reaches back to the 11th century, starting with Isabella. Her father, Simon I, gave her in marriage to Ralph de Tosny, who in turn forced his sister Agnes to marry this first Simon. When Isabella fell out with her father’s children with Agnes, she put on armour and led a body knights in the field against her half-brothers.

Isabella’s half-sister Bertrade was married to Fulk IV of Anjou. She grew tired of his lecherous ways and took as her next husband the king of France, Philip I, who deserted his wife to marry her. Hoping to see her son with Philip succeed to the throne over her stepson Louis (VI), Bertrade had the older youth poisoned, but the attempt failed and brought about her disgrace. She died in a nunnery in 1117, not living to see her son from her first marriage, Fulk V of Anjou, become king of Jerusalem.

Two generations later, Simon III stood loyally by the English in their fight with the French. He was rewarded with marriages for his three children into the Anglo-Norman nobility. His oldest son Amaury V married Mabel, daughter of the earl of Gloucester, the next son Simon IV married Amicia, daughter of the earl of Leicester, and daughter Bertrade II married Hugh, the earl of Chester. This Bertrade was the mother of the legendary Ranulf de Blondeville, arguably the last of the great Anglo-Norman barons.

The senior branch of the house of Montfort died out in 1213, but Amicia’s son Simon V (the crusader), who was already the count of Montfort, inherited the earldom of Leicester. It was confiscated by King John in 1207 and ended up in the custody of Ranulf. It was from Ranulf that Simon VI acquired Leicester in 1231 and became an English noble, but that’s getting ahead of the story.

Eleanor de Montfort and children

Simon V’s wife was Alice de Montmorency. She was very much an active crusader against the Albigensians and often participated in her husband’s war councils. Their daughter Petronilla was born during the crusade and baptised by Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Dominican order. After Simon’s death in 1218, Alice placed Petronilla in a nunnery, where she became the abbess later in life. Alice’s oldest daughter Amicia founded the nunnery of Montargis, south of Paris, and died there in 1252.

In England, Alice’s son Simon VI rose high in royal favour and married Eleanor, the youngest sister of King Henry III and widow of William Marshal II. Together she and Simon had five sons and one daughter. The clash between Eleanor’s husband and brother ended in civil war and Simon’s death in 1265 at the battle of Evesham. Eleanor left England to live out the rest of her life in Montargis and took her namesake daughter with her.

Guy de Montfort was the only one of Eleanor’s sons to marry. He found service under Charles of Anjou, the king of Sicily, and rapidly advanced to become the count of Nola. He received a Tuscan heiress as his bride, but he scandalised the family in 1271 by vengefully murdering his cousin. Guy escaped punishment for the most part and had two daughters, of whom only the youngest Anastasia survived to adulthood. She became the countess of Nola at her father’s death in 1292 and married into the Orsini family of Rome.

Eleanor de Montfort died in 1275, living long enough to see her daughter marry Llywelyn of Wales by proxy. Later that year, the boat carrying young Eleanor and her brother Amaury VIII was captured by the forces of their cousin King Edward I, who had been alerted to their intentions. Eleanor was confined at Windsor Castle and not freed to marry Llywelyn until 1278.

She died four years later giving birth to a daughter Gwenllian. When Llywelyn was then killed, the baby girl was placed in a nunnery in Lincolnshire. By the time of her death in 1337, the de Montfort family, once so admired and respected across Europe and the Mediterranean, seemed long extinct. But their fortunes were about to be revived.

Joan of Navarre, Queen of England

This part of the story goes back to Simon V and Alice’s oldest son Amaury VII, who succeeded his father as the count of Montfort. He was followed by his son John, whose wife was pregnant when he left on crusade and died overseas. The daughter born to her, Beatrice, became the countess of Montfort when she came of age. She married Robert of Dreux and had a daughter Yolande, who became the second wife of King Alexander III of Scotland in 1285 in the hope of producing an heir to that throne.

It didn’t happen, and after Alexander died, Yolande married Arthur II of Brittany. Their son John succeeded her as the count of Montfort, and when his half-brother the duke of Brittany died in 1341 without an heir, John put in a claim for the duchy. It turned into a war of succession, which was won by his son, another John of Montfort, in 1365, a hundred years after Evesham.

In 1386, this John of Montfort took as his third wife the famous Joan of Navarre. She was the mother of his children and after his death became the queen of England with her marriage to King Henry IV. It was through her and Yolande that the Montfort family line returned to England.

About the Author:

Darren Baker was born in California, raised in South Carolina, and came to Europe in 1990, settling permanently in the Czech Republic. A former submariner in the US Pacific fleet, he later studied languages at the University of Connecticut and works as a translator. A trip to the UK inspired him to revisit the events of 13th century England, which he does on his website simon2014.com and in his books. His newly released Crusaders and Revolutionaries of the Thirteenth Century: De Montfort is his fourth on the subject.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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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.

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Empress Hermine and the Tragic Wedding

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Moniek Bloks to History … The Interesting Bits on the first stop of her book tour. Moniek is the author of a new biography of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s second wife, Hermine Reuss of Greiz. The book, Hermine; An Empress in Exile will be released in the UK on Friday 11th December.

So, it’s over to Moniek:

Hermine

Empress Hermine and the tragic wedding

Caroline and her husband

Hermine Reuss of Greiz was one of the five daughters of Heinrich XXII, Prince Reuss of Greiz and his wife Princess Ida of Schaumburg-Lippe. Her childhood was overshadowed by the death of her mother in childbirth and the incurable disability of her only brother.  A 13-year marriage to Prince Johann Georg of Schönaich-Carolath produced five children before her husband’s death of tuberculosis. However determined never to be married again, Hermine ended up meeting the exiled German Emperor Wilhelm II, and soon fate had other plans.

But before Hermine had even married her first husband, she met the Emperor as a 15-year-old girl. In 1903, her elder sister Caroline was destined to marry Wilhelm Ernst, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Hermine and Caroline were especially close, and Caroline was only three years older than her. On 30 April 1903, Caroline married the Grand Duke at Bückeburg Palace, but Caroline was deeply unhappy; she hardly knew the man she was going to marry and abhorred the life that was waiting for her in Weimar.

Though faced with the separation of her much-beloved sister, Hermine’s memories of that day also focused on a man who towered above everyone else, the Emperor. Her uncle and guardian, who was hosting the wedding, promised to introduce her to him and young Hermine dutifully curtseyed to him. It was an unforgettable experience for her, but the Emperor paid little attention. She later said, “How could he have foreseen that this blushing little girl was his future wife? I stood there, frozen on the spot where the Emperor had received my greeting. The Emperor went on and chatted with my uncle.”

Caroline

It wasn’t just Caroline who had doubts about the wedding. Wilhelm Ernst received a stern talking to from the Emperor, and he said, “Only love can turn a palace into a home. Caroline is like a little bird, fallen out of its nest. She will miss the sisters who loved her. It will take her some time before she learns to be at home on the cold parquet floor of your castle.” He then raised his voice and said, “You have given me an Oath of Allegiance, and I order you to marry tomorrow.” The wedding went ahead as planned.

Caroline remained deeply unhappy, took up smoking and barely ate. The unhappiness of her marriage consumed her body, and she was soon emaciated. On 17 January 1905, Hermine sat by her dying sister’s bedside. On top of everything, Caroline had fallen ill with influenza, and her weakened body simply could not fight the disease. Hermine wrote, “The attack was so violent that there was no hope of her recovery from the first. She received the tenderest care, but all effort was in vain. In her heart of hearts, she did not wish to live.”

Hermine would always remember that she first met her future husband at her sister’s wedding but mostly, she would remember the dear sister she lost.

Many thanks to Moniek for a wonderful post and my very best wishes on her latest release. Please do follow the rest of the blog tour.

The book Hermine: An Empress in Exile will be released on 11 December 2020 (UK) and 1 January 2021 (US).

About the book:

Hermine Reuss of Greiz is perhaps better known as the second wife of the Kaiser (Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany) whom she married shortly after the death of his first wife Auguste Viktoria and while he was in exile in the Netherlands. She was by then a widow herself with young children. She was known to be ambitious about wanting to return to power, and her husband insisted on her being called ‘Empress’. To achieve her goal, she turned to the most powerful man in Germany at the time, Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, her dream was not realised as Hitler refused to restore the monarchy and with the death of Wilhelm in 1941, Hermine was forced to return to her first husband’s lands. She was arrested shortly after the end of the Second World War and would die under mysterious circumstances while under house arrest by the Red Army.

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About the author:

Moniek Bloks

Moniek Bloks is the editor of the successful blog History of Royal Women. She lives in the Netherlands and has a background in law.

Her interest in historical royal women and writing began at an early age, and she has been glad to share the stories of often little-known royal women.

When she isn’t writing, she is visiting castles and palaces around Europe with her trusty camera.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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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.

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Moniek Bloks

Book Corner: Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England by Annie Whitehead

Many Anglo-Saxon kings are familiar. Æthelred the Unready is one, yet less is written of his wife, who was consort of two kings and championed one of her sons over the others, or his mother who was an anointed queen and powerful regent, but was also accused of witchcraft and regicide. A royal abbess educated five bishops and was instrumental in deciding the date of Easter; another took on the might of Canterbury and Rome and was accused by the monks of fratricide.

Anglo-Saxon women were prized for their bloodlines – one had such rich blood that it sparked a war – and one was appointed regent of a foreign country. Royal mothers wielded power; Eadgifu, wife of Edward the Elder, maintained a position of authority during the reigns of both her sons.

Æthelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, was a queen in all but name, while few have heard of Queen Seaxburh, who ruled Wessex, or Queen Cynethryth, who issued her own coinage. She, too, was accused of murder, but was also, like many of the royal women, literate and highly-educated.

From seventh-century Northumbria to eleventh-century Wessex and making extensive use of primary sources, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England examines the lives of individual women in a way that has often been done for the Anglo-Saxon men but not for their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters. It tells their stories: those who ruled and schemed, the peace-weavers and the warrior women, the saints and the sinners. It explores, and restores, their reputations.

I was very lucky to receive an advance copy of Annie Whitehead’s wonderful new book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England. Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, this book brings to life the women on England from before the Norman Conquest.

Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England is a wonderful study of the influential royal and noble women of pre-Conquest England, whether they were queens, princesses, abbesses or countesses. Annie Whitehead tells their stories in wonderful, vivid detail, beautifully weaving the historical implications off their lives with their larger-than-life stories.

Though they have been dead a thousand years and more, and while written evidence on these women may be scarce, the author has managed to squeeze every bit of information from the available chronicles, charters and saints’ lives. She has given the reader every possible snippet of information on their lives, presenting and analysing the sources in an accessible, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable reading experience.

The stories of these women is told with a passion and eloquence which makes every chapter a pleasure to read. The more familiar stories of Æthelflæd, Lady Godiva and St Hilda of Whitby are given excellent new interpretations, while the reader may be meeting the less familiar women, such as Æthelfrith of Bernicia, Eadburh and Alfred the Great’s sister, Æthelswith, for the first time.

Ælfgifu appears not to have been married for long. Her son Eadwig was probably born around 940, and his younger brother Edgar around 943. King Edmund himself died in 946 – the victim of a brawl, or perhaps a political assassination – having married again, so his first marriage must have ended not long after Edgar’s birth. The younger of the royal orphans, Edgar, was fostered by a noblewoman, the wife of the ealdorman of East Anglia, whom we shall meet in Part VI.

Ælfgifu is known as Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, and William of Malmesbury in particular had a lot to say about her. He said that it was she who built the nunnery there and that her bodily remains were placed there. She was ‘so pious and loving that she would even secretly release criminals who had been openly condemned by the gloomy verdict of a jury.’ She would also give away her expensive clothes to the needy and she was a beautiful woman who was remembered for the miracles associated with her; the blind, the deaf and the lame were cured after visiting Shaftesbury.

It would be easy to assume that she retired to Shaftesbury in the manner of a number of previous queens, but the short-lived nature of her marriage and the young age of her children suggest another scenario. It is plausible that she died in childbirth, either in labour with Edgar or with a subsequent pregnancy in which both mother and child died. If she did indeed die in childbirth then she cannot have been a nun at Shaftesbury, but merely its benefactress.

Æthelflæd with her nephew Æthelstan

of these women were not easy to find, and the detective work involved in researching Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England is both entertaining and fascinating. In recreating and retelling the lives of these remarkable women, Annie Whitehead has given us a window into a distant past. We have the chance to observe the lives, loves, hopes and dreams of these remarkable women; women who helped shape their present and futures, and thus the world in which we now live.

The author also helps to dispel some of the myths that have arisen about these women, whether by historical fiction writers or the over-active imaginations of the chroniclers of the past. The true stories of Æthelflæd and Godiva, and others, are revealed, the myths surrounding them examined and explained. This is a wonderful book, filled with stories of love, intrigue and murder, of the power struggles and betrayals of Anglo-Saxon England, of strong and influential women who made an impression, not only on their own times, but on the generations who came after.

Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England brings to life the women of the Anglo-Saxon period with vivid clarity. It is a remarkable study of the lives of women of the period – known and unknown – and their impact on history. Saints, princesses and queens; wives, daughters and mothers, Annie Whitehead demonstrates the strengths, weaknesses and challenges these incredible women faced in order to exert their influence on their corner of the world. The author’s meticulous research, beautiful writing and natural storytelling ability make this book a pleasure to read from beginning to end.

To Buy the Book:

Bookhttp://mybook.to/WomeninPower Amazonhttp://viewauthor.at/Annie-Whitehead

About the author:

Annie Whitehead graduated in history having specialised in the ‘Dark Ages’ and is a member of the Royal Historical Society. She’s written three books about early medieval Mercia, the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the Midlands. The first, To Be a Queen, tells the story of Alfred the Great’s daughter, and was long-listed for the Historical Novelist Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016, and was an IAN (Independent Author Network) Finalist in 2017, while the second, Alvar the Kingmaker, is the story of Aelfhere, Earl of Mercia in the 10th century. The third, Cometh the Hour, is the first of two volumes set in seventh-century Mercia. She was a contributor to the anthology 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternative short stories. She writes magazine articles and has had pieces printed in diverse publications, including Cumbria Magazine and This England. She has twice been a prize winner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing Competition, and won First Prize in the 2012 New Writer Magazine’s Prose and Poetry Competition. She was a finalist in the 2015 Tom Howard Prize for nonfiction, and is also a contributor and editor for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, as well as blogging for her own site – Casting Light upon the Shadow. In 2017 she won the inaugural HWA/Dorothy Dunnett Society Short Story Prize. Her first full-length nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, is published by Amberley. Her latest nonfiction, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, is published by Pen & Sword Books.

Social Media links: Blog; Twitter; Website; Facebook

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My Books

Out Now!

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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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.

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century Europe

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century Europe hits the bookshops today. 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.

Magna Carta clause 39: No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.

This clause in Magna Carta was in response to the appalling imprisonment and starvation of Matilda de Braose, the wife of one of King John’s barons. Matilda was not the only woman who influenced, or was influenced by, the 1215 Charter of Liberties, now known as Magna Carta. Women from many of the great families of England were affected by the far-reaching legacy of Magna Carta, from their experiences in the civil war and as hostages, to calling on its use to protect their property and rights as widows.

Ladies of Magna Carta looks into the relationships – through marriage and blood – of the various noble families and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. Including the royal families of England and Scotland, the Marshals, the Warennes, the Braoses and more, Ladies of Magna Carta_focuses on the roles played by the women of the great families whose influences and experiences have reached far beyond the thirteenth century.

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England was such an amazing story to write. There were so many women who influenced the clauses of Magna Carta and the civil war which surrounded its creation. And there were even more women who were able to use Magna Carta to protect their own rights. And there were some for whom Magna Carta did nothing too assuage their suffering…..

It was an honour and a privilege to tell their stories.

Here’s what the reviewers are saying:

“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

The history of women isn’t written about enough. I requested this one because it sounded like it would be a very interesting read about contemporary women. It focuses, of course, more on women who were royal or connected with the nobility, but it was still fascinating. Each chapter goes over different families or women. It was very easy to read and get into. When this gets published, I’m going to see if I can snag a copy because I’d want to own and reread this one!

Caidyn, goodreads reviewer

“Fascinating book! It was interesting to read about women living at the time of the issuing of the Magna Carta and to learn about what chapters were addressed to them and in what respects…Much on the book is about the families of women, that is to say the male part. I found nevertheless interesting to read about differences in those various families in their relationship with their daughters and wives. A few of these medieval women did have a louder voice than was usually expected: 2 became Sheriffs, for instance.”

Christine, goodreads reviewer

Absolutely loved this book. It brought out the roles of women in the formation and assertion of the Magna Carta, something we don’t hear very much about in general. There were some formidable women mentioned and I learned so much about their struggles and stories – some of them very tragic – and whether or not John was able to implement the Magna Carta to help them. In some cases, it was argued, women helped form the structure of some of the Magna Carta. A great read!

Jo Romero, NetGalley reviewer

Absolutely amazing book! Could not stop reading it. Very informative and interesting. The author has an amazing ability to ferret out information on people we have always thought of as “lost”. This is the third book I have read from this author and again I am blown away with her ability to make a very confusing time in English history interesting and, even more importantly, tell it from the perspective of a set of people often forgot about…women.

Janette Recore, NetGalley reviewer

Reviews:

You can find a wonderful full review of Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century Europe over on the Love British History blog.

Here’s the full review from historian Darren Baker.

Guest blog posts:

I visited Annie Whitehead to talk about writing Ladies of Magna Carta and some of my past and future projects.

You can find me over on Tony Riches’ blog, The Writing Desk, talking about Matilda de Braose, her family and their influence on the Magna Carta story.

And you can find me over at Just History Posts, talking about Ladies of Magna Carta and writing in general.

Over on The Coffee Pot Book Club, you can find an extract on Margaret of Scotland, from the chapter on Scottish Princesses.

Out Now!

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

The History and Legend of Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva

While researching Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest I came across some incredibly interesting characters. One of the most misunderstood women of the 11th century has to be Lady Godiva. Although she would have been known as Godgifu in her lifetime, we shall call her Godiva, the name we have all grown up with, and to distinguish her from several notable ladies of a similar name in this period. Known for her legendary naked ride through Coventry in order to ease the tax burdens of its citizens, finding the true story of Lady Godiva was a fascinating experience. She was the grandmother of three of the leading English characters of the Norman Conquest; Harold II’s queen, Ealdgyth and the earls of Mercia and Northumberland, Edwin and Morcar.

The origins of Lady Godiva herself, are shrouded in mystery and the distance of time. We know nothing of her parentage or relations. There is some suggestion that she was the sister of Thorold of Bucknall, who is said to have founded a Benedictine abbey on his manor at Spalding, Lincolnshire, which he then gave to the great abbey at Crowland. However, there does appear to be some confusion and the charter from Crowland which mentions Thorold could well be spurious. The situation is further confused by the fact the land later passed to Ivo Taillebois, who founded a church at Spalding as a satellite of the church of St Nicholas at Angers. Ivo’s wife, Lucy, was the daughter of Turold, Sheriff of Lincoln. It is difficult to say whether Turold of Lincoln and Thorold of Bucknall are one and the same person, but it is possible; Turold and Thorold are both a derivative of the Scandinavian name Thorvaldr. Later legends even name Lucy as a daughter of Earl Ælfgar and therefore a granddaughter of Godiva. However, there is no surviving evidence to support this theory and the identity of Thorold and his relationship to Godiva is just as uncertain.

St Mary, Stow (Stow Minster) Lincolnshire

Godiva was probably married before 1010 and so it is possible that she was born in the early 990s. She possessed considerable lands in the north-west of Mercia, suggesting that this is where she and her family were from. Mercia, in that time, covered almost all of the Midlands region, spreading from the Welsh borders across the centre of England. Her lands in Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire, which amounted to sixty hides, may have constituted her own inheritance.1 Godiva’s high family status is also attested by the fact that she made a very good marriage, to Leofric, who would later become Earl of Mercia.

Leofric was the son of Leofwine, who had been appointed Ealdorman of the Hwicce, an ancient kingdom within the earldom of Mercia, by Æthelred II in 994. While the family lands were given to victorious Danes on the accession of Cnut, Leofwine was allowed to keep his rank and title and may have succeeded the traitorous Eadric Streona as Ealdorman of Mercia after his death in 1017. The family’s lands and influence appear to have been in the eastern part of Mercia, where they were known religious benefactors; Earl Leofwine was recorded as a benefactor at Peterborough Abbey. Leofric’s marriage to Godiva, therefore, may have been a way of extending his family’s influence into the western parts of Mercia. He was attesting charters as minister between 1019 and 1026, perhaps as sheriff under Hakon, Earl of Worcester.

His father, Leofwine, probably died in 1023 or shortly after, as that was the last year in which he attested a charter. There is no clear indication as to whether Leofwine was ever Earl of Mercia, although Leofric certainly held that title through the reigns of four kings; Cnut, Harold Harefoot, Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor. Leofric’s backing of Harold Harefoot, over Harthacnut, may have been a result of his son’s marriage. Ælfgar is thought to have married Ælfgifu, who was possibly a kinswoman of Harold Harefoot’s mother, Ælfgifu of Northampton, sometime in the late 1020s. Such a relationship would explain Leofric’s support for Harold Harefoot. Of course, so would the fact that Harthacnut was in no hurry to return from Denmark and Harold was on the spot and able to take charge.

Lady Godiva and Leofric were great benefactors to the church and acted in partnership, particularly in their endowment of Coventry Abbey which, according to John of Worcester, was made out of lands held by each of them. They also endowed the minster church of Stow St Mary, just to the north of Lincoln, and an Old English memorandum included both Leofric and Godiva in a request to Wulfwig, Bishop of Dorchester-on-Thames ‘to endow the monastery and assign lands to it.’2 Stow St Mary is a beautiful building at the centre of the small village of Stow. Founded in the seventh century, it boasts the faded graffiti carving of a Viking longboat on one of its inner walls. The endowment included provision for secular canons, under the supervision of the bishop and was made between and 1053 and 1055.

Information board explaining the links with Lady Godiva, Stow Minster, Lincolnshire

It is often difficult to work out the extent of Godiva’s involvement in her husband’s religious endowments. The Evesham Chronicle names both Leofric and Godiva (as Godgifu, of course) as the founders of both Coventry Abbey and Holy Trinity Church at Evesham. The couple also gave a crucifix, with the supporting figures of the Virgin and St John the Evangelist, to Holy Trinity Church. Moreover, Godiva had a reputation as a patroness of the Church throughout Mercia during her own lifetime. Orderic Vitalis said that Godiva gave ‘her whole store of gold and silver’ for the provision of ecclesiastical ornaments for the foundation at Coventry and John of Worcester also records Godiva’s devotion to the Virgin.3

There is one example that counters this argument, however, which involves a joint grant by Leofric and Godiva, of Wolverley and Blackwell, Worcestershire. The Second Worcester Cartulary, compiled by Hemming on the orders of Bishop Wulfstan, claims that Leofric returned Wolverley and Blackwell, and promised that the manors at Belbroughton, Bell Hall, Chaddesley Corbett and Fairford, seized by his father Leofwine, would revert to the Church on his death. Hemming, however, claims that Godiva held onto the lands for herself, rather than returning them; although she is said to have given the Church expensive vestments and ornaments, and a promise not only to pay the annual revenues from these estates to the Church, but to return the lands on her own death.4 That Edwin and Morcar seized the lands after their grandmother’s death, surely cannot be laid at Godiva’s door?

During her marriage, Godiva held several manors in her own right. Coventry, although little more than a village at this time, appears to have belonged to Godiva herself. She also had lands in various other parts of Mercia, including Newark, which she may have bought from her son, Ælfgar, as it was part of the comital lands (the earldom). Her lands at Appleby in Derbyshire were leased from Leofric, the Abbot of Peterborough, who was nephew and namesake of her husband, Earl Leofric.

Leofric died in 1057, on either 31 August or 30 September, at his manor of King’s Bromley in Staffordshire. John of Worcester said of him; this ‘man of excellent memory died at a good old age, in his own manor called Bromley, and was buried with honour in Coventry, which monastery he had founded and well endowed.’5 The 1057 entry of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reported; ‘The same year died Earl Leofric, on the second before the calends of October; who was very wise before God, and also before the world; and who benefited all this nation’.6

Godiva was to live on as a widow for at least ten more years. She would be there to see her son’s inheritance of the earldom of Mercia. Although titles and land did often pass from father to son, it was not a foregone conclusion. Indeed, Ælfgar’s rebellion in 1055 – which led to a subsequent exile – may well have been in fear of losing his inheritance, given that Edward the Confessor had just given the earldom of Northumbria to Tostig, son of Godwin, on the death of Earl Siward in place of his son and natural heir, Waltheof. Waltheof was still a child, however, and this may well have been a practical decision, in that it would be dangerous to leave such a powerful earldom, and the border with Scotland, in the control of a child. Ælfgar was banished again in 1058, but for a very short while, apparently, with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reporting; ‘Earl Ælfgar was expelled but he soon came back again, with violence, through the help of Gruffydd.’7

We do not have the exact date of Godiva’s death. Most historians seem to believe that she survived the Norman Conquest and died around 1067. She is mentioned as a pre-Conquest landholder in the Domesday Book, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that she was alive in 1066. Hemming, who compiled the Worcester cartulary, says that some of her lands passed directly to her grandsons, Edwin and Morcar, offering evidence that Godiva also outlived her son, Ælfgar, who probably died in 1062. If Godiva did live into 1067, then she would have seen the dangers that the Norman Conquest brought to her family. Although her son was dead, most of her grandchildren were very much alive, and at the heart of events. By 1065 her 2 surviving grandsons were both earls (a 3rd grandson, Burgred, died in 1060 while returning from a pilgrimage to Rome).

Morcar became Earl of Northumbria in 1065, chosen by the Northumbrians to replace the unpopular Tostig. His tenure, however, was of short duration and he was replaced with Copsig, an adherent of Tostig, by William the Conqueror. Edwin had succeeded his father as Earl of Mercia in 1062 but neither brother flourished under the rule of William the Conqueror. Their sister, Ealdgyth married Harold Godwinson (King Harold II) sometime in late 1065, or early 1066, and was the uncrowned Queen of England until Harold’s death at Hastings in October 1066. Following the battle, Ealdgyth was taken to Chester by her brothers, where she may have given birth the king Harold’s son, Harold, before disappearing from the records.

Godiva is believed to have died in 1067 and was most likely buried alongside her husband at Coventry; although the Evesham Chronicle claims that she was laid to rest in Holy Trinity, Evesham. In the thirteenth century, her death was remembered on 10 September, but we have no way of confirming the actual date. After the Conquest, Godiva’s lands were held by various personalities.

Statue of Alfred Lord Tennyson in the grounds of Lincoln Cathedral

We have no contemporary description of Godiva, of her personality or appearance. Her patronage of such religious institutions as Stow St Mary and Coventry Abbey is testimony to her piety and generosity. Stories of this generosity and piety were known to later chroniclers, such as William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon. Henry of Huntingdon said of Godiva that her name ‘meriting endless fame, was of distinguished worth, and founded the abbey at Coventry which she enriched with immense treasures of silver and gold. She also built the church at Stow, under the hill at Lincoln, and many others.’8 Although Henry of Huntingdon’s geography is a little skewed – Stow is a few miles north of Lincoln, rather than to the south, which ‘under the hill’ would suggest – it is obvious that Godiva’s fame was still alive in the twelfth century.

Lady Godiva is, perhaps, the most famous Anglo-Saxon woman in history. Everyone knows her legend – or a variation of it. And that legend has only grown and expanded down the years; like the game of Chinese whispers, the story has been added to and enhanced with every retelling. It was probably her reputation for generosity that gave rise to the legend for which she is famous today. The story of Godiva’s naked ride through Coventry appears to have been first recounted by Roger of Wendover, who died in 1236:

The Countess Godiva devoutly anxious to free the city of Coventry from a grievous and base thralldom often besought the Count, her husband, that he would for the love of the Holy Trinity and the sacred Mother of God liberate it from such servitude. But he rebuked her for vainly demanding a thing so injurious to himself and forbade her to move further therein. Yet she, out of womanly pertinacity, continued to press the matter in so much that she obtained this answer from him: ‘Ascend,’ he said, ‘thy horse naked and pass thus through the city from one end to the other in sight of the people and on thy return thou shalt obtain thy request.’ Upon which she returned: ‘And should I be willing to do this, wilt thou give me leave?’ ‘I will,’ he responded. Then the Countess Godiva, beloved of God, ascended her horse, naked, loosing her long hair which clothed her entire body except her snow white legs, and having performed the journey, seen by none, returned with joy to her husband who, regarding it as a miracle, thereupon granted Coventry a Charter, confirming it with his seal.

Flores Historiarum by Roger of Wendover, translated by Matthew of Westminster

This legend has grown and expanded over time, providing inspiration for ballads, poetry, paintings and sculptures throughout the centuries, the most famous being the poem, Lady Godiva, by Alfred Lord Tennyson, written in 1840, which included the lines:

“The woman of a thousand summers back,
Godiva, wife to that grim Earl, who ruled
In Coventry: for when he laid a tax
Upon his town, and all the mothers brought
Their children, clamouring, ‘If we pay, we starve!’
She sought her lord, and found him, where he strode
About the hall, among his dogs, alone,
His beard a foot before him, and his hair
A yard behind. She told him of their tears,
And pray’d him, ‘If they pay this tax, they starve.’
Whereat he stared, replying, half-amazed,
‘You would not let your little finger ache
For such as – these?’ – ‘But I would die,’ said she.”

Godiva by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

The legend arose from a story that Earl Leofric had introduced a toll on Coventry that the people could not afford to pay. Godiva went to her husband, begging that he rescind the taxes. He proved reluctant to offer the slightest reduction and is said to have told Godiva that he would only rescind the taxes if she rode naked through Coventry. In the earliest accounts Godiva rode through the market place, accompanied by two of Leofric’s soldiers, with her long, golden hair let loose to protect her modesty. In the early versions, the religious element of the story is highlighted, with Leofric hailing the fact no one had seen her nakedness as a miracle.

Although the story has endured through the centuries, I am inclined to believe that it didn’t happen – at least not in the way portrayed. It seems more plausible that Godiva had undertaken a pilgrimage, stripped of her fine clothes and jewels – in a state of undress, rather then undressed – maybe just in her shift or a simple, penitentiary, garment. While the legend is almost certainly distorted beyond recognition from the true story, it has guaranteed the immortality of a remarkable lady.

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This article, The Real Lady Godiva, first appeared on Paula Lofting’s wonderful blog The Road to Hastings and Other Stories in December 2018.

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Pictures:

Lady Godiva statue image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum; Stow Minster and statue of Alfred Lord Tennyson ©2018Sharon Bennett Connolly;

Footnotes:

[1] Godgifu (d. 1067?) (article) by Ann Williams, oxforddnb.com; [2] ibid; [3] The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy by Ordericus Vitalis; [4] Godgifu (d. 1067?) (article) by Ann Williams, oxforddnb.com; [5] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles edited and translated by Michael Swanton; [6] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by James Ingram; [7] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles edited and translated by Michael Swanton; [8] The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon. Comprising the history of England, from the invasion of Julius Caesar to the accession of Henry II. Also, the Acts of Stephen, King of England and duke of Normandy Translated and edited by Thomas Forester. London, H.G. Bohn, 1807.

Sources:

The English and the Norman Conquest by Dr Ann Williams; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by JP Kenyon; The Norman Conquestby Marc Morris; Harold, the King Who Fell at Hastings by Peter Rex; The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall; The Anglo-Saxon Age by Martin Wall; Kings, Queens, Bones and Bastards by David Hilliam; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles translated and edited by Michael Swaton; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by James Ingram; Queen Emma and the Vikings by Harriett O’Brien; The Bayeux Tapestry by Carola Hicks; On the Spindle Side: the Kinswomen of Earl Godwin of Wessex by Ann Williams; oxforddnb.com.

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Godiva’s story appears in my book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest. From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.

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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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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Joan Beaufort: a Medieval Matriarch

Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland, from the Neville Book of Hours

Joan Beaufort was the youngest child and only daughter of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine Swynford. Her father, Gaunt, was the third surviving son of Edward III and his queen, Philippa of Hainault. He had married Blanche of Lancaster in 1359 – a marriage which eventually brought him the title of Duke of Lancaster. With Blanche he had 3 surviving legitimate children: Elizabeth, Philippa and Henry – the future king, Henry IV.

Joan’s mother, Katherine Swynford, was a member of Blanche’s household and had been married to a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford, in 1367. They had 3 children together; Blanche, Thomas and Margaret. Sir Hugh was a tenant of John of Gaunt and served on the continent with him in 1366 and 1370. John of Gaunt was widowed in 1368, when Blanche died in childbirth. Katherine had been governess to the Lancaster children for a number of years when Hugh died in November 1371, leaving her a young widow with 3 children to feed.

John and Katherine may have begun their relationship shortly after Hugh’s death, despite John having married again, to Constance of Castile, in September 1371. John and Katherine’s first child, John, was probably born in 1372, with 3 more children, Henry, Thomas and Joan, born before 1379. They would be given the surname of Beaufort, though no one seems to know quite where the name came from. Although the children were illegitimate, the boys enjoyed successful careers during the reign of their half-brother, Henry IV; with John in politics, Henry rising to the rank of cardinal in the church and Thomas pursuing a military career.

Joan was the youngest of the Beaufort children, born sometime between 1377 and 1379. She was close to her family. She joined the household of her sister-in-law, Mary de Bohun, wife of her half-brother, the future Henry IV, in 1386. It seems that she was accompanied by her mum, Katherine Swynford, possibly because Katherine and John of Gaunt had separated and John was reconciled with his second wife, Constance of Castile. Joan was about 7-years-old and was continuing her education and being prepared for her first marriage – she had just been betrothed to 10-year-old Robert Ferrers of Oversley, Warwickshire. Robert would become one of her father’s retainers and, through his mother, heir to the estates of the Botelers of Wem, Shropshire. They were married in 1392, when Joan was 13 or 14 and 2 daughters were born in quick succession; Elizabeth in 1393 and Mary the following year. The marriage was cut short, however, when Robert died in 1395 or 1396, leaving Joan – still only in her mid-teens – a widow with young children.

John of Gaunt, Joan’s father

As the granddaughter of a king, Joan was bound not to remain a widow for long. And her marriage prospects improved drastically in February 1396, when her parents were married in Lincoln Cathedral. Shortly after he married Katherine, John of Gaunt applied to the pope to have their children declared legitimate; the papal bull declaring the legitimacy of Joan and her brothers arrived in September of the same year. As the legitimate granddaughter of a king, Joan’s status was improved immensely and she was soon married to the recently widowed 6th baron of Raby and later earl of Westmorland, Ralph Neville.

Unlike many medieval women, we have some idea of what Joan may have looked like, thanks to a miniature by Pol de Limbourg. Taken from the Neville Book of Hours, it shows Joan dressed piously in black and white, though her cloak and cuffs are lined with ermine and she wears the Lancastrian S-collar around her neck. Her features are delicate. Her hands, with rings on the fingers, are clasped in prayer.

Joan was a learned woman, she was educated to the same standard as her legitimate half-sisters, Philippa and Elizabeth of Lancaster. She seems to have possessed a considerable library, the texts being largely devotional. She owned a copy of ‘Les Cronikels de Jerusalem et de Viage de Godfray de Boylion’ (Chronicles of Jerusalem and the Voyages of Godfrey de Bouillon) which she lent to her nephew, Henry V, but had to petition the Council for its return after Henry’s death. Her brother, Thomas, had left her a book, titled ‘Tristram’.

Thomas Hoccleve dedicated a volume of poems, ‘Hoccleve’s Works’ to her sending it to her around 1422, saying:

Go, smal book to the noble excellence

Of my lady of Westmerland and seye,

Her humble seruant with al reuerence

Him recommandith vn-to hir nobleye.

Also, an early copy of Hoccleve’s ‘Regiment of Princes’ was made for Joan’s son-in-law, John Mowbray.

Raby Castle, Count Durham

Known for her piety, Joan left many bequests to religious institutions in her will, especially monasteries in the north. Admitted to the sisterhood at St Albans, she was also licensed to appropriate for the support of the chantry the advowson of the church of Welton, in the Howden area; and it was Joan who saw the completion of the college at Staindrop, founded by her husband in 1408. According to antiquarian, John Leland, Joan ‘erectid the very house self of the college’ in the form of a medieval hospital. Her piety, however, was not always conventional. Her father had been a defender of the Lollards – he employed John Wycliffe, the first person to translate the Bible into English, as a tutor to his children. And Joan seems to have had a similar religious curiosity – hence her association with Margery Kempe.

Margery Kempe was a mystic from Lyn, Norfolk; she claimed to have visions of Christ and travelled throughout England and on the Continent. She wrote the Book of Margery Kempe which recounted the story of her life and her visions and considered to be the first ever autobiography in English. Joan invited Margery Kempe to visit her at Raby. She also wrote a letter to exonerate Margery from accusations of corruption. Margery’s own testimony says they knew each other for ‘this two years and more’. In 1417 Margery was brought before the Archbishop of York, accused of advising Joan’s daughter, Elizabeth Greystoke, to leave her husband. Margery was found ‘not guilty’ of the offence and under questioning, admitted she had told Countess Joan and her daughter a ‘good tale of a lady who was damned because she would not love her enemies’. Margery even suggested her questioners ask Joan for corroboration of her testimony, demonstrating her trust that the Countess would back her.

Joan enjoyed influence at court – as the sister of one king, Henry IV, and aunt to his successor, Henry V. She was named in royal grants as ‘the king’s sister’ and made a Lady of the Garter in the reign of her cousin, Richard II. She was compassionate and used her influence to petition the king to aid those less fortunate, such as Christopher and Margaret Standith, who had fallen on hard times after Christopher had been dismissed from his father’s service for marrying for love. Joan wrote the king, asking him to give Margaret a position in the household of his queen, Joan of Navarre.

It can be argued that Joan had a strong bond of affection and purpose with her husband. They both wanted to see their family’s prospects improved even further, arranging advantageous marriages for their large brood of children. Although, it is unclear how much influence Joan had when her husband, the Earl of Westmorland, manage to entail the bulk of his estates onto his children by Joan, rather than the children by his first marriage to Margaret Stafford. This seems to have been a sensible strategy, given that his children by Joan were closely related to the royal family – Joan being the half sister of King Henry IV. The strategy, however, caused Joan problems after her husband’s death and led to a family feud – which sometimes turned violent – which wasn’t resolved until after Joan died.

Tomb of Ralph Neville, St Mary’s Church, Staindrop

Joan was a strong influence on her daughters and daughters-in-law. She concerned herself with matters of family – such as her children’s marriages – rather than business. Ralph’s son, also Ralph, by his first marriage, was married to Mary, Joan’s younger daughter from her first marriage. Ralph and Joan’s children were married into many of the leading noble dynasties of the time and served to strengthen the position of the Beauforts as a whole. Such significant marriages saw their eldest daughter, Katherine, married to John Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk – it was Katherine who later married John Woodville, brother-in-law of her nephew Edward IV; Katherine was around 65 years old and John just 20. Of other daughters, Eleanor married Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, while Anne married Humphrey Stafford, a descendant of Edward III and 1st Duke of Buckingham. Of their sons, Richard Neville married Alice Montagu, heiress to the earldom of Salisbury, and became Earl of Salisbury by right of his wife; their son, Richard Neville, was the Earl of Warwick known as the Kingmaker. Robert Neville became Bishop of Durham and other sons married rich heiresses to claim titles and positions for themselves.

Ralph died in 1425 and was buried at Staindrop, close to Raby Castle. His tomb includes effigies of both Joan and his first wife, although neither woman is buried beside him. Joan was herself responsible for the negotiations after her husband’s death, which saw their youngest daughter, Cecily, married to Richard, Duke of York. Two of Cecily’s sons would become Kings of England; Edward IV and Richard III.

Having married young herself, and having become a mother before she was 15 years old, Joan was sensible to the dangers of girls marrying too young and ensured that none of her daughters or daughters-in-law, faced the dangers of childbirth before they were 17 or 18 years of age. She even kept married couples apart – such as Cecily and the Duke of York – when necessary, in order to protect the girls.

Joan’s tomb, beside that of her her mother, in Lincoln Cathedral

On 28 November 1437, Joan was granted licence for the foundation of a chantry with two chaplains at Lincoln Cathedral, to pray daily for the soul of her mother, Katherine Swynford, as well as for herself, her husband, brother (Cardinal Henry Beaufort) and father. On the same day, she secured a grant for daily prayers to be said at Staindrop Church – where her husband Ralph, Earl of Westmorland, was buried – for the souls of her husband, brother and father.

Joan died at Howden, a manor near Beverley in her son Robert’s possession as Bishop of Durham, on 13 November 1440. In her will, she requested to be buried with her mother, with whom she had a strong bond in life, but also for her mother’s burial site to be enlarged and enclosed. It seems likely that the now-lost wrought iron screens which surrounded her mother’s tomb, were added at this time, rather than when Katherine died in 1403. Joan’s epitaph claimed that the whole nation grieved at her death.

There is, however, no clear indication why Joan chose to be buried with her mother, rather than at Staindrop with her husband. It may be that as the granddaughter of a king (Edward III), she thought Lincoln Cathedral a more appropriate resting place, or that she wanted to be as close to her mother in death as she had been in life.

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Pictures: John of Gaunt and Joan Beaufort courtesy of Wikipedia. All other photos ©SharonBennettConnolly FRHistS

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Sources: katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk; Red Roses: Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort by Amy Licence; The Nevills of Middleham by K.L. Clark; The House of Beaufort: the Bastard Line that Captured the Crown by Nathen Amin; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; The mammoth Book of British kings & Queen by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Life and Times of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Oxforddnb.com; womenshistory.about.com/od/medrenqueens/a/Katherine-Swynford.

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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.

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly FrHistS

Book Corner: Joanna of Flanders, Heroine and Exile by Julie Sarpy

The new research in this biography solves the riddle of the disappearance of Joanna of Flanders early in the Hundred Years’ War, a leader described by David Hume as ‘the most extraordinary woman of the age’.

Joanna of Flanders, Countess de Montfort and Duchess of Brittany, vanished from public life after 1343 amid the Breton Wars of Succession during the Hundred Years’ War. As wife of the late Duke John de Montfort, Joanna’s rightful place was in Brittany as regent of the duchy for their five-year-old son and heir, John of Brittany. Famed for the defence of Hennebont in 1342 during her husband’s imprisonment, she, along with her children, had accompanied Edward III to England in February 1343 and never departed. She resided in comfortable obscurity at Tickhill Castle, Yorkshire, until her death around 1374.

What happened to her and why? Her extended absence should have provoked more suspicion, but it did not. Edward III certainly orchestrated her relocation from London to Yorkshire and sanctioned her indefinite detention.

Delving deeper into her story the answers to those two questions explore the complexities of medieval social structures, notably in the care of the vulnerable and the custody of women. The 19th-century Breton historian de la Borderie asked if Joanna’s ‘many tests had reversed her intelligence and thrown her into the abyss of madness’, a position accepted by many modern historians – but not by Julie Sarpy.

When my publishers, Amberley, asked if I would like to review Julie Sarpy’s Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile I jumped at the chance. I first came across Joanna of Flanders when writing an article about her son, John V, Duke of Brittany; and I remember thinking, ‘I must look into this woman’. I have not yet had the opportunity (though I will write a blog post if I ever get the time). So, although I was aware of Joanna, I know only the bare bones of her story. Which is why this book intrigued me so much!

Julie Sarpy has done an incredible job of researching the story of Joanna of Flanders. Her investigation has uncovered some remarkable facts about Joanna’s life, the times she lived through and the treatment she received at the hands of her supposed ally, Edward III. This is a balanced, in-depth study of a woman who deserves her time in the limelight. Joanna of Flanders is, in short, an amazing woman, whose story deserves to be known by a much wider audience.

I have to admit to a personal interest in the tale, in grew up not far from Tickhill Castle, South Yorkshire, the site of Joanna’s imprisonment. And though everyone in the area knows about the castle’s connections to King John, to the de Warennes and to the dukes of Lancaster (it is now owned by the duchy of Lancaster), no one seems to know of its role as the prison of poor Joanna.

Joanna of Flanders’ life has not been given its full measure. One wonders how such a remarkable woman has been lost to the ages and ostensibly marginalised. For Joanna of Flanders, Countess of Montfort and Richmond, Duchess of Brittany, was, in her time, the heroine of Hennebont, the pivotal siege during the first half of the Breton Civil War (1341-1365) that prevented the French from taking over Brittany and routing the English early in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). That was no small feat for anyone, especially a fourteenth-century woman. In fact, she seems to have been exceptional in many ways. Medieval French chronicler and contemporary Jean Froissart professed Joanna of Flanders ‘to possess the courage of a man and the heart of a lion.’ Breton historian Dom Lobineau said of the Countess of Montfort, ‘no adversity could crush her. her consistency in the most desperate circumstances always reassured those who attached [themselves] to her.’ She marshalled men and resources, unlike her rival the Breton-French Jeanne de Penthievre’s husband. Joanna of Flanders rallied her husband’s supporters, the pro-English Montfortist faction, in his absence during the Siege of Hennebont and then secured the safety of his heirs in England, with the aid of Edward III.

Julie Sarpy’s investigation into the life and imprisonment of Joann of Flanders is a fascinating study. The author follows the evidence from the records and chronicles of the time and reconstructs Joanna’s story, dispelling the false stories of her madness and clearly presenting Joanna of Flanders as a political prisoner; a remarkable woman whose imprisonment was essential to furthering the ambitions of her ally, Edward III.

Well written, entertaining and informative, this is an engaging and enjoyable book that should attract any history fan who wants to learn more about Joanna’s life and the wider story of the the Breton Civil War. From the first page, the author draws you in with the mystery of Joanna’ imprisonment and the teaser of who may benefit from having her out of the way. Julie Sarpy then takes you through the complexities of the Breton ducal family, the background and prosecution of the war before concentrating on Joanna’s imprisonment, the reasons behind it and the legal implications.

This is a thorough and absorbing study of a woman who has been largely neglected by history. It’s a story that deserves to be heard and that has been told, in Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile, with remarkable skill and judgement – and a little sympathy for the heroine. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

About the author:

Originally from Louisiana, Julia Sarpy is a subject specialist librarian and adjunct faculty at Nova Southeastern University. She received her doctorate in European History from the University of Houston. A UCLA alum, she also hold master’s degrees from University of North Texas and Southern Methodist University.

Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile is now available from Amberley Publishing and Amazon in the UK and will be released on 1 October 2019 in the US; it is available for pre-order on Amazon US.

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly