Monthly Archives: September 2015

Joan, Lady of Wales

siwanJoan was the natural daughter of King John. She is known as Joanna, Joan of Wales, Lady of Wales or Siwan to the Welsh.

She was born in about 1191 but history isn’t entirely sure who her mother was. It may have been Clemence Pinel but this information is gleaned from a sentence in the Tewkesbury Annals. Or it may have been Clemence wife of Nicholas de Verdun. This later is circumstantial evidence based on Henry III placing his niece in Clemence de Verdun’s care (http://plantagenesta.livejournal.com/53309.html)

We do know that Joan was brought up in Normandy and that in 1205 John arranged her marriage to Llywelyn the Great. This according to Morris was a mark of John’s favour to the Welsh prince. The pair were married the following year in Chester when Joan was fifteen. Joan bore at least one son and one daughter to Llywelyn – maybe more.

The marriage was certainly important for the peace of Wales. In 1210 there was a bit of a misunderstanding with Llywelyn having a bit of a rebellion whilst his father-in-law was in Ireland. The result was that John collected men and resources and proceeded to invade North Wales where his men promptly began to starve. John had to withdraw- presumably covered in embarrassment. He returned later in the year – and burned Bangor.

Joan was sent to have a chat with her father. Everything East of Conwy was handed over to John along with thirty hostages but Llywelyn remained at liberty and in possession of Snowdonia.

Inevitably the peace was short-lived which wasn’t terribly good news if you happened to be one of the thirty hostages. By 1212 open warfare was raging along the Welsh border. Chroniclers make it clear that John arrived in Nottingham on the 14 August where he made himself at home by having twenty-eight of the Welsh hostages hanged on account of the failings of their countrymen. Then he sat down for a meal – as you do.

If coffee had been available it would have been at about the coffee and mint stage of the meal that a letter arrived from Joan warning her father that there were traitors in the midst of his court and that his life was in danger if he went ahead with his planned invasion of Wales. In the event of a battle he would have a nasty ‘accident’. This was the second note of the evening. The first one had arrived shortly before from the King of Scotland containing a similar message.

Rumour ran a-mock. The chroniclers of the time became carried away by every bit of gossip available from the rape of the queen to invasion by the French. Sticking to facts- John cancelled his invasion of Wales; ensured the safety of four-year-old Prince Henry; sent all his barons home and then sent politely worded notes to the men he suspected demanding hostages flushing out two conspirators in the process.

In April 1226 Joan obtained a papal decree from Pope Honorius III, declaring her legitimate on the basis that her parents had not been married to others at the time of her birth. This did not give her a claim to the throne.

Unfortunately this respectability, which came in part from her impact in keeping the peace between Wales and England, came to rather an abrupt end in 1230. Joan was caught alone in her bedroom with William de Braose, 10th Baron of Abergevenny, a Norman lord.  Bad enough to be found in a compromising position but De Braose was hated by the Welsh, who called him Black William.

De Braose had been captured by the Welsh in 1228 and then ransomed. Llywelyn and de Braose had used the time to arrange the marriage of de Braose’s daughter Isabella to Llywelyn’s only legitimate son and heir, Dafydd. So when William visited during Easter 1230 there were no raised eyebrows. However, when William turned up in Joan’s bedroom in the dead of night – more than eyebrows were raised. Llywelyn raised a gibbet in his backyard and strung de Braose up. It didn’t stop the pre-arranged wedding going ahead in 1231 – you couldn’t make it up.

Joan was locked up for twelve months but was forgiven and reinstated. She died seven years after her unfortunate interlude with de Braose and was much mourned by Llywelyn who died in 1240 having founded a Friary in Llanfaes in Joan’s memory.

The friary was dissolved along with all the other monastic foundations in England and Wales by Henry VIII and Joan’s burial place was lost – her stone coffin was rediscovered being used as a horse trough. Today it can be seen in Beaumaris Church.

Joan appears largely in footnotes of books pertaining to the men in her life and no doubt had she not been married to Llywelyn we would know even less about her.  As is often the way when the truth is not known fiction is given freer reign.  Sharon Kay Penman’s book Here Be Dragons develops Joan’s story and that’s where I first encountered her.

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Morris, Marc. (2015) King John- Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta. London: Penguin

Warren, W.L. (1978) King John. London: Methuen

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Joan Plantagenet, Queen Consort of Scotland

JoanEnglandPrincess Joan was the eldest legitimate daughter of King John and Isabella of Angouleme was born in 1210. She was originally destined to marry Hugh of Lusignan. This was politically tactful as Joan’s mother Isabella should have married Hugh but John virtually stole the bride – ensuring war with France and a deeply unpopular Queen of England.

On John’s death Isabella returned to Angouleme and naturally wanted to see her daughter who was being raised in the court of Hugh X. Somehow or other Isabella ended up married to Hugh and Joan became a hostage to the return of Isabella’s dower. The Regency Council of Henry III were not very happy that Isabella had married without their permission but a princess in the hand is worth a volatile queen dowager on the loose so Isabella got her dower back and England received it’s princess which was just as well because the council were already in mid negotiation for another marriage.

Joan’s new marriage was negotiated on a promise made as early as 1209 by King John to William of Scotland that there should be a royal wedding of a Plantagenet princess to the Scottish heir to the throne- Alexander. If Joan had not been retrieved, Henry III’s other sister Isabelle would have been in the frame to become Queen of Scotland. There had also been some suggestion that a Scottish princess might have travelled south. However, the originally negotiations begun by King John had become somewhat unravelled during the Baron’s War and it probably didn’t help that Magna Carta safeguarded the rights of the Scottish king – a fact which John ignored. After John’s death Henry III’s regency council slowly regained order once more. In 1217 Alexander, now King Alexander II of Scotland made his terms with the English. He kept hold of Tynedale and there would be a royal marriage to help cement the peace. Joan and Alexander were married in 1221 in York Minster. There was a thirteen-year age gap between the happy couple – Joan being all of ten-years-old at the time.

Scotland was not a peaceful location. Alexander’s hold on the throne was threatened by a number of families with claims dating to the reign of Duncan II. One of these families – the MacWilliams- rose in rebellion once to often. It resulted in the family being hunted down – the youngest member of the family a baby girl was to have her brains dashed out on the market cross at Forfar in 1230.

The royal marriage was not without its difficulties either. Joan did not arrive laden down with loot. Alexander claimed that Joan should have come with Northumbria. The English weren’t having any of it and for the first ten years of their marriage Joan was financially dependent upon her husband. It was only in later years that Henry III gave his sister several substantial manors for life so that she had an income which didn’t go into Alexander’s coffers – but the Scots didn’t get Northumbria which caused a fair amount of grumbling and bad feeling between the brothers-in-law.

The other problem was that Joan failed to do what queens were expected to do – she did not produce an heir.

Joan died, childless, in 1238 at the age of twenty-eight during a visit to England. She’d gone on pilgrimage to Canterbury, spent Christmas at her brother’s court and then began to make plans to return to Scotland in later January 1238. Before she could do so she became ill and died. Mathew Paris noted in his chronicle that it was inappropriate for Joan to spend so much time away form Scotland – to modern eyes it looks as though Joan was not particularly happy in her marriage- but that is speculation and has nothing to do with the medieval concept of royal matrimony.

She was buried in Tarrant Crawford Abbey, Dorset rather than in Scotland by her own wish as stated in her will. Nothing remains thanks to the dissolution of the monasteries.

Alexander II died ten years later having married Marie de Coucy who duly presented him with a bouncing baby boy who was to become Alexander III.

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King John’s women

king_john_stag_3231934bKing John is rather famous for his somewhat ‘droit de signeur’ approach to the wives and daughters of his nobility. Records provide the somewhat incredible information about the woman who paid John a large number of hens to spend one night in her husband’s bed. There’s the rumour of the poisoned egg sent to the woman who spurned his advances. Church describes John as a ‘rake.’  Medieval chroniclers were rather less kind.

This post, however, is about John’s official women. First came Alice of Savoy, daughter of Humbert III of Savoy. John was only seven when a marriage was arranged by his father King Henry II. Henry wanted to provide John with wealth and lands as there was none for him within the Angevin Empire at that point. The marriage would also, of course, extend the territory of the empire to include Savoy and Piemonte – a win-win situation for Henry especially as he was prepared to throw in some castles that had been promised to John’s elder brother Geoffrey but as father and son were at loggerheads Henry felt no compunction about giving them to John who was his favourite son. Alice made the journey over the Alps but died before the marriage could go ahead.

John’s next foray into matrimony was to Isobel of Gloucester. She was the granddaughter of Robert of Gloucester – the natural son of Henry I making the pair cousins, as Henry I’s legitimate daughter Matilda was John’s granny. This gave John room to divorce Isobel because the marriage should have been prohibited within the third degree of consanguinity. The divorce occurred as soon as John had sufficient power- ie when he became king- to end the marriage so Isobel who is also sometimes known as Hawise. Once again Henry had arranged the marriage to ensure that John was in a position of wealth. Isabel’s brother had died leaving Isobel and her two sisters in a position where they would inherit the title and the lands of Robert’s son William of Gloucester. Henry made arrangements that meant that Isobel got the lot and her sisters and their spouses were by-passed. Relations between the two fathers were not good. Bristol Castle which had been in the hands of Earl William was taken by Henry and just for good measure he made the earl a prisoner. The earl died whilst in captivity and Henry II realised that the money from the estates could be enjoyed without the need for any marriages to occur. The Gloucester inheritance found itself under the wardship of the king who took the money. John didn’t actually get married to Isabel until Richard I came to the throne.

And now matters get a bit peculiar to modern eyes. Once John was king he quickly arranged the annulment of his marriage. Isobel of Gloucester found herself without a husband and without her estates. She was still part of John’s establishment. His records show that he supported her household. She lived in his castles – well she had nowhere else to go as she wasn’t permitted to marry anyone else. It even looks as though John’s household was composed for sometime at least of his discarded wife and his new wife Isobel of Angouleme.

Fortune looked up for Isobel in 1214 when John needed money to try and win back his French territories. John essentially sold Isobel and the Gloucester lands with the exception of Bristol Castle to the highest bidder Geoffrey de Mandeville the Earl of Essex. Geoffrey had to find 20,000 marks to be paid in instalments…so Isobel became a sort of hire-purchase bride with a toy-boy groom.

isabella_angoulemeWoman number three was Isobel of Angouleme.   Mathew Paris the chronicler described her as a Jezobel and most of the other chroniclers are equally vitriolic. She was twelve when she was married to John who was in his thirties and he had virtually kidnapped her in order to prevent her marriage to Hugh of Lusignan. It is generally accepted that the marriage was one of the triggers that resulted in the war which resulted in John losing most of his French territories. Suffice it to say the marriage was a tempestuous one. John is purported to have been besotted by his young bride but it apparently didn’t stop John taking lovers and Isobel encouraging her admirers. The chroniclers tell some lurid tales including the tale of the man becoming a tad too friendly with Isobel and being hanged over her bed as a friendly warning. The unhappy pair were married for sixteen years. Five children were born of the marriage – two sons and three daughters.

Princess Joan was sent off to marry Hugh de Lusignan but somehow after John’s death Hugh married the mother rather than the daughter when Isobel returned to Angouleme in 1217, perhaps not surprising given that Joan was still a child. In England the regency council was not amused and stopped the queen’s pension. There was eventually a trade off. England got Joan back in 1220 whilst Isobel got her money and dower land.

Isobel and Hugh went on to have a further nine children. She died in 1246.

Church, S.D.  King John: New Interpretations

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Much Wenlock Priory

DSC_0011Huzzah – I have Internet connectivity after more than a week holding my laptop sky-high in an offering to the gods of wifi and grotty weather and I’m back to priories. Wenlock Priory was the only one in Shropshire before 1066 and it started off as a nunnery before becoming a monastery. Then somewhen in the late eleventh century Roger, Earl of Shrewsbury, re-founded the house as a Cluniac priory – very definitely for monks.

The Cluniacs like all monks followed the rule of St Benedict but their twist on the rule was that their work was related to books – writing them, binding them etc and to living a life of poverty in the midst of huge religious ornament and ceremony.

From small beginnings the monks built up land and rights. They also ensured that St Milburga, who’s bones were conveniently found as the monks started to build their own church became an important regional cult figure. During the reign of Kimg Richard the Lionheart the monks of Much Wenlock acquired the rights to administer justice within their Liberties – ie their manors.

Henry III stayed at Wenlock and gifted timber from the royal forests for the re-building of a church and lady chapel. The prior of the period Prior Humbert seems to have been popular with the king and energetic in his efforts on behalf of the priory. He was also often sent abroad on ambassadorial missions – he didn’t have far to go, just into Wales.

Unfortunately politics rapidly got in the way of religious life. Humbert’s successor Aymo was promoted from the priory at Bermondsey and he also did a stint as Prior of Lewes. Problematically for Aymo it wasn’t the king who made the Lewes appointment but Simon de Montfort.

Of course, during all this time the monks of Much Wenlock looked to their mother house for guidance and sent funds home to the mother abbey – which was Cluny. Indeed most of the priors of Wenlock were French. It was an alien priory. This was all fine and well while England and much of modern France were part of the same empire but it wasn’t such a good policy once the Hundred Years War kicked off and Cluny became ‘the enemy.’  Interestingly although Much Wenlock was well within the circumscribed distance of the navigable River Severn it wasn’t forced to relocate or close its gates when other sea-board alien priories were penalised for their loyalties.

Matters hadn’t been helped when the monks managed to end up in debt to a notorious money lender on account of one prior who was angling to become the Bishop of Rochester. He fiddled the books in ways that were legal but left the monks in dire straits. He sold the wool of the priory for seven years in advance – making life very difficult for his successor – but which no doubt helped to fund his bid to become a bishop. It was during this time as well that one of the monks took to the hills with a band of armed men as an outlaw.

DSC_0018Of course, the issue of being an alien priory became thornier and thornier – a local lord had to testify that the prior wasn’t in the power of the King of France and the monks were forbidden from sending money back to Cluny. Ultimately though the crown started to confiscate land from the priory and the monks found themselves torn between their loyalty to the English crown and the mother house at Cluny which still demanded their presence at chapter meetings – which they couldn’t attend. This problem eased slightly in 1378 when the Great Schism (more than one pope) occurred. The monks of Cluny supported the unofficial pope meaning that the Archbishop of Canterbury who happened to be a papal legate (the official pope) could legally take charge of the monasteries which had once looked to Cluny. After that Englishmen were appointed as priors. Roger Wyvel became prior of Much Wenlock in 1388.

The great days of Much Wenlock were over though. There may have been as many as forty monks for much of the fourteenth century but the numbers dwindled steadily thereafter and the prior had to contend with lawsuits from tenants who didn’t want to work for the monks and landowners looking to increase their own landholdings at the expense of the monks. By 1536 there were only twelve monks – even so they had a net income in excess of £400.

Today very little remains of the church but the cloisters and the chapter house yield some interesting remains. There is a rare washing fountain in the middle of the cloister and the remnant of the library. Inside the cloister interlaced tracery patterns give some indication of the splendid ornament that Much Wenlock must have once exhibited. Looking up it is possible to see the doorway that led from the dorter into the church. At Much Wenlock the monks continued to sleep in a long dormitory until virtually the end of monasticism in England and Wales – wooden paneling was a later concession to privacy.

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B Pugh (London, 1973), pp. 38-47 https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/salop/vol2/pp38-47 [accessed 5 September 2015].

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