Monthly Archives: October 2015

Barnard Castle, Anne Beauchamp and oriel windows.

IMG_6617Barnard Castle was built by the Baliol family. It remained in their hands until the reign of King Edward I when it was confiscated and passed into the ownership of the Earl of Warwick. Two centuries later it was in the hands of the Neville family but the Earl of Warwick at that time- the Kingmaker- ultimately backed the wrong monarch and managed to get himself killed at the Battle of Barnet in April 1471 as was his brother John.

Warwick left two daughters who became joint heiresses to the title and estates. Isabel Neville, the older daughter, was married to George, Duke of Clarence (brother of Edward IV) while her younger sister Anne had been married off to Prince Edward, son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou demonstrating the Kingmaker’s ability to swap the colour of the rose in his lapel at the drop of.. er…a rose.

Detail from door grill leading to the vault where George Duke of Clarence and his wife Isobel Neville are buried in Tewkesbury Abbey.

Detail from door grill leading to the vault where George Duke of Clarence and his wife Isobel Neville are buried in Tewkesbury Abbey.

Anyway, to cut a long story short Prince Edward got himself killed scarcely a month after his father-in-law at the Battle of Tewkesbury on the 4th of May 1471. Anne was placed, by Edward IV, in the custody of her brother-in-law.  George calmly tried to ensure all the titles, estates and loots ended up in his fat little paws. It arrived at the point where Anne was hidden in the kitchen as a maid of work to prevent Richard, Duke of Gloucester and George’s little brother, from finding her. If you’re a romantic Richard and Anne had liked one another since childhood when Richard was part of Warwick’s household. If you’re a pragmatist – an heiress at the altar is a bankable asset. So Richard married Anne and there followed an undignified squabble about which husband was getting what – Richard landed Barnard Castle amongst other Northern estates. After George managed to get himself drowned in a vat of Malmsey in 1478 (two years after Isobel died) the rest of the Warwick inheritance found its way into Richard’s keeping along with his small nephew Edward and niece Margaret. Tewkesbury Abbey continued to play its role in the history of the period by being the final resting place for both George and his wife, due in part to the fact that Isobel’s grandmother was the last Despenser heiress. Tewkesbury has strong links to the Despenser family.

You have to feel a degree of sympathy for Warwick’s widow, Anne Beauchamp, who was actually the daughter of Richard Beauchamp, the previous Earl of Warwick and his wife Isobel Despenser. Her brother died in 1446 and her niece died in 1449 making her husband- Richard Neville- the Earl of Warwick. So, actually neither of her daughters should have inherited anything at that point because it was Anne – the widow of the Earl of Warwick- who came with the lands and titles. Not to worry, Edward IV swiftly ensured that for legal purposes poor Anne was declared legally dead allowing his brothers to divide up the Warwick estates between them despite the assortment of letters that Anne Neville nee Beauchamp wrote from Beaulieu Abbey demanding that her rights be recognised.

Ultimately Anne emerged from sanctuary and was handed into the care of her son-in-law Richard – we have no idea how she felt about her daughters or indeed their respective spouses.  Rous, no supporter of Richard, wrote that Anne was kept in close confinement but there is other evidence that demonstrates that the countess must have had an allowance and must have travelled around the northern estates that had once been hers.

It wasn’t until 1486 that Anne had some restitution for the loss of her money and lands and that came from the Tudors. Henry VII granted her 500 marks a year and the following year Parliament gave her estates back which she promptly gifted to the king….which suggests some shady double dealing somewhere along the line or perhaps a bid to keep her grandson the young Earl of Warwick, Isabel and George’s son safe. He was after all in protective custody in The Tower at that point.

DSC_0014Having gone all around the houses – or castles- it’s back to Barnard Castle which overlooks the Tees. Richard seems to have spent a lot of time at Barnard Castle.  He also carried out renovation and extension works.  His tenure is evidenced in the remnants of the great hall. He added an oriel window – a bay window supported by corbels- on the first floor and caused a white boar to be engraved in the ceiling above it – where it can still, just about, be seen today as can an English Heritage artist’s interpretation of what it might have looked like originally.DSC_0012

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Matilda Fitzwalter a.k.a. Maid Marian

57457680_1404498519This effigy can be seen in Little Dunmow Church – It is said to be the effigy of Matilda Fitzwalter.

Robert Fitzwalter, holder of Castle Baynard and Lord of Little Dunmow was a revolting baron during the reign of King John and little wonder if the stories are anything to go by.

Robert’s daughter Matilda was a bit of a stunner– men threw themselves at her feet, jousted for her favours etc and dear old King John fell head over heels in lust. Matilda, being a good girl and not having heard that when a medieval king does his best Lesley Philips impersonation that all the usual rules are out of the window told him to be on his way.

John did not take personal rejection well – his penchant for white satin, large collections of jewels and regular bathing, not to mention him being a king, should have made him a hit with the ladies but at no more than five foot five inches, having an inclination to fat as he got older, and an interest in the wives and daughters of his barons was not always as well received by the aforementioned ladies as he might have hoped. Rather than chalk Matilda’s refusal up to experience he tried to cajole Robert Fitzwalter into handing his daughter over: Robert refused. Perhaps John should have had a word with Matilda’s husband rather than her father but more about him shortly. In the stories John sets about destroying Fitzwalter and his property. Fitzwalter was indeed banished in 1212 but was later reconciled to John only to revolt in 1215 as a leader of the ‘Army of God’ that massed against the king. Fitzwalter is one of the Magna Carta barons and Matilda’s sad story is often given as part of the rationale for Fitzwalter’s rebellion.

Presumably because he could, John imprisoned Matilda in The Tower before sending her a message reminding her that all she need to do was to look upon him more favourably. When Matilda persisted in rejecting his advances John sent Matilda a poisoned egg, in some versions of the story a poisoned bracelet, which she promptly ate/put on and expired as a result presumably because she was a) hungry or b) it was a very nice bracelet. The corpse of Fair Matilda was then sent home for burial (very considerate). Elizabeth Norton’s book addressing the life of Isabella of Angouleme says that John forced Matilda to become his mistress – and you would have to say why go to all the bother of locking her up in the Tower to force compliance? Norton uses Matilda as but one example of John’s rapacious tendencies.  What is clear is that by 1212 Matilda was dead.

Matilda Fitzwalter’s story is told by Mathew Paris and the Anonymous Chronicler of Bethune. The criticism of John made by the chroniclers was not that he didn’t know how to take no for an answer but that he had dishonoured the fathers and husbands of the women concerned in the tales of lust that they recounted. Anonymous makes the point that John was devoted to good food and to pleasure – if he’d taken an interest in serving wenches then no one would have batted an eyelid.

From the threads of truth, of which very little actually remains to history, the tale of Matilda becomes steadily more romantic. According to lore Matilda Fitzwalter spurned King John’s advances because she was actually smitten with another – a chap called Robert, Earl of Huntingdon a.k.a. Robin Hood who was at that time away on crusade – making Matilda the fair Maid Marian. The chronicler Mathew Paris called her “Maud the Fair” or “Maid Marian.”  It wasn’t until a couple of centuries later though that Matilda Fitzwalter escaped to the Greenwood to live happily ever after…making Maid Marian an Essex girl.

In this case, however, truth is even stranger than legend. Matilda had actually been married to Geoffrey de Mandeville, the Earl of Essex. After her death de Mandeville married, at vast expense, Isabella of Gloucester – none other than King John’s first wife.

John was able to get his marriage to Isabella annulled because they were half-second cousins which was well within the prohibited degree of consanguinity. At the time of his marriage the Pope had been furious and Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury had placed John and all his lands under an interdict until an ecclesiastical council reversed the decision. At no point in time did John apply for a papal dispensation and it soon became clear that he was looking for a better placed wife with plans afoot fir him to marry Alice, sister of Philip Augustus – rejected fiancée of brother Richard and if stories are true mistress of Henry II and mother of his child. The divorce occurred almost as soon as John became king. Isabella led a half-life for many years neither a captive nor free until John, desperate for cash for a continental war effectively sold Isabella to the highest bidder – Geoffrey de Mandeville. It will perhaps come as no surprise to find out that Geoffrey and Isabella revolted against King John as well.

Norton, Elizabeth. She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England

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Adela of Louvain

tumblr_nuxhb1yIrc1txs5z9o1_250After the White Ship sank taking with it Henry I’s only legitimate son he remarried in order to beget another male heir pronto.  At the time he was fifty-three.  His new bride Adela of Louvain was eighteen and known as the Fair Maid of Brabant.  It also ought to be added that he may not just have married out of the duty of providing his realm with a male heir as there is evidence that negotiations were underway before the tragedy of the White Ship.

The young bride arrived in England in 1121 and there was immediately a rumpus about who was going to crown her. The royal pair married in Windsor and the Bishop of Salisbury claimed the right as Windsor was within his diocese.  The Archbishop of Canterbury was having none of it.  A council was summoned to debate the matter. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Ralph d’Escures, got the job of marrying them. Unfortunately he was somewhat frail so Henry asked the Archbishop of Salisbury if he’d officiate the following day at Adela’s coronation.  It is recorded that the following day the royal couple were half way through the ceremony when the Archbishop of Canterbury rocked up, stopped the service, removed Henry’s crown from his head and put it back on again – presumably with as much force as he could manage.  Unfortunately for Ralph all that stomping around had proved too much for him and he could not complete the service so he asked the Bishop of Winchester to continue – no doubt any bishop was better than Salisbury in his mind.

After that introduction to royal life the couple settled down to doing what Norman monarchs did – ruling.  Unlike Matilda, Henry’s first wife, Adela took no part in the running of the country even though Henry appears to have travelled everywhere with her.  She is recorded as being pious and founding religious houses.  She is also said to have encouraged learning.  Her principle role was to provide an heir.  They were married fifteen years but no children were born of the marriage.

Henry died in 1135 and Adela took herself off to the nunnery at Wilton where she remained for at least a year until  William D’Albini proposed, and she accepted.  As a queen she might have perhaps expected a better match even though it appeared that she was barren but times were difficult and who knows – perhaps she actually liked him.  There was also the small matter of Arundel Castle to take into consideration. It had been confiscated by the Crown in 1102.  On Henry’s death it lay in the hands of Adela. William D’Albini was a royal steward, an important member of the king’s household, and loyal to the new king Stephen who’d taken the crown despite the fact that Henry I had forced all his nobles to agreeing to accept his other legitimate heir the Empress Matilda.

The newly weds must have come under something of a strain what with William trying to further his position in the court of Stephen and his new wife being friends with her step-daughter.  When Matilda came to England in 1139 she made for Arundel – where Adela was.  It didn’t do William any harm as ultimately Stephen created him the Earl of Arundel for his loyalty. Adela’s still hold the earldom.

Adela and William D’Albini had seven children between 1139 and 1148 – which must have come as something of a surprise given her first marriage.  Her descendants include Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – they should perhaps have taken a lesson from their ancestress’s strategies for being a successful queen.  Eventually Adela took herself off to  Afflingham Nunnery in Brabant where she died in 1151.

Adela’s grandson, another William D’Albini, was one of the twenty-five signatories to the Magna Carta guaranteeing that the charter would be kept.  It must have been a sad moment for King John as D’Albini had been one of the royal favourites but by 1215 was the commander for the defence of Rochester Castle against the king.  It was on his order the sick and the weak were sent from the castle during the siege.  Rather than sending them on their way John ordered that their hands and feet be cut off.  When the castle finally fell, John was so angry that he wanted all the nobility involved to be hanged.  Fortunately for William he was talked out of this rather unchivalrous action but was to spend rather a lot of time admiring the decor of Corfe Castle as a consequence.

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Geoffrey of Brittany – “son of perdition.”

Geoffrey2I’ve blogged about John’s brother Geoffrey in a much earlier post.  However, as I’m looking at John I thought it would be useful to reappraise myself of his siblings. Geoffrey Plantagenet was the fourth son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (third surviving son). Henry’s problem was that he had too many sons to provide for when they grew to maturity. Geoffrey’s oldest surviving brother Henry was to have the lands that belonged to Henry – the patrimony- so Anjou, Maine, Normandy and England. Richard, the second surviving son, was to have his mother’s inheritance – Aquitaine. Henry also had plans for Geoffrey.

Henry, being an astute sort of monarch and land-grabber, arranged a marriage between Geoffrey and Constance of Brittany. Constance was, conveniently for Henry, the only child of Conan IV, Duke of Brittany. Her mother Margaret of Huntingdon was William the Lion’s sister. The problem for Conan was that he was also the Earl of Richmond and the Britons were a pretty bolshie lot so needed a firm hand. In short, Conan needed Henry more than Henry needed him. Henry claimed to be Brittany’s overlord and Conan was required to make his vassals see sense. The Bretons disagreed. Henry simply went to war and won in 1169 forcing Conan to abdicate and the Bretons to accept eight-year-old Geoffrey as the new Count by virtue of being Constance’s spouse. They ultimately married in 1181 when she was twenty-one.

Hapless Conan died in 1171. Geoffrey, aged all of eleven-years-old, became not only Count of Brittany but also Earl of Richmond. Henry, naturally, wielded all the power until his son came of age.  The problem was that Henry II was not good at giving up power once it was in his grasp.

This fermented resentment as Young Henry, Richard and Geoffrey grew older. It was all very well having titles but they wanted power as well. In 1173 when Geoffrey had reached the ripe old age of fifteen he rebelled against his father along with his brothers. Ironically it was little brother John who triggered the family row. Henry sought to provide territory for his youngest son and granted John three castles in Young Henry’s territory to demonstrate that John had property to bring to a proposed marriage. Young Henry was furious, refused to yield the castles, demanded to be allowed to rule one of the territories that he would one day inherit and took himself off to the French court where his brothers joined him.  Eleanor attempted to join her sons but was caught and found herself locked up for many years- though she was allowed to come to court for Christmas more often than not.

The following year,1174, Geoffrey and his father were reconciled, only for him to fall out in 1183 with his brother Richard over who should control Aquitaine. The Young King having died. Henry rearranged the family assets moving Richard up the pecking order to receive the patrimony and young John to receive Aquitaine. Presumably Geoffrey was left out of the equation because Brittany was his through marriage – to give Geoffrey any of the other lands would have left John as ‘Lackland’ still.  Richard wasn’t keen on handing over Aquitaine having won over his vassals by an uncompromising mix of determined presence in the duchy and brute force. Geoffrey for reasons best known to himself sided with teen-age John and provided an army to try and take Aquitaine from Richard by force.  The next thing that he knew Richard was invading Brittany rather effectively.   Peace was eventually re-established with a public kiss of peace and Geoffrey briefly found himself in his father’s good books being left in charge of Normandy for a while both that it lasted.  Henry II didn’t let any of his sons step into the Young King’s shoes.  After that Geoffrey allied himself with the King of France against his father and his brother – the Plantagenets were not a model for a happy family at this time.

Geoffrey’s relationship with his father was not a good one but he wasn’t overly popular with anyone else for that matter – Roger of Howden described him as a “son of perdition.” Roger was one of Henry II’s clerks and he was also one of the king’s Justices of the Forest – so not altogether unbiased in his approach. Gerald of Wales commented on Geoffrey’s ‘readiness to deceive others.’ And then proceeded with a rather complete character assassination:

He has more aloes than honey in him; his tongue is smoother than oil; his sweet and persuasive eloquence has enabled him to dissolve the firmest alliances and his powers of language to throw two kingdoms into confusion.”

 

It has been suggested that one of the reasons for Geoffrey’s increasing animosity towards his father and Richard was that Henry II didn’t identify Geoffrey as his heir. The French king, Philip Augustus, made him a senschal of France, encouraged Geoffrey in his discontent – he’d gone to Paris in 1179 to witness Phillip’s coronation and to give homage to the French king.

On 19th August 1186 Geoffrey was in Paris for a tournament – and possibly some heavy duty plotting against his family- when there was a tragic accident and he was trampled to death although some chroniclers also mention a stomach ailment and one chronicler had Geoffrey being struck down by heart failure after daring to conspire against his father.

Geoffrey and Constance had three children. Eleanor who became known as the Fair Maid of Brittany; Matilda who died before the age of five and an heir called Arthur who was born posthumously in 1187. Arthur, being the son of John’s older brother, had a better claim to the throne than John did.  England did not have a salic law so in theory Eleanor also had a strong claim to the throne.  It was for this reason that John held her captive throughout his reign as any marriage would have created a contender to his throne.

https://archive.org/stream/annalsofrogerdeh01hoveuoft/annalsofrogerdeh01hoveuoft_djvu.txt

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John’s last days

king-john-of-england-grangerJohn’s worst fault perhaps was that he was an unlucky king.  The mercenaries he’d amassed to challenge his barons in 1215 were scatted and drowned during autumn storms at sea.  Things went from bad to worse for him after that.  By the following year John was fleeing from castle to castle with King Louis VIII in hot pursuit. He’d lost London and Winchester.  The french seemed to be everywhere and it was the fact that they pursued John into Cambridgeshire that sent John north to Lincolnshire where he followed a scorched earth policy and relieved Lincoln which was being besieged by the revolting barons.  John chased them off but failed to intercept King Alexander `ii of Scotland who was making the most of the chaos in England.  John’s letter record the fact that he was in Lincoln on September 22nd.  He inspected the castle and made its custodian, the indefatigable Nichola de la Haye Sheriff of Lincolnshire in her own right (I feel a post on her coming on even as I type).

From Lincoln John travelled back towards East Anglia via Grimsby, Louth, Boston and Spalding.  He arrived in Bishop’s Lynn on October 9th.  Historians cannot be sure what John was planning but Lynn was an important port and John arranged to have supplies sent to his northern castles.  It is reasonable to assume that he was planning a campaign in the north.  John was taken ill whilst in Lynn.  Ralph of Coggeshall assumed it was gluttony.  Morris makes the very good point that at 49 the king had been setting a ferocious pace.  He could simply have been exhausted.

In any event John set out once again for Lincolnshire on the 12th October. He travelled via Wisbech whilst his baggage appears to have taken a different and rather more disastrous route near Sutton Bridge.  He spent that night in Swineshead Abbey where famously he ate rather too many peaches, pears and cider becoming ever more ill.  Bereft of his household belongings and his treasures he arrived at the Bishop of Lincoln’s castle at Sleaford  on the 14th October where he stayed overnight.  On the 15th he wrote to Pope Honorius III (Innocent had died in July) that he was suffering from an ‘incurable infirmity.’  John took the opportunity to put his kingdom under the Church’s protection.  This was a stratagem that he hoped would save England from Louis for Prince Henry who would shortly become King Henry III.

By then he was too ill to ride, so John was carried by litter to Newark – a journey of some twenty or so miles.  He arrived at Newark on the 16th of October.  He wrote his will and that night the king died having given Margaret de Lucy who was the daughter of William and Matilda de Braoze, permission to found a Hospital of St John along with land for its foundation in memory of her mother and brother who’d starved to death in Windsor. John’s will along with his tomb can be seen in Worcester Cathedral.

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King John’s lost treasure

King_John_from_De_Rege_JohanneOne of English history’s enduring tales of lost treasure is that of King John’s loot lost in The Wash. The year is 1216.  It’s October.  The Magna Carta has been signed. Pope Innocent III has read it carefully then torn it up.  The barons are revolting.  The French are invading.  In short things are not looking good for John.

John was en route from Bishop’s Lynn (King’s Lynn these days) to Lincoln.  He’d already travelled south from Lincolnshire into Norfolk but for some reason turned back.  It has been suggested that he was already feeling unwell.  There was also the fact that he wasn’t terribly popular in the Fens – though he was well thought of in Lynn because he gave the town it’s charter in 1204 which gave its guilds the right to govern themselves.  For whatever reason he turned back towards Lincolnshire.

This meant he had to cross The Wash – a treacherous stretch of coast filled with creeks, quick sands, fast running tides and according to one popular theory an unexpected tidal bore. John crossed via Wisbech.  His baggage train containing his ‘precious vessels’ (Roger of Wendover) and ‘diverse household effects’ (Ralph of Coggeshall) seems to have crossed The Wash by a different route, possibly Sutton Bridge.  This seems a sensible option as the king could have travelled fairly rapidly by horse whereas ox-carts filled with household effects, chests, beds, the crown jewels and heaps of silver plate would have travelled more slowly.  The country was at war – speed was essential.  It seems as though the baggage train risked a more direct route in the belief that it would be able to cross The Wash before the tide turned.  There is no evidence that the baggage train was attended by local guides.

Equally we don’t know exactly what was lost and what was recovered either officially or unofficially at a later date.  We do know that John collected jewellery and precious plate.  It is probable that given the state of the country he had collected it together to keep an eye on it.  What we do have is a list of his belongings.  A Roll inventoried everything including his grandmother’s, Matilda, regalia.  Co-incidentally none of it made an appearance for the crowning of young King Henry III.  It is generally accepted it was all lost.  Charles Dickens paints a picture of the tide coming crashing in and carrying the carts off.  Other folk believe that the treasure still lays deep below eight hundred years worth of silt.

Poor John. The 12th October 1216 had not gone at all to plan.  In some versions of the story he watches as his belongings are carried away by the waves and in other versions someone has to tell him (rather them than me).  He was taken to Swineshead Abbey in Lincolnshire that night where he stuffed himself with peaches, pears and cider.  If he was feeling ill before he soon felt infinitely worse.  On the 18th October he died of dysentery at Newark.

Where there’s treasure there are always stories.  One tale suggests that a local landowner found all or part of John’s treasure during the fourteenth century.  Other accounts suggest that it was never lost at all, that either John hid it somewhere safe (so presumably it’s still there or there were some very wealthy members of John’s household shortly afterwards) or else he pawned it to raise an army to fight the revolting barons and the equally revolting french.  Whatever the truth, the facts that King John lost France and then lost his treasure do not stand him in good stead with posterity.

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Locating King John

marketcharterAngevin kings spent a lot of time on the road. Henry II travelled widely across his vast empire administering justice, fighting with the neighbours, avoiding the lady wife, seducing his wards and hunting. Richard spent most of his short reign in foreign parts – fighting someone or other- and consequentially became a hero. King John also travelled frequently. It has been calculated that he only spent 7% of his time in Westminster. In 1205 there are 228 changes of location recorded which means that he moved 19 times a month! His problem was that he didn’t have such a vast empire to travel around – essentially he had England having lost the rest of his father’s empire and gained the nickname ‘Softsword’ into the bargain. Amongst the locations he favoured were Marlborough where he’d held the castle since 1186 as a gift from brother Richard; Nottingham which he’d held since his childhood and Winchester where his son Henry was born.

150608_itinerariesjohnandhenryaskingKing John’s itineraries can be traced through his letters which reveal his location. There are currently several interesting sites on the Internet outlining John’s jaunts. One charts John’s movements in the run up to Magna Carta whilst the other charts his location on a map throughout his seventeen-year reign. http://neolography.com/timelines/JohnItinerary.html.

This image of John’s itinerary was accessed from http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/on-the-trail-of-king-john-before-and-after-the-signing-of-magna-carta (13/10/2015 @ 23:42) and shows how extensively John travelled in comparison with his son.  Interestingly John believed that the king was there to administer justice ‘even if it were to a dog’ – the same justice also happened to be a handy implement to bludgeon his barons with.

Other evidence of John’s involvement in English affairs can be seen in the charters he issued which, incidentally, offer an interesting counterpoint to the stereotype of King John with dodgy sheriffs in tow. Sheriffs undoubtedly have a bit of a bad reputation so far as the reign of King John is concerned what with all that taxation and general Anglo-Norman nastiness – oops sorry, I’ve moved out of history and into the realms of Hollywood. In reality King John sometimes did away with sheriff power and opted for ‘people power.’ Take York for example. In 1212 King John decreed that York’s citizens, rather than the sheriff, should collect and pay the annual tax to the Crown. Their charter also allowed them to hold their own courts and to appoint a mayor. John also granted a charter to Grimsby offering similar arrangements for taxation, law and administration.

Clearly if the king spent more time in England (there wasn’t a great deal of choice) then there are also more bricks and mortar locations with a link to that particular Plantagenet. In Knaresborough John took over the castle and Honour of Knaresborough on account of the fact that he was keen on the hunting. It was here that he distributed the first ever Maundy Money. John gave away forks and clothes in 1210. Knaresborough must have been one of John’s favourite castles because he spent rather a lot of time there. His accounts, another source, offer an insight into feasting, drinking, gambling and hunting.

John is known to have particularly enjoyed hunting – as did his father and before him his Norman forebears. It is not surprising therefore that the country seems to be littered with King John’s hunting lodges. Time Team did a dig a John’s hunting lodge in Clipstone. In Axbridge King John’s hunting lodge was a fourteenth century wool merchant’s house – so don’t get too excited about treading in John’s footsteps. Though in Romsey not only can you encounter his hunting lodge you can also smell the roses in his garden (a much later addition but it sounds good.)

Elsewhere in Yorkshire John visited Scarborough Castle on several occasions; made it across the county boundary into Cumbria and Carlisle where he administered justice and on to Corbridge where he did a spot of treasure hunting (without success). He received the submission of the Scots at Norham Castle ( a lovely little fortress). In a more Midlandish direction he managed to lose his jewels (of which he was an ardent collector) in the Wash allegedly near to Sutton Bridge; expired in Newark Castle and got himself buried in Worcester Cathedral.

I feel exhausted just looking at the list so I’ve no idea how John managed to travel so widely, hunt so extensively and chase, allegedly, so many women after hurtling around the English countryside in all sorts of weather with scarcely a break year in and year out.

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King John, wardship and taxing heiresses

king_john_stag_3231934bThe loss of his empire presented King John with a problem – well several to be honest.  However to pare them right down they could be viewed thus: John’s barons expected him to trounce the French as big brother Richard was wont to do; he needed money to do this but his revenue had been slashed on account of him loosing vast tracts of land.  In order to trounce the French John needed money to pay his army but he no longer had the wherewithal to raise the revenues.  Therefore John had to get creative in his taxation.

One of John’s wheezes was inheritance tax.  Technically England was a feudal society which meant that all the land belonged to the king and thus when a baron died the land reverted to the crown – except of course that wasn’t the way it worked in real life.  John, however, decided that actually that was exactly how it worked.  Take John de Lacy for example. He expected to inherit his father’s Honour of Pontefract in 1213 – which he did ultimately do but not until he’d coughed up to the tune of 7,000 marks – and let’s not forget that John had been using the estate for himself during de Lacy’s minority.

At least John was an adult male.  If you were a woman or a minor then things became even more fraught.  John paid special attention to so-called feudal custodies.  if the king was at the top of the feudal pyramid he was effectively responsible for widows and orphans – particularly if they came with a juicy price tag. He claimed the right to dispose of them in marriage and to grant their custody where he saw fit- not necessarily to their family but to the person who would pay most to get their hands on the person of the heiress and her estates.  A wealthy widow or young heiress became an excellent way of rewarding his loyal servants not to mention filling the royal coffers.  An heiress was also an excellent way of providing for illegitimate Plantagenet sprigs.  William Longsword, John’s half-brother, was famously married to the Countess of Salisbury.

John’s own son, Richard, was married off to Roese de Dover bringing him Chilham Castle.  Her story is typical of what could befall an heiress.  Her father was Fulbert de Dover who held the Barony of Chilham.  When Fulbert died, Roese was too young to marry so the custody of the castle and its estates along with Roese reverted to the crown. John decided to marry her off to his own son – Richard FitzJohn. This meant that the estates and the family name were passed, along with the bride, to the king’s son. It is probable that Roese’s age upon marriage was about thirteen. We know that Roese or Rohese had children – there were at least two daughters- Isabel who married into the Berkeley family and Lorette who married a Marmion.  How Rohese felt about the Barony of Chilham passing into Richard Fitzjohn’s hands or even her own marriage to him is not recorded.

What we do know is that rights of wardship and marriage were so valuable, according to to Turner, that justices were given instructions to keep their eyes out for stray widows and heiresses. Turner goes on to look at the accounts.  During the reign of Henry II the average levy on an heiresses wedding was 101 marks.  By the time of King John the value had more than tripled. Peter de Maulay paid 7,000 marks to marry Isabella of Thornham who was the heiress to the Barony of Mulgrave. This fine was huge and what makes it even more remarkable is that according to Ralph of Coggeshall it was Maulay who had killed John’s nephew Arthur of Brittany – under which circumstances you’d have thought John would have offered a cut-price bride.

It wasn’t always hopeful grooms who made the highest bid.  Sometimes widows paid a fine to the king to avoid remarriage.  The Countess of Aumale is one such example.  In fact, John realised that he was on to such a good thing that he also started fining male heirs who were wards of the crown when they got married which was a new practice as up until that point feudal custom hadn’t fined males – so at least you could argue that King John offered equal opportunities to heirs and heiresses alike! It was undoubtedly true that wardship was a lucrative income for the crown. Fryde goes so far as to describe the fines John imposed as ‘extortionate.’

No wonder then that wardship is mentioned in Magna Carta.  As well as issues about caring for the estates of minors rather than milking them dry clause six states that “heirs shall be married without disparagement” – i.e. no marrying heirs off to their social inferiors.  The same clause also states that the family of the ward to be married off should be notified once the deal is done.  Clause seven of Magna Carta deals with widows stating that they were to have their dower and their inheritance without the king taxing it and furthermore in clause eight no widow was to be married off against her will…all of which rather suggests that one way or another King John rather overdid income from  feudal custodies.

Fryde, Natalie. Why Magna Carta: Angevin England Revisited.

Turner, Ralph: (1994)  King John, England’s Evil King. Longman

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A pair of blue eyes

Richard_III_of_EnglandWhilst half-watching the Hairy Bikers and knitting a polar bear tonight I learned that everyone with blue eyes is descended from a common ancestor who lived between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago. This led me to the Internet and to this post – the contents of which definitely predate 1066 but I was fascinated by what I read even if it turns out to be old news much of the material i read dated from 2008.

Apparently, according to the University of Denmark once upon a time everyone had brown eyes. Then a gene mutated. A couple or so generations later and bingo – blue eyes. How do we know this?  Essentially the study looked at the genes of folk with blue eyes in Denmark and then expanded their study across the globe. They had expected the gene responsible for eye colouring to be similar in all their blue-eyed samples but they weren’t just similar they were identical. The gene is called HERC2. This not only means that somewhere along the line that everyone with blue eyes is related but that because the mutation hasn’t changed at all its still fairly recent – ten thousand years (the end of the last ice age) is recent in gene terms. Further study has revealed that blue eyes must have originated somewhere in the Balkans as this is where most people have blue eyes – 99%, dropping to 75% in Germany.

I had to dig deep into my memories of school biology lessons but essentialy if I’ve remembered right we have two sets of genes – one from each parent. Brown eyes are the dominant colour so in order to have blue eyes (blue being the recessive gene) you need to have been given a matching pair of blue genes (that may be a very bad pun but I know what I mean) by each parent hence the first person with the mutation didn’t have blue eyes and nor did their children. The blue eyes would have occurred when two people carrying the recessive blue gene both gave that particular gene to their child.

A prehistoric skeleton unearthed in Spain in 2006 and written about extensively in Nature is recorded as the ‘first’ blue-eyed person. The Independent also notes that the man had lactose-intolerant genes, which means that he lived before the period when farming had become a normal way of life. It must have been pretty startling for the Mesolithic man’s parents when they produced a baby who had eyes that were blue rather than brown like everybody else’s.

There are two theories as to why blue eyes spread through the population – the first is that blue-eyed Mesolithic man was hot-stuff and consequentially there was a rash of blue eyed babies who in their turn went on to have many blue-eyed babies. More prosaically there is a theory that the gene which produces blue eyes also helped to prevent eye disease in cold dark northern climates because, very simplistically, blue eyes contain less melanin so let more light in.

Just to finish on a note that draws me firmly post-1066- analysis of King Richard III’s skeleton revealed him to be blue eyed (and probably blond in his childhood) which means that if like me you have blue eyes you can claim to be very distantly vaguely related to him.  Equally, you can also claim to be related to Cameron Diaz and Frank Sinatra.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/revealed-first-ol-blue-eyes-is-7000-years-old-and-lived-in-a-cave-9086310.html (accessed 6/10/2015 @ 22:36)

http://www.livescience.com/9578-common-ancestor-blue-eyes.html (accessed 6/10/2015@22:41)

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King John’s sons

king_john_stag_3231934bThe Plantagenets, unlike the Tudors, were prone to having huge families.  Today we tend to remember only the off spring that gained the throne for themselves or stood out from the rest of the crowd – usually by doing something fairly dramatic.

Most people with an interest in history will probably be able to say that King John had a son called Henry. Henry was born in 1207 meaning that he became king at the tender age of nine.  He was crowned in Gloucester Cathedral with one of his mother’s, isabella of Angouleme, circlets on account of his father having lost the crown jewels in The Wash prior to popping his clogs. Henry was fortunate in having the loyalty of William Marshal who helped the young king negotiate his way through invasion by the French and the barons remaining stroppy for a prolonged period of time – John had the First Barons’ War, Henry experienced the Second Barons’ War. It was during Henry’s reign that Simon de Montfort rebelled- effectively starting the aforementioned Barons’ War.  Henry sought to model himself on Edward the Confessor rather than his own father but sadly seems to have had some very similar problems both at home and abroad.

Less well known is the fact that two years after Henry’s  birth John and Isabella produced Richard – as in ‘the spare’ to go with the heir.  Richard became the Count of Poitou in 1225 but gave it back in 1243.  He was also the Earl of Cornwall, the King of Germany (he was elected to this title and only visited the Rhineland four times – no where else in Germany was very keen on him) and the King of the Romans.

Henry’s generosity to his brother cannot be underestimated.  The lands he gained with his Cornish title made him extremely wealthy – not that it stopped the brothers squabbling.  Richard rebelled against Henry on at least three occasions. In addition to the land that his brother gave him Richard also benefited from marriage to Isabella Marshal, the daughter of William Marshall.  After Isabella’s death following childbirth Richard went on to marry Sanchia of Provence who was the sister of Eleanor – conveniently married to big brother Henry. It was partly because of Eleanor’s influence that Richard found himself with the title king.

Richard spoke English at a time when most of the nobility were still only speaking French – not yet having grasped that King John had lost huge swathes of land over the Channel and that ultimately, despite various interludes in the various wars that would punctuate the Medieval period that they were not going to get it back and they certainly weren’t going to be successful during the reign of Henry III.

He went on the sixth crusade, fought against Simon de Montfort (he’d not been impressed when his sister Eleanor was married off to Simon) and managed to get himself taken prisoner after the Battle of Lewes. The story of the de Montfort link doesn’t get any happier. Ultimately Eleanor’s sons would murder one of Richard’s sons in revenge for Simon de Montfort’s death. Richard died in 1271 and was buried in Hailes Abbey of which he was a patron.

Ironically despite not getting on particularly well with his brother Richard, John named three of his sons Richard – a legitimate one and two illegitimate ones.  One of them was called Richard FitzJohn of Dover.  He became Baron of Chilham in Kent.  John cannily married this son off to an heiress called Roese who was conveniently a ward of the crown.  The third Richard became constable of Wallingford Castle.

Another son Oliver died during the Siege of Damietta (somewhere in modern Egypt) during the sixth crusade in 1219 – this particular royal bye-blow was carted home and buried in Westminster Abbey.There was also an Osbert, a Geoffrey, an Odo and a Henry who seems to have had a complex relationship with King John – “Henry, who says he is my son but who is truly my nephew”… leaving historians trying to calculate birth dates and whether it was possible that the Young King, Geoffrey or even the Lionheart himself could have fathered him. There was also a John who may have been a knight but equally might have been a clerk somewhere in Lincoln or possibly London depending on which source you refer to! Interestingly history knows more about John’s illegitimate daughter Joan because John married her off to Llewelyn the Great and because of her role as a negotiator between her husband and father.

One fact is very clear John fathered more illegitimate children than any other Plantagenet king except Henry I and seems to have provided for them- a fact which surely must be accounted a positive aspect of John’s complex character. Henry III recognised his brothers in that many of them held government posts – the Plantagenets recognised that a royal brother was to be trusted only if he couldn’t make a claim on the crown himself. However, and as always somewhat frustratingly, very often history knows little more than their names.

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