Category Archives: Fourteenth Century

Katherine Swynford

KatSwynfordKatherine de Roet was probably born about 1350 in Hainault.  As is often the case we have no exact records of her birth.  What we do know about Katherine’s early life is found in the accounts of chronicler Jean Froissart who was also from Hainault.  He talks of Katherine as a ‘Hainaulter’ so its a reasonable assumption to make. 

The family headed by Katherine’s father  Paon de Roet arrived in England as part of Philippa of Hainault’s entourage when she married Edward III in 1328.  Paon served in the royal household. Historians think he died in the early 1350s.  Katherine  and her sister Philippa served in the queen’s household  and received their education there as well as developing links with some of the most important people in the country.  Philippa married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer whilst Katherine found herself looking after the daughters of John of Gaunt and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster; Elizabeth and Philippa.  

Blanche died in 1368, most historians think from the Black Death.  By this time Katherine was married to Sir Hugh Swynford of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire. It was considered an advantageous marriage for Katherine at the time. Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt held many estates in the area. Historians tend not to think that Katherine had begun her affair with John of Gaunt before Blanche of Lancaster’s death.  Certainly Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess suggests that the duke deeply mourned the wife that gave him seven children and made him the wealthiest man in the kingdom.

Katherine and Hugh appear to have had three children who survived infancy.  The oldest child was a boy called Thomas, the second was a girl called Blanche presumably named after Blanche of Lancaster.  John of Gaunt was Blanche’s god-father and when the time came for John to make his union with Katherine legal and also to legitimise his children this would cause a degree of problem as the papacy deemed that there was a degree of prohibited relationship on account of John’s role as godfather. Blanche grew up with Elizabeth and Philippa of Lancaster. The third child probably grew up to be a nun.  Her name may have been Margaret. Katherine swore her affair with John of Gaunt did not begin until after Sir Hugh Swynford died but Froissart says differently.

Hugh died in 1372 and Katherine’s first child by John of Gaunt was born the following year. John Beaufort was named after the french castle that Gaunt owned and where John was possibly born.  The  couple went on to have three more children who survived infancy; Henry, Thomas and Joan who had her own dramatic love story.  John had married his second wife Constance of Castile in  1371.  It was a state marriage that gave John a claim to the throne of Castile but the existence of a much loved mistress in John’s life cannot have helped the relationship nor the fact that it is known that during some periods Katherine lived quietly in the home of John’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke (Henry IV). During the Peasants Revolt of 1381 the lovers parted company or they became more secretive about their liaison possibly because John was so hated or because John wished to pursue his claim to the Castilian throne.  Not that this prevented Katherine from being made a Lady of the Garter in 1388.

Wife number two died in 1394.  There followed a flurry of letters to the pope and two years later John of Gaunt took the unusual step of marrying his mistress.  They were married on  13 January 1396 at Lincoln Cathedral.  This had the effect of putting rather a lot of noses out of joint. Not only did Katherine become the duchess of Lancaster  but because the king, Richard II, had no queen and John was the next most important man in the country Katherine automatically became the first lady to whom all others had to give way… I should imagine that some very stiff necked ladies muttered rather a lot about that particular turn up for the books. 

John and Katherine’s children were not only legitimised by the pope but also legitimised by Act of Parliament on the command of their cousin Richard II on 9th February 1397.  Later Henry IV would add a note in his own hand to the effect that whilst the Beauforts might be legitimate they couldn’t inherit the throne.  This didn’t stop Henry IV from making effective use of his Beaufort half-siblings.

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Katherine Swynford’s coat of arms – after her marriage to John of Gaunt

Katherine died on the 10th May 1403 having outlived John of Gaunt by four years.  She’d survived a period of plague, seen the Peasants revolt and the Hundred Years War as well as having caused a national scandal.  She and her daughter Joan are buried in Lincoln Cathedral having lived quietly in Lincoln in her final years.  We can still identify her house.

There was a brass of the dowager duchess but it was destroyed or certainly very badly treaded by the Roundheads in 1644 so we have no certain primary source image of the woman who stole the heart of the most powerful man in England despite the fact that there is now a brass over Katherine’s tomb it is not the original and she’s wearing a widow’s veil which doesn’t help matters but it is an effective way of the engraver dealing with the fact he didn’t know what the duchess looked like.  Froissart describes her as young and pretty in his chronicles. The image at the start of this post comes from a fifteenth century edition of Chaucer’s work and it shows the key people of Richard II’s reign. John of Gaunt is identifiable.  It’s possible that the girl in blue is Katherine.

Weir, Alison.(2007) Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess. London: Jonathan Cape

 

 

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Egremont Castle – the de Lucys and the de Multons.

 

 

As some of you will have guessed I’m on one of my peregrinations resulting in random northern history, pleasant discoveries and battle with the Internet.  This morning for instance I have had to find a cafe and partake of a rather delicious walnut and raspberry scone….still, someone has to do it!DSC_0015.JPG

In 1092 William Rufus arrived in Carlisle and wrested it out of the hands of the Scots. Ivo de Taillebois, being a henchman of the king, received huge swathes of land in the northwest. Ivo died in 1094 and his wife Lucy (a lady with large parts of Lincolnshire to call home) acquired the huge swathes of land in the northwest, or rather her second husband did. He died shortly after and Lucy acquired husband number three – Ranulph de Briquessart who acquired the aforementioned huge swathes of land in the northwest including the barony of Copeland and Egremont Castle.

 

Briquessart changed his name to le Meschines or le Meschin and in 1100 was created earl of Chester – part of the price for his swanky new title his title was huge swathes of land in the northwest. Egremont passed back into Crown holdings for a while.

 

Twenty years later, King Henry I granted de Meschines’ brother William part of his brother’s former northwestern territories – basically imagine a square bounded on one side by the Irish Sea, the mountains of the Lake District on the opposite side and the upper and lower lines of the square being everything to the south of the River Derwent and north of the River Duddon. This area was the barony of Copeland.

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William decided to build a castle at Egremont overlooking the River Ehen. The remains of the early castle motte can still be seen (pictured left). Gradually a town complete with a market cross grew up around the castle and the castle grew to become an impressive stone structure with a great hall. The herring bone pattern in the brickwork is an indicator that the castle was built early in the Norman period so people who know these things conclude that Ranulph may have done some building in stone before his brother arrived on the scene.

 

William had a son who ruled the barony after him but no male heirs. The castle and barony was the inheritance of William’s granddaughter Alice de Romilly, Lady of Skipton.

 

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The barony and the castle were secured by Alice’s husband William FitzDuncan, earl of Moray (a title he gained circa 1130). FitzDuncan had an illustrious northern heritage. His mother was Earl Gospatric’s daughter and his father was the king of Scotland. The marriage between two such notable families must have had something to do with a Scottish bid to take over the whole of the northwest. Ultimately, during FitzDuncan’s lifetime the whole of Cumberland, more or less, was in the hands of the Scots, the English being busy arguing about whether Stephen or Matilda should rule England. According to legend FitzDuncan wasn’t necessarily a terribly warm and friendly chap – and given the age in which he lived that must have been saying something. One of his nicknames was the Butcher of Craven- though to be fair I’ve seen him described as “the Noble” elsewhere. Part of the reason for this was that when King David invaded England in 1136 FitzDuncan, a member of the Scottish royal family, became a key military leader in the area…for the Scots.

 

In any event he and Alice had only one son- William. The boy went out one day whilst staying in Craven and simply disappeared into the River Wharfe when he missed his footing sometime between 1163 and 1166. He became known in folklore as the “Lost Boy of Egremont.” – which was unfortunate because with his powerful dynastic connections had he survived not only would he have been a powerful northern magnate but also a possible contender for the Scottish crown. It should also be added that he was not the child that Wordsworth depicted in his poem of the story –rather he was about twenty or so years old.

 

William FitzDuncan died and the estates that he’d accrued over the years were divided between his three daughters:

  • Cecily married to the earl of Albermarle,
  • Annabel or Mabel depending on the source you read married Reginald de Lucy – offspring of Henry II’s justicar Richard de Lucy.
  • Alice married twice but died childless.

 

When Alice died her share of the estate was then divided between her sisters’ heirs. Egremont came to Richard de Lucy, son of Annabel- this happened in the reign of King John. He married Ada a co-heiress of Hugh de Morville Lord of the Barony of Burgh. Unfortunately the families who owned Egremont seemed to have a general shortage of sons. De Lucy had two daughters also named Annabel and Alice who, as a result of their father’s death in 1213, became co-heiresses. Richard was promptly buried in St Bees Priory and King John acquired two heiresses as wards. He sold their wardships on to Thomas de Multon of Lincolnshire (just in case you wondered where he popped up from)– he also married the girls’ mother, the widowed Ada de Moreville.

 

Inevitably the de Lucy girls were married into the de Multon family and the castle went with them. Annabel de Lucy married Lambert de Multon and inherited the Barony of Copeland. The de Multons become the lords of Egremont Castle. Let’s just say that they were turbulent times and with King John in charge things were even less straightforward than normal. De Multon spent a lot of time trying to get hold of the property of his two daughters-in-law whilst other people waved family trees around making their own claims.

 

With Henry III on the throne Lambert gained a Royal Charter from the king to hold a weekly market as well as an annual fair which is still held in September. The de Moultons feature as important northern military figures throughout the reign of Henry III and into the period of Edward I – they provided men and money for Edward’s Scottish campaigns.

 

If you thought the ownership of Egremont Castle was complex simply because it followed the female line it’s about to get even more complicated. The de Lucy family rejuvenated itself when Annabel’s nephew decided to take the name de Lucy rather than de Multon. Alice de Lucy had never used her married name of de Multon and it appears that her son Thomas, calling himself de Lucy, wasn’t keen on losing his grip on the barony of Copeland or Egremont Castle to his aunt’s family. He made a claim to the Lordship of Copeland and sued the de Multons for what he regarded as his rightful inheritance. The de Multons were forced to hand over the castle (bet that led to some uncomfortable silences at family gatherings.)

 

The general lack of males heirs to inherit caused the story to spread that Egremont Castle was cursed on account of the fact that its founder, William le Meschin had joined with King Henry I when William Rufus died rather than keeping to his oath of allegiance with Henry’s older brother Robert Curthose. For folks who didn’t like that particular theory there was always the dastardly William FitzDuncan and all those brutally murdered women and children to hold accountable for the fact that none of the lords of the castle appeared able to pass the castle on to the next generation via a male heir.

 

 

By the beginning of the fourteenth century Egremont wasn’t worrying about heiresses it was worrying about the Scots. In 1322 Robert the Bruce plundered the town for the second time. The castle probably looked rather battered as a consequence. The de Lucys and the de Multons, in between fighting Scots, were busily engaged in their own private feuds since Edward II proved incapable of ruling effectively. Meanwhile Maud de Lucy, Alice’s great great grand-daughter married the earl of Northumberland.

 

Back at Egremont in 1335 the castle changed hands because of yet another marriage- Joanna de Lucy (or rather de Multon if you want to be strictly accurate) was one of three co-heiresses. This time it ended up in the hands of Robert Fitz Walter who resided in Essex.  FitzWalter and Joanna’s grandson, the imaginatively named Walter FitzWalter, managed to get captured by the French and held to ransom during 1371 in Gascony. The reign of Edward III and the Hundred Years War was in progress at the time. Egremont Castle was promptly mortgaged to the earl of Northumberland to help raise the £1000 ransom.

 

By the middle of the fifteenth century the castle changed hands yet again through another marriage. It became part of the Radcliffe estate and by this time Egremont had become little more than a shelter during times of Scottish reiver forays.

 

In 1529 the castle was sold outright to the earl of Northumberland. The sixth earl, Henry Percy (Anne Boleyn’s sweetheart), left all his possessions to Henry VIII. So from 1537 until 1558 Egremont was back in Crown hands.

 

The castle was returned to the earls of Northumberland but by this stage in proceedings the castle was virtually a ruin. The story of Egremont Castle came to a rather sticky end in 1569 as a consequence of the shortlived Rising of the North when the seventh earl of Northumberland supported a bid to rescue Mary Queen of Scots. Egremont was slighted so that it couldn’t be used defensively but there was one room that was still in tact that was used as a court until the end of the eighteenth century.

That leads neatly to the Battle of Gelt Bridge and Thistlewood Tower which I tripped over yesterday…though when I find the internet again to post my article is anyone’s guess.

In addition to the Lost Boy of Egremont there are two other stories associated with Egremont Castle. The first is called the Woeful Tale and recounts the story of a Lady de Lucy setting out on a hunting jaunt only to be slaughtered by a wolf. The other is better known. The Egremont Horn also concerns the de Lucy’s. Remarkably for a family plagued by lack of heirs it is about two brothers. Apparently the de Lucys’ owned a mighty hunting horn that could only be blown by the rightful heir to the estates. Sir Eustace and Hubert de Lacy went off to the crusades. Hubert who rather fancied being Lord of Egremont arranged to have his brother murdered whilst abroad. Hubert returned but didn’t dare to blow the hunting horn. Then one day Hubert heard the Horn of Egremont echoing through the castle. Eustace wasn’t as dead as Hubert might have hoped. As Eustace rode in through the front gate, Eustace scarpered out by the postern gate.

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Salter Mike. (2002) The Castles and Tower Houses of Cumbria. Malvern:Folly Publications

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Two Scandalous Bishops at Lichfield Cathedral – Leofwin and Walter Langton

DSC_0049.jpgLichfield, in pre-Conquest times was a great see covering most of Mercia, these days its very much smaller and well worth a visit with its beautiful gospels and carved angel.

 

The first of this post’s scandalous bishops to reside in Lichfield, according to Cannon, was minding his own business when he was accused, fairly promptly after the Norman Conquest, of being married and forced to resign.   In fact, a quick glance at Bell’s entry for Lichfield suggests that not only did the Bishop Leofwin resign but that he also died in 1066 suggesting a convenient stratagem for removing the incumbent Saxon.  The next bishop was William the Conqueror’s own chaplain, Peter, and it was during his tenure that the seat of the see was moved from Lichfield to Chester and from there to Coventry where there was an abbey until in 1189 Lichfield was restored to its role of cathedral although there appears to have been some pretty unpleasant vying for power between the inhabitants of Lichfield and Coventry for several centuries afterwards.

 

The second scandalous bishop rocked up in 1296. Rejoicing in the nickname of ‘the king’s right-eye,’ treasurer Walter Langton was given the bishopric as a reward by King Edward I and nominated as Edward’s executor. He got down to some serious building work in Lichfield which including building houses around the cathedral precincts for the vicars and canons.

 

Four years later Walter was up to his neck in trouble. He was accused of adultery with his step-mother, of murdering his father, witchcraft and corruption. These charges were without foundation but they reflect the way in which medieval political smear campaigns  sometimes ran.  In 1307 with a new king on the throne in the form of ditch digging Edward II (that really was one of his hobbies) Walter found himself under arrest and his income handed to royal favourite Piers Gaveston. Now whilst Langton may have been corrupt and greedy the other charges had rather more to do with the dislike of Edward II and the Archbishop of Canterbury for the former treasurer than anything else.  Not that Walter appears terribly popular with anyone else either. When the Lords Ordainers, so called because of the ordinances or regulations that they (there were 21 of them) imposed on Edward II, took power in 1311 and booted Piers Gaveston out of his position as royal favourite Walter continued to languish in prison.  He did ultimately regain his position as treasurer having cleared his name but no one appears to have trusted him very much.

 

It was Langton who constructed (presumably not personally) the West front and also the three spires. Lichfield is the only cathedral in England to have a triple spire arrangement. The grotesques adorning the cathedral are rather more Victorian in design.  Unfortunately the cathedral had a rather unpleasant time during the English Civil War but more of that anon.

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Cannon, Jon. (2007) Cathedral: The Great English Cathedrals And The World That Made Them London: Constable

Clifton A. (1900) Bell’s Cathedrals: The Cathedral Church of Lichfield A Description of Its Fabric and A Brief History of the Espicopal See. Edinburgh: White and Co

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James the Unfortunate

James_III_of_Majorca_large.jpgI posted recently about the Battle of Crecy and noted that as well as the flower of French nobility that  John, the blind king, of Bohemia and  Jaime the King of Majorca met their maker that day.

 

It turns out, as explained to me by my friend John, that reports of the death of the King of Majorca at the Battle of Crecy were somewhat exaggerated in that he was alive and kicking for the next three years. Froissart got it wrong – which just goes to prove that you should check your facts extra especially carefully when relying upon a medieval chronicle.  I have given myself a stern talking to and will be checking very carefully before killing anyone else off on the word of anyone even remotely medieval.

 

As John explained to me, King Jaime III (Jaume if you like to vary your spelling and James for all those folk who like solid English sounding names) probably fought at Crecy, he might even have been wounded, but was killed in 1349 at the Battle of Llucmajor in Majorca.  The rest of this post courtesy of John Hearnshaw with grateful thanks- I throughly enjoyed learning about Jaime even though he’s a bit off my usual geographical radar.

Jaime III had had a fairly chequered career.  He is sometimes called Jaime the Unfortunate but he is also known as Jaime the Rash. He was the last independent king of Majorca. He was unusual for that era in that he believed that no king could have lordship over any other king.  Consequently he refused to swear fealty to his cousin Pero IV of Aragon (Peter).  Pero took his time but in 1344 he kicked Jaime out of Majorca and annexed the Balearic Islands to the Crown of Aragon where they stayed until the crown of Catalonia-Aragon and that of Castille were united by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

 

Consequently, by the time of Crecy in 1346, Jaime was king of nowhere-in-particular (which would account for why he was gallivanting around France).  He may well have been wounded at Crecy but by 1349 he was well enough to lead a mercenary army back to Majorca in an attempt to retake the island from its governor, who had been appointed by his cousin.  Jaime put up a decent fight but he was ultimately defeated.

 

jaimeiiistatueIf you ever go to Llucmajor there is little to show of the battle itself apart from a small memorial but there is a nice tomb in Llucmajor church and a statue on the outskirts of the town of Jaime and his standard bearer (who may or may not have been his brother) dying together.

Double click on the image of the statue to open a new page about the kings of Majorca and a link to the Battle of Llucmajor.

 

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Richard II – birthday boy

tumblr_m94jocf45j1qeu6ilo1_500Richard, son of the Black Prince and Joan of Kent was born on January 6th 1367. Ten years later the Black Prince died pre-deceasing his aged and increasingly infirm father Edward III. It says something about the changes in society that a child was successfully able to inherit his grandfather’s throne. It probably also says rather a lot about Richard’s uncles, particularly John of Gaunt that there was no take over bid.

 

Richard’s reign tends to be remembered, in popular imagination at least, for two things. The first event was the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Richard demonstrated personal bravery in order to ride out to Smithfield to meet Wat Tyler – and remember that Richard’s chancellor, even though he did resign shortly before, Simon of Sudbury had been brutally murdered by the mob and that John of Gaunt’s palace, The Savoy, had been utterly destroyed.

 

Richard, married to Anne of Bohemia introduced the word Majesty to court circles, no doubt helping his uncles and relatives to remember who was in charge. It was this period that saw curly toed footwear, Geoffrey Chaucer and the building of Westminster Hall. Despite these things which seem on their own to indicate a period of culture and learning (shoes aside) but Richard failed to live up to his early promise.  In addition to not being particularly keen on fighting the french he liked bathing, reading and clothes as well as getting his own way. The death of Anne of Bohemia in 1394 didn’t help matters very much nor did his second marriage two years later to Isabella of Valois who was a child so unable to curb his despotic tendencies or desire to have his entire court on their knees:

 

‘After this on solemn festivals when by custom [Richard II] performed kingly rituals, he would order a throne to be prepared for him in his chamber on which he liked to sit ostentatiously from after dinner until vespers, talking to no one but watching everyone; and when his eye fell on anyone, regardless of rank, that person had to bend his knee towards the king …’

Continuatio Eulogii, pp. 371-9

 

 

To cut a long story short Richard didn’t look to his relatives for support once he reached adulthood – a fact which irritated them immensely. One of Richard’s uncles (Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester) waited until John of Gaunt (yet another of Richard’s uncles) was out of the country and then used the law to curb Richard’s increasingly authoritarian practices. Many of Richard’s favourites were executed. The event is recalled by the title that the 1388 Parliament is known by – the Merciless Parliament.

 

Richard had to wait nearly a decade to get his own back and during that time he ensured that there was a cohort of men loyal to him as well as a crack troop at his command. In 1397 Richard arrested and banished his opponents including his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke who was also John of Gaunt’s son. The Duke of Gloucester having been arrested and sent to Calais had a fatal ‘accident’, allegedly involving a mattress, on his nephew’s orders.

 

When John of Gaunt died, Henry of Bolingbroke thought that his banishment would be over. Instead Richard made the banishment permanent and stripped Henry of his lands. Henry landed at Ravenspur with the intent of reclaiming the Duchy of Lancaster. Which leads to the second event of Richard’s reign which most folk know – his usurpation and death from starvation at Pontefract. No wonder Shakespeare found plenty of material to write about.

Froissart’s Chronicles, somewhat sympathetic to Richard, gives an account of the period but ultimately seems to indicate that Richard brought his own downfall upon himself through his authoritarianism and failure to make war on the French.

 

Two generations on, problems resulting from Richard’s removal would arise when the Lancaster line failed to produce a strong king. Henry IV as Henry Bolingbroke became held on to his crown though in constant fear that someone would do to him what he had done to Richard.  Henry V was probably the most martial king of the period and then there was Henry VI.  That would be the time when a swift investigation of the family tree would remind the nobility that the Lancaster line was descended from Edward III’s third surviving son.  Unfortunately for England, Lionel of Antwerp, Edward’s second surviving son, had a child Philippa who had married into the Mortimer family.  Richard II had named Philippa’s son (Roger Mortimer) his heir. At a time when the Lancaster line weakened this inconvenient fact would become very important indeed. And it would be another Richard – Richard of York – descended on both his mother and father’s side from Edward III who would demand that attention be paid to the previously ignored rights of the Mortimers.

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Battle of Crecy anniversary

Battle_of_crecy_froissart.jpgIt’s the 670th anniversary of the Battle of Crecy this year on August 26th, so no doubt I’ll return to the subject in due course.

The Hundred Years war commenced in 1337 as these things do with an exchange of views about the import of wool into Flanders. Nor were the English terribly happy that the French were encouraging the Scots to rebel so Edward III put his thinking hat on and came up with his family tree. His mother, was of course, Isabella of France a.k.a. the She-wolf. England didn’t have a salic law and Edward couldn’t see that the fact that the French prohibited women from inheriting the throne being a particular problem. He calmly announced that although he had supported Philip of Valois in 1328 when Charles IV had died without sons that he had decided, upon careful reflection, that his own claim was a better one.

 

The war kicked off with a few cross-channel raids. In 1340 things changed. The English navy defeated the French at Sluys ensuring control of the English Channel or La Manche as the french prefer to call it. This was followed by a full scale invasion of France by an English army of 12,000 of whom more than half were longbow men. These men were veterans of the Scottish campaigns. The English enjoyed a holiday in Normandy doing what medieval soldiers did – think pillage and rape.

 

The French massed their army of 12,000 plus 6,000 or so mercenaries with crossbows. It should also be added that there were huge numbers of peasants who’d been pressed into service as foot soldiers – so plenty of bill hooks and scythes in evidence. Philip moved this army to the Somme thinking to place Edward at a disadvantage.

 

Edward ignored the water hazard and made for the top of a hill where he divided his force into three groups and instructed them to dig ditches and plant sharpened stakes in the ground. The French had not encountered the power of the longbow men against foot soldiers or cavalry before but it was this battle that made their name and ensured that the weapon came to dominate the war. By the end of the afternoon the French had been soundly beaten.

 

In other news of the battle the Black Prince, a sixteen-year-old novice at warfare, was in charge of the English right flank and when it looked as though the French might be successful at that end of the battlefield the king told his commanders to let his son get on with it – something of a steep learning curve. It was in this battle that the blind King of Bohemia managed to get himself killed along with the King of Majorca and a thousand or so French knights. Philip of Valois was lucky to escape capture.

 

Our account of the battle comes from Froissart who was born in 1337 or thereabouts so not on the scene of the battle itself but employed at the age of twenty-four by Phillipa of Hainault (Edward III’s lady wife) in a literary capacity. He is recorded as making careful research and asking lots of questions before putting quill to parchment– he’s also more or less the only detailed chronicler of events. For his report of events click on the picture at the start of this post to open up a new window.  The picture is an illustration from Froissart’s Chronicles.

 

It is worth remembering that the Hundred Years War is the backdrop to the reign of Richard II, the social unrest of his reign and his deposition by Henry IV.  It returns to the forefront of popular history with King Henry V of Agincourt fame and his marriage to Katherine of Valois and lingers during much of Henry VI’s reign- think Joan of Arc- resulting ultimately in Richard of York becoming decidedly aggrieved about Henry VI’s reliance upon the Beauforts  and Margaret of Anjou’s advice.  Henry VI’s failure to repeat his father’s victories and the decades of constant warfare are all part of the fateful mix that contribute to the Wars of the Roses.  And, of course without Katherine of Valois and a certain Clerk of the Wardrobe there would have been no Henry Tudor.

 

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Another naughty nun to start the new year

 

augustinian nun.jpgThe Priory of Moxby in Yorkshire was an Augustinian foundation for nuns although it had originally been founded as a double house (the only Augustinian double house in England) and it seems that the nuns, well certainly one of them, were a bit naughty during the fourteenth century. Sabina de Applegarth is identified in a letter dated 1310 as having apostatized. Or put another way, decided that she didn’t want to be a nun anymore.

 

Archbishop Greenfield of York sent the letter instructing the priory to receive Sabina back into the fold as a penitent – we have no idea whether she’d been caught in civilian clothing or decided to hand herself in. That same year the prioress resigned and four years later after a visitation the nuns received a list of things they needed to do in order to be deemed good nuns – there was to be an annual accounting for income and expenditure. They were not to run up any new debts. Healthy nuns were not to lay around in the infirmary. The nuns were not to take in boarders or girls over twelve unless the bishop said they could. The nuns were to stay together as they were expected to do – think of the flock principle here. Nor were they to wander around in the woods on their own. They certainly weren’t to go gossiping with the locals or any passing brothers. The prioress was to eat with the other nuns (the flocking principle again) and she was to always be accompanied by another nun and to have a waiting-maid with her. Relatives weren’t welcome…were there an over abundance of giggling sisters, aunts and grannies?  Or was it a question of one too many brothers and uncles turning up?

 

By 1322 things had changed – the Scots had arrived and the unfortunate Sabina de Applegarth had been packed off to Nun Monkton to escape the hairy brutes. The other sisters were scattered across Yorkshire during that period but by 1325 they must have been back together although the prioress,  Joan de Barton, seems to have shaken off the accompanying nun and waiting maid deemed necessary by the Archbishop long enough to get into some rather close conversation with the chaplain, one Laurence de Systeford. History provides her penance and the crime – which is a relief after reading about all the earlier restrictions which hint at laxity but don’t actually spell them out.

 

In 1328, the past clearly forgotten, Sabina briefly made prioress but was removed the same year with instructions that she was never to hold an administrative post again nor was she to ever be allowed out of the convent again – this was also when a letter writing ban was imposed upon her: she wasn’t to write letters or to receive them – ever (what on earth had she been up to?)   To say that her career as a nun was chequered would be to put it mildly.

 

Historically speaking we know that the Priory of Moxby was badly damaged by the Scottish invasion of 1322 and we can see that the nuns didn’t seem particularly well managed – reading between the lines there are hints of Sabrina’s besetting sins but nothing that reveals the full extent of her naughtiness and certainly nothing as to why she became a nun in the first place as poverty and chastity do not seem to have been her vocation.

 

 

‘Houses of Austin nuns: Priory of Moxby’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 239-240 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp239-240 [accessed 3 January 2016].

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elizabeth of Lancaster and Sir John Holland

elizabeth_of_lancasterI’ve found a new author – well, she might not be new but she’s new to me- Anne O Brien.  I’ve just guzzled ‘The King’s Sister’ a novel about Elizabeth of Lancaster, the third child of Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt.

Her story is an everyday tale of the Plantagenets – so there’re two arranged marriages, treachery and a spot of skulduggery for starters.

John of Gaunt arranged a marriage between Elizabeth and John Hasting’s the third Earl of Pembroke in 1380.  She was seventeen, he was eight and got on, in the novel at least, very well with Elizabeth’s little brother Henry of whom more anon.  It isn’t perhaps surprising that she was more attracted to John Holland a son of Princess Joan and her first husband (the one she married when she was twelve before her family married her off to a second more important husband but that’s a different story) who had been married for a third time to the Black Prince and was mother to King Richard II.  John Holland had a reputation as a ladies man and a champion jouster – or in other words a knight errant- as well as gaining a reputation as a soldier in the field in both Scotland and Spain.  Apparently, according to the records of the time, he was smitten with Elizabeth of Lancaster’s great beauty.  He followed her day and night…so what would you do if you were a hormone ridden teenager – remain loyal to the child to whom your father has married you off to or run away with the handsome half brother of the king?   Elizabeth’s marriage to the young Earl of Pembroke was annulled.

The relationship between Elizabeth and John Holland is a tempestuous one in Anne O’Brien’s novel but the historical reality is not without its ironies.  John’s half brother was Richard II.  Elizabeth’s brother was Henry Bolingbroke a.k.a. Henry IV.  I should imagine that the family get together after Henry deposed and imprisoned Elizabeth’s brother-in-law was a tense one.  Although John gave his fealty to the new king he remained loyal to Richard in Pontefract – and despite Richard’s notorious temperamental streak – he’d been good to his half-brother and wife.  John Holland had been created First Duke of Exeter and been rewarded with other posts and estates.

In 1400 he was involved in the so-called ‘Epiphany Plot,’ also known as ‘the Three Earls Plot’ which sought to overthrow Henry, kill him and his sons, and return Richard II to the throne.  The plot was betrayed and John fled but was captured at Pleshy Castle in Essex.  He was fortunate to get so far.  Twenty-nine of the conspirators were executed at Oxford.  John was  was executed by Joan Fitzallan, the Countess of Hereford who had a grudge against Elizabeth’s husband.  Holland had executed her brother (the Earl of Arundel) several years before without going through the niceties of an entirely fair trial.

Henry IV used attainder to impoverish his sister and his nieces and nephews in the short term.  So not what you might call a terribly happy-ever-after for the couple although there is more to Elizabeth’s story and her children because they remained close to the crown and eventually regained their titles if not all of their estates.  As for Richard II, well he apparently starved himself to death very soon after the failed uprising in January 1400.  The chroniclers didn’t believe it either!

As for me I’m pleased to report that there are five other novels by Anne O Brien…as well as a list of places for me to visit that are associated with the Plantagenet princess who broke the rules and ran off with her handsome knight only to find herself embroiled in deadly family politics.

 

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Thomas – a crusading, jousting Clifford

IMG_3926Thomas Clifford, the sixth baron, was born in approximately 1365.  He became a royal favourite at the time of Richard II – he was noted, apparently, for his “dissipation and indulgence” by which we can assume his shoes had very curly toes.  Quite what the inhabitants of the borders would have made of a court favourite dressed in the height of fashion is left unrecorded but Thomas found himself in the role not only of Warden of the West March but also the East March – making him a very busy man.  In 1384 he was granted custody of Carlisle Castle for life along with John Neville.  Presumably they took turns visiting.

 

One of the features of Thomas’s tenure was the knightly habit of jousting- hence the repetition of the picture in this post.  Thomas travelled widely in Europe with a retinue of knights who attended tournaments.  In fact, he even crossed into Scotland for the odd tournament and gave Lord Douglas permission to come into England for the same reason.  Think of these tournaments as the equivalent of medieval football matches crossed with the arrival of your favourite pop star.

 

In between governing the whole of the north and keeping the Scots under control and generally being knightly Thomas also rose to the role of Master of the King’s Horse.

It’s worth mentioning that while Thomas was busy doing all of this that England was having a spot of bother. The Lords Appellant were not keen on the way Richard II was ruling his kingdom.  Having come out of the Peasant’s Revolt with a reputation for personal bravery Richard developed a sense of his own importance.  It was this monarch who introduced the word ‘majesty’ into the descriptors to be used and also came up with an elaborate protocol involving repeated bowing on approaching the royal presence.  Unsurprisingly this did not go down particularly well with the aristocracy who were just as well bred as Richard.  Nor were they terribly impressed with Richard’s best friend, Richard de Vere, Earl of Oxford.  Inevitably, de Vere was  sent packing following the Battle of Radcot Bridge in 1387 and then expired whilst in exile.  Richard was forced to submit to the so called Merciless Parliament in 1388 (the year Thomas became Master of the King’s Horse)  and then spent a good number of years biding his time while he gained sufficient power to show everyone exactly who was in charge.

 

Thomas was treading an aristocratic tightrope along with every other noble in the country.  Not only did the nobility owe their land and their allegiance to the monarchy but they were increasingly connected by ties of blood.  For example Thomas’s wife, Elizabeth de Roos was descended from King Edward I. De Roos was the Lord of Helmsley – a reminder that national politics were interwoven with marriages and family relationships at a local level.  Feudalism was giving way to bastard feudalism.  In part this was a consequence of the Black Death but it was also the result of family sponsorship and patronage that lent itself to close knit community ties but also to feuding.

 

Little wonder that Thomas took himself off on crusade to Lithuania with Thomas of Woodstock, Earl of Gloucester in 1395.  Unfortunately he got into a bit of a fight with a son of the Earl of Douglas – and killed him.  Filled with remorse Thomas decided to go on another crusade to Jerusalem.  Somewhere (don’t you love it when history fails to provide all the details?) between Lithuania and Jerusalem he died, missing out on the joys of Richard II’s deposition by Henry Bolingbroke (a.k.a. Henry IV, cousin of Richard II, member of the Lords Appellant and king in Shakespeare’s Hollow Crown cycle of plays) but leaving a two-year-old to inherit the title who in turn would grow up to be one of Henry V’s warriors as well as assorted other offspring who were married into leading northern families.  But more of them anon.

 

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Margaret de Moulton and her two would be husbands…

IMG_3926Robert de Clifford, 3rd Baron de Clifford  (5 November 1305–20 May 1344) was Roger Clifford’s brother. Roger had been hanged in the aftermath of the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322. The family properties and titles taken back by the crown. Following the downfall of Edward II, Robert was reinstated to the lands and titles which belonged to the Clifford family. He married Isabel de Berkeley at Berkeley Castle in 1328  (yes, I know we’re back to red hot pokers but just let’s ignore that link shall we?) and they had seven children.  It would appear that the early years of the reign of Edward III was a quiet one for the Cliffords.

 

However a little digging reveals yet another shady marriage linked to the power politics of the north and hurtles the blog straight back into the chaotic times of Edward II. Here’s what Yerburgh had to say in 1912 from his text entitled Some Notes on Our Family History. The comments in italics are mine:

 

There is not much to be said about Robert de Clifford (damned by faint praise). In the account of the Dacres of Gillsland his betrothal to Margaret de Multon and her elopement with Ranulph de Dacre will be found. He rose with the fortunes of Edward III., and he recovered the inheritance which his elder brother’s troubles and misfortunes had lost for a while. He was a favourite with both the Edwards of England and Scotland, and he made a great match for his young son to a family of great power in the North, and died after he had been Lord of Skipton in possession twenty-eight years.

 

Not an exciting twenty-eight years then…except of course this is a man who was involved with the politics and interminable war with Scotland.  So his ‘quiet’ was probably our ‘quite exciting’, all things considered.The Collectanea Cliffordiana by Arthur Clifford offers some further information which confirms this. Just as his forefathers had played their role on the borders so to did the third baron. He entertained Edward Baliol who was King of Scotland at Brough and at Appleby and when he wasn’t entertaining the king he was conducting warfare against him (must have made for interesting after dinner conversation). He is recorded as having taken his turn as warden of the West Marches in the eighth year of Edward III’s reign. His co-warden was a man called Ranulph de Dacre which brings us back to Yerburgh’s so-called ‘elopement’ which turns out not to be a romantic interlude but to be the abduction of a minor in order to acquire land and more importantly power.

 

Margaret de Moulton’s family held the Barony of Gilsland. She was her father Thomas’s only heir. She had been married at the age of seven to Robert Clifford in that an agreement was reached – the actual ‘marriage’ would have taken place when Margaret came of age.  In the meantime she clearly remained at home.  Other young brides might have found themselves being brought up in the houses which they would one day supervise.  It depended entirely upon the families, the arrangements and the fastness of the contracts that the two groups made.  As it was the Clifford family were going through tricky times. King Edward II, who always had his eye on ways to make money, claimed her as his ward and sent her to Warwick Castle, from where Ranulph abducted her when she was thirteen. The Barony of Gilsland was right on the edge of England.  It was an important feature in the geography and politics of the borders.

 

Ranulph de Dacre was pardoned at the end of October 1317 “for stealing awai in the nighte out of the king’s custody from his Castell of Warwick of Margaret, daughter and heir of Thomas of Molton of Gilsland, whoe helde of ye Kinge in capite, and was within age, whearof the sayd Ranulphe standeth indighted in Curis Regis.” Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian, V4, P470.  The marriage and the accruement of power was one of the factors which turned Dacre into Lord Dacre.  The other factor was the salient point that border barons could behave rather badly in their own time so long as they kept the Scots out of England when required to do so.

 

It is possible to surmise that Edward II cannot have been very happy about pardoning Dacre as Ranulph was involved in the judicial murder, of Edward II’s favourite, Piers Gaveston, in 1312. Ranolph was pardoned for any part he had taken in the death of Piers in 1313, as were the other conspirators including Ranulph’s father and brother.

 

As for Ranulph and Robert Clifford, they clearly arrived at a consensus given their roles as joint wardens and indeed survivors of the nasty political games of the period. The Lannercost Chronicle recorded the marriage between Robert and Margaret but also that there had been a pre-contract between Thomas de Moulton and William de Dacre before the Clifford contract which again wasn’t unusual and reflects the way in which families negotiated with one another and jockeyed for position within society.  The concept of negotiation, pre-contract and contract were important ones because a pre-contract was as legally binding as the actual thing – so having promised Margaret to the Dacres, Thomas should not have arrived at an arrangement with the Cliffords – turning Margaret’s abduction from a moral blackspot into a fine and chivalrous deed (the sentence is best read in an ironic tone) .

 

As for Isobel de Berkeley, well it turns out that women who married into and out of the Clifford family weren’t always particularly good at doing what the monarch, or even their fathers, wanted them to do.  She married again after a brief widowhood.  In 1345 she had to pay a fine and receive a pardon for marrying a chap called Sir Thomas de Musgrave without getting royal permission to do so first.  I’d like to think it was a love match but no doubt a bit more digging will uncover an unpleasant matrimonial tale …it makes me glad to come from a long line of peasants.

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