Category Archives: Thirteenth Century

King John Crossword

knigh2King John has been much talked and written about in this eight hundredth anniversary of Magna Carta.  The British Library held an exhibition. It’s website still has videos, interviews and documents.  What more could you want?  Click here to open a new window http://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/videos/800-years-of-magna-carta.  His effigy, along with various bones and his will, can be viewed at Worcester Cathedral whilst one of the original copies of the Magna Carta is on display in Salisbury.  There have been articles about him in History Today and several of the broadsheets have considered just how bad John actually really was…the conclusion being not as bad as Shakespeare might have liked.  Marc Morris’s book Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta offers a clear oversight into the derailment of Henry II’s youngest son from monarch to man who lost his baggage. For younger readers of history, much to my delight, the Ladybird Adventure from History about King John is once again available – although possibly not presenting him in a particularly balanced light.

Lack of balance is certainly true of the Jean Plaidy novel about King John entitled ‘The Prince of Darkness’ which gives an unfortunate hint of the direction of John’s character as interpreted by Ms Plaidy. John was undoubtedly a much more complex man than that of out and out villain.  Those complexities and ambiguities can be found, for those folk who like their history in novel form, in Sharon Penman’s books about Justin de Quincy – the first in the series is called The Queen’s Man.  Inevitably novels containing Robin Hood feature John somewhere along the line – for fans of the outlaw, Angus Donald books are not to be missed.  I know that there are many more – there is something about John that draws writers in, perhaps because he is much more than a cardboard villain.

The Angevin monarch is not without a future either.  King John, is taught at Key Stage Three in schools and is also currently part of the AQA A level history syllabus (HIS3A: The Angevin Kings of England: British Monarchy, 1154–1216) as well as an OCR A level history qualification which will be examined for the first time in 2017.

Having recently taught a day school on King John I finished with a crossword.  Here it is along with the answers:  Click on the word puzzle to open up a new window.  Some of the clues are straight forward, others require slightly more knowledge.  None of them are too difficult.

puzzle

Across

2) Pope who tore up Magna Carta and triggered civil war (8).
6) Adrian IV’s surname before he became pope (10).
9) Fine issued by the court at the will of the king (10).
10) Chronicle which probably tells the tale of the death of John’s nephew accurately (6).
12) Keep where Eleanor of Aquitaine was besieged by her grandson (8).
13) Powerful Lower Poitou family (8)
14) Niece from Castile to be married to Prince Louis and fetched for that purpose by Queen Eleanor (7).
15) Prior sent by Canterbury monks to Rome as archbishop. (8)
17) John’s tutor (9).
18) John had two daughters by this name (4).
20) Place of John’s birth (6).
29) Scottish king who joined with the barons (9).
30) John sent ship loads of corn to Norway in return for these (7).
31) John was prone to demanding these of his enemies and his barons (8).
32) The son of John’s brother Geoffrey (6).
33) Count who dined with John on the same day that he switched to the french (7).
36) One of the causes of the dysentery said to have killed John (5)
41) As a consequence of the fall of the Angevin Empire John built one of these (4).
42) There was a Bishop of Durham and a Bishop of Lincoln who played active roles in John’s life (4).
43) Nickname of John’s early years (8).
44) What did Roger de Cressi do that earned him a fine of 12,000 marks and 12 palfreys in 1207 (7).
45) Matilda FitzWalter is said to have been poisoned by one of these having spurned John’s advances (3).
46) Town where John died (6).
Down

1) Abbey founded by John (8).
3) Castle where 22 Bretton captives were starved to death (5).
4) Castle given to John by Henry II and where Welsh hostages were executed (10).
5) Bishop of Norwich selected by John as Archbishop of Canterbury (4, 2, 4).
6) 1214 battle that saw John defeated in France (8).
7) Chronicler writing many years after John’s death who was hostile to John (5).
8) Gossipy chronicler who travelled with John to Ireland (6).
11) Unfortunate chap called Henry whose wife was John’s mistress and who was used as an excuse to fine another man for the same offence.
12) Castle where John married his first wife (11).
16) Earl of Essex who paid 20,000 marks for his second wife (8, 2, 10)
19) Ambitious Justiciar (9).
21) Abbey where John stayed after losing his baggage in The Wash (10)
22) Castle besieged by John in 1215 (9).
23) Isabella of Angouleme’s father (5).
24) Cathedral where John is buried (9).
25) John’s daughter who married Simon de Montfort (7).
26) Eustace d’_ _ _ _ _ substituted another woman for his wife when John demanded her in his bed (5).
27) Hugh de Neville was responsible for administering it and it extended during John’s reign until Magna Carta (6, 3).
28) Another word for excommunication when applied to a region or country (9).
31) Anglo Norman baron granted kingdom of Meath (4,2,4).
34) 1200 treaty that saw John accept the overlordship of the French (2, 6).
35) 1209 treaty that saw peace between England and Scotland on John’s terms (6).
37) Lands in Normandy by which John was known after Richard’s accession (7).
38) Marcher earl who was often the victim John’s paranoia about treachery in 1203 and 1204 (7).
39) Dacus, danish merchant, who sailed tax free on condition he bring one of these whenever he came to England (4).
40) King who succeeded John (5).

To reveal the answers click on the word puzzle below.

puzzleanswers

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Thomas of Galloway -sixty years a prisoner.

DSC_0004John Baliol was an important man. He was also a very rich one thanks to his marriage to Devorguilla of Galloway 1223.   She and her husband had nine children.  It was through Dervorguilla that the Baliols made their claim to the Scottish crown. Such was her love for John that after his death she founded Sweetheart Abbey – she also had his heart embalmed…as you do. Whilst John may have been much loved by his wife I doubt whether her half brother Thomas – somewhat confusingly sometimes known as Thomas of Huntingdon- felt so warmly towards the man for a variety of reasons.

Devorguilla’s father, Alan of Galloway, died without legitimate male heirs meaning that his daughters, or rather their husbands, inherited – except in Scotland at that time the law did not restrict male heirs to those born inside wedlock. Alan’s illegitimate son Thomas was able to gain enough support and finance to make a bid for the lordship of Galloway. Unfortunately this was not what Alexander II of Scotland wanted at a time when he was trying to control an assortment of earls and lords as well as negotiate a peace deal with the English. By breaking up Alan of Galloway’s estates between the three sisters Alexander was able to weaken the power of the Lord of Galloway and prevent it from behaving as a semi-independent kingdom. It probably helped that the Anglo-Scottish lords that the sisters were married to were either jolly good friends of his or vaguely related to him.

Mathew Paris described the mini war that followed whilst The Lannercost Chronicle records that Thomas was captured in 1235 as well as the rest of his sorry tale.

Thomas, whose father had once tried to secure him the crown of the Isle of Man, soon found himself securely confined behind Barnard Castle’s stout walls in the heart of Baliol territory, not on the whim of John Baliol but on the orders of King Alexander II who was decidedly unimpressed by the people of Galloway who wanted Thomas in charge of them rather than the husbands of Thomas’s three half-sisters.  He put down their uprising against his authority with a degree of gusto.

In 1286 Thomas’s nephew also called John Baliol tried to have Thomas released but the Scottish council refused. Barrow suggests that Thomas’s plight reflects the fact that the ordinary people of Scotland wished to follow their Celtic traditions whilst the leadership of the country had an Anglo-Norman feudal agenda (Barrow:9).

Thomas remained in Barnard Castle for sixty years until he was released, aged eighty-eight, in 1296 by the Bishop of Durham on the orders of King Edward I who had his own reasons for upsetting the balance of power in Scotland. By that time Alexander III had hurtled off a cliff on his way home to his young bride, the Fair Maid of Norway had died on her way to Scotland and the country was knee deep in contenders for the crown.  Edward I suggested that he would choose who would be king and Scotland would recognise English overlordship as well as getting a king who owed everything to Edward – cue Scottish Wars of Independence. Thomas was sent home to Galloway with a charter listing the liberties on offer to the men of Galloway by Edward and which underlined the fact that Edward was not supporting the Baliol claim to the Scottish throne.

Barrow, G. W. S. (2005) Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univeristy Press

Oram, Richard (2012)  Alexander II: King of Scots 1214-1249. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd

Watson, Fiona (1998) Under the Hammer: Edward I and Scotland, 1286-1307. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd

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King John’s grandson murdered…by King John’s grandsons.

Henry-Almain-Guy-DeMontfort-It’s an interesting fact, and it must be true because it was mentioned by Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge, that Isabella of Angouleme – wife first to King John and then to Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche had sixteen children, all of whom lived into adulthood. Not that all of her children and grandchildren lived very happy lives and at least one was murdered …by his own cousins. It’s always nice to see the Plantagenets getting along well.

Isabella’s second son to John was Richard of Cornwall. He in his turn married Isabella Marshal, daughter of William Marshal. Their third child was a boy called Henry who was born in Suffolk in 1235. He was murdered thirty-six years later by two of his cousins.

Henry, known as Henry of Almain (Allemagne) on account of his father’s links with the Holy Roman Empire had a problem. He was nephew to both Henry III and also via his aunt Eleanor to Simon de Montfort. Eleanor was married to Simon. The barons didn’t simply shrug their shoulders and return to ‘business as usual’ on the death of King John and accession of  Henry III they continued to seek additional liberties and changes to the feudal system – things such as accountability for actions.  Henry’s problem when the Second Barons’ war kicked off – was which uncle should he support?

After some indecision he ultimately he sided with the royal connection. It is possible that he was bribed by Edward to change sides but one thing is for sure Henry was troubled by taking up arms against his family. He told Simon de Montfort that he wouldn’t turn against his uncle the king but neither would he take up arms against de Montfort…Simon told him to bring his arms along – which suggests that Henry wasn’t terribly intimidating. After the Battle of Lewes in 1246, which de Montfort won a provisional government was set up, the royal family were effectively imprisoned whilst Henry became one of many hostages and was held captive in Wallingford Castle. It is also probable that Henry became an intermediary between the various members of the warring family.

Events continued to unfold. Young Prince Edward escaped his ‘house arrest,’ raised an army and took on the barons in the second key battle of the Second Barons’ War. The Battle of Eveham (4 August 1265) saw Fortune favour the royalists. It is unlikely that Henry was at Evesham. Uncle Simon lost the battle and lost his head. Simon’s eldest son (another Henry) was killed at the same time. Guy de Montfort was badly wounded and imprisoned. He bribed his captors and escaped abroad in 1266. He became an officer in the forces of Charles of Anjou. Simon de Montfort the Younger arrived in Evesham just in time to see his father’s head on a pike. Prince Edward had effectively saved his cousin from the wrath of the royalists.

In 1268 Henry, took the cross with his royal cousin Edward who would become King Edward I of England. The pair set off but when they arrived in Sicily they received word of problems in Gascony. Edward sent Henry home to deal with them but Henry got only so far as Italy. Whilst in Vitebo he attended mass and was murdered by Simon de Montfort the younger and his brother Guy de Montfort in revenge for their father’s death. It was such a shocking murder that Dante wrote about it over forty years later. Henry clutched the altar and begged for mercy as his cousins attacked him and then dragged him from the cathedral to finish the job off. Guy is purported to have said that Henry gave his father and brother no mercy and could expect to receive none himself.

The two brothers were swiftly excommunicated for their crime whilst Henry’s body was transported back to Hailes Abbey for burial. Edward, on his return from Palestine two years after the murder, told the pope that Henry had been on a peace mission. The problem was that the de Montfort’s thought that Henry had turned out just like the rest of the royal family in that he had been implicated in ceasing land some of which had belonged to the de Montforts before their fall and he had married Constance de Bearn in 1269.

Constance’s father had caused problems for de Montfort whilst he was Governor of Gascony. De Montfort had put de Bearn on trial (the Gascons were troublesome but de Montfort wasn’t very pleasant in his approach). Henry III had freed de Bearn and put de Montfort on trial. This didn’t help relations between de Montfort and Henry III. For the sons of de Montfort it must have seemed that Henry of Almain was up to his neck in the royalist cause.

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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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Filed under Kings of England, The Plantagenets, Thirteenth Century