From the Countess of Aumale to the two wives of William Marshal the Younger – money, marriage and how to make the most of widowhood

Eleanor of England – youngest daughter of King John

Hawise, the suo jure Countess of Aumale was married to William de Mandeville, 3rd Earl of Essex but she had something of a reputation during her life time according to Richard of Devizes as a woman ‘who is almost a man, lacking nothing virile except the virile organs.’ Despite that she was married off on Richard the Lionheart’s orders for a second time to William de Forz, her social inferior, who was one of the king’s naval commanders. The countess was not amused. She was even less amused when after de Forz’s death in 1195 she was required to take as her third husband Baldwin de Béthune who was a crusader and also Richard’s companion in captivity – he was well born but a third son. Baldwin would die in 1212 and Hawise took the opportunity of paying a fine of 5,000 marks in instalments to avoid marriage for a fourth time.

There were rumours that the countess was King John’s mistress and that her eldest son by William de Forz was in fact John’s own progeny. The rumour arose because when Hawise died the fine she owed the king was still not fully paid – a debt of 4,000 marks was carried forward to her heir- (remember a mark is 2/3’s of a pound so – £2667 in 1214 when she died and a whopping £4,000,000 or thereabouts now) but John forgave the new earl the debt, provided him with a wealthy bride of his own who he himself dowered and forgave Aumale for siding with the barons and the French – suggesting a degree of fondness with which King John did not habitually regard his aristocracy. And yes I have posted about Hawise and her son William before and she will turn up in the book on medieval royal mistresses being published by Pen and Sword in November. So why today?

Let us return to husband number three – Baldwin de Béthune – the imprisoned crusader and buddy of King Richard I. Friendship was clearly important because as a third son he would not reasonably have expected to marry someone as wealthy as Hawise who had possession of large chunks of Normandy (until John lost most of the duchy) as well as Holderness and Craven in Yorkshire. It helped that he had taken Richard’s place in prison and that he spent rather a lot of his own money paying the king’s ransom.

During the 1170s Baldwin served in the household of Henry II’s eldest son Henry The Young King. He made a lifelong friendship with another younger son struggling to make his own way in the world – William Marshal. Like Marshal as well as serving the Young King and Henry II, Baldwin offered loyal service to the Lionheart and King John – in 1200 he was one of the guarantor’s of peace between John and King Philip of France. He can be found signing royal grants in 1201 but, again, like William Marshal he found himself in less favour with the passage of time and withdrew to his wife’s lands. Unlike Marshal no one wrote a biography of his life soon after this death so he is less well known today than his old friend.

Baldwin and Hawise had a daughter named Alice and in 1203 Baldwin and Marshal arranged that their children should marry. William Marshal the Younger who was probably fostered by Marshal’s lifelong friend would marry Alice when she came of age and the two families would be tied by blood. Alice was not her mother’s heiress but she would inherit lands, including Wantage in Berkshire (currently Oxfordshire) which King Henry II and King Richard gave to her father. Unfortunately Alice died young and in 1224 William Marshal the Younger married King Henry III’s sister Eleanor who was born in 1215. Eleanor was nine at the time of the marriage and Marshal was thirty-four. He died in 1231 when Eleanor was nineteen but there were no children from the union. Soon afterwards Eleanor took a vow of chastity which meant that her brother wouldn’t be able to find another husband for her – unfortunately she fell in love several years later and the vow made things somewhat difficult for the couple.

Want to do calculations to update costs? Try the Bank of England’s inflation calculator.

https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monetary-policy/inflation/inflation-calculator

Ansel Marshal – a beloved fifth son

The Marshal family arms

When William Marshal wrote his will in 1219 he had nothing to leave his beloved youngest son, Ansel or Anselm, who was about eight-years-old at the time. The earl envisaged that the boy, named after one of Marshal’s brothers, would have to carve a career for himself as he had done. He thought that the boy would work his way up to becoming a household knight and perhaps make a good marriage – he was a Marshal after all, even if not a wealthy one. In the end John d’Earley who I have posted about before protested that the earl was offering his son a bad deal. The earl left his son £140 p.a. in rents from lands in Leinster.

The boy was looked after by his elder brothers – he turns up signing charters for his second eldest brother Gilbert Marshal and then for his brother Walter. They provided him with lands so that he could marry Matilda de Bohun, the daughter of the Earl of Hereford. The de Bohun family and William Marshal II had close ties. Matilda’s age at marriage is unknown but it is almost certain that she was still a child.

All four of his brothers became Earl of Pembroke in their turn. On 27 November 1245 Walter, the brother closest to him in age died and the earldom was delivered to Ansel. But although Henry III recognised Ansel’s rights it was necessary for him to appear before the king so that he could pay the necessary homage and to pay the fines associated with license to enter his estates. Unfortunately it seems that Ansel, who was at Chepstow, was too ill to do that because he never went to court and died on 23 December 1245, just eleven days after his brother, the last of William Marshal’s sons. He was buried at Tintern Abbey.

Ansel’s failure to fulfil his feudal obligations meant that he was technically not the earl so his widow Matilda was not permitted the dower rights of a countess instead she received £60 p.a. from Ansel’s Leinster estates. Maud remarried – given her age and who she was it was almost inevitable another husband would be found for her but she continued to be known as Maud Marshal for the rest of her life which was a short one. She died in 1252 at Groby leaving her husband Roger de Quincy 2nd Earl of Winchester to marry Helen, the daughter of William Ferrers, 5th Earl of Derby soon afterwards.

And for those of you who like a mystery – were William Marshal’s sons murdered? https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/blog/the-marshal-curse-were-the-children-of-william-marshal-murdered/

Acts and Letters of the Marshal Family 1156-1248: Earls of Pembroke and Marshals of England, ed. David Crouch, Camden Society 5th series, 47 (Cambridge: CUP, 2015) p.36

John D’ Earley –

Possible arms of John D’Earley – an image was found at Chepstow Castle painted on the walls there. His grandson was the so-called ‘White Knight’ who served King Edward I.

Like William Marshall, John was linked to the court of Henry II. His father was the king’s chamberlain but he died when John was still only 8. D’Earley senior left money towards the foundation of Buckland Abbey in Devon and John became a royal ward. In 1185 or thereabouts when John was 14 his wardship was passed into the hands of William Marshal. In time John became Marshal’s squire and married Sybil who was probably Marshal’s illegitimate niece. In 1194 John was knighted by Marshal and took control of his estates.

Where Marshal went so did John. And when Marshal was summoned back to England in 1207 because King John was feeling spiteful it was John who remained with Marshal’s pregnant wife. He was responsible for the administration of the southern half go Leinster. When King John’s plans to ruin Marshal failed to work D’Earley was one of the knights summoned to England in 1208. He was allowed back to Ireland but was taken hostage by King John when Marshal protected William De Braose. John found himself in Nottingham Castle for a time. But when the king needed Marshal D’Earely was released and was also given custody of Marshal’s eldest son William. By 1213 D’Earley was marshal of the royal household and Sheriff of Devon.

D’Earley was by Marshal’s side during the First Baron’s War, for Magna Carta and for the regency of King Henry III. When Marshal fell ill and was transported by boat to Caversham in 1219 D’Earley went to Marshal’s side and remained there until his mentor and friend died. He continued to be part of the Marshal affinity until his own death. England’s most loyal knight had a very loyal knight of his own.

https://www.berkshirehistory.com/bios/jdearley.html

Isabel de Clare, suo jure Countess of Pembroke

The death of Isabel Marshal – daughter of Isabel de Clare, one of Isabel and William’s ten children.

The daughter of Earl Richard ‘Strongbow’ Earl of Pembroke and Striguil and Lord of Leinster and Aoife of Leinster, Isabel grew up as part of the powerful de Clare family and following her brother Gilbert’s death became one of the wealthiest heiresses in the kingdom. She was placed by King Henry II, who did not trust Strongbow, in the care of Ranulf de Glanville, justiciar of England. 

In 1189 her marriage was arranged by Richard the Lionheart to William Marshal. The couple were happily married despite a thirty-five year age gap and never having met before their wedding in August that year. Isabel travelled by her husband’s side, took part in the management of their estates and issued writs. They went to Ireland in 1200 and she may have ruled Leinster in his absence. She continued to demonstrate her capacities when, Marshal was placed under arrest in 1207, she led a campaign against the province’s rebel barons.  She was pregnant at the time. She gave William ten children, five boys and five girls. Marshal recognised that his power and his wealth came from his wife, honoured, loved and respected her intelligence. In Leinster her presence in Marshal’s life gave his rule legitimacy – she was after all the grand daughter of the last king of Leinster.

Isabel managed her husband’s affairs in his absence and following his death she took control of her own inheritance corresponding with the justiciar of England, with the papal legate and with King Philip II of France.  After thirty years of marriage, William died. One of the last things he did was to join the Templars – forgoing the company of his wife and daughters in his final days.  Isabel was devastated by Marshal’s death but she worked closely with her family to preserve her inheritance.   She died ten months after her beloved husband. Her earldom did not survive her children. All five of the couples’ sons died without heirs.

Isabel was buried in Tintern Abbey next to her mother.

The Battle of Evesham

simon de montfortI am leaping around historically speaking at the moment. The Battle of Evesham was fought on the morning of the 4th August 1265.  Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester was in Evesham when news arrived that the royal army under the leadership of Prince Edward had been sighted – probably from the abbey.  Despite holding Henry III captive, De Montfort was outnumbered by as many as three to one which is why he started the battle with a cavalry charge which had it succeeded would have split Edward’s army and given de Montfort an opportunity to escape from Evesham with most of his men.  He had to charge uphill which was never going to be tactically satisfactory.  Unfortunately for de Montfort Prince Edward was going to turn into King Edward I – probably England’s most effective martial king. Edward learned much from de Montfort regarding tactics when he’d been at the receiving end of them at the Battle of Lewes. Now he employed them against de Montfort himself. The royal army swung in from both sides on de Montfort’s flanks and after several hours fighting it became a rout.  Henry III barely escaped with his life so eager was the royal army to let blood.

 

There was even a thunder storm to add  some atmosphere to an already bloody battle.  As many as 4000 of de Montfort’s 6000 men were killed. Many of the nobles that fought on his side were slaughtered including de Montfort and his son Henry.  Prince Edward did not offer any quarter regarding de Montfort as a rebel who needed to be extinguished. This was unusual at the time as it was generally accepted that quarter would be given and ransom obtained.  De Montfort was killed by Roger de Mortimer.  It proved to be the decisive battle of this particular Barons’ War –the Second one- but it would be another two years before peace was restored to the kingdom on account of many of the rebellious barons having well defended castles.

 

Almost inevitably the town and abbey of Evesham suffered in the aftermath of the battle.  Simon de Montfort, whose body was badly mutilated, was finally buried near the high altar in the abbey.  Only the bell tower remains today.

Our story actually began when Henry III tried to turn the clock back.  The Provisions of Oxford in 1258 had led to reforms from which many would argue parliamentary democracy had its foundation.  Henry III tried to undo the reforms and in 1264 had fought the Battle of Lewes.  In that battle de Montfort captured Henry III and Prince Edward, effectively allowing de Montfort to rule England for a year and to summon Parliaments thus drawing on Magna Carta which was about fifty years old at that point as well as the Provisions of Oxford.    De Montfort ensured that barons loyal to the Crown were fined or incarcerated – the Earl of Derby found himself in the Tower for instance.

However, things did not go all de Montfort’s way.  In May one of de Montfort’s supporters, the Earl of Gloucester (yup – that’s right he was a de Clare) suddenly changed sides.  The so-called Red Earl on account of his hair colouring and temper helped Prince Edward escape and put an army together.  He drew on his extended family and affinity – many of the Crown’s army came from the Welsh marches.  The outcome was the slaughter on the 4thAugust 1265 but ten years later in 1275 the Statute of Westminster accepted many of the Oxford provisions and there was reconciliation between Crown and barons.

A first hand account of the battle may be found at the National Archives. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/magna-carta/battle-of-evesham/

 

 

 

 

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

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

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.

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

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.