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

Joan, Lady of Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

joan03

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

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

Joan Plantagenet, Queen Consort of Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King John’s women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Church, S.D.  King John: New Interpretations

Of Kings and family ties…

king-john-570Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk -whose father rebelled against Henry II and lost his title- managed to scrape his lands and his titles back from Henry II and Richard the Lion-heart despite a dispute with his step-mother and two half-brothers. He was known for his hard work as a lawyer travelling the country on the business of both kings. He is mentioned on the boarding list of noble hostages going to join Richard the Lion-heart in Captivity. Yet he appears on the Magna Carta as one of the twenty-five barons, along with his oldest son, who would ensure that John stuck to the deal that was made at Runnymede.

He got excommunicated for his pains in 1215 and it was only in 1217 that he made his peace with the guardians of young King Henry III, which must have made things difficult for his son who was married to William Marshall’s daughter. Marshall famously managed to serve his Plantagenet masters loyally from the ‘Young King’ through to King Henry III.

Bigod’s difficulties with King John were complicated by yet another family factor. William Longspee, King John’s illegitimate half-brother was Bigod’s step-son. William remained loyal to John throughout the period. One woman – Ida de Tosny, links the two men on opposite sides of the Barons’ War.

History does not tell us exactly when Ida de Tosny was born nor are we totally sure about her parents. It is generally accepted that her father was Ralph de Tosny who died in 1162 and her mother was Margaret de Beaumont.   After her father’s death she became a royal ward.

We know that she attracted the attention of King Henry II who had a bit of a reputation for seducing young women including Alice of France who was to have married Henry’s son Richard (the Lionheart). The fact that Henry was Ida’s guardian did not stop him from making her his mistress. We do not know what Ida thought of the proposition and we certainly don’t have a portrait of her.

It was only in 1979 that a letter written from William Longsword or Longspee was discovered and which identified his mother as Countess Ida pinning the position firmly on the wife of the Earl of Norfolk, Roger Bigod. Ida was married to Roger four years after William’s birth in 1176.

It was at about the same time as the marriage that Henry II granted Roger a number of disputed manors that had been confiscated at the time of his father’s rebellion but not his father’s title. Roger had to wait for that until the reign of Richard the Lionheart. History does not tell us how Ida and Roger came to be married. All we can say is that young William stayed with the royal court while Ida went with her husband to his main seat at Framlingham Castle in Norfolk.  She went on to have at least seven more children.

We cannot even say with any certainty when she died but there is no mention of her made in Roger Bigod’s will, so in all probability she died before 1221.

King John

king_john_stag_3231934bThe Victorians did not like King John, medieval chroniclers weren’t that keen on him and Walt Disney portrayed him as a lion who sucked his thumb. Mathew Paris, one of the medieval writers, proclaimed that ‘Hell would be befouled’ by John’s presence.

So what did John do so wrong? First of all he spent much more time in England than previous kings. It wasn’t because he liked the scenery or the people. It was because he’d lost his father’s empire. At the start of his reign in 1199 he arrived at an agreement with King Philip II of France, stopped a war that King Richard had been winning and accepted Philip’s overlordship – and, ultimately, he handed over the Lionheart’s magnificent fortress at Chinon without so much as a quibble. This earned John the nickname Soft Sword. He then managed to loose Normandy – which was careless and put his nobility in a difficult position as most of them owned property in what had suddenly become France as well as in England. It was impossible to do homage to both monarchs so they had to choose – French or English. Most of them found a way round it by handing part of their land over to a son sooner rather than later so that the estate at least stayed in the family. Medieval kings were supposed to win wars not hand over their best fortresses on a platter to their enemies or make life more difficult than necessary for everybody else.

In an age of brutality John excelled. He had people blinded, starved and brutally executed left, right and centre. He is even purported to be the only King of England who has actually murdered someone in person with his own hands. That person, his nephew Arthur-was the son of his eldest brother and who had a better claim to the throne than John- was apparently killed by John in a drunken rage and then thrown into the Seine. This is, of course, all here say. No one in his or her right mind would add that juicy little bit of information to a chronicle.

However, Matilda or Maud (depending upon your frame of mind) de Braose was the wife of William de Braose. He was one of King John’s favourites. In 1208 the two men had a bit of a disagreement. William owed John five thousand marks and John demanded William’s grandsons as hostages. Matilda refused to part with them saying very loudly and clearly that she would not give her boys to the man who’d murdered his own nephew. Matilda and her oldest son ended up in a dungeon in Corfe Castle where they were deliberately starved to death. In later years, when John realised that his time was up he allowed a kinswoman of the murder victims to become a nun in order to pray for the souls of Maud and her son. Draw your own conclusions.

John’s personality wasn’t what you might call winning either. All the Plantagenets seem to have been prone to temper tantrums. Henry II is reported to have rolled around on the floor in his rages. John’s moments of irritation were exacerbated by his drunkenness. He had numerous mistresses, which in itself wasn’t unusual for Norman or Plantagenet kings, but he didn’t necessarily get the lady’s agreement first and he made a habit of making off with his barons’ wives and daughters which was tactless to put it mildly. Eustace de Vesci tried to save his wife from John’s attentions by putting a servant in John’s bed instead of his wife. John was not pleased but then neither was Eustace and it might go some way towards explaining why Eustace would eventually rebel against John. Famously one woman promised the king two hundred chickens if she could just be allowed to spend one night with her husband. In addition, he was spiteful and vindictive.   It is alleged that one woman who turned down his advances was sent a poisoned egg.  He thought nothing of having people dragged to their deaths behind horses and having priests wrapped up in leaden copes if they dared to disagree with him.

The thing that really ensured that history knows all John’s character flaws was his attitude to the Church. He hunted on fast days, ate meat on Fridays and once told a bishop to keep his sermon short, as he wanted to eat his dinner. To cap it all he got England excommunicated in 1208 when he refused to accept Simon Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. For five years there were no masses, baptisms or funeral rites. In an age where most people were very concerned abut their immortal souls it spelled disaster. John, on the other hand, had a fine old time stealing Church property and wealth. Ultimately the Pope made him give it back but it is easy to see how monastic chroniclers wouldn’t have spared John’s blushes. One of them, known to be a bit wild in his story telling, even suggests that John spent three months in 1215 as a pirate.

What John really excelled at was administration and administering justice. The former ensured that the system of taxation worked very efficiently. He imposed eye-watering death duties; taxes on widows who didn’t wish to remarry; taxes on heiresses and taxes on personal property that were applied quite often by the mercenaries he’d appointed to positions of power. He became very, very, wealthy and his people became very, very, hacked off. The Jewish population were particularly scared. John exhorted additional taxation from them and was known to use torture to get even more money.

Ironically, assuming you hadn’t been taxed out of existence and you didn’t have a pretty daughter or wife the smaller landowners got a better deal out of John than they had from previous kings because John possessed a detailed knowledge of the law, wanted to ensure that everyone understood Royal Justice was the ultimate justice within the country and because he travelled so widely administering it. Poor men could appeal to the king and ask for a trial by jury in a way that the barons couldn’t if they’d received a raw deal from their overlord. John was far too busy using the legal system to squeeze the great and powerful for every penny they had in any case – so if he found against the great magnates he could levy huge fines upon them.

No wonder that in 1215 the Barons rose up and forced John to sign Magna Carta. Little did they realise it was all going to get much worse in very short order.

Seward, Desmond. (2014). The Demon’s Brood. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd

http://magnacarta.cmp.uea.ac.uk/read/itinerary

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/11671441/King-John-the-most-evil-monarch-in-Britains-history.html

Shap Abbey and Robert Clifford

 

DSCN0997Shap Abbey was originally founded in about 1191 by Thomas who was the son of Gospatric at a place called Preston Patrick. For some reason that history does not provide the site was unsuitable for the White Canons who  came to dwell there. Perhaps the Kendale Valley wasn’t remote enough for them. In any event the Premonstratensians relocated in about 1200 to the remote and wild land beside the River Lowther at a place called “Hepp’ or ‘Heap’ so called because of a pile of nearby megaliths. Shap Abbey was duly dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene.

The Premonstratensians were founded by St Norbert in Germany.  The Premonstratensians lived frugal lives in isolated places following the example of the early desert fathers.  As regular canons they were all ordained priests who lived together in a monastic community.

 

During the thirteenth century, according to Butler & Given-Wilson, there were twenty canons there and, as with every other monastic community, Shap was dependent upon the generosity of its patrons and benefactors. For instance Shap manor was previously held by the Curwens of Workington and then subsequently by Shap Abbey.  Curwen records that Thomas de Workington gave to the canons land, pasture and the Rectory of Shap as well as the church of Bampton; Johanna de Veteripont gave them nine acres while other members of the de Veteripont family gave the vill of Reagill where they had a grange and chapel the Hospital of St. Nicholas near Appleby to maintain three lepers, also a parcel of land in Knock Shalcock.  Another benefactor was Robert Clifford, First Lord Clifford of Westmorland.   Summerson notes that Clifford, who was buried at Shap following his death at Bannockburn in 1314, had founded a chantry at Shap for his parents. Roger Clifford had died in 1282 in Wales whilst Isabella Vieuxpont – from whom Robert inherited many of his northern territories- died in 1291 and was buried at Shap (H Clifford, The House of Clifford (Andover, 1987), pp 51–2).  Shap was to become the burial place for many generations of the Clifford family including the Shepherd Lord (the 10th Lord Clifford) who died in 1523.

A chantry was usually a chapel within a church dedicated to a particular benefactor or benefactor’s family. It is where prayers and masses for the benefactors’ souls were said to help them get out of Purgatory faster than might otherwise be expected. There is no indication in the archeology, as it has currently been explored, as to the location of the Clifford Chantry. Equally there is no mention made of the chantry in the documents relating to the dissolution of the abbey. Having said that Keld Chapel which is thought to have been a separate chantry chapel belonging to Shap Abbey also goes unmentioned in the documents of the time.

 

John F Curwen, ‘Parishes (West Ward): St Michael, Shap’, in The Later Records Relating To North Westmorland Or the Barony of Appleby (Kendal, 1932), pp. 358-376 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/n-westmorland-records/vol8/pp358-376 [accessed 1 January 2015].

Robert, First Lord Clifford

IMG_4008Robert Clifford was born in 1274. He was the son of Isabella de Vieuxpont and Roger Clifford. The Cliffords were an old Norman family who took their name from their main seat in Herefordshire meaning that the Lords of Skipton were distantly related to Rosamond Clifford (Fair Rosamond) who was Henry I’s mistress. On his mother’s side – Isabella and her sister Idonea were coheirs to the lordship of Westmorland which, together with Edward I’s campaign to subdue Scotland, would ultimately change the marches upon which the Cliffords prowled.

 

Young Robert lost his father early so the vast lands (including Brough, Brougham and Appleby) that would one day be his passed into other hands for the time being. When he reached his majority Robert would spend years trying to regain property which had been stolen during his minority.  He ultimately grew to maturity under the care of Edward I from whom he learned the art of warfare in North Wales before making a name for himself in Scotland. By 1297 he was responsible for Edward’s castles in Cumberland as well as taking part in the perennial border warfare of the period. The following year, according to Summerson, he became Keeper of Nottingham Castle and the justice in the royal forests north of the River Trent. That same year Edward I gave Robert Clifford Caerlaverock Castle and all the lands that belonged to Sir William Douglas as a reward for his work. On one hand this was very nice for Robert on the other hand the Douglas family were not best pleased. Edward’s grant triggered a feud between the Douglasses and the Cliffords that lasted for the next hundred years.  It probably didn’t help that Robert’s actions in Dumfries and Annan were recorded in the Song of Caerlaverock. Clifford was undoubtedly a capable as well as loyal officer to the crown – it certainly helped him to build an extensive power base on which to build his family’s fortunes.

He attended Edward I until his death and from his appointment as Marshall of England by Edward II whom Clifford had served during the Prince of Wales’ time on campaign in Scotland. He didn’t hold the job for long. He also gave up his role of Justice and Keeper of Nottingham Castle.  In October 1309 he was appointed keeper of the English West March with Carlisle as its headquarters, and was ordered to act as Warden of Scotland, with a force of 100 men-at-arms and 300 foot soldiers – so he probably didn’t have much time to sit around in Nottingham.

 

It was at about this time Robert came to an accommodation with his childless aunt (Idonea) which ultimately resulted in the Lordship of Westmorland being granted to him. Robert Clifford already held Brough Castle and Appleby and now he was granted Skipton Castle making him a force to be reckoned with in the north.

 

Unfortunately the business of the Scottish Wars of Independence were somewhat sidelined by Edward II’s relationship with Piers Gaveston. The King’s favourite was greedy for wealth and power. In October 1310, just as Clifford was building a substantial power base for himself in the north-west the king granted the Honour of Penrith to Gaveston – a bit of a fly in the ointment so far as Clifford was concerned but not sufficient to make him join with many of the other English barons who formed a commission against Edward II to reform the way in which Edward governed his household and the realm.  The barons issued ordinances from which they gained the name Lords Ordainers.  One of the ordinances made Edward II take back into royal custody all the land which he’d given away.  This meant that Robert having gained Skipton was forced to return it to the crown.  A bizarre game of pass the castle then followed in which Skipton was then handed back to Clifford.  The reason behind this probably lies in the fact that Clifford had given his lands in Monmouth in exchange for the Honour of Skipton – so he wasn’t depriving the crown of its revenue. Clifford resumed his building work on the outer defences of the castle.

 

This uncertainty and his previous record for loyalty didn’t mean that Clifford wasn’t sympathetic to the demands of the Lords Ordainers. In 1312 he prevented Gaveston from receiving Scottish help, besieged him in Scarborough Castle and recovered royal jewels from Newcastle when they were abandoned by the king and his favourite. Later he acted as a go-between for the Earls of Lancaster and Warwick who sought a pardon when Edward II regained control of his realm. The earls received a pardon and so did Robert Clifford.

 

The pardons signaled a resumption of the Scottish War of Independence. In June 1314 Clifford was summoned to Berwick and the start of the campaign that ended in disaster for the English at Bannockburn. Clifford was killed in action. His body was taken to Carlisle and from there to Shap Abbey where he was buried.

Skipton Castle was about to face Scottish invasion and be plunged into civil war – life wasn’t going to be very restful for the Clifford family either.

Capital

Wells capitalsI’m sitting here feeling slightly dazed – and perhaps it’s not surprising.  I’ve just spent five hours in Wells Cathedral taking photographs (okay there was a pause for a very moorish ginger and chocolate tray bake which contained absolutely no calories what-so-ever and a cup of tea.)  Aside from the scissor arch, the medieval crazy patchwork stained glass and the cathedral cat – a glorious and imperious ginger called Louis I spent an awful lot of time craning my neck for some capital shots.

A capital coming from the Latin capitulum meaning of the head refers to the top bit of a column – so it’s load bearing.  A very nice guide even talked me through the different parts of a capital this morning.  The very top of the capital is flat – that’s called the abacus.  The abacus tends to be plain – though by the late Gothic masons were decorating them as well.  Then comes the necking which thins to join the shaft of the column beneath it.  Sometimes the necking runs straight into the column but more often than not there’s a thin moulding to separate the column from its capital.

It’s possible to tell the age of a capital in an English church by the kind of decoration on the necking.  Norman capitals are solid and largely undecorated – those are the Romanesque ones.  Having said that the Normans do decorate their capitals often with symmetrical patterning and rather chunky looking people if my memory serves me correctly.

In any event  the next stage  in the evolution of the capital involved foliage – in some cases foliage that looks rather like a tree drawn by a small child – one stem and one leaf in neat rows.   Somehow the Gothic evolved out of the Romanesque so that by the thirteenth century masons were running riot carving sinuous leaves, green men, strange birds, beasts and odd little figures.

In Wells there are doves, dragons and lions as well as a fox running off with a goose in its mouth.  The fox is being pursued around the capital by a very cross farmer.  There’s a spoonbill swallowing a rather plump frog; a devil who has caught a fish; a pedlar with his pack and a string of beads; a man with terrible toothache; a cobbler; a man removing a thorn from his foot; a thief; assorted Old Testament types; someone being martyred and rather a lot of different kinds of leaves as well as a bewildering collection of heads peering down from their hiding places.  The more you look the more that you see – English Gothic at its best – at least that’s what the very nice guide told me and I’m not going to disagree.

So next time you go to a church or cathedral if you’re not crawling around on your hands and knees attempting to photograph misericords  without moving them or crossing any barriers that have been erected to keep the public at a safe distance you can vary your posture by standing on tip-toe developing a crick in your neck while trying to hold your camera steady in order to capture capitals.

 

 

Thirteen Claimants to the Scottish Throne

alexiiiAlexander III of Scotland died on a wild midnight dash to be at his beautiful bride’s side in 1286.  His broken body was found the following morning. It presented Scotland with a problem.  The reason that the king had a beautiful bride was that his sons had died leaving no heir.  For a few months the Scots waited to see if Alexander III’s widow was pregnant.  Then they looked around for their new monarch.

The new Queen of Scotland was Margaret, the Maid of Norway, Alexander’s granddaughter.  She was three years old at the time.  The little girl died on her way to claim her crown in 1290 aged just seven.  In some ways the six Guardians of Scotland who had been appointed to protect the kingdom during her regency may have been relieved – child monarchs were a prelude to unrest and they had effectively married the lassie off to Edward I’s son in a bid to ensure security along their southern border.

 

On 1st May the Scots met Edward I  at Norham.  He claimed his right to be Lord Paramount- or the feudal overlord of the Scots.  The Scots were not impressed and said that they could make no such concession because only their King could make that decision.  Resistance grew when Edward sent garrisons of armed men to ensure his will was done.

 

The three best claimants to the Scottish throne were Robert Bruce, John Balliol and  John of Hastings who were descended from King David I of Scotland.  Both Bruce and Balliol held lands in England so already recognised Edward as their overlord – in England.

 

Then there were  Eric II of Norway who had been married to Alexander III’s daughter Margaret.  Margaret had died in childbirth.  He was the father of the Maid of Norway.  Floris V, Count of Holland who appears to have forged his claim to the throne; William de Vesci; John Comyn known as the Red Comyn; Patrick, Earl of Dunbar; William de Ros; Nicholas de Soules who was a border lord; Robert de Pinkeney; Roger de Mandeville; and Patrick Galithly.

 

Many of the lesser known claimants to the throne made their bid for power based on the fact they were descendants of illegitimate children of previous kings such as William the Lion.

 

In 1292 Edward I selected John Balliol.  Four years later the Scottish Wars of Independence were well under way and the Stone of Scone was on its way to London.