Category Archives: Twelfth Century

William Marshall makes a name for himself

WilliamMarshalWilliam Marshall had his first taste of real battle at Neufchatel in 1166 when he demonstrated his bravery but failed to take any of his opponents for ransom. Once peace was restored to Normandy Marshall, now a knight, found himself without a mesnie or household.

He was permitted to join his cousin the Lord of Tancarville entourage as it travelled to Sainte Jamme for a tournament.  Marshall having had his horse killed from under him at Neufchâtel was in desperate straits.  Ultimately Tancarville permitted him the last horse remaining in his stables.  By the end of the day Marshall was the owner of four destriers or warhorses.

Between 1167-68 Marshall travelled the tournament circuit.  He soon gained a reputation for strength and valour on the field.  This wasn’t always to his advantage. At one tournament Marshall was attacked by five knights- who managed to turn his helm so that until he was finally captured he could not see a thing.  On another occasion a smith was required to remove his helm at the end of the tournament because it was so badly battered.

Tournaments were banned in England so when Marshall returned home in 1168 he was forced to give up what had become a lucrative income for him but by 1170 having been taken into his uncle, Patrick of Salisbury’s mesnie, he’d seen conflict in Poitou, been held captive by the de Lusignans and ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine he was part of the household of Prince Henry, eldest son to Eleanor and King Henry II.  The king had his son crowned in London in 1170 so that for the once and only time in English History there were two officially recognised monarchs in England – King Henry II and the so-called Young King.

Unfortunately the Young King may have had a title but he didn’t receive the income he felt he deserved or the power. Bitter words escalated into rebellion. There followed a “war without love” – that ended with Eleanor a prisoner for having encouraged her sons to rebel against their father.

After that rather unpleasant interlude it was probably with some relief that Marshall found himself drawn back into the world of the tournament from 1176 onwards.  The Young King had been out manoeuvred by his father so the tournament became a way of gaining the respect of his peers and annoying his father who did not approve of tournaments. 1176 was not a shining example of knightly success for Marshall.  He and the Young King had to learn tactics in much the same way that any team learns how to play their opponent to best advantage.  Marshall watched and learned – most notably from Count Philip of Flanders- and before long Team Young-King was going from strength to strength with Marshall as their tournament organiser.

At Anet the tournament spilled over into the town with one of Marshall’s captives hoisting himself out of his saddle onto an overhanging gutter so that although Marshall gained a horse and harness is lost a valuable ransom. At Pleurs, Marshall won the accolade of most valiant knight but this was also the occasion that his helm had been so badly battered that he had to seek a blacksmith in order to escape his own headgear. At Eu he captured ten knights and twelve horses in a single day and at Epernon a thief tried to steal his horse under cover of darkness but was foiled by Marshall’s determined pursuit.

Later Marshall formed a partnership with Roger of Jouy so that they could benefit more fully from the loot available on the tournament field.  Marshall may have gained a reputation for being an honourable man but his early experience at Neufchatel had taught him that a man was only so good as what he owned. They kept a carefully tally of their victories.

By the time that the tournament of Lagny-sur-Marne took place in the autumn of 1179 with 3,000 knightly participants. both William Marshall and the Young King had reputations  as elite warriors.  The Young King is sometimes described as the “father of chivalry” so great was his reputation.

However, the glory years were nearly over.  Men within the Young King’s household had grown jealous of Marshall and they spread the rumour that not only had Marshall grown too big for his boots but that he was carrying out an affair with the Young King’s wife – Queen Margaret.  One of the men  responsible was called Adam Yquebeuf, another was Thomas of Coulonces whilst the third was the Young King’s seneschal.  Marshall’s biographer knew of two other plotters but didn’t name them as their descendants were alive and well in the 1220s when Marshall’s biography was written. During the Christmas festivities of 1182 at Henry II’s court at Rouen, Marshall demanded the right to a trial by combat which was forbidden.  He was once again without a mesnie…until the Young King had need of him once again.

I shall pick up Marshall’s story again in the new year.  Tomorrow will be the start of The History Jar’s advent calendar – no chocolates on offer just people and events linked, somewhat tenuously, by the theme of “Deck the hall.”

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John FitzGilbert

king-stephenJohn FitzGilbert is best known as the father of William Marshall. The fitz at this stage in proceedings simply means that John was the son of Gilbert Gifford.  Gifford can be translated as “chubby cheeks” – though I’m not terribly sure how terrifying the name Gilbert Chubby-cheeks actually might be.

The marshal element of the equation is the family job. Both John and Gilbert before him held the office of marshal in the royal household. This meant that they were responsible for horses, hawks, whores and anything else that the royal household might need – think of the role of marshal as being similar to that of quartermaster. It also entailed keeping order and making sure that all the members of the household (the important ones anyway) had somewhere to sleep as well as transport as the court journeyed on its many progresses.

Gilbert and John had duelled with William de Hastings and Robert de Voiz in a trial by combat for the right to hold the post of marshal in the household of King Henry I . In 1130, when his father died, John paid 40 marks for his job as marshal – indicating that the perks were worth considerably more than the fee. He was about twenty-five years old. He married the daughter of Walter Pipard at about the same time.  Pipard was a minor Wiltshire landowner. John was taking the first steps towards extending his landholding and extending his sphere of influence.

King Henry I died on 1st December 1135 from a surfeit of lamphreys – although of course this was accompanied at the time by the rumour of poisoning. John FitzGilbert continued in his role as marshal for Henry I’s successor King Stephen for the next seven years. This might have caused John some disquiet because, of course, Henry had forced his barons to swear an oath to put his only remaining legitimate child – the Empress Matilda- on the throne. We don’t know how John felt about that and initially his own oath of loyalty was given to Stephen (pictured at the start of the post) who arrived in England ahead of Matilda and took control of the treasury as well as the crown.

 

We know that John went with Stephen to Normandy in 1137 and that John was sufficiently trusted by Stephen to be rewarded with custodianship of Marlbourgh Castle and Ludgershall. John held lands in the Kennet Valley in Wiltshire given to the family after the Conquest  including Hamstead Marshal and Tidworth. For John it meant more power within Wiltshire but it also led to increasing hostility with the earls of Salisbury who felt that Ludgershall belonged to them.

As the civil war between Stephen and Matilda gained momentum John fortified his castles and began to attack those men in his locale who supported Matilda. The chronicle of the Gestia Stephanie describes him as “the root of all evil.” It certainly appears that John was rather good at skirmishing, raiding and generally making a nuisance of himself. As with other warlords he doesn’t always appear to have been too bothered by which side he was attacking. The chronicle notes that he “had no time for the idea of peace.”  He was also known as a cunning opponent as can be demonstrated in the tale of  Robert fitz Hulbert.

Robert fitz Hulbert was a mercenary in the pay of Robert of Gloucester on behalf of the Empress Matilda.  In 1140 fitz Hulbert seems to have decided that the route to fortune lay in supporting neither Stephen nor Matilda. He approached John who had a bit of a reputation for doing his own fair share of looting and suggested that between them they could control John’s area of Wiltshire.  John appears to have invited Robert around to one of his fortified gaffs for a goblet of wine and to discuss the venture.  Robert somehow ended up in one of John’s less comfy dungeons prior to being sold to the earl of Gloucester for five hundred marks…definately cunning.

By 1141 John seems to have felt that the tide had turned away from Stephen. This was probably to do with Stephen’s capture at Lincoln and imprisonment in Bristol but it may also have had to do with the fact that Robert, earl of Gloucester (illegitimate half brother of Matilda) held extensive lands that marched with John’s. John switched sides. It should be pointed out that some barons and knights changed sides more times than they changed their socks – at least John only did it the once!

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle summed up the problem of King Stephen rather neatly:

When King Stephen came to England he held his council at Oxford, and there he took Roger, bishop of Salisbury, and Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, and the chancellor Roger, his nephews, and put them all in prison till they surrendered their castles. When the traitors understood that he was a mild man, and gentle and good, and did not exact the full penalties of the law, they perpetrated every enormity. They had done him homage, and sworn oaths, but they kept no pledge; all of them were perjured and their pledges nullified, for every powerful man built his castles and held them against him and they filled the country full of castles. 

No wonder the nineteen years of civil war came to be known as The Anarchy when Christ and all his apostles slept.

By May 1141 John can be found with Matilda and according to William Marshall’s biography saved the empress from capture that August during the rout of Winchester when Matilda’s siege was lifted by men loyal to Stephen. In truth it was Robert of Gloucester who fought a rear guard action at Winchester but it is undoubtedly true that John was fighting on the empress’s behalf at Wherwell Abbey with William D’Ypres when it was fired and John left for dead in the smouldering rubble. John survived the blaze but lost an eye when melted lead fell from the roof into his face.

As the year drew on, and John survived his injuries, it became clear that the feud with the earl of Salisbury had to be ended. John’s marriage to his first wife, Aline Pipard, was annulled. It was done in such a way that the two sons of this first marriage remained legitimate and there was no stain on Aline’s honour. She went on to marry Stephen de Gai who was the earl of Salisbury’s uncle. John then married the earl of Salisbury’s sister Sibylla in 1144. Not only did this bring peace between the two families (if for no one else in the area) but it meant that John elevated his social status once more and as the Empress Matilda’s position strengthened John’s name can be found on assorted charters of the period.  John and Patrick of Salisbury seemed to have buried their differences given that the chroniclers of the period paint a picture of Wiltshire under the brother-in-laws’ heels.  John took land that didn’t belong to him, not only from the laity but also the clergy (which probably accounts for the tone of the chronicles which were written by ecclesiastical types.)  When King Stephen died on October 25 1154 Matilda’s eldest son Henry Fitzempress became king. John was rewarded well for his loyalty.

John is probably most famous, or possibly infamous, for the way in which during the siege of Newbury, another of John’s castles, (Historians and archeologists argue that the besieged castle was more likely to be at Hamstead Marshal rather than Newbury) that he handed over hostages including his five year old son William in order to buy time. King Stephen thought it was so that the garrison could prepare to exit stage left. However, as soon as the Reading road was cleared of besieging forces John took the opportunity to resupply the castle. When Stephen’s men threatened young William Marshall with hanging in response to John’s perfidy he retorted that he had the hammers and anvils to make more sons. Young William was the fourth of his sons and there were two younger ones after him named Ancel and Henry. It was only through King Stephen’s kindness and the charming personality of young William that the child survived the experience.

 

John died sometime between 1164 and 1165. His eldest son from his first marriage, named Gilbert after his grandfather died soon afterwards both of them having outlived John’s second son Walter. Thus it was the eldest son of the second marriage named John after his father who inherited John’s  lands and job as marshal. When he died without legitimate male heirs the title and the lands passed to William Marshall who was by that time earl of Pembroke.

For those of you like a spot of historical fiction – Elizabeth Chadwick’s book published in 2007 entitled  A Place Beyond Courage is about John FitzGilbert’s life from the end of King Henry I’s reign until the end of The Anarchy.  Elizabeth Chadwick also has a blog, click on the link to find her non-fiction post about John http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.co.uk/2009/10/biography-of-john-marshal.html

Asbridge, Thomas. (2015) The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones. London: Simon and Schuster

Painter, Sidney. (1982) William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron, and Regent of England. Toronto: University of Toronto

 

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Medieval mêlée or tournament

WilliamMarshalPopular imagination paints tournaments as knightly types in plate armour on horses galloping at one another armed with lances trying to unseat their opponent. Hollywood offers up a dish of  fluttering banners, pageantry, ladies wearing hennins (pointy princess hats) and much fanfare.

History, as you might well expect, is somewhat different. For a start tournaments were a continental activity.  They didn’t happen in England until the reign of Henry II and even then he banned them again as they encouraged unrest. For the Church tournaments were “detestable military sports.” And lets face it the Church had a point. Tournaments were battles without the casualties – or at least not so many casualties (Marshall’s own son Gilbert died during a tournament.) Under those circumstances it is perhaps telling that William Marshall’s biographer only mentions ladies “inspiring” the competitors on one occasion.  The image showing William Marshall also shows the fact that the knights of the twelfth century wore mail rather than plate.

 

Essentially knights such as William Marshall fought as though they were on the battle field.  The main difference was that they did not intend to kill one another, though obviously that happened on occasion.  What they wanted to do was capture as many of their opponents as possible so that they could claim their horse and armour not to mention ransoming the knight. A man could alter the state of his finances quite dramatically on the tournament field – William Marshall being a very good example.

 

Powerful barons and rulers such as Henry II’s eldest son, also called Henry, would send a team of knights to demonstrate their prowess on the tournament circuit. The tourneyers may have gained a place in a noble household based on their ability on the tournament field and young knights wishing to make a name for themselves would try to gain employment in such households as war horses were expensive items. William Marshall famously tagged along to a tournament once he had been dismissed from the household of his distant cousin William de Tancaville who allowed William to become part of his team but only on the proviso that William took the last available horse. Marshall went on to cement his reputation and to become Henry, the Young King’s “tournament manager.”  When the Young King fell out with Marshall (because trouble makers said that Marshall was getting too big for his boots and hinted rather heavily of an affair between Marshall and the Young King’s wife) Marshall was inundated by offers of employment from enthusiastic tournament “sponsors” who wanted a star on their team in much the same way that modern football owners want a big name either as a manager or a player.

 

Knights without a team to attach themselves to were called “bachelor” knights and in the days leading up to the tournament there would be a series of paired events so that individual knights could demonstrate their skills and talents. Knights belonging to a mesnie or household would also partake in these events, especially if they had not yet made their reputations.

 

The tournament field was set up with lists around its edges. Lists were where the audience stood as well as each knights squires. The rules of the mêlée allowed a knight up to three lances.

 

Essentially the knights formed teams. The first part of the tournament involved the teams of knights parading onto the field side by side. This might be followed by some of the pairs of knights jousting with one another – think of it as the “warm up.”

 

A herald would blow a bugle to indicate that round one of the mêlée was about to begin a cheval. This part of the mêlée involved mounted knights with lances charging at one another. Once the lances broke or knights were unhorsed the mêlée continued  a pied with round two of the tournament on foot with swords and maces. Obviously not all knights were unhorsed at the same time so the mêlée could be somewhat chaotic.

The best tournament knights didn’t necessarily dive straight in but held back and waited until the keener elements of the event had tired themselves out and then swept in and took plenty of prisoners. This technique was developed by Philip of Flanders.

The event was followed with wine, women and song – not to mention prizes.

In 1292 a Statute of Arms improved on the rules to allow a fallen knight to be assisted to his feet by his squire and to legislate for weapons with safety features e.g. no points.

The image at the start of this post depicts William Marshall and can by found in Matthew Paris’s History Major. Paris, a Benedictine monk, living in St Albans wrote a history of the world ending with his death in 1259.  Its chronicling of King John, the Barons’ War and the invasion of Prince Louis is of key importance to our understanding of the period – and its beautifully illustrated.

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Henry II, Richard de Lucy and three pike.

de-lucy-coat-of-arms19 December 1154 – Henry II, also known as Henry FitzEmpress  was crowned at Westminster Abbey along with his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. Young Henry ascended to the throne after King Stephen’s death according to the agreement made at the Treaty of Wallingford that marked the end of the civil war that had raged between Stephen and Henry’s mother the Empress Matilda for nineteen long years. Henry’s coronation brought with it the promise of peace and incorporated England into a vast empire which Henry’s youngest son John would ultimately lose.

Henry was the first of the Plantagenets to rule England and in common with Stephen and his great grandfather William the Conqueror he issued a coronation charter promising to uphold English liberties.  This document was virtually the same as the one published by his grandfather King Henry I:

Henry, by the grace of God, king of England, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and count of Anjou, to all the earls, barons, and his faithful, French and English, greeting.

Know that, to the honour of God and of the holy church and for the advantage of my whole kingdom, I have conceded and granted, and by my present charter confirmed  to God and to the holy church, and to all the earls and barons, and to  all my men all the concessions and grants and liberties and free customs which King Henry, my grandfather, gave and conceded to them.  Similarly also, all the evil customs which he abolished and remitted, I remit and allow to be abolished for myself and my heirs. Therefore, I  will and strictly require that the holy church and all the earls and  barons, and all my men should have and hold all those customs and grants and liberties and free customs, freely and quietly, well and in peace, and completely, from me and my heirs to them and their heirs,  as freely and quietly and fully in all things as King Henry, my grandfather, granted and conceded to them and by his charter confirmed them.  Witness, Richard de Luci, at Westminster.

Richard de Lucy would become the Chief Justicar of England.  He’d already proved himself as Sheriff of Essex.  It was Richard who cared for England whilst Henry was elsewhere in his empire.  Henry spent most of his life on the road travelling from one place in his kingdom to the next so it was essential that he had someone in England that he could trust.  It was de Lucy who worked with Henry against Thomas Becket and managed to get himself excommunicated for his pains. It was also de Lucy who administered English legal reforms of the period.

In 1179 de Lucy resigned his office and retired to Lesnes Abbey near Bexley in Kent which he had founded as part of his penance for his role in Becket’s murder.  He died there a few months later.

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Initial letter of Carlisle Charter showing Sir Andrew de Harcla

The de Lucy or de Luci family arrived with William the Conqueror and grew in importance during the medieval period.   They originated from the town of Luce in Normandy.  They would also became a key family in Cumberland.  Fans of Edward II’s  hero of the Siege of Carlisle Andrew de Harcla will remember it was a de Lucy who arrested him for conspiring with the Scots and brought about his execution at Harraby for treason.  One of Richard’s family called Reginald- after I posted I received a lovely comment informing me that Reginald was Richard’s son (see comments for text), but he almost certainly was related- married into the de Rumilly family from Skipton gaining lands at Egremont and from there it was a few short steps to Anthony whose father had married a Lucy heiress.  For a fuller description access Alexander Grant’s paper on the subject: http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/67271/1/GRANT_04_LUCY_LINEAGE_NEW_EPRINT_REF_4_.pdf

The coats of arms for the Lucy family is three fish – which initially bewildered me as I discovered fairly swiftly that the fish in question are pike.  In Latin though, the pike is a Esox Lucius –  Lucius meaning ‘light’ and being a pun on the de Lucy name.

http://www.lucey.net/webpage4.htm

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Pendragon Castle

DSCN0936.jpgPendragon Castle sits on the east bank of the River Eden off the B6259 in the Mallerstang Valley on the way from Yorkshire into Kirkby Stephen.  It’s a square, squat ruin of a tower that was once three storeys tall in a beautiful landscape.  It stands on a platform of earth and its walls, what remain of them, are over four meters thick.

The chap best known for owning Pendragon Castle is Hugh de Morville and he probably occupied it after Henry II’s campaign in Scotland.  The name  de Morville might ring bells.  In addition to being Lord of Westmorland he’s also one of the four knights who helpfully murdered Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 after listening to Henry II ranting about troublesome priests. Instead of the expected reward de Morville found himself kicked out of his properties with a flea in his ear.  Ultimately the castle passed through a couple of families beginning with the de Viponts who were de Morville relations before ending up in Clifford hands through the inheritance of Idonea de Vipont.

DSCN0939.jpg

DSC_0006We know that Robert de Clifford was given permission to crenellate Pendragon Castle in 1309 but he didn’t have long to enjoy it because he got himself killed at Bannockburn in June 1314. The reign of Edward II was not a comfortable one for the English.  In addition to the Scots gaining the upper hand in the Scottish Wars of Independence there was also the small matter of several rebellions against Edward II in England.  Robert’s son Roger was executed after the Battle of Boroughbridge. (Click on the image in this paragraph to open a new window for my post on the Battle of Boroughbridge) Ultimately it came back into the Clifford possessions but turned to a pile of rubble after an unfortunate accident with a band of Scots  and a blazing torch in 1341.

It was 1660 when Lady Anne Clifford turned her attention to rebuilding Pendragon castle “at great cost and charges.” She noted in her diary that she stayed in Pendragon for three nights on 14 october 1661.  She went on to renovate Mallerstang Chapel as well as ensuring that Pendragon had all the amenities including a brewhouse and a wash house. Spence records that the hearth returns reveal that there were twelve fire places in Pendragon and that Lady Anne Clifford wrote her will whilst she stayed there.DSCN0941.jpg

After Lady Anne Clifford’s time it returned to ruin and even in the seventeenth century during her time it had acquired the tradition of belonging to Uther Pendragon – in one version he died there when the Saxons took the castle.  But just so we’re quite clear the ruins on display today were definitely built in the twelfth century as Mallerstang Castle although Westwood and Simpson observe that the de Cliffords might have renamed it during the reign of Edward I when there was a fashion of all things Arthurian.

Cope, Jean (1991) Castles in Cumbria. Milnthorpe: Cicerone Press

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

Spence, Richard T, (1997) Lady Anne Clifford. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Westwood and Simpson. (2005) The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England’s Legends. London: Penguin

 

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Christmas comes but once a year…

 

 abergavennyChristmas 1175, Abergavenny Castle. The Anglo-Norman in charge, one William de Braose (there were many of them all very inventively called William), invited Seisyllt ap Dyfnwall from nearby Castell Arnallt around for a Christmas meal. Seisyllt, his son Geoffrey and the chieftains of Powys accepted the invitation. The intention, so William said in his politely worded invite, was to spend Christmas in each other’s company- to bury the hatchet. They would feast and celebrate and make a lasting reconciliation following the death of Henry Fitzmiles- an event incidentally that had ensured vast tracts of lands were now in de Braose’s ownership.

 

And what could be nicer at Christmas than peace and reconciliation? The Welsh left their weapons at the door and settled down for an evening of serious eating and drinking.

 

They didn’t notice when someone quietly shut and barred the entrance to the great hall. De Braose’s men were intent on burying the hatchet…firmly in the backs of their Welsh guests. They finished the evening by cutting down all the Welsh in the hall. De Braose even murdered Seisyllt’s seven-year-old son.

 

The fact is that Henry Fitzmiles was William’s uncle. His death at the hands of the Welsh triggered the massacre, another round in an on-going blood feud. What made the massacre at Abbergavenny different was that de Braose broke the unwritten laws of hospitality. Camden, writing in the sixteenth century described the act as one of “infamy and treachery.”

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Becket, ex-communication and Christmas-tide murder

DSC_0491Christmas Day 1170 – the Archbishop of Canterbury preached his sermon. It was a bit different to the ones that get televised these days. For a start the archbishop excommunicated a number of his bishops – he hoped they’d be damned.   He went on, it would appear, to prophesy his own murder:

 

I have spoken to you today, dear children of God, of the martyrs of the past, asking you to remember especially our martyr of Canterbury, the blessed Archbishop Elphege; because it is fitting, on Christ’s birthday, to remember what is that peace which he brought; and because, dear children, I do not think that I shall ever preach to you again; and because it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr, and that one perhaps not the last. I would have you keep in your hearts these words that I say, and think of them at another time.

 

Just four days later on the 29th of December 1170, four knights arrived from Bures in Normandy where Henry II  was celebrating Christmas. The Archbishop of York, as well as the Bishops of London and Salisbury had travelled there to complain about being excommunicated for having crowned Henry’s son Henry who was referred to afterwards as the ‘Young King’. Becket had returned from his six-year exile that year and re-crowned the Young King but it clearly rankled that the bishops had already done the job. Henry II is purported to have had a bit of a temper tantrum culminating with the fatal words “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest.”

 

 

Four knights saw an opportunity for fortune and glory so caught the first ship for England- Walter Fitz Urse, Walter de Tracey, Richard le Breton and Hugh de Moreville- wanted Becket to go to Winchester to account for his actions. Thomas, who had been offered an opportunity to flee as the knights burst in, refused. The archbishop was brutally murdered and the four knights discovered that Henry II hadn’t actually meant for anyone to go thundering off to kill the troublesome archbishop.

 

 

 

 

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King John’s Christmas gift…

King_John_from_De_Rege_JohannePrince John, youngest son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine was born on or around Christmas Eve 1166 or 1167. The fact that the date of his birth is so poorly recorded reflects how unimportant he was in the great scheme of things at that time. Henry II had three other sons who had survived the perils of childhood – Young Henry, Geoffrey and Richard- John nicknamed ‘Lackland’ by his father could have little expected that he would one day become king.

 

What follows is not, by any stretch of the imagination, history. It’s a poem by A.A. Milne. However, what it does do is demonstrate the fact that popular culture is incredibly important when it comes to our perception of key historical figures.  The Victorians were not keen on John and it’s a viewpoint that has endured.  John has certainly had some bad press over the centuries. I’ve posted several accounts linked to King John and with the best will in the world he certainly did have ‘his little ways’ – with nephews, white satin, jewels, women and barons.  The fact remains though, given the behaviour of other medieval kings, that the old A level question is valid – was John a bad king or an unlucky one?

 

King John’s Christmas

King John was not a good man —

He had his little ways.

And sometimes no one spoke to him

For days and days and days.

And men who came across him,

When walking in the town,

Gave him a supercilious stare,

Or passed with noses in the air —

And bad King John stood dumbly there,

Blushing beneath his crown.

 

King John was not a good man,

And no good friends had he.

He stayed in every afternoon…

But no one came to tea.

And, round about December,

The cards upon his shelf

Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,

And fortune in the coming year,

Were never from his near and dear,

But only from himself.

 

King John was not a good man,

Yet had his hopes and fears.

They’d given him no present now

For years and years and years.

But every year at Christmas,

While minstrels stood about,

Collecting tribute from the young

For all the songs they might have sung,

He stole away upstairs and hung

A hopeful stocking out.

 

King John was not a good man,

He lived his life aloof;

Alone he thought a message out

While climbing up the roof.

He wrote it down and propped it

Against the chimney stack:

“TO ALL AND SUNDRY – NEAR AND FAR

Christmas in particular.”

And signed it not “Johannes R.”

But very humbly, “Jack.”

“I want some crackers,

And I want some candy;

I think a box of chocolates

Would come in handy;

I don’t mind oranges,

I do like nuts!

And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife

That really cuts.

And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,

Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

 

King John was not a good man —

He wrote this message out,

And gat him to this room again,

Descending by the spout.

And all that night he lay there,

A prey to hopes and fears.

“I think that’s him a-coming now!”

(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)

“He’ll bring one present, anyhow —

The first I had for years.”

“Forget about the crackers,

And forget the candy;

I’m sure a box of chocolates

Would never come in handy;

I don’t like oranges,

I don’t want nuts,

And I HAVE got a pocket-knife

That almost cuts.

But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,

Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

 

King John was not a good man,

Next morning when the sun

Rose up to tell a waiting world

That Christmas had begun,

And people seized their stockings,

And opened them with glee,

And crackers, toys and games appeared,

And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,

King John said grimly: “As I feared,

Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,

And I did want candy;

I know a box of chocolates

Would come in handy;

I do love oranges,

I did want nuts!

And, oh! if Father Christmas, had loved me at all,

He would have brought a big, red,

india-rubber ball!”

 

King John stood by the window,

And frowned to see below

The happy bands of boys and girls

All playing in the snow.

A while he stood there watching,

And envying them all …

When through the window big and red

There hurtled by his royal head,

And bounced and fell upon the bed,

An india-rubber ball!

AND, OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS,

MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL

FOR BRINGING HIM

A BIG, RED,

INDIA-RUBBER

BALL

A. A. Milne

 

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Filed under Historical Rhymes, Kings of England, Twelfth Century

Christmas with Henry II and his sons.

feastChristmas at the court of Henry II probably became increasingly fraught as his sons grew to adulthood. They revolted at various times against their father and feuded with one another. Vincent and Harper-Bill reference in particular the Christmas of 1182.  Eleanor of Aquitaine was not in attendance having been kept a prisoner since she’d sided with her three elder sons in their first revolt against Henry in 1173.  The one thing that Christmas 1182 wasn’t, was the season of peace and goodwill to all men.

 

The Young King had semi-revolted against his father by waging war with brother Richard over Poitou. In the spring of the following year his brother Geoffrey of Brittany would join up with Young Henry against their father and brother as well. William Marshall, widely accepted as the hero of the age and all round trustworthy chap on account of his loyalty to a succession of Plantagenets, was facing accusations of adultery with none other than the Young King’s wife, Princess Margaret of France. And, just because things come in threes rather like buses, William de Tancarville was insisting on his right to wash the king’s hands.

 

The great and the good were summoned to Caen for the celebrations. More than a thousand knights attended. William Marshall took the opportunity to challenge the Young King to bring out Marshall’s accusers – the non-too-subtle implication being that Marshall would then proceed to thrash them soundly. He volunteered to fight three accusers on three successive days and if he lost any of the knightly bouts then he would be deemed guilty of adultery through trial by combat. Young Henry did not accept the challenge. So Marshall then suggested that if no one would fight him they could cut off one of his fingers and then have the fight. Unsurprisingly this resulted in a stunned silence. Now, what should have happened is that Marshall should have been declared innocent of the crime that no one was naming on the spot because quite clearly his accusers weren’t prepared to put themselves in dangers way. However, the Young King didn’t do what protocol required, it should also be added that some historians believe that Marshall’s biography makes much of the accusation because he was actually guilty of being ambitious and greedy and he was trying to make the adultery smear into a scandalous smokescreen for his real activities (think more along the lines of Game of Thrones than Sir Walter Scott). Marshall announced that he was being denied justice. Henry II gave the knight safe conduct and Marshall left in what can only be described as a bit of a righteous huff…it also gave him an excuse to leave his lord…yes, that’s right…the same lord who was just about to rebel against his father. Marshall did not rejoin the Young King until he was dying of dysentery and he’d sought permission not only from Henry II but also Philip of France.  Make of it what you will.

 

Meanwhile William de Tancarville, who was a hereditary chamberlain, insisted on his hand washing rights. Apparently the king was just about to have his hands washed when Tancarville pushed his way to the front and grabbed at the silver basin that the chamberlain was using. The person who had been about to wash Henry’s hands kept hold of the basin and I suspect that much sloshing about ensued until Henry told the bloke with the basin to hand it over to Tancarville who then made a great show of ensuring that Henry had clean hands – ceremonially speaking of course. And then he proceeded to pocket the basin that had held the water for the king’s clean up as well as the basins employed for the handwashing of the princes. It turns out that the silver basins were a perk of the job, which would perhaps account for why the first handwasher-in-chief wasn’t keen on letting go of it in the first place.

 

Good will at the Christmas Court at Caen in 1182 seems noticeable only by its absence. By January the king and his sons were heartily fed up of one another and took themselves off for a spot of perennial Plantagenet family fisticuffs – de Tancarville siding with the Young King.

Click on the image of the festive feast to open up a new tab and a post about the Young King at Christmas including 1182.

Christopher Harper-Bill, Nicholas Vincent Henry II: New Interpretations

William M. Reddy  The Making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia and Japan 900-1200 CE

 

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Filed under Kings of England, The Plantagenets, Twelfth Century

Byland Abbey

DSCN3786-2In 1135 twelve monks left Furness Abbey to found a daughter house.  Their leader was Abbot Gerald and their destination was Calder Abbey.  Sadly their neighbours, the Scots, proved rather rowdy. Three years later Abbot Gerald and his little band returned to Furness.  Gerald had no intention of stopping being an abbot so he and his followers were refused admittance.

Impoverished and homeless the monks set off for York believing that they might gain some help from Thurstan, Archbishop of York.  Footsore and weary the little band arrived in Thirsk – some twenty miles short of their destination.  In Thirsk they met Lady Gundreda de Mowbray who took a shine to the monastic posse.  She suggested that the monks go to Hood at the foot of Sutton Bank.  Her uncle, she explained, had a jolly nice cave that they could use.  His name was Robert d’Alney and he had been a monk at Whitby but had left to become a hermit.  Clearly she’d forgotten that hermits like their own company.  In any event Gerald and his monks joined Robert on the understanding that as soon as Gundreda’s son was of age that he would endow a monastery for them.

Gerald took the opportunity to travel to Savigny where the monks from Furness Abbey originated.  He negotiated the new abbey’s independence from Furness.  The abbey which he would build would not be a daughter house.  It would be independent.  Gerald, parchment of independence in hand hurried home – where he promptly died.DSCN3794

Robert d’Alney  clearly wasn’t cut out to be a hermit because having shared his cave with the monks not only did he throw in his lot with them he became their next abbot.  He would remain in charge for the next fifty-four years.

Robert’s great-nephew, Roger de Mowbray, now come into his inheritance, gave the monks land at Old Byland.  Unfortunately the new monastery was too close to the abbey at Rievaulx.  This in itself wouldn’t have been a problem.  The difficulty lay in the fact that the monks kept slightly different hours.  The bells of one abbey interrupted the services of the other.  The monks of Old Byland who’d only been there a year moved once more in 1147 to more land provided by Roger de Mowbray.

By 1150 Byland had a reputation equal to that of Rievaulx and Fountains. It was at this point that the abbot of Furness Abbey tried to reassert the authority of Furness over Byland- presumably the abbot had his eye on reflected glory and lots of loot.  By this time the Savignac monks had merged with the Cistercians.  The case was sent to Aelred of Rievaulx for judgement. Aelred ruled that his neighbours were independent.  It probably helped that Abbot Aelred was friends with the abbot of Byland at that time.

DSCN3800If internal political wrangles weren’t bad enough the monks of Byland (they moved the name with them) also had to drain marshes and cope with those rowdy Scots.  In 1322 the rather disastrous King Edward II spent the night at Byland Abbey.  His army was firmly trounced by the Scots and he fled to York on hearing the news, leaving the monks to face the victors of the battle who were intent on a spot of pillage.

History darkened Bylands door once more in 1536 when Cromwell sent his commissioners to survey all the monasteries.  Byland had an income of £295.  In addition to the abbot there were twenty-five choir monks. According to Page, “The abbey received, it is not known why, Letters Patent dated 30 January 1537,  to continue, but it surrendered 30 Henry VIII, when pensions were granted to the abbot (£50) and twenty-three monks; one other, John Harryson, received no money pension quia habet vicariam de Byland.”  The ink well thought to have been used at the signing of the surrender can be seen in the museum attached to the abbey ruins.

Today the ruins, in the care of English Heritage, are set in a tranquil vale on theDSCN3805 edge of Sutton Bank.  The church, which follows the basic Cistercian floor plan is cross shape.  It’s majesty lies on its West Front with the ruins of what was once a glorious rose window.  By the time the monks of Byland built their church the Cistercians were moving away from the austerity of their early years.  It must have been a magnificent building with its symmetric green and white tiles. Tiles from Byland Abbey are on display in the British Museum as well as being found in situ.  Click on the image of the  circular pattern of tiles to the right to open up a photograph of the British Museum tiles in a new page.

The size of the church reflects the two groups of monks that populated Cistercian monasteries.  The choir monks were literate and spent most of their time in prayer and reflection.  They used the east end of the church.  Unlike the Benedictines who used tenant farmers and servants the Cistercians used a second tier of monks.  Lay brothers took monastic vows but their role was that of labour.  For them there were simplified services at the beginning and the end of the day.  They learned their prayers and they were not permitted to learn to read or write.  The lay brothers used the west part of the church.  DSCN3830

The two groups of monks remained separate not only in their worship but also in their quarters.  Cistercian monasteries follow a different pattern to Benedictine establishments. The huge cloister was at the heart of the monastery.  The choir monks had their quarters to the east.  This range of buildings included a first floor dormitory with a staircase leading into the south transept of the church facilitating the night services.  The south range of the cloister housed the kitchens and the refectory whilst the west range was home to the lay brothers.  Like the choir monks they had their own reredorter (monastic toilet block).

Harrison, Stuart A. Byland Abbey. London: English Heritage

‘Houses of Cistercian monks: Byland’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 131-134 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp131-134 [accessed 22 July 2015].

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Filed under Monasteries, Twelfth Century