Good Queen Matilda – more on Edith of Scotland

Edith of Scotland, or Matilda as became upon her marriage to Henry I on Sunday 11th November 1100 was an example of how a medieval queen was supposed to behave. One bishop described her as a mother to her people. Weir makes the point that traditionally she has been seen as a pious queen without much of a political role but as with much of history, over time this view has been reappraised.

She advised the king, attended his meetings and worked for the reform of the Church as well as working with Anselm and maintaining a balance between her husband and his principal cleric. There are thirty-three charters in her own name. Her seal, pictured above is the earliest seal in England for a queen. It is in the hands of the British Library.

It was Matilda in 1103 who persuaded Henry to repeal the curfew laws introduced by his father. The idea had been to stop Saxon plotting. At eight o’clock every night the curfew bell tolled and people were required to damp down their fires – it also prevented fires in towns made largely from wood.

In addition to being pious, caring for the poor and interceding on behalf of the wider population it was also essential for a medieval queen to have children. On 31 July 1101 she gave birth to a daughter called Euphemia who did not live for long. By the summer of the same year she was pregnant again. We know this because Henry summoned the Abbot of Abingdon, a renowned physician, to care for his wife. On 7th February 1102 Matilda gave birth to another girl who was baptised as Aethelice (Adelaide) but she is known to history as the Empress Matilda. The year after that William was born.

There was another son called Richard. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle says that he died young whereas other sources state that a second son of Matilda’s called Richard drowned with the sinking of the White Ship. The fact that Henry also had an illegitimate son called Richard doesn’t much help matters.

After the birth of a male heir (and possibly a spare) Matilda had no more children. William of Malmesbury says that the king and queen stopped sharing a bed by common consent. Perhaps Matilda wasn’t terribly impressed with Henry’s love of the ladies. Princess Nest gave birth to one of Henry’s children in 1103. Weir speculates that Henry may have been put off from the wife he was described as ardently desiring because of the fact she spent so much time caring for the ill and the poor. An early example of social distancing perhaps? Weir goes on to suggest several other possible reasons – all in the realms of speculation but it is evident that the couple fell out over Church matters when Anselm was forbidden to return to England in 1104.

Despite this, Henry appointed Matilda as his regent when he went to Normandy that summer. Weir observes that William the Conqueror left his wife as regent and Henry now did the same – demonstrating that both men respected their wives abilities to maintain order in their absence. Henry gave Matilda the “power to judge crime.”

In 1110 Matilda’s daughter henceforth known as the Empress Matilda left England to marry Henry V- the Holy Roman Emperor.

Matilda died on the 1st May 1118 at Westminster Palace and buried in the abbey where she had spent much time in private prayer during her lifetime. She is also associated with Waltham Abbey and Malmesbury as both of them were part of her dower. Henry did not attend the funeral as he wasn’t in England at the time of her death.

Following Henry I’s death Good Queen Maud’s reputation took a bit of a battering when her nephew by marriage, Stephen of Blois, insisted that she had been a nun when Henry married her which meant that Matilda’s daughter, the Empress Matilda, was not the legitimate heir whatever her father said.

Weir, Alison (2017) Queens of the Conquest. London: Jonathan Cape

Something a bit different

As some of you know I am a churchwarden at my local parish church – I will be doing this on Sunday and thought that some of you might like to join me in lighting a candle (safely of course) and thinking of one another in these uncertain times.

Derby Classes Coronavirus Update

History Jar Classes taking place in St Mary’s Parish Centre, Derby are suspended until further notice. I will be in contact with students who have paid for De Belleme over the next couple of days. My very best wishes to all my students and I look forward to seeing you all in the Autumn.

Class cancellation

Coronavirus update: March, April and May Halifax History jar classes cancelled following government statement issued 16th March 2020 re self-isolation and social distancing.

Classes will be rescheduled for the Autumn. I shall be in contact with students for whom I have no email address during the next couple of days.

I shall continuing posting as normal – who knows I might even get that best selling novel written during the course of the next few months!

I hope that you all remain in good health and that you have a good supply of history books at hand – My very best wishes to everyone who follows the History Jar.

Dr Simon Forman – a Tudor version of Pepys…with magic and poison

Simon Forman was born on December 30, 1552, near Salisbury. Unlike Shakespeare for whom there is no evidence of attending grammar school we have Forman’s account of his teacher and his education which began when he was seven. Unfortunately Simon’s father died suddenly and the boy had to leave school taking employment with a merchant who sold herbs and drugs.

Ten years later Simon left Salisbury, apparently after an argument with his master’s wife, and went to Oxford to live with his cousins. It appears that although he was eager to continue his education that he was unhappy in Oxford so when back to Salisbury where he became a teacher.

In 1579 things changed, Simon became a prophet! “I did prophesy the truth of many things which afterwards came to pass…the very spirits were subject unto me”. He also moved to London where presumably there was more need for doctoring, astrology and magic – remember these three things weren’t at odds with one another during the Tudor period. What made the real difference to Forman’s career as a doctor was that he remained in London during the plagues of 1592 and 1594. As a result he became known for his skills and the publication in 1595 of a book entitled Discourses on the Plague. He claimed that he was able to work with plague cases because he had caught and recovered from the disease.

Unfortunately the Royal College of Physicians took umbrage because he lacked their training. They described his herbal medicines as “magical potions.” In short they determined that he was a quack, fined him and told him not to call himself a doctor. Forman ignored them but within nine months a man died soon after taking one of his prescriptions and he found himself in prison. He finally gained a licence from Cambridge University in 1603 despite the fact that he had never studied there.

Forman wrote a lot of books and kept a diary which recorded his own life as well as his consultations with people from all ranks of society. He recorded some of his womanising activities even though he’d married Jane Baker in 1599.

William Lilly

We even know how Forman died thanks to another astrologer, William Lilly. In September of 1611, Forman apparently told his wife that he was about to make his last prophesy, namely that he would die the next Thursday evening which he did whilst rowing on the Thames.

That wasn’t the end of Forman though. Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset went on trial in 1616 for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury in 1613. Whilst she was still Lady Essex married to Robert Devereux. Frances had gone with her friend Anne Turner to see Forman for potions that would keep Lord Essex at arm’s length and another to attract the attentions of James I’s favourite Robert Carr as he seemed a better financial and political bet than the spouse that she had been required to marry when they were both children. Forman was also accused of providing the poison which added to some tarts killed Sir Thomas Overbury whilst he was in the Tower.

Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset

Ultimately Forman’s papers ended up in the care of Elias Ashmole, the founder of the Ashmolean in Oxford and thus his diary which includes visits to the theatre to see Macbeth and The Winter’s Tale survive – though not without some dispute as to their veracity.

Kassell, Lauren (2007) Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London: Simon Forman: Astrologer, Alchemist, and Physician

Rowse, A.L. (1974) The Casebooks of Simon Forman

B

The Essex forest of Henry I

The most famous Royal Forest is the New Forest in Hampshire created on the orders of William the Conqueror. Orderic Vitalis went so far as to suggest that the deaths of his son William Rufus and grandson Richard were essentially divine punishment for destroying the villages that were there before – William the Conqueror was admittedly dead himself by that point! The Anglo Saxon Chronicle also had something to say on the subject:

….established a great peace for the deer, and laid down laws therefor, that whoever should slay hart or hind should be blinded. He forbade the harts and also the boars to be killed. As greatly did he love the tall deer as if he were their father. He also ordained concerning the hares, that they should go free. His great men bewailed it, and the poor murmured thereat, but he was so obdurate, that he recked not of the hatred of them all, but they must wholly follow the King’s will, if they would live, or have land, or even his peace.’

Like his father and brother, Henry I enjoyed hunting. In 1136 King Stephen issued a charter saying that land which had been designated forest during the reign of Henry I would be returned to the status it had held prior to coming under Forest Law. Essentially whereas William Rufus had clung to the income from vacant bishoprics and abbeys, Henry had effectively increased his domain and taxation potential by turning lands into Forest which then came under the arbitrary control of the monarch.

From the above paragraph it should be evident that forest didn’t necessarily mean trees; it could include moorlands, waste ground and there were even townships that came under forest law. Forest comes from the Latin word “forests” which basically means “outside.” It was unenclosed land.

The key was that anyone living in an area designated as royal forest came under a set of regulations separate from common law and a set of fines and taxes different from elsewhere. if Stephen sought to win support by handing back land it wasn’t something that unduly bothered his successors. By 1189 something like a 1/3 of England came under Forest Law. The king appointed forest officials who seemed to have spent a lot of time collecting fines. There were laws against hunting, enclosing land, taking wood, grazing animals – all of them had penalties which the forest officials exacted on their master’s behalf. At its worst the penalty for hunting a deer or sheltering someone who had hunted a deer was death.

Some of England forests had been designated royal forests during the Saxon period. Edward the Confessor had a forest at Windsor and another in Essex. There were approximately 68 royal forests at the time of the Conquest. However, the laws were not as restrictive as they became after the Conquest.

Essentially William the Conqueror argued that no one owned the deer and the boar so therefore they must belong to the king. If they belonged to the king then if anyone else took them it was theft. He was however willing to grant royal licence to hunt. It also meant that if the king was chasing a deer, for example, it didn’t matter if the deer left the king’s land and fled across ground belonging to someone else. The animal was still the king’s and he had the right to chase it wherever he wanted. It is thought that the king deemed red deer, boar, hares and wolves as his. Later on the range of animals that could be chased only by the king was extended.

Today the Royal Forest that comprised all of Essex by the end of the reign of Henry I is recalled by the fragment that remains as Epping Forest which in turn was part of Waltham Forest. Hatfield Forest remains the only in tact royal hunting forest in Essex. There was also Writtle Forest near Chelmsford and Hainhault Forest which ultimately ended up in the hands of Barking Abbey until the the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

I find it fascinating that only about 20% of Essex was wooded at the time of Domesday but that by 1100 all of it was under Forest Law. King Stephen returned the land but Henry’s grandson also named Henry was swift to reclaim royal forests. In fact, Forest Law was one of the factors leading to Magna Carta.

Young, Charles R. (1979) The Royal Forests of Medieval England

The White Ship – history as poetry and moral message

The sinking of the White Ship

I’ve posted about the sinking of the White Ship on 25 November 1120 before. The boat sank off Barfleur causing the death of Henry I’s only legitimate son the 21 year old William Adelin.

Henry returned to England from Normandy on a separate vessel leaving his son, other family members and younger court elements enjoying themselves – drink was involved. Two monks who should have travelled with the group decided not to journey with the group describing them as “riotous.” The Orderic Vitalis estimates that there were three hundred people aboard when it sank. There was only one survivor. Many, if not most, of England’s leading families were hit by the event. One theory put forward at the time was that the ship sank because there were no clerics on board…

As a result of this disaster Henry, who it was said never smiled again, had to marry for a second time in the hope of a male heir. Even so he was faced with the knowledge that even if he did beget an heir with his young wife that in all likelihood he would die before the child achieved adulthood. The only other alternative was his daughter Matilda. Ultimately Henry made his barons swear that they would support her after his death.

Dante Gabriel Rosetti was sufficiently inspired by the episode to put pen to paper. The result was published in 1881. It is not a short ballad! It can be found here: https://excellence-in-literature.com/the-white-ship-by-dante-gabriel-rossetti/

I’ve also discovered this poem by Felica Hemens written in 1830 portraying Henry living out the rest of his life in the knowledge that his son was dead – which just goes to show that there’s always something new to find!

HE NEVER SMILED AGAIN

The bark that held a prince went down,
The sweeping waves rolled on;
And what was England’s glorious crown
To him that wept a son?
He lived—for life may long be borne
Ere sorrow break its chain;—
Why comes not death to those who mourn?—
He never smiled again! 

There stood proud forms around his throne,
The stately and the brave,
But which could fill the place of one,
That one beneath the wave?
Before him passed the young and fair,
In pleasure’s reckless train,
But seas dashed o’er his son’s bright hair—
He never smiled again! 

He sat where festal bowls went round;
He heard the minstrel sing,
He saw the Tourney’s victor crowned,
Amidst the knightly ring:
A murmur of the restless deep
Was blent with every strain,
A voice of winds that would not sleep—
He never smiled again! 

Hearts, in that time, closed o’er the trace
Of vows once fondly poured,
And strangers took the kinsman’s place
At many a joyous board;
Graves, which true love had bathed with tears,
Were left to Heaven’s bright rain,
Fresh hopes were born for other years—
He never smiled again!

            Felicia Dorothea Browne Hemans, 1793-1835

Poets who drew on historical events not only wanted to tell a story they wanted to draw on deeper emotional truths. In the case of Rosetti, Boos makes the point that The Rime of the Ancient Mariner probably had a part to play. Essentially Rosetti is using the event to look at the deeper darkness of the world. i.e. the perils of princes forgetting God and going on booze fuelled rowing activities. This is of course not so far from the medieval chroniclers of the period who were keen to chronicle current affairs from the point of view of fitting God into the overarching message or to frame their work as moral fables.

These days we are more likely to look for a conspiracy theory which is exactly what can be found in Victoria Chandler’s article – and very interesting reading it makes.

 The Poetical Works of Mrs. Hemans : electronic version”, University of California, British Women Romantic Poets Project. Retrieved 2020-03-04.

Boos, Florence S. The poetry of Dante G. Rossetti: A critical reading and source study

Chandler, Victoria, “The Wreck of the White Ship: A Mass Murder Revealed?”, The Final argument. The imprint of violence on society in medieval and early modern Europe, eds. Kagay, Donald J., and Villalon, L. J. Andrew (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1998)

Edith/Matilda of Scotland

Edith or Matilda of Scotland was the wife of Henry I.  The couple had four children but only two survived to adulthood – Matilda and William. It was the death of William that ultimately plunged England into a lengthy and rather bloody civil war.

Edith was born circa 1080 in Dunfermline to Malcolm III and Margaret , grand-daughter of King Edmund Ironside and great niece of Edward the Confessor .  Somewhat confusingly since Margaret fled England along with her family at the time of the Norman Conquest it turns out that Edith’s godfather was Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror.  William’s queen, Matilda of Flanders was also present at Edith’s baptism  as godmother. It’s recorded that little Edith pulled at the royal headdress – this was later seen as a sign that Edith would herself be queen one day. Tyler identifies the fact that Edith’s name identifies her Saxon royal heritage whilst the choice of godparents reflects the political capital of the infant.

When she was about six Edith was sent to England to be educated by the nuns of Romsey Abbey in Wiltshire.  The Royal House of Wessex had a tradition of association with the abbey and Edith’s aunt Christina was the abbess there. She had left Scotland in 1086 to become a nun. Edith’s older sister Mary went with her. As well as spending time in Romsey the girls also spent time at Wilton Abbey – again there was a royal connection to the House of Wessex – Edward the Confessor’s wife Edith Godwinson was associated with the nunnery and had retired there after the Conquest. Wilton was regarded as a centre for female learning as well as a centre of spirituality.  The nunnery had a nail from the True Cross, bits of the Venerable Bede and St Edith.

The choice of these nunneries perhaps reflects the political heritage of Edith of Dunfermline.  The Normans weren’t necessarily secure on the throne and by maintaining their royal behaviours Malcolm III and his wife were leaving a path open to reclaiming the crown as well as arranging good marriages for their daughters.

Unsurprisingly Edith had lots of prospective suitors including the 2ndearl of Surrey (de Warenne) and Alan Rufus the Lord of Richmond.  It is also suggested that William Rufus might have been a candidate for Edith’s hand – it is perhaps one reason why Edith was required to wear a religious habit during her childhood.

Edith’s settled life came to an end on November 13 1093 when her father and one of her brothers was killed at the Battle of Alnwick.  Her mother died on the 16thNovember at Dunfermline where she is buried. Aside from a controversy about whether she was a nun or not History does not know where Edith was between 1093 and 1100.

At some point in 1093 Edith left Wilton and was ordered back there by Anselm the Bishop of Canterbury. He believed that she had taken holy orders – that she was in fact a nun. In 1100 Edith was called upon to testify before a council of bishops that although she had been educated at Romsey and Wilton that she had not taken any vows.  She stated that Christina had required her to wear a habit to protect her from unwanted attention from Norman lords.  Edith does not appear to have had a good relationship with Christina – she stated that her aunt would often give her a sound slapping and “horrible scolding.” She further added that when she was out of her aunt’s sight she tore off the monastic veil that her aunt made her wear and trampled it in the dust.

In addition to Edith’s testimony there was also the fact that Archbishop Lanfranc had ruled that Saxon women who went into hiding in nunneries in the aftermath of the Conquest could not be deemed as having taken monastic vows when they emerged from their hiding places.  Although Edith clearly hadn’t gone into hiding due to ravaging Normans, Christina’s dressing of the girl in a monastic habit was seen as having stemmed from the same root. William of Malmsebury notes that Christina grew old and died at Romsey so perhaps the move to Wilton was partially to get away from an unloved relation – but that is entirely speculation.  

On one hand its evident that Edith/Matilda’s bloodline was ample reason for Henry I to marry her but William of Malmsebury states that Henry loved his new bride.  Henry I and Edith married on November 11thin Westminster Abbey. Anselm performed the marriage but before doing so told the entire congregation about Edith potentially being a nun and asked for any objections.  The congregation- possibly knowing what was good for it- cried out in Edith’s favour.  Afterwards she took the name Matilda – not that it stopped Henry I’s lords mocking him by calling him Godrick and his queen Godiva because of the return to Saxon customs that Henry instituted.  

And for anyone doubting whether Edith/Matilda was legally able to marry, the fact that a healthy baby daughter, the future Empress Matilda, was born in February 1102 followed by a boy called William in September 1103 put an end to those niggling concerns that Henry might have married a nun – would God have blessed a marriage if it was invalid?

Honeycutt, Lois L. (2005) Matilda of Scotland: A Study in Medieval Queenship

“Edith Becomes Matilda.” England in Europe: English Royal Women and Literary Patronage, C.1000–C.1150, by ELIZABETH M. TYLER, University of Toronto Press, Toronto; Buffalo; London, 2017, pp. 302–353. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt1whm96v.14. Accessed 24 Feb. 2020.

When and what was Lammas?

Medieval chroniclers have a tendency to mention feast days rather than actual dates because everyone would have been familiar with the festival – which was an opportunity to have a holiday (holy day). This post is part of a series of short occasional posts about such feast days. So far I have discussed Candlemas which falls on February 2nd.

Lammas, which turned up in a post about the death of William Rufus, falls on the 1st August. It’s an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “loaf mass.” It celebrated the first loaves made from the new grain of the wheat harvest – hopefully it meant the season of plenty had arrived once more. Some places, such as Exeter, still have Lammas Fairs. It was a date when rents were to be paid, debts to be settled and labourers hired.

The date also happens to be the feast day of St Peter in Chains so later medieval writers will sometimes refer to that rather than Lammas. Some medieval accounts of Lammas lost sight of the derivation of the word and thought that it was to do with lambs – which is logical given the sound of the word. There are other festivals associated with Lammas but this post is only concerned with dating in terms of chronicle accounts.

Garendon Abbey

Garendon Hall

Garendon Abbey in Leicestershire was founded in 1133 by Robert, Earl of Leicester.  It was a daughter house of Waverley, the earliest Cistercian monastery to be established in England. As well as holding land in Leicestershire it extended its grand holdings into Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire – Roystone Grange near Ashbourne was gifted to the monks by Adam de Harthill.

By 1225 the abbot had obtained permission to export wool to Flanders which is typical of the order and a reminder of the great Cistercian houses in Yorkshire. The monks weren’t always the best example of monastic chastity or sobriety – one of the abbots was married and another had a bit of a drink problem. Abbot Reginald was murdered in 1196 according to the Monastic Anlicanum. By the reign of Edward III the abbey had got itself into severe financial difficulties and seems to have been harbouring robbers.

By 1535, the year in which Cromwell sent his commissioners to the monastic houses of England and Wales, Garendon was worth less than £160 p.a. There was also the matter of three monks wishing to escape their vows and two more being deemed guilty of unnatural vices. There were only 14 monks at the time. However, they were also providing a home for old people and children. This didn’t save it from dissolution the following year.

Lady Katherine Manners after the death of her husband – the Duke of Buckingham

The estate and it’s buildings were granted by Henry VIII to Thomas Manners, the Earl of Rutland. He paid £2,356 5s 10d for his new property. Garendon remained in the hands of the Earls of Rutland until 1632 when it formed part of Lady Katherine Manners dowry. She was the sole surviving heir of the 6th Earl. She ended up married -by trickery- to the Duke of Buckingham. https://thehistoryjar.com/2018/01/20/witchcraft-scandal-and-the-duke-of-buckingham/

Katherine’s son sold Garendon in 1683 to Ambrose Phillipps, a successful London barrister.

I have posted about Garendon before: https://thehistoryjar.com/2016/11/14/garendon-abbey-granges-and-a-spot-of-drunkenness/

Roystone ended up in the hands of Roland Babington. Roland was born in Dethick along with his brother Thomas. Thomas tried to secure land from Beauchief Abbey in Sheffield upon its dissolution. Thomas’s descendent is the more famous Sir Anthony Babington.