Tag Archives: Empress Matilda

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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Adela of Louvain

tumblr_nuxhb1yIrc1txs5z9o1_250After the White Ship sank taking with it Henry I’s only legitimate son he remarried in order to beget another male heir pronto.  At the time he was fifty-three.  His new bride Adela of Louvain was eighteen and known as the Fair Maid of Brabant.  It also ought to be added that he may not just have married out of the duty of providing his realm with a male heir as there is evidence that negotiations were underway before the tragedy of the White Ship.

The young bride arrived in England in 1121 and there was immediately a rumpus about who was going to crown her. The royal pair married in Windsor and the Bishop of Salisbury claimed the right as Windsor was within his diocese.  The Archbishop of Canterbury was having none of it.  A council was summoned to debate the matter. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Ralph d’Escures, got the job of marrying them. Unfortunately he was somewhat frail so Henry asked the Archbishop of Salisbury if he’d officiate the following day at Adela’s coronation.  It is recorded that the following day the royal couple were half way through the ceremony when the Archbishop of Canterbury rocked up, stopped the service, removed Henry’s crown from his head and put it back on again – presumably with as much force as he could manage.  Unfortunately for Ralph all that stomping around had proved too much for him and he could not complete the service so he asked the Bishop of Winchester to continue – no doubt any bishop was better than Salisbury in his mind.

After that introduction to royal life the couple settled down to doing what Norman monarchs did – ruling.  Unlike Matilda, Henry’s first wife, Adela took no part in the running of the country even though Henry appears to have travelled everywhere with her.  She is recorded as being pious and founding religious houses.  She is also said to have encouraged learning.  Her principle role was to provide an heir.  They were married fifteen years but no children were born of the marriage.

Henry died in 1135 and Adela took herself off to the nunnery at Wilton where she remained for at least a year until  William D’Albini proposed, and she accepted.  As a queen she might have perhaps expected a better match even though it appeared that she was barren but times were difficult and who knows – perhaps she actually liked him.  There was also the small matter of Arundel Castle to take into consideration. It had been confiscated by the Crown in 1102.  On Henry’s death it lay in the hands of Adela. William D’Albini was a royal steward, an important member of the king’s household, and loyal to the new king Stephen who’d taken the crown despite the fact that Henry I had forced all his nobles to agreeing to accept his other legitimate heir the Empress Matilda.

The newly weds must have come under something of a strain what with William trying to further his position in the court of Stephen and his new wife being friends with her step-daughter.  When Matilda came to England in 1139 she made for Arundel – where Adela was.  It didn’t do William any harm as ultimately Stephen created him the Earl of Arundel for his loyalty. Adela’s still hold the earldom.

Adela and William D’Albini had seven children between 1139 and 1148 – which must have come as something of a surprise given her first marriage.  Her descendants include Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – they should perhaps have taken a lesson from their ancestress’s strategies for being a successful queen.  Eventually Adela took herself off to  Afflingham Nunnery in Brabant where she died in 1151.

Adela’s grandson, another William D’Albini, was one of the twenty-five signatories to the Magna Carta guaranteeing that the charter would be kept.  It must have been a sad moment for King John as D’Albini had been one of the royal favourites but by 1215 was the commander for the defence of Rochester Castle against the king.  It was on his order the sick and the weak were sent from the castle during the siege.  Rather than sending them on their way John ordered that their hands and feet be cut off.  When the castle finally fell, John was so angry that he wanted all the nobility involved to be hanged.  Fortunately for William he was talked out of this rather unchivalrous action but was to spend rather a lot of time admiring the decor of Corfe Castle as a consequence.

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King John’s lost treasure

King_John_from_De_Rege_JohanneOne of English history’s enduring tales of lost treasure is that of King John’s loot lost in The Wash. The year is 1216.  It’s October.  The Magna Carta has been signed. Pope Innocent III has read it carefully then torn it up.  The barons are revolting.  The French are invading.  In short things are not looking good for John.

John was en route from Bishop’s Lynn (King’s Lynn these days) to Lincoln.  He’d already travelled south from Lincolnshire into Norfolk but for some reason turned back.  It has been suggested that he was already feeling unwell.  There was also the fact that he wasn’t terribly popular in the Fens – though he was well thought of in Lynn because he gave the town it’s charter in 1204 which gave its guilds the right to govern themselves.  For whatever reason he turned back towards Lincolnshire.

This meant he had to cross The Wash – a treacherous stretch of coast filled with creeks, quick sands, fast running tides and according to one popular theory an unexpected tidal bore. John crossed via Wisbech.  His baggage train containing his ‘precious vessels’ (Roger of Wendover) and ‘diverse household effects’ (Ralph of Coggeshall) seems to have crossed The Wash by a different route, possibly Sutton Bridge.  This seems a sensible option as the king could have travelled fairly rapidly by horse whereas ox-carts filled with household effects, chests, beds, the crown jewels and heaps of silver plate would have travelled more slowly.  The country was at war – speed was essential.  It seems as though the baggage train risked a more direct route in the belief that it would be able to cross The Wash before the tide turned.  There is no evidence that the baggage train was attended by local guides.

Equally we don’t know exactly what was lost and what was recovered either officially or unofficially at a later date.  We do know that John collected jewellery and precious plate.  It is probable that given the state of the country he had collected it together to keep an eye on it.  What we do have is a list of his belongings.  A Roll inventoried everything including his grandmother’s, Matilda, regalia.  Co-incidentally none of it made an appearance for the crowning of young King Henry III.  It is generally accepted it was all lost.  Charles Dickens paints a picture of the tide coming crashing in and carrying the carts off.  Other folk believe that the treasure still lays deep below eight hundred years worth of silt.

Poor John. The 12th October 1216 had not gone at all to plan.  In some versions of the story he watches as his belongings are carried away by the waves and in other versions someone has to tell him (rather them than me).  He was taken to Swineshead Abbey in Lincolnshire that night where he stuffed himself with peaches, pears and cider.  If he was feeling ill before he soon felt infinitely worse.  On the 18th October he died of dysentery at Newark.

Where there’s treasure there are always stories.  One tale suggests that a local landowner found all or part of John’s treasure during the fourteenth century.  Other accounts suggest that it was never lost at all, that either John hid it somewhere safe (so presumably it’s still there or there were some very wealthy members of John’s household shortly afterwards) or else he pawned it to raise an army to fight the revolting barons and the equally revolting french.  Whatever the truth, the facts that King John lost France and then lost his treasure do not stand him in good stead with posterity.

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Surprising Connections

After a while, if you study medieval history as you struggle to untangle who is who it’s perfectly possible to believe two things: first, that all the leading families in the land were related and second, that there were only a hand full of names available. Take Matilda for example. Most famously there’s the Empress Matilda – also known as Maud – there’s even room for confusion there. And then it’s worth taking a look at her mother, also a Matilda- Matilda of Scotland. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that Matilda was a good Norman name while the Scottish princess who King Henry I married was baptised by the name Edith. It’s no wonder that I sometimes get very confused about who was who. I know some people study the medieval history of the English monarchy with a family tree at their side. I can see why.

I’m going off track. My surprising connection is much more recent and doesn’t involve anyone royal. Did you know that Josiah Wedgewood -the fine china maker- was the grandfather of Charles Darwin? So the sale of tea services and dinner plates funded the theory of evolution. How wonderful is that?

I should point out that I discovered this surprising fact whilst watching an interesting programme about the River Trent.

It’s set me thinking about other unexpected connections- a sort of historical six degrees of separation. That’s the theory that everyone is a maximum of six steps away from any other person in the world. Obviously once you’re outside six generations it wouldn’t count and monarchs would be a bit of a cheat on the grounds that there are any number of verses to help people remember their links- I resorted to a wooden ruler with the rulers on when I was at school as an aide memoire. I still have it.

I am going to add surprising connections as a category to this blog because I love the unexspectedness of the link. I can’t add a picture at the moment because I’m typing on my iPad and apparently I need another app for that. I will tackle that learning curve tomorrow.

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