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

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

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.

Early sources on the death of William Rufus

William Rufus pictured in the Stowe Manuscript

I’ve stated before that we all like a good conspiracy theory – and why not- sometimes though the theory grows with the retelling.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle  which is one of the earliest accounts of William’s untimely demise is terse. “In the morning after Lammas King William when hunting was shot by an arrow by one of his own men.” Similarly Eadmer, who is St Anselm’s first biographer, states that when the news that William had been killed arrived at the monastery where Anselm was staying that Anselm sobbed for the soul of the king and wished that he had died – the inference being that Anselm had a better chance of Heaven than the “Red King” who was definitely not on the list of the Church’s ten most saintly people. There was however, no suggestion, that he had been murdered.

If anything the accounts that followed wished to create a moral story. Peter of Blois’s account saw the Devil make an appearance whilst William of Malmesbury mentions dreams amongst other portents. In both cases there is no suggestion that William’s death is anything other than a hunting accident. Orderic Vitalis discusses other royal hunting accidents.

Matthew Paris has the arrow that killed William ricocheting off a tree where as earlier accounts have Walter Tirel taking a shot at a second deer but having the sun in his eyes. A later account, 1889, includes the sound of argument and broken bow strings. The broken bow string belonged to Prince Henry and that can be found in Wace’s account of William’s death. Wace was born about 1110 and he wrote his La Roman de Rou in about 1160.

It should probably be noted that William’s likely killer, Walter Tirel, was a patron of the Benedictines. He had links with Bec and let’s face it there’s the additional problem of Henry I’s undignified rush for the treasury in Winchester and the Crown of England. It is very easy to see henry making a bid for the crown, especially as his and William’s elder brother Robert Curthose was on his way back from the First Crusade with a wealthy bride – were she to have children then Henry’s claim would dwindle. Alternatively if you were a Norman prince you probably had to cease opportunities when they came up in order to gain the power you craved.

I have posted elsewhere about the possibility of the Clare family being involved in a conspiracy to finish William and as always there’s more than one argument to be made as well as rather a lot of circumstantial evidence to unpick. It’s certainly provided rather a lot of novelists with material.

Normandy and Maine

henry iiiOne way of looking at William the Conqueror’s foreign policy is to say that it was about conquest and colonisation but back in Normandy things weren’t so straight forward. Essentially there were many small countries jockeying for territory and power – survival.  Before Normandy rose to a dominant position Anjou was deemed to be the most powerful territory.  The Normans in their turn succumbed to the Angevins.  Land was acquired either through conflict or inheritance.

 

William the Conqueror never managed to successfully secure Maine despite  betrothing his eldest son Robert to Margaret the sister of  Herbert II who had fled to Normandy in 1056 following the death of his father and  the invasion of Maine by the Duke of Anjou.  Herbert died in 1062 and in 1063 William invaded Maine based the premise that although Robert’s child would-be bride had died that as the almost-spouse the Normans should keep the land.  By the following year  William had control of Maine.  In its own way this was important as it meant that William had created a buffer zone between Normandy and Anjou.  This gave him security whilst he was invading England in 1066.

 

Despite this  William was uable to maintain control of Maine in the long term.  His son Robert took on the title Count of Maine and may have even ruled there for a while but he had not been married to Margaret and there were other claimants including Hugh IV’s nephew, another Hugh who became Count of Maine in 1070 after the people of Maine revolted against the Normans and ejected them.  This didn’t stop the Normans from attacking Maine several more times during the eleventh century.

 

Inevitably treaties and agreements were sealed by marriages.  Hugh V  sold Main to his cousin Elias.  Elias sought to strengthen his hand by creating an alliance with Anjou.  He did this by marrying his only child to the Count of Anjou.  This effectively meant that Anjou would one day take  control of Maine without having to invade.

Elias and Robert Curthose were not on the best of terms.  Robert had after all thought that Maine would be his. Their enmity only came to an end when Curthose, by then Duke of Normandy, went on Crusade.  It was considered bad form as a Christian to invade another man’s territory if he had gone on a crusade.  This was 1096.  Robert had also arrived at an understanding with his own brother William Rufus who acted as regent for Robert during his absence.

 

On Elias’s death in 1110 the Count of Anjou became the Count of Maine.  Henry I (pictured at the start of this post) who had succeeded his brother William as King of England in 1100 and taken Normandy from his brother Robert in 1106 agreed to recognise Fulk of Anjou’s claim to Maine so long as Fulk recognised the Duke of Normandy as his overlord.  Henry set about binding Fulk and the house of Anjou to  the Norman alliance by arranging the marriage of his son William Adlin to Fulk’s daughter Matilda of Anjou.  It was a double marriage as he also arranged for his own daughter  Matilda to marry Fulk’s son Geoffrey Plantagenet.

A series of marriages resulted in  Henry I’s grandson, Henry II, ruling England, Normandy, Anjou and Maine – the series of small territories had built into a sizeable kingdom.

 

 

William Clito, Count of Flanders

 

william clitoWilliam’s parents were Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror, and Sybilla of Conversano.  She died in 1103 when William was just two. Robert was at that time the Duke of Normandy.   Clito is a latinised form meaning man of royal blood – so similar to prince. He was Count of Flanders by right of his grandmother Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror.

Alison Weir identifies a legitimate son of Robert Curthose’s called Henry who was killed in a hunting accident in the New Forest but there is no further information and for the most part William Clito is usually identified as Robert’s only legitimate issue.  Robert also had illegitimate sons.  One was called Richard who was killed in the New Forest in 1100.  Richard had a full brother, confusingly enough, also called William and he became the Lord of Tortosa.  It is assumed he was killed around 1110 at the Battle of Jerusalem as there is no further record of him after that.

battle of tinchebraiAfter the  Battle of Tinchbrai in 1106 which saw Henry I of England defeat Robert Curthose the two brothers travelled to Falaise where William Clito was staying.  Henry had never met his nephew before and he placed the boy in the care of Hélias of Saint-Saëns, Count of Arques who was married to William’s illegitimate half-sister (history does not know her name.)    William remained in their custody for the next four years.  In 1110 Henry sent for his nephew. Hélias was not in residence but his household concealed the boy from Henry’s men and then smuggled him to Hélias who fled Normandy with the boy.

BremuleHélias and William became fugitives.  At first they stayed with Robert de Bellâme but he was captured in 1112.  From there they went to  Baldwin VII of Flanders.  By 1118 many of the nobility of Normandy were sufficiently fed up of Henry I to join William Clito and Baldwin in a rebellion.  However, in the September of that year Baldwin was injured and eventually died.  William  found another sponsor in the form of  King Louis VI of France who invaded Normandy but was comprehensively beaten at the Battle of Brémule on 20th August 1119. Even the Pope interceded on William’s behalf. Despite this the so-called First Norman Rebellion did not improve William’s position.

Disaster struck Henry I when the White Ship sank off Harfleur on the 25 November 1120 drowning his only legitimate son – another William.  This meant that William Clito became a logical successor to his uncle.  He was, after all, the legitimate son of the Conqueror’s eldest son.

In addition to the change in Clito’s  perceived status Henry I  also refused to return the dowry that had come with Matilda of Anjou upon her betrothal to his son.  Matilda’s father, Fulk V Count of Anjou now betrothed his daughter Sybilla to William Clito and gave him as Sybilla’s dowry the county Maine- an area between Anjou and Normandy.  Henry I appealed to the pope and the marriage was ultimately annulled in 1124 because the pair were too closely related.

Meanwhile the Normans had rebelled against Henry for a second time in 1123-1124.

And so it continued, with the French king taking the opportunity to add to Henry I’s discomfort by providing men and money for William in 1127.  It was at this point that William married the french queen’s (Adelaide of Maurienne) half sister Joan of Montferrat.  Louis VI was using William as a pawn against Henry’s claim to Maine.

 

On the 12 July 1128 William was at the Siege of Aaist.  He was wounded in the arm.  The wound became gangrenous.  He died on 28th July.  Amongst his followers was his brother-in-law Hélias of Saint-Saëns, Count of Arques who had been at his side for most of his life.

It is perhaps not surprising that there is no portrait of William – his uncle  Henry I made a rebel of him and did not want him to inherit either Normandy or England after the death of his own son (also William). Clito’s father, Robert Curthose, survived him by five and a half years.

Weir, Alison. Britain’s Royal Families: the Complete Genealogy

William the Conqueror’s sons

young-william-the-conqueror.jpgFor the most part when we think of William the Conqueror’s and Matilda of Flanders’ children we tend to identify William Rufus who got himself killed in the New Forest in 1100 and his little brother Henry who took the opportunity to snaffle the crown having secured the treasury in Winchester.

The death of William Rufus  is pictured below in an illustration from William of Malmsebury’s account of events in the New Forest.

William-II-death.gif

The English crown went to William Rufus as the second son surviving son whilst the more important patrimony – i.e. Normandy went to William the Conqueror’s eldest son Robert Curthose.    Henry, William’s youngest surviving son received money to buy land.Robert_Curthose_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VI

William and Robert hadn’t always seen eye to eye.  In 1077 Robert rebelled against his father following a prank played by William Rufus and Henry.  They thought it would be funny to up end a full chamber pot over Robert’s head.  Robert fought his brothers and the resulting brawl was only stopped when William the Conqueror intervened. Robert was so disgruntled when his two brothers went unpunished that he and his followers attempted to seize Rouen Castle the following day.  The dispute lasted for the next three years until Queen Matilda was able to bring both sides together having secretly sent money to her son behind William’s back during that time. As is often the case there is more to the tale than the story.  William left Matilda in Normandy acting as regent during his absence.  Not only was she acting on William’s behalf but she was also standing in for the young Robert.  This practice should have stopped as Robert grew up.  He demanded that he be allowed more responsibility, but William who appears not to have had a high opinion of his eldest son refused.  Robert’s resentment grew.

Matilda died in 1083 and Robert became something of a vagrant, travelling widely to avoid spending time in his father’s court.

220px-Henry_I_of_EnglandWhen William the Conqueror died in 1097 Robert gained Normandy and made William Rufus his heir.  William did like wise. However despite this agreement little brother Henry (pictured left) was able to claim the English throne  in 1100 because  Robert was on the return journey to Normandy from the First Crusade where he had proved himself to be an effective military leader which goes somewhat against the chronicles of the time which describe him at best as lazy, at worst as incompetent. At the time of William Rufus’s death  Robert not only had further to travel but he had interrupted his journey in order to marry a wealthy bride.  In order to pay for the crusade he’d mortgaged Normandy and now needed to find the funds to free himself from his debts.

His bride was Sybilla of Conversano  about whom I have posted before. The pair had a son called William Clito before she died in 1103. Like William the Conqueror, Robert had left his wife as regent during his absences and most chroniclers agree that she made a better job of the role than Robert.

Inevitably  Robert finally arrived on English shores with an army on July 21st 1101 but Henry  persuaded Robert to settle for a pension instead of a kingdom. This was recognised in the Treaty of Alton (Hampshire). Sooner rather than later Henry stopped paying the pension and punished the men who had supported Robert in his claim.

In 1105 Henry invaded Normandy and beat Robert at the Battle of Tinchebray.  The British contingent in Henry’s army  felt that Hastings had been avenged as the Norman army fled the field.  Robert spent the next 28 years in captivity.  He died in 1134 in Cardiff Castle where he’d passed the time learning Welsh and writing poetry. He is buried in Gloucester Cathedral. Robert’s incarceration did not mean that Henry was bale to rule both England and Normandy in peace. Robert’s son William Clito was recognised by many Norman nobles as their rightful duke.

 

RichardofNormandyAnd finally, William Rufus wasn’t the only one of William the Conqueror’s sons to die in the New Forest.  Richard  (pictured left) who was born some time between 1055 and 1059 died in a hunting accident by 1075. Orderic Vitalis says of him that “when a youth who had not yet received the belt of knighthood, had gone hunting in the New Forest and whilst he was galloping in pursuit of a wild beast he had been badly crushed between a strong hazel branch and the pommel of his saddle, and mortally injured.” He is buried in Winchester.

 

 

 

 

Aird, William. Robert ‘Curthose’, Duke of Normandy

Weir, Alison. Queens of the Conquest

 

 

 

 

The coronation of Henry I

henry iiiUpon the death of William Rufus, Henry hastened to Winchester where the royal treasury happened to be located.  Henry was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and he had inherited no land from his father although under the terms of the Conqueror’s will he had been left money.

Under normal circumstances it would have been William and Henry’s older brother who inherited England.  Robert Curthose inherited Normandy from William the Conqueror and after some nastiness with William eventually came to terms with his younger sibling and took himself off on crusade.  When William died in the New Forest Robert was on his way home from the Holy Land.

Henry on the other hand was in England and able to seize the opportunity that presented itself.  Having taken control of the treasury he then ensured that some barons elected him as their king in a nod to the Anglo-Saxon practice of the Witan electing kings and arranged for his coronation to take place as soon as possible.  This took place in Westminster on 5th August 1100.

Henry I’s Coronation Charter is the earliest one to survive.  It is thought that the charter was part of the process by which a king came to the throne in Anglo-Saxon times.  The new king would essentially say to his barons this is what I’m giving you in return for your support of me. More than one copy of the charter exists suggesting that is was circulated in the shires. Basically he condemns William Rufus’ rule “the kingdom has been oppressed by unjust exactions” and then claims that by becoming king Henry has brought peace to the English Nation.  It is said that Henry I’s Coronation Charter is the basis for Magna Carta.  The charter is also called the Charter of Liberties in some sources.

Henry promises that he will not take property that belongs to the Church.  He also says that whilst he expects his barons to consult the monarch in the matter of their daughters’ marriages that he will not exact a tax for them being allowed to marry.  He also explains that if a baron dies with underage heirs that Henry will determine who those heirs will marry but that he will consult with the rest of his barons in the matter.  He also recognises that widows shouldn’t be required to remarry without their consent in the matter.

As well as dealing with feudal matters and wardship Henry also tackles the royal mint.  He makes it clear that it is the king who mints the coinage – no one else is permitted to do so.  He also makes sure that all the royal forests used by William the Conqueror remain in his own hands.  This is a rather clever wheeze of ensuring that if anything had been given away or sold by either William the Conqueror or William Rufus it now returned to the Crown – an veritable example of “having your cake and eating it.”

Essentially the charter places Henry and his successors under the rule of law.  Henry was aware that there had been recent rebellion and resentment of William Rufus.  There was also the small matter of the difficult relationship with the Church.  At a stroke Henry sets the clock back to zero and in so doing gives the barons president for Magna Carta and in turn for the Provisions of Oxford which Henry III was forced to accept by Simon de Montfort in 1264 and which Edward I was prudent enough to adapt in the Statute of Westminster.  It is perhaps not surprising then that Henry’s by-name is Beauclerk – or good scholar.

Henry I would reign for thirty-five years.  He set about bringing unity to his kingdom  not only with his barons but also with his Saxon commoners by marrying Edith of Scotland, the daughter of St Margaret of Scotland (i.e. niece of Edgar the Aethling and granddaughter of Edmund the Exile, the son of King Edmund Ironside, who arrived back in England on the invitation of Edward the Confessor only to die in unexpected circumstances.)  Edith was too Saxon a sounding name so it was promptly changed to Matilda but it was said of Henry that his court was too Saxon.  Certainly his son William who was born in 1103 was called the Atheling in an attempt to weave two cultures together.  So we can also see movement of a wise king towards the unification of his people.  Of course it wasn’t as straight forward as all that not least because William was his only legitimate male heir and he was drowned in 1120 when the White Ship sank.

After the death of his son, Henry remarried to Adela of Louvain who I have posted about before.

It was just as well that Henry had been so conciliatory to his barons and the wider population because in 1101 big brother Robert did invade England.  But, possession is nine tenths of the law and Henry gave him his properties in Normandy as well as an annuity to go away and leave England alone.  In 1106 Henry took advantage of the political turmoil in Normandy and beat Robert at the Battle of Tinchebrai – no more annuities and an entire duchy to add to the list of things that Henry owned although Robert’s son William Clito was unhappy about the outcome for obvious reasons.  Henry drew the line at killing his older brother but Robert would remain a prisoner for the rest of his life.

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/coronation-charter-of-henry-i

http://www.arts.cornell.edu/prh3/MDVL%202130/Texts/1100charter.pdf

The De Clare family – royal relations.

clare1So who are the de Clare family from yesterday’s post who seemed to be loitering in the New Forest when William Rufus met his end? Complicated – that’s what rather than who. Richard son of Gilbert arrived with the Conquest.  Gilbert was a son of the Count of Brionne.  Gilbert was actually one of Duke William’s guardians during his childhood and was killed in a bid to control William.  Richard fled Normandy along with his brother only returning when Duke William was able to control the duchy. He was also one of Duke William’s extended family (Gilbert’s father was one of Duke Richard of Normandy’s illegitimate sons).

 

Richard Fitz Gilbert was with the Conqueror in 1066 and did rather nicely from the whole affair, acquiring more than 170 holdings including Tonbridge in Kent and Clare in Suffolk.  The Domesday Book identifies him as a very wealthy man indeed.  Not only rich but trusted by William who left him in England with the justicar role while he returned to Normandy in 1073. It was in this capacity that Richard helped to suppress the so-called Earls Rebellion in 1075.

 

Whilst more of Tonbridge Castle stands today than the castle at Clare in Suffolk, it was at Clare that the family chose to make their administrative seat- hence the de Clare element of the name.  All that remains today of the castle is the motte – the mound of earth on which the wooden keep once stood.  It must have been an impressive sight given that the motte is over 60ft tall today and can be something of a surprise to a casual visitor to the town.  In the thirteenth century the wooden keep was replaced with a stone  shell keep structure.

 

Rather interestingly, after William  the Conqueror died Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare (to give him his full name) was one of the Norman lords who rebelled against William Rufus in favour of Rufus’s older brother Robert Curthose.  He died in 1090 having retired to the priory at St Neot’s in 1088. He and his wife had re-founded the priory in the years after the Conquest and it should be noted that the de Clares were important monastic patrons wherever they held land.

Despite his retirement from worldly affairs Richard de Clare left a tribe of powerful sons.  There were at least six of them as well as two daughters, not to mention a wife, Rohese Gifford, who owned land in her own right.  The de Clare family were well placed for power – they were related to the ruling house and were extremely wealthy. They were marriageable and therefore families sought alliances with the de Clares – which meant it wasn’t long before they were related to most of the other powerful Anglo-Norman families in the country adding to their political power.

Roger, the eldest son, inherited the Norman de Clare land. Gilbert who was the second of the de Clare sons inherited the English estates.  In 1088 Gilbert and his brother Roger rebelled against William Rufus at Tonbridge.  William promptly turned the motte and bailey castle into rubble – let’s not forget it was a wooden structure at the time. Gilbert and Roger were captured.   Interestingly the family despite having rebelled against the king; being suspected of being involved with Bishop Odo’s conspiracies in 1083; and were undoubtedly part of Robert de Mowbray’s conspiracies against William Rufus, kept hold of their lands.

Gilbert turns up in William Rufus’s army fighting the Scots.  The de Clare brothers appear at William’s side as part of the hunting party in August 1100 when he was killed.  Had it been an ordinary hunting party it would have been evidence that the de Clares were reconciled with William but since William suffered his rather nasty accident it is almost inevitable that historians point out the earlier hostility as circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy.   In 1101 Gilbert was at court with Henry I.  It could all be perfectly innocent but  there are rather a lot of coincidences – sadly all without the necessary documentary evidence to suggest conspiracy.

 

Gilbert remained hugely wealthy and influential.  He founded Cardigan Priory having been given the area around Cardigan by Henry I (no thought was given to what the local population might think- essential you have the land providing you can keep hold of it!).  Gilbert did secure Cardigan and Aberystwyth.  It is almost impossible to write about Welsh Castles without mentioning the de Clare family.

 

Brother Robert, another of the hunting party was the Baron of Little Dunmow and steward to Henry I. Walter de Clare would found Tintern Abbey.  He was a marcher lord in South Wales having been granted land by Henry I near Chepstow.

Between the brothers there were many children ensuring that de Clares married into important families, acquired land and a name for themselves but that’s an entirely different story which should include Richard de Clare, the Earl of Pembroke better known to History as “Strongbow.”  His daughter married William Marshal.  The two families would intermarry thereafter.  The Earls of Gloucester were de Clares and stood surety for the Magna Carta. Eventually the de Clares would marry back into the royal family with the 7thEarl of Gloucester – another Gilbert de Clare- marrying Joan of Acre, the daughter of Edward I ensuring that the family were knee deep in the Scottish Wars of Independence and Edward II’s familial difficulties over the Despensers.  This must have caused some head scratching as Hugh Despenser the Younger’s wife, Eleanor, was another member of the de Clare family.

Eleanor was the 8thearl’s sister.  She and her two other sisters became co-heiresses after the 8thearl died at Bannockburn. She was sent to the Tower when Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer deposed Edward II.  Three of her daughters were forced to become nuns at that time.  Eleanor’s story is a complicated and cruel one  – she escaped only by signing over most of her de Clare inheritance to the Crown.  It was only when Edward III took control of his throne that Eleanor was able to regain her lands (she’s going to get a longer post another day.)

 

Whilst we’re at it let’s not forget Walter Tyrel the man who is supposed to have shot William Rufus – he was Richard de Clare’s son-in-law. All of which brings us back to the starting point – was William Rufus’s death an accident? Yes – it still might have been but when you start to look at the de Clare family and their previous relationship with William you do have to wonder.

And before I forget Gilbert Fitz Richard’s son was also called Gilbert.  His wife was Isabel de Beaumont.  The Beaumont family had also fought at the Battle of Hastings but more important to this post is the co-incidence that Isabel was a mistress of Henry I – what a tangled web.

 

The death of William Rufus – accident or murder

king-william-rufus-william-ii-house-of-normandy-1087-1100-1351385894_bOn the 2nd August 1100 William Rufus or rather William II of England, who was born in 1056, had a nasty accident whilst hunting at Brockenhurst in the New Forest.  He’d been king since 1087 and demonstrated that being the eldest son of the previous monarch wasn’t the most necessary of qualifications for taking over the job at that time.

William was the third of William the Conqueror’s four sons. Robert Curthose, the eldest son inherited Normandy which was viewed as the greater part of William’s patrimony.  There were also the usual family relationships to be considered as well as fate. The second son Richard died in 1075 whilst, er, hunting in the New Forest.  William the Conqueror’s youngest son, named Henry, was left money.

William Rufus was not satisfied with England but then he’d never particularly liked his brother Robert either. There is an account of him emptying a chamberpot over Robert’s head for a joke in his youth.  Before long William Rufus and Robert were at war.  William the Conqueror’s nobility had a bit of a problem.  Many of them owned land in both Normandy and England.  It was difficult to decide which one of the brothers they should effectively rebel against.  Ultimately each man made his brother his heir – demonstrating that neither of them could gain the upper hand. Eventually Robert felt secure enough to go off on a crusade and leave William in charge of Normandy in his absence.

Meanwhile the Anglo Saxon Chronicle was not overly delighted with William Rufus.  The chronicler described him as “harsh and severe” though it seems unlikely that it would have been possible to rule in those times if one were approachable and cuddly.  The Anglo Saxon Chronicle suggested that William was advised by evil councillors when it came to extorting heavy taxes from his subjects.  One reason for William’s need for cash were his wars.  It was the Rufus who took on the Scots with regard to the ownership of Cumberland and he also made a less successful foray in Wales.  Then of course there was his war with his brother over Normandy.

So, back to 2nd August 1100.  The hunting party was composed of Gilbert and Roger de Clare.  There was also a man named Walter Tirel the would-be son-in-law of  Richard de Clare.  William Rufus’s little brother Henry was also on the scene.

The day hadn’t begun well.  A messenger had arrived from the Abbot of Gloucester with the news that a monk had dreamed that the king would be killed in the event of him going hunting that day.  William was not impressed.   He wasn’t terribly impressed with the Church full stop.  He was inclined to mock clerics. In another version of the same story it was a friend who arrived with news of an unsettling area,  The group split into two parties in order to better chase the deer.  William was with Tirel.  Apparently there were two deer; one for each man.

William of Malmsebury chronicled what happened next:

“The sun was now declining, when the king, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow, slightly wounded a stag which passed before him… The stag was still running… The king, followed it a long time with his eyes, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun’s rays. At this instant Walter decided to kill another stag. …Walter immediately ran up, but as he found him senseless, he leapt upon his horse, and escaped with the utmost speed. Indeed there were none to pursue him: some helped his flight…”

Instead of shooting a deer Tirel had shot the king through the chest and to make matters worse William tried to remove the arrow, thus hastening his death.  To all intents and purposes it looked very much like a tragic accident, although clearly there were those who had their doubts.  The Orderic Vitalis also contains an account of events.  It said that the sharpest arrows go to the man who knows how to inflict the deadliest shots.  Aside, rather understandably from Tirel fleeing the scene, instead of collecting up his brother’s body, Prince Henry dashed off to the treasury at Winchester and having secured it, declared himself to be the new king of England becoming Henry I on 5th August.  The de Clare’s were his key supporters and were handsomely rewarded by the new king.

Various historians have argued that the descriptions make it unlikely for Tirel to have been the murderer.  They talk about trajectory, distance and the account of the arrow that killed William glancing off the deer meaning that the arrow was more likely to have lost its power.  Mason’s biography of William Rufus, published in 2005 suggests that he was assassinated by a French agent. Mason puts forward the theory that William was planning to invade France and that Prince Louis effectively had him replaced with Henry who was not likely to be so bellicose. Mason pins the blame on Raoul d’ Equesnes who was in the household of Walter Tirel.

The evidence for it not being a genuine hunting accident nearly a thousand years down the line is circumstantial.  Usually it is pointed out that Tirel was not pursued, that Henry did rather well out of William’s untimely death and that the de Clare family didn’t do so badly either.

Tirel, having scarpered to one of his castles in France entertained Louis very shortly after William Rufus’s death.   Tirel never returned to England but not only was he not physically pursued he wasn’t pursued by the law either so his English estates were passed on to his children on his death.

 

The English forces which were gathered around the Solent ready for William Rufus  to invade France were sent home very shortly after Henry declared himself king.

 

William Rufus’s body was found by a charcoal burner and it was he who transported  the body back to Winchester.  The image of William from the Stowe Chronicle shows him clutching an arrow.

Mason, Emma. (2005)  William II: Rufus the Red King.