Tag Archives: Henry II

Westminster Hall

Westminster-Hall-1764

It’s all looking very festive around here – and dangerous.  The road hasn’t been gritted so it currently looks and feels just like an ice rink.  On the plus side I have finished some writing today.  On the minus side not only am I not going out for a Christmas meal tonight but I shalln’t be following Buckingham’s rebellion tomorrow or killing off the Princes in the Tower – nor for that matter shall I be allowing either one of them to turn into a conspiracy theory.  All of which is very irritating and I can only extend my apologies to any of my students who may be reading this.

Halls – right at the start of December I mentioned the fact that halls were where their owners dispensed justice.  And of course, there’s a hall with a rather long pedigree that has done exactly that over the last nine hundred years or so.  Westminster Hall was built in 1097 by William Rufus – it was the largest hall in Europe at the time, or so Historians think.  Richard II had the hall rebuilt because it was looking somewhat battered by the time he came to the throne. The medieval hammer beam roof was one of his modifications. The hall gradually evolved into the administrative seat for the kingdom. It was here that Henry II crowned his eldest son Henry in Westminster Hall in June 1170.  There was a second coronation in Winchester.

 

It is as a law court though that Westminster Hall echoes down the pages of history. William Wallace was tried here and by the time of the Tudors the hall is knee deep in well-known names from the duke of Buckingham tried for treason in 1522 based on his Plantagenet blood and probably having irritated Cardinal Wolsey. Sir Thomas More was tried here in 1535, so were Anne Boleyn and her alleged lovers the following year. Protector Somerset had judgement passed down here and so did the father of Lady Jane Grey for his part in Wyatt’s Rebellion. Jesuits faced english law here during the reign of Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex was tried in Westminster Hall following his rebellion. A few years later Guy Fawkes stood in his place.  Later Charles I was tried for crimes against his own people and following the Restoration the regicides were also tried here.

The only man who successful escaped the headsman or the noose following a trial for treason during Henry VIII’s reign was also tried at Westminster Hall.  Lord Dacre of the North was found innocent in July 1535. His accusers were described as “mean and provoked Scottish men” – Sir Ralph Fiennes and his co-accuser a man named William Musgrave were not particularly Scottish but there’s nothing like being damned by association.  Dacre’s wife tried to intercede on her husband’s behalf but was told by the monarch to button it until after her husband’s trial.  Apparently Dacre refuted his accusers in a “manly”  and “witty” sort of way for seven hours before being declared innocent.

William Dacre (a.k.a. Baron Greystoke) was married to the earl of Shrewsbury’s daughter and held down a number of responsible border posts such as Deputy Warden of the West March.  This led to a falling out with the earl of Cumberland (Clifford family) who was given a role in 1525 that Dacre believed to be his by right of blood.  Unsurprisingly there was some border high jinks resulting in Cumberland only being able to rule with Dacre at his side. To make matters worse when Dacre did get his hands on the job his counterpart in the East March was given a pay rise whilst he was given the old rate. Its easy to see that hostilities and resentments were not particularly veiled.  Unfortunately for Dacre he did what Border Wardens do – i.e. talk to the Scots. This was in 1534.  He was accused of treason because this conversation took place during a time of hostility. He was hauled off to London where he was put on trial for treason. The chief witness against him was his former servant – William Musgrave.

Dacre was acquitted but as with all things Tudor there is a sting in the tale.  Henry VIII fined him none-the-less. It is perhaps surprising therefore that in 1536 Dacre demonstrated his loyalty to Henry VIII throughout the Pilgrimage of Grace.  His feud with the Musgrave family was not so easily settled and it is known to have continued into the 1550s.

 William Cobbett, David Jardine (1809) Cobbett’s complete collection of state trials and proceedings for high treason and other crimes and misdemeanors from the earliest period to the present time  accessed from https://archive.org/details/acompletecollec03cobbgoog

http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/westminsterhall/architecture/early-history/

Westminster Hall 1097

 

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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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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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Rose Castle

rose castle 2.JPGHervey Fitzmaurice once owned the Manor of Dalston just south of Carlisle and with it, Rose Castle at Raughton Head, these days the location of several pleasant walks.

In 1186 Fitzmaurice managed to irritate Henry II who removed both items and kept them for himself. Eventually the Crown granted the property to the Bishop of Carlisle, Walter Mauclerk who also happened to be the Lord Treasurer, in 1230. He possible wanted to move from the previous official residence of the bishops at Linstock Castle on account of it being a bit too close for comfort to the action of the Scottish Wars of Independence. Of course it wasn’t long for Rose Castle also become a target – its history and its medieval architecture reflect the uncertain nature of border dwelling. Sixty-three bishops of Carlisle have used Rose Castle as their residence until the decision to relocate in 2009.

 

During the early stages of the castle’s development there was a motte and bailey but over time its appearance changed though it was probably still wooden when Edward I and his lady wife (Margaret of France) stayed there in 1300. Edward Bruce stayed there as well for three days – though not necessarily at the invitation of either the monarch or the bishop. Things must have been quite lively in 1314, the year of Bannockburn, because the Scots burned the place to the ground.  They returned the following year to lay siege to Carlisle but were repulsed by Sir Andrew de Harcla.

 

In 1336 Bishop Kirkby received his licence to crenellate- ie to fortify the building. Bishop Welton received a similar licence in 1335. It is thought that he built Pottinger’s Tower in the southwest corner of the range. It’s known as Pottinger’s Tower on account of the fact that someone called Pottinger hanged themselves in it rather than on account of the builder. It contained three rooms as well as the vaulted chamber at the bottom of the tower. Ultimately it would also house a wash house and a diary according to the nineteenth century history of Cumberland by William Hutchinson.

 

Another tower was built, or rebuilt, between 1400 and 1419 by Bishop Strickland – which is the building to the right of the picture. Strickland also got to grips with Penrith Castle Not to be outdone Bishop Bell built a further tower in 1488 and a fifth tower was built on the site by Bishop Kite in Tudor times (1522) and it also bore the name of its builder- it was next door to Pottinger’s tower and added an additional two living rooms to the complex. Evidently the bishops of Carlisle were keen on towers! By this time readers are probably thinking that either the bishops were a particularly warlike bunch or scaredy-cats cowering behind a variety of red stone towers whilst the parishioners of their diocese got on with the business of reiving and being reived. In actual fact it is thought that the bishops wanted to improve the amenities of their des res and have a little bit of privacy.

 

As is the way of these things events took a turn for the worse with the English Civil War. The Parliamentarians occupied it twice and did rather a lot of damage. The medieval castle which by then was an irregular quadrangle bounded by a ditch needed a face lift. The parliamentarians ordered a survey which was carried out by 1650 at the latest.  It was noted that the castle was in “great decay.” During this time the bishop wasn’t in residence it was only upon the Restoration that Bishop Rainbow set about this by knocking down the south and east ranges of the tower and by renovating the west and north aspects of the castle – he had a bit of a job on his hands as records state the La Rose as the castle is sometimes known was uninhabitable..

 

And that was pretty much it until the Victorians got hold of it.

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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.

images-18

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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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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Geoffrey of Brittany – “son of perdition.”

Geoffrey2I’ve blogged about John’s brother Geoffrey in a much earlier post.  However, as I’m looking at John I thought it would be useful to reappraise myself of his siblings. Geoffrey Plantagenet was the fourth son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (third surviving son). Henry’s problem was that he had too many sons to provide for when they grew to maturity. Geoffrey’s oldest surviving brother Henry was to have the lands that belonged to Henry – the patrimony- so Anjou, Maine, Normandy and England. Richard, the second surviving son, was to have his mother’s inheritance – Aquitaine. Henry also had plans for Geoffrey.

Henry, being an astute sort of monarch and land-grabber, arranged a marriage between Geoffrey and Constance of Brittany. Constance was, conveniently for Henry, the only child of Conan IV, Duke of Brittany. Her mother Margaret of Huntingdon was William the Lion’s sister. The problem for Conan was that he was also the Earl of Richmond and the Britons were a pretty bolshie lot so needed a firm hand. In short, Conan needed Henry more than Henry needed him. Henry claimed to be Brittany’s overlord and Conan was required to make his vassals see sense. The Bretons disagreed. Henry simply went to war and won in 1169 forcing Conan to abdicate and the Bretons to accept eight-year-old Geoffrey as the new Count by virtue of being Constance’s spouse. They ultimately married in 1181 when she was twenty-one.

Hapless Conan died in 1171. Geoffrey, aged all of eleven-years-old, became not only Count of Brittany but also Earl of Richmond. Henry, naturally, wielded all the power until his son came of age.  The problem was that Henry II was not good at giving up power once it was in his grasp.

This fermented resentment as Young Henry, Richard and Geoffrey grew older. It was all very well having titles but they wanted power as well. In 1173 when Geoffrey had reached the ripe old age of fifteen he rebelled against his father along with his brothers. Ironically it was little brother John who triggered the family row. Henry sought to provide territory for his youngest son and granted John three castles in Young Henry’s territory to demonstrate that John had property to bring to a proposed marriage. Young Henry was furious, refused to yield the castles, demanded to be allowed to rule one of the territories that he would one day inherit and took himself off to the French court where his brothers joined him.  Eleanor attempted to join her sons but was caught and found herself locked up for many years- though she was allowed to come to court for Christmas more often than not.

The following year,1174, Geoffrey and his father were reconciled, only for him to fall out in 1183 with his brother Richard over who should control Aquitaine. The Young King having died. Henry rearranged the family assets moving Richard up the pecking order to receive the patrimony and young John to receive Aquitaine. Presumably Geoffrey was left out of the equation because Brittany was his through marriage – to give Geoffrey any of the other lands would have left John as ‘Lackland’ still.  Richard wasn’t keen on handing over Aquitaine having won over his vassals by an uncompromising mix of determined presence in the duchy and brute force. Geoffrey for reasons best known to himself sided with teen-age John and provided an army to try and take Aquitaine from Richard by force.  The next thing that he knew Richard was invading Brittany rather effectively.   Peace was eventually re-established with a public kiss of peace and Geoffrey briefly found himself in his father’s good books being left in charge of Normandy for a while both that it lasted.  Henry II didn’t let any of his sons step into the Young King’s shoes.  After that Geoffrey allied himself with the King of France against his father and his brother – the Plantagenets were not a model for a happy family at this time.

Geoffrey’s relationship with his father was not a good one but he wasn’t overly popular with anyone else for that matter – Roger of Howden described him as a “son of perdition.” Roger was one of Henry II’s clerks and he was also one of the king’s Justices of the Forest – so not altogether unbiased in his approach. Gerald of Wales commented on Geoffrey’s ‘readiness to deceive others.’ And then proceeded with a rather complete character assassination:

He has more aloes than honey in him; his tongue is smoother than oil; his sweet and persuasive eloquence has enabled him to dissolve the firmest alliances and his powers of language to throw two kingdoms into confusion.”

 

It has been suggested that one of the reasons for Geoffrey’s increasing animosity towards his father and Richard was that Henry II didn’t identify Geoffrey as his heir. The French king, Philip Augustus, made him a senschal of France, encouraged Geoffrey in his discontent – he’d gone to Paris in 1179 to witness Phillip’s coronation and to give homage to the French king.

On 19th August 1186 Geoffrey was in Paris for a tournament – and possibly some heavy duty plotting against his family- when there was a tragic accident and he was trampled to death although some chroniclers also mention a stomach ailment and one chronicler had Geoffrey being struck down by heart failure after daring to conspire against his father.

Geoffrey and Constance had three children. Eleanor who became known as the Fair Maid of Brittany; Matilda who died before the age of five and an heir called Arthur who was born posthumously in 1187. Arthur, being the son of John’s older brother, had a better claim to the throne than John did.  England did not have a salic law so in theory Eleanor also had a strong claim to the throne.  It was for this reason that John held her captive throughout his reign as any marriage would have created a contender to his throne.

https://archive.org/stream/annalsofrogerdeh01hoveuoft/annalsofrogerdeh01hoveuoft_djvu.txt

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King John’s women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Church, S.D.  King John: New Interpretations

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Of Kings and family ties…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hamelin de Warenne

DSCN6677Hamelin was an illegitimate son of Geoffrey of Anjou born in approximately 1129, so half-brother of Henry II.  He was married by order of the king to Isabella de Warenne, in her own right Countess of Surrey.  She was the only surviving child of the third earl who’d died whilst he was on crusade.  He first husband was the fourth earl.  It just so happened that Isabelle’s husband was King Stephen’s son William of  Blois – a real strategy to bring all that lovely land and loot into the family orbit.  William must have been quite happy with the arrangement because he didn’t bat an eyelid when his father disinherits shim and made Henry Fitzempress, the son of his cousin Matilda, the heir to the throne and in so doing brought the years of anarchy and civil war to a conclusion.  William who was several years younger than Isabel served Henry II until his death in 1159.

Henry II cast his eyes over all of Isabel’s considerable charms (that’ll be all those Yorkshire estates) and decided that they ought to be kept in the family.  Enter Hamelin. After the marriage, in 1164, he was recognized as Earl of Warenne – or the fifth Earl of Surrey. Hamelin, unusually, took the name of his wealthy bride.  Hamelin remained loyal throughout his life to his brother even though ultimately he did not agree with the end that befell Thomas Becket especially as he came to believe in the archbishop’s saintliness. He was supposed to have been cured of an eye problem by the cleric.  He went with his niece Joan to Sicily when she married its king and his nephew, Richard the Lionheart, recognised his uncle’s trustworthiness when he became co-regent with William Longchamp whilst Richard was away on crusade and then found himself having to count the gold in order to ransom his nephew from the clutches of his enemies.

The de Warenne’s held lands across Yorkshire and it was Hamelin who built Conisborough Castle near Doncaster around about 1180.

 

His eldest son, William went on to marry William Marshal’s daughter Matilda who was at that time the widow of Hugh Bigod. One of Hamelin and Isabella’s daughter apparently got a little too close for comfort to her royal cousin Prince John, who had a reputation for liking the ladies, and bore him a child.

 

 

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