Tag Archives: Henry II

Henry II, Richard de Lucy and three pike.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Initial letter of Carlisle Charter showing Sir Andrew de Harcla

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

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

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

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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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Mary, Abbess of Romsey

218px-Stepan_BloisThe County History of Hampshire declares that:

 

Mary, daughter of King Stephen, became abbess here (of Romsey) about 1160, and it was her uncle, Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester (1129-71), who was probably the builder of the greater part of Romsey Abbey as it now stands. Abbess Mary in 1160 left her monastery to become the wife of Matthew, son of Theodoric, Earl of Flanders. By him she had two daughters, but was afterwards separated from her husband. According to Matthew Paris this separation was brought about by the censure of the Church, and she returned in penitence to Romsey.

 

The Victorian writer of the County History was being a tad on the coy side in his description of Mary’s departure from Romsey. She was abducted by her distant cousin Matthew who was also a cousin of Henry II. She’d been a nun for over a decade, and had been the abbess since 1155, when her brother, William of Boulogne, died. He’d been married to Isabella de Warenne who ended up married to Henry II’s illegitimate half-brother Hamlyn. Unfortunately Mary’s other brother Eustace was also dead. This meant that the abbess became a very wealthy countess and it’s a well-known fact that being an unmarried countess makes you fair game even, apparently, if you’re living a cloistered life at the time.

 

Pope Alexander III was not amused. Letters were exchanged. Meanwhile Matthew became the Count of Boulogne and two daughters, Ida and Mathilde, were born from the union. Mary was eventually able to return to the monastic life when the Catholic Church annulled her marriage.

 

Once again history does not provide us with the complete truth of proceedings let alone Mary’s view of events and it certainly doesn’t provide us with a picture of the unfortunate abbess for which reason this post has an image of Mary’s father King Stephen. Mary’s mother was Mathilde of Boulogne from when the title that caused all the problems originated.

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Princess Joan of Kent

joan of kentJoan of Kent was the daughter of Prince Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent and his wife Margaret Wake; wife of the Black Prince and mother to King Richard II.  She is unusual in that on the death of her brother, the 3rd Earl of Kent and 4th Baron Wake, Joan inherited the titles in her own right.

She may well be named after her maternal grandmother who was Princess Joan, King John’s illegitimate daughter who married Llewelyn the Great of Gwynedd.  Just to add to the family tangle, Princess Joan was also cousin to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.  And Roger Mortimer was the man who was Queen Isabella’s lover and the man responsible for the judicial execution of Joan of Kent’s father who had continued to be loyal to the deposed Edward II (Kent’s half brother).  Once the usurping Earl of March had been done away with and Edward III assumed control of the throne he arranged for Joan and her sister to come to court.  The two girls were raised alongside his own children.  So Joan grew up with the Black Prince.  Eventually Joan became Edward III’s ward.

 

Clearly Joan was an important member of the royal family.  Whoever won her hand in marriage would gain many points in the medieval power game.  Joan had other ideas.  She fell in love with Sir Thomas Holland.  She was twelve.  He was twenty-six. His grandmother was Ela Longespee whose grandfather was the Fist Earl of Salisbury and the illegitimate son of Henry II which puts a whole new meaning on the saying ‘keep it in the family.’  Suffice it to say Thomas Holland wasn’t someone of the make.  His ancestry was as illustrious as that of Joan.

 

The problem was that because the pair had run away to get married it wasn’t strictly legal though very romantic.  Joan, and indeed Thomas, required the king’s consent to get married.  Her guardians at the time wanted Joan to marry their son Sir Thomas Montague, who was the second Earl of Salisbury.  They didn’t see Joan’s marriage to Thomas as a problem.  They simply waited for him to leave the country to go on crusade and then forced Joan to marry their son. In 1341 Holland returned home and wasn’t terribly pleased to discover that his wife was married to another man.  Undeterred he set about winning fame in France in what was to become the Hundred Years War as a military commander and then set about regaining Joan.  Salisbury put up a fight but in the end Pope Clement VI annulled Joan’s marriage to Salisbury.

 

Joan’s firstborn son Thomas Holland who became the Earl of Kent was an ancestor of Katherine Parr which is definitely an unexpected connection – though given the medieval penchant for familial marriages it probably shouldn’t be quite such a surprise. Another son married one of John of Gaunt’s daughters. And yet another child was an ancestor of Lady Jane Grey.  Sir Thomas died in 1360 leaving Joan a rich widow.  She was eventually buried beside her first husband.

 

As well as being wealthy and well-connected with the royal family Joan was also one of the beauties of her age.  She was known as ‘the fair maid of Kent’. Many offers of marriage were made.  Joan turned them all down.  According to one version of events, one of the Black Prince’s men asked  Edward to intercede with Joan on his behalf.  Edward found himself falling in love with his childhood companion.  They were cousins within the degree prohibited by the church so before they could marry a papal dispensation was required.  On her marriage she became the first Princess of Wales.

When she became the Queen Mother her life continued to be the stuff of historical novels and mini-series.  She was so loved by the people of England that when she encountered Wat Tyler and his men at Blackheath they let her pass unharmed with an escort (you can’t help wondering who let such an important personage as the king’s mother meander into the path of revolting peasants?).  In any event the tale demonstrates that as well as being regarded in the light of national treasure she was also conventionally religious.  She was returning from pilgrimage to Canterbury when her path crossed with that of Wat Tyler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard de Clare- Strongbow

Richard was born sometime around 1130.  He inherited his father’s estates in 1149 becoming Earl of Pembroke and Strigul but was rather extravagant and fell out of favour with King Henry II.  So he had to go and seek his fortune.  He did this when he went to Ireland to help Dermot MacMurrough make his claim to the kingdom of Leinster.

clare2

Dermot showered Richard with lands and the hand of his daughter Eva which rang alarm bells with King Henry as Richard was looking increasingly powerful and ordered that there should be no further campaigning in Ireland until he was present but de Clare had his army and went to Normandy to gain the approval of Henry II which was given albeit reluctantly. It was a gamble but one which paid dividends for de Clare. He went on to capture Dublin and on Dermot’s death, Strongbow took the throne of Leinster and began a campaign against the Irish with the assistance of Raymond le Gros who eventually became Strongbow’s brother-in-law.  Henry, as might be expected, was not terribly amused by Richard de Clare’s elevation and Richard hurried to England to offer his homage and protestations of loyalty to the king.  Henry II accepted Richard’s oath and also Dublin as well as the other seaports that Richard had captured during his campaign.

Strongbow may have had a reputation but the Irish continued to make life difficult for him  even when Henry II recognised his role in Ireland and gave him an official title. By 1177 he was dead as a result of an on-going illness having established himself as a man of power.  His son Gilbert died eight years later without attaining his majority. Strongbow’s daughter, Isabel, became the wife of William Marshall.

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When history becomes mystery – or perhaps its the other way round. A brief look at Robin Hood.

P2101335So much for a catchy title!  Before we begin I need to admit that Robin Hood is my all time hero.  My father used to read me the tale of Robin Hood, at my request, again and again.  I visited Nottingham when I was seven and was disappointed with the castle in the way that only a seven-year-old can be.  I was expecting Hollywood turrets, battlements and assorted drawbridges.  Even worse, so far as fair Nottingham was concerned, what the bombing raids of Luftwaffe didn’t destroy, the city planners had mangled.  I can still remember my Dad going round the one way system getting progressively more irritated.  Things only really got better when we arrived in Sherwood Forest and we went in search of the Major Oak.  But enough of my personal history – just be aware that I have a not altogether unbiased viewpoint as to whether Robin existed or not.

Legend, film versions at any rate, places  Robin Hood and his merry band firmly in the reign of Good King Richard and Bad King John.  Other versions place him in the reign of Henry III, possibly dying with Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham.

In some respects it doesn’t really matter.  The fact is that The Lyttell Geste of Robin Hood was set in print by William Caxton.  This is a version of an oral tradition that must have been handed down over the generations. And here its worth a moment’s digression. If we look at the ballads of the border reivers such as the tale of Kinmont Willie it is possible to see where history has become embroidered by the needs of a good story and the formula of the  ballad.  There’s also a little bit of a hint that Sir Walter Scott may have tidied the whole thing up somewhat.  It is possible to see a sixteenth century historical event turning into a story.  The same, perhaps, can be said for Robin Hood excepting the fact that there isn’t anywhere near as much paper based evidence for Robin Hood as there is for William Armstrong of Kinmont who took for himself rather than anyone else irrelevant of the wealth of his victims but still seems to have managed to stay one step ahead of the law.  And yes, Sir Walter Scott did embroider the Robin Hood story – who could forget Ivanhoe?

There is, however, a faint trace of a historical paper trail for the man in green.  The Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield; the Contrarient Rolls of King Edward II and the Household Expenses Account of Edward II reveal an archer by the name of Robin Hood. The key thing is though, not whether he existed or was fabricated by disgruntled over-taxed peasants, but that he became a national hero – and was sung about in English.  Robin reflects the fact that during the Plantagenet period the English were beginning to get a sense of themselves as a nation.  In part, this was because King John lost his continental empire and was forced to concentrate on England – not that the barons were terribly grateful for the favour. The accession of Henry III, the first child monarch in English history, saw a time of some weakness for the monarchy and the reissue of Magna Carta; the concept of shared power (well shared if you were a baron); a rising group of free men and a somewhat fairer legal system.  It is perhaps not surprising then that Robin’s story should be associated with a period in history when the English were beginning to evolve as a nation.

Of course, the Black Death killing one-third of the British population between 1349-50 helped matters along rather nicely as the English-speaking hoi-poloi suddenly found that they had more economic clout than previously but the fact that  English was reinstated in schools that same year, although the universities of Oxford and Cambridge continued to use Latin, reflects the growing importance of the English language and the changing perspectives of the ruling classes.  They were beginning to see themselves as English rather than Norman.  In 1362 English replaced French as the language of law by the Statutes of Pleading but records continued to be kept in Latin and English was used in Parliament for the first time.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to re-watch Errol Flynn being heroic in the green wood. If you want to find out more about the history of Edwinstowe where Robin Hood is supposed to have married Maid Marian, click on the image at the beginning.  It will take you to an article I wrote and had published a couple of years ago.  You might be surprised to discover that even Henry II gets in on the act as well.

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Filed under Development of English, Kings of England, Legends, The Plantagenets