Joan, Lady of Wales

siwanJoan was the natural daughter of King John. She is known as Joanna, Joan of Wales, Lady of Wales or Siwan to the Welsh.

She was born in about 1191 but history isn’t entirely sure who her mother was. It may have been Clemence Pinel but this information is gleaned from a sentence in the Tewkesbury Annals. Or it may have been Clemence wife of Nicholas de Verdun. This later is circumstantial evidence based on Henry III placing his niece in Clemence de Verdun’s care (http://plantagenesta.livejournal.com/53309.html)

We do know that Joan was brought up in Normandy and that in 1205 John arranged her marriage to Llywelyn the Great. This according to Morris was a mark of John’s favour to the Welsh prince. The pair were married the following year in Chester when Joan was fifteen. Joan bore at least one son and one daughter to Llywelyn – maybe more.

The marriage was certainly important for the peace of Wales. In 1210 there was a bit of a misunderstanding with Llywelyn having a bit of a rebellion whilst his father-in-law was in Ireland. The result was that John collected men and resources and proceeded to invade North Wales where his men promptly began to starve. John had to withdraw- presumably covered in embarrassment. He returned later in the year – and burned Bangor.

Joan was sent to have a chat with her father. Everything East of Conwy was handed over to John along with thirty hostages but Llywelyn remained at liberty and in possession of Snowdonia.

Inevitably the peace was short-lived which wasn’t terribly good news if you happened to be one of the thirty hostages. By 1212 open warfare was raging along the Welsh border. Chroniclers make it clear that John arrived in Nottingham on the 14 August where he made himself at home by having twenty-eight of the Welsh hostages hanged on account of the failings of their countrymen. Then he sat down for a meal – as you do.

If coffee had been available it would have been at about the coffee and mint stage of the meal that a letter arrived from Joan warning her father that there were traitors in the midst of his court and that his life was in danger if he went ahead with his planned invasion of Wales. In the event of a battle he would have a nasty ‘accident’. This was the second note of the evening. The first one had arrived shortly before from the King of Scotland containing a similar message.

Rumour ran a-mock. The chroniclers of the time became carried away by every bit of gossip available from the rape of the queen to invasion by the French. Sticking to facts- John cancelled his invasion of Wales; ensured the safety of four-year-old Prince Henry; sent all his barons home and then sent politely worded notes to the men he suspected demanding hostages flushing out two conspirators in the process.

In April 1226 Joan obtained a papal decree from Pope Honorius III, declaring her legitimate on the basis that her parents had not been married to others at the time of her birth. This did not give her a claim to the throne.

Unfortunately this respectability, which came in part from her impact in keeping the peace between Wales and England, came to rather an abrupt end in 1230. Joan was caught alone in her bedroom with William de Braose, 10th Baron of Abergevenny, a Norman lord.  Bad enough to be found in a compromising position but De Braose was hated by the Welsh, who called him Black William.

De Braose had been captured by the Welsh in 1228 and then ransomed. Llywelyn and de Braose had used the time to arrange the marriage of de Braose’s daughter Isabella to Llywelyn’s only legitimate son and heir, Dafydd. So when William visited during Easter 1230 there were no raised eyebrows. However, when William turned up in Joan’s bedroom in the dead of night – more than eyebrows were raised. Llywelyn raised a gibbet in his backyard and strung de Braose up. It didn’t stop the pre-arranged wedding going ahead in 1231 – you couldn’t make it up.

Joan was locked up for twelve months but was forgiven and reinstated. She died seven years after her unfortunate interlude with de Braose and was much mourned by Llywelyn who died in 1240 having founded a Friary in Llanfaes in Joan’s memory.

The friary was dissolved along with all the other monastic foundations in England and Wales by Henry VIII and Joan’s burial place was lost – her stone coffin was rediscovered being used as a horse trough. Today it can be seen in Beaumaris Church.

Joan appears largely in footnotes of books pertaining to the men in her life and no doubt had she not been married to Llywelyn we would know even less about her.  As is often the way when the truth is not known fiction is given freer reign.  Sharon Kay Penman’s book Here Be Dragons develops Joan’s story and that’s where I first encountered her.

joan03

Morris, Marc. (2015) King John- Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta. London: Penguin

Warren, W.L. (1978) King John. London: Methuen

Joan Plantagenet, Queen Consort of Scotland

JoanEnglandPrincess Joan was the eldest legitimate daughter of King John and Isabella of Angouleme was born in 1210. She was originally destined to marry Hugh of Lusignan. This was politically tactful as Joan’s mother Isabella should have married Hugh but John virtually stole the bride – ensuring war with France and a deeply unpopular Queen of England.

On John’s death Isabella returned to Angouleme and naturally wanted to see her daughter who was being raised in the court of Hugh X. Somehow or other Isabella ended up married to Hugh and Joan became a hostage to the return of Isabella’s dower. The Regency Council of Henry III were not very happy that Isabella had married without their permission but a princess in the hand is worth a volatile queen dowager on the loose so Isabella got her dower back and England received it’s princess which was just as well because the council were already in mid negotiation for another marriage.

Joan’s new marriage was negotiated on a promise made as early as 1209 by King John to William of Scotland that there should be a royal wedding of a Plantagenet princess to the Scottish heir to the throne- Alexander. If Joan had not been retrieved, Henry III’s other sister Isabelle would have been in the frame to become Queen of Scotland. There had also been some suggestion that a Scottish princess might have travelled south. However, the originally negotiations begun by King John had become somewhat unravelled during the Baron’s War and it probably didn’t help that Magna Carta safeguarded the rights of the Scottish king – a fact which John ignored. After John’s death Henry III’s regency council slowly regained order once more. In 1217 Alexander, now King Alexander II of Scotland made his terms with the English. He kept hold of Tynedale and there would be a royal marriage to help cement the peace. Joan and Alexander were married in 1221 in York Minster. There was a thirteen-year age gap between the happy couple – Joan being all of ten-years-old at the time.

Scotland was not a peaceful location. Alexander’s hold on the throne was threatened by a number of families with claims dating to the reign of Duncan II. One of these families – the MacWilliams- rose in rebellion once to often. It resulted in the family being hunted down – the youngest member of the family a baby girl was to have her brains dashed out on the market cross at Forfar in 1230.

The royal marriage was not without its difficulties either. Joan did not arrive laden down with loot. Alexander claimed that Joan should have come with Northumbria. The English weren’t having any of it and for the first ten years of their marriage Joan was financially dependent upon her husband. It was only in later years that Henry III gave his sister several substantial manors for life so that she had an income which didn’t go into Alexander’s coffers – but the Scots didn’t get Northumbria which caused a fair amount of grumbling and bad feeling between the brothers-in-law.

The other problem was that Joan failed to do what queens were expected to do – she did not produce an heir.

Joan died, childless, in 1238 at the age of twenty-eight during a visit to England. She’d gone on pilgrimage to Canterbury, spent Christmas at her brother’s court and then began to make plans to return to Scotland in later January 1238. Before she could do so she became ill and died. Mathew Paris noted in his chronicle that it was inappropriate for Joan to spend so much time away form Scotland – to modern eyes it looks as though Joan was not particularly happy in her marriage- but that is speculation and has nothing to do with the medieval concept of royal matrimony.

She was buried in Tarrant Crawford Abbey, Dorset rather than in Scotland by her own wish as stated in her will. Nothing remains thanks to the dissolution of the monasteries.

Alexander II died ten years later having married Marie de Coucy who duly presented him with a bouncing baby boy who was to become Alexander III.

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

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.

King John

king_john_stag_3231934bThe Victorians did not like King John, medieval chroniclers weren’t that keen on him and Walt Disney portrayed him as a lion who sucked his thumb. Mathew Paris, one of the medieval writers, proclaimed that ‘Hell would be befouled’ by John’s presence.

So what did John do so wrong? First of all he spent much more time in England than previous kings. It wasn’t because he liked the scenery or the people. It was because he’d lost his father’s empire. At the start of his reign in 1199 he arrived at an agreement with King Philip II of France, stopped a war that King Richard had been winning and accepted Philip’s overlordship – and, ultimately, he handed over the Lionheart’s magnificent fortress at Chinon without so much as a quibble. This earned John the nickname Soft Sword. He then managed to loose Normandy – which was careless and put his nobility in a difficult position as most of them owned property in what had suddenly become France as well as in England. It was impossible to do homage to both monarchs so they had to choose – French or English. Most of them found a way round it by handing part of their land over to a son sooner rather than later so that the estate at least stayed in the family. Medieval kings were supposed to win wars not hand over their best fortresses on a platter to their enemies or make life more difficult than necessary for everybody else.

In an age of brutality John excelled. He had people blinded, starved and brutally executed left, right and centre. He is even purported to be the only King of England who has actually murdered someone in person with his own hands. That person, his nephew Arthur-was the son of his eldest brother and who had a better claim to the throne than John- was apparently killed by John in a drunken rage and then thrown into the Seine. This is, of course, all here say. No one in his or her right mind would add that juicy little bit of information to a chronicle.

However, Matilda or Maud (depending upon your frame of mind) de Braose was the wife of William de Braose. He was one of King John’s favourites. In 1208 the two men had a bit of a disagreement. William owed John five thousand marks and John demanded William’s grandsons as hostages. Matilda refused to part with them saying very loudly and clearly that she would not give her boys to the man who’d murdered his own nephew. Matilda and her oldest son ended up in a dungeon in Corfe Castle where they were deliberately starved to death. In later years, when John realised that his time was up he allowed a kinswoman of the murder victims to become a nun in order to pray for the souls of Maud and her son. Draw your own conclusions.

John’s personality wasn’t what you might call winning either. All the Plantagenets seem to have been prone to temper tantrums. Henry II is reported to have rolled around on the floor in his rages. John’s moments of irritation were exacerbated by his drunkenness. He had numerous mistresses, which in itself wasn’t unusual for Norman or Plantagenet kings, but he didn’t necessarily get the lady’s agreement first and he made a habit of making off with his barons’ wives and daughters which was tactless to put it mildly. Eustace de Vesci tried to save his wife from John’s attentions by putting a servant in John’s bed instead of his wife. John was not pleased but then neither was Eustace and it might go some way towards explaining why Eustace would eventually rebel against John. Famously one woman promised the king two hundred chickens if she could just be allowed to spend one night with her husband. In addition, he was spiteful and vindictive.   It is alleged that one woman who turned down his advances was sent a poisoned egg.  He thought nothing of having people dragged to their deaths behind horses and having priests wrapped up in leaden copes if they dared to disagree with him.

The thing that really ensured that history knows all John’s character flaws was his attitude to the Church. He hunted on fast days, ate meat on Fridays and once told a bishop to keep his sermon short, as he wanted to eat his dinner. To cap it all he got England excommunicated in 1208 when he refused to accept Simon Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. For five years there were no masses, baptisms or funeral rites. In an age where most people were very concerned abut their immortal souls it spelled disaster. John, on the other hand, had a fine old time stealing Church property and wealth. Ultimately the Pope made him give it back but it is easy to see how monastic chroniclers wouldn’t have spared John’s blushes. One of them, known to be a bit wild in his story telling, even suggests that John spent three months in 1215 as a pirate.

What John really excelled at was administration and administering justice. The former ensured that the system of taxation worked very efficiently. He imposed eye-watering death duties; taxes on widows who didn’t wish to remarry; taxes on heiresses and taxes on personal property that were applied quite often by the mercenaries he’d appointed to positions of power. He became very, very, wealthy and his people became very, very, hacked off. The Jewish population were particularly scared. John exhorted additional taxation from them and was known to use torture to get even more money.

Ironically, assuming you hadn’t been taxed out of existence and you didn’t have a pretty daughter or wife the smaller landowners got a better deal out of John than they had from previous kings because John possessed a detailed knowledge of the law, wanted to ensure that everyone understood Royal Justice was the ultimate justice within the country and because he travelled so widely administering it. Poor men could appeal to the king and ask for a trial by jury in a way that the barons couldn’t if they’d received a raw deal from their overlord. John was far too busy using the legal system to squeeze the great and powerful for every penny they had in any case – so if he found against the great magnates he could levy huge fines upon them.

No wonder that in 1215 the Barons rose up and forced John to sign Magna Carta. Little did they realise it was all going to get much worse in very short order.

Seward, Desmond. (2014). The Demon’s Brood. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd

http://magnacarta.cmp.uea.ac.uk/read/itinerary

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/11671441/King-John-the-most-evil-monarch-in-Britains-history.html

Edwin’s Place

KSCN0001King Edwin’s kingdom stretched from Edinburgh – Edwin’s Town- to the River Trent.   This was the Kingdom of Northumbria He was accepted as the High King or Bretwalda.  Following his marriage to Ethelburga of Kent (daughter of Ethelbert) in AD 627 he became Britain’s second Christian king. Bede described Edwin  as more powerful than any earlier king and as time passed he extended his kingdom to the Isle of Man and Anglesey.

His invasion of North Wales resulted in Cadwallada of Wales and Penda of Mercia forming an alliance against him and invading his kingdom in 633.  He and two of his sons were killed at the Battle of Heathfield  which could be near Cuckney or alternatively at Hatfield near Doncaster – though it would be unlikely for the next part of the story to be true if this were the case.

Edwin’s comrades carried his body from the scene of the battle and buried it in the forest.  They carried his head back to St Peter’s in York., though another version has Cadwallada displaying Edwin’s head on the ramparts of York’s city walls following a veritable  Saxon-killing spree.  In either event the battle was bloody and decisive.

 

Eventually it was decided that Edwin’s body should be buried in Whitby Abbey where his niece St Hilda was abbess.  By that time people were calling him a saint.  The spot where his body had been buried was deemed a holy place and a wooden chapel built on the site.  This became known as the ‘place of Edwin’ or Edwinstowe.

Edwinstowe was part of the royal manor of  Mansfield in 1066.  Inevitably, given the Norman kings love of hunting the land around Mansfield and Edwinstowe became part of a royal forest.  The Domesday Book of 1086 records the church, a priest and four bordars – these were essentially slaves working the priest’s land.  Twenty years later there was even less land being cultivated.

 

In later times King John, who had a hunting lodge at Ollerton, paid a priest to live in a nearby chantry to say prayers for his soul and for the souls of the people he had wronged.

The local people probably felt they ought to have been included in the number as they were bound by the strict forest laws that protected the timber and the game of royal forests.   Those caught breaking the law were taken before the Forest Court or Eyre which was held every six or seven weeks.  More serious offences were tried at the Nottingham Eyre.

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.

King John and St Wolstan

king john1According to Roger of Wendover, as King John lay dying he commended his body and soul to God and St Wolstan. Wolstan was the Saxon Archbishop of Worcester, consecrated in 1062, who remained in post after the Norman Conquest.  Legend says he was called upon to resign his bishopric but lay his crozier upon the shrine Edward the Confessor in Westminster from whom he’d gained his bishopric.  No one could move the crozier except for Wolstan.  This was taken as a sign that the devoted, but not especially learned priest, should retain his see. king john It is hard to find a rationale for King John’s appreciation of Wolstan – who incidentally was canonised during John’s reign. Certainly chroniclers do not record a lifetime of prayer on John’s lips.  Perhaps John admired a man who overcame his temptations and turned aside from ambition but who still ended his life as a bishop.  Whatever the reasons, John was drawn to St Wolstan.  He visited Wolstan’s shrine at Worcester twice – once in 1207 and again in 1214.  He may have visited more often.  He came to Worcester to negotiate with the Welsh and also to hunt in nearby forests. John asked to be buried next to his favourite saint which is why he lies in Worcester Cathedral, as does Prince Arthur (Henry VIII’s elder brother).  The cathedral library contains John’s will and one of his thumb bone’s in its collection.

Richard the Lionheart – King of England- preparing for crusade.

On the 3rd September 1189 King Richard was crowned in Westminster Abbey.  That autumn he began to gather the resources he required for his crusade and put into places measures that would keep his kingdom secure, he hoped, in his absence.  At home he needed to decide who would be the de facto regents in his absence, secure the Welsh Marches, keep the Scots quiet and his brother John and his half-brother Geoffrey and resolve the ongoing dispute between Church and State as to issues such as benefit of the clergy.  He also needed cash to buy ships, weapons, men and food.

 

With those ends in mind he levied taxes, sold off royal estates and castles.  He is supposed to have said that he would have sold London if he could have found someone to buy it.

He appointed four new bishops including his brother Geoffrey who was already Bishop of Lincoln but who had not been ordained.  Richard made him Archbishop of York and ensured that he was priested. Geoffrey had to be carried protesting to the ordination.  Henry II’s illegitimate son was the only one who’d remained loyal to Henry throughout his life and rumour speculated that he saw no reason why illegitimacy should prevent him from seizing the crown.  Whatever the truth Richard’s swift actions ensured that Geoffrey was no longer a contender for the throne.  Prince John was Lackland no longer.  Richard showered him with lands and titles as well as the rich heiress Isabella of Gloucester in an attempt to keep John content.  Just before he set off on crusade, Richard required both his brothers to swear a solemn oath that they would not set foot on English soil for the next three years.  As a further disincentive to John he also named his young nephew Arthur of Brittany as his heir.

Arthur was the son of Richard and John’s legitimate brother Geoffrey who had been made Count of Brittany by their father but who had died during one of the sons intermittent rebellions at the court King Philip of France during a jousting tournament.

Richard also ensured that there were strong regents in place.  He appointed Hugh, Bishop of Durham and following the death of the Earl of Essex his chancellor William Longchamp who was also the Bishop of Ely.  Richard had barely set sail for Sicily on the 4th July 1190 en route to Outremer and the Third Crusade when John, disgruntled by Richard’s choice of regents, started to plot against him.

One thing Richard did not do was to marry the Princess Alys to whom he’d been engaged since 1169.  This fact was one of many that caused the relationship between Richard and King Philip of France to deteriorate.  The atmosphere between the two kings soured even further upon Richard’s arrival in Sicily.

Berengaria of Navarre

berengaria_tombDaughter of Sancho the Wise of Navarre, Berengaria was related to the royalty of Spain, England and France.

She was brought from Navarre to Sicily by her future mother-in-law, Eleanor of Aquitaine, in 1190 to marry King Richard I of England.  She was in her twenties at the time.

Richard was in Sicily on his way to the Holy Land to join with the Third Crusade having taken the cross in 1187.  He had been prevented from fulfilling his vow because of a Plantagenet power struggle with his father King Henry II and younger brother Prince John over control of Aquitaine.  His ally in his rebellion against his father was the French King Philip but by the time Berengaria arrived on the scene relations were souring between the two monarchs, not least because Philip expected Richard to marry the french princess Alys, a bride-to-be of some twenty years.  Unfortunately, Philip’s half-sister was an unsuitable match in Richard’s eye – not least because she had been Henry II’s mistress, not that this stopped Philip from pocketing some 10,000 marks in compensation.

Berengaria accompanied Richard and Richard’s widowed sister Queen Joanna of Sicily to the Holy Land.  Before their ship could reach Outremer it was separated from the main fleet and the royal women were ship wrecked off Cyprus.  The ruler of Cyprus, Isaac Comnenus, whose only redeeming feature seems to have been the love he bore his daughter, attempted to take them hostage.  This resulted in Richard leading an attack on Cyprus and capturing the island in less than a month.  As well as demonstrating his prowess in battle, Richard also captured a useful staging post.  Berengaria and Richard were married in May 1191 at Limassol. Berengaria was also crowned at this time and Richard gave her dower rights to all territories in Gascony south of the River Garonne.  The marriage had been delayed thus far because of it being Lent.

Why marry Berengaria?  Richard was the Duke of Aquitaine before he became King of England.  An alliance with Navarre went some way to off setting the expanding power of Castille and Count Raymond of Toulouse who was undoubtedly a thorn in Richard’s side.  It could also be that Berengaria’s reputation was spotless, a direct contrast to Alys.  Chroniclers of the time were generous in their praise of a queen who never came to England.  William of Newburgh described her as prudent and beautiful.

Both royal women accompanied Richard to the Holy Land.  They were at the Siege of Acre and remained there while the crusaders pushed in land and it was from here that they sailed when Richard and Saladin agreed their truce in 1191.  Berengaria and Joanna sailed to Brindisi and from there they travelled to Rome while Richard travelled home a different route and found himself a captive of the Duke of Austria.

Following his release, Berengaria did not join her husband.  The estrangement between husband and wife was never fully reconciled.  Perhaps because Richard needed to secure his empire from the machinations of Philip of France or possibly because Berengaria’s father was now dead and her brother, Sancho VII, had succeeded to the throne.  The Navarre alliance served Richard well during his crusading years.  Certainly he’d never bothered to demand the two castles that were Berengaria’s dowry.  Now however, Richard set about gaining what the marriage treaty guaranteed.  He even involved Pope Innocent III. The couple remained childless and spent very little time in one another’s company.  As he lay dying he sent for his mother, not his wife. Berengaria did not attend Richard’s funeral and remained in a small castle near Angers -in effect a penniless princess having failed to provide Richard with an heir.

Berengaria now entered into a long struggle with King John for her dower lands which were all in France.  In addition to her own dower lands in Gascony she was supposed to receive Eleanor’s lands in England, Normandy and Poitou after Eleanor’s death.  John, once named Lackland, was not forthcoming.   Fortunately, her sister, Blanche of Champagne took in the widowed queen and later King Philip gave her the city of Le Mans to rule. It was only in 1214 that John said he would settle the claim. This was, in part, due to Magna Carta and the fact that the Pope had excommunicated him but he never did pay what was owed.  King Henry III settled Berengaria’s claim when he came to the throne.

Berengaria lived in Le Mans and ruled there from 1204 until her death in 1230.  She ruled well and with determination, even tackling corrupt clerics.  The Bishop of Le Man once closed the door of the cathedral in her face as she arrived for a Palm Sunday service.  She also founded the abbey of L’Epau