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John FitzGilbert

king-stephenJohn FitzGilbert is best known as the father of William Marshall. The fitz at this stage in proceedings simply means that John was the son of Gilbert Gifford.  Gifford can be translated as “chubby cheeks” – though I’m not terribly sure how terrifying the name Gilbert Chubby-cheeks actually might be.

The marshal element of the equation is the family job. Both John and Gilbert before him held the office of marshal in the royal household. This meant that they were responsible for horses, hawks, whores and anything else that the royal household might need – think of the role of marshal as being similar to that of quartermaster. It also entailed keeping order and making sure that all the members of the household (the important ones anyway) had somewhere to sleep as well as transport as the court journeyed on its many progresses.

Gilbert and John had duelled with William de Hastings and Robert de Voiz in a trial by combat for the right to hold the post of marshal in the household of King Henry I . In 1130, when his father died, John paid 40 marks for his job as marshal – indicating that the perks were worth considerably more than the fee. He was about twenty-five years old. He married the daughter of Walter Pipard at about the same time.  Pipard was a minor Wiltshire landowner. John was taking the first steps towards extending his landholding and extending his sphere of influence.

King Henry I died on 1st December 1135 from a surfeit of lamphreys – although of course this was accompanied at the time by the rumour of poisoning. John FitzGilbert continued in his role as marshal for Henry I’s successor King Stephen for the next seven years. This might have caused John some disquiet because, of course, Henry had forced his barons to swear an oath to put his only remaining legitimate child – the Empress Matilda- on the throne. We don’t know how John felt about that and initially his own oath of loyalty was given to Stephen (pictured at the start of the post) who arrived in England ahead of Matilda and took control of the treasury as well as the crown.

 

We know that John went with Stephen to Normandy in 1137 and that John was sufficiently trusted by Stephen to be rewarded with custodianship of Marlbourgh Castle and Ludgershall. John held lands in the Kennet Valley in Wiltshire given to the family after the Conquest  including Hamstead Marshal and Tidworth. For John it meant more power within Wiltshire but it also led to increasing hostility with the earls of Salisbury who felt that Ludgershall belonged to them.

As the civil war between Stephen and Matilda gained momentum John fortified his castles and began to attack those men in his locale who supported Matilda. The chronicle of the Gestia Stephanie describes him as “the root of all evil.” It certainly appears that John was rather good at skirmishing, raiding and generally making a nuisance of himself. As with other warlords he doesn’t always appear to have been too bothered by which side he was attacking. The chronicle notes that he “had no time for the idea of peace.”  He was also known as a cunning opponent as can be demonstrated in the tale of  Robert fitz Hulbert.

Robert fitz Hulbert was a mercenary in the pay of Robert of Gloucester on behalf of the Empress Matilda.  In 1140 fitz Hulbert seems to have decided that the route to fortune lay in supporting neither Stephen nor Matilda. He approached John who had a bit of a reputation for doing his own fair share of looting and suggested that between them they could control John’s area of Wiltshire.  John appears to have invited Robert around to one of his fortified gaffs for a goblet of wine and to discuss the venture.  Robert somehow ended up in one of John’s less comfy dungeons prior to being sold to the earl of Gloucester for five hundred marks…definately cunning.

By 1141 John seems to have felt that the tide had turned away from Stephen. This was probably to do with Stephen’s capture at Lincoln and imprisonment in Bristol but it may also have had to do with the fact that Robert, earl of Gloucester (illegitimate half brother of Matilda) held extensive lands that marched with John’s. John switched sides. It should be pointed out that some barons and knights changed sides more times than they changed their socks – at least John only did it the once!

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle summed up the problem of King Stephen rather neatly:

When King Stephen came to England he held his council at Oxford, and there he took Roger, bishop of Salisbury, and Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, and the chancellor Roger, his nephews, and put them all in prison till they surrendered their castles. When the traitors understood that he was a mild man, and gentle and good, and did not exact the full penalties of the law, they perpetrated every enormity. They had done him homage, and sworn oaths, but they kept no pledge; all of them were perjured and their pledges nullified, for every powerful man built his castles and held them against him and they filled the country full of castles. 

No wonder the nineteen years of civil war came to be known as The Anarchy when Christ and all his apostles slept.

By May 1141 John can be found with Matilda and according to William Marshall’s biography saved the empress from capture that August during the rout of Winchester when Matilda’s siege was lifted by men loyal to Stephen. In truth it was Robert of Gloucester who fought a rear guard action at Winchester but it is undoubtedly true that John was fighting on the empress’s behalf at Wherwell Abbey with William D’Ypres when it was fired and John left for dead in the smouldering rubble. John survived the blaze but lost an eye when melted lead fell from the roof into his face.

As the year drew on, and John survived his injuries, it became clear that the feud with the earl of Salisbury had to be ended. John’s marriage to his first wife, Aline Pipard, was annulled. It was done in such a way that the two sons of this first marriage remained legitimate and there was no stain on Aline’s honour. She went on to marry Stephen de Gai who was the earl of Salisbury’s uncle. John then married the earl of Salisbury’s sister Sibylla in 1144. Not only did this bring peace between the two families (if for no one else in the area) but it meant that John elevated his social status once more and as the Empress Matilda’s position strengthened John’s name can be found on assorted charters of the period.  John and Patrick of Salisbury seemed to have buried their differences given that the chroniclers of the period paint a picture of Wiltshire under the brother-in-laws’ heels.  John took land that didn’t belong to him, not only from the laity but also the clergy (which probably accounts for the tone of the chronicles which were written by ecclesiastical types.)  When King Stephen died on October 25 1154 Matilda’s eldest son Henry Fitzempress became king. John was rewarded well for his loyalty.

John is probably most famous, or possibly infamous, for the way in which during the siege of Newbury, another of John’s castles, (Historians and archeologists argue that the besieged castle was more likely to be at Hamstead Marshal rather than Newbury) that he handed over hostages including his five year old son William in order to buy time. King Stephen thought it was so that the garrison could prepare to exit stage left. However, as soon as the Reading road was cleared of besieging forces John took the opportunity to resupply the castle. When Stephen’s men threatened young William Marshall with hanging in response to John’s perfidy he retorted that he had the hammers and anvils to make more sons. Young William was the fourth of his sons and there were two younger ones after him named Ancel and Henry. It was only through King Stephen’s kindness and the charming personality of young William that the child survived the experience.

 

John died sometime between 1164 and 1165. His eldest son from his first marriage, named Gilbert after his grandfather died soon afterwards both of them having outlived John’s second son Walter. Thus it was the eldest son of the second marriage named John after his father who inherited John’s  lands and job as marshal. When he died without legitimate male heirs the title and the lands passed to William Marshall who was by that time earl of Pembroke.

For those of you like a spot of historical fiction – Elizabeth Chadwick’s book published in 2007 entitled  A Place Beyond Courage is about John FitzGilbert’s life from the end of King Henry I’s reign until the end of The Anarchy.  Elizabeth Chadwick also has a blog, click on the link to find her non-fiction post about John http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.co.uk/2009/10/biography-of-john-marshal.html

Asbridge, Thomas. (2015) The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones. London: Simon and Schuster

Painter, Sidney. (1982) William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron, and Regent of England. Toronto: University of Toronto

 

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Locating King John

marketcharterAngevin kings spent a lot of time on the road. Henry II travelled widely across his vast empire administering justice, fighting with the neighbours, avoiding the lady wife, seducing his wards and hunting. Richard spent most of his short reign in foreign parts – fighting someone or other- and consequentially became a hero. King John also travelled frequently. It has been calculated that he only spent 7% of his time in Westminster. In 1205 there are 228 changes of location recorded which means that he moved 19 times a month! His problem was that he didn’t have such a vast empire to travel around – essentially he had England having lost the rest of his father’s empire and gained the nickname ‘Softsword’ into the bargain. Amongst the locations he favoured were Marlborough where he’d held the castle since 1186 as a gift from brother Richard; Nottingham which he’d held since his childhood and Winchester where his son Henry was born.

150608_itinerariesjohnandhenryaskingKing John’s itineraries can be traced through his letters which reveal his location. There are currently several interesting sites on the Internet outlining John’s jaunts. One charts John’s movements in the run up to Magna Carta whilst the other charts his location on a map throughout his seventeen-year reign. http://neolography.com/timelines/JohnItinerary.html.

This image of John’s itinerary was accessed from http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/on-the-trail-of-king-john-before-and-after-the-signing-of-magna-carta (13/10/2015 @ 23:42) and shows how extensively John travelled in comparison with his son.  Interestingly John believed that the king was there to administer justice ‘even if it were to a dog’ – the same justice also happened to be a handy implement to bludgeon his barons with.

Other evidence of John’s involvement in English affairs can be seen in the charters he issued which, incidentally, offer an interesting counterpoint to the stereotype of King John with dodgy sheriffs in tow. Sheriffs undoubtedly have a bit of a bad reputation so far as the reign of King John is concerned what with all that taxation and general Anglo-Norman nastiness – oops sorry, I’ve moved out of history and into the realms of Hollywood. In reality King John sometimes did away with sheriff power and opted for ‘people power.’ Take York for example. In 1212 King John decreed that York’s citizens, rather than the sheriff, should collect and pay the annual tax to the Crown. Their charter also allowed them to hold their own courts and to appoint a mayor. John also granted a charter to Grimsby offering similar arrangements for taxation, law and administration.

Clearly if the king spent more time in England (there wasn’t a great deal of choice) then there are also more bricks and mortar locations with a link to that particular Plantagenet. In Knaresborough John took over the castle and Honour of Knaresborough on account of the fact that he was keen on the hunting. It was here that he distributed the first ever Maundy Money. John gave away forks and clothes in 1210. Knaresborough must have been one of John’s favourite castles because he spent rather a lot of time there. His accounts, another source, offer an insight into feasting, drinking, gambling and hunting.

John is known to have particularly enjoyed hunting – as did his father and before him his Norman forebears. It is not surprising therefore that the country seems to be littered with King John’s hunting lodges. Time Team did a dig a John’s hunting lodge in Clipstone. In Axbridge King John’s hunting lodge was a fourteenth century wool merchant’s house – so don’t get too excited about treading in John’s footsteps. Though in Romsey not only can you encounter his hunting lodge you can also smell the roses in his garden (a much later addition but it sounds good.)

Elsewhere in Yorkshire John visited Scarborough Castle on several occasions; made it across the county boundary into Cumbria and Carlisle where he administered justice and on to Corbridge where he did a spot of treasure hunting (without success). He received the submission of the Scots at Norham Castle ( a lovely little fortress). In a more Midlandish direction he managed to lose his jewels (of which he was an ardent collector) in the Wash allegedly near to Sutton Bridge; expired in Newark Castle and got himself buried in Worcester Cathedral.

I feel exhausted just looking at the list so I’ve no idea how John managed to travel so widely, hunt so extensively and chase, allegedly, so many women after hurtling around the English countryside in all sorts of weather with scarcely a break year in and year out.

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Marguerite of France

200px-Marguerite_of_franceUsually when we think of Edward I’s queen we think of Eleanor of Castile.  However the grief-stricken widower married again.  Initially he planned to marry Philip III’s daughter Blanche but she was married elsewhere to the Duke of Austria in fact.  In her place, Philip IV offered the king his young half-sister Marguerite.  Edward was so disgruntled about the loss of his potential bride that he went to war, or so the story goes.  Five years later, following negotiations the sixty year old king married Marguerite.  It’s more likely that the protracted negotiations had to do with who would hold Gascony.  It was all that remained of the Angevin empire and Edward wished to keep hold of it but the French had other ideas.

However, the couple finally tied the knot in 1299.  There was a forty-year age difference.  They were married in Canterbury and then Edward hurried back to Scotland to pursue his military campaign but not before Marguerite became pregnant.  Her first child, Thomas, was born a year after her marriage in Brotherton in Yorkshire.

Marguerite – presumably fed up of being deserted in London by her groom- hastened north to join the king.  It was the start of a mutually loving relationship.  When her sister Blanche died, Edward tried to lighten her distress by having the whole court go into mourning.  There are also letters which show his concern for his young wife’s health. They had three children, one of whom was called Eleanor after Edward’s first queen which just goes to show how understanding Marguerite must have been.  She even attended masses and memorial services for Edward’s first wife.  She also became friends with her step-children and interceded with the king on more than one occasion on behalf of folk who’d irritated him. She even managed to soothe Edward’s anger against the man who hid the crown used by Robert Bruce.  No wonder her English subjects called her ‘The Pearl of France.”

Her desire to be loved and liked may have had some negative side effects though.  The king gave her wardships worth £4000 so that she could pay her debts, a quarter of which seems to have been with an Italian cloth merchant….so a well-dressed lady.  Whatever her methods she and her husband had a genuinely loving relationship and she steered a delicate course across the treacherous waters of Anglo-French relations which remained difficult during this period.

When Edward died, Marguerite proclaimed “When Edward died, all men died for me.”  She retreated to Marlborough Castle after the coronation of her step-son which was unfortunate.  Her niece Isabella – to be known in history as the ‘she-wolf of France’ arrived in England as Edward III’s new bride and at that time the barely adolescent Isabella could have done with a bit of loving help from her diplomatic and much-loved aunt.

Marguerite died just ten years after her king.

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