Tag Archives: Mathew Paris

Thomas Walsingham – and the “Scandalous Chronicle.”

KatSwynfordThomas Walsingham was a Benedictine monk.  He lived at St Albans Abbey where he had been educated and is usually considered the last of the great medieval chroniclers being a prolific producer of manuscripts including the “Chronicon Angliae” which covering the years 1328 to 1388.  It is in this chronicle that he criticises John of Gaunt.   The “Gesta Abbatum” or the St Albans Chronicle or Chronica Maiora as a continuation of that of Mathew Paris – and in fact his histories draw heavily on Paris’s work. His writings end in 1422 when he died but it is from Walsingham that we know about Wat Tyler, John Wycliff and the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV.

In part because he wasn’t a fan of John Wycliff and Lollardy – he took against John of Gaunt who was regarded as offering protection to reformers, Wycliff in particular. However, it should be added that there are two versions of Walsingham’s chronicle – one which is deeply hostile to John of Gaunt describing him as having “unbridled malice and greed, fearing neither God nor man.”  Walsingham’s general view was that Gaunt was after his nephew’s crown. True, Gaunt was the power behind the throne but hindsight shows that he never sought to take the crown by force despite several provocations.  It would also have to be said that Walsingham was just repeating what other people thought.  In 1377 his arms were reversed and marched through London by an angry mob. In 1381 his London palace, the Savoy, was burned to the ground. Walsingham was also critical of John’s relationship with  Katherine Swynford describing her as an “unmentionable concubine” and a “whore.”

william bell scott john of gauntRather amusingly and to the detriment of the chronicle a second version was penned after Henry IV, who was of course Gaunt’s son, came to the throne. Oddly all the unpleasant remarks about Gaunt were removed…so that the first version came to be known as “the scandalous chronicle.”

In all fairness Walsingham was critical of most of Richard II’s courtiers describing them as knights of love rather than war and better with words than weapons – well he should know about that!

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House

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Thomas of Galloway -sixty years a prisoner.

DSC_0004John Baliol was an important man. He was also a very rich one thanks to his marriage to Devorguilla of Galloway 1223.   She and her husband had nine children.  It was through Dervorguilla that the Baliols made their claim to the Scottish crown. Such was her love for John that after his death she founded Sweetheart Abbey – she also had his heart embalmed…as you do. Whilst John may have been much loved by his wife I doubt whether her half brother Thomas – somewhat confusingly sometimes known as Thomas of Huntingdon- felt so warmly towards the man for a variety of reasons.

Devorguilla’s father, Alan of Galloway, died without legitimate male heirs meaning that his daughters, or rather their husbands, inherited – except in Scotland at that time the law did not restrict male heirs to those born inside wedlock. Alan’s illegitimate son Thomas was able to gain enough support and finance to make a bid for the lordship of Galloway. Unfortunately this was not what Alexander II of Scotland wanted at a time when he was trying to control an assortment of earls and lords as well as negotiate a peace deal with the English. By breaking up Alan of Galloway’s estates between the three sisters Alexander was able to weaken the power of the Lord of Galloway and prevent it from behaving as a semi-independent kingdom. It probably helped that the Anglo-Scottish lords that the sisters were married to were either jolly good friends of his or vaguely related to him.

Mathew Paris described the mini war that followed whilst The Lannercost Chronicle records that Thomas was captured in 1235 as well as the rest of his sorry tale.

Thomas, whose father had once tried to secure him the crown of the Isle of Man, soon found himself securely confined behind Barnard Castle’s stout walls in the heart of Baliol territory, not on the whim of John Baliol but on the orders of King Alexander II who was decidedly unimpressed by the people of Galloway who wanted Thomas in charge of them rather than the husbands of Thomas’s three half-sisters.  He put down their uprising against his authority with a degree of gusto.

In 1286 Thomas’s nephew also called John Baliol tried to have Thomas released but the Scottish council refused. Barrow suggests that Thomas’s plight reflects the fact that the ordinary people of Scotland wished to follow their Celtic traditions whilst the leadership of the country had an Anglo-Norman feudal agenda (Barrow:9).

Thomas remained in Barnard Castle for sixty years until he was released, aged eighty-eight, in 1296 by the Bishop of Durham on the orders of King Edward I who had his own reasons for upsetting the balance of power in Scotland. By that time Alexander III had hurtled off a cliff on his way home to his young bride, the Fair Maid of Norway had died on her way to Scotland and the country was knee deep in contenders for the crown.  Edward I suggested that he would choose who would be king and Scotland would recognise English overlordship as well as getting a king who owed everything to Edward – cue Scottish Wars of Independence. Thomas was sent home to Galloway with a charter listing the liberties on offer to the men of Galloway by Edward and which underlined the fact that Edward was not supporting the Baliol claim to the Scottish throne.

Barrow, G. W. S. (2005) Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univeristy Press

Oram, Richard (2012)  Alexander II: King of Scots 1214-1249. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd

Watson, Fiona (1998) Under the Hammer: Edward I and Scotland, 1286-1307. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd

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Matilda Fitzwalter a.k.a. Maid Marian

57457680_1404498519This effigy can be seen in Little Dunmow Church – It is said to be the effigy of Matilda Fitzwalter.

Robert Fitzwalter, holder of Castle Baynard and Lord of Little Dunmow was a revolting baron during the reign of King John and little wonder if the stories are anything to go by.

Robert’s daughter Matilda was a bit of a stunner– men threw themselves at her feet, jousted for her favours etc and dear old King John fell head over heels in lust. Matilda, being a good girl and not having heard that when a medieval king does his best Lesley Philips impersonation that all the usual rules are out of the window told him to be on his way.

John did not take personal rejection well – his penchant for white satin, large collections of jewels and regular bathing, not to mention him being a king, should have made him a hit with the ladies but at no more than five foot five inches, having an inclination to fat as he got older, and an interest in the wives and daughters of his barons was not always as well received by the aforementioned ladies as he might have hoped. Rather than chalk Matilda’s refusal up to experience he tried to cajole Robert Fitzwalter into handing his daughter over: Robert refused. Perhaps John should have had a word with Matilda’s husband rather than her father but more about him shortly. In the stories John sets about destroying Fitzwalter and his property. Fitzwalter was indeed banished in 1212 but was later reconciled to John only to revolt in 1215 as a leader of the ‘Army of God’ that massed against the king. Fitzwalter is one of the Magna Carta barons and Matilda’s sad story is often given as part of the rationale for Fitzwalter’s rebellion.

Presumably because he could, John imprisoned Matilda in The Tower before sending her a message reminding her that all she need to do was to look upon him more favourably. When Matilda persisted in rejecting his advances John sent Matilda a poisoned egg, in some versions of the story a poisoned bracelet, which she promptly ate/put on and expired as a result presumably because she was a) hungry or b) it was a very nice bracelet. The corpse of Fair Matilda was then sent home for burial (very considerate). Elizabeth Norton’s book addressing the life of Isabella of Angouleme says that John forced Matilda to become his mistress – and you would have to say why go to all the bother of locking her up in the Tower to force compliance? Norton uses Matilda as but one example of John’s rapacious tendencies.  What is clear is that by 1212 Matilda was dead.

Matilda Fitzwalter’s story is told by Mathew Paris and the Anonymous Chronicler of Bethune. The criticism of John made by the chroniclers was not that he didn’t know how to take no for an answer but that he had dishonoured the fathers and husbands of the women concerned in the tales of lust that they recounted. Anonymous makes the point that John was devoted to good food and to pleasure – if he’d taken an interest in serving wenches then no one would have batted an eyelid.

From the threads of truth, of which very little actually remains to history, the tale of Matilda becomes steadily more romantic. According to lore Matilda Fitzwalter spurned King John’s advances because she was actually smitten with another – a chap called Robert, Earl of Huntingdon a.k.a. Robin Hood who was at that time away on crusade – making Matilda the fair Maid Marian. The chronicler Mathew Paris called her “Maud the Fair” or “Maid Marian.”  It wasn’t until a couple of centuries later though that Matilda Fitzwalter escaped to the Greenwood to live happily ever after…making Maid Marian an Essex girl.

In this case, however, truth is even stranger than legend. Matilda had actually been married to Geoffrey de Mandeville, the Earl of Essex. After her death de Mandeville married, at vast expense, Isabella of Gloucester – none other than King John’s first wife.

John was able to get his marriage to Isabella annulled because they were half-second cousins which was well within the prohibited degree of consanguinity. At the time of his marriage the Pope had been furious and Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury had placed John and all his lands under an interdict until an ecclesiastical council reversed the decision. At no point in time did John apply for a papal dispensation and it soon became clear that he was looking for a better placed wife with plans afoot fir him to marry Alice, sister of Philip Augustus – rejected fiancée of brother Richard and if stories are true mistress of Henry II and mother of his child. The divorce occurred almost as soon as John became king. Isabella led a half-life for many years neither a captive nor free until John, desperate for cash for a continental war effectively sold Isabella to the highest bidder – Geoffrey de Mandeville. It will perhaps come as no surprise to find out that Geoffrey and Isabella revolted against King John as well.

Norton, Elizabeth. She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England

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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.

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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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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

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