William Clito, Count of Flanders

 

william clitoWilliam’s parents were Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror, and Sybilla of Conversano.  She died in 1103 when William was just two. Robert was at that time the Duke of Normandy.   Clito is a latinised form meaning man of royal blood – so similar to prince. He was Count of Flanders by right of his grandmother Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror.

Alison Weir identifies a legitimate son of Robert Curthose’s called Henry who was killed in a hunting accident in the New Forest but there is no further information and for the most part William Clito is usually identified as Robert’s only legitimate issue.  Robert also had illegitimate sons.  One was called Richard who was killed in the New Forest in 1100.  Richard had a full brother, confusingly enough, also called William and he became the Lord of Tortosa.  It is assumed he was killed around 1110 at the Battle of Jerusalem as there is no further record of him after that.

battle of tinchebraiAfter the  Battle of Tinchbrai in 1106 which saw Henry I of England defeat Robert Curthose the two brothers travelled to Falaise where William Clito was staying.  Henry had never met his nephew before and he placed the boy in the care of Hélias of Saint-Saëns, Count of Arques who was married to William’s illegitimate half-sister (history does not know her name.)    William remained in their custody for the next four years.  In 1110 Henry sent for his nephew. Hélias was not in residence but his household concealed the boy from Henry’s men and then smuggled him to Hélias who fled Normandy with the boy.

BremuleHélias and William became fugitives.  At first they stayed with Robert de Bellâme but he was captured in 1112.  From there they went to  Baldwin VII of Flanders.  By 1118 many of the nobility of Normandy were sufficiently fed up of Henry I to join William Clito and Baldwin in a rebellion.  However, in the September of that year Baldwin was injured and eventually died.  William  found another sponsor in the form of  King Louis VI of France who invaded Normandy but was comprehensively beaten at the Battle of Brémule on 20th August 1119. Even the Pope interceded on William’s behalf. Despite this the so-called First Norman Rebellion did not improve William’s position.

Disaster struck Henry I when the White Ship sank off Harfleur on the 25 November 1120 drowning his only legitimate son – another William.  This meant that William Clito became a logical successor to his uncle.  He was, after all, the legitimate son of the Conqueror’s eldest son.

In addition to the change in Clito’s  perceived status Henry I  also refused to return the dowry that had come with Matilda of Anjou upon her betrothal to his son.  Matilda’s father, Fulk V Count of Anjou now betrothed his daughter Sybilla to William Clito and gave him as Sybilla’s dowry the county Maine- an area between Anjou and Normandy.  Henry I appealed to the pope and the marriage was ultimately annulled in 1124 because the pair were too closely related.

Meanwhile the Normans had rebelled against Henry for a second time in 1123-1124.

And so it continued, with the French king taking the opportunity to add to Henry I’s discomfort by providing men and money for William in 1127.  It was at this point that William married the french queen’s (Adelaide of Maurienne) half sister Joan of Montferrat.  Louis VI was using William as a pawn against Henry’s claim to Maine.

 

On the 12 July 1128 William was at the Siege of Aaist.  He was wounded in the arm.  The wound became gangrenous.  He died on 28th July.  Amongst his followers was his brother-in-law Hélias of Saint-Saëns, Count of Arques who had been at his side for most of his life.

It is perhaps not surprising that there is no portrait of William – his uncle  Henry I made a rebel of him and did not want him to inherit either Normandy or England after the death of his own son (also William). Clito’s father, Robert Curthose, survived him by five and a half years.

Weir, Alison. Britain’s Royal Families: the Complete Genealogy

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