From the Countess of Aumale to the two wives of William Marshal the Younger – money, marriage and how to make the most of widowhood

Eleanor of England – youngest daughter of King John

Hawise, the suo jure Countess of Aumale was married to William de Mandeville, 3rd Earl of Essex but she had something of a reputation during her life time according to Richard of Devizes as a woman ‘who is almost a man, lacking nothing virile except the virile organs.’ Despite that she was married off on Richard the Lionheart’s orders for a second time to William de Forz, her social inferior, who was one of the king’s naval commanders. The countess was not amused. She was even less amused when after de Forz’s death in 1195 she was required to take as her third husband Baldwin de Béthune who was a crusader and also Richard’s companion in captivity – he was well born but a third son. Baldwin would die in 1212 and Hawise took the opportunity of paying a fine of 5,000 marks in instalments to avoid marriage for a fourth time.

There were rumours that the countess was King John’s mistress and that her eldest son by William de Forz was in fact John’s own progeny. The rumour arose because when Hawise died the fine she owed the king was still not fully paid – a debt of 4,000 marks was carried forward to her heir- (remember a mark is 2/3’s of a pound so – £2667 in 1214 when she died and a whopping £4,000,000 or thereabouts now) but John forgave the new earl the debt, provided him with a wealthy bride of his own who he himself dowered and forgave Aumale for siding with the barons and the French – suggesting a degree of fondness with which King John did not habitually regard his aristocracy. And yes I have posted about Hawise and her son William before and she will turn up in the book on medieval royal mistresses being published by Pen and Sword in November. So why today?

Let us return to husband number three – Baldwin de Béthune – the imprisoned crusader and buddy of King Richard I. Friendship was clearly important because as a third son he would not reasonably have expected to marry someone as wealthy as Hawise who had possession of large chunks of Normandy (until John lost most of the duchy) as well as Holderness and Craven in Yorkshire. It helped that he had taken Richard’s place in prison and that he spent rather a lot of his own money paying the king’s ransom.

During the 1170s Baldwin served in the household of Henry II’s eldest son Henry The Young King. He made a lifelong friendship with another younger son struggling to make his own way in the world – William Marshal. Like Marshal as well as serving the Young King and Henry II, Baldwin offered loyal service to the Lionheart and King John – in 1200 he was one of the guarantor’s of peace between John and King Philip of France. He can be found signing royal grants in 1201 but, again, like William Marshal he found himself in less favour with the passage of time and withdrew to his wife’s lands. Unlike Marshal no one wrote a biography of his life soon after this death so he is less well known today than his old friend.

Baldwin and Hawise had a daughter named Alice and in 1203 Baldwin and Marshal arranged that their children should marry. William Marshal the Younger who was probably fostered by Marshal’s lifelong friend would marry Alice when she came of age and the two families would be tied by blood. Alice was not her mother’s heiress but she would inherit lands, including Wantage in Berkshire (currently Oxfordshire) which King Henry II and King Richard gave to her father. Unfortunately Alice died young and in 1224 William Marshal the Younger married King Henry III’s sister Eleanor who was born in 1215. Eleanor was nine at the time of the marriage and Marshal was thirty-four. He died in 1231 when Eleanor was nineteen but there were no children from the union. Soon afterwards Eleanor took a vow of chastity which meant that her brother wouldn’t be able to find another husband for her – unfortunately she fell in love several years later and the vow made things somewhat difficult for the couple.

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https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monetary-policy/inflation/inflation-calculator

Shouldham Priory

Shouldham village sign

Guy Beauchamp died in 1360 leaving two young daughters by his wife Philippa Ferrers who was descended from King Edward I. He predeceased his father by almost a decade. Rather than the Warwick estates and earldom passing to Katherine Beauchamp – Guy’s daughter the estate passed to Guy’s brother Thomas who became Earl of Warwick after his father’s death. It’s possible that Guys daughters were forced to become nuns so that their uncle could inherit. One daughter died during infant whilst the other, Katherine, had become a nun at Shouldham by 1369. At that time she was just sixteen.

Shouldham in Norfolk was a Gilbertine priory – a double house containing both monks and nuns separated down the middle of the priory church. It’s founder was Geoffrey FitzPiers – an earl of Essex who made his settlement upon the house circa 1197 during the reign of King Richard I. As well as a large manor and lands he also arranged for the new priory to receive a number of shops in London (Blomefield, An Essay, vol 7, pp.414-15 in Elkins, Holy Women, p.122). FtizPiers was buried there in 1212 with his first wife, Beatrice, who whose body was moved to Shouldham from Chicksands. FitzPiers’ son, William de Mandeville continued to patronise the foundation and was also buried there – it was this Earl of Essex who was noted for siding with the barons against King John . By 1248 Henry III granted a weekly market to the foundation.

A licence paid in 1386 to King Richard II revealed that the Beachamp family gave the priory lands in order for its inhabitants to pray for Guy Beauchamp who died in 1360, for his wife Philippa Ferrers and for Katherine their daughter who was still alive at the time. Katherine was not alone, her aunt Margaret was also a nun at Shouldham. Tilotson described Shouldham as ‘a convenient repository for embarrassing members of the family’ (Tillotson:p.4).

The link to the Beauchamp Earls of Warwick had been created when William Beauchamp, the 9th earl (who was a personal friend of King Edward I and noted for his military campaigns in Wales) married Matilda FitzJohn who was a great-great grand daughter of Geoffrey FitzPiers. Two of the couple’s daughters became nuns at Shouldham. The family continued to be associated with the priory until the reign of Henry VII.

Shouldham became associated with the imprisonment of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March’s daughters Margaret and Joan in 1324 but had been notorious before when Richard Mail bought a case against the prioress and the sisters claiming that they had assault him and ransacked his house.

The priory was dissolved during the reign of King Henry VIII having found to be worth £138, 18s, 1d and was the second wealthiest nunnery in Norfolk which is why it was saved from the first round of dissolution. Its respective wealth was in part because of the earlier patronage of the Beauchamp family. The priory’s Cromwellian visitors were Thomas Legh and John Ap Rice who described impropriety by two nuns. None-the-less the prioress received a pension in 1539 when the house was eventually dissolved. The priory manor remained in Crown hands until the reign of King Edward VI. It was sold in 1553 to Thomas Mildmay.

Blomfield, Francis, An Essay Towards the Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, volume 7, (London, 1807)

Ellins, Sharon K, Holy Women of Twelfth Century England, (1988)

Tillotson, John, H. Marrick Priory, A Nunnery in Late Medieval Yorkshire, (York, University of York, 1989)

‘House of Gilbertines: The priory of Shouldham’, in A History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1906), pp. 412-414. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/norf/vol2/pp412-414 [accessed 12 January 2022].