Tag Archives: William of Normandy

Get thee to a nunnery! Swynford and Chaucer

nun5.gifIt was quite common in the earlier part of the Middle Ages for a parent to dedicate a baby or a young child to holy orders.  These children were called oblates because the child was offered to God with an altar cloth wrapped around their right hand – an oblation or offering.

Prior to the invasion of 1066 William, duke of Normandy, and his wife Matilda sent their daughter Cecilia into the noviciate at the abbey of Holy Trinity in Caen.  The date is significant – 18 June 1066.  She didn’t become a fully professed nun until 1075 when she was about nineteen or twenty.

It’s easy to speculate that Cecilia was offered in exchange for a successful invasion. Equally many parents gave their child as an offering in hope of heavenly brownie points. It should also be added that if you were a man with many daughters and insufficient lands you might be tempted to palm the plainest or least marriageable daughter off on the Church to avoid all the expenditure that accompanied nuptial arrangements.  Until the rule of Innocent III (1198-1215) children who were given to the Church had no power to quit the religious life once they grew up.  This could lead to unfortunate incidences of runaway or pregnant nuns not to mention nuns like Chaucer’s abbess who dressed well and kept pets.

Katherine Swynford’s eldest daughter Margaret along with her cousin Elizabeth Chaucer entered the nunnery at Barking when they were children.  It is possible that Katherine Swynford and Philippa Chaucer were following family tradition in dedicating a daughter to the Church because evidence suggests that the pair had an older sister (probably a half sibling) called Elizabeth or possibly Isabelle who entered the nunnery of St Wandru in Mons in 1349.

medieval-nuns

 

Elizabeth Chaucer entered the nunnery in 1381 following nomination by Richard II – demonstrating the influence of Katherine by this time.  Elizabeth had previously been lodged in the convent of St Helens in Bishopgate.  We know that John of Gaunt paid her admission fee – in lieu of a dowry.  It was a large sum- £51 8s 2d.  This in its turn has given rise to the rumour that Philippa may have had an affair with the duke of Lancaster and that Elizabeth was his daughter.  As Weir points out, Gaunt acknowledged his other illegitimate children and provided for them handsomely so why would he be furtive about Elizabeth, if she was indeed his?.She also notes that the care given by Gaunt to  members of his household was generous so there should be no raised eyebrows about the gift, although of course Auntie Katherine may have had a hand in it so that her own daughter would have, at least, had the company of a cousin. Margaret went on to become the abbess of Barking in 1419.

The abbess of Barking had the legal status of a baron- a reminder that for women the Church was more or less the only way to wield power in your own right so long as you made it to the top of the job ladder.  Margaret Swynford is recorded as dying in 1433.

Its not much information about the two girls but it’s all there is!

Weir speculates as to whether Sir Hugh and Katherine Swynford might have had other children.  She notes that there was a Katherine Swynford at Stixwold Priory in 1377.  However, other than the name and the fact that it is just possible that the traditionally accepted marriage date for Hugh and Katherine is wrong there is no evidence that this particular Katherine was a member of our Katherine Swynford’s immediate family.  Also Barking was a prestigious location.  It would be here that Jasper and Edmund Tudor were sent after their mother’s death.  By contrast Stixwold was rather impoverished.

 

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

‘Houses of Benedictine nuns: Abbey of Barking’, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2, ed. William Page and J Horace Round (London, 1907), pp. 115-122. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol2/pp115-122 [accessed 7 September 2017].

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Pilsbury Castle, Derbyshire

Pilsbury castle.JPGThe village of Pilsbury in Derbyshire is what experts call a “shrunken Medieval village,” to the rest of us it’s a hamlet. Pilsbury is the start of a new fascination (sorry).  Obviously Derbyshire has Peveril Castle in Hathersage and there’s Haddon Hall which may indeed rejoice in the name ‘manor’ but which looks decidedly castle-ish but where are the rest of Derbyshire’s castles?  They seem to have gone missing.  Apparently there’s a site for a castle in Bakewell but its hardly on the tourist trail. Some ten miles from Bakewell, to the north of Pilsbury along the Dove Valley lies the village of Crowdecote which may have a motte, or large man-made mound upon which to stand a castle. Unlike so many other counties in England the castles of Derbyshire appear to be transient commodities.  Not even the Earl of Shrewsbury’s castle at Sheffield survived the test of time.  So, I’ve added castle spotting to my list of peculiarities.

Pilsbury Castle, which does at least rejoice in the name ‘castle,’ lies between Crowdecote and Pilsbury.  It is inaccessible by road.  You can’t hear any traffic, just the gurgle of the River Dove as it winds around the spur of land on which the earthworks that were once a de Ferrers motte and bailey castle stand.

pilsbury castle 2.JPGThe name Pilsbury gives a clue as to how old the defensive site may be – “pil“ comes from the Celtic, ‘bury,” from the Saxon and “castle” from the Norman – and they all mean much the same thing. Whatever the name of Pilsbury may tell us the archaeology is determinedly Norman with its one wall built into a natural outcrop of rock that was once a reef and its many green banks and mounds that depict a motte and bailey castle – actually its a two bailey castle as the helpful guidance board provided by the Peak District authorities illustrates.

 

dscf2692There are several theories as to how Pilsbury came to be built in the upper Dove Valley. The first is that it came into being during the so-called ‘harrying of the North’ between 1069-1070. The idea is that the Normans having destroyed people’s homes and livelihoods found themselves in a situation where those Saxons who survived took to the hills and turned to outlawry in order to survive. If this was the case it then follows that the Norman landowners had to build defences to keep the Saxons firmly under control especially somewhere like Pilsbury which stands near a ford and a packhorse route and is in terrain ideal for fugitives. It’s not too hard to imagine the dangers of an attack in this isolated spot.

 

There is a problem with this though, as elsewhere in the country.  Hartington and the Dove Valley were in the hands of the de Ferrers’ family. It is unlikely that William the Conqueror would rampage with fire, sword and salt across lands belonging to powerful favourites as the yield from those lands would fall rather drastically as a result making their acquisition somewhat pointless. The same may be said of landholdings, notably in Yorkshire, belonging to Alan the Red for example.

 

So if that theory doesn’t appeal, how about the Normans turfing hardworking Saxons off their lands in order to create a wilderness where they could hunt. The disposed Saxons may well have taken to the hills and caves in the Dove Valley,  again turning to outlawry just to survive. Alternatively maybe the de Ferrers simply wanted to stamp their authority on their land with one of those new fangled castles just to remind the locals who was in charge or to extract “tax” as pack-horses laden with salt and other goods crossed the ford.

A further theory derives from the years of the so-called “Anarchy” when King Stephen and Empress Matilda were slogging it out to see who would rule England. The Rive Dove marks the boundary between lands belonging to the Earl of Derby and lands belonging to the Earl of Chester. Let’s just say that between 1135 and 1153 the pair were not the best of friends with the Earl of Derby backing Stephen and the Earl of Chester backing Matilda. Under those circumstances with a ford just down the valley a fortification becomes rather a sensible idea. Actually come to think of it, the two earls weren’t terribly friendly at other times in history so the castle may simply have been built as part of a neighbourly dispute.

 

The written record after its construction is somewhat vague too. Pilsbury is mentioned in the Doomsday Book but not the castle. Pilsbury is mentioned again in 1262, again the land not the castle, when the Earl of Derby, Robert de Ferrers, granted land to Henry of Shelford. Four years later the Earl of Derby was up to his neck in rebellion and his land was promptly confiscated.  By the thirteenth century the land on both sides of the river was in the hands of the Duchy of Lancaster so there was no need for a defensive structure. And that as they say, is that – though I think we can safely say that the History Jar will be sporadically peppered with images of grassy knolls and hummocks purporting to be Norman mottes.

 

So far as Pilsbury Castle is concerned, it is possible that the castle was used as a hunting lodge during later times but it ceased to be a centre of administration after Hartington received its market charter in 1203 from King John.

DSCF2700.JPG

 

Hart, C.R., 1981, The North Derbyshire Archaeological Survey to AD1500 (Derbyshire Archaeological Trust)

Millward, R. and Robinson, A., 1975, The Peak District (London: Eyre Methuen) p. 115, 121-2

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Harold Godwinson’s women

aeflgyvva.jpgIn 1064, so yes slightly before the start date of my self imposed chronological constraint, Earl Harold Godwinson ended up on the wrong side of the Channel.  The Malmesbury Chronicle says that he went on a fishing trip and got blown off course due to bad weather whilst the Bayeux Tapestry depicts Harold arriving to retrieve various relations who had been held hostage for several years.  Whatever the truth of it Harold swiftly found himself being handed over to Duke William in Rouen and during his time in Normandy even taking part in William’s military campaign in Brittany.

Both the Malmesbury Chronicle and the writer of the Jumieges Chronicle report that Harold agreed to support William’s claim to the English throne at this time but that William offered his eldest daughter Adeliza to Harold as a deal sweetener.  Apparently the girl wasn’t yet old enough to marry the handsome English earl but when she did come of age William offered his daughter together with a handsome dowry. Borman notes that Adeliza would have been about seven-years-old in 1064. Borman continues her story by suggesting that it was William’s wife, Matilda, who brokered the deal and that the woman in the Bayeux Tapestry titled “Aelfgyva” is in fact Adeliza.  The woman in the Bayeux Tapestry is an adult, and of course, Adeliza would not have been married until she reached puberty so it could be that the creators of the tapestry are looking to the future.  Borman (page 81) adds that it is possible that the woman is framed in a ducal doorway on the tapestry and that the priest touching her cheek is actually removing her veil – so a depiction of the betrothal ceremony.  The only problem, apart from the obvious age thing, is that why anglicise Adeliza’s name?  The tapestry is, after all, Norman despite its English crafting.  Borman also makes the very good point that there is a subtext in the tapestry.  There are a couple up to marginal naughtiness in the borders of the tapestry at this point in the story – and it hardly seems to apply to Adeliza.  Borman goes on to suggest that Aelfygvva is actually Harold’s sister who was fetched across to Normandy for a corresponding Norman-English marriage to cement the agreement.

Walker notes that one source suggests a plan to marry Harold’s sister to Duke William – which can’t have been the case as his wife Matilda might have objected.  More plausibly there may have been a projected marriage between Harold’s sister and William’s eldest son Robert. Walker also offers the suggestion that Harold was actually on his way into continental Europe to arrange an advantageous match for his sister when he got blown off course and ended up as a ‘guest’ of William.

Freeman notes that the lady in question could be a courtesan provided for Harold at Rouen or even, and I’m still not quite sure why she’d be in the Bayeux Tapestry a mistress of either Cnut or Harold’s brother Swegn (who happened to also be an abbess- the mistress that is). Freeman presents the argument that the lady in question is none of the above but actually Queen Emma who changed her name to one that tripped off Saxon tongues upon her marriage to Aethelred (the Unready). Emma ultimately married Aethelred’s enemy Cnut having left the children of her first marriage in Normandy (Alfred and Edward – who became the Confessor and despite being Saxon was actually very Norman).  At a later date she was accused of impropriety with the Bishop of Winchester – not to mention the blinding and eventual death of her own son Alfred at Ely.  Freeman argues that not only did Emma have a Norman link but demonstrated the chaos of pre-conquest England in the minds of the Normans as well as the perfidy of the Godwinson clan – Emma having been linked in her policies to Harold’s father (the treacherous Earl Godwin.) Double click on the image to open a new page and a post on the Medievalists.net published in 2012 with more detail about who the mysterious Aelfgyvva might be and why.

 

Now that’s what you call an aside!

The Malmesbury Chronicle, to go back to the original point of the post, says that William’s daughter died before she could be married to Harold and this added to Harold’s justification for breaking his oath to support William.

There’s also the small matter that Harold was some forty years older than his intended bride and possibly already had a wife in the form of  Edith Swanneck.  History always seems a bit vague about what to call this particular Edith.  Some texts refer to her as Harold’s mistress, others as his common law wife.  It appears that the couple were hand fasted in the Norse  not-entirely-Christian-somewhat frowned upon by the Church-tradition.  Harold had several children with Edith Swanneck and they were not regarded as illegitimate at the time but then when Harold made his claim to the throne it was deemed sensible that he should make a more acceptable marriage to the widow of his enemy Llewelyn – Edith of Mercia to strengthen his position.  It was Edith Swan neck who, according to legend,  went in search of Harold’s body in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings.

History is a bit vague about when Harold married Edith of Mercia but they were certainly married by the time he became king in 1066.  In the aftermath of Hastings, history’s last sight of Edith is heading in the direction of Chester in the company of her brothers.

Borman, Tracy (2011 ) Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror.  London: Jonathan Cape

Freeman, Eric ( 1991)  Annales de Normandie. The Identity of Aelfgyva in the Bayeux Tapestry  Volume 41  number 2 pp. 117-134 http://www.persee.fr/doc/annor_0003-4134_1991_num_41_2_1886#annor_0003-4134_1991_num_41_2_T1_0119_0000 (accessed 13th June 2016 23:35)

Walker Ian W. (2010) Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King Stroud: Sutton Publishing

 

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Edward the Exile

220px-Edward_the_Exile4/5th January 1066

King Edward the Confessor dies at the Palace of Westminster, according to the Bayeaux Tapestry with his wife Edith the sister of Harold Godwinson at his side. Although he had promised to support William, Duke of Normandy’s claim to the English throne, Harold allowed himself to be elected King as soon as Edward is dead. However these two weren’t the only claimants to the English throne.  There were also:

  • Edgar the Atheling
  • Tostig, Harold Godwinson’s brother
  • Harold Hardrada, King of Norway.

Edgar the Atheling’s claim to the throne came from his bloodline.  King Ethelred the Unready or ‘the Redeless’ who died 23rd April 1016 was his great grandfather.  He was the chap who paid the Vikings huge sums of Danegeld to go away but they never did.

Edgar’s grandfather was Edmund Ironside who briefly succeeded his father but who died in November that year, probably assassinated, and than replaced by the Scandanavian King Cnut or Canute.  Canute went on to marry Ethelred’s widow, Emma of Normandy (who just to confuse matters nicely was also the mother of Edward the Confessor – so Edmund Ironside was  Edward the Confessor’s half-brother.  There’s nothing like keeping it all in the family- makes me glad I’m descended from a long line of peasants.)

But back to Edgar and his family tree.  Edmund Ironside, assassinated and quietly buried in Glastonbury Abbey, left  two sons -Edward and Edmund (Obviously history was going through the letter E at the time). Florence of Worcester writes that the brothers were twins.  They went first to Sweden on the orders of King Canute who sent with them a nice letter suggesting that it would be perfectly acceptable for the royal orphans to have a nasty accident – according to Florence of Worcester again.  Apparently Canute’s half-brother who was king of Sweden drew the line at murdering small children and sent them on their way to Kiev.  They eventually ended up in Hungary where the  queen was an aunt of some description on their mother’s side and where they lived in relative obscurity but as handy pawns in a hugely complicated game of early medieval politics.  Edmund died but Edward married Agatha, a niece of Henry III, Emperor of Germany, by whom he had three children. There was one son – Edgar born in 1050 who made a claim to the English throne on the death of Edward the Confessor and then again after the Battle of Hastings.  There were also two daughters, Margaret and Christina.

From here the plot thickens somewhat- if it hasn’t been convoluted enough already.  England went through a series of kings with lively Norse attitudes to life – from Canute via Harold Harefoot to Harthacnut.  Both the later were Canute’s sons and seemed to have retained an essential Viking approach to life. For instance Harthacnut had Harold Harefoot excavated from his grave and his corpse thrown into a nearby fen.  Harthacnut who had a wider reputation for being a rather nasty piece of work aside from his approach to family was Edward the Confessor’s half-brother.  Eventually the Scandinavian types expired without issue – Harthacnut choked at a wedding feast.

Edward the Confessor was then invited back to be king.  He’d spent most of his life in Normandy by this time.  His dress was Norman and his chosen advisors were Norman but Earl Godwin of Wessex soon put paid to that sort of behaviour until he was briefly exiled in 1051.  Edward (the Confessor) took the opportunity to invite his half-nephew Edward (that’s Edmund’s son – the one married to Agatha) to come back to England with his family, delighted not only that Edward was alive but also that he was a solution to problem forming around the pro-Norman and pro-Saxon factions at court.

 

Edward the Atheling also known as Edward the Exile for pretty obvious reasons returned to England in 1057.  He was the solution to Edward the Confessor’s lack of children and the fact that the Normans under Duke William and the Godwinssons (Earl Godwin’s disgrace  didn’t last long) were all set to fight over the kingdom.  Edward the Exile was of noble blood and was the son of Edmund Ironside so had he lived might have been able to hold the English crown.  The Witan (Edward’s council) seconded the invitation as they also recognised the need for an heir that would avoid bloodshed.  In addition to which coming from Hungary, Edward the Exile had no links to Normandy.

When Edward finally did arrive in England, Florence of Worcester says “We do not know for whatever reason that was done that the atheling was not allowed to see his relation, Edward King.”  It’s a shame that chroniclers can sometimes be so tight lipped.  Why was Edward not allowed to meet Edward?  It’s all a matter of supposition.

And sadly it didn’t get any better, two days after his boat docked Edward the Exile was dead.  His death is shrouded in mystery but generally speaking most historians seem to agree that it was murder. None of the chroniclers mention that Edward the Exile was in ill health.  A man with such a good claim to the throne was inevitably going to make enemies and it is highly likely that someone somewhere decided to remove Edward before he became a problem.  In all good murder mysteries the advice is to look in the direction of the person who benefits – so that’ll be William of Normandy or Harold Godwinson assuming that Edward got on well with his wife and hadn’t left anyone feeling particularly aggrieved in Hungary.

The Bury Psalter, an eleventh century text, contains a family tree showing some of the descendants of Edward the Exile.  One daughter, Christina became a nun but the other one – Margaret- became St Margaret of Scotland having fled to Scotland in 1067 where she eventually married King Malcolm. As for Edward’s son, Edgar the Atheling his was a life of rebellion, captivity and ultimately death on crusade.

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Ivo de Taillebois

norman frenchIvo de Taillebois arrived in England in 1066 with William of Normandy. Accounts are not clear cut as to who his parents were, Fulk of Anjou is a possible contender for the title. There is also a suggestion that like William, Ivo may have been illegitimate.

Many of the records related to Ivo are vague or lost.  One thing is clear.  He did well from the invasion. He gained parts of Lancashire, Westmorland and also Lincolnshire. He became Sheriff of that County two years after the invasion and features as an extensive landowner in the Domesday Book. There is some debate as to how Ivo acquired Kendal or Kendale, which later became a barony. The Strickland sisters say that he married a Saxon Noblewoman, Lucy, Countess of Chester, sister of the earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria. Lands in Kendal would have come to him through his marriage but it is also evident that he was given lands by William Rufus. It is certain that he gave the church in Kendale to St Mary’s Abbey in York. It should also be added that the Scots were only driven out of Cumbria in 1092 – so Kendal was no sinecure.  The remains of his motte and bailey castle can be viewed at Castle Howe, the stone castle is from a later period.

 

But back to Lucy. She held lands in and around Spalding. This may have been part of the reason, along with his role as King’s man, that Ivo found himself in Ely taking up arms against Hereward the Wake in 1071. Lucy’s brothers were also caught up in the rebellion against the conqueror – making their lands forfeit- so Ivo seems to have done quite well out of it all. No one seems to have recorded what Lucy thought of all this or the fact that she appears to have been married not once, not twice but thrice (her third husband being Ranulf le Meschin) dying in 1131. One thing is clear though Lucy has disappeared into history leaving some very fragmentary and tantalizing historical evidence behind her.

 

In addition to Kendal, Ivo was also overlord of Furness. The man’s family tree is complicated. Evidence suggested that he may have been married twice before marrying Lucy. Other evidence taken from Ingulph de Croydon- the Croyland Chronicle- and reproduced in Some Records of Two Lakeland Towns by Brydson paints an unappealing picture of Kendal’s first Norman lord:

 

“All the people in his domains were very careful to appear humble before Taillebois, and never to address him without bending one knee to the earth, but though they were anxious to render him all homage, he made no return of goodwill. On the contrary he vexed, tormented, and imprisoned them, and loaded

them with daily cruelties ; his truly diabolical spirit loved evil for evil’s sake. He would often set his dogs to pursue other men’s cattle, would scatter the animals far and wide, drown them in the lakes, maim them in various ways, and make them unfit for service by breaking their limbs or backs. Ivo was not only absolved, but praised for all he had done in extortion, pillage, and murder.”

 

Sounds charming!  And he was a forebear of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth queen and also of George Washington.

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