The North 1069- how not to win friends and influence people

Hic-domus-incenditur-Bayeux-Tapestry.jpgNorthumbria was not a peaceful location in 1069.  For a start Edgar the Athling and Gospatric were over the border in Scotland awaiting an opportunity to make William the Conqueror’s life difficult.  Gospatric was descended from Aethelred the Unready and was made Earl of Northumbria by William the Conqueror after a string of earls beginning with Copsi in 1067 were killed.  A large sum of money changed hands for the title but Gospatric rebelled against William in 1068 and was forced into exile.

William the Conqueror decided that it was better to appoint someone who was not homegrown to the job and to this end Robert Cumin or de Comines was now made Earl of Northumbria.  He is thought to have come to England at the time of the Conquest with a party of Flemings but beyond that not much is known about Cumin.  The new earl set off to claim his territory with between 500 and 900 men according to Morris.

Simeon of Durham chronicles the resulting mayhem.  Cumin and his men seem to have been intent on rape, pillage and destruction.  They had under estimated the northerners.

The inhabitants beyond the Tyne prepared to flee  when they heard news of  Cumin’s activities but were prevented by severe snow falls.  At which point they decided that since they couldn’t flee they would kill Cumin.  The Bishop of Durham who hadn’t been above a spot of plotting himself now hurried off and warned Cumin of his intended fate.  It is said that Cumin was warned not to go to Durham but ignored the advice.  Cumin took himself to Durham where his men continued their campaign to win hearts and minds with a spot of looting and murder.

Inevitably the Northumbrians got into the city and  killed Cumin’s men presumably assisted by the disgruntled locals.  Cumin who was staying in the bishop’s house was trapped but well defended by his men.  The Northumbrians dealt with this conundrum by setting the house on fire.  And so ended 31st January 1069 with the death yet another Earl of Northumbria.  The Orderic Vitallis now wrote  that the English “gained confidence in resisting the Normans, whom they saw as oppressors of their friends and allies.”

Once the north had risen in rebellion it wasn’t long before it spread south in the general direction of Yorkshire.  The governor of York castle and his men were put to the sword – presumably they were away from home -and the exiles in the Scottish court now took their opportunity to return.  The sheriff in York managed to get a message to William telling him of the rebellion and stating that unless he received reinforcements he would have to surrender.  The Orderic Vitallis and the Anglo Saxon Chronicle agree that William virtually destroyed York amidst the ensuing slaughter and after that sent men into Northumbria to exact vengeance for the death of Robert Cumin.

Meanwhile many of the magnates who had taken shelter in Scotland had managed to evade capture or death. These earls and powerful men sent envoys to Denmark and King Swein – who saw an opportunity.  The summer of 1069 was not pleasant. A Danish fleet that may have numbered up to 300 vessels arrived in the Humber. William packed his wife off to Normandy and decided what to do next. He ultimately bought off the Danes and set upon the harrying of the North.  Simeon of Durham described people eating cats and dogs.  The Orderic Vitallis  was “moved to pity” the people.

 

Morris, Marc. (2013) The Norman Conquest. London: Windmill Books

Richard Fitz Scrob

1-The-coronation-of-William-the-Conqueror-Westminster-Abbey-as-depicted-by-Matthew-Paris.jpg

William the Conqueror

Scrob is pronounced “Scroob” and this particular Scrob is thought to be an ancestor of the Scrope family who I usually blog about in the context of border wardenry.

Richard was granted lands on the Welsh marches by Edward the Confessor – so he is part of that group of Normans who were established prior to the Conquest.  Historians think that Richard had become part of the Confessor’s friendship network in Normandy and that when he became king in 1042 that Fitz Scrob benefited from lands in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.  Study of Richard’s Castle near Ludlow reveals that Fitz Scrob built a simple motte and bailey fortification as early as 1050 making it one of the first castles in the country.  Ultimately a settlement grew around the castle even though the local population were initially recorded as being very alarmed by the new structure in their midst.

Inevitably in the aftermath the Conquest a land hungry border baron with adult sons might have looked to his Anglo-Saxon neighbour with a view to acquiring some of his land.  This appears to be what happened in the case of Fitz Scrob whose land lay alongside that of Eadric (Wild Edric), the nephew of Eadric Streona.  Up until the Conquest Eadric had been one of the wealthiest landowners in Shropshire.  His land was not forfeit after the Conquest because he had not taken part in the Battle of Hastings.  However his lands were gradually confiscated and split up between Norman lords including Richard Fitz Scrob based in Hereford.

Somewhat ironically William the Conqueror had left Earl Edwin of Mercia in charge of the county recognising that the borders were an important area of his new kingdom.  He did not want to antagonise the Saxons who lived there in case they made an alliance with the unconquered Welsh princes. This did not stop Fitz Scrob.

Some books suggest that Fitz Scrob expected reward from the Conqueror for having provided him with information prior to the invasion and that Eadric’s lands were what he had in mind. By 1067 Eadric, refusing to hand over his lands, was in revolt against the Normans.  A raid towards Hereford is recorded that year.  It accords with the period when William returned to Normandy and his regents took the opportunity to enrich themselves in his absence. As the Saxons began to rebel elsewhere in the kingdom the path of Eadric’s campaign has largely been lost.  Edwin, Earl of Mercia also rebelled against William but swiftly made his peace when William returned to England.

In 1069 Eadric made an alliance with the Welsh, besieged Shrewsbury and burned the town. Ultimately William the Conqueror  handed approximately 7/8th of Shropshire over to Norman land holders – after all Eadric had made an oath to him when William became king and even though he had been provoked he had rebelled – William was the tenant-in-chief and following Eadric’s rebellion he simply took the land leaving Eadric with only three manors to support himself and his family. Amongst the men to benefit was  Osbern FitzRichard the son of Richard Fitz Scrob.  History is not entirely certain when Richard Fitz Scrob died but he is last mentioned in the records in 1067.

Fitz Scrob’s descendants eventually married into the Mortimer family who played an important part in later medieval history. Another of them married Rosamund Clifford’s sister.  Rosamund was, of course, the mistress of Henry II.

 

 Augustin, Thierry. (2011) The story of the Conquest of England by the Normans: Its Causes, and Its Consequences, in England, Scotland, Ireland, and on the Continent Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

 

http://www.castlestudiesgroup.org.uk/CSGJournal2016-17X8-Richards%20Castle.pdf

Where is King Harold buried?

king haroldWilliam the Conqueror  did not want Harold’s burial spot to become a shrine for discontented Saxons.  According to some histories Harold’s lover, or hand-fast wife,  Edith Swan neck went onto the battle field and discovered Harold’s horribly mutilated body by markings known only to her.  Meanwhile Harold’s mother Gytha offered William her son’s weight in gold in order to recover the body and give it a Christian burial.  According to William of Jumieges the Conqueror had the body buried under a cairn on the shore.

However, it is usually agreed that the body was either transported in secrecy, that the Conqueror relented or that there was a heart only burial at Waltham Abbey in Essex.   The Abbey was founded by Harold who owned large estates in Waltham.  One of the reasons why he founded the abbey was because he was allegedly cured of paralysis as a child. The Waltham Chronicle goes a step further and has two monks accompany the king to Hastings and take part in the search for the body and the request to William.

In 2014 there was a survey carried out to try and find the body which had been moved to the high altar in the medieval period but during the course of the Reformation the final resting place of the supposed bones of King Harold were lost.

kingharoldsgrave

A more recent supposition is that the body was moved to Bosham Church.  This idea developed in 1954 when during work a Saxon grave was uncovered near the chancel steps close to a grave containing the remains of King Cnut’s daughter – an eight year old who drowned in the nearby river.  These remains had been rediscovered during the Victorian period.  To be buried near the chancel suggests a high rank – there is the small problem that analysis of the bones at the time suggested someone older than Harold but it does remain a possibility.  Bosham fell into the hands of William the Conqueror after 1066.

And just because I can – there’s also the theory that Harold survived Hastings and spent his life on various pilgrimages before going back to Waltham to die.  If that theory takes your fancy then you can read more at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-29612656

The image of the marker comes from http://blueborage.blogspot.com/2016/10/is-king-harold-buried-here-ruins-at.html

Who was Guy of Ponthieu

Guy_of_PonthieuGuy of Ponthieu captured Harold of Wessex he arrived from England in 1054  and his boat was wrecked off modern day Picardy– whether it was a fishing trip gone wrong or a diplomatic mission to have his brother and nephew released from the custody of Duke William or even on the orders of King Edward.  Guy based the capture on the laws of  Wreck.  Essentially any ship wrecked mariner could find himself sold into slavery, kept imprisoned or ransomed back to his family.  Guy liked, it would seem, to entertain his captives in the interval between capture and release by torturing them.  The Bayeux tapestry suggests that on receiving the news of Harold’s arrival Guy rode in person to view the sailors who had the misfortune to make land fall upon his coast.

BayeuxTapestryScene07

 

William upon hearing the news at Rouen from a messenger ordered Guy to hand the earl over into his custody.  Guy does this because he is a vassal of Normandy – which makes it all sound very straight forward and Guy’s part in the tale very small but as is the way of these things there is a back story.

 

Guy succeeded to the County of Ponthieu after the death of his brother Enguarrand (the second count of that name) who was William, Duke of Normandy’s brother-in-law.  The marriage with Adeliza or Adelaide, Daughter of Duke Richard, was annulled in 1049/50 on the grounds of consanguinity.  There was a daughter also called Adeliza from the marriage.

Just to make life that little bit more entertaining Enguerrand and Guy’s sister was married to William of Normandy’s uncle.  The uncle, William of Arques, had contested his nephew’s claim to the duchy of Normandy based on the fact that William of Normandy was illegitimate. By 1053 the two Williams had come to blows and the French had waded in on William of Arques’ side.  Enguarrand’s family ties with William of Arques not to mention the fact that his ex-wife had retained her dower despite their annulment goes some way to explaining why the Count of Porthieu fought against William of Normandy rather than with him.  He was killed in 1053 at the siege of Argues by William’s men.

 

Guy, the count on the Bayeaux tapestry, sought to be revenged for his brother’s death by joining forces against William.    Unfortunately he was captured following the Battle of Mortemer (6thFeb 1054) and spent the next two years in custody at Bayeux until he was released having sworn fealty to Duke William.  Consequentially when William of Normandy demanded the release of Harold Earl of Wessex Guy didn’t have a great deal of choice.

count guyGuy is shown on the Bayeux tapestry on four occasions. Harold is shown being captured by Guy mounted on a horse as he comes ashore; then on his throne – replete with a Norman looking hair cut and stipey socks (I know they’re not called socks but just roll with it.)  He’s shown for a third time when William’s men turn up demanding Harold’s release into their custody.  William’s men are all taller than Guy who appears to be wearing a rather colourful tunic along with a set of yellow and green hose. The final occasion for Guy to appear on the tapestry is when he takes Harold to hand him over to William.

county guy and duke william

Is it my imagination or is Guy riding a mule whilst William is riding a horse – either way Guy’s mount has a very small head?  The camels in the side panels above are interesting.  They are symbolic of something!  Endurance, lust or even humility …take your pick.

 

Robert, Count of Mortain

odo-robertIt’s odd how names echo through history.   Prince John was made Count of Mortain in 1189 when he married Isabella of Gloucester shortly before his brother Richard went off to the Crusades.  The move was designed to ensure that John towed the line whilst Richard was away.

The title and territory belonged to the Dukedom of Normandy and seems to have been given to family members.  William the Conqueror made his half brother Robert the Count of Mortain in about 1063.   William of Jumièges  records that William of Normandy appointed his brother to the plum title after he stripped his cousin William Wernlenc of the position.  The Orderic Vitalis tells the story of Wernlenc promising an impoverished household knight all the booty he could wish for from inside Normandy.  It smacked of treachery so William deposed Wernlenc.  Mortain was on Normandy’s border with Brittany and Maine.  William needed to trust the man in charge of the territory.

William and Robert shared a mother, Herleva.  William’s mother was eventually married to Herluin, Vicomte of Conteville. Odo was born in 1030, two years (ish) after William’s birth.  The year after that Robert was born. William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Regnum talks about Odo being astute and clever whilst Robert was dull and plodding – though I agree with Goulding’s analysis that it would have been unwise of Duke William to place such a man in charge of the vulnerable western border to Normandy.

Robert married Matilda de Montgommery, the daughter of Roger de Montgommery who would become the Earl of Shrewsbury.  The Orderic Vitalis identifies Robert’s wife and parentage.

Popular history tends to remember Odo because of his role in commissioning the Bayeux Tapestry – who can forget the club wielding bishop?  Robert was not only one of William’s companions but also helped his half brother to build and equip the invasion fleet. He provided 120 vessels.  He appears on the Bayeux tapestry along side William as depicted in the image at the start of the post. William of Poitiers confirms that Robert was part of the invasion planning council. Once the conquest of England was complete Robert was also made Earl of Cornwall and richly rewarded.

One key land holding was Pevensey and another was Berkhamstead.  Both locations were equipped with motte and bailey castles.  It is from the Orderic we discover that Robert was a key military commander when the Danes attempted to invade England in 1069 following Edgar the Athling’s rebellion. Robert was left at Lindsey to flush out the Danes whilst William went north.  The Vitalis goes on to describe the “harrying of the North.”

Robert remained loyal to William throughout his half-brother’s life. William died in 1087 – by then Odo was not only disgraced but imprisoned.  William wished to exclude the bishop from his deathbed amnesty but was persuaded by Robert to include their sibling.

In 1088, however,  he joined with his brother Odo in revolt against their nephew William Rufus.  William Rufus returned the earldom of Kent to Odo but it wasn’t long before his uncle was plotting to make Rufus’s elder brother, Robert Curthose, king of England as well as Duke of Normandy.  Rufus attacked Tonbridge castle where Odo was based.  When the castle fell Odo fled to Robert in Pevensey.  The plan was that Robert Curthose’s fleet would arrive there, just as William the Conqueror’s had done in 1066.  Instead, Pevensey fell to William after a siege that lasted six weeks.

William Rufus pardoned his uncle Robert and reinstated him to his titles and lands. He died in Normandy in 1095.

Golding, Brian. (1979) “Robert of Mortain,” in Proceedings of the Battle Conference

edited by Marjorie Chibnall (pp119-145) 

 

Domesday and the Salisbury Oath

william the conqueror. jpeg

William, Duke of Normandy raising his visor to show that he is unharmed. Depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry.

William the Conqueror died on 9th September 1087.  The years following 1066 had not been peaceful ones.  He may have secured the Crown with the death of Harold at Hastings but there was the small matter of resistance and revolt. In 1067 Eadric the Wild revolted, he was followed by the Northern earls and then in 1070 King Sweyn arrived from Denmark.

Let’s not forget Malcolm Canmore who made a bit of a habit of invading the North of England. In 1072 William returned the compliment by taking his army into Scotland

William’s family proved disloyal. In 1077 Robert Curthose – or Robert “shorty-pants” rebelled against his father because he wanted some real power.  Even worse William’s wife Matilda supported their son.    William’s brother Odo the Bishop of Bayeux who features on the tapestry as William’s right hand man found himself arrested and carted off to Rouen without trial in 1082. The following year Matilda died and Robert went on a European jaunt.  William must have felt particularly betrayed by his brother because he refused to include Odo in his death bed amnesty of prisoners.

 

So there’s the back drop.  The Danes were contemplating invading England and William’s son was endangering William’s position in Normandy by making an alliance with King Philip of France.  His brother, on whom William had relied, proved greedy, ambitious and untrustworthy.  In 1086, William’s health was failing, having been described by the French king as looking as though he was pregnant – William ordered an evaluation for tax purposes of his English territories.  He was expecting trouble and wanted to know how much revenue he could draw on.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle describes how the king sent men across England to find out how many hundred hides of land there were (120 acres) in each shire, what William owned and what his income ought to have been in terms of taxation.  He also wanted to know what his bishops and earls owned.   The result is unique.

In addition to taxation William wanted guarantees of loyalty.  With this in mind he summoned the great and the good to Salisbury in August 1087 along with a range of landowners.  Normally, in the feudal system, a king took oaths of fealty from his tenants-in-chief and they took oaths in their turn.  At Salisbury William extended the oath taking beyond his chief land owners.  There were one hundred and seventy tenants-in-chief

The ceremony took place at Old Sarum and included sub tenants as well as tenants-in-chief.  Essentially William understood that although the 170 chiefs owed their allegiance to him that their tenants owed their allegiance to the chiefs rather than to him – as in my vassal’s vassal is not my vassal!  This demonstrates that the centralised pinnacle of the feudal system wasn’t yet in place in England in 1087.  The Order Vitallis says that William  distributed land to some 60,000 knights – a huge number – and even if it is wrong (600 is rather nearer the mark) it is useful to demonstrate how the Oath of Salisbury changed things- At Salisbury William gained oaths of allegiance from everyone who held land – they were now all his vassals and owed him service not just the 170 bigwigs.

Cassady, Richard. The Norman Achievement

Comets in English history and beyond -harbingers of disaster, disease and death

Bayeux_Tapestry_scene32_Halley_comet_closeup.jpgHalley’s Comet made an appearance in 1066.  Chinese scholars had been noting its appearance since 240BC so Western Europe was a bit late to the party.  The Babylonians were in on the act as well.

The English thought that the comet was an omen for war in 1066.  William the Conqueror was much more optimistic he called it a “wonderful sign from Heaven” but then he’d taken the precaution of giving a daughter to the Church and persuading the Pope to call his invasion of England a crusade.

As luck would have it I am also in the midst of the seventeenth century at the moment so was mildly delighted when I came across Samuel Pepys account of a comet in 1664 seen above London.

So to the Coffeehouse, where great talke of the Comet seen in several places; and among our men at sea, and by my Lord Sandwic, to whom I intend to write about it to-night.

Sir Isaac Newton, a student at the time, searched the skies for the comet and Pepys hoped to see it for himself, not least because it had caused a plethora of prophesies – oddly none of them positive!

Mighty talke there of this Comet that is seen a ’night; and the King and the Queene did sit up last night to see it, and did, it seems. And to-night I thought to have done so too, but it is cloudy and so no stars appear. But I will endeavor it (December 17).

My lord Sandwich this day writes me word That he hath seen (at Portsmouth) the Comet, And says it is the most extraordinary thing that Ever he saw. (December 21)

Daniel Defoe mentions it as well in his Journal of a Plague Year – which despite appearances to the contrary is a secondary rather than a primary source.

 

120px-Tiger_Tail_Star_1665-01-10Essentially the Normans and the Londoners who saw the comets in 1066, 1664 and 1665 (there were two rather than one prior to the plague and Great Fire of London) believed that they were fiery messengers of the heavens – a direct line from God.  They were an indication of his irritation with humanity and a heavy hint that something extremely unpleasant was bound to follow.  If it wasn’t fire, war and plague then someone important was bound to die.

It wasn’t long before the doom mongers were proven correct in both 1066 and 1064.  In 1066 Harold Hardrada and William of Normandy both took the opportunity to launch an invasion of England.  In 1064 people started dying rather unpleasantly from the plague and let’s not forget that there were two comets so that covers the Great Fire of London as well.

Bill+Of+Mortality+From+1665+London.jpegThe plague began in Yarmouth in the winter of 1064.  By Christmas the disease had spread to London.  The weekly Bills of Mortality were about to become extremely depressing. Not that it was a surprise.  In 1065 the plague was endemic in England.  On average it put in an appearance every couple of decades.  There had been an outbreak in 1603 which rather quelled James I’s coronation celebrations.  In 1625 – the year James had died approximately twenty percent of London’s population had succumbed to the disease. The first official mortality of the 1665 outbreak was in St Giles in the Fields – plague and typhus started to take their toll the numbers recorded on the Bills of Mortality began to rise.  The Great Comet prophecy had been fulfilled – plague had arrived.

And just so we’re clear that fiery stars caused panic amongst the population here are a few more examples.  In 1456 the Ottoman Empire invaded Hungary –  their arrival pre-ordained by Halley’s Comet.  Pope Callixtus III ordered prayers to be said in an effort to counter-act the comet.

Halley’s Comet turned up in 1910 – slightly early for World War One and even the sinking of the Titanic.  Despite the fact that by the beginning of the twentieth century scientists had given the world a better understanding of what a comet was they could still cause chaos.  In 1908 for example panic broke out in Chicago because people thought that the comet they saw (Moorhouse’s Comet) signalled the end of the world and in 1910 when Halley’s comet arrived you could purchase an umbrella to protect you from the comet – which was slightly optimistic as some scientists believed that the tail of the comet was filled with poison gas that would kill everyone when the Earth passed through it.

Obviously Halley’s comet didn’t kill everyone – that would be silly.  No, it was just a sign that Edward VII was going to pop his clogs on 6th May in Buckingham Palace – not from comet miasma but from bronchitis.  He was a man in his seventies  who had over indulged for most of his adult life and who smoked heavily.  It probably didn’t require a comet to predict his death.

And finally Giotto managed to paint Halley’s Comet as the Star of Bethlehem in 1305 – always nice to see a more positive construction of its appearance. The painting can be seen at the Scovegni Chapel in Padua.

halley-comet-as-nativity.jpg

 

William the Conqueror’s sons

young-william-the-conqueror.jpgFor the most part when we think of William the Conqueror’s and Matilda of Flanders’ children we tend to identify William Rufus who got himself killed in the New Forest in 1100 and his little brother Henry who took the opportunity to snaffle the crown having secured the treasury in Winchester.

The death of William Rufus  is pictured below in an illustration from William of Malmsebury’s account of events in the New Forest.

William-II-death.gif

The English crown went to William Rufus as the second son surviving son whilst the more important patrimony – i.e. Normandy went to William the Conqueror’s eldest son Robert Curthose.    Henry, William’s youngest surviving son received money to buy land.Robert_Curthose_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VI

William and Robert hadn’t always seen eye to eye.  In 1077 Robert rebelled against his father following a prank played by William Rufus and Henry.  They thought it would be funny to up end a full chamber pot over Robert’s head.  Robert fought his brothers and the resulting brawl was only stopped when William the Conqueror intervened. Robert was so disgruntled when his two brothers went unpunished that he and his followers attempted to seize Rouen Castle the following day.  The dispute lasted for the next three years until Queen Matilda was able to bring both sides together having secretly sent money to her son behind William’s back during that time. As is often the case there is more to the tale than the story.  William left Matilda in Normandy acting as regent during his absence.  Not only was she acting on William’s behalf but she was also standing in for the young Robert.  This practice should have stopped as Robert grew up.  He demanded that he be allowed more responsibility, but William who appears not to have had a high opinion of his eldest son refused.  Robert’s resentment grew.

Matilda died in 1083 and Robert became something of a vagrant, travelling widely to avoid spending time in his father’s court.

220px-Henry_I_of_EnglandWhen William the Conqueror died in 1097 Robert gained Normandy and made William Rufus his heir.  William did like wise. However despite this agreement little brother Henry (pictured left) was able to claim the English throne  in 1100 because  Robert was on the return journey to Normandy from the First Crusade where he had proved himself to be an effective military leader which goes somewhat against the chronicles of the time which describe him at best as lazy, at worst as incompetent. At the time of William Rufus’s death  Robert not only had further to travel but he had interrupted his journey in order to marry a wealthy bride.  In order to pay for the crusade he’d mortgaged Normandy and now needed to find the funds to free himself from his debts.

His bride was Sybilla of Conversano  about whom I have posted before. The pair had a son called William Clito before she died in 1103. Like William the Conqueror, Robert had left his wife as regent during his absences and most chroniclers agree that she made a better job of the role than Robert.

Inevitably  Robert finally arrived on English shores with an army on July 21st 1101 but Henry  persuaded Robert to settle for a pension instead of a kingdom. This was recognised in the Treaty of Alton (Hampshire). Sooner rather than later Henry stopped paying the pension and punished the men who had supported Robert in his claim.

In 1105 Henry invaded Normandy and beat Robert at the Battle of Tinchebray.  The British contingent in Henry’s army  felt that Hastings had been avenged as the Norman army fled the field.  Robert spent the next 28 years in captivity.  He died in 1134 in Cardiff Castle where he’d passed the time learning Welsh and writing poetry. He is buried in Gloucester Cathedral. Robert’s incarceration did not mean that Henry was bale to rule both England and Normandy in peace. Robert’s son William Clito was recognised by many Norman nobles as their rightful duke.

 

RichardofNormandyAnd finally, William Rufus wasn’t the only one of William the Conqueror’s sons to die in the New Forest.  Richard  (pictured left) who was born some time between 1055 and 1059 died in a hunting accident by 1075. Orderic Vitalis says of him that “when a youth who had not yet received the belt of knighthood, had gone hunting in the New Forest and whilst he was galloping in pursuit of a wild beast he had been badly crushed between a strong hazel branch and the pommel of his saddle, and mortally injured.” He is buried in Winchester.

 

 

 

 

Aird, William. Robert ‘Curthose’, Duke of Normandy

Weir, Alison. Queens of the Conquest

 

 

 

 

The De Clare family – royal relations.

clare1So who are the de Clare family from yesterday’s post who seemed to be loitering in the New Forest when William Rufus met his end? Complicated – that’s what rather than who. Richard son of Gilbert arrived with the Conquest.  Gilbert was a son of the Count of Brionne.  Gilbert was actually one of Duke William’s guardians during his childhood and was killed in a bid to control William.  Richard fled Normandy along with his brother only returning when Duke William was able to control the duchy. He was also one of Duke William’s extended family (Gilbert’s father was one of Duke Richard of Normandy’s illegitimate sons).

 

Richard Fitz Gilbert was with the Conqueror in 1066 and did rather nicely from the whole affair, acquiring more than 170 holdings including Tonbridge in Kent and Clare in Suffolk.  The Domesday Book identifies him as a very wealthy man indeed.  Not only rich but trusted by William who left him in England with the justicar role while he returned to Normandy in 1073. It was in this capacity that Richard helped to suppress the so-called Earls Rebellion in 1075.

 

Whilst more of Tonbridge Castle stands today than the castle at Clare in Suffolk, it was at Clare that the family chose to make their administrative seat- hence the de Clare element of the name.  All that remains today of the castle is the motte – the mound of earth on which the wooden keep once stood.  It must have been an impressive sight given that the motte is over 60ft tall today and can be something of a surprise to a casual visitor to the town.  In the thirteenth century the wooden keep was replaced with a stone  shell keep structure.

 

Rather interestingly, after William  the Conqueror died Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare (to give him his full name) was one of the Norman lords who rebelled against William Rufus in favour of Rufus’s older brother Robert Curthose.  He died in 1090 having retired to the priory at St Neot’s in 1088. He and his wife had re-founded the priory in the years after the Conquest and it should be noted that the de Clares were important monastic patrons wherever they held land.

Despite his retirement from worldly affairs Richard de Clare left a tribe of powerful sons.  There were at least six of them as well as two daughters, not to mention a wife, Rohese Gifford, who owned land in her own right.  The de Clare family were well placed for power – they were related to the ruling house and were extremely wealthy. They were marriageable and therefore families sought alliances with the de Clares – which meant it wasn’t long before they were related to most of the other powerful Anglo-Norman families in the country adding to their political power.

Roger, the eldest son, inherited the Norman de Clare land. Gilbert who was the second of the de Clare sons inherited the English estates.  In 1088 Gilbert and his brother Roger rebelled against William Rufus at Tonbridge.  William promptly turned the motte and bailey castle into rubble – let’s not forget it was a wooden structure at the time. Gilbert and Roger were captured.   Interestingly the family despite having rebelled against the king; being suspected of being involved with Bishop Odo’s conspiracies in 1083; and were undoubtedly part of Robert de Mowbray’s conspiracies against William Rufus, kept hold of their lands.

Gilbert turns up in William Rufus’s army fighting the Scots.  The de Clare brothers appear at William’s side as part of the hunting party in August 1100 when he was killed.  Had it been an ordinary hunting party it would have been evidence that the de Clares were reconciled with William but since William suffered his rather nasty accident it is almost inevitable that historians point out the earlier hostility as circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy.   In 1101 Gilbert was at court with Henry I.  It could all be perfectly innocent but  there are rather a lot of coincidences – sadly all without the necessary documentary evidence to suggest conspiracy.

 

Gilbert remained hugely wealthy and influential.  He founded Cardigan Priory having been given the area around Cardigan by Henry I (no thought was given to what the local population might think- essential you have the land providing you can keep hold of it!).  Gilbert did secure Cardigan and Aberystwyth.  It is almost impossible to write about Welsh Castles without mentioning the de Clare family.

 

Brother Robert, another of the hunting party was the Baron of Little Dunmow and steward to Henry I. Walter de Clare would found Tintern Abbey.  He was a marcher lord in South Wales having been granted land by Henry I near Chepstow.

Between the brothers there were many children ensuring that de Clares married into important families, acquired land and a name for themselves but that’s an entirely different story which should include Richard de Clare, the Earl of Pembroke better known to History as “Strongbow.”  His daughter married William Marshal.  The two families would intermarry thereafter.  The Earls of Gloucester were de Clares and stood surety for the Magna Carta. Eventually the de Clares would marry back into the royal family with the 7thEarl of Gloucester – another Gilbert de Clare- marrying Joan of Acre, the daughter of Edward I ensuring that the family were knee deep in the Scottish Wars of Independence and Edward II’s familial difficulties over the Despensers.  This must have caused some head scratching as Hugh Despenser the Younger’s wife, Eleanor, was another member of the de Clare family.

Eleanor was the 8thearl’s sister.  She and her two other sisters became co-heiresses after the 8thearl died at Bannockburn. She was sent to the Tower when Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer deposed Edward II.  Three of her daughters were forced to become nuns at that time.  Eleanor’s story is a complicated and cruel one  – she escaped only by signing over most of her de Clare inheritance to the Crown.  It was only when Edward III took control of his throne that Eleanor was able to regain her lands (she’s going to get a longer post another day.)

 

Whilst we’re at it let’s not forget Walter Tyrel the man who is supposed to have shot William Rufus – he was Richard de Clare’s son-in-law. All of which brings us back to the starting point – was William Rufus’s death an accident? Yes – it still might have been but when you start to look at the de Clare family and their previous relationship with William you do have to wonder.

And before I forget Gilbert Fitz Richard’s son was also called Gilbert.  His wife was Isabel de Beaumont.  The Beaumont family had also fought at the Battle of Hastings but more important to this post is the co-incidence that Isabel was a mistress of Henry I – what a tangled web.

 

Howden Minster

DSC_0225.jpgToday Howden is a sleepy little town between Doncaster and York. The ancient county of Howdenshire under the jurisdiction of the Prince Bishops of Durham no longer exists as an administrative entity but in the medieval period Howden lay at the center of a thriving hub. It was a residence for the Prince Bishops of Durham to provide a headquarters in the south (I know – for those of you who think the Watford Gap is in the north, it is a concept that may be difficult to compute but Northumbrians and Cumbrians will no doubt be nodding approvingly).

As well as providing a residence well away from the turbulent Scottish border it also allowed the canons who lived in the minster precincts to administer the bishop’s lands. They set up a grammar school in about 1265 to teach Latin and song to the choristers. The school remained in use until 1925.

 

Before the Norman Conquest the church belonged to the monks of Peterborough Abbey but in 1080 it was gifted by Wiliam the Conqueror to Wiliam of Calais who was the Bishop of Durham at the time. Howdenshire also came under the jurisdiction of Durham. William of Calais initially aimed at creating a monastic foundation but it did not thrive so the way Howden was staffed had to be changed – more on that in a moment.

 

All that remains of Howden Minster today is its west end which now serves as Howden’s parish church. The Oxford Dictionary defines a minster as a large or important church. It may have cathedral status but not always. Probably the best-known minster with cathedral status in the country is York Minster. The ruins of the larger medieval foundation at Howden are cared for by English Heritage.  Double click on the image at the start of this post to open its webpage in a new window.

 

Just to confuse the issue still further Howden Minster used to be a collegiate church meaning that it was the residence of canons or a college of priests with the word college simply meaning an organized group with rights and duties. It was founded by Robert, Bishop of Durham, in 1266, for Secular clerks, and dedicated to St. Peter and St. Cuthbert. “There were originally five prebends, to which a sixth was subsequently added.” The canons were all priests despite the description of them as being “secular.” All the phrase means is that they weren’t Augustinian, i.e. they didn’t take monastic vows, although presumably the Bishop of Durham would have taken a dim view if they hadn’t lived a fairly monastic life with all the usual eschewing of women and wealth. Thus, very loosely, the foundation at Howden was not monastic like an abbey it was more of an administrative part of the bishop’s diocese with the canons as administrators.  They were led by a dean rather than an abbot or prior.

 

The community of priests was not self-supporting in the way that an abbey or a priory was self-supporting although it was self governing – hence the existence of a chapter house. The Bishop of Durham elected to use the prebendary system which sounds complicated but simply means that the canons received an income or stipend from a nearby parish church; in this case Barnby, Howden, Saltmarsh, Skelton, Skipwith and Thorpe.

 

Nowhere is this better demonstrated that the canons of Howden were not part of a monastic foundation than by the fact that whilst England’s monasteries were dissolved in the reign of Henry VIII it wasn’t until 1548, in the reign of Edward VI, that collegiate churches, including the one at Howden, were abolished. Thomas Cromwell’s monastic visitors did come to Howden because the record of their findings still exists. In 1535 the value of the college is given as £96 8s. 10½d. gross, and net £61 2s. 10½d. Had it purely been a monastic foundation it would have fallen well within the limits set for the identification of smaller monasteries of £200 a year or less and been dissolved in 1536.

 

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The current building was erected in the thirteenth century  in a geometric style and it is thought that masons who worked on the Notre Dame de Paris and then on the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey during the reign of Henry III (King John’s son) came north to work on Howden Minster reflecting its importance at that time.   By the fifteenth century a chapter house had been added. Another feature of the medieval minster were its chantries including one with an altar dedicated to St Cuthbert.

The income of the minster was also helped by the existence of a shrine where John of Howden was buried.  He was Eleanor of Provence’s (Henry III’s wife) confessor and gained a reputation as a saint although he was never canonised.  His death and burial in 1275 added an extra stream of income for the canons. He’d started building a new quire during his lifetime and prophesied that he would achieve his goal after his death if not before.  After his death, miracles occurred at his tomb, including one on his own funeral when he was seen to raise his arms out of his coffin.  His tomb was visited by royalty including Edward I and Henry V.

 

It will come as no surprise to followers of English Civil War history that Parliamentarians stabled their horses in Howden Minster or that they broke up the organ and used the pipes as whistles. In addition to Roundheads the weather wasn’t particularly kind to the minster and in 1929 arson destroyed its tower and the choir stalls which were replaced by Robert Thomson of Kilburn, the famous Kilburn Mouseman on account of the wooden mice than can be found lurking on his creations. Howden Minster is famous for the number of mice that can be spotted on its furniture and woodwork. Apparently there are nearly forty of them in residence.

 

DSC_0243.jpgAmazingly there are some medieval survivals in Howden including three statues, one of which is thought to present the Virgin Mary. Not everyone is in agreement as to who the lady might be but one thing is for sure she is a stunning survival and one which must have been carefully protected across the centuries.

 

 

 

Hoveringham – Hoxton’, in A Topographical Dictionary of England, ed. Samuel Lewis (London, 1848), pp. 566-569. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-dict/england/pp566-569 [accessed 10 October 2016].

 

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