Marriage Alliances 1180-1250: Part 4 Isabel de Clare.

One of the most interesting heiresses of the period, not in the least because she was married to William Marshal, was Isabel de Clare. Isabel’s marriage to Marshal typified the incredibly important political role that the marriage of these heiresses played. These marriages were not only used as rewards, they were used to elevate men to real positions of power. In some occasions these men could help to change the face of a country, I would argue that Marshal was one of these and his marriage to Isabel was what gave him the status to have a real political affect.

Isabel herself is a little hard to pin down. In essentials she was the perfect medieval wife possessing of great fortune and very fecund, they had ten children, but she makes her own mark in a variety of interesting ways. While the History of William Marshal can not be taken entirely at face value the sentiment that is expressed throughout the work is that Isabel was actively involved in the rule of domains that were essentially hers.

marriage of aoife and storngbow

The marriage of Marshal and Isabel de Clare as depicted in the modern  Ros tapestry in New Ross in Ireland.

Marshal’s marriage to Isabel de Clare was the most significant elevation in his life. The lands that he gained, the children that he had from the marriage and the qualities of Isabel herself were the building blocks on which Marshal’s status was established. Marriage to Isabel gave Marshal substantial and geographically diverse lands as well as titles and wealth. In comparison, materially, Marshal brought little to the marriage because he was a virtually landless knight who only had one small estate in England and probably the rents of some lands in France. He had amassed considerable wealth however from his prowess on tourney field and he was known and respected by King Richard. Isabel gave Marshal lands in England, Ireland, Wales and what is now France and these lands gave Marshal both wealth and authority.[1]  Marshal’s marriage to Isabel mean that he made an indelible mark on her lands, not the least in Ireland. The affect Marshal had on these Irish lands illustrates just how much political change the marriage of an heiress could generate.

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Ireland under the Normans. You can see Leinster, Marshal’s lands, on the right.

David Carpenter, The Struggle for Mastery: Britain 1066-1284, London: Penguin Books, 2004, p. xx.

 Isabel’s Irish lands came to her from her father Earl Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow, who had gained them by force, and through her mother Aoife, the daughter and heiress of King Dermot MacMurchada of Leinster who was deposed as king in 1166.[1] Strongbow was a leader in a force spearheaded by English lords who won Leinster back for King Dermot. They were given permission to do so by their king Henry II in a letter recorded by Giraldus Cambrensis c. 1166. This was the beginning of the English occupation in Ireland.[2] The rewards Dermot gave Strongbow in return for his services were recorded in the relatively contemporary poem The Song of Dermot and the Earl: his daughter Aoife in marriage and his kingdom after his death. Dermot died in 1171.[3]

 

Diarmut grave

 

Dermot’s grave in Ferns, Ireland.

Strongbow died in 1176 leaving a son and daughter too young to inherit and so Leinster was in the hands of the Crown until Strongbow’s son came of age. The son, Gilbert, died as a minor in 1185 and thus Isabel de Clare inherited everything. Marshal on marrying Isabel gained lordship of her entire estate.[4] Trouble could be expected from the local Irish population who were not likely to welcome a new overlord. These peoples included the English lords who had been settled there for more than a decade and the original Irish lords. Marshal faced an uphill challenge in controlling and developing Leinster and it was one at which he certainly succeeded

On taking possession of Leinster Marshal sent deputies but did not go himself until c. 1201, and then only for a brief visit. The Irish Annals found in The Chartularies of St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin recorded that Marshal was in Ireland c. 1201.

st mary's dublin

All that remains of St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin.

They said that he came in a storm and, in thanks to God for his survival on the unforgiving Irish Sea, he founded the abbey of Tintern Parva.[5]

tintern parva

Tintern Parva on the Hook Head Peninsula in Ireland.

ship on the way to ireland

Depiction of the near disaster on the Irish Sea from the Ros Tapestry.

Marshal returned to Ireland in c. 1207 and faced rebellion, mainly from Meyler Fitz Henry. Fitz Henry was one of the original settlers, a bastard grandson of Henry I and had been appointed Justiciar of Ireland, ruler in the king’s absence, by King John. He was tenant in chief of some small fiefs, most of which he held from Marshal. Fitz Henry and Marshal were in repeated conflict and King John involved himself in Fitz Henry’s favour. Fitz Henry led many battles against Marshal’s lands both when Marshal was in Ireland and when he was not.[6] As can be seen in two charters from King John in 1216 Marshal ultimately managed to prevail and found his way back to John’s favour with Fitz Henry disgraced. The first granted Marshal Fitz Henry’s fees, a form of rent or tax, in Marshal’s own lands. The second said that if Fitz Henry should die or take the habit Marshal was to receive Fitz Henry’s fees in the Justicary’s jurisdiction, which effectively disinherited Fitz Henry’s son.[7]

As well as exercising control Marshal was responsible for developments such as the port town of New Ross. Marshal began New Ross, which still exists today, in c. 1207.[8] Once it was established, Marshal set about making it a viable port town. When he was back in favour with King John, c. 1212, Marshal negotiated to ensure that shipping could continue through Waterford and onto New Ross. Waterford was the main port and the Crown had controlled it since 1171.[9] Marshal needed his own port and New Ross suited well because of its deep harbour, river access to the heart of Leinster and links with nearby lordships.[10]

river new ross

 The Barrow river in New Ross.

New Ross is only one of the building and consolidation projects that Marshal undertook in his Irish lands during his lordship. He established other towns and also built a number of castles. He made settlements on the edges of nearby counties, retook land that had been previously lost and established monastic foundations and built a lighthouse which still stands today.

lighthouse

 Marshal’s lighthouse on the Hook Head Peninsula.

ferns castle irland

Ferns Castle which Marshal also built.

Marshal also took over lands that had lacked any kind of central authority because the Crown had run them for many years from a distance.[11] Marshal managed to establish a strong and stable lordship, despite the fact that he was so caught up in English affairs. This administrative skill ensured that he maintained his position as Lord of Leinster, as well as his other lands, and that he was sufficiently influential and experienced to become first the Earl of Pembroke, a title which he came to through right of Isabel, under King John in 1199 and then Regent in 1216.

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Pembroke Castle in Wales.

When Marshal married Isabel de Clare he became one of the most influential barons of his time because the marriage laws meant he became ruler of everything that was hers. When it came to marriage, a woman’s lineage, her family and connections, were as important as her lands. In Marshal’s case through Isabel he gained the physical lands themselves but also the eminence of her background as the daughter of an earl and the granddaughter of a King of Ireland.

Lineage and land were not all that Marshal gained from his marriage because the couple also had ten children, five sons and five daughters, all of who survived to adulthood.[12] All five daughters married influential and high ranking noblemen and only the youngest, Joan Marshal, was unmarried when her father died.[13] This gave Marshal alliances in a variety of noble families, another use for heiresses, and helped to give him the support he needed to stay in power even when he was out of favour with King John. It is due to his eldest son William that his memory survives today in such detail because it was he who commissioned the History. Marshal achieved what eluded many prominent landholders of his time because he had five sons thus having multiple heirs. When Marshal died his authority and legacy seemed safe and his position solidified, which must have made reaching the top of his society seem worthwhile because he had been able to protect all his family and to pass on what he created secure in the knowledge of its survival. Success in this time was intended to be dynastic rather than just personal. Unfortunately this was not to come to pass because, although Marshal never knew it, his sons all died childless and his lands were dispersed.[14]

 

Chepstow Castle Wales

Chepstow Castle which Marshal gained from marriage to Isabel. He also built significant proportions of it.

Children, lineage and land aside, Isabel as a person and the role she played in the marriage and thus in Marshal’s ascent is much harder to define but just as vital and fortuitous. Isabel came to the marriage probably in her late teens while Marshal was in his early forties. Despite the age difference by all accounts she was an active participant in the marriage and in the governing of the lands. If she had not been it is unlikely that Marshal would have succeeded so well in holding together his disparate domains. She was not only his entrée into the high aristocracy, but her support was important to the retention of his authority. There may have been no legal repercussions if Isabel had not supported Marshal, but the people he ruled were her vassals and would have been more likely to rebel against their new untried lord without Isabel’s support.

Marshal trusted Isabel and her abilities enough to leave her in an administrative position in Ireland c.1207 during the fragile military and political situation, when King John forced him back to England. Before returning to England in c. 1207 the History reports that he said to his men.

My Lords, here you see the countess whom I have brought here by the hand into your presence. She is your lady by birth, the daughter of the earl who graciously, in his generosity, enfieffed you all, once he had conquered the land. She stays behind here with you as a pregnant woman. Until such time as God brings me back here, I ask you all to give her unreservedly the protection she deserves by birthright, for she is your lady, as we well know; I have no claim to anything here save through her.[15]

While it is very unlikely that he spoke these exact words the sentiment is clear. Isabel was Marshal’s key to ruling.

Isabel was a potent symbol to Leinster. She was the daughter of the Princess of Leinster and the granddaughter of its last king, which would have pleased the Irish lords. She was the daughter of Richard Strongbow who had been responsible for establishing many of current English lords, or at the least their fathers, in their lands in Leinster and because she was pregnant she represented the future of the lordship. By leaving her behind Marshal had a reasonable chance that many of his lords would cleave to her and thus his cause, which would leave him free to deal with King John.

Isabel proved a very able defender of Marshal and their lands in Ireland. Almost as soon as Marshal left, she found herself embroiled in war and by 1208 she was besieged in Kilkenny castle and “she had a man let down over the battlements to go and tell John of Earley that it was the very truth that she was besieged in Kilkenny.”[16] John of Earley came and Isabel’s men were victorious. It was also Isabel with whom Meyler Fitz Henry first made peace and it was recorded in History that “he [Fitz Henry] had made peace first with the countess and then with the earl’s men, and … he had given his son Henry as a hostage for his inheritance.”[17] Isabel was very much in command of the defence of her lands even if she could not physically lead men. Isabel was a unifying figure because of her lineage and without her presence in Ireland and her willing participation Marshal could have easily lost Ireland while he was trapped at John’s court.

kilkenny

 Kilkenny Castle as it is today.

Defending her lands was not Isabel’s only involvement because she was also engaged in their creation and improvement. Marshal took the fact that his only claim to the lands was through Isabel very seriously because he made many developments in Leinster with charters that had Isabel’s ‘counsel and consent’ recorded on them.[18] According to Cóilín Ó Drisceoil there is a tradition that Isabel had been heavily involved with making the decision to locate the foundation of the town of New Ross on the Wexford bank of the Barrow River. This was not necessarily the most practical bank on which to build a town, as it was steep and required the building of one of the longest bridges in medieval Ireland. It was perfect however from a political point of view because Wexford was the centre of the former Kingdom of Leinster.[19] The earliest written mention of the tradition of Isabel’s involvement in New Ross’s foundation was in the 1607 work Britannia by William Camden.[20] Isabel understood the political imperatives in building a new city and made sure that they were carried out correctly. She also helped to ensure that Marshal remained lord of all their other lands as well because unlike other noble wives she commonly travelled with him throughout their domains and was involved in their governance. She was the symbol by which Marshal governed as well as an active participant.

st mary's New ross

 St Mary’s Abbey which Marshal and Isabel built in New Ross.

Marshal and Isabel’s match seems to have become one of love. This was exemplified by the way Isabel behaved during and after Marshal’s prolonged death. Marshal first began to fall ill around the end of January 1219 and it took him until midday on May 14th 1219 to actually die.[21] A very moving picture of Isabel just after his death was painted in History “whilst mass was being sung it was observed that the countess could not walk without danger of coming to grief, for her heart, body, her head and limbs had suffered from her exertions, her weeping and her vigils.”[22] This was a final testament to a woman who had stood strongly by Marshal throughout much of his life and his protracted death and had continued to love him. Isabel died only a year later and was buried at Tintern Abbey in Wales.

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The Temple Church in London where Marshal was burried and his effergy.

tinturn abbey

Tintern Abbey in Wales where Isabel was burried, no trace of her burial remains.

Marshal was given Isabel as a reward and as a way of binding a skilled warrior and an admired man to the new King Richard I in 1189. The authority bestowed on him by this land and the wealth he acquired through marriage meant that he had the ability to make an indelible mark on England. When King John died in 1216 he left a country in turmoil with many of the country’s barons in rebellion. The then approximately 70 year old Marshal was made Regent for the nine year old Henry III and under his direction the country was brought back from the brink and Henry III’s kingship saved. The situation was dire enough to prompt Marshal to declare, according to the History, when he assumed the Regency that “if all the world deserted the young boy, except me, do you know what I would do? I would carry him on my shoulders and walk with him thus,” “ and never let him down from island to island, from land to land.” [23] Marshal was the head of the government who defeated the rebellious barons and the French Prince Louis, later Louis VIII, who was the barons’ candidate for the throne of England.[24] Marrying wards to loyal followers as rewards was a long held practice and one that continued. Much of the time it had little overall effect, however on occasion it elevated a man such as Marshal to a prominent position in society which enabled them to have a far-reaching consequences on the political situation, often in multiple countries.

This will for the moment be the end of my series of noble marriages. I may come back to it at a later date.

All the photos, obviously baring the map at the beginning, are mine.

 

[1] Catherine A. Armstrong, William Marshal Earl of Pembroke, Kenneshaw: Seneschal Press, 2006, pp. 60-61.

[2] Giraldus Cambrensis, The Conquest of Ireland, (trans.) Thomas Forster, Cambridge: Parenthesis Publications, 2001, p. 13.

[3] Anonymous, The Song of Dermot and the Earl, (ed.) & (trans.) Goddard Henry Orpen, Oxford: the Clarendon Press, 1892, pp. 19-27.

[4] Armstrong, Earl of Pembroke, p. 77.

[5] John T. Gilbert, (ed.) Chartularies of St Mary’s Abbey Dublin with The Register of its House at Dunbrody and Annals of Ireland, Volume II, London: Longman and Co, 1884, pp. 307-308.

[6] Sidney Painter, William Marshal: Knight Errant, Baron and Regent of England, Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1933 pp. 145-146.

[7] H.S Sweetman, (ed.) Calendar of Documents, Relating to Ireland, 1171-1251, London: Longman and Co, 1875, p. 106.

[8] Cóilín Ó Drisceoil, “Pons Novus, villa Willielmi Marescalli: New Ross, a town of William Marshal” in John Bradley & Cóilín Ó Drisceoil, (eds) William Marshal and Ireland, Dublin: Four Courts Press, pp. 8-9. A note about this particular text. I am unsure what is happening with the publication of this text. I was very kindly sent advanced chapters and given clear permission to use them for reference in my thesis. I feel that as the sections of this post in which I am using this information are almost verbatim from my thesis that this permission should extend to this post. I am endeavouring to discover what has happened to the publication of this book, but it seems as if it may have actually fallen through, I’m not sure. I still think the information is worth including though.

[9] Sweetman, (ed.) Ireland, p. 99.

[10] Ó Drisceoil, “New Ross” in Bradley & Ó Drisceoil, (eds) William Marshal and Ireland, pp. 10-11.

[11] Adrian Empy, “The Evolution of the Demesne in the Lordship of Leinster: the Fortunes of War or Forward Planning?” in Bradley & Ó Drisceoil, (eds) William Marshal and Ireland, pp. 36-38.

[12] T.L Jarman, William Marshal: First Earl of Pembroke, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1930, p. 99.

[13] Anonymous, History of William Marshal, (ed.) AJ. Holden, (trans.) S. Gregory & (notes.) David Crouch, Volume II, London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 2002. pp. 410-411.

[14] Matthew of Westminster, The Flowers of History: Especially as they Relate to the Affairs of Britain from the Beginning of the World to the year 1307, (ed.) & (trans.) C.A. Yonge, Volume II, London: AMS Press, 1968 , pp. 257-258.

[15] History, Volume II, pp. 177-179.

[16] History, Volume II, p. 193.

[17] History, Volume II, p. 195.

[18] Ó Drisceoil, “New Ross” in Bradley & Ó Drisceoil, (eds) William Marshal and Ireland, pp.11-12.

[19] Ó Drisceoil, “New Ross” in Bradley & Ó Drisceoil, (eds) William Marshal and Ireland, pp. 9-11.

[20] William Camden, Britannia, (trans.) Phillemon Holland, at http://www.philological.bham.ac.uk/cambrit/irelandeng1.html#ireland1, accessed 05/12/14.

[21] David Crouch, William Marshal, Knighthood, War and Chivalry, 2nd ed, London: Pearson Education, 2002, pp. 138-140.

[22] History, Volume II, p. 453.

[23] History, Volume II, p. 287.

[24]D.A Carpenter, The Minority of Henry III, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990, pp. 17-64.

Marriage alliances 1180-1250: Part 3 Joan of Wales.

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joanna far

Joan’s tomb. It now lies in Beaumaris parish church with this inscription above it.

This plain sarcophagus, (once dignified as having contained the remains of Joan, daughter of King John, and consort of Llewelyn ap Iowerth, Prince of North Wales, who died in the year 1237), having been conveyed from the Friary of Llanfaes, and alas, used for many years as a horsewatering trough, was rescued from such an indignity and placed here for preservation as well as to excite serious meditation on the transitory nature of all sublunary distinctions.

Joan of Wales was the illegitimate daughter of King John.  She was born in c. 1190 and died in 1237. All we know about her mother was that her name was Clemence.  In 1206 her father King John gave her in marriage to Llywelyn ap Iorweth Prince of North Wales. She was roughly sixteen and he was in his early thirties.

llew coffin 2

Llywelyn’s sarcophagus.

The sarcophagus is now found in Llanrwst parish church. Llewlyn was buried beneath the high altar of Aberconwy Abbey, but about forty years later Edward I wanted the land the abbey stood on to build Conwy Castle. So the monks moved the coffin containing Llywelyn’s body by river to the newly built abbey at Maenan. During the dissolution of the monasteries the coffin was moved for safe keeping to St Grwst’s church where it was forgotten about and was found covered with rubbish some 200 years later. it was then moved to this chapel in Llanrwst parish church. No one knows what happened to Llywelyn’s body.

llew

Statue of Llywelyn in Conwy. Obviously not contemporary. Also much smaller than it looks in this photo.

Llywelyn was later known as Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the great). He was the most powerful Welsh Prince of his time and in many ways a serious threat to the English Crown. At this point Wales was still independent of England, although their princes swore featly to the English kings. Joan was sent to a country she didn’t know, whose language she didn’t speak, with a man she had never met before as a bargaining chip from John to try and quell the Welsh. Joan continued to be an important part of English and Welsh negotiations throughout her entire marriage. Joan occasionally acted as a mediator between the two and on one occasion was forced, through circumstance, to beg King John for leniency towards her husband.[1]  Interestingly Joan’s illegitimate birth was not the stigma to the Welsh that it had been to the Norman French. Illegitimate children were even allowed to inherit in Wales as long as their father acknowledged them. However Joan managed to obtain a papal decree in 1226 from Honorius III which declared her legitimate as neither of her parents had been married at the time of her conception, but it clearly gave her no right to the English throne.

One of the most controversial aspects of Joan’s marriage to Llywelyn was that she committed adultery with William de Barose in 1230. De Barose was found in her bedroom.  De Barose was hanged and Joan was placed under house arrest for twelve months, after which, according to the Chronicle of Chester, Llywelyn took her back and restored her to all her former positions and titles. [2] Their marriage seems to have been one of affection, not many men of the period would have ever forgiven a wife who committed adultery.  Llewlyn was certainly distraught when she died. A Welsh chronicle the Brut y Tywysogion described Llywelyn’s actions at Joan’s death in February 1237. It said “in honour of her [Joan] Llywelyn son of Iorworth had built there [where she was buried] a monastery for barefooted monks which is called Llanvaes in Mona”.[3] So this was one marriage that did seem to have worked emotionally as well as politically. Additionally tradition has it that when they stayed at their hunting lodge at Trefriw Joan found the steep climb to the church at Llanrhychwyn too arduous so in c. 1200 Llywelyn had a church built for her much closer to their hunting lodge. The Church of St Mary’s now stands roughly on the same spot and stain glass windows, not contemporary,  depicting Llywelyn and Joan can be seen in the church in Trefriw. st mary's st mary's stained glass

St Mary’s Church in Trefriw and the stain glass windows. Unfortunately I couldn’t get inside the church as it was locked when I was there.

Joan’s is one of the nicer stories of noble marriages of this time period. Even though she was traded like coin for an alliance and spent much of her marriage trapped between her husband and her father, her marriage itself seems to have been one of at least some affection. Joan also had the advantage of being a little older than some of the other daughters who were used to cement alliances, many were only young girls when they were sent off. Some were even raised in foreign courts. As harrowing as being sent to an alien land where you didn’t speak the language would have been Joan was dealt a better hand than than many of her contemporaries and that says something about the way these women were used during this period.

The next post will look at another noble woman whose marriage turned out for the better. Isabel de Clare was a great heiress and her marriage to William Marshal brought to prominence a man who would have an indelible affect on England.

[1] W.L Warren, King John, London: Eyre and Spottiswode, 1961, pp. 197-198. [2] The Chronicle of the Abbey of St Werberg at Chester. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=67180 [3] Anonymous, Brut y Tywysogion, (ed.) & (trans.) The Rev. John Williams, London: Longman, Green, Longman & Roberts, 1860, pp. 325-327.

Marriage Alliances of Noble Women 1180- 1250: Part 2 Eleanor of Aquitaine

Due to the fact that the majority of interest seems to have been in Eleanor of Aquitaine from part one of this series I am going to begin my investigation of individual women with her. There has been so much written about Eleanor of Aquitaine and I am the first to admit that there isn’t that much new to say, but she is one of my favourites from this time period so I’m always happy to write about her. eofa

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s effigy at Fontevraud Abbey.

Royal marriages changed the political face of the country and ensured the transmission of states between families. They also formed alliances that helped to stop wars, start wars and disseminate culture between different countries. The royal bride who had the most profound effect on England during this time period was Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor of Aquitaine was married to Henry II from 1152-1189. [1] Her marriage was made for political reasons, on her side as well as Henry’s, but it did later come to involve affection and it appears there was some form of initial attraction on both sides. Her marriage to Henry II also changed English politics. She brought the Duchy of Aquitaine to the English Crown and thus was instrumental in the creation of the Plantagenet Empire on the continent. The Plantagenets ruled substantially more of what we would now consider France than did the French. Eleanor was also the mother of the three kings: Henry the Young King ,who was crowned during his father’s lifetime but died in 1183, Richard I and John I. Richard and John were both kings who made strong marks, good and bad, on the political landscape. Medieval English queens did have authority, but it was largely ceremonial and dependant on their husbands. They had their own unique status, as they were the only ones beside the king who were officially anointed and appointed by God as part of the royal authority.[2] Medieval queens also had their own land in the shape of their dower lands, which were given to them by the king on their marriage. However, how much say the queen had in the running of these lands was dependant on the queen herself and the amount of authority the king allowed her. [3] The queen was also often at the cultural centre of the court.  Even contemporaries who were not otherwise remarkably complimentary of Eleanor of Aquitaine acknowledged the immense cultural downturn the court took in her absence.[4] Patronage was another area in which queens could have great influence.  An example of such patronage is Eleanor of Aquitaine’s 1185 charter to the abbey of Fontevraud. In this charter she gives the abbey and the “nuns serving God there” the “rent of one hundred pounds, in perpetual alms, from the provosture of Poitiers and the vineyard of Benon, particularly what is received from Marcilly.” [5] Fontevraud

Fontevraud Abbey.

It was primarily because of her background that Eleanor of Aquitaine was able to wield a little more real authority than some other queens of England, though she was still subject to the power of her husband. She was born in c 1124 and was a great heiress in her own right. [6] Her father was Duke William X of Aquitaine and when he died on pilgrimage in c 1137 he left Eleanor as the ruler of one of the biggest and most powerful duchies in Christendom. Contemporary writer William of Newburgh described the duchy as “very extensive” and stretching “from the borders of Anjou and Brittany to the Pyrenees.”[7] In dying William X left Eleanor very vulnerable, because she became a desirable marriage prize.[8]  A little over a month after her father’s death, probably to ensure her own protection, she married Prince Louis the heir to the French throne and the future Louis VII. However for the next fifteen years of her marriage, despite her title as Queen of France, she would have little control over Aquitaine, as Louis took it for himself and installed French administrators.[9] Her marriage was annulled in 1152 and she found herself once again a vulnerable heiress. She married Henry the young Duke of Normandy and the future Henry II of England only eight weeks after the annulment of her previous marriage. This marriage would eventually begin her time as Queen of England, and help to establish her as a woman of authority and power as well as a duchess in her own right.[10] St Denis St denis

 St Denis Cathedral where Louis VII is buried with the majority of the Kings of France. Eleanor would have been very familiar with it.

In the first twenty or so years of her reign as Queen of England Eleanor did have power and involvement, but it was not that dissimilar to the traditional power of a queen. She did originally have some say in the running of Aquitaine, but it was more a position of advising Henry II rather than having a free reign to run the Duchy she had inherited.[11] She also acted as a regent both in England and in various parts of the continental domains. Additionally Eleanor and Henry II seem to have acted in some sort of partnership for the first decade or so of their marriage. This is illustrated with Henry II’s campaign to try to enforce Eleanor’s rights in Toulouse in 1170. This was not a campaign that was particularly advantageous to Henry and it was one that Eleanor had also persuaded her previous husband to undertake.[12] Eleanor also had eight children, including five sons, with Henry II and this helped to increase her standing because she was fulfilling the main role of a queen. Eleanor was not a queen who was just left at home to bear children while the king was out fighting wars. She was present with Henry and without Henry all over their disparate empire and seems to have been very involved in the culture as well as the political side. [13]

henry close

 Effigy of Henry II at Fontevruad Abbey.

However it is also important to note that Eleanor was not necessarily well liked in her new kingdom. Gerald of Wales, a contemporary writer, describes her as having a reputation of “sufficient notoriety,” citing her apparent “carnal knowledge” of Henry’s father Geoffrey of Anjou as evidence.  While it is unlikely this particular accusation was true it does show that Eleanor was very much at the mercy of a masculine world where she was subject to ridicule by male chroniclers. This was a world in which independent authority by a woman, however powerful, was very difficult.[14]

Also her role during the reign of Henry II was curtailed by her fifteen years of imprisonment for her part in her sons’ rebellion. Henry forgave his sons due to their relative youth and the fact that he needed them, but he never forgave Eleanor. The imprisonment was relatively comfortable and it began in the 1174. She was not released until Henry II’s death and Richard I’s ascension to the throne in 1189. In this period she had little influence.  She lost her dower lands and most of her revenues, losing even the traditional trappings of power for a queen. What she did receive she could not dispose of as she wished.[15] Despite the appearance of some autonomy, any power Eleanor did have during the reign of Henry II, like other queens, came courtesy of her husband. She was able to work in partnership as long he allowed her to. So most of her authority came from any influence she might have had over Henry II and his actions. Her acting as regent, while it was a position of significant power, was not independent power.[16] This changed abruptly when Henry II died in 1189.  Eleanor’s certainly shaped the political situation in England with her involvement in the reigns of her sons. It can be seen specifically in her actions in the governance of the kingdom while Richard was on crusade. It was her backing that gave legitimacy to Walter de Coutances, Archbishop of Rouen, when he was appointed as the joint authority with Chancellor Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, who had been left nominally in charge. de Coutances was primarily appointed to check Longchamp’s excesses.[17] Eleanor also mediated in any arguments between the justiciars who were sharing authority in Richard’s absence. Eleanor was also one of the few people who had some influence on Prince John who, as Richard’s most likely heir, caused significant trouble when Richard was out of the country. Eleanor was also not in England all the time that Richard was absent because she traveled across the Plantagenet Empire, helping to hold it together and to bring Richard his new wife Berengaria of Navarre.[18]  In 1191, despite the fact that she was in her late 60’s, she traveled to Navarre, in the modern day Spanish and French borderlands, to bring Berengaria back to marry Richard in Limassol in Cyprus.[19]

Richard I

Richard’s effigy in Fontevraud Abbey. The effigy beside him is that of Isabel of Angouleme. She was the wife of his brother John and another heiress who will be discussed in a later post.

Eleanor’s influence was most apparent when Richard was captured and held for ransom in 1193 on the way back from crusade.[20]   Richard had been taken by Duke Leopold of Austria and the ransom set was the exorbitant 100, 000 silver marks, plus 200 hostages from his vassals’ families.[21] Richard’s lands had already been heavily taxed to help pay for his crusade and now they were squeezed even harder to raise a ransom that was twice England’s annual revenue.[22] One of the ways Eleanor raised the ransom was to approve, with Walter of Coutances,  a levy of one quarter of all moveable goods, a percentage of all knights’ fees and significant contributions of gold and silver from the churches. The only churches that were exempt were the Cistercians and Gilbertines, who were too austere to have gold and silver. From these she demanded a percentage of their wool clip. Her integral involvement in these levies is illustrated by the fact that the treasure was stored with her seal on it as well as Walter of Coutances’.[23] riv2 riveaux

Cistercian abbeys like Riveaux were exempt from providing gold for the ransom.

Richard I also placed great importance on his mother’s role in keeping his kingdom together. This is very well illustrated in the letter that he wrote to her in 1193, requesting her assistance in ensuring that Hubert Bishop of Salisbury would be made Archbishop of Canterbury. Firstly in this letter he describes Eleanor as by the grace of God “Queen of England.” Which clearly shows that he considers her authority paramount. Additionally he thanks her for the “faithful care and diligence [she gave] to [his] lands for peace and defense so devotedly and effectively.” He goes on to say that her “prudence and discretion” is the “greatest cause of [his] land remaining in a peaceful state until [his] arrival.”[24] This independence of action is further illustrated in another letter of Richard’s, regarding the appointment of Hubert.  He appeals to “his dearest mother Eleanor, by that same grace Queen of England, greetings and the inviolable sincerity of filial love”. He appeals to her to ensure that the justiciars the bishops of Canterbury Church, and anyone else she believes needs to be involved, instate Hubert of Salisbury as Archbishop of Canterbury. The fact that Richard I assumes that Eleanor will have the influence and power to achieve his request, indicates the power and independent authority that she wielded during his reign.[25] Henry II married Eleanor as a royal bride mainly for political reasons, they barely knew each other when they were married, but she made an indelible mark on England primarily in holding the country together. The next post in this series will be about Joanna Princess of Wales. She was the wife of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, know as Llywelyn the Great, and the illegitimate daughter of King John.

[1] Marie Hivergneaux, “Queen Eleanor and Aquitaine 1137-1189”, in Bonnie Wheeler & John Carmi Parsons, Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, p 55.

[2] Lisa Hamilton, Queens Consort, London, 2008, pp. 1-3.

[3] Anne Crawford, The Letters of the Queens of England, Stroud, 1997, pp. 8-9.

[4] Lisa Hamilton, Queens Consort, London, 2008, pp. 8-9.

[5] Eleanor of Aquitaine Charter to Fontevrault, 1185 at http://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/letter/885.html.

[6] Desmond Seward, Eleanor of Aquitaine, London, 1978, pp. 13-14.

[7] William of Newburgh, The History of English Affairs, trans. PG, Walsh and M.J Kennedy, (eds), William of Newburgh History of English Affairs, Warminster, 1988 pp.129-131.

[8] Melrich V Rosenberg, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Massachusetts, 1937, pp. 4-5.

[9] Desmond Seward, Eleanor of Aquitaine, London, 1978, pp. 21-23.

[10] Ibid., pp. 63-69.

[12] Ralph V Turner, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Padstow, 2009, p. XVIII.

[12] Ibid., pp. 123-125.

[13] Ibid., pp. 139-141.

[14] Gerald of Wales, The Death of Henry II and Comments on the Angevin Family, at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/geraldwales-dip1.html.

[15] Ralph V Turner, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Padstow, 2009, pp. 233-237.

[16] Richard Barber, Henry Plantagenet, Ipswich, 1964, pp.182-183.

[17] Ralph V Turner, “The Role of Eleanor in the Government of Her Sons,” in Wheeler and Carmi Parsons, (eds) Eleanor of Aquitaine, pp. 79-83.

[18] Crawford, Queens of England, pp. 32-34.

[19]. Anne Crawford, “Berengaria of Navarre,” in Anne Crawford, The Letters of the Queens of England, Stroud, 1997, pp. 43-45.

[20] Ibid., pp. 299-301.

[21] Andrea Hopkins, “Eleanor of Aquitaine,” in Andrea Hopkins, Six Medieval Women, London, 1997, pp. 56-57.

[22] Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine By the Wrath of God, Queen of England, London, 1999, pp. 229-230.

[23] Ralph V Turner, “The Role of Eleanor in the Government of Her Sons,” in Bonnie Wheeler and John Carmi Parsons (eds) Eleanor of Aquitaine, Lord and Lady, New York, 2003, pp. 83-85.

[24] Richard I Letter to Eleanor of Aquitaine, 1193, at http://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/letter/148.html.

[25] Richard I Letter to Eleanor of Aquitaine, 1193, at http://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/letter/149.html.

The marriage alliances of noble women 1180-1250: Part One

eofa

The photo is of the effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the greatest heiresses of the time. She will be featured in greater detail in later posts.

This is the first in a series I am intending to write on marriage alliances . I am looking specifically at the 12th and 13th century and focusing on England. Part One will be an overall look at marriage alliances and what they meant to the society and how they shaped the political future of 12th and 13th century England. I will then move on to look at individual noble women, both heiresses and daughters of the nobility.

To begin with it is worth noting that 1180-1250 was a time of codification of secular and ecclesiastical law, both of which impact strongly on the marriage customs of the time. In a secular sense the law was primarily concerned with inheritance and transmission of property. The primary focus of ecclesiastical law, canon law, was remarriage and consent.

Consent is an interesting aspect of medieval marriage as free consent was something that the Church was adamant about. In some cases in ecclesiastical courts a marriage could be overturned if free consent had not been given.[1] This is not to say that all marriages of heiresses were undertaken with free consent because there were varying degrees of pressure placed on the women for their ‘free’ consent to be given. The age of consent under cannon law for boys was 14 and for girls 12 so it would have been incredibly difficult for a child to defy their family.[2] Even if a woman was older and politically powerful they were often given very little choice in their marriage and making a stand could be almost impossible.

When I say women I am using the term liberally as many of the heiresses and noble daughters were little more than girls. Some were even infants when they were sent off to the family they were to be married into. Though this was more common in royal marriages. I will discuss some of these women in later posts

There were really two types of noble women involved in marriage alliances. Noble daughters who brought an alliance and a dowry to the marriage and heiresses who brought sometimes significant property and titles.

I will begin with a brief discussion of the more common marriage alliance. That is the alliance between two families primarily for economic gain, sometimes achieved through a contract.

Marriage contracts could be very complex and quite often the actual couple involved was irrelevant. Such was the case in the contract between Humphrey, Earl of Warwick and Sir Ralph Thosney in 1236. This particular contract was between the fathers and not the children to be married. The children themselves were “Roger, eldest and first born of Sir Ralph of Thosney” and “Alice” the daughter of Humphrey.[3] The contract stated, “Earl Humphrey has given in free marriage 40 pounds worth of land in the village of Newenton, in Wiltshire, to Roger, eldest and first born son of Sir Ralph of Thosney, with Alice his daughter.”[4] The gift of the daughter was more an afterthought to the economic transaction. Here a daughter was being used as political currency in an agreement between two nobles who both wanted something from the other. It is true that Ralph’s son Roger also seemed to have little input into the marriage, but it was Alice who was being gifted to Roger and not the other way around.

In the case of this contract Alice herself was irrelevant. A later clause said, “if said Alice shall die before the contracting of marriage, the younger daughter of the said Earl Humphrey born in legitimate marriage shall succeed in place of the aforesaid Alice in marriage together with the aforesaid land.”[5] This contract had no connection with emotion because it was entirely mercenary and economic. Earl Humphrey also received land because Sir Ralph gave his son and heir “40 pounds worth of land in Carleton and Helland in Cornwell to endow the said Alice.”[6] The remainder of the précis of the contract, which is all that is available, went into great detail about exactly what would happen if either party died and who would get what of the land.[7]

These marriage alliances could also be primarily political in focus as well as economic. An example from a little earlier in the period was the marriage of Matilda the eldest daughter of William Marshal Earl of Pembroke and Hugh the eldest son of Roger Bigot Earl of Norfolk. Matilda married Hugh c. 1206 when she would have been about 13.[8] This marriage joined two of the most prominent noble families of the time. History of William Marshal, which was a biography of Earl William commissioned by his son and written in the vernacular and in verse in the 1220s, made the situation clear. It described the marriage as

“Marshal spoke with earl Robert Bigot a man who was never very slow in doing what was to his advantage and honour when it was appropriate for him to do so. He asked graciously, being the wise man that he was, to arrange a handsome marriage between his own daughter and his son Hugh. The boy was worthy, mild-mannered and noble hearted, and the young lady, for her part was a very young thing and both noble and beautiful. The marriage was a most suitable one and pleased both families involved.”[9]

There were obvious similarities between this alliance and the contract that has been previously discussed. The emphasis in this case was on the alliance between the two families rather than the economic advantages. Hugh and Matilda had three sons and one daughter and they also all married into noble families forming new alliances. Hugh died in 1225 and Matilda remarried William of Warrenne Earl of Surrey. [10] I will discuss Matilda in more detail in a later post.

Wards and heiresses, not just noble daughters, also played a crucial role in changing the face of English politics. They perhaps more than any other marital situation were used as political and dynastic currency. A ward was an underage heiress whose father was not alive so her marriage and property were in the hands of her father’s lord. Wards and heiresses were the prizes on the marriage market because they brought more substantial land and titles with them than would be received if a man married a noble daughter who was not an heiress. The marriage laws meant that whatever the heiress held became the property of her husband upon their marriage.

A woman being a ward was a relatively common situation because men often married when they were older so they died while their children were still young. The processes of wardship were often complicated and there were substantial amounts of writing on the legal procedures. Bracton said “sometimes the chief lord is entitled only to the wardship of the land that belongs to his fee and not to the wardship of the heir or his marriage.”[11] As can be seen here Bracton is talking about male wards as both underage males and females could be wards. There were all sorts of conditions and complications but the basic premise behind the wardships was that underage wards could not perform their obligations and therefore they needed a guardian to undertake them.[12] The process of wardships was that when a father died with an underage heir, be they male of female, their guardianship could go to their father’s lord and only in some cases to their mother. It was not automatic that their father’s lord gained hold of everything. As Bracton alluded to above the guardianship of the land, the marriage and ward themselves could go to entirely different people. In some cases even the lands could have multiple lords if they were geographically under different jurisdictions. The basic three way split that occurred most commonly was one guardian for the lands, one guardian for the right of marriage of the ward and one guardian for the ward themselves. When a mother was allowed to be part of the process it was usually as guardian of the physical ward themselves.[13] A ward could be literally bought and sold as political currency. A guardian could sell the right to choose the marriage of the ward, the right to govern the lands of the ward and they could also in some cases marry the ward themselves.[14]

The issue of marriage of female wards was a difficult one because consent became a real problem. There were several cases where a guardian forced his ward to marry into his family so he could retain the land. One such guardian was Adam de Hopeton. He was the guardian of Constance de Skelmanthorpe and he abducted her from her contracted marriage to a John de Rotherfield and forced her to marry his infant son William specifically so he could keep control of her lands. He was her guardian and refused to recognise her marriage to John de Rotherfield and threatened physical force to make her agree to marry his son William. Once of legal majority she disavowed her marriage to William, remarried and successfully took de Hopeton to court to regain control of her lands. Not all cases of a guardian taking control of a ward’s land by forced marriage ended so well for the ward.[15]

A guardian could not only be grossly unfair to a ward in relation to their marriage, but also in the way he dealt with their property. Ranulf de Glanville was a legal writer and a powerful man very early in the time period. He said that a lord who had control of a ward’s lands must look after them with “moderation” and cause no loss to the heir.[16] Unfortunately this did not always happen as evidenced by the many court cases involving a guardian who had misused the land and entitlements. [17]

As Bracton said a female ward could not be married off without her consent but as discussed earlier there was differing degrees of consent.[18] Marrying a favourite retainer or a landless son, illegitimate or not, to a ward was one of the easiest ways for a lord to reward or establish these people. It occurred from the lower levels of the nobility all the way to the king himself on numerous occasions. For example in the late 1100’s Richard de Clare Earl of Hereford gave his ward Belesent, daughter and heiress of Roger son of Odo, to Hugh the brother of Master Robert de Kent in marriage “in return for his service.”[19] Marriage to wards could be used as a reward to a loyal follower.

These women were used to cement alliances to form political affinities, for economic gain and to reward followers. This is just the background to the complex effects of the marriage alliances of noble women in this period. In following posts I will look at specific instances and specific women. I will also discuss how royal alliances changed the face of countries and how kings used wards and heiresses to not only reward their loyal followers but to give their illegitimate children a place in life.

Later posts will also have more photos.

 

[1] “Earl of Warwick and Ralph Thosney (1236)”, in Helmholz, “Marriage Contracts in Medieval England”, in Reynolds & White Jr., (eds) To Have and to Hold, pp. 277-278.

[2] “Earl of Warwick and Ralph Thosney (1236)”, in Helmholz, “Marriage Contracts in Medieval England”, in Reynolds & White Jr., (eds) To Have and to Hold, p. 278.

[3] “Earl of Warwick and Ralph Thosney (1236)”, in Helmholz, “Marriage Contracts in Medieval England”, in Reynolds & White Jr., (eds) To Have and to Hold, pp. 277-278.

[4] “Marriage Contract between Humphrey, Earl of Warwick and Ralph Thosney (1236)”, in R.H Helmholz, “Marriage Contracts in Medieval England”, in Phillip L. Reynolds & John White Jr. (eds) To Have and to Hold, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 277.

[5] “Earl of Warwick and Ralph Thosney (1236)”, in Helmholz, “Marriage Contracts in Medieval England”, in Reynolds & White Jr., (eds.) To Have and to Hold, p. 277.

[6] Nöel James Menuge, Medieval English Wardship in Romance and Law, Cambridge: D.S Brewer, 2001, pp. 84-85.

[7] Jeremy Goldberg, “The right to choose: women, consent and marriage in late medieval England”, in History Today, Vol. 59, (2008), pp. 16-21, pp. 16-18.

[8] Catherine Armstrong, William Marshal Earl of Pembroke, Kennesaw, Seneschal Press, 2006, pp. 288-289.

[9] Anonymous, History of William Marshal, (ed.) AJ. Holden, (trans.) S. Gregory & (notes.) David Crouch, Volume II, London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 2002, pp. 166-169.

[10] Armstrong, Earl of Pembroke, pp. 288-289.

11] , On the Laws and Customs of England, (trans.) & (rev.) Samuel E. Thorne, Volume II, London: Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 250.

[12] Menuge, Wardships, p. 1

[13] Sue Sheridan Walker, “Widow And Ward: The Feudal Law of Child Custody in Medieval England” in Feminist Studies, Vol. 3, (1976), pp. 104-116, pp. 104-105.

[14] Sue Sheridan Walker, “Free Consent and Marriage of Feudal Wards in Medieval England”, Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 8 (1982), pp. 123-134, pp. 123-124.

[15] Menuge, Wardships, pp. 87-91.

[16] Ranulf de Glanville, Glanville, (trans.) John Beames, Volume I, Washington: John Byrne & Co, 1900, pp. 138-139.

[17] Menuge, Wardships, p. 2.

[18] Bracton, Laws and Customs, Volume II, p. 255.

[19] “Grant of marriage of Belesent, daughter and heiress of Roger son of Odo, by her lord, Richard de Clare, earl of Hereford, 1173-1190”, in Jennifer Ward, (ed.) & trans. Women of the English Nobility and Gentry 1066-1500, New York: Manchester University Press, 1995, pp. 24-25.