Medieval Quotes Advent Calendar 15th of December

A short one today, but with a fascinating back story.

It is a rare surviving example of a king demanding knight service from one of his retainers. In this case Henry II asking William Marshal to bring forces. He requested that Marshal come “to [him] fully equipped as soon as may be, with as many knights as [Marshal] can get, to support [Henry II] in [his] war.” It went on to add, “You have ever so often moaned to me that I have bestowed on you a small fee. Know that if you serve me faithfully I will give you in addition Châteauroux with all its lordship and whatever belongs to it.”

David Crouch, The English Aristocracy 1072-1272, A Social Transformation, Yale: Yale University Press, 2011, p. 29.

Châteauroux was a pivotal fortress in the disputed region of Berry, south-east of Tours in France, and was in the hands of the French at the time so Henry II was offering Marshal a castle he would have had to fight to take possession of. In normal circumstances Henry could not have offered it at all, however its lady was the underage Denise of Châteauroux who was probably not more than 15 and who was most likely under Henry’s guardianship at the time. This meant that Henry could offer Châteauroux to Marshal by offering marriage to Denise. This marriage never came about because Henry II died in 1189 and in that year Richard I, Henry’s son and heir, gave Marshal the even wealthier heiress Isabel de Clare.

The document dates to 1188 and it’s remarkable survival is discussed in the excellent article below.

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

[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

[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

[25] Richard I Letter to Eleanor of Aquitaine, 1193, at

A Good Death

For the male nobility in the 12th and 13th centuries there was a right way to die. I am not talking about death on the battlefield, though that was acceptable too. I am talking about what was done when you knew you were dying. The best way to explain the differences is to examine the deaths of three important medieval figures. Henry the Young King who died in 1183, Henry II who died in 1189 and William Marshal who died in 1219. henry yk charter This is a charter from Henry the Young King from page 29 Stenton, FM. Facsimiles of Early Charters from Northamptonshire Collections. London: J.W Ruddock and sons. 1930. Henry the Young King was the second son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. His elder brother William died in infancy though so the Young King was the heir to England, Anjou and Normandy. To read more about the life of the Young King see this excellent blog Suffice for now to say that he was crowned in his father’s lifetime, a common practice on the continent but a new practice for England, but was given very little real power. Henry II did not share power easily.

Henry the Young King was seen by his father as a spendthrift and was actually in rebellion against him when he died. The Young King had run out of money for the rebellion and he and his mercenaries had sacked the church of St Mary de Roche Andemar, stripped the tomb of Saint Andemar and carried away all the church’s treasures. When he became sick so soon after it was seen by some as divine retribution. The Young King however wiped all his earthly transgressions clean in his rather spectacular deathbed acts of repentance. Once it became clear that he was dying of a fever and a ‘flux of the bowels’ he repented of his sins and did it in a way that would now be seen as theatrical. Firstly he received absolution of his sins from a bishop and had his knight William Marshal agree to take his cloak, sewn with the crusader cross, to Jerusalem and fulfil his crusader’s vow. Secondly he put aside his fine garments and had himself laid on haircloth and had his men place a noose around his neck. He said “By this cord do I deliver myself, an unworthy, culpable, and guilty sinner, unto you, the ministers of God, beseeching that our Lord Jesus Christ, who remitted his sins to the thief when confessing upon the cross, will, through your prayers and His ineffable mercy, have compassion upon my most wretched soul.” Thirdly he had his men draw him from his bed by the cord and lay him on a bed strewn with ashes. Finally he commanded that two large stones were to be placed under his head and feet. With the mortification of the flesh complete to signify his repentance he died.[1] He was only 28.

The Young King’s death is one of those ‘what if’ moments in history, if he’d survived Richard the Lionheart may never have been king. This was a ‘good death’ because he had completely been freed from his sins, he had correctly repented, he’d died with his faithful men around him and he done it all in a manner befitting a king.

henry and eleanor henry close The photos are of the effigies of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II in Fontevraud Abbey and a close up of the effigy of Henry II. Henry II’s death was very different to his son’s. Henry was one of the most interesting and important kings of this period. He was King of England, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Lord of Ireland. He also held Aquitaine by right of his wife and he held Brittany, though he had invested his son Geoffrey as its Duke. When he died his two remaining sons, Richard and John, were in rebellion against him and he did not die well.

History of William Marshal goes into detail.  “Death simply burst his heart with her own hands. Death’s discipline was a cruel one. A stream of clotted blood burst forth from his nose and mouth.”[2] It then goes on to say that “nobody had anything to cover his body, so he lay there, so poor and deprived of everything, without a stitch of linen or wool on him.[3] History continues that “all those who were standing around him and who were supposed to watch over his body, when they saw the King was dead, each and everyone appropriated for himself those possessions of the King they were meant to guard.[4] Roger of Hoveden confirms Henry’s sordid death saying “After his death, having plundered him of all his riches, all forsook him; so true it is that just as flies seek honey, wolves the carcass, and ants corn, this crew followed not the man, but his spoils.” [5] His loyal men were forced to clothe him in borrowed robes, as there was nothing else left. He was 56. King Henry died messily, without due ceremony and had his possessions stolen. This complied with none of the ideas of honour, or loyalty or generosity that were meant to be part of any noble death, especially a royal one. The next two photos are of the effigy of William Marshal which can be found in the Temple Church in London.IMG_3421IMG_3419

Our final death is that of William Marshal. Marshal was at the deathbeds of both Henry the Young King and Henry II. Marshal succeeded in life where both of them fell. He survived to die of old age. Marshal was approximately seventy-two when he died, which was very old for the medieval period, and he stage managed his final days. We have an extraordinarily detailed account of his deathbed due to the fact that his son had a biographical poem, History of William Marshal, commissioned. History of William Marshal devotes 1285 lines to Marshal’s death, from the first mention that Marshal is dying, until the end of the services after his death.[6] It is one of the most moving and detailed points of the narrative. Both the men responsible for History, the one who commissioned it, William Marshal the younger and the one who contributed his recollections, John of Earley, were at Marshal’s deathbed so there is no reason to doubt its authenticity especially when the level of detail is considered. Marshal’s death was conducted from his mansion in Caversham, where he went to wait out his final illness saying he “preferred to die at home than elsewhere.”[7] Marshal was Regent for the very young Henry III when he realised he was dying. So his first act was to very carefully handover Henry III and the realm into appropriate care.[8]
Marshal died surrounded by his family and his loyal men. The best example of the latter was John of Earley. It was Earley that Marshal sent to collect the cloths he had bought in Jerusalem over thirty years before, that he had “brought back with [him] from the Holy land, to be used for the purpose which they [would] now serve; [his] intention [had] always been that they [would] be draped over [his] body when [he was] laid in the earth.”[9]  We know his wife Isabel was there with his daughters because when he had a desire to sing, but didn’t want to for fear of being called a madman, his knights suggested that his daughters and his wife might sing for him. The daughters came and sang but Isabel was too overcome with grief. [10] He also made sure to die with humility, joining the order of the Templars just before his death. He was made a Templar and Aimery de Saint-Maur, head of the Temple declared, “Marshal, listen to me: it pleases me that you surrender to God and set aside your worldly goods so as not to be separated from Him and his faithful servant. I can tell you that in life as in death you have known higher honour in this world than ever any other knight had, both in respect of your valour, it is true, and your wisdom and loyalty.”[11]

So in becoming a Templar Marshal ended his life in humility and honour in just about the most eye-catching way possible. In dedicating himself to the Templars he was marking himself as pious, dedicated and humble. He was making sure that his image after death was the correct one of humility and piety. His wife Isabel was also present when he took the vows of a Templar. We know this because one of the vows of a Templar is chastity, so moments before he took the vow he said to Isabel  “Fair Lady kiss me now, for you will never be able to do again.’ She stepped forward and kissed him, and both of them wept.” [12]

Marshal was also overtly generous in his final days, firstly in saying to his son “give a portion of my wealth to all the poor you can see [in London] who have come to receive alms; make sure the distribution is such that it may be spoken of before God. And there is another thing I want to remind you of: give food and drink to one hundred of the poor, along with garments to clothe them and shoes.”[13] It is interesting to note though that he was overtly generous, he wanted make sure that his generosity was seen. Possibly because it was an attribute that was expected of a man in his position and it is how he wanted to be remembered. He also gave money in his will to a number of religious foundations. He provided for his knights too. One of his clerks wanted to sell off the robes that had been put aside for the knights’ Whitsuntide gift, but Marshal said “Hold your tongue, you wretch” “It will be Whitsuntide very soon, when my knights should indeed have their new robes for I shan’t be able to give them robes again.”[14] He went on to tell John of Earley to distribute the robes, “and, should any man fail to get his share, send immediately to London and see to it that you get more splendid ones, so nobody can complain.”[15]

When Marshal actually died he had done everything he was supposed to. He had taken leave of his family, he had said how he wished his possessions to be distributed, he had expressed piety and charity and God had absolved him of his sins. The Abbot of Notley performed the “ceremony of absolution”.[16] Also the papal legate had given him remission of all his sins for taking up the Regency in the first place.[17] Marshal’s death was, apart from dying in the holy land on crusade, probably the best way a medieval noble man could go. He died well: humble, pious and just a little bit theatrical. These three deaths represent very different ways of dying. Medieval dying need not be a reflection on a life. In death you could redeem yourself, but while dying badly held some shame it did not negate a good life.


[1] Roger of Hoveden, The Annals of Roger of Hoveden Volume II, pp. 26-27. [2] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, pp. 397-461. [3] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, pp. 429-431. [4] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 399. [5] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, pp. 401-409. [6] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 413. [7] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 433 [8] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, pp. 438-439. [9] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 439. [10] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 423. [11] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 451. [12] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, pp. 420-421. [13] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 279. [14] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol I, p. 463. [15] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol I, p.463 [16] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol I, pp. 463-464. [17] Roger of Hoveden, The Annals of Roger of Hoveden Volume II, p. 111. Roger of Hoveden. The Annals of Roger of Hoveden Comprising the History of England and Other Countries of Europe from A.D 732 to A.D 1201. (trans.) Henry T. Riley, Volumes I & II. London: H.G Bohn. 1853. Anonymous. History of William Marshal. (ed.) AJ. Holden. (trans.) S. Gregory & (notes.) David Crouch, Volumes I, II & III. London: Anglo-Norman Text Society. 2002.

Book Preview: The Kings and Their Hawks, Falconry in Medieval England.



This is a fascinating book about medieval English kings and the noble, but largely forgotten sport of falconry. It is a surprisingly good read and has beautiful depictions of falconry from breviaries, illuminated manuscripts and tapestries.

flacon 2

flacon 3

Falconry was an important part of life for medieval nobles. Admittedly I have mainly read the chapters regarding falconry from the reign of William I to  the reign of Henry II as these were the parts I required for my novel. During Henry II’s reign he was often described as travelling with his hawks and was hawking at key moments in his life. For example when Thomas Becket was summoned to Henry’s court to answer a charge of contempt Becket had to wait because Henry had stopped to hawk along the river banks.

Hawks also played a role in William I’s life. He is depicted in the Bayeaux tapestry as carrying a hawk that had possibly been brought by Harold Godwinson as a gift.

flacon bayeaux. JPG

Eyries of hawks were also listed as assets in the Domesday Book, which was written under the orders of William I.

Hawking and falconry in general was very much part of the life of the nobility. Different birds were seen as having different characteristics, for example goshawks were generally flown at ducks, pheasant and partridge. Goshawks were seen as the lower bird, often used for hunting for food rather than just for sport. Whereas Sparrowhawks were seen as a more noble bird and were often used to hunt prey like teal.

Falcons like the gyrfalcon would come from places like Iceland and could take down cranes and herons. The gyrfalcon was the most highly valued bird by the English Kings and King Haakon IV of Norway sent Henry III three white and ten grey gyrfalcons in 1225 as a gift.

These falcons could also be very productive. In c. 1212 King John’s falcons bagged seven cranes in one day and nine in another.

This book gives a truly interesting insight into medieval falconry, both the birds themselves and the men who flew them.

Title: The Kings and Their Hawks

Author: Robin S Oggins

ISBN: 9780300100587