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Eleanor the Crusader

My next book – due for release in October, all being well – is about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. They were one of Europe’s most fabulous power couples, ruling lands that spread from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. Eleanor was nine years Henry’s senior. When they married in 1152, he was a brash nineteen-year-old, already Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy, and planning to add the crown of England to his already glittering haul. Eleanor was twenty-eight, and until recently had been the Queen of France. Her first husband, Louis VII of France, had arranged for their marriage to be set aside on the favourite grounds of consanguinity – being too closely related. He had failed to foresee her swift remarriage to one of his most impressive and therefore threatening subjects.

Everything had come to Henry easily in his teens. His father, Geoffrey the Handsome, Count of Anjou, had conquered Normandy and handed it to his son, and with Geoffrey’s death in 1151, Anjou had also come into Henry’s possession. If his start had been impressive, the rest of his life was to be a story of epic successes, heartbreaking setbacks, war and high politics. By the time of their marriage in 1152 though, Eleanor already had a vast wealth of experience behind her. Although the vast territories of Aquitaine and the chance to get one over on Louis must have formed part of Henry’s thinking in accepting the match, this intimate familiarity with power, particularly royal authority, probably contributed to Eleanor’s appeal too. Before Henry was out of his teens, she had already lived through more than most would see in a lifetime.

The Angevin Empire Controlled by Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine

When Louis VII committed to lead the Second Crusade in response to increasingly desperate pleas from the Holy Land for help defending Jerusalem and the states founded by the First Crusade, Eleanor went with him. Many chroniclers point to the king’s puppy-like adoration of his queen, but by 1147 when the host became the journey east, their relationship was not as rosy as it had seemed at first. Louis was a complex character. The second son of Louis VI, he was not born to be king, and his initial education had been a cloistered, religious one. Wrenching him from the surroundings left a deep scar, and the early exposure to the Church’s dislike and distrust of women similarly never healed. Eleanor would famously remark that she feared she had married a monk rather than a king. If Eleanor remained in Paris, she would have a claim to regency powers, and Louis preferred his old mentor Abbot Suger to rule without the potential for a power struggle. Taking Eleanor was more about getting her away from Paris than fear of missing out on her company.

The crusaders left Paris on 11 June 1147, travelling via Metz, through Bavaria, taking two weeks to cross Hungary and arriving at Belgrade in Bulgaria in mid-August. They had been in touch with the envoys of Emperor Manuel Komnenos of the Byzantine Empire, Passage through Constantinople was vital, but the emperor was wary of the approaching army. The king and queen arrived in the fabled city on 4 October. They spent three weeks as the emperor’s guests, staying at the Philopatium, a favourite imperial hunting lodge. The lavish, comfortable surroundings allowed them to recover from their journey and prepare for the hardest part that was still to come. The lighter atmosphere may well have reminded Eleanor of her home in Aquitaine, a bright memory undimmed by the drab, sober dullness of Paris.

Eleanor and Louis VII leaving France for the Second Crusade

Before the end of October, the army crossed the Bosporus and entered Asia. They almost immediately came under frequent, probing attacks as they marched onward. In early January 1148, disaster struck, and Eleanor’s reputation began its tumble into scandal and, let’s face it, lies. On 6 January the crusaders had to cross Cadmos Mountain. It was a logistical nightmare for such a vast army under constant pressure from the Seljuk Turks. Command of the vanguard, leading the crossing, was given to Geoffrey de Rancon, a Poitevin and a vassal of Eleanor’s. The plan was for Geoffrey to reach the peak and wait for the rest of the army to avoid them becoming too strung out. When he got there, Geoffrey found there was not enough room for the remainder of the force and moved on to make space for them. The Seljuks took advantage of the situation and attacked the army as it stretched along the mountain roads. It was a slaughter, Louis himself was in grave danger, and forty of his bodyguard lay among the dead. For those increasingly hostile to the Poitevin queen, the failure of one of her vassals was all the ammunition they needed to blame Eleanor for the loss.

The next stage of the journey was no less perilous. Louis paid Greek guides at Attalia to lead the bulk of the army across land while he, Eleanor and some of his men sought safe passage by sea to Antioch. The three-day journey took a fortnight as the fleet was buffeted relentlessly by storms. Only about half of those who marched out of Attalia reached Antioch alive. The Greek guides had taken the king’s money and betrayed his men. The bedraggled force, described by John of Salisbury as ‘the survivors from the wreck of the army’, were at least safe in the embrace of Antioch. Prince Raymond, the ruler of the Frankish outpost, was Eleanor’s uncle, and the chance to see a member of her shrinking family may well have been part of the lure of the Holy Land to Eleanor. Louis and Raymond appeared to get on well, and the time to recuperate was just what the king and his army needed.

Raymond was desperate to obtain Louis’s help with an assault on Aleppo. It was, the prince explained, a critical step in regaining Edessa, the stated aim of the crusade. Louis, quite possibly already disillusioned with the idea of crusading, was focussed only on reaching Jerusalem to complete a personal pilgrimage. Louis, according to John of Salisbury, became annoyed when ‘the attentions paid by the prince to the queen, and his constant, indeed almost continuous, conversation with her, aroused the king’s suspicions.’ He decided to leave Antioch, but Eleanor expressed a wish to stay with her uncle, backing his strategic desire to attack Aleppo. Raymond offered to keep Eleanor safe ‘if the king would give his consent’, but Louis most assuredly would not. John of Salisbury’s is the earliest account of the rumours that grew from the disagreement, though he never quite gives full form to the story, nor comments on its veracity. He wrote that one of Louis’s secretaries, a eunuch named Thierry Galeran, who was frequently mocked by Eleanor, suggested that ‘guilt under kinship’s guise could lie concealed’. Driven to distraction, Louis packed his things in the middle of the night, and Eleanor was ‘torn away and forced to leave for Jerusalem’. John concluded that this was the beginning of the end of their relationship. Eleanor questioned the validity of their marriage on the grounds of consanguinity, and ‘the wound remained, hide it as best they might.’

It is from this episode that the rumour later emerged, developed and became entrenched that Eleanor had engaged in a sexual relationship with her uncle at Antioch. It was misogynistic mud-slinging: why else would the queen defy the king, a woman rebuke her husband? It was outside the accepted norm, and it never really occurred to them that Eleanor might have her own mind, her own ideas, and, heaven forbid, a better tactical grasp than the king. Clutching around for an explanation, sex was the only one the men writing down these events could settle on. Women were, they believed, driven by an insatiable lust that caused them to try and lead men astray. Eleanor must have seduced her uncle Raymond and been inspired by lustful desire to defy her husband. Essentially, it meant that the whole mess that the Second Crusade was becoming could be blamed firmly on Eleanor. She had ruined what the men, led by her husband, would have made glorious otherwise. If they had been forced to consider the failures of the king, of the men, or the possibility that God had abandoned them, it opened a whole can of worms. That slippery meal was neatly avoided by blaming Eleanor for being a woman.

For centuries afterwards, this affair was largely accepted as fact and Eleanor’s reputation accordingly tainted. William of Tyre was less discrete than John of Salisbury, writing of Raymond, Louis and Eleanor: ‘He resolved also to deprive him of his wife, either by force or by secret intrigue. The queen readily assented to this design, for she was a foolish woman. Her conduct before and after this time showed her to be, as we have said, far from circumspect. Contrary to her royal dignity, she disregarded her marriage vows and was unfaithful to her husband.’ This is the view of Eleanor that persisted, and which accompanied her into her second marriage to Henry. It coloured the view of all of her actions afterwards, but there is no evidence that it is even remotely true.

An Image of Medieval Jerusalem

Louis and Eleanor reached Jerusalem in May 1148. When a council meeting, held by King Baldwin II and attended by Louis, met on 24 June, it was decided that Damascus would be the first target. Raymond and the Count of Tripoli refused to participate in the council meeting, preventing a fully coordinated Christian effort. Still, on 24 July, a month after the meeting, the army arrived outside Damascus. The inhabitants immediately appealed to Nur ad-Din for aid and a vast army was sent to relieve the city. Four days after their arrival, the Christians packed up and left. Louis stayed on in Jerusalem for a while, touring the religious sites. He and Eleanor spent Easter 1149 in the city, at the locations of the crucifixion and resurrection. It was surely an experience to savour at the end of a disastrous expedition.

In April, after increasingly pressing letters from Abbot Suger urging Louis to return, the couple left Jerusalem for Acre. They crossed the sea in separate ships, perhaps a symptom of their worsening relationship. The convoy was attacked and scattered. Louis landed at Calabria, but Eleanor reached land at Palermo, apparently ill. She took several weeks to recuperate before rejoining Louis. The couple made their way to Tusculum, where they visited Pope Eugenius to debrief him on the failures of the crusade. During the visit, Eugenius forbade the couple to mention their consanguinity ever again and provided a bed for them to sleep together in while they stayed with him. Nine months later, they had a daughter, but it was not to save their marriage.

The experience of the Second Crusade must have left a deep mark on Eleanor. She had travelled halfway across the known world, to the place considered the centre of the world. She had endured hardship, faced the mortal peril of battle and constant guerrilla attacks, enjoyed the surroundings of Constantinople and Antioch, where she met her uncle. She had become the increasing focus of an effort to apportion blame for failures, from a vassal disobeying instructions in the mountains to the allegations she had been sleeping with her uncle. In Jerusalem, she had found herself at the religious heart of the world in a profoundly spiritual age. She spent Easter at the very spots Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The journey had ended with the Pope all but forcing her into her husband’s bed to conceive a papally approved child. All this, and she was just twenty-five when she got back to France. Somehow, though, this was not to prove the most dramatic experience of her life. Young Henry was looming on her horizon, and her life would never be the same again.

THE THREE HUNDRED YEARS WAR – Part 1: the Devil’s brood

Preface

I conceived this article as a defence of King Henry V against the accusation that he was a war criminal. It became apparent, however, that my research was drawing me away from Henry’s campaigns towards a broader study of the origin and causes of the Hundred Years War. Soon, I was reading material going back to the Norman kings. But it was not until I began to organize my notes that I realised I was in fact researching a conflict that has its genesis in the coronation of the duke of Normandy in 1066 and did not end officially until the nineteenth century.[1] As I have neither the wit nor the time to survey the whole course of Anglo-French history over seven centuries, there are necessarily limitations to my approach and also to my subject matter. In the first place, my narrative relates solely to events occurring from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries; it was a period marked by continual fighting, of which the Hundred Years War is but an episode. In the second place, I am writing from an English perspective. In the third place, the limits of my ambition demand the omission of historical events and matters, which, however important they may be in themselves, are not strictly germane to my subject. In the fourth place, even though my narrative touches on war, this is not a military history. And in the fifth place, I make no claim that this is a scholarly work of original research or new interpretation. Since the facts upon which I rely are well known and relatively uncontroversial, I have used only those sources, books and articles found in the published historiography of the period and readily available to a dabbler in history such as I.

 

I have, for the sake of convenience, structured my narrative around three articles, each of which closes with the signing of a pivotal Anglo-French peace treaty. The treaties of Paris (1259), Bretigny (1360) and Troyes (1420) were all unsuccessful attempts to make a permanent peace. Although they resolved some process problems of the past, their collective failure to address the fundamental question of sovereignty created new ones for the future.   I am using them as markers in my narrative because, though they were unsuccessful, they chart the progressive escalation of the dispute from a limited quarrel between vassal and suzerain into an international war of conquest, driven by three interlocking and overlapping factors: rivalry, kinship and inheritance.

 

Prologue

Context is an important factor in any historical judgement and context for Anglo-French violence during the middle ages is found in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest. Once England’s Anglo-Norman polity steered the national focus away from the Nordic world dominated by the Scandinavians to the Latin world dominated by the French, a clash between the foremost kingdoms of western Christendom was inevitable: motivated by political, military, commercial, diplomatic and maritime rivalry. This was especially so, given their geographic proximity astride the strategically important Channel and their shared kinship, culture and language. The English kings and their barons were at this time and for all practical purpose French. They spoke French and not English. They adopted the French chivalric code. They aped French culture, fashion and art, and they had relatives in France. Most importantly, they held rights to inherited lands in France. It was the bitter squabbles arising from these inheritances that triggered a continuous cycle of hot and cold war between the two realms.

 

The unification of the English crown with the duchy of Normandy in 1066 created a situation that if not unique was certainly unusual. As the sovereign king of England, William the Conqueror was the equal of his French opposite number Phillip I (the Amorous). However, as Duke of Normandy William was also a French peer and bound to King Phillip by a feudal obligation of fealty and service (including the possibility of military service). There was in this arrangement an obvious risk that William’s royal sovereignty might be constrained by his French vassalage. The fact that the risk did not materialize during William’s reign was due to a combination of Norman strength and Capetian weakness. On William’s death, however, the kingdom and the duchy were divided between his sons. William Rufus received the English crown. Robert Curthose inherited Normandy. It was a sensible death settlement, which removed any conflict of interest for William II. However, it was unpopular with the new king and with his successor Henry I, who resented the loss of Norman power and wealth, and ever after sought the reunification of kingdom and duchy. For many reasons this was not possible until after the death of King Stephen, the last Norman king. Stephen died without a suitable heir of his body in 1154 and was succeeded by Henry Fitzempress[2] duke of Normandy and also of Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou and Maine. Henry II ascended the throne of England with the consent of the barons. He was the first and arguably the best of his line.

 

‘They come from the Devil and they can go to the Devil’[3]

Henry Fitzempress pro-genitor of the Plantagenet line was a French prince. He was born in Anjou in 1133 and he died there in 1189. His father was Geoffrey Count of Anjou and Maine, and conqueror of Normandy. His mother was the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, granddaughter of the Conqueror and one-time claimant to the English throne. He was by the time of his accession, an experienced soldier and man of affairs, and incredibly ambitious. In addition to his native French, he spoke some Latin but no English. For every year he spent in England, he spent two in France.

 

As Henry II king of England ‘by the grace of God’, Lord of Ireland and Scotland, duke of Normandy, duke of Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou and Maine, Henry held sway over lands and peoples stretching from the Grampian mountains in the north to the Pyrenees in the south, including most of western France. What is now called the ‘Angevin Empire’ is considered by at least one eminent historian to have been in its extent and heterogeneous nature comparable to the Holy Roman Empire[4]. Henry did not, however, gain this empire through conquest; he acquired it from his parents and from his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine[5]. Neither did his acquisitions amount to an empire in the conventional sense. Henry did not have an imperial title. His domains did not share a common legal code, language, culture or administrative bureaucracy. They did not have an imperial army or one capital city. On the contrary, each region had its own distinctive identity, culture, legal code and army based on feudal military service. The Norman bureaucracy, for example, most resembled the English system, whereas Aquitaine represented feudalism at its worst: effective governance was impossible there.

 

Although it was not obvious at the time, the vast Angevin inheritance laid the foundation for future conflict. Henry was now the mightiest of over-mighty subjects. He held direct sway over the larger part of France, including its two richest and most important duchies of Normandy and Aquitaine; whereas, Louis VII’s direct authority was limited to the Isle de France, a few square miles surrounding Paris.[6] Henry, had already shown himself to be a rebellious and inordinately ambitious subject and the authority he now wielded was a tangible threat to Capetian ambition; especially, as he had access to English and Norman wealth to finance his ambition. However, Henry’s priority on entering his new kingdom was to restore royal authority, which during the civil war between Stephen and Matilda had fallen into abeyance. It took him four years to destroy all the adulterine castles built without royal authority during the anarchy, and to ensure the resumption of all crown lands, rights and revenues alienated during Stephen’s reign. Henry also took the opportunity to lay sound foundations for the enforcement of royal justice throughout his realm. By 1158 he had succeeded to such an extent in England (though not Wales) that he was able to turn his attention to his continental inheritance.

 

As in England, so on the continent: Henry’s priority was to consolidate his hold over the French fiefs. Though he recognized his feudal obligations of fealty and service to King Louis VII, these were honoured more in the breach than the observance. By giving homage to Louis, he was simply paying lip service to the feudal myth that the man crowned in Rheims ruled the whole of France.[7] When it came to his French lands, Henry would do exactly as he pleased. He therefore, lost little time in strengthening their borders. His objective was to create a zone of vassal territories as a buffer against invasion, and also as a link between Normandy in the north and Aquitaine in the south. The most important of these territories were the Vexin, Brittany and Toulouse. The Vexin commanded the invasion route to Normandy from the northeast; Brittany gave Henry control of western France and acted as a link between Normandy and Aquitaine; Toulouse, strengthened Henry’s authority in the south and gave him a port on the Mediterranean shore. A combination of his own political acumen and Louis’ ineptness ensured that by the 1170’s Henry had overlordship of all three territories.

 

Louis erred by divorcing Eleanor the heiress of Aquitaine; it cost him control of that duchy and enabled her to marry his most powerful and dangerous rival. He compounded that gaffe by allowing Henry virtual carte blanche to acquire overlordship of the Vexin and Brittany. Henry was an experienced and competent soldier. He had no objection in principle to using force to gain his ends. However, he was not a lover of war for its own sake and preferred to achieve his objectives through diplomacy, of which he was a consummate master. That was his approach to the problems of the Vexin and Brittany. He first secured the betrothal of his son and heir ‘young Henry’ to Princess Margaret the infant daughter of Louis VII. It was a masterstroke, which not only intruded a possible Plantagenet king into the House of Capet but also brought the Vexin within Henry’s control as part of Margaret’s dowry. We could excuse, Louis’ sanguinity about the marriage and the dowry on the grounds that due to the bride and grooms tender years he believed that neither their marriage nor the loss of the Vexin could happen for many years — if they happened at all.[8] If Louis did believe that, he was badly mistaken. Henry, with his eye on the main prize, saw the childrens’ ages as no impediment to marriage. Within two years of their betrothal they were married, much to the ‘fury and dismay’ of King Louis VII.

 

The acquisition of Brittany was also achieved by a ruse that Louis should have spotted but didn’t. First, Henry intrigued to have his troublesome brother Geoffrey installed as lord of Brittany. Geoffrey died two years later; whereupon, Henry as his brother’s executor arranged for his own son Geoffrey to marry Constance the Bretton heiress. Although King Louis VII surprisingly acquiesced to the marriage, the Bretons did not. They rebelled at the prospect of a Norman overlord. It took Henry consecutive campaigns in 1166, 1167 and 1168 to bring his truculent vassals to heel.[9]

 

Henry first laid claim to Toulouse in 1159 on the dubious ground that it was part of his wife’s inheritance. He adopted a two- pronged strategy of diplomacy and force. Overtures of friendship to Count Raymond Berengar of Barcelona and the promise of a marriage between the count’s daughter and Henry’s son Richard, were backed-up by sending a powerful mercenary army to besiege Toulouse. King Louis who at last seemed to understand the danger posed by his most acquisitive vassal intervened decisively to resist Henry’s claim. He entered Toulouse and dared his ruthless vassal to attack him. It was a challenge that Henry declined. After satisfying themselves with some senseless pillaging in the local countryside, Henry and his mercenaries withdrew and agreed a truce. Toulouse eventually fell into Henry’s hands in 1173. The count of Toulouse, who was surrounded by enemies gave-up the unequal struggle to become Henry’s vassal. Angevin power had reached the Mediterranean shore.

 

By the 1170’s Henry’s Angevin empire was approaching its peak. And it was obvious even to the listless, easy-going Louis that it was a significant threat to the Capetian rule in France. Encouraged by his increasingly nationalistic advisors, it became Louis’ settles policy to challenge Angevin power by exploiting Henry’s vassalage to French advantage and by taking every opportunity to undermine Henry’s ducal authority. Louis’ first opportunity to implement his aggressive policy arose from the discontent within Henry’s family. Henry had decided to divide his domains among his sons. His eldest son Henry got England;[10] Richard received Aquitaine and Geoffrey was given Anjou and Maine. John got promises. However, these were purely titular honours, the boys were not given any actual authority. The Angevin empire would continue under Henry’s dominating and domineering leadership. It was a decision that unwittingly sowed the seeds of the Angevin downfall.[11] In 1173 Henry’s sons (except John) rebelled against him. They were aided by their mother Eleanor and her ex-husband Louis VII, who saw the opportunity to weaken Angevin power. The boys were keen but callow; they lacked the experience and the wherewithal to challenge their father. The rebellion — which started with an attack on Normandy by Henry ‘The Young King’ and Louis, and then spread to England — was a miserable failure. The rebels were no match for their energetic and seasoned opponent who defeated them in detail. They had no plan, objective or even a modicum of co-operation between the various elements. As it was, the rebellion was serious enough since it enjoyed the support of the nobility on both sides of the Channel. It would have been difficult even for Henry to cope if the rebels had had a plan and co-ordinated their efforts.[12]

 

The years 1175-1182 marked the zenith of Angevin power. King Louis was a broken man and Henry’s estranged wife Eleanor was in custody. His sons, however, were still not pacified. King Louis VII died suddenly on the 18 September 1180. His incapacity and weakness had facilitated Henry’s rise to power by enabling him to increase his domains and vassal territories to the point where he was seeking to extend his authority beyond the borders of France. It was indeed fortunate for the Capetian dynasty that Louis’ heir, Phillip Augustus, though still only fifteen was of a different mien to his father. [He] was possessed of great political sagacity…Though not a great soldier, he was a shrewd and quite unscrupulous diplomat…He gained more by making skilful use of his opponents mistakes than his own successes.”[13] Once he had established his personal rule in France, Phillip turned his attention to the destruction of Angevin power. His plan was to ferment and exploit the discord that already existed between Henry and his offspring. By 1185, he was ready to begin his great project. Following Geoffrey’s death in 1186, Phillip exercised his authority as suzerain to declare that the Vexin had reverted to the French crown.[14] Although Henry ignored Phillip at first, he was bought to the conference table when Phillip sent troops to occupy the Vexin. Phillip had flexed his muscles and forced Henry to seek a truce, which was quickly agreed. Nevertheless, the tide was turning against Henry. But it was the events consequent upon Saladin’s victory over the Christians at the battle of Hattin in 1187 that triggered a chain of events leading directly to his downfall. Hattin provoked large number of Christian knights to join the surviving Crusaders in the in the Holy Land. Henry and Phillip were slow to respond. Richard, however, was keen to go. Furthermore, since Richard was now heir to the throne following the premature death of Henry the Young King, he sought certain assurances about his position, which Henry could not give since he intended to supplant Richard with John as heir to the throne. It was the catalyst for the last and most poignant rebellion of Henry’s reign.

 

Henry began his final tryst with destiny by fermenting a rebellion against Richard in Aquitaine. Richard crushed this with his usual vigour and thereafter allied himself with Phillip Augustus, who had already seconded Richard’s right to the throne. On the 18 October 1188 ‘his demand to be recognised as heir apparent having been refused by Henry, Richard knelt before Phillip and did homage for all his continental lands saving only the fealty he owed to his father.‘ The end came quickly. Assailed on all sides, deserted by his family and most of his barons, driven from his birth place the now dying Henry was forced on the 4 July 1189 to submit wholly to the will of Phillip ‘in such a way that whatever the king of France should provide or adjudge, the King of England would carry out in every way without reservation’. Even so, the worst was left until the last: his favourite son John had also deserted him. He died soon afterward with the words ‘shame, shame on a conquered king’. He was fifty-six years old.[15]

 

Coeur de lion

King Richard the lionhearted hated peace and all the works of peace, and he passionately loved war.[16] He reigned for ten years, of which only five months were spent in England. The remainder of his reign was spent overseas as a Crusader, as the captive of the Holy Roman Emperor and campaigning in France against Phillip Augustus. He knew nothing of England. He did not speak English. And he thought nothing for selling the great offices of state and important royal castles to the highest bidder. He also empowered Prince John with virtual Palatine powers in Nottingham, Derby, Lancaster, Gloucester, Devon, Cornwall and Glamorgan. All of which made it easier for John to conspire with Phillip Augustus against Richard. Richard’s only experience of lordship was as duke of Aquitaine, a semi autonomous fiefdom. It seems he equated kingship with power and not responsibility.

 

He had no reason to fear the conspiracies of his brother or Phillip whilst on crusade, since the Anglo-French nobility were loath to attack the lands of an active Crusader. However, he was vulnerable after he fell into the hands of Frederick VI, the Holy Roman Emperor. Thereafter, Phillip took every opportunity to annex the Vexin and lay siege to Rouen, the capital of Normandy. John was no less anxious to profit from Richard’s absence. He hurried to France to pay homage to Phillip for Angevin lands and he became betrothed to Phillip’s sister. A plot was also hatched to invade England and seize the crown.[17] Richard’s throne was saved, however, by the timely actions of his mother, who obstructed John’s plans by procuring a renewal of the oath of allegiance to Richard given by every English noble. And in the nick of time, Hubert Walter arrived from the continent with the news that Richard was alive and being held for a ransom of 150,000 marks (about £1bn in today’s money). Due, in no small part, to the machinations of Phillip Augustus, the Emperor Frederick VI came to terms with Richard who was released. In a famous message, Phillip warned John of his brothers impending return “Look to yourself, the Devil is loosed[18] John fled to the French court.

 

Richard was aware that an oppressive ransom must be paid and that he had little choice for the moment but to accept the loss of a large chunk of Normandy and the other lands ceded by John to Phillip.[19] He was also well aware of a coming war between the Holy Roman Empire and Phillip Augustus for dominance of Christendom. It was a war in which Richard proved himself to be the willing instrument of Frederick’s resolution to break the power of France. Even as he journeyed home from Germany, Richard made alliances with the leading Flemish and German princes in what was the first ‘great coalition against the king of France’.[20] Despite set backs and the untimely deaths of Frederick and Richard, it held together by mutual economic interest and English gold until it was finally broken by the French victory at Bouvine in 1214.

 

Richard arrived back in England in early spring 1194. Within two months, he set sail again for France accompanied by a mercenary force of crack professional soldiers. He knew that the conflict with Phillip would be a long and arduous struggle for which the English Fyrd and his feudal levies would be unsuitable.[21] It was, in GO Sayles opinion the first international war of western Christendom. Richard and his picked force played a significant part in the fighting. Despite many tactical truces and ‘uneasy periods of peace’, the desultory fighting showed that Richard had lost none of his martial skill and spirit. By 1198, he had recovered almost all of the Vexin. In truth, Phillips resources were overstretched. His kingdom and the House of Capet were almost lost. That it never came to pass was due primarily to the deaths of Frederick VI and Richard I in 1199.

 

Softsword

It fell to King John to oversee the dismantling of the Angevin Empire. Richard’s death heralded a change in the balance of power between the French and English crowns. It was not just that John was not made of the same stuff as his brother; he was also in a much weaker position. The supporters of Prince Arthur of Brittany — son of John’s deceased brother Geoffrey — challenged his succession to the throne.[22] Phillip’s support for John’s claim came at a price. Phillip was intent of creating an explicit suzerain and vassal relationship between the king of France and the king of England. John had to do homage for his French fiefs and pay 10,000 marks for ‘relief’ of his fiefdoms. Furthermore, he was forced to acknowledge that in any conflict of loyalty, John’s French vassals owed a prior loyalty to the French crown. John was in a difficult position. He had neither the money nor resources to challenge Phillip. Normandy was not defensible at this time, and he had still to consolidate his rule in England. While he almost certainly did not like Phillips terms, John bought some time by accepting them: it was also cheaper than war. Even so, John’s acceptance of the terms marked his complete humiliation; he was now an acknowledged vassal of the French crown.[23]

 

Once his royal title was acknowledged, John set about gaining control of his most troublesome duchy. Aquitaine was a notoriously independent fief. This was not due to any special privileges the Aquitaine’s had been granted, but purely to the fact that they took their vassalage lightly. Only armed force could keep them in order. And it was in these troubled waters that Phillip was most keen to fish next. He challenged John’s authority by commanding him to accept homage from the Count of Angoulême and his nephew the Count of Limoges both infamous rabble-rousers noted for their antipathy towards the dukes of Aquitaine.[24] The Angoumois lay at the heart of Aquitaine and was strategically important. With this in mind, and thinking he might be able to pacify Angoulême, John ‘cast aside’ Isabella of Gloucester his wife of ten years and married the Count of Angoulême’s daughter Isabella. In doing so, he disrupted the plans of Hugh le Brun Lord of Lusignan who was already betrothed to her. The Lusignan’s waited for some time; possibly they were expecting John to compensate them for their disappointment. However, John was oblivious to their hurt and did nothing to placate them. His complete disregard for other peoples’ feelings alienated even his allies and soured their loyalty. On this occasion, he turned the Lusignan’s into formidable enemies, whereas they might have made equally formidable allies.[25] Their relationship became to strained that the Lusignan’s complained to Phillip that John had ‘unjustly attacked them’. Their appeal came at a bad time for Phillip but he could not ignore it. His instinct nevertheless was to handle it with a light touch. Having met both parties, Phillip agreed not to pursue the matter of the appeal if John did his feudal duty and allowed his vassals to present their grievance in his feudal court. Unfortunately, John was not acting in good faith. He offered the Lusignan’s their day in court but did everything he could to obstruct and humiliate them. He even charged them with treason and invited them to prove their innocence in trial by combat with his champion. It was an outrageously provocative offer and rather than demean themselves the Lusignan’s appealed once more to Phillip. John was therefore summoned to Paris to explain his errant behaviour to a bench of French barons. Predictably, John ignored the summons and was punished. Aquitaine, Anjou and Poitou were forfeit to the French crown.[26] Phillip was now taking the opportunity to rid France of Angevin dominance. He formally broke all feudal ties with John and invaded Normandy.

 

Phillips determination to enforce his royal authority throughout France and his innate antagonism towards the Angevins ensured that an enduring peace was unlikely. Even so, the fighting that started in 1202 was due to John’s stupidity in bullying his vassals and ignoring his suzerain. Nor did his foolishness end there. Warren compares the contest between Phillip and John to a card game in which John holds most of the trump cards but plays them so badly he fails to win a trick. He continued to antagonize friend and foe alike with his intolerant personality and tyrannical ways. In particular, his complete disregard for the advice William des Roche and his attempt to belittle the most powerful baron in Anjou cost him dear Spurned and publicly humiliated, William joined the royal forces against John. As a result, John was forced to cover the Loire, while simultaneously trying to reach for Normandy: it was impossible.[27] But most damaging of all to John was the rumour of the death of Arthur of Brittany.[28] It caused the Bretons to turn against John and attack Normandy from the southwest. By 1204 Phillip had complete possession of Normandy

 

The situation in England was equally problematic. John’s rule was oppressive. The English barons were already beginning to take collective action to resolve individual grievances. At the heart of their discontent were John’s financial extortions. He was so desperate to raise an army to recover Normandy and protect what was left of the Angevin lands that he did not modify his unscrupulous financial demands. Nevertheless, by 1206, he was able to lead an army of sorts to France. Landing at La Rochelle between July and October, John mounted several ‘pin-prick’ raids against targets in the southwest of France. Limited though this campaign was, it rattled Phillip and enabled John to recover part of Poitou. However, he soon realised that if he wanted to recover Normandy and all his other lands, he needed a much bigger army and an international alliance to do it. He therefore returned to England and began to plan that next campaign; nevertheless, his fortunes continued to deteriorate.

 

Between 1207 and 1213 John argued with the Pope; England was interdicted and he was excommunicated. At home, he annoyed the English barons to such an extent that in 1216 they rebelled and sought to replace him with a French Capetian prince. And yet, despite these problems John still managed to raise a larger army and to revitalize the coalition of Flemings, Germans and English that had almost defeated Phillip during King Richard’s reign. Fear of growing French power had moved the Holy Roman Emperor and the Count of Flanders to make common cause with John against Phillip Augustus. Although, John had expectations of an Alliance with Count Raymond IV of Toulouse and King Peter of Aragon, it came to nothing as Peter’s Cathar forces were already embroiled in a nasty little war with French Crusaders[29].

 

John launched a two-pronged attack against Phillip in February 1212. An army comprising Germans under the command of the Holy Roman Emperor, Flemings commanded by the Count of Flanders and English troops led by the earl of Salisbury landed in the north. In the south, John with his contingent of mercenaries and a ‘goodly number of English knights’ landed at La Rochelle. John’s strategy was to make Phillip divide his forces and then to defeat him in detail, but it didn’t work. John made initial progress, receiving the homage of the Lusignan lords and advancing beyond the Loire. His failure to provoker Phillip into anything rash, however, sowed the seeds of failure. Desperately, John moved southwest to besiege the castle of La Roch-aux-Moines. Soon a royal army under Phillip’s eldest son Louis appeared before him in battle order. Though John was keen to engage the enemy, the Lusignan’s and the Poitouvins were not. Taking John’s gold was one thing but risking all in the chance of battle was quite another. John was, therefore, forced to raise his siege and retreat to La Rochelle. Meanwhile in the north, Phillip’s army destroyed the coalition force on the 27 July 2014 at Bouvine, ending any hope John had of reconstructing the Angevin empire. Phillip was now the most powerful ruler in Christendom; he had destroyed Angevin power and installed his own tame candidate as Holy Roman Emperor.

 

The Treaty of Paris 1259

The loss of Normandy was followed, in 1215, by the signing of Magna Carta, which established that in theory John was not above the law; in fact, he continued to act as though he was and the Great Charter failed to curb his excesses. On the 21 May 1216, therefore, Prince Louis, the eldest son of the French king landed in Kent with a French army at the invitation of the English barons. He came to depose John and seize the English Crown, to which he had a tenuous claim. It was a time of extreme crisis for the House of Plantagenet, which faced being replaced by the House of Capet. Within a few months the French army and rebel barons controlled almost half of England, including crucially, London and the Home Counties. Only John’s death on the 18/19 October 1216 prevented his deposition in favour of the French claimant.

 

John’s heir was his son Henry of Winchester aged nine. When John knew he was dying, he entrusted young Henry to the care of the Pope and to Sir William Marshall ‘the greatest knight in Christendom’ with twelve men of substance and quality, who were united in their to loyalty to Henry. The English heir also had the support of the church and crucially the Pope.[30] But above all, Henry possessed the inestimable advantage of not being King John. Nor was he associated with his father’s mistakes. His supporters acting with commendable speed crowned young Henry at Worcester before the end of October 1216. It was the crucial first step in defeating the pretender Louis who despite, his strong position could not find an English bishop to crown him. Henry’s coronation made Louis look like a usurper. Seven months later, Louis’ army of French troops and English rebels was routed by royal troops at the battle of Lincoln, ensuring that Plantagenets and not Capetians reigned in England.[31]

 

Henry’s reign though long was not glorious. He was an easy-going but ineffective king and certainly no soldier.[32] He lacked the resources and the inclination for continuous campaigning, and had continually to deal with rebellions against his misgovernment. In fact, the English position in France deteriorated under Henry. Louis IX overran Poitou (northern Aquitaine) and consolidated the French Crown’s holdings in the south. It was as much as Henry could do to hold onto southern Aquitaine (now called Gascony for convenience). Louis desired Gascony on the grounds that following the death of Arthur of Brittany (circa 1203), it had reverted to the French Crown. In 1259, Henry, fearful of the loss of Gascony and lacking baronial support for another campaign, made peace with Louis in Paris.

 

The Treaty of Paris was meant to resolve all the issues that lay between Henry III and Louis IX. Under its terms, Henry abandoned all claims to Normandy, Poitou and all his other fiefs except Gascony, for which he did homage. Despite resolving the immediate dispute, the treaty raised others for the future, which ultimately proved insoluble by peaceful means. Louis was criticised by his nobles for being too soft, but he had no doubt who was in the stronger position following the Paris treaty. The vassalage of the English Crown was now enshrined in an international treaty rather than in feudal custom. Louis said he would rather have the English king as a vassal than an irresponsible enemy. In the event, Louis was too optimistic. The Treaty of Paris created a new feudal relationship between the two monarchs, which was to prove irreconcilable with English sovereignty.

 

In the first place, it replaced ‘ordinary homage’ with ‘fealty homage’, which was a superior homage placing an unbreakable obligation on the English Crown to provide military aid to the French king against any of his enemies, whenever it was demanded. Furthermore, English Kings were expressly forbidden from acting in concert with, or giving help to the enemies of Louis IX and his successor’s. It is not difficult to see how this treaty obligation would damage England’s military, diplomatic and economic interests. The notion that a sovereign king could be the vassal of a foreign power was revolutionary. It went well beyond Henry’s ducal authority by proscribing the Crowns prerogative to make treaties, war or peace as the king thought best for his kingdom. I need hardly add that the Treaty of Paris was repugnant to Englishmen.

 

In the second place, it undermined Henry’s ducal authority in Gascony by providing for the interference of French royal courts in the local affairs of Gascony. It was precisely this provision that encouraged Gascon factionalism between pro-French and his pro-English vassals. The fact that the Treaty was followed by thirteen years of relative peace was due more to Henry’s incapacity than the utility of the treaty. Henry died in 1272 and was succeeded by his son Edward, a man of completely different mien to his father.

[1] The English claim to the French throne was not officially abandoned until 1803, during the Napoleonic wars.

[2] The name Plantagenet is purely as a term of convenience in this article. Henry Fitzempress (as he was known to his contemporaries) did not adopt Plantagenet as his family name. It was not until the fifteenth century that any member of the English royal family styled themselves as Plantagenet and that was Richard, Duke of York in 1460.

[3] AL Poole – Doomsday Book to Magna Carta (Oxford 1982 edition) p.344n.2; this is Heraclius Patriarch of Jerusalem’s well-known judgement of the Angevins, after Henry declined to go to Jerusalem’s assistance in 1185.

[4] Poole p.318; see also Christopher Allmand – The Hundred Years War (Cambridge 2001 edition) pp.7 & 8

[5] He inherited England and Normandy from his mother, Anjou and Maine from his father and Aquitaine from his wife.

[6] WL Warren – King John (Eyre & Methuen 1978 edition) pp.54-56; although Louis VII was the feudal overlord of all French provinces, they were under the personal control of lesser aristocracy who were more or less autonomous. There was no feeling of patriotism that bound these lords to the king of France as their natural leader. Henry’s actual obligation to pay homage to Louis was more imaginary than real. He was so powerful that Louis dared not rebuke or punish him for breaches of protocol. This was not the case, however, after Phillip Augustus succeeded his father.

[7] Henry’s situation was not unique. William the Lion did homage for his earldom of Leicester to Henry II. Later, following his involvement in the rebellion against Henry of 1173-74, William was forced to give homage to Henry as his overlord for the kingdom of Scotland.

[8] Richard Barber – Henry Plantagenet (Boydell 1964) pp. 91-92; Claudia Gold – King of the North Wind: the life of Henry II in five acts (William Collins 2019) pp.217-218; Henry sent Thomas Becket, his Chancellor, to Paris to prepare the ground for this marriage, which was the cornerstone of his Vexin policy and in support of which he spared no expense. In a marked display of wealth and power, Becket overawed Louis and the Parisians with his generosity, and the size and bearing of his entourage. However, when Henry followed this up by travelling to Paris, he did so in a style so humble and simple, that Parisians were even more astonished. His approach worked perfectly.

[9] The Bretons and the Normans were traditional and inveterate enemies. As late as spring 1940, they showed themselves to be the toughest soldiers in the French army .

[10] Henry’s eldest son Henry was crowned co-king of England in 1170. Thereafter, he was known as ‘Henry the Young King’. It is the only time in English history that a father and son have reigned simultaneously.

[11] Barber p.140; citing EW Stubbs (Ed) – Roger Benedict (from 1169); the Chronicle of the reign of Henry II and Richard I AD 1169-92, commonly known under the name of Benedict of Peterborough (Rolls Series 49, London 1867) p.6, for a scholarly account of Henry’s troublesome progeny; also Poole p.318; Gold p   . See also, Frank McClynn – Lionheart and Lackland (Vintage 2007) passim for a popular assessment of Henry’s children.

[12] Poole pp. 330-338; contains a useful summary of the course of the rebellion; Barber pp.160-183 provides a more detailed account; see also Gold pp.197-250 for a modern interpretation of events

[13] Poole p.342

[14] Barber pp.213-233; Henry the Young King had died in 1183 fighting Richard and his father for Aquitaine. Geoffrey of Brittany was on the point of insurrection when he died in 1186.

[15] Barber pp. 229-233; Henry was taken ill during the winter of 1188/89 and it had returned in the summer. He was also suffered from blood poisoning from a wound on his head. He was literally dying while Phillip was making his demands but insisted on remaining in the saddle; though he had to be supported. He died on the 6 July 1189. Only his beloved bastard son Geoffrey remained at his side

[16] GO Sayles – The Medieval Foundations of England (Methuen & Co 1966) passim

[17] Poole p.383; Flemish mercenaries assembled at Witsand and the cooperation of Denmark was obtained. Richard was aware of these events but remained sanguine “My brother John” he said ” is not a man to conquer a country if there was anyone to offer even the feeblest of resistance”. Anyhow, Phillips Danish alliance broke down owing to the intervention of Pope Innocent III and Frederick VI, who both thought he was meddling in Danish affairs. Phillip had not yet realised that his plans for a strong and united France clashed with the Emperor Frederick’s own ambition for the hegemony of Christendom.

[18] Poole p.365

[19] Poole p.366; the raising of the ransom, burdensome though it was, is testament to the soundness of the English Exchequer and the fiscal systems introduced during Henry II’s reign. It transpired that the English were not required to pay the whole ransom; Frederick remitted 17,000 marks as an inducement to Richard to join a Germanic coalition against Phillip. Leopold of Austria, who was the lord that actually kidnapped Richard received 25,000 marks for his trouble.

[20] Poole p.367; publishes the list of Richard’s allies

[21] Warren pp.56-63; Poole p.389; the English Fyrd was essentially a home defence force and the feudal obligation of his English and French vassals was for short service. Furthermore, those in the south of France had no direct interest in a campaign in the north. The recruitment of picked professional soldiers from the plethora of Anglo-Norman knights and men-at-arms was expensive, but it was the best answer to Richard’s dilemma. Besides, the use of mercenaries by the kings and princes of Christendom was commonplace.

[22] Warren pp.48-50; the question of the English succession at this time is not without interest. Richard nominated John as heir apparent in the full knowledge of Arthur’s primo geniture claim as the eldest son of Geoffrey (Johns deceased elder brother). Although the late king’s wishes were not of paramount importance, in cases like this where there are two claimants there is always an element of election. To the English Barons, the argument that the grandson of Henry II should take precedence over his surviving son lacked credibility for three reasons. First, the inheritance of the crown based on primo geniture was a continental concept alien to English culture and custom at this time. Whether or not it was ‘introduced’ by the Normans is immaterial, since the fact is that no eldest son of an English king inherited the crown unopposed between 1066 (William I) and 1272 (Edward I). And as Dr Warren observes even Ranulph Glanville the English doyen of medieval jurisprudence found this a difficult question. He produced arguments for and against Arthur. Besides, and perhaps crucially, Arthur was a minor who had been raised in France by traitors (Geoffrey rebelled against his father the king.) and it was said that he hated England. Moreover, his father had never himself been heir to the throne. Ultimately, Arthur was passed over because he had no support among the English barons. The situation regarding the Angevin French fiefs was, however, more complicated as inheritance followed continental law. John had to establish his right to that by force of arms.

[23] Warren p.54; the payment of relief by the vassal to the suzerain was commonplace in feudal societies. But as Warren points out, nobody had ever asked Henry II or Richard I for such a payment. They seized their inheritance; they did not ‘negotiate for it. Neither had the French king ever dared to prescribe their relationship with their vassals.

[24] The Count of Angoulême asserted a de facto independence by ignoring the dukes of Aquitaine and a de jure independence by swearing fealty direct to the French crown. Richard defeated him in battle but he was unbowed and continued to challenge the duke with Phillip’s assistance.

[25] The Lusignan’s were a well-heeled family with a famous ancestry. Hugh le Brun had a distinguished reputation for service in the Holy Land. His uncle had a reputation for heroism second only to the Coeur de Lion himself. They were also rebellious vassals of the duke of Aquitaine. However, their prowess in battle in the Holy land earned them the comradeship and then the firm friendship of King Richard. Indeed, they played a big part in helping Richard to quell the troublesome Angoulême’s. Hugh’s betrothal to Isabelle was meant to end their destructive quarrel.

[26] Warren pp.74-75 and Appendix A; the legality of Phillip’s expropriation of Normandy is the subject of scholarly discussion. John was summoned to Paris as the duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitou. He was not summoned as the duke of Normandy. Although It would have been necessary to rectify that omission, it is not clear whether a subsequent judgement was passed on John as duke of Normandy. Of course, Phillip did not need a court judgement to conquer Normandy. It was the prize jewel of Angevin lands in France, and Phillip was determined to have for the crown. However, he did need to justify the legitimacy of his seizure of Normandy to a sceptical French polity. Dr Warren deals with this point in his biography of John.

[27] Warren pp. 80-84; Roche supported John’s claim to the throne in 1199. He was a most able and effective ally to John between 1199 and 1202. “ With William as an ally, John could have tackled Phillip in Normandy confident that the strategically vital counties along the Loire were in safe-hands”

[28] Warren ibid; Arthur simply disappeared. The rumours of his death were very damaging to John’s cause. Although there s a suggestion that John killed Arthur in 1203 in a drunken rage; however, it is not conclusive evidence.

[29] In the summer of 1213, French Crusaders under the command of Simon de Montfort routed Peter’s army at the battle of Muret. King Peter was killed in the melee and Raymond fled to Toulouse, his power broken.

[30] Sir Maurice Powicke – The Thirteenth Century (Oxford 1982 2nd edition) pp.1-2: in 1213, following John’s difficulties with the Church in Rome, he confessed his disobedience and did penance, including giving homage to the Pope for his kingdom, which was now a Papal fief. John was then accepted back into the church. It was the best thing he could have done because it prevented young Henry from being usurped by French Louis. Pope Innocent III took Henry under his protection and provided a papal emissary to work with William Marshall and the twelve trustees to defend Henry’s interests.

[31] Most of the rebel barons returned to royal loyalty after Henry’s coronation. The few remaining recalcitrant who survived Lincoln also submitted.

[32] Powicke p.84: professor Powicke calculates that between 1224 when he assumed his majority and 1259, Henry made three serious efforts to recover and protect the Angevin lands in France; from spring 1224 until spring 1227; from August 1229 until June 1231 and finally from June 1442 until April 1443, a total of sixty-nine months (just over one month for every year of his reign).

Dismal Sewage

They say every writer should find a niche. Unfortunately, certain ‘popular historians’ seem to have leapt onto  ‘gimmicks’ than a niche and write all or most of their books in similar vein, often to the detriment of their work and a growing lack of credibility with each further tome.

A trend amongst several notable authors seems to be the cynical and sarcastic slagging off of the historical figures they write about, most likely to stir up controversy in the hopes of making sales—who knows? Any sense of being non-partisan or unbiased is thrown out the window pretty much on page 1.

 ‘Jack of All Trades’ history writer Desmond Seward (Demon Sewer? Dismal Sewage?) is a prime offender. Most of us will remember Demon’s jaw-dropping book on Richard III, titled, so menacingly…’The Black Legend’. (Oooh, shades of Sauron and Mordor!) Without tramping over old turf, this totally unbiased (choke) book contains such wonderful remarks as (paraphrasing here), ‘If he was two fingers shorter than Richard, Von Poppelau must have been a dwarf…’ In his updated version of the same tired tosh he chides Ricardians for seeking the truth about Richard because “…the White Legend continues to appeal to every Anglo-Saxon lover of a lost cause and, in particular, to lady novelists.” (Very odd application of ‘Anglo Saxon’ as well as showing an unpleasant Starkey-esque strain of sexism.) He also is a true believer in the words of the sainted Thomas More because he was, after all, a SAINT, so presumably infallible—yes, the ‘saint’ who burned people at the stake and poetically wrote long insulting tracts containing multiple references to faeces. True story. What a scholar. What a charmer.

Recently Sewer returned to the Wars of the Roses period with a new book, THE LAST WHITE ROSE, and continued in the same vein, with a combination of vitriol and errors. Edmund de la Pole was apparently haughty, pompous and unintelligent (the latter deduced apparently from his bad handwriting!) John, Duke of Suffolk was called a nonentity and given the wrong date of death. John of Lincoln was saupposedly devious, and even accused of abducting the young, hapless Lambert Simnel from his family! (Sewer appears to believe there really WAS a child ridiculously named after a cake, even although the surname is rarer than a blue moon and there is no record of any family by that name). Worst of all, however, is a supposed quote from Croyland about Elizabeth of Suffolk, complete with page number. It does not exist in Croyland, if anywhere at all, yet is masquerading as a quote from a primary source!!

I haven’t read all of Demon Sewer’s books, needless to say, but some of the customer reviews are noteworthy and often rather hilarious. Apparently any strong women in history are described as ‘viragos’ or worse. In his Eleanor of Aquitaine bio, not only does he seem to dislike Eleanor herself, he has a bit of a fixation with Richard the Lionheart’s homosexuality. Which is a bit odd, as there is no actual evidence that Lionheart WAS homosexual, and that theory of the mid-20th century is pretty much discredited today. In fact, there is some evidence that Lionheart, in his misspent youth, ravished his enemy’s wives and then gave them to his men!

Perhaps the funniest error Dismal made, though, was found in one of his other books, The King over the Water, which is about the Jacobites. Apparently, he wrote that  the maternal grandparents of Lord Derwentwater were Charles II and Moll Flanders. MOLL FLANDERS? She is a character in a novel by Daniel Defoe!

Maybe Dismal should write a book on Moll next. Non-fiction, of course.

A Demon Sewer and…Desmond Seward. Purportedly…but might not be….

The mystery of the vanished manor of Ostenhanger….

 

Westenhanger Castle – showing part of Folkestone Racecourse in the foreground
https://images.historicenglandservices.org.uk/flight/england-air/westenhanger-castle-33328-002-14884418.html

There once was an Anglo-Saxon manor in the south of Kent called Berwic, which became known as Le Hangre, and was then split into two manors, Westenhanger and Ostenhanger. Westenhanger is still very much in evidence (see illustration above) but Ostenhanger as such has disappeared entirely. It’s still there really, of course, but was incorporated into Westenhanger in the 16th century and now no one seems to know where the now invisible dividing line was placed. It can’t be to the south, or surely we’d have Northanger and Southanger. So, if present-day Westenhanger is the west, then Ostenhanger has to be…well, east. Right?

Very early hand-drawn map showing Westenhanger, but no Ostenhanger

At the period of the novel I’m working on, the late 14th century, the medieval castle at Westenhanger was just emerging like a phoenix from the crumbling remains of an earlier incarnation.  The then occupant, the knight banneret Sir John Kyriel (numerous spellings)*, had in 1343 obtained a licence to crenellate, and set about the long, costly business of turning a fortified manor house into a proper castle. After all, it was the Hundred Years War and Kent was very definitely in the French firing line. Sir John was involved in decades of ongoing work.

Crioll/Kyriel

No one knows what the original manor house had been like, except that in Anglo-Saxon times it was on the large manor originally called Berwic. There’s a myth that a palace stood here, belonging to King Orric/Oeric, son of Hengist, although whether this is based in fact, I don’t know, but certainly the site itself, as a manor, was in existence in that period.

Apparently the word Hangre can stem from either hunger or a wooded slope. My money’s on the latter, because I wouldn’t have thought the rich well-watered meadows around the East Stour river would ever allow hunger. But that’s my guesswork. The now defunct Folkstone Racecourse, which closed in 2012, still stands among these meadows, most of which are well drained in this modern age.

Folkestone Racecourse – picture from shepwayvox.org
Showing Westenhanger mid-left. Was Ostenhanger the land at the top, beyond the racecourse? Stone Street is visible horizontally just the other side of the trees at the far edge of the racecourse.

In the twelfth century Le Hangre was held by another John Kyriel (the family was then known as de Crioll, various spellings), and it’s said that during the reign of Henry II one of the round towers housed Fair Rosamund Clifford, Henry’s beautiful mistress. From there he moved her to her bower at Woodstock where, as the legend goes, she was poisoned by his jealous queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Well, Rosamund may indeed have been at Westenhanger, but the round tower was built since then. As for Eleanor’s part in the lady’s demise…I have no idea.

Present-day Westenhanger, showing Rosamund’s (Round) Tower

But that’s beside the point for my purposes here, because this 12th-century John Kyriel’s grandsons inherited. Their names were Nicholas and another John, but the latter’s only surviving heir was a daughter, Joan.  This meant that when the time came, Nicholas and his niece Joan were joint heirs. Le Hangre had to be divided. Nicholas’s portion was named Westenhanger, and Joan’s became Ostenhanger. She then married Sir Richard Rokesley, a very important Kent man, who gained her portion. So, at this point it’s abundantly clear there were two separate manors.

Joan and Rokesley had one daughter, no sons, and this daughter (another Joan) married Michael de Poynings, 2nd Baron Poynings. Thus Ostenhanger (which I’ve seen written rather delightfully as Ostywhanger) came to the Poynings family, who remained in possession for a long time – well, more or less for the rest of its existence as a separate entity, becaus the Fogge family did intrude for a while.

Poynings

Sir Edward’s rather ancient mansion at Ostenhanger was abandoned, and both manors were united as Westenhanger, the castle of which Sir Edward rebuilt. But the present-day mansion, which nestles within the medieval castle ruins, is Georgian from the 18th century. And what remains now is but a shadow of the castle as it was rebuilt by Sir John Kyriel in the 14th century.

Original medieval stonework visible on right
from www.ecastles.co.uk

The last Kyriel of Westenhanger, Sir Thomas, was summarily executed after supporting the Yorkist cause at the second battle of St. Albans, which took place on 17th February 1461 and during which the great Earl of Warwick, known to posterity as the “Kingmaker” was slain. The Yorkists had earlier captured King Henry VI and during the battle they placed him in the care of Lord Bonville and Sir Thomas Kyriel. Once the battle was lost, Bonville and Kyriel escorted the king to the victorious queen, Margaret of Anjou, and the story goes that she asked her (apparently obnoxious) son—the boy Edward, Prince of Wales—how the two Yorkists should be treated and he replied that they should be executed. So they were beheaded, even though they’d behaved with honour throughout. And even though Henry VI himself wanted them spared. Kyriel left two daughters, the elder of whom married a Fogge, and thus the male line of the ancient de Crioll/Kyriel line of Westenhanger was no more.

The Fogge family became ensconced there (Westenhanger) until a Sir John Fogge apparently II don’t know the details) demised it to Sir Edward Poynings in the reign of Henry VIII. Oh, but whoa! One of the Fogges referred to Ostenhanger in his will as one of his manors…! Groan. So who held what, pray? Of course, I could take the easy way out and pretend that some scribe or other simply made an error….

What I can say for certain is that in the early 16th century Sir Edward Poynings held both Westenhanger and Ostenhanger, and that on his death the now-single manor went to the Crown, i.e. Henry VIII, who started doing it up to suit. I’m not sure of what happened next, because it’s too far “out of period” for my wip.

Sir Edward seems to have somehow made Ostenhanger disappear entirely. Well, clearly the land didn’t disappear, but which land it is remains unknown. There isn’t so much as an Ostenhanger Farm or Ostenhanger Brook lingering sneakily somewhere in the landscape. Zilch. There’s an engraving that’s said to show the remains of Ostenhanger (see below). However, this same print is also sometimes labelled Westenhanger, and occasionally the caption sits firmly on the fence and claims it’s either one or the other. I don’t know anything for certain, and the more I try to find out, the less I seem to know.

Ostenhanger – GROSE – 1776

The Westenhanger Charter of 1035 takes us right back to the beginnning, and is very interesting, explanatory and detailed.

The following map has been drawn from the known Anglo-Saxon boundaries of the original Berwic/Le Hangre, and Westenhanger manorhouse/castle is shown close to the eastern boundary. It wasn’t known by that name in 1035, of course, but has been shown as an indication to the modern reader. Something stood there in Anglo-Saxon times, maybe even Orric’s palace. So, if Ostenhanger was east of Westenhanger, it must have been somewhere in the direction of Saltwood and Hythe.

As you can see quite clearly on the right, the Roman road Stanstraete (Stone Street leading north-south on its way from Lympne on the coast to Canterbury) divides Westenhanger from whatever was to the east. Ostenhanger? But if Westenhanger and Ostenhanger are what used to be Berwic/Le Hangre, as shown on this map, these ancient boundaries don’t leave much room to the east for Ostenhanger to be situated. Surely there must have been more Berwic/Le Hangre land to the east of Stone Street? Otherwise, Ostenhanger must have been a very skinny strip! I can’t see a man of Sir Richard Rokesley’s standing putting up with his wife having been short-changed when Le Hangre was divided between her and her uncle Nicholas Kyriel, so something, somewhere, is wrong.

Below is another map of the area, this time an old OS map, showing Stone Street slicing vertically through the middle. There’s Westenhanger, top left, clearly drawn…so was Ostenhanger somewhere around where Hilhurst or Little Sandling are shown?

It’s all a huge puzzle. The fiction writer in me needs to know if Ostenhanger was visible from the towers of Westenhanger. Maybe even from the curtain walls of the outer bailey? Were the two residences separated by Roman Stone Street? Indeed, was Stone Street the actual boundary between the two? All I know is that, because I’m writing about the 14th century, when the Kyriels occupied Westenhanger, and the Barons Poynings were in Ostenhanger, I need to learn these infuriatingly elusive details.

So, if anyone reading this desperate crie de coeur knows anything more about the two manors or can correct me on what I’ve already included in this article, please, please let me know!

*Oh, dear. Here’s a major stumbling block for me. I’ve found the will https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/Research/Libr/Wills/Lbth/Bk24/page%20449.htm of the Sir John Kyriel (in which he spells his name Kiriel) who had the licence to crenellate Westenhanger in 1343. Except that throughout he refers only to “Ostringhanger”! Where’d Westenhanger go? Now what am I to think?

SARUM LIGHTS–A COMMEMORATION

2020 is the 800th Anniversary of the founding of Salisbury Cathedral. Before ‘New Salisbury’ came into existence, the town stood on the windy cone of Old Sarum, a huge iron-age hillfort with massive earthen ramparts. There was a particularly forbidding Norman castle on the height, with a windswept bridge over a deep moat–here, Henry II kept his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine imprisoned for some sixteen years,  served by a single loyal lady-in-waiting. The old town also had a cathedral, begun somewhere after 1075. It was rather an ill-fated building, however, being severely damaged in a storm just five days after consecration.  Sometime in the late 12th century, it was decided to move the cathedral from the height due to the lack of water. The cathedral was dismantled and much of the stonework taken down to the new site near the river, where the town of Salisbury as we know it would grow around it. The first stones of the English-style Gothic building were laid in 1220, in the reign of Henry III, with foundation stones being laid by, among other notables, the King’s half-uncle, William Longespee and his wife Ela, Countess of Salisbury, a remarkable woman who later became Sheriff of Wiltshire.

To commemorate the founding of Salisbury cathedral, a light show recently took place within the great building  with projections of  charters, drawings, stained glass, saints and rulers who played a part in Salisbury’s history. On the bleak ruins of Old Sarum, beams of light were shot high into the night sky so that they were visible from Salisbury town centre.

There are many interesting monuments inside the cathedral, including that of founder William Longespee (who was thought to have been poisoned–and a RAT found in his skull when his tomb was opened was full of arsenic!), Sir John Cheney, the 6ft 6 giant who was unhorsed by Richard III at Bosworth, and possibly Lionel Woodville, who was Bishop there until Buckingham’s rebellion, when he fled to Brittany hearing of  Buckingham’s failure. Salisbury also has one of the copies of Magna Carta and the tallest spire in England. The building of the cathedral was fictionalised in the best-selling novel ‘PILLARS OF THE EARTH’ by Ken Follett, which recently was made into a TV series.

 

SARUM LIGHTS VIDEO

Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Kingmaker and Richard II: the eyes have it….!

Well, I have to say that the above carving is very startling. It is believed to be of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and has just been discovered at Bradwell Abbey, Milton Keynes. There is nothing in this article to say why they are so certain it’s Eleanor, but they seem in no doubt.

The first thing that occurred to me, however, was that the eyes reminded me very forcibly of the carving of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, as a mourner on the tomb of his father-in-law, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick.

There is also a likeness of the Beauchamp tomb of the Kingmaker’s sister, Cecily Neville, Duchess of Warwick, and she too has these striking eyes. I’m told by a friend that in his biography of the Kingmaker, Professor Pollard decided there had been a real attempt to create a true likeness, so I imagine that these eyes must indeed be a trait in the Neville family.

There is an odd little story about Edward III, in which he apparently gave credence to the story of his family being descended from Melusine, the Devil’s daughter. The king claimed that the House of Plantagenet was descended from Melusine, and that slanting eyes appeared to be evidence of this. There is one member of that house who definitely had slanting eyes, Richard II.

So, where did those eyes originate? Or was it all mere coincidence that the likes of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Kingmaker and Richard II appear to have shared such a memorable feature?

Joan Plantagenet Queen of Sicily

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Joan Plantagenet Queen of Sicily

Being a Sicilian living in the UK, I am fond of both countries’ history. I have often wondered if there was a link between these two islands and I soon found one: Joan Plantagenet Queen of Sicily.

The story of this woman is so interesting and compelling especially because Joan was a very strong and determined person, a well-known characteristic predominant in the Plantagenet ancestry.

During her short life, Joan went through a series of events worthy of an adventure movie. She lived for just 33 years but so intensely and enough to be still one of the most important characters in the turbulent history of Sicily.

Daughter of Henry II and Eleonor of Aquitaine, Joan was also the sister of Richard I better known as the Lionheart. She was born in October 1165 (the day is unfortunately unknown) at Château d’Angers in Anjou. She was the seventh child of her family and she spent her youth both in Winchester and Poitiers. She received an excellent education as she was a princess so she was expected to marry a royal person. Apart from studying French, Latin and English, she also learned music, sewing, singing and horseriding, one of her favourite pastime.

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La Cuba, the royal palace of the Plantagenets in Palermo

She was so beautiful and intelligent that William II of Sicily married her when she was only 12. On 27th August 1176, Joan left England to sail for Sicily where she married and was crowned Queen of Sicily in Palermo Cathedral on 13th February 1177. Her voyage was dreadful but Joan soon forgot it as she enjoyed both her marriage and the warm climate of Sicily.

Very soon, her life started to meet the first obstacles. She was unable to produce an heir for the throne of Sicily so she was in danger of being refused by her husband but William was a very good man and rejected the idea of annulling their union as he truly loved her. Unfortunately, William died in November 1189 and Sicily fell in the hands of the bastard cousin of William, Tancred who seized the dowry of Joan including many lands. In 1190, Richard the Lionheart, the favourite brother of Joan, arrived in Italy on his way to the Holy Land. He warned Tancred to give back the dowry and when he refused, Richard took Messina and put the city on fire. Tancred was obliged to return the dowry.

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Palermo Cathedral

Sadly, the adventures of Joan were not over. Richard put her and his future wife Berengaria on a ship to send them back to England but it seems that travelling by sea was not the best way for Joan. A terrible storm stranded the ship to Cyprus while Richard’s ship landed in Crete. At that time Cyprus was in the hands of the despot Commenus who immediately tried to take advantage of his unexpected luck. He tried to capture the two women but once again the valiant Richard saved his sister imprisoning Commenus.

The link between Richard and Joan was a very strong one. She loved him and he was always ready to save her from perils. Notwithstanding this though, Richard tried to arrange a wedding between Joan and Saladin’s brother to put an end to the Holy War but he had to come to terms with the Church. The high ranks of it warned Richard he would have been excommunicated so the wedding never took place. Eventually, Joan married Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse. This union was blessed with the birth of children.

Joan had all the qualities and the spirit of the Plantagenets. After she recovered from the birth of her last child, she decided to make right all the wrong done to her husband and she put Les Cassés under siege. Unluckily, traitors started a fire and she had to abandon the camp. She was pregnant again and she decided to ask his brother for help but she soon discovered he had aready died.

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Fontevrault Abbey

She asked and obtained to have a tomb granted in Fontevrault Abbey. This was not a place suitable for women especially if pregnant but Joan could have it. Tired for the effort of the siege and devastated by the death of her beloved brother, Joan died in childbirth on 4th September 1199. The child was born thank to a Cesarean section after Joan’s death. He was named Richard and died soon after being baptized.

Joan was buried in Fontevrault Abbey close to her brother Richard as she had always desired.

Biggest Lies of the Middle Ages

There are many, many  false ideas and funny beliefs about the Middle Ages and  some of the notable figures  who lived in those times. Alfred and the cakes, Edward II and the hot poker, Eleanor of Aquitaine flinging poisoned toads on Fair Rosamund… And of course, almost everything you can think of about Richard III.  In popular ‘myths’ of the middle ages, still clinging on with remarkable tenacity, everyone was  hobbit-sized, had bad teeth, burned witches and bathed once a year under duress.

Some of these  ideas have come from folklore or from popular fiction, like certain famous plays we know (COUGH); others have been handed down by the good old Victorians who wrote history THEIR way, just as they ‘improved’ on real medieval churches by rebuilding them in a NEW, ‘improved’ cod-medieval style, often obliterating real ancient artifacts and chucking out effigies and tomb slabs in the process.

Recently I was rather pleased to  find this interesting little ‘myth buster’ article–link below.

I was particularly happy to see not only a positive re-assessment of Richard but  a mention of his scoliosis which showed an understanding of the condition. It is really not that rare, that obvious, or that debilitating, unlike the way certain parties STILL  like to portray it.

http://historycollection.co/getting-medieval-6-biggest-lies-middle-ages/

 

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The Greatest Knight and Richard III

I have previously posted about my family history connections with Richard III here and I have since found out more interesting links.

One such is William Marshall. Called by some the greatest ever knight, he is one of my direct ancestors and also the direct ancestor of Richard III.

William had an eventful life. He was born in 1146 or 1147 and, as a young boy, he was used as a hostage by King Stephen when William’s father, who was supporting Matilda against Stephen, was besieged by the king in Newbury Castle. William’s father, John, when told that William would be hanged if he didn’t surrender, was reported to have said: “I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!” The King made as if he was going to fire the young William at the castle from a pierrière (a type of trebuchet), but could not bring himself to harm the boy and he survived.

Photo of a Pierrière

Pierrière

Later, he was sent to Normandy to learn the business of becoming a knight, to be brought up in the household of William de Tancarville, a great magnate and cousin of young William’s mother. He was knighted on campaign in Normandy in 1166 and the next year was taken to his first tournament where he found his true calling. In 1168 he was injured in a skirmish and captured, but one of his captors aided him by smuggling  clean bandages (for the wound in his thigh) to him inside a loaf of bread, which may have saved his life. He was ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine, remaining a member of her household for the next two years.

A supporter of Young King Henry, son of Henry II, he travelled with him to Europe where they participated in knightly tournaments. From 1176 to 1182 both Marshall and the Young King gained prestige from winning tournaments. These were dangerous, often deadly, staged battles in which money and prizes could be won by capturing and ransoming opponents, their horses and armour. Marshall became a legendary champion in the lists: while on his deathbed, he claimed he had beaten five hundred knights during his tournament career.

Picture of mediaeval jousting

When the Young King died on 11th June 1183, he asked Marshall to fulfill the vow he (the Young King) had made the year before, to go on a crusade to the Holy Land, which William did, returning two years later and vowing to join the Knights Templar on his deathbed.

He rejoined the court of Henry II and aided him when Henry’s son, Richard, rebelled against him. Marshall unhorsed Richard in a skirmish and killed his horse to demonstrate that he could have killed the man. He was said to have been the only one ever to have unhorsed Richard, later to become Richard I, the Lionheart. Richard nevertheless welcomed Marshall to his court, after he became king, knowing his legendary loyalty and military prowess would be useful to him.

Richard fulfilled his father’s promise to Marshall of the hand in marriage and estates of Isabel de Clare and the marriage happened in August 1189, when William was 43 and Isabel just 17. He acquired great wealth and land from the marriage, including the castle of Pembroke, becoming one of the richest men in England. He also became the Earl of Pembroke eventually and the couple had five sons and five daughters.

Marshall was part of the council of regency for Richard while the king was on crusade and later supported King John although there were many fallings out over the years. However, he remained loyal to him despite their differences and was one of the few English earls to remian loyal to John during the first Barons’ War. King John trusted him to ensure the succession of his son, Henry III, and it was Marshall who was responsible for the kings’ funeral and burial at Worcester Cathedral. He was named as protector of the young king Henry III, who was aged nine, and acted as regent for him. He was now about seventy but he still fought for the young king at the head of his army and defeated Prince Louis and the rebel barons at the Battle of Lincoln.

When he realised his health was failing and he was dying in 1219, he called a meeting and appointed the Papal Legate, Pandulf Verraccio, as regent. In fulfillment of his vow, he was invested into the order of the Knights Templar on his deathbed and is buried in the Temple Church in London, where his tomb can still be seen.

Photo of the tomb of William MarshallTomb of William Marshall

During his life he served under five kings and lived a rich and full life. He founded Cartmel Priory and there is a memorial to him there:

Memorial in Cartmel Priory

Through his daughter, Isabel, William is ancestor to both the Bruce and Stewart kings of Scotland. Through his granddaughter Maud de Braose, daughter of his daughter, Eve, William is ancestor to the last Plantagenet kings, Edward IV through Richard III, and all English monarchs from Henry VIII right up to the present day queen. Actually, William is also the ancestor of Richard et al through another, older, daughter, Maud. See the family trees below. I have marked all the descendants of William Marshall with a green dot – you can see that Richard FitzAlan, the father of Lady Alice FitzAlan, was descended from Marshall on both sides.

Family tree of Richard

Family tree of Richard 2

Richard family tree 3

I wonder whether Richard inherited some of his heroic qualities from his illustrious ancestor – what do you think? And do you notice some other things they had in common?

 

 

Picture credits:

Pierrière by Jean-noël Lafargue (Jean-no) (Self-photographed) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Jousting [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of William Marshall by Richard Gough (Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain. Vol 1.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sign at Pembroke Castle by Andrewrabbott (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Robert S.P. Fripp’s “Power of a Woman”

Eleanor of Aquitaine was the daughter of a provincial Duke in France. Twice she married Kings and had many children, although she outlived most of them and several grandchildren, living into her ninth decade, suffering annulment and internal exile. Two of her sons became King of England and, through John “Sansterre”, she is the ancestress of every subsequent monarch.
In this book, Robert Fripp does for Eleanor what Graves did for Claudius, as she dictates her “memoirs” to a younger secretary. Most of us know much less about Eleanor than we would like and this is our opportunity to make amends.

 

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