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.
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.
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.
Tomb 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:
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.
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?
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
I have previously posted about the Broom plant (called, in Latin, planta genista from where the Plantagenets took their name). I have recently come across this post which explores the healing powers of the Broom as well as its meaning in the Celtic Ogham.
Image credit: By Javier martin (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
These days, any mention of Melusine might conjure thoughts of Jacquetta of Luxemburg, Elizabeth Woodville, witchcraft and the like. But the story of Melusine was around before then.
On browsing through John Gardner’s Life and Times of Chaucer, I came upon the following anecdote, which begins with Gardner’s rather precise description of Edward himself:
“He was a handsome, fair man with a curly brown beard, gentle eyes and mouth, the eyes just perceptibly slanted like the eyes of all his sons. He was no ordinary mortal, one could see at a glance, and he liked to support the impression with a story…
“…Some hour hundred years ago, Edward III told his friends, the founder of his line, Count Fulke the Black, ruler of Anjou [Fulke III, 970–1040, ancestor of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou] traveled to a distant land and returned with a bride whose beauty was unsurpassed in all the world. The four children she bore him were brilliant and handsome, like all Plantagenet sons and daughters after them, but they carried also a darker heritage. She kept it secret for many years, living a life more secluded than a nun’s. Then one day the count demanded that his wife accompany him to Mass, a thing she’d repeatedly refused to do. She did so this time, pale and trembling. When the priest raised the Host, the countess let out an unearthly shriek, rose into the air, flew out of the chapel window, and was never seen again. The truth was out. She was Melusine, daughter of the Devil!…
“…By the time Chaucer knew him, Edward III at least half believed the story…”
A quick look on the internet soon reveals this story to be widespread, although not necessarily in connection with Edward. Our House of Plantagenet was descended from the children Melusine left behind. Or so Edward III apparently believed.
Two things arouse my interest. Firstly that Edward liked to repeat the devilish tale to his friends, and secondly that he and his sons had perceptibly slanting eyes. Are we to think the eyes came from the Devil, via Melusine? I for one have never heard of this trait in Edward and his sons. Has anyone else? Although, on reflection, there is one monarch who fits this bill, Edward’s grandson, Richard II.
One of the most fascinating (and bloody) periods of English history is The Anarchy, when Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I (he who might well be found sometime soon in the ruins of Reading Abbey) fought her cousin Stephen of Blois (thought to be in Faversham Abbey) for the English throne. Battles raged across the land and barons, without permission, threw up adulterine castles everywhere and lived lawlessly. The times were so turbulent that it was said ‘Christ and His Saints slept.’
Matilda’s forces captured Stephen in 1141 and she came very close to being crowned, but violent crowds of Stephen’s supporters on the way to London stopped the Coronation from taking place. Then her biggest supporter, her half-brother Robert of Gloucester was captured at Winchester, and the only way to free him was to trade Stephen’s freedom for Robert’s.
In 1148, Matilda retreated from England for good and left the fighting to her son, Henry FitzEmpress, the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet–the future Henry II. In 1153 Henry and Stephen came to an agreement after the Siege of Wallingford, in which Henry was declared Stephen’s heir as the latter’s eldest son Eustace had died. The next year, Stephen died and Henry took the throne.
Matilda is generally not listed as one of the rulers of England but some believe that she should be. Although never crowned, she was Henry I’s heir and before the High Altar of All Saints, Northampton, Henry rallied his barons to swear loyalty to her and to support her claim to the throne. They swore at the time, but as often happened in the Middle Ages, the oaths were quickly broken once Henry died. The idea of a female ruler was not a popular one, although there was no legal impediment to it, as England, unlike France, did not have a Salic Law.
Many sources list Edward V, Jane and Edward VIII as monarchs of England, despite the fact that they were never crowned and their legitimacy to the position was disputed–so, if that is considered correct, why then is the Empress Matilda excluded from the list, as designated heir to Henry I?
Matilda is, of course ancestor to the line of Plantagenet kings that followed on from her son, and through her maternal side, they also have a line of descent from both King Malcolm of Scotland and the royal House of Wessex via St Margaret. Both claimants were, therefore, among Richard III’s ancestors.
An interesting post on the subject of Matilda from the FB page ‘House of Plantagenet History & Geneology’ :https://www.facebook.com/groups/41546823396/permalink/10154937093853397/
The palatial 17thc mansion called Amesbury Abbey (now a private nursing home) stands in beautiful landscaped gardens near the curve of the Avon and on the edge of the Stonehenge World Heritage Landscape.
The original monastic building from which it takes its name, the Fontrevraudine Priory of Amesbury, is long gone, a victim of Henry VIII’s Reformation—not one stone remains visible above ground (although rumours abound that a piece of external wall along the perimeter of the property might be medieval.) However, painted tiles dating between the 12th and 15th C often turn up when the gardeners do the rose-beds, along with fragments of glass and other relevant debris. This has recently led experts to pinpoint the probable position of the vanished priory church, standing slightly north of the present house.
The priory was originally built as a daughter house of Fontrevaud, after the town’s first abbey, founded in Saxon times by Queen Elfrida, was dissolved in 1177. The old Benedictine nuns were sent upon their way (most of them having supposedly lived scandalous lives!) and 21-24 nuns from Fontevraud in France were moved in, along with some English sisters from Worcestershire.
The early Plantagenets, who had a great affinity with Fontevraud, the final resting place of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Richard I, greatly favoured the Amesbury daughter-house. Eleanor of Aquitaine’s foster daughter, Amiria, decided to take the veil there, and when Eleanor herself died in 1203, the prioress paid a rent from the Exchequer to the Abbess of Fontevrault to have a chaplain pray for Eleanor’s soul.
It was not all about religion. King John had rather secular dealings with the priory in 1215 when the barons were in revolt. He hid part of the royal treasury in the vaults for safekeeping.
In the reign of John’s son, Henry III, the priory seemed to come to renewed prominence. The king visited personally on several occasions and granted the priory nuts, firewood, wine, and a communion cup.Henry’s son, Edward I kept a close connection to the priory and sent his daughter, Mary of Woodstock, to join the order as a young girl. Mary seemed to enjoy travelling and playing cards more than she enjoyed being a nun, however; she ran up huge gambling debts to the tune of £200 while attending her father’s court. The 7th Earl of Surrey, John de Warenne, also claimed to have had an affair with her. Her burial place is not known but it is very likely in Amesbury.
Mary’s cousin, Eleanor of Brittany also became a nun at Amesbury, but eventually she migrated overseas to the Abbey of Fontrevrault itself, where she rose in the ranks to become the abbess. There were a few conflicts with her cousin over the years, possibly because she disapproved of Mary’s less than nunly behaviour. Eleanor the Abbess of Fontevrault is not to be confused with an earlier Eleanor of Brittany, who willed her body to Amesbury after dying in a convent in Bristol. That Eleanor was the sister of Arthur of Brittany, most likely murdered by King John, and she was a prisoner for most of her adult life due to her closeness to the crown. Her remains might be in the older abbey (now the parish church of St Mary and St Melor) rather than in the lost priory, as it was because of St Melor, whose life story mirrored that of her unfortunate brother, that she wished to be interred at Amesbury.
The most famous resident of Amesbury Priory was Henry III’s widow, Queen Eleanor of Provence, who was Mary and Eleanor’s grandmother. She may never have become a fully professed nun and had her own private quarters built for her use. Eleanor was a strong woman, beautiful but not popular with her English subjects, and had at one time been appointed regent of England in her husband’s absence.
Originally, Eleanor had intended to be buried next to Henry III in Westminster Abbey, when the time came. However, a problem arose. The space had been usurped by the body of Eleanor of Castile, wife to her son Edward I, who had predeceased her; so, when Eleanor died in 1291, the nuns were not quite certain what to do with the body. They waited several months for the king to arrive and decide where she would be buried. When he finally reached Amesbury, he allowed his mother to be interred before the high altar in the priory church, with all due ceremony and many lords attending.
The last great lady of royal blood to reside in Amesbury priory was Isabel of Lancaster, daughter of Henry 3rd Earl of Lancaster. She arrived there in 1327 and ended up as prioress. She was the granddaughter of Edmund Crouchback, hence great granddaughter of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, showing that family connections were still strong.
The priory does not feature overmuch in records after the late 1300’s, although some of the floor tiles are 15th c. It is possible it fell on hard times during this period. After the death of her husband, Margaret, Lady Hungerford, resided at the priory between 1459 and 1463. While she was there her lodgings burnt down, destroying £1000 of her personal possessions. The nuns asked that she restore the damaged buildings; the cost to her was £20. In 1463 she Margaret left the convent when her son, Robert, 3rd Baron Hungerford, was executed at Newcastle after the Battle of Hexham. The Hungerford lands were seized by Edward IV, and divided between Richard of Gloucester and Lord Wenlock.
The priory was, naturally, dissolved in the Reformation. In 1540, it was given to Edward Seymour. A year later, the spire of the church was pulled down and the buildings roofs were torn off to take the lead.
Wind and weather soon took their toll and then later building and landscaping obliterated all that was left of this once-great religious house…which was not only a holy place, but the final resting place of a Queen.
Sources: A History of Wiltshire, Vol 3
TO BE CONTINUED
For some years I have set my novels in the last years of Plantagenet reign, or the first years of the Tudor dynasty.
|William the Conqueror|
Many authors of historical fiction prefer to set their books in the Georgian or Regency periods, but tor me the Plantagenet dynasty was one of the most interesting and longest lasting that has ever ruled in England. Both Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties included amazing figures of mystery, fear and tyranny. Indeed, both dynasties were founded on blatant usurpation. William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, invaded England and won the throne in 1066. Thus the Plantagenet dynasty was born in murder and brutality.
William’s claims were never valid. Whether or not his story of promises were true, at that time the English throne was never given by right to the man arbitrarily named by the previous king. The English had a different system and chose the man of noble blood whom they considered best suited. Therefore the Plantagenet dynasty had no initial right to rule England, but of course William claimed that by right of conquest. And so William I was followed by many kings of murderous ambition, great renown, courage, responsibility, honest endeavour, and violent determination.
The same occurred with the Tudors. Henry VII had no right whatsoever to the English throne. He had barely a single drop of English royal blood. It has sometimes been claimed that he was the true claimant of the Lancaster line (begun earlier by Henry IV, including Henry V, and Henry VI before the Yorkists once again claimed the crown) but even that is inaccurate. Henry VII was descended from a bastard line and barred from the royal inheritance, but even if that major difficulty was ignored, his claim was still only about the 15th in the Lancastrian line of descent.
Just like William the Bastard, Henry Tudor invaded England with a largely foreign army, and won the English throne by right of conquest. A usurper indeed, but he founded a dynasty of renown including some of the most interesting and fearful of sovereigns. For lovers of English history, it is often the Tudor period that fascinates the most. In those years of the Tudor family monarchy came the first two queens who ever ruled in their own right. A distinct lack of offspring brought the dynasty to an abrupt close, but not until they had sealed their names in history – written in blood.
Amongst the Plantagenets, many kings have gained a terrible and fearsome reputation. However, some of those reputations seem rather suspect when carefully examined. Indeed, there were different expectations in those times and a king had to be a great warrior, do great deeds and win the awe and admiration of his people. Brutality was common, executions were rife and poverty was the common order. It is hard to judge past actions and characters by modern standards.
Most of my historical novels are set during the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III. This was a controversial time, and has become even more controversial since experts argue over the rights and wrongs of York against Lancaster, the Wars of the Roses, and in particular regarding the guilt or innocence of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III. After many years of studious and careful research, I consider Richard III an interesting figure who had too little time to prove himself. I believe that he was no usurper, and was probably innocent of most other accusations hurled against him. But that is the fascination of history for we cannot be positive. Contemporary evidence is scarce, and propaganda was rife.
But my new book, Fair Weather, is set during the reign of King John in the early 13th century. This was another king plastered with a terrible reputation, and many claim this to be unjust. But he is not a main character in my novel – which has a time-slip plot with an element of the paranormal. I adored writing this book for it combines the freedom and wild exciting escapism of time-travel – the dark threat of murder and alchemy – and the significant atmosphere of the early Plantagenet time period. I love wandering those dark narrow cobbled lanes in my dreams – exploring the markets – the taverns – and the villages. I follow the ordinary folk and I share their lives. So different to my own. London Bridge had only recently been built – one of the greatest stone bridges of the world at that time. And it plays a large part in my story. That’s where I shall go first when my new time-machine is delivered by Amazon right to my front door. In the meantime my novel Fair Weather is almost a time-machine in itself.
Old England and its Saxon traditions was obliterated by the brutality of the Norman invasion and the usurpation of William the Bastard. But then that same Plantagenet dynasty was finally brought to an end by the next act of usurpation, when invasion brought the Tudor dynasty to power. So whether you love or hate these old royal houses, it cannot be denied that they fashioned England until the early 1600s, and were families of charisma, colour – and threat.
Richard of Conisbrough was Richard III’s grandfather on the paternal side. He is a shadowy figure, the last son of Edmund of Langley and his wife Isabella of Castile. Even his date of birth is uncertain, varying in different accounts by up to ten years. His father left him no inheritance, and there were rumours that Edmund and his eldest son suspected that Richard was not Langley’s child, but that of John Holland, with whom Isabella of Castile was known to have had an affair. (Some have suggested that this may account for the y-Dna mismatch between Richard and the current Beauforts, and this is a possibility, although it is far more likely it occurred somewhere in the past 16 Beaufort generations.)
At any rate, Richard was known to be the ‘poorest Earl’ due to his lack of income; he was his mother’s heir but monies due to be paid him came only irregularly after Richard II was deposed and Henry IV came to the throne. In 1408, he married Anne Mortimer in secrecy, without parental permission. It appears to have been a love match as Anne came with no particular wealth. With Anne, he had three children, the latter of whom was named Richard— he eventually became Duke of York, and the father of Edward IV and Richard III
When Anne Mortimer died in 1411, Richard of Conisbrough married the heiress Maud Clifford and swiftly had a daughter Alice.
Then in 1415, he fell in with a plot against the reigning Henry V shortly before the King was meant to sail to France for Agincourt. Along with Lord Scrope of Masham and Thomas Grey, he plotted to replace Henry with Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, Anne’s brother, who also had a strong claim to the throne. However, Edmund himself informed Henry, and the conspirators were arrested in Southampton after they had made several meetings. They seemed to have expected mercy, with a heavy fine…but no mercy was forthcoming from the stern Henry.
All three men were executed; Grey hanged, drawn and quartered; Scrope decapitated and his head sent to York; and Conisbrough executed by the headsman but allowed to ‘keep his head’ with him after death due to his royal ancestry. He was buried without ceremony in the tiny St Julien’s church, which formed part of the God’s House hospital. Dating from 1185, this chapel still stands in the shadow of a massive towered gateway, although it is in private hands and can only be viewed from the exterior.
So one may think Richard got his just dues for plotting against King Henry. But how serious was this plot? Was there even a plot at all? Professor Anne Curry has doubts as to its veracity as does historian T.B. Pugh. It is just as likely that Henry was simply removing a few disgruntled lords (Conisbrough had some reason to be disgruntled—he had been charged a 10,000 mark marriage fine) and sending a harsh warning to anyone who thought to defy him when he was away on campaign in France. The three plotters were not terribly organised and their supposed plots vague at best, and none of them seemed particularly supportive or loyal to Edmund of Mortimer, which may make it unlikely that they truly wanted him as king—apparently, they called him a hog and a pig!
So whatever the case, Conisbrough lost his life aged somewhere between the ages of 30 or 40, but luckily, because he was not attainted, he was able to pass on his estates to his orphaned son, four year old Richard. Shortly thereafter, Conisbrough’s elder brother died at Agincourt, and in due time young Richard was acclaimed as his heir and inherited his titles and lands.
Conisbrough is rather a forgotten figure, except as dealt with in a Shakespeare play. Despite the possibility he had done very little against Henry V other than grumble a bit with a few other northern lords, no one seems to mourn his execution overmuch…unlike, for instance Anthony Rivers, executed for treason by Richard III in 1483. There is certainly just as much if not more evidence that Rivers was plotting against the Duke of Gloucester on behalf of his Woodville kin; the fact that no one spoke up for him after his arrest speaks volumes. They had weeks to do so. But it seems, alas, Conisbrough did not have Rivers’ charisma…or write poetry.
Anne Curry: Agincourt-A New History
TB Pugh: Henry V and the Southampton Plot of 1415
In the quiet village of Boyton in Wiltshire stands the Church of St Mary’s, known locally as ‘Blessed Mary of Boyton.’ Dating from the early 13th century it contains several unusual and startling features, including a medieval oven where priests baked the sacramental bread.
It is probably most famous, however, for the chantry of the Giffard family, who played an important role in 13th century politics and had connections to the royal family.
Sir Hugh Giffard instructed the young Prince Edward, son of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, later to become Edward I, in horsemanship and ‘manly arts’, while his wife Sibilla assisted with both births and the education of the other royal children.
The chantry was begun in 1270 for Hugh and Sibilla and all their family by their sons Walter and Godfrey. Both of these men rose to high prominence, with each in turn being appointed Lord Chancellor of England. Walter was also made Archbishop of York, while Godfrey was Bishop of Worcester.
The huge wheel window which dominates the chantry is probably its outstanding feature, and is unparalleled anywhere in Britain. The small roundels of glass could actually be moved in their grooves to display different points.
Nearer to the altar, lies a superb effigy of an armoured knight with his feet resting on an otter and three lions on his shield, thought to be Godfrey and Walter’s brother, Alexander, who was in Egypt during the Seventh Crusade in 1250. He fought in the Battle of Al Mansourah and died there, while, legend says, attempting to help wounded soldiers escape down the Nile. The effigy predates the chantry and was moved into its current position at a later date. Traces of gold paint still remain on the armour.
The central tomb chest belongs to Lady Margaret Neville, who appears to have been a niece of Godfrey and Walter. Originally, there was an elaborate painted canopy over the tomb, but excavations in recent years show that there was once a fire in the chapel, and the canopy burnt down. The ashes from the destruction were found trapped beneath the flagstones, along with two other extremely unusual finds.
One was a clam shell which still bears traces of medieval paint inside. It is thought to have served as an artist’s palette, in which he mixed colours. The shell is on display in a glass box in the church and its still-vivid colours have been used as a guide to restoring the paint on the angel carvings around the ceiling.
Along with the shell, a fairly substantial fragment of original stained glass was found, bearing the arms of Thomas Plantagenet. Thomas was the grandson of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence and the son of Edmund Crouchback (whose name came from his right to wear a cross on his back.) Thomas was prominent at the coronation of Edward I, carrying Curtana, the sword of Edward the confessor. He was also one of the judges who tried and convicted Piers Gaveston during the reign of Edward II; Gaveston had previously insulted him with unflattering nicknames such as ‘the Fiddler’ and ‘The Churl.’ Thomas attempted to wrest affairs away from Edward during the following four years, but could not keep order amongst the nobility.
Eventually he mounted a full rebellion against the King in 1321 and was defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge. Having surrendered, he was given a ‘show trial,’ in which he was neither allowed to speak in his own defence nor to have anyone speak for him. Predictably, he was sentenced to death for treason and beheaded near Pontefract. Later, miracles were said to have taken place at his tomb.
Today, Thomas’s arms are back on display in one of St Mary’s windows alongside fine collections of medieval glass that were not originally in the church, but installed by later owners of the nearby manor, who were great collectors of ancient glass. Beneath Thomas’s arms lies an inscription mentioning the long-time friendship of the Giffards with the Plantagenets.