murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Archive for the tag “Stephen”

The Death of Robert, Earl of Gloucester

In writing Stephen and Matilda: Cousins of Anarchy, I was keen to apply the same narrow-eyed pursuit of solid facts that I hope comes across in my books on the Wars of the Roses. More than being about battles and, well, anarchy, I wanted to discover the real personalities behind the stories, the people who are sometimes lost in the moralising and misogyny of chroniclers. Few characters are as fascinating and worthy of admiration as Robert, Earl of Gloucester.

RobertConsul_TewkesburyAbbey_FoundersBook Monks of Tewkesbury Abbey, c. 1500-1525 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Robert, Earl of Gloucester and his wife Mabel FitzHamon from the Founders’ Book of the Monks of Tewkesbury Abbey

The first person to hold a peerage title centred on Gloucester was the oldest, and favourite, illegitimate son of Henry I; a man who might have been king. Henry I holds the record for the most known illegitimate children fathered by an English or British monarch. He had at least twenty-two, and possibly more, illegitimate sons and daughters. Robert was his oldest, born around 1090, either his grandfather William the Conqueror or his uncle William Rufus were on the throne and his father was the king’s third son, unlikely to inherit anything more than a hefty lump of cash.

The identity of Robert’s mother is not known for certain. Once conjectured to have been Nest, a daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, the last King of Deheubarth, it is more likely that she was a member of an Oxfordshire family, like the mothers of many of Henry’s other illegitimate children. She was possibly a daughter of Rainald Gay of Hampton Gay, but she remains lost in mystery. Her son, however, would be propelled into the political limelight, feted as the favourite son of a father who took the throne as Henry I.

Robert’s importance solidified after The White Ship Disaster of 1120, when Henry lost his only legitimate son. Shortly afterwards, Robert was created Earl of Gloucester, probably reflecting the amount of land and the number of honours his wife, Mabel FitzHamon, brought to him within the area. He also held extensive lands in Wales and Normandy. When Henry appointed his only other legitimate child, his daughter Empress Matilda, as his heir, he extracted oaths from his barons that they would support her. More than most, though, Henry would have been aware of the fragility of such pledges: he had not been his brother’s heir but had snatched the throne on William Rufus’s sudden death.

Robert was promoted further, given lands that made him one of the most wealthy and powerful men on both sides of the Channel. The plan was clear: Robert was to be a crutch for his half-sister as she tried to exercise power as a woman in a strictly man’s world. Crutches come in pairs, and the other one readied for Empress Matilda was her cousin, Stephen of Blois, Count of Boulogne. Stephen was the son of Henry’s sister Adela of Normandy and was another of Henry’s favourites, made powerful to help support Matilda.

Henry’s plans, however well laid, ultimately fell to pieces on his death in 1135. It is possible the king changed his mind on his deathbed, since he was at odds with Matilda and her husband Geoffrey of Anjou, but whatever really happened behind closed doors, it was Stephen who rushed to have himself crowned in place of Empress Matilda. Robert trod a difficult and strained line. He eventually submitted to Stephen, but the king was never quite sure of his cousin. Whether Robert had planned to remain loyal to his half-sister all along or Stephen’s suspicion drove him away is unclear – chroniclers have their ideas based on their prejudices, but Robert alone knew the secrets of his heart.

When Empress Matilda landed at Arundel Castle to formally launch her bid to take the crown in 1139, she was accompanied by her half-brother Robert. While she remained inside the castle until Stephen arrived, Robert sped west to his stronghold at Bristol, a castle deemed impenetrable and which would form the beating heart of Matilda’s bid for power for years. Robert became the military arm of his half-sister’s efforts, allowing her to overcome the problems of putting an army into the field. In 1141, it was Robert who led the army against Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln that resulted in the king’s capture. Later the same year, when Matilda was driven out of Winchester, it was Robert who fought a rear guard action to allow Matilda to escape safely, but which led to his own seizure by forces loyal to Stephen.

017

Medieval knights riding into battle from wall paintings at Claverley Church, Shropshire

It is a mark of the importance to Matilda’s cause of Earl Robert that he was part of a prisoner exchange, his release secured with that of Stephen in a complex arrangement of hostages and releases. The chronicler William of Malmesbury, who knew Earl Robert and is unfalteringly positive about his patron, believed that Robert demonstrated his courage, guile and humility when he initially refused to be exchanged for the king, since he was a mere earl and worth less than Stephen. Even when he was offered control of the government, he still refused. It was Matilda who blinked first. Robert was perhaps not as clever as William of Malmesbury believed (if the earl didn’t exaggerate his role in the negotiations for his writer friend!). Matilda’s case was largely based on the illegitimacy of Stephen’s rule; he was not the rightful king and had broken his own oaths to support her. Robert, in recognising Stephen as a king and as one of higher worth than an earl, undid that pretence and handed Stephen all of the religious authority and infallibility that went with being king.

Robert died on 31 October 1147, aged around fifty-seven, at Bristol Castle, still trying to lift his half-sister onto the throne. He was buried at his own foundation of St James’s Priory in Bristol. The hammer blow to Matilda’s cause is amply demonstrated by her decision to leave England in the early months of 1148, abandoning her own claim to the throne but bequeathing the effort to her son, Henry FitzEmpress, the future Henry II. Robert had been a paragon of chivalry, and shared many attributed with his rival King Stephen. William of Malmesbury is full of gushing praise for the brave, chivalrous, unflappable earl, and it is clear that he was the strong core of his half-sisters efforts.

Many urged Robert to make his own claim to the throne in 1135 and afterwards. This presented problems, not the least of which was his illegitimacy. His grandfather, William the Conqueror had been a bastard, but becoming a duke was different from becoming a king, and William took England by conquest, not by right. Illegitimacy was always much more of a bar to becoming a king, with all of the associated religious aspects of being chosen by God. On the other hand, he was the favourite son of the old king, Henry I, and solved all of the problems of female rule that Matilda relentlessly encountered. Capable, both militarily and politically, he was more acceptable to some despite his illegitimacy than any woman would ever be.

Robert refused at every turn, and at every request, to even consider trying to make himself a king. It is perhaps unkind to suggest that he lacked confidence that he would succeed, because he relentlessly spearheaded his half-sister’s efforts to unseat Stephen. William of Malmesbury may not have been far wide of the mark when he admiringly assured his reader that Robert would not consider such a step because he accepted Matilda as the rightful heir to their father’s throne. He swore oaths to her and, once Matilda launched her bid for the throne and turned away from Stephen, he spent the remainder of his life trying to keep those promises.

Robert died without seeing the eventual success of their cause, but he never gave up. He managed to be the military arm of an attempt to implement female rule in England more than four centuries before it would finally be accepted. That he did so without blurring the lines of his half-sister’s claim to the throne or allowing himself to become embroiled in efforts to make him king speaks volumes for the man and his abilities. There is an awful lot to admire in this dedicated, honourable and capable first holder of a peerage based on the city of Gloucester.

Stephen and Matilda: Cousins of Anarchy is released by Pen and Sword on 30 October 2019.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stephen-Matildas-Civil-War-Cousins/dp/1526718332

Mer de Mort reviewed

Anything new from the Legendary Ten Seconds is always to be greeted with delight, and this new album does not disappoint. It tells the story of the House of Mortimer from its beginnings in France, to its ultimate destiny on the throne of England, through its descendants of the House of York, Edward IV and Richard III.

The narratives are read by actor John Challis, who played Boycie in Only Fools and Horses and who now lives at Wigmore Abbey. (Lucky man!)

Mortimer Overture. Impressive opening, with an almost marching rhythm – it’s possible to imagine one of the Mortimer earls riding past at the head of his dazzling retinue, and then disappearing along the road. I liked this very much. One of my favourite tracks.

Mortimer Castle. I liked the harmonies on this track. The background is perfect in the chorus, and I particularly liked the echo effect.

The Marcher Lords. And a powerful, influential and often tetchy lot they were too! A wise king handled them with caution! This is a strong song, and one can picture the generations of Mortimers standing firm.

When Christ and his Saints Slept. This one is about the period known as the Anarchy, which ended when Henry II ascended the throne. Once again, I particularly liked the background, which adds so much.

De Montfort. Tells a bloody story of the battle that ended with the death of Simon de Montfort. As a reminder of how brutal those days could often be, Roger Mortimer sent his wife de Montfort’s head as a trophy! Some good sounds in this one, making me think of heads being lopped!

The Round Table 1279. A song about an “Arthurian” tournament, creating a dazzling scene of knights in armour, fine horses, and beautiful women.

Two Thousand Marks. About the Roger Mortimer, and his dealings with Piers Gaveston, the influential favourite of King Edward II. This Roger eventually deposed the king and became the lover of Queen Isabella. We all know the outcome, and this song bowls along as it relates events.

The Privy Seal and the Royal Shield. Another song about Roger, and Mortimer participation at Bannockburn. I liked this one a lot. A great join-in chorus.

The King of Folly. Opens with a trumpet and set firmly in the year 1329 and great celebratory events at Wigmore Castle. A very enjoyable tune and rhythm.

The Tragedy of Roger Mortimer and the Mystery of Edward II. A haunting guitar solo opening for this song about Edward II’s fate at Berkeley Castle. Did he really die there? A quaint atmosphere pervades this song, which seeks the truth about Edward’s demise. . .and relates how his great foe, Roger Mortimer, eventually paid the price for his overreaching ambition. Maybe Edward lived on in obscurity.

Leintwardine. How Edward III, the man who ordered Roger Mortimer’s execution, went to Leintwardine to lay an offering of golden cloth at the feet of a statue of the Virgin Mary. I liked this one. It’s quietly understated, and a little eerie. Perhaps because a Mortimer Earl never did wear the crown, although it is from one of their daughters that the House of York descended.

Mer de Mort. A song that gives a voice to Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March. This is a delightful song, and one of my favourites on the album.

Mer de Mort, Part II. Once again Edmund expresses his feelings, and laments that his elder brother has no grave. This song echoes the first Mer de Mort, but is different. Very sad.

Henry VI. A song about the last Lancastrian king, who was to lose his throne to the Yorkist Edward IV, a descendant of the Mortimers. I like the rhythm of this song, which moves along pleasingly. It actually took a fair time to get rid of Henry VI! He was an incompetent king, but he went in the end, thank heaven. A good track.

Sunnes of York. Another easy treat, relating the tale of the how the House of Mortimer became the House of York. And tells of the final generation of Yorkist brothers, Edward IV, George of Clarence and Richard III. The House of York did not only claim the throne through the name of York, but, importantly, through the Mortimers, who descended from a more senior branch of the royal family. Familiar LTS territory. This song bowls along.

The Chapel of Sir John. A brisk rhythm for a rather spooky song, about what is seen in the windows, floor and screen of the medieval chapel of Sir John Evans in St  Matthew’s Church, Coldridge in Devon. The words recreate the atmosphere, and so does the music. An excellent conclusion.

This album marks a great advance in the LTS repertoire. A richer, fuller sound that sets it apart. Very much to my liking, and I hope, to yours.

Recommended!

Another Legendary Ten Seconds album

This is the list of tracks from “Mer de Mort”, a collection of songs about the Mortimer roots of the House of York and recorded for the Mortimer History Society‘s tenth anniversary. Here is an introduction.

Five important royals who didn’t ascend the throne….

BlackPrince

Edward of Woodstock, known to history as the Black Prince

Would these be your five? Or do you have other suggestions?

PS Who can spot their deliberate mistake?

THE LOST FONT OF MARLBOROUGH CASTLE

Marlborough is a quaint little town in Wiltshire. It has a rather famous College (once attended by Kate Middleton) but no buildings dating much before Tudor times other than two heavily restored churches. However, it used to have a castle, and a rather important one too.

The first castle was built by William the Conqueror in timber, and he raised it on Marlborough’s most famous landmark–a huge mound (sometimes called Merlin’s Mound) that stands in the middle of the college grounds. This mound is not the usual motte and bailey but in fact a neolithic mound that is a smaller ‘sister’ to nearby Silbury Hill, the largest artificial mound in Europe. Later the wooden castle was replaced by stone; it held out for King Stephen during the Anarchy. King John made many changes and repairs, having been presented  the castle while his brother, Richard Lionheart, was king. His second wife the infamous Isabella of Angouleme spent some time there and some of his children may have been born within its walls. It was  a strange arrangement–Isabella was under the care of Hugh de Neville, whose wife had been one of John’s many mistresses. After John died in the early 1200’s, political prisoner Eleanor of Brittany, whose claim to the throne equalled or surpassed that of Henry III, was kept there for a while before being shunted off to another stronghold. After Henry died, however, it became a Dower House, used by the Dowager Queen, Eleanor of Provence, and then was held by a series of Queen after her.

By 1370,  Marlborough was unused, and in ruins by 1403. Edward VI passed it to his relatives, the Seymours, who built a grand house that is now part of the College. All traces of the castle vanished, save for the mighty mound with had already stood for thousands of years before the Conqueror built his castle.

However there is a rumour that one item from the castle  survived–a huge ornate stone font which had come from the freestanding chapel of St Nicholas. Local legend says  several of King John’s children were  baptised in this font.

And sure enough about a mile away, a massive stone font sits, seeming slightly out of place, in  the tiny, remote church of St George at Preshute (an old name meaning Priest’s Hut.). It is an enormous block of polished black stone imported from Tournai, and would hardly be likely to have originally belonged to such a small, out of the way church. A few similar fonts of Tournai stone  do exist in England, but they are in much grander buildings that St George’s–including Worcester Cathedral.

P1320856

Marlborough castle Font

 

 

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

How Edward IV ascended the throne of England….

 

The Wars of the Roses did not commence, à la Bard, with white and red roses snatched and brandished in a garden by opposing lords, but they were foreshadowed at the turn of the fifteenth century when Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, usurped and murdered Richard II.

Bolingbroke was the son and heir of Richard II’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, through Gaunt’s first marriage, to Blanche of Lancaster. It was through Blanche that the dukedom came to Gaunt. Bolingbroke was therefore the undisputable heir of the House of Lancaster.

But Gaunt had other children by other women, especially a nest of illegitimate Beauforts by his liaison with Katherine de Roët/Swynford, who had been governess to his children by Blanche. Gaunt wanted the Beauforts to be legitimized, and Richard II eventually agreed. Letters Patent were issued in 1397.

When Bolingbroke stole the throne and murdered Richard, he also made sure that his half-siblings, the Beauforts, could not succeed to the throne. He did this by adding a clause to the original Patent of legitimation. This was popularly regarded as valid, but maybe it was not, because the original patent had received parliamentary sanction.

The Lancastrian line held power until the reign of Bolingbroke’s grandson, the weak, ineffectual Henry VI. At first childless, Henry had to decide on an heir. If the Beauforts were set aside, the next legitimate heir to the throne was Richard, 3rd Duke of York, who descended from Gaunt’s younger brother, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. But, York was also descended, through his Mortimer mother, from Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, who was an older brother of Gaunt’s. Not the oldest, of course. That honour went to the Black Prince, father of Richard II.

Gaunt and the Lancastrians did their utmost to insist that rights to the throne could not descend through a female line. They were wrong. For instance, Henry II’s claim came through his mother, the Empress Matilda, whose opponent, Stephen, also claimed through his mother. So, the Lancastrians were good at dealing from the bottom of the pack. Gaunt himself laid claim to the throne of Castile in right of his second wife! And he had gained the incredibly wealthy and important dukedom of Lancaster through his first wife. But that was different, of course. Oh, of course. So, they were hypocrites.

This was the situation when Henry VI needed an heir. York felt, rightly, that he was the legitimate heir. He did not claim that the House of Lancaster had no right to the throne, only that he was the next heir. Then, miraculously (or by the divine intervention of the Beaufort Earl of Somerset) Henry VI’s queen provided the much-needed son. In the nick of time, eh? Poor Henry believed he was the father, but a lot of people saw hanky-panky at work…and Somerset’s Beaufort fruitfulness.

York’s claims went quiet again. But as the years passed, Henry’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, grew fearful that York’s designs on the crown would be at the expense of her son. She was aided and abetted in this by the powerful Duke of Somerset. York realized that he and his House were in danger of extinction, and chose to stand up for his rights.

Thus began the Wars of the Roses, a tussle that went on for decades and resulted in the crown going from Lancaster to York, and then back to Lancaster….if Henry Tudor can be described as a Lancastrian. He was descended through the Beauforts, who, according to Henry IV, could not succeed to the throne. But that is yet another story. So, too, is the fact that if the claim to the throne could descend through the female line, then Philippa, one of Gaunt’s daughters by Blanche of Lancaster, and thus full sister of Henry IV, had to be considered. She had married the King of Portugal, and had sons. Philippa’s younger sister, Elizabeth, had married the Duke of Exeter, but their line was not considered either. Besides, Philippa was the older sister, and her line not only legitimate, but secure. However, as far as I can ascertain, her claim does not appear to have been even vaguely considered.

By this time York was the father of four sons: Edward, Earl of March (Edward IV), Edmund, Earl of Rutland, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III). The first two were old enough to fight. Another of York’s great assets was the Earl of Warwick, who is now known to us as the “Kingmaker”.

With Margaret determined to protect her son’s rights, battles commenced, and fortunes swung. Then York and his second son, Edmund, were slain by treachery (the same fate as that suffered by the last of the sons, the brave Richard III) at the Battle of Wakefield. York and Edmund’s heads were displayed on the gate of York city. At least Richard III did not suffer that.

Now York’s eldest son, Edward, the new Duke of York, became the figurehead of the Yorkist cause. Bitterly angry about the fate of his father and brother, he took up the cudgels and, with Warwick at his side, triumphed over the Lancastrians to take the throne. He was proclaimed king on 4th March 1461. After a few years there was a hiccup, and he was forced to flee the country with his younger brother, George and Richard. Henry VI was reinstated. Edward returned, and after another bout of battles (and quarrelling with and alienating Warwick, to say nothing of having George switch sides more than once) Edward finally demolished Lancaster at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4th May 1471. He gained victory with his brothers fighting at his side. Somerset was captured and beheaded. Margaret of Anjou’s son, the Prince of Wales, was also slain, and Margaret’s will finally broken. Days later, Henry VI, died in the Tower of “melancholy”. Hmm. Let’s just say that his survival would have been inconvenient to Edward, who wouldn’t want him returning to the throne again.

 

And so England had her first Yorkist king for the second time. If you see what I mean. The above is clearly somewhat condensed, and many of the finer points have had to be omitted, but it’s the gist of how handsome, dashing, charming Edward, Earl of March, became King Edward IV.

The elusive last Norman

Although Richard was found in Leicester five years ago, exactly where he was buried, and Henry I is close to being identified in Reading, Kingfinding is not always successful. As this blog shows, the 1965 excavation of the Faversham Abbey site to find King Stephen was unsuccessful.

It seems that his bones really were moved during the Reformation. Sometimes, there is truth in such a legend.

What do Matilda and Margaret, Eleanor and Elizabeth, plus two Henrys, add up to…?

To my mind, it adds up to two very similar situations that are two centuries apart.

Henry I deathbed - stand-in pic

Let us begin in the 12th century. On his deathbed, Henry I of England named as his successor his only surviving child, his daughter, the Empress Matilda. He obliged the nobility to agree. They reneged, of course. A woman as queen in her own right? Cue mass hysteria among the male upper classes and uncontrollable fits of the vapours in the Church. And cue a sharp move by her cousin, Stephen, who promptly had himself crowned before she could even return to England.

To cut a long story short, Matilda fought first for herself, supported by her powerful half-brother, Robert of Gloucester. When it became clear she would never be accepted because she was a woman, Matilda fought on behalf of her eldest son. He, thanks to her tireless efforts, eventually became Henry II—and yes, he is one of the two Henrys.

There was nothing Matilda would not have done to see her son on the throne, and her aim came to fruition. And when he was crowned, she became the highest woman in the realm. She wasn’t monarch in the own right, but came darned close!

Then came the time when Henry II chose a queen. Not just any queen, but beautiful, spirited Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not only a powerful, troublesome lady with a mind very much of her own, but was also prepared to scheme and manipulate on behalf of her sons by Henry. Against Henry.

Eleanor’s reputation was not squeaky clean. She had been married to the King of France, only for the marriage to be annulled and custody of their two daughters given to Louis. She had been on a Crusade with her husband, and halted at Antioch, where she encountered her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, who was described by William of Tyre as “a lord of noble descent, of tall and elegant figure, the handsomest of the princes of the earth, a man of charming affability and conversation, open-handed and magnificent beyond measure“. There were whispers because Raymond and Eleanor spent such a great deal of time together and seemed so very intimate. She quite clearly found her uncle preferable to her husband. The whispers increased when she declined to leave Antioch with said husband, who eventually took her away by force. She was a lady to whom scandal seemed drawn, but it is only her ‘acquaintance’ with Raymond that is of interest for this article.

Raymond of Poitiers

Raymond of Poitiers

The difficulties between Henry and Eleanor commenced when the latter came up against Matilda, who was not about to surrender the position of First Lady. As far as Matilda was concerned, Eleanor was simply Henry’s wife, with no claim to any power. A baby-making machine, no more or less. Open warfare threatened.

fighting women

Was Henry caught in the middle? Well, in a way, but he loved his mother because of all she had done to put him on the throne. Then (so the story goes) he fell for one of his many mistresses, a lady known as Fair Rosamund Clifford. It was too much for Eleanor. Already furious about playing second fiddle to Matilda, she now had to endure his immense infatuation for younger  woman. Eleanor stormed off to her lands in Europe, there to plot with her sons against their father.

the lion in winter

If you have seen the film The Lion in Winter, you will know that Eleanor and Henry were played by Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. Oh, how the sparks and flames flew when they were on screen together. Eleanor was indeed very beautiful, but I don’t think Henry resembled O’Toole. According to Gerald of Wales [he had} “a reddish complexion, rather dark, and a large, round head. His eyes were grey, bloodshot, and flashed in anger. He had a fiery countenance, his voice was tremulous, and his neck a little bent forward; but his chest was broad, and his arms were muscular. His body was fleshy, and he had an enormous paunch, rather by the fault of nature than from gross feeding.” Definitely not the gorgeous Peter.

* * *

Now we must fast forward to the fifteenth century, and Lady Margaret Beaufort, yet another mother who would stop at nothing to see her son on the throne. Meet that son, Henry VII, the second Henry concerned in this article. Unlike Henry II, who was a direct blood heir, Henry VII’s forebears descended through a rather convoluted and weak line that included the bastard strain of the Beauforts (illegitimate offspring of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine de Roët.

When Henry, taking for himself the role of legitimate heir of the House of Lancaster, was helped to Richard III’s throne by traitors, his formidable mother became First Lady—she was known as the King’s Lady Mother. Like Matilda, Margaret also had a helpful half-brother, John Welles, Viscount Welles, but he was hardly in the same class as the mighty Robert of Gloucester.

I could not find an illustration of John Welles, but this is his father, Lionel, Lord Welles, who died at Towton.

Henry always supported whatever Margaret did. She was, perhaps, the only person he ever trusted completely. His was a suspicious, secretive, paranoid character. He was not a mother’s boy, but came pretty close.

Then he too took a wife. He had to, he’d promised it in order to win the support of discontented supporters of the House of York (to which his defeated predecessor, Richard III, had belonged). If Henry had tried to wriggle out of it, there would have been uproar, because the promise entailed marrying the eldest Yorkist princess, Richard III’s niece, Elizabeth. Henry VII did not like having to do as he was told, but wasn’t given much of a choice.

Elizabeth of York - for WordPress

It is hard to imagine anyone less like Eleanor of Aquitaine. Elizabeth of York was reportedly lovely, but was mostly so quiet and apparently inactive that she barely offered a defiant squeak when Henry and his mother belittled her. She must have loathed Margaret, who swanned around almost as if she were the king, not Henry.

However, like Eleanor before her, Elizabeth had also been caught up in a scandal. It too involved an uncle, Richard III. There were strong rumours that something went on between uncle and niece—so strong that Richard was forced to deny it all in public. Whether there was any truth in it all will never be known, although I doubt very much that Richard returned any incestuous affection. That falls into the realm of fiction. He was intent upon arranging a foreign match for her. But the story clings to Elizabeth’s memory. Maybe she did love Richard, who, unlike his Shakespearean namesake, was actually a handsome young widower at the time in question.

Richard III for WordPress

Henry VII may have come to feel affection for his queen (perhaps because she was so unlike his domineering mother!) but she always took second place to Margaret. There is no known equivalent of Fair Rosamund in Henry’s life, so Elizabeth was never challenged on that score. Even if she had been, I doubt if she would have flounced off in a fury as Eleanor did. Perhaps Henry’s problem with his marriage was that he could not forget the rumours about Richard.

Maybe Elizabeth was one of those people who work quietly in the background, getting her own way when she wanted, but never openly defying either Henry or Margaret. Well, she did once, and Henry was so startled at the unexpected stamping of her Yorkist foot, that he backed down. I’d love to have been there, just for the joy of seeing his face.

So, there we have it. Two grimly determined mothers-in-law, two daughters-in law touched by rumours of incest and consigned to second place. And two Henrys who were loath to take on their mothers. Two M’s, two E’s and two H’s!

Matilda and Margaret could not have the throne in their own right, but were prepared to fight tooth and nail to put their sons there. Eleanor was another in the same mould, but Elizabeth of York was not. Neither daughter-in-law was afforded proper prominence in the eyes of her husband.

As for the Henrys, well, while their mothers could not rule alone as the true monarch (heaven forfend!) these sons were quite happy to lay claim the throne through the female line. So, a woman’s blood was good enough pass on to a son who would be crowned, but was next to worthless if she tried to assert herself by becoming “king”.

 

Empress Matilda-Should She Be Listed as an English Monarch?

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.parents_of_henry_ii

 

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/

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: