Monday, October 31, 2022

Young Henry's Revolt, 1173

Henry II had conflicts with the Scotland, with Ireland, with Wales, with France, but the most difficult conflicts may have been with his family.

The Norman practice of not only naming but formally elevating your heir led to Henry's eldest son, Henry, was formally made "king" and known as Henry, the Young King. At 18, Henry was well-liked and admired, but he had a problem: he was living like a king, with a retinue of knights and followers who wanted to be with the next monarch, but he had no revenues. Revenues come from the taxes on property, and his father kept tight control of England, Normandy, and Anjou. His mother, Eleanor, held the enormous Aquitaine. Young Henry stood to inherit a vast area, but he wanted it sooner. Then his father gave three castles, that would have belonged to young Henry, to Prince John. Eleanor and others urged Henry to rebel

His solution was ironic: give his future kingdom away in order to rule it. He promised territories to several counts of areas on the continent if they would support him in overthrowing his father. Henry senior's reputation had been severely tarnished by the killing of Thomas Becket in 1170; in 1173, people were still outraged.

Young Henry went to the court of King Louis VII of France, whose daughter he had married, to plan. His brothers Richard (Lionheart) and Geoffrey joined him (likely also upset at the preference shown to the youngest brother John). The first step was in March of 1173 when young Henry and his allies attacked Normandy from three sides. It was a failure. Loyal Norman forces repelled them and killed the Count of Boulogne.

The next phase took place when the Earl of Leicester took an army of Flemish mercenaries to England ... and was soundly defeated. Danger from the north was next: forces from Scotland in the spring of 1174 invaded northern England.

Then something happened that would not initially seem to be related to the war, but may have had an effect. Henry II, crossing from Normandy back to England in July, stopped at Canterbury Cathedral and did penance before the tomb of Thomas Becket, whose murder people felt as Henry's fault. The very next day, loyalists in northern England captured the Scottish forces. That was the end of the revolt. Henry II destroyed the castles of several of the nobles who supported his son. Young Henry, Richard, and Geoffrey all re-pledged their loyalty to the father.

Besides Prince John, there was another son who did not have cause to join the rebellion. This was another Geoffrey, who was illegitimate and possibly older than the rest. This Geoffrey had different ambitions, which were to be realized if he just kept his place and stayed the course. Tomorrow we'll talk about just how far a bastard son o a king could go.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Thomas Becket, the Legends

The martyrdom and subsequent popularity of Thomas Becket inspired several legends, which is not unusual. Since pilgrimages were popular in the Middle Ages, and could be lucrative for the pilgrimage site, linking a saint to your locale was a common industry. His shrine at Canterbury Cathedral generated so much income that his bones a mere 50 years later could be placed in a casket of gold and gems. The ceremony for this was attended by Henry III and Stephen Langton, then Archbishop of Canterbury, and afterward the date (7 July) became a second feast day for Becket, as well as 29 December, the date of his murder.

In the village of Otford, Kent, made two unusual claims about the new saint. One was "Becket's Well," a pair of springs that came forth from the ground after the archbishop struck the ground with his crozier because he did not like the taste of the local water. Its existence was not mentioned until the 13th century, and it is pictured here. Otford also claims an absence of nightingales because Becket was disturbed by their singing while he was visiting there.

Over in the town of Strood in Kent the men had been on Henry's side in his conflict with Becket. While Becket was riding through, they cut off his horse's tale, after which Becket's curse was that the men of Strood would be born with tails. (No evidence exists of this phenomenon.)

Part of veneration of St. Thomas involved partaking of the "water of St. Thomas." This was a mixture of water and the (supposed) blood of Thomas. This was frowned upon by the Church.

Numerous churches were (and still are) built with his name. The arms of the city of Canterbury incorporated his coat of arms. Portrayals of the murder exist in all artistic media. Chaucer used a pilgrimage in spring to his shrine as the frame story for The Canterbury Tales.

In the discussion of Becket's death and the aftermath, I've neglected the effect it had on one particular person connected to the event. How did Becket's old friend and the instigator (?) of his murder deal with the result? Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you about the Revolt of 1173-74.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Thomas Becket, Aftermath

It's a rare medieval post that starts with a Star Wars reference, but here it is (spoilers!): when Obi Wan confronts Darth Vader, he warns his former pupil "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine." As it turns out, the murder of Thomas Becket by knights acting (so they believed) on Henry II's wishes gave to the problematic and disgraced Archbishop of Canterbury a level of celebrity I doubt he would have achieved otherwise.

Henry's involvement—deliberate or not—in the murder tarnished his reputation; the death of Becket was one of the points brought against him during a rebellion in 1173. But let's focus on the immediate events after 29 December 1170.

The four knights responsible fled northward, to the castle of one of their number, Hugh de Moreville. Regardless of their "good intentions"—they thought they were carrying out orders of a king—the murder of an archbishop was not going to be without consequence. They might have thought to get to Scotland, where English law would not follow them. The four were excommunicated by Pope Alexander III. They were not in immediate danger of secular punishment: Henry did not confiscate their lands, which would have been appropriate for the circumstances. When they appealed to him for advice on their future in August 1171, however, he refused to help them. They ultimately went to Rome to seek forgiveness from the Pope, whose penance for them was to go to the Holy Land and support the Crusading efforts.

Back to Canterbury and 29 December 1170: the monks began to prepare the body for burial. Legend says they were astounded to find that he wore a hair shirt under his clothing: a sign of great piety, to willingly do penance through discomfort. His coffin was placed beneath the floor of the cathedral, with a hole in the stone floor where pilgrims could stick their heads in and kiss the tomb. The martyr's tomb became an enormously popular pilgrimage site; from martyr to saint took only two years: he was canonized by Alexander III on 21 February 1173.

Fifty years after his death, his bones were put into a shrine of gold and jewels—affordable because of the radical increase in donations and offerings due to the popularity of St. Thomas of Canterbury—and given a more prominent place behind the high altar. Sadly, the shrine and bones were destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538, and all mentions of Becket's name were to be eliminated. Despite Henry's efforts, Thomas Becket is still one of the most popular and best-known martyrs and saints in English history.

As was typical for prominent figures, especially saints, several legends cropped up about him with no evidence, but several locales tried to connect themselves to a now-famous figure. I'll share some of the more outrageous stories next.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Thomas Becket, Martyr

Thomas Becket rose from decent middle-class origins to the highest non-royal position in England. As Archbishop of Canterbury, however, his apparent long-term friendship with and loyalty to King Henry II was replaced by an obligation to promote ecclesiastical priorities over secular royal wishes. 

One crisis point was averted when Pope Alexander III created a compromise that allowed Becket—in self-exile on the continent to avoid arrest for malfeasance—to return to England. Becket might have been more careful after that close call, but his awareness of the significance of his position as Archbishop of Canterbury guided his every move.

So when the king had his young son Henry crowned as his successor, the ceremony should have been performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, as was tradition. The elder Henry chose the secondary, the Archbishop of York, Roger de Pont L'Évêque, along with the Bishops of London and Salisbury, to elevate his son. Becket was insulted by this, and in November 1170 he excommunicated the three clergy involved.

...and here is where supposition takes over. King Henry, exasperated by the news, uttered words in what we would now call a "hot mic" situation. Exactly what he said, we don't know. A monk, Edward Grim, who says he was standing next to Becket during what happened next, reports Henry's words as "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?" There are other accounts, including variations on the terse "Won't someone free me of this troublesome cleric?"

Four knights present took this as a command. Richard le Breton, Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, and William de Tracy set out for Canterbury. On 29 December, they came to the cathedral, hiding their weapons and putting cloaks over their armor. Demanding that Becket come to the king in Winchester, his refusal made them retrieve their weapons and threaten him. They tried to drag him outside, but he held onto a pillar. With three sword blows to the head, Becket was finished.

This conclusion was only a prologue to more, and tomorrow I'll talk about what happened after.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Thomas Becket, Archbishop

When King Henry II of England saw his good friend and loyal Lord Chancellor become Archbishop of Canterbury, he assumed he had an ideal opportunity to extend his secular authority over ecclesiastical issues. After all, Henry had trusted Becket enough to have his eldest son raised in Becket's household, and Becket, in his rôle as Chancellor, had efficiently enforced the king's policies over things like revenue from landowners, including churches and bishoprics.

Becoming archbishop, however, either motivated or simply coincided with a change in Becket's attitude. He had not formally been ordained a priest prior to this appointment to the highest ecclesiastical position in England. He was finally ordained a priest on 2 June 1162; his consecration as archbishop took place one day later. The ordination seemed to change him, and he began to live an ascetic lifestyle, quite different from how he would have lived as Chancellor.

Becket resigned as Chancellor and focused his energies on the needs of the clergy. In fact, he started trying to extend the "separation of Church and State" and reclaim the rights of the clergy for appointments to positions and jurisdiction without royal interference. This created a significant rift between archbishop and king. Within months of Becket's new position, Henry tried to formalize royal authority over clerical rights in the Constitutions of Clarendon. The Constitutions attempted to regain royal authority over the clergy and weaken the influence of the papacy in England. Becket's old friend Richer L'Aigle (mentioned here) supported Clarendon. Although many English bishops were willing to go along, Becket opposed the move strongly, causing Henry to demand he appear for trial for malfeasance. Becket agreed verbally to the points in the Constitutions, but refused to formally sign the document. He was convicted of malfeasance, but fled the court and went to the continent into the protection of Louis VII of France.

Becket threatened excommunication for Henry and Interdict for England (meaning no one could partake of the sacraments). Pope Alexander III intervened, however, sending papal legates who negotiated a compromise that would allow Becket to return.

Becket came out of exile and resumed his duties, but remained a thorn in Henry's side. In 1170, a stray comment from Henry expressing his frustration (so the story goes), led to an infamous event that would vault Becket's popularity higher than ever. It's a sad story, however, and I'll share it tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Thomas Becket, Origin

Thomas Becket is a name already familiar to many, but I am going to talk about him anyway.

It is popular to think of Becket as having 'humble beginnings," but his father Gilbert was a Norman merchant and a one-time sheriff of London. A popular legend says that his mother, Mathilda, was originally the daughter of a Middle eastern emir, who fell in love with Gilbert while Gilbert was captured on Crusade. Mathilda helped him escape, then later tried to join him although the only word she knew in English was "London." She kept traveling, repeating the word "London" wherever she went, until finally she was directed to a ship bound for England.

Having reached London, her foreign appearance attracted attention. Gilbert discovered her, and consulted with the clergy about marriage; they advised him to have her baptized a Christian. One bishop predicted she would give birth to a saint. (see the picture below, from the Queen Mary Psalter) It is far more likely is that Mathilda was of Norman descent. The pair are buried in Old St. Paul's Cathedral.

The birth of Thomas Becket
The young Thomas (born c. 1120) was often invited to the estate of a wealthy family friend in Sussex, Richer L'Aigle, where he learned the aristocratic pursuits of hawking and hunting. Thomas attended Merton Priory school in Surrey, and later a grammar school in London. He is not known as a particularly good student. He learned the basics, but his Latin was not very good.

His father had some financial difficulties when Thomas was about 20, and Thomas was forced to earn a living as a clerk. He eventually found a position with the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald of Bec. (One hypothesis is that the surname "Becket" indicated origins in Bec in Normandy, and that Gilbert and Theobald were related.) Theobald trusted Thomas with missions to Rome and sent him to study canon law. Theobald named him Archdeacon of Canterbury in 1154 and gave him several responsibilities for different places and made him Provost of Beverley. He was so efficient at these posts that Theobald recommended him to King Henry II for the vacant position of Lord Chancellor. Thomas became Chancellor in January 1155. As Chancellor, he was responsible for carrying out the will of the king in law and policy.

Henry and Thomas seemed to get along extremely well. Henry sent his son, the Young King Henry, to be raised in Becket's household. (It was common for aristocratic families to "foster" each other's children.)

A few months after the death of Archbishop Theobald, Thomas Becket was named Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry was pleased to have a trusted friend who understand the aristocratic life and had proven loyal to the king's interests in the highest ecclesiastical position in the land. It was an opportunity for Henry to extend his authority over the Church in the matter of legal disputes and appointment of clergy, etc.

...and that's when the trouble started. See you tomorrow for part two of three about Thomas Becket.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

What Is a Chancellor?

The term "chancellor" has appeared over two dozen times throughout this blog, but the position—and its changing rôle over time—has never been examined.

The term itself comes from the Latin cancellarius, which was someone who hung around the cancelli. The cancelli referred to the lattice-work screens that divided the judge and lawyers from the audience. The cancellarii were the clerks who waited by the divider, waiting to be sent as messengers or given other tasks by the officials. At some point, one of these minor administrators was appointed to a more prominent position. The Latin term for the place cancelli became the English words chancery and chancellery to denote the office of a chancellor.

Inspired by the Carolingian administrative system, Edward the Confessor (reigned 1042 - 1066) appointed what some consider the first chancellor in England, a priest named Regenbald. Titled regis cancellarius, he was probably put in charge of the king's clerks and scribes, and his name shows up as witness to charters. Regenbald was given many estates and the status of a bishop, although he was not ordained one.

For centuries the chancellor was a member of the clergy, likely because for centuries in England the clergy was where you could find a literate man. Early chancellors seem to have been chosen because the king wanted someone to deal with the paperwork of charters, and the chancellor was the Keeper of the Great Seal, freeing the king from having to handle the paperwork himself. The picture above is the chancellor's purse, for storing the Seal. (The Keeper of the Great Seal evolved into a separate office.)

Eventually the chancellor became the Chief Justice, managing the law courts. For a time he was the only judge for cases that needed the king's authority. By the time of Edward III, the chancellor's work evolved into a separate tribunal, the High Court of Chancery, and the chancellor could decide cases based on his judgment regardless of the dictates of law. Two of the better known chancellors, who were sometimes referred to as "the keeper of the king's conscience" were under Henry VIII: Sir Thomas More, the only chancellor who ever cleared the day's docket, and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey; after Wolsey's failure to procure an annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry (and subsequent kings) mostly appointed lay people as chancellor.

The Lord High Chancellor (now just Lord Chancellor) in the Middle Ages was primarily responsible for the functioning of the law courts.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is responsible for financial matters; the first appointed was Eustace of Fauconberg (c. 1221 - 1228) by Henry III.

After the Archbishop of Canterbury, the chancellor was the highest-ranking non-royal in England.

Chancellors who have appeared in this blog include Robert Bloet, William Wykeham, Simon Sudbury, Thomas Arundel. Probably one of the most famous chancellors in England was Thomas Becket, who has so far had little exposure in Daily Medieval, so let's give him some much-deserved attention next.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Simon Sudbury

Simon of Sudbury, or just Simon Sudbury, was one of those people who shows up here and there, for instance during the Peasants' Revolt when he was killed by the mob. Now that I've spoiled the ending, let me go back to the beginning.

Born to the middle-class Nigel and Sarah Theobald in Sudbury, Simon studied at the University of Paris and became a priest, working for Pope Innocent VI during the Avignon Papacy. Innocent sent him to Edward III in England, where he stayed and became Bishop of London in 1362. His career flourished, and he was named Archbishop of Canterbury in 1375. After Edward III's death in 1377, it was Sudbury who crowned Richard II as the new king. In 1380 he was named Chancellor of England.

Still emotionally attached to his hometown, he had St. Gregory's Church there renovated, building a chapel at the east end of the north aisle and rebuilding the aisles. He also founded a college in Sudbury along with his brother, John of Chertsey.

Despite any good acts he may have performed, as Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of England, he was representative of a government that was considered corrupt and oppressive. To be fair, he was involved in the creation of the third poll tax that pushed things over the edge. When the Peasants' Revolt occurred in 1381, he became a target. The mob damaged his properties at Canterbury and Lambeth, and then entered the Tower of London where he was celebrating Mass. There they found Sudbury and the Lord High Treasurer, Sir Robert Hales. Supposedly, the guards stood by and let the mob in, whereupon the mob dragged Sudbury and Hales out and executed them.

Sudbury's head was hacked off with a sword; the head was placed on a pole on London Bridge for six days, then taken down and sent to St. Gregory's, where it can be seen to this day (see picture above). In 2011, a scan of the skull was used by a forensic expert to make a facial reconstruction, which you can view here. The body is interred at Canterbury Cathedral, with a cannonball in place of the head.

His is one of the rare coats of arms that feature a Talbot dog.

The office of chancellor has been mentioned numerous times throughout this blog, but never explained to an audience (mostly) that did not grow up in a country that has that position. It's time we explained what a chancellor time.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Talbot Dog

The dog pictured here is the Talbot Dog or Talbot Hound.  The Talbot was a hunting dog popular in the Middle Ages. I saw was because the breed has been extinct for at least two centuries.

Hunting hounds are bred and used for different skills. There are hunting dogs used for their ability to scent things, some for their ability to see better, and some for their ability to dig into burrows. We don't know what the Talbot was used for, but the short legs and large feet would make it good for digging.

The Talbot was linked to John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury (the kneeling man in this post with a Talbot Dog behind him). Henry VI called him "Talbot, oure good dogge." This may have to do with Talbot's "doggedness" at pursuing the French during the Hundred Years' War. Or just a joke. The Talbot is not on the coat of arms of either the Talbot family or the Earls of Shrewsbury until much later than the 15th century. (Regarding heraldry: the Talbot and the greyhound are the only two dogs found in English heraldry.)

Talbots seem to have died out by the end of the 18th century. The only place they are seen now besides heraldic emblems is on signs for public houses. You can also see a Talbot carved in stone at Canterbury Cathedral in the coat of arms of one-time Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England Simon Sudbury. You can see Simon himself—or rather, his skull—at a different church.  That's a story for tomorrow, however. 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

The Talbot Shrewsbury Book

The picture in this post shows the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury presenting a book to Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI. The earl, John Talbot, was highly praised by Henry, who named him Constable of France—this was merely honorary, since Henry didn't really control France. Pictured here is the entire first page.

The book is real. It is known as the Talbot Shrewsbury Book (also known as British Royal Library 15 E vi). It is a beautifully illustrated collection of 15 legends, stories, and other information written by several authors. Talbot commissioned it for Henry and Margaret's wedding in 1445. The book includes the illustration of Talbot presenting it to Margaret

Made of parchment bound in 440 pages, it is an example of Medieval/Renaissance book production at its height. The contents start out looking appropriate as a wedding gift for a queen, but near the end they become something else.

The Romance of Alexander the Great is followed by five tales of Charlemagne. After that are two Anglo-Norman prose romances, the story of King Horn and the Romance of Guy of Warwick (one of the most popular medieval romances). There follows a highly creative history of the Crusades.

The last 140+ pages seem to be less oriented toward a queen and more toward a queen's son, leading some to think it was intended for a future son of Margaret and Henry. There is a scholarly dialogue on war and battle, then a Mirror for Princes, a history of Normandy from the 8th century to 1217, a poem about chivalry, and the rules for the Order of the Garter.

If you look closely at the picture, you'll see a little white dog behind the kneeling Earl of Shrewsbury. This is the Talbot Dog, and it has its own place in history, which I'll talk about next.

Friday, October 21, 2022

The Earls of Shrewsbury

Why was the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury (pictured to the left on his knees and mentioned here) the second 1st Earl of Shrewsbury? That is because the first 1st Earl of Shrewsbury was deemed a traitor, and the title disappeared for 340 years.

The title "Earl of Shrewsbury" was first created in 1074 for a counselor of William the Conqueror, Roger de Montgomerie. He was given extensive lands to the west in order to keep an eye on the Welsh. Roger had two sons: Hugh and Robert. Hugh became the 2nd Earl at Roger's death, and Robert inherited his father's lands in Normandy. When Hugh died in 1098, Robert inherited the title. Robert then made the political miscalculation of joining Robert Curthose in one of his rebellions against King Henry I. The title Earl of Shrewsbury was discontinued.

Forward to the Hundred Years' War, and John Talbot, 7th Baron Talbot is distinguishing himself as a military commander. He is called the "English Achilles" and the "Terror of the French." He was an aggressive man both militarily and personally, not always making friends. His devotion to the cause of English rule over France was unquestioned. When he left the battlefields of France to return to England and request reinforcements in 1442, King Henry VI made him 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. He got the reinforcements he wanted, and went back to France.

The war was winding down, however, and England's chance of winning looking less likely. When in June 1443 he returned to England for more reinforcements, he was refused by the Council (they sent a different force under command of Edmund Beaufort, who would figure largely in the Wars of the Roses). Taken hostage in Rouen in 1449, he promised never again to fight against the French; he did, however, advise and command others, even if he himself did not use a weapon in battle.

He was killed at the Battle of Castillon, a decisive ending to the War. Supposedly his horse was injured and fell on him, enabling an enemy soldier to finish him off with a battleaxe. His son John Talbot became the 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury, a line of succession that continues to the present day.

"Second Creation" is the term used when a title that has become defunct because the line died out with no heirs or the title is revoked by the king's decree gets re-created for a new person. Many titles have needed a Second Creation or more.  

Now, about that picture above: why is he on his knees, what is that in his hands, and to whom is he giving it? Tomorrow we talk about the Talbot Shrewsbury Book.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Alton Castle

The image to the left shows Alton Towers in 1880, designed by Augustus Pugin, near the town of Alton in Staffordshire (not the Alton where the Treaty of Alton was signed). Although what we see now is a magnificent 19th century building designed as part of the Gothic Revival, the place has a much older history.

In the 1st century BCE there was an Iron Age fort on the site, but more continuity started when King Ceolred of Mercia built a wooden fortress there. The place was attacked by King Ine of Wessex in 716 in a battle so bloody that the location was called Slain Hollow (until Pugin turned it into an oriental water garden).

After the Conquest of 1066, the castle was rebuilt and enlarged in stone by the Norman noble Bertram de Verdun, who had been granted land in England by William. It stayed in the Verdun family through three generations of "Bertram de Verdun"s; then, in 1318, Joan de Verdun married Thomas de Furnival. Thomas died crusading in 1348, and the estate went to Sir John Talbot who married Furnival's daughter Maud. Talbot was created the first Earl of Shrewsbury (sort of; I'll explain later). Alton Castle stayed in the Talbot family; the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury was the owner during the 19th century expansion, after which the building was renamed Alton Towers.

In the 20th century the grounds were opened to the public, and now in the UK the phrase "Alton Towers" invokes images of an enormous theme park and resort that has been developed at the site.

But back to the first Earl of Shrewsbury. The first Earl of Shrewsbury was not the first; I'll explain how there were two "firsts" tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Augustus Pugin — Reviving the Middle Ages

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–1852) was an architect who designed the tower the houses Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the interior of the Palace of Westminster, several churches in England, Ireland, and Australia, numerous other buildings, and at least one castle.

He disapproved of the materialism of the Industrial Revolution, he designed according to "Christian principles," which to him meant medieval. He explained this in his 1836 book Contrasts, or, A Parallel Between the Noble Edifices of the 14th and 15th Centuries and Similar Buildings of the Present Day, Shewing the Present Decay of Taste

He brought his "Gothic Revival" style to things other than buildings, and the pictures offer two examples of a chair and a table designed by him and inspired by what he might have called the "medieval aesthetic." I personally find his furniture and accessories odd. The holes in the chair don't match in my (admittedly limited) memory any design motif from the Middle Ages. The side table is even more odd. The quatrefoils hanging down—when they would have normally been oriented upward—seems to be adding architectural motifs into places where they don't quite fit in. Years ago, while visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum, I saw a Gothic Revival chair where the gothic pointed arch that enabled the larger windows of Gothic cathedrals was carved into the wood upside down.

As a fan of the European Middle Ages, I am glad that the 19th century saw value in the art and architecture of that earlier era. I think it possible that, at times, they went too far. (But perhaps that's just me.) An article in Architectural Review on the occasion of the bicentennial of his birth can tell you more.

I think it is better for me to stay focused on his architectural work, such as his castle. His Alton Castle had a long history before Pugin came along to rebuild it, which we'll look at tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022


Sometime during the Bronze Age, as human beings were experimenting with different metal ores, someone tried mixing the abundant-but-brittle tin with some lead (a 10:1 proportion worked well). The result with fairly soft at room temperature, enabling easier shaping. The Egyptians (the earliest known piece of pewter was found in an Egyptian tomb and dated to 1450 BCE) and the Romans used it extensively. In Britain, once the Romans left in the 5th century, there was little use of pewter until the 12th century.

Pewter ware was made by melting and pouring into molds, which in the Middle Ages were often plaster or clay reinforced with calf hair. Adding a design was done by chiseling or etching with acid. Stamping a design was not always useful, since the pewter was soft enough that you would need to support it from the other side; the force of the stamp could easily deform the nice round shape of a goblet or tankard. (Stamping a flat plate would work.)

Pewter was turned into anything imaginable for daily use: plates, bowls, mugs, flatware, basins, measuring spoons and cups, ladles, goblets and cups and tankards, candlesticks (see picture for a 14th century example), teapots and sugar bowls and cream jugs. Pewter was so useful and common that regulations cropped up to ensure quality control.

The lead content is a concern, of course, and modern pewter designed for human contact contains no lead. Higher lead content produced darker pewter, so if handling an antique, the darker it is, the less you want it in contact with your skin. Lead toxicity was well-known to the Romans; they recognized that those who worked extensively with lead suffered the same cognitive symptoms. Colonial American higher quality pewter—a well-to-do person's dining room table, for instance—was likely lead-free (substitutes were antimony, brass, copper, or zinc), even though there was plenty of lower quality pewter being made using lead, especially in the kitchen.

Developments in glass-making and pottery, such as the introduction of porcelain—especially when Portuguese traders started bring back kaolin from China, allowing potters to make their own fine white "china"—made pewter less desirable. In the 19t century, however, there was a revived interest in England in medieval styles and art. I first mentioned the man responsible for this interest a decade ago; time to re-visit him ... tomorrow.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Mining in Cornwall

Tin is a relatively rare metal, found in two parts per million (as opposed to copper's 70 parts per million and the abundant iron at 50,000 parts per million). It was very useful, however, for its workability and especially for the making of alloys, so any source was a valuable find. Large deposits were found in the Far East, Iberian Peninsula, and souther France, but we will confine this post to talking about Cornwall.

The earliest evidence shows that tin was being mined in at least 2150BCE, the early Bronze Age. Copper was also found there, along with some arsenic, lead, silver, and zinc, but tin mining has been the most consistent use of the mines for millennia. When a small amount of tin is added to copper, the resulting bronze is much harder than either and more useful. This made tin a more useful commodity than just using tin on its own, and a tin trade with the Mediterranean started long before even the Roman Empire. Herodotus mentions an area called the Cassiterides, the "tin islands," and Cornwall is thought to be the likeliest spot.

One of the oldest mines in Cornwall is the Ding Dong mine (the name may refer to the "head of the lode"). The picture above is a shaft at the Ding Dong. A local legend claims that the mine was visited by Joseph of Arimathea, tin trader and uncle to Jesus, who visited the mine with the young Jesus; not his only trip to Britain, since he later founded Glastonbury Abbey, etc. (There is, of course, no evidence, but that's what legends are.)

Curiously, Domesday Book doesn't mention Cornwall tin, but Henry II acknowledged it when he granted to Dartmoor, another mining location,

all the diggers and buyers of black tin, and all the smelters of tin, and traders of tin in the first smelting shall have the just and ancient customs and liberties established in Devon and Cornwall.

This indicates that Cornwall mining was "ancient" as of Henry's reign. Henry's son John granted a charter for the miners' rights, establishing stannaries that allowed the tin-mining community to administer its own laws, etc.

The mines produced an enormous amount: 650 tons in 1337, falling to "only" 250 tons during the Black Death, but rising to 800 tons by 1400.

Demand for tin decreased in the 20th century. Increased recycling efforts, as well as the use of aluminum for containers and the development of protective polymer lacquers to coat food containers hastened the closing of tin mines as unprofitable. One of the last tin mines in Cornwall to close was the South Crofty mine in 1998, Europe's last tin mine.

Fear not for Cornwall mining, however! The 21st century is finding reasons to re-open defunct Cornish mines for a substance as important to our time as tin was to the Bronze Age: lithium, an element vital to our battery-operated world. (Here is a link to National Geographic article.)

Going back to the Middle Ages, however, I want to talk about another substance, made with tin, that was so associated with daily use in the Middle Ages that a 19th century revival of interest in the Middle Ages made this substance much in demand. Check back tomorrow and we'll learn more about the lovely, useful, and toxic pewter.

Sunday, October 16, 2022


A stannary was an administrative division in the counties of Cornwall and Devon based on tin-mining. The term comes from Middle English stannarie based on Medieval Latin stannaria, "tin mine,"which itself is from the Latin stannum, "tin." (You may know that the chemical symbol for Tin is Sn; now you know why.)

Tin was so important that a body of law was developed to deal specifically with stannaries. King John in 1201 gave the tin miners of Cornwall the Stannary Charter: the right to prospect for tin anywhere, to be exempt from standard taxation, and to have their own stannary courts in the case of law-breaking. King Edward I in 1305 confirmed these rights, as did Edward III when he created the Duchy of Cornwall in 1337. Crockern Tor, pictured above, was the site of the Stannary Parliament, representing the tin industry.

Tin mining pre-dated the Middle Ages in Cornwall. When the Romans arrived, it was already thriving. Diodorus Siculus in 44BCE wrote the earliest reference to Cornwall we know:

The people of that promontory of Britain called Belerion [west Cornwall] are friendly to strangers and, from their contact with foreign merchants, are civilised in their way of life. They carefully work the ground from which they extract the tin.

In the Middle Ages, the tin was smelted and made into blocks (later standardized at 170 kilograms). They were taken to specifically designated locations called stannary towns where a "prover" would test it for quality, then put an official stamp on it and allow it to be sold. A duty would be calculated on the sale, equivalent to four shillings per hundredweight (170 kilograms = 3.34 hundredweight) under Edward I. Duty amounts changed over time, but the amount of tin coming out of Cornwall and Devon was considerable, so anyone given the right to the duties could have a hefty income. After King John died (and after some other events), the king's council allowed his widow, Isabella of Angoulême the duty from the stannaries of Devon.

This whole system of special privilege, etc., existed until the Tin Duties Act of 1838.

The history of mining in Cornwall was far more extensive than dealing with tin, even tied to a Biblical legend. I'll tell you more next time.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Isabella of Angoulême

Isabella of Angoulême was born c.1186-88, the only daughter of Count Aymer Taillefer of Angoulême. At a very early age she was betrothed to Hugh IX, Count of Lusignan (who was at least 20 years older). A long-running rivalry between Angoulême and Lusignan would have been put to rest by this union.

It was not to be, however: King John of England came looking for a wife who could give him heirs, which was not going to happen with his first wife, Isabella of Gloucester. He settled on Isabella of Angoulême, annulled his first marriage, and married for the second time on 24 August 1200.

Isabella was still a child, and John treated her carefully, so it was not until 1 October 1207 when she was about 20 years old that she gave birth to a son and heir, who would become Henry III. She bore John a total of five children.

Henry was nine when John died, and Isabella swiftly arranged to have him crowned king. Unfortunately, John had lost his crown and much of his treasury, so she provided her own queen's circlet as part of the ceremony. By this time, she was already Countess of Angoulême (her father had died in 1202), so a year after the coronation, she left Henry in the care of his regent, William Marshal, and went to her lands in Angoulême.

In an interesting parallel, her daughter Joan (born 1210) was being raised in the Lusignan court and had been betrothed to Hugh X of Lusignan, son of the man to whom Isabella was originally betrothed. Hugh, however, seeing that Isabella's beauty had not diminished (she was only in her 30s), proposed to the woman who had long ago been promised to his father. They were wed in the spring of 1220. A different marriage was arranged for Joan.

As it turns out, the king's council in England reserved to itself the power to determine whether and to whom a queen dowager should marry; after all, she held lands due to her dead husband, and had a pension from the council. They objected to her marriage to Hugh that was done without their consent, so they canceled her pension and confiscated her English possessions. They wrote to the pope, asking for her to be excommunicated, but ultimately decided to negotiate with her for a swifter conclusion, because Isabella was keeping Joan with her, preventing the alternate marriage that was arranged to the King of Scotland. The council decided to allow her some financial support, like the stannaries in Devon.

Isabella had a difficult time adjusting to life as less than a queen. She and her husband tried uniting some of the French nobles against Louis IX. She encouraged Henry III when he invaded Normandy in 1230 (but could not provide him any military support). An attempt to poison King Louis IX by two cooks was foiled in 1244, but the cooks admitted they were paid by Isabella. She fled to Fontevrault Abbey for sanctuary ahead of the king's men, where she died on 4 June 1246. She was buried outside the abbey. Henry III visited the abbey later and objected to her burial outside. He had her moved inside, near Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

All of her children—five with John, nine with Hugh—survived to adulthood and had titles and good careers, any of whom would be interesting to look at next. I think, however, the "stannaries in Devon" wants explanation, and will be a nice respite from political marriages. See you next time.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Isabella of Gloucester

When King Henry II of England was looking for a wife for his younger son John, he was not as interested in pleasing John as he was in making an advantageous political and financial connection. If during this time John looked like Henry's favorite, it was only because all his other sons—including his oldest and heir, Henry the Young King because of all the power he had been given—and his wife had rebelled (unsuccessfully) against Henry.

Henry arranged betrothal to Isabella of Gloucester, but only after disinheriting her sisters so that all Gloucester lands would be hers on her father's death. This was in 1176, when John was nine and Isabella was only three or four years old. Both were great-grandchildren of Henry I, meaning the marriage was forbidden due to the laws of consanguinity. The wedding did not take place until 29 August 1189, at which John became Earl of Gloucester.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Baldwin, placed the Gloucester lands under interdict—meaning no one living there could partake in any Catholic services—due to the violation of consanguinity laws. An appeal to (antipope) Pope Clement III for a dispensation. This was granted, on the condition that the two abstained from sex. This explains why 10 years of marriage produced no children.

John pursued the consanguinity prohibition when it suited him—which it did after he became king. Wanting an heir, and not being interested in having them with Isabella, he annulled the marriage on the grounds of too-close blood ties. He put Isabella in "honorable confinement" at Winchester with an allowance for her comfort. John's lack of sensitivity to the feelings of others—and, after all, there is no sign that he cared for Isabella at all except for the political advantage—had a "task" for her. When John re-married, to a twelve-year-old Isabella of Angoulême, he lodged his new bride at Winchester in the care of his first wife, increasing her allowance from £50 to £80 pounds because she was hosting a queen. The second Isabella stayed with the first until a few weeks before she gave birth to the future King Henry III.

Eventually he found a new marriage for Isabella: in 1214, the Earl of Essex, Geoffrey de Mandeville paid to John 20,000 marks for the privilege to marry Isabella. He was a much younger man, but he died two years later. Unfortunately, because at the time of his death he had been rebelling against John, John confiscated all his lands, which included Isabella's Gloucester lands.

Now a poor widow, she married again a year later, to Hubert de Burgh who became the Chief Justiciar under John and John's son, Henry III. Sadly, she died only a month after marrying Hugh. She was interred in Canterbury Cathedral.

Now, about that second wife also called Isabella: let's learn more about her next.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

John's Marriages

John, son of Henry II, having seized the throne of England after Richard the Lionheart's death, and subsequently having lost several possessions on the continent through war and treaties, decided to marry into a French noble family in order to regain some influence in France. His choice was Isabella of Angoulême in 1200. There were a couple issues about his decision that certainly raise modern eyebrows, and more than a few contemporary ones.

For one...well, we don't know enough about Isabella to know when she was born, but one estimate is 1188, making her 12 years of age. Still, she would be Countess of Angoulême in her own right when her father died (which he did, in 1202). Also, she was the niece through her mother of the current Latin Emperor of Constantinople, Peter II of Courtenay.

The other—well, one other—issue was that John already had a wife: Isabella, Countess of Gloucester. He managed to have that marriage annulled on the grounds that, as his cousin, he never should have married her in the first place, and in fact had failed to get the proper papal dispensation to do so, considering the current laws of consanguinity (they would change the same year that John would sign the Magna Carta, 1215). Fortunately for John, Isabella complied with there annulment, even though he kept the lands he had received through their marriage.

Back to the second Isabella: she had already been betrothed to Hugh IX le Brun, Count of Lusignan (and remember that Roman numeral; we will be coming back to it in the post after next). Her father decided that his daughter would be better off as a queen than as a Countess of Lusignan, so he agreed to the change in husbands for her. John might have made amends with the Lusignan's, but instead chose to treat them with contempt. This motivated an uprising by the Lusignan and their supporters which John had to suppress. Philip II of France also took the Lusignan snub as an excuse to confiscate the Angoulême lands.

So John's choice did not have all positive results, and rather than make inroads into France through marriage, he alienated a powerful family and lost more lands to Philip.

The second Isabella provided John with something the first one never could, however: heirs, including the next king, Henry III. Here's a good question, though: John was married to his first wife for 10 years. Why did they produce no heirs? The reason is simple: the couple was forbidden to have sexual intercourse. I'll explain that tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The Angevin Collapse

The Angevin Empire begun by King Henry II of England started to crumble after Henry's son and successor, Richard the Lionheart, died in 1199. The next heir should be the eldest son of Richard's brother, Geoffrey of Brittany. That would be Duke Arthur. Unfortunately, in the tradition of King Stephen I and King Henry I, someone else ignored the proper succession and raced to seize the throne and the treasury. That would be Richard's younger brother, John.

This should not have been a surprise. John had rebelled unsuccessfully against Richard's administration while Richard was on the Third Crusade. In the present case, the loss of Richard created an opportunity for Philip II of France to take some of England's possessions on the continent, Évreux and the Vexin. The nobles of Anjou, Maine, and Touraine supported Arthur. John did, however, have the support of Aquitaine and Poitou thanks to his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, as well as Normandy. After being declared Duke of Normandy, he sailed to England where he was crowned in Westminster on 27 May.

Although England was largely secure, possessions in France were constantly the target of Philip II. John was forced into treaties with Philip in order to stop the hostilities. The Treaty of Le Goulet in 1200 saw John paying Philip 20,000 marks, giving up lands in Auvergne and Berry, giving up on the areas of Normandy that had been seized by Philip, and giving up his alliance with the Holy Roman Empire, who occasionally was a rival of France. The illustration shows via shades of red the dwindling authority of the Angevins.

John then decided to make a politically advantageous marriage, but there were two problems with that: one is that he was already married, and the second that John's decisions were almost always the wrong ones. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Angevin Empire

When King Stephen I of England died in 1154, the terms of the Treaty of Wallingford meant his rival's son would inherit the throne. Henry of Anjou became King Henry II of England and started the Angevin Empire. So what made it an empire? How large was it?

Well, England, of course, in which Henry had his grandest title of king, and also parts of Ireland and Wales. Through Henry's father, Geoffrey of Anjou, he was also Count of Anjou. Also, since Geoffrey took over Normandy not long before, Henry was Duke of Normandy. Moreover, because Henry married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152—who divorced the King of France to do so—he had Aquitaine.

The term "Angevin" was coined in 1887 by a British historian, based on "Anjou." Henry and his successors (sons Richard and John and John's son Henry III) would refer in documents to "our kingdom and everything subject to our rule whatever it may be" and never called it an empire or referred to themselves as Angevin. Technically, they were all Plantagenets.

Plantagenet was Geoffrey of Anjou's nickname. The plantagenet was the common broom, a flowering plant with bright yellow blossoms. Geoffrey was also known as Geoffrey the Handsome or the Fair. Perhaps his hair was lighter than typical, and the comparison to the golden flowers of the broom prompted the nickname. Even so, like the term "Angevin," it wasn't until Richard, 3rd Duke of York adopted Plantagenet as his family name during the Wars of the Roses that the term become attached to the whole hereditary line. It seems that Richard was linking himself to his ancestor Geoffrey in order to emphasize his proper place in the line of succession.

Extensive holdings on the continent (and perhaps spite, since Eleanor had abandoned being queen in France to become Queen Eleanor of England), made France a little hostile to the Angevin Empire. The problem created by Duke William of Normandy when he became King William of England in 1066 remained: how does a king of a country (England) react when he is likewise a lesser title (duke, count) in another country (France) and therefore subordinate to a king? That political oddity would define the English-French relationship for centuries.

It also calls into question the term "empire." To truly be an empire requires a centralized government and consistent laws and regulations throughout the territories. The varying laws and customs of the various Angevin territories were at odds with this definition.

Whether it was an empire like the Roman Empire or the medieval Holy Roman Empire, it didn't last more than a generation or two. Its demise will be the subject of the next post.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Empress Matilda

The previous post discussed how Stephen of Blois seized the throne of England in 1135 upon the death of King Henry I, despite having sworn an oath of loyalty to Henry's daughter, Matilda. Coincidentally, usurpation was how Henry gained the throne, too.

Matilda did not take well to Stephen's usurpation. She was not, after all, an idle daughter waiting for her moment to shine: by this time, she was Empress Matilda by virtue of marriage to Holy Roman Emperor Henry V (shown above in a 12th century chronicle). (And who would believe it? Henry V tried to usurp the throne from his father, Henry IV.)

Henry V had died 10 years prior to the current crisis, but Matilda retained the title Empress. Her father recalled her to Normandy and arranged marriage to Geoffrey of Anjou to protect his southern border. (Blois was also on the southern border of Normandy; perhaps if he had arranged a different marriage...?) From here she could make plans to assume the English throne, kicking off a period called The Anarchy.

Stephen's reign was not without trouble. Not everyone approved of him personally, or of his seizing of the throne after pledging loyalty to Henry's daughter. In 1139 she left Geoffrey to conquer Normandy while she crossed the English Channel to take the throne from Stephen. She and her half-brother Robert of Gloucester visited her step-mother Adeliza, which caused Stephen to react. Afterward, she and Robert, with support from her uncle, King David I of Scotland, raised an army and captured Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141.

The next step was to be crowned at Westminster, but the people of London were against her and prevented it. She was never considered a Queen, not even for a moment. Her title in royal listings is Domina Anglorum, "Lady of the English." Stephen's supporters captured Robert, and Matilda agreed to exchange him for Stephen.

Although she had control over much of south-west England, Matilda returned to Normandy in 1148 (now under her husband's control), leaving her eldest son to continue the war. Other factors were at play: she was living in a castle that she took from the bishop of Salisbury; Pope Eugene III threatened her with excommunication if she did not return it.

The war became a stalemate, and the stalemate become the 1153 Treaty of Wallingford (or Westminster, or Winchester: all three are used), formally ending The Anarchy and agreeing that Matilda's son would become king upon Stephen's death, which obligingly happened a year later. Henry became King Henry II of England, starting the Angevin Empire.

I'd like to talk about the impact of the Angevin Empire next, but if you want more detail on The Anarchy you can check out posts from 10 years ago: Parts One, Two, and Three, along with this.)

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Stephen of Blois

Stephen of Blois (c.1096 - 25 October 1154) was a nephew of King Henry I of England. His mother was (Saint) Adela, a daughter of William the Conqueror, who sent him to be raised at Henry's court (Stephen's father, Stephen-Henry of Blois, had died in 1102 while fighting in Jerusalem).

In 1125 Henry arranged a marriage with Matilda, Countess of Boulogne. Through her he became Count of Boulogne and inherited from her father estates in England, including Kent. The two were one of the wealthiest couples in England.

Stephen was in Barfleur  in Normandy with King Henry, Henry's son and heir William Adelin, and many other nobles. They had spent many months dealing with rebellions among Henry's Normandy possessions. To return to England, Thomas FitzStephen offered his newly re-fitted White Ship to take the king back to England. Henry had made other arrangements, and left on a different ship. His son, William, decided to go on the White Ship, but before they set sail, he allowed the crew and passengers ample wine to celebrate the end of their military campaigning.

The ship delayed its departure until it was late and quite dark, but thought it would be able to overtake the king's ship easily. They started out with 300 people on board and soon hit a rock one mile northeast of Barfleur. According to Order Vitalis, a single survivor, a butcher from Rouen, clung to the rock until rescued. Henry's heir and numerous other noblemen and noblewomen drowned.

For whatever reason—perhaps he was wary of a drunken crew setting sail in the dark—Stephen remained behind. William's own wife, Matilda, traveled a different ship. (Henry allowed his daughter-in-law to stay at court for as long as she wished. Eventually she returned to her family in Anjou, then took the veil at Fontevrault.)

Henry, without an heir (and recently without a wife), re-married in order to get an heir, declaring his daughter Matilda his heir-presumptive until he should have a better one. Stephen was among the nobles who pledged loyalty to his choice of Matilda. When Henry died in 1135 on the first of December without a male heir, however, Stephen lost no time in rushing to England to take the throne, ignoring Matilda's claim and his pledge, claiming that his fitness to rule outweighed the earlier oath. He was crowned on 22 December.

You may imagine that this decision did not sit well with Matilda, or with several nobles who felt her claim was to be honored. As for her next move, stay tuned.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Imprison Your Daughter

Hang on, this can get complicated. Here's the backstory: Henry I of England had two legitimate children by his first wife, William and Matilda. William died in the White Ship disaster. Henry wanted a legitimate male heir (as opposed to the numerous illegitimate children he had sired), and married Adeliza of Louvain, who was about the same age as Matilda. The two women showed every sign of getting along, and Henry named Matilda as his heir presumptive if he did not get a son to succeed him, and got everyone subordinate to him to pledge their loyalty to her in that case. Henry died before that could happen. So Matilda ascended the throne and became the first solo queen of England.

This probably surprises you, because "Bloody" Mary is considered the first queen of England to rule in her own right. Well, you'd be right. Matilda never got a chance to be crowned. Stephen of Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror, rushed across the English Channel and seized the throne, claiming that his ability to rule should take precedence over his earlier oath of loyalty to Matilda. (That's Stephen getting crowned on 22 December 1135.)

Matilda and several supporters were not going to stand for this, and a period of civil war called "The Anarchy" ravaged England from 1138 to 1153. (If you use the term "The Anarchy" in the search field on this blog, you'll find several consecutive posts going into detail.) But back to Adeliza.

Adeliza remarried and lived with her husband, William d'Aubigny, at her castle Arundel. William was a supporter of Stephen, and therefore would not acknowledge Matilda's claim to the throne. Adeliza, however, welcomed Matilda to Arundel, along with Matilda's half-brother (one of Henry's many bastard children), Robert, the 1st Earl of Gloucester (a king's illegitimate children were still royal, and could be granted titles and lands). Robert was opposed to Stephen as well, and some histories say he was a strong candidate for the throne but for his illegitimacy.

When Stephen learned that Matilda and Robert were at Arundel, he besieged the castle. Adeliza then took the two captive and handed them to Stephen. The assumption by the chronicler John of Worcester is that she feared losing all the properties left to her by her late husband. According to him, "She swore on oath that his enemies had not come to England on her account but that she had simply given them hospitality as persons of high dignity once close to her."

Despite handing them over to show her loyalty to the man who held the throne, she persuaded Stephen that Matilda was no longer a threat. Stephen relented and allowed them to go to Robert's castle at Bristol.

What happened to Adeliza after that? We have very little information, except that she left her second husband and entered a monastery in Flanders, whose records mention her death in 1151.

Now about this Stephen of Blois...

Friday, October 7, 2022

Adeliza of Louvain

After the death of his first wife, Matilda of Scotland, King Henry I of England needed a second wife. Well, mostly he needed an heir, because the sinking of the White Ship killed his only male heir, William of Adelin. He had plenty of surviving children, but he had not been married to their mother(s), so that presented a legitimacy problem. He found what he needed in Adeliza of Louvain. 

Adeliza (c.1103 - 1151) was 17 or 18 when she wed Henry in 1121, who was about 35 years older than she. She was even younger when negotiations started; Henry had already been looking for a second wife, but the process accelerated after the White Ship. Sometimes called "the fair maid of Brabant," she was known for her beauty. The historian Henry of Huntingdon (once mentioned here) raved that her beauty was completely natural, needing no adornment.

One of her attractive features (aside from her physical features) was her ancestry: as a descendant of Charlemagne, marriage to her would link their children to an age still looked upon as glorious and foundational to contemporary Europe. The two were wed in Windsor Castle on 24 January 1121. They were married for 15 years, during which time she seemed to have always been near him as he traveled his kingdom. She took little interest in administrative duties, however, unlike many queens.

She did, however, turn out to be a patron of the arts, sponsoring French poets. An Anglo-Norman poet, Philippe de Thaon, dedicated a Bestiary in Latin to: outstandingly beautiful woman.
And she is courtly and wise, Of good customs and generous:
She is called 'Aaliz', Queen is she crowned,
She is the queen of England; May her soul never know trouble!

She also commissioned a biography of her husband, which no longer exists.

After Henry died on 1 December 1135, she first retired to Wilton Abbey, a Benedictine convent, and shortly after founded a leper hospital. She had several properties that Henry had given her, and when she re-married in 1138, she and William d'Aubigny lived at her castle of Arundel.

Adeliza's relationship to her step-daughter, Matilda, was cordial. They were approximately the same age, and Henry had named Matilda his heir-presumptive until he had an heir with Adeliza. Unfortunately, he and Adeliza did not produce an heir, so technically, Matilda would inherit the throne and country.

...and that's when the trouble started. Tomorrow we re-visit The Anarchy.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Henry I of England

The first royal wedding too take place at Windsor Castle was that of King Henry I and Adeliza of Louvain.  Henry (c.1068 - 1135) was a younger son of William the Conqueror who was initially cut out of inheriting anything substantial. Upon William's death, William Rufus became king of England (brother Robert Curthose got Normandy), and Henry got nothing.

He was granted the County of Cotentin—the peninsula that extends into the English Channel and contains Cherbourg and Bayeaux—for £3000 from Robert, slowly establishing power and some authority. Robert had hoped to be given England as well as Normandy, and wanted Henry on his side. Since Henry was otherwise landless—which at the time meant having no power whatsoever—he allied himself with Robert. Robert's intention to take England from William never turned to action, however.

In 1088, Bishop Odo of Bayeaux convinced Robert that Henry could not be trusted. Odo seized Henry, who was captive for the winter; Robert took back the Cotentin. In spring of 1089, nobles in Normandy persuaded Robert that Henry should be released.

In 1091, William invaded Normandy, defeating Robert and signing a treaty with him making each the other's heir and completely leaving Henry out of the negotiations. Henry decided to fight his brothers, but wound up being besieged in MontSaint-Michel for a time. Rumor has it that, when Henry ran out of fresh water, Robert allowed supplies to be taken in, upsetting William Rufus. The back-and-forth between siblings in that family would surprise no one who had seen a certain movie based on their descendants, The Lion in Winter.

Time passed, and once again William and Henry were on amiable terms. When William Rufus died on 2 August 1100, Henry "happened" to be present (click the link to understand the quotation marks). Henry wasted no time in getting himself crowned. Although rightly the throne should have gone to Robert, England accepted Henry with alacrity because of the Charter of Liberties, in which Henry made promises that undid some of William's unpopular practices. The nobility might have been fed up with the constant fighting between Robert and William and embraced Henry as a sort of "compromise candidate." After some debate over the rightful heir, Henry was crowned 5 August in Westminster Abbey.

Three months later, Henry married Matilda, the daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland, also known as Malcolm Canmore, in a shrewd political move. That Matilda might have been a nun did not deter the marriage. They had two children: Matilda and William Adelin, who died in the White Ship tragedy.

Marriage did not mean fidelity: kings were understood to exert their sexual prowess and desires in many directions. Henry had at least ten acknowledged extra-marital children who lived long enough to have titles and careers. Matilda of Scotland died in 1118, and when the White Ship sank in 1120 taking his legitimate son with it, Henry collapsed with grief. Now with no legitimate son, and seeing the prospect of numerous less-legitimate heirs and various nephews who could tear the country apart fighting for the throne, he decided to marry again.

So finally we come to the first royal wedding to take place in Windsor Castle, to Adeliza of Louvain. See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Windsor Castle

"High above the river Thames and on the edge of a Saxon hunting ground" William of Normandy built a motte-and-bailey structure from 1070 to 1086. It was made of timber, and exists today, but William wouldn't recognize it. Today it is known as Windsor Castle. William's son Henry I was married there, after which he took up residence there; Every king and queen of England since then has used it as their royal residence.

The change began in the reign of King Henry II (1154 - 1189). Archaeological evidence shows the south timber wall was subsiding by as much as 6 feet. Henry replaced the timber with stone walls and decided to create apartments for himself and his royal family, transforming it from a purely defensive structure into a palace. (You can still see the original mound with the Round Tower re0built by Henry II in the illustration above.) King Edward III (1327 - 1377) decided it would be his most important palace, and spent an unheard-of £50,000 to expand and renovate it, starting its evolution to become the largest occupied castle in the world.

Windsor's importance to William was due to its position on the Thames. (Well, also its nearness to Windsor forest, a royal hunting preserve established by the Saxon kings.) The whole point of numerous motte-and-bailey castles was that they were within a day's march from others, making it easy to get reinforcements when needed.

The name "Windsor," which is used for the castle and the family name of the current English royals, is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and comes from Old English Windles-ore, or "winch by the riverside," suggesting that this was a place where goods were loaded to and from boats.

Because there is often great public interest in royal weddings, let's talk about the first royal wedding at Windsor, of Henry I to Adeliza, the "fair maiden of Brabant."

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Motte-and-bailey in England

After William of Normandy took over England in 1066, one way to establish his authority and help maintain it was to build a series of fortifications. Eighty percent of these were in the motte-and-bailey style that the Normans had been using all over France and later over much of Northern Europe.

It would have taken longer and been less efficient to build from scratch, and so in many cases he chose to build on existing fortifications. After all, you don't build a castle just anywhere: you need it to have resources, such as fresh water. Towns were established the same way; no one built them in a desert or on an inaccessible peak (unless you built them for other reasons than comfortable living). So 

Since many towns already had defensive walls and the resources needed for living, many of the new structures were set up there. The castle would take up space, however, and the town was already being used. The solution was to demolish local houses and buildings.

Records of castle-building hint that, for instance, 166 houses in Lincoln were destroyed to build its castle. In Norwich, 113 families had to be displaced. Cambridge got lucky: only 27 houses were destroyed to make way for the new castle.

More motte-and-bailey defenses were set up in the west than the east, likely because the east was relatively settled, but in the west there were likely problems coming with Wales (and they would be coming for a long time). In all, at least 741 motte-and-bailey castles were built in England and Wales over the next few generations. When the Bayeaux Tapestry was made, it even included a fighting scene taking place at such a structure; in the photo above you can see a wooden palisade on a hill with soldiers fighting at the base.

I know that motte-and-bailey sounds like a primitive style of castle,—it is certainly no Neuschwanstein—but it was just the first stage for greater things. Next we'll look at a motte-and-bailey that everyone's heard of: Windsor Castle.