The year is 1217, and Lincoln Castle is being attacked. King John is dead, and his son Henry III is now king, but chaos still reigns. Noblemen are fighting against each other, and amid this conflict is a woman in her sixties. She is used to the instability of England as she is not only the constable of the castle being besieged, but she has earned the right to be named the first female sheriff of England. She was a daughter, a wife, a mother, a widow, and someone the Plantagenets could depend on. The name of this remarkable woman is Nicholaa de la Haye, and her unbelievable story is told in Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest book, “King John’s Right Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye.”
I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I remember first hearing the name Nicholaa de la Haye from one of Sharon Bennett Connolly’s other books, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England.” I wanted to learn more about this woman, how she gained the trust of King John, and why she was not only a constable of Lincoln Castle but a sheriff for Lincolnshire.
To understand how Nicholaa de la Haye became the constable of Lincoln Castle, we have to explore the origins of the Haye family and their connection to the Plantagenets. Connolly tracks the family back to the Norman Conquest, but the main focus is on the direct family of Richard de la Haye and Matilda de Verdun, Nicholaa’s parents. The Haye family has a legacy and a deep sense of duty to protect the English royal family from invaders or rebels, which passed on to Nicholaa and her sisters as they were their father’s heiresses. With Richard de la Haye’s death, Nicholaa inherited his role as constable of Lincoln Castle.
Nicholaa de la Haye was married twice to William Fitz Erneis and Gerard de Camville, and she had several children. When her husbands were away or had died, Nicholaa could uphold her birthright as a constable. It was not an easy road, but she did have the backing of King John during the First Baron’s War. Connolly takes the time to explore how John became king, his connection with Nicholaa de la Haye, the Magna Carta crisis, and the First Baron’s War. Before his death, King John named Nicholaa the first female sheriff of England in charge of Lincolnshire. Finally, she had to deal with the siege of Lincoln Castle for three months in 1217, which was just a cherry on top of her whole life experience.
A strong, independent woman who lived a thrilling life and was willing to defend her home of Lincoln Castle even at the age of sixty, Nicholaa de la Haye was an unsung heroine of the thirteenth century. Connolly’s passion for telling Nicholaa’s tale of trials and tribulations exudes on every page. “King John’s Right Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye” by Sharon Bennett Connolly is the perfect book for anyone who wants a story about the Plantagenets, King John, and the first female sheriff of England. A true triumph in exploring the life of a more hidden figure from the thirteenth century.