Guest Post: Women and the Birth of Magna Carta By Sharon Bennett Connolly

118040039_3243809485697736_4753222466893410523_nToday, I am pleased to welcome Sharon Bennett Connolly, the author of Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England. She will be discussing the Magna Carta and the women who influenced this extraordinary document.

Magna Carta is probably the most significant charter in English history and,
today, its importance extends beyond England’s shores, holding a special place in the constitutions of many countries around the world. Despite its age, Magna Carta’s iconic status is a more modern phenomenon, seen in the
influence it has had on nations and organizations around the globe, such as the United States of America and the United Nations, who have used it as the basis for their own 1791 Bill of Rights and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respectively.

After more than 800 years, there are only four original copies of the 1215 charter remains in existence. The best preserved of these four is thought to have arrived at Salisbury Cathedral within days of it being issued on 15 June 1215 and is housed in an interactive exhibition in the cathedral’s Chapter House. A second is owned by Lincoln Cathedral and is now housed in a new, purpose-built, state-of-the-art underground vault in the heart of Lincoln Castle. The remaining two are owned by the British Library in London, one of which was badly damaged by fire in 1731 and has deteriorated over the years; however, the other is on display in the Treasures exhibition, a magnet to visitors from all over the world, who wish to see the iconic Magna Carta.

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Originally called the Charter of Liberties, it was renamed Magna Carta or Great Charter, in 1217, when the Charter of the Forest was issued. Sealed (not signed) in the meadow at Runnymede in June 1215, the legacy of Magna Carta, down through the centuries, has enjoyed a much greater impact on history and the people of the world than it did at the time of its creation. As a peace treaty between rebellious barons and the infamous King John, it was an utter failure, thrown out almost before the wax seals had hardened, not worth the parchment it was written on. The subsequent armed rebellion saw a French prince invited to claim the English throne – if he could wrest it from John’s hands – and John spent the last year of his life clinging desperately to his crown and lands.

Royal 14 C.VII, f.9

Just fifteen months after Magna Carta was sealed, King John was on his deathbed; he died in his forty-ninth year, at Newark Castle on the
night of 18/19 October 1216. His 9-year old son, Henry III, inherited a country mired in a civil war, with half of it occupied by a French army. The young king and his regent, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, had a fight on their hands; they wasted no time in reissuing the Magna Carta and setting about regaining control of the country.

Essentially a peace treaty, Magna Carta is the closest thing England has to a
constitution. It addressed the worries and grievances of the English nobility,
the barons, and sought to curb the powers of the king, firmly placing the
monarch below the law, rather than above it. But what of the women? A small number of Magna Carta clauses were influenced by the experiences of women or sought to protect the rights of women.

Of the sixty-three clauses, two stand out as the guarantors of liberty and the
law, not only in England but around the world. Clause 39 ensures that ‘no man shall be taken or imprisoned or deprived or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go or send against him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.’ This guarantee of justice for all is believed to have been inspired by John’s treatment of Matilda de Braose, wife of William de Braose, Lord of Bamber. William was one of John’s foremost supporters in the early years of his reign, but later fell afoul of the king and saw his family hunted and hounded, almost to destruction. This clause is supported by the one following, clause 49, which states categorically; ‘To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.’

As a consequence of John’s rancor poor Matilda and her son, also called
William found themselves languishing in one of John’s prisons. King John
made an agreement with both William and Matilda; freedom for her and a
pardon for William in return for 40,000 marks. However, being either unwilling or unable to pay, Matilda and her son remained in prison – either at Windsor or Corfe Castle – and William was outlawed, eventually escaping into exile in France, disguised as a beggar, where he died in 1211.

Matilda’s fate was more gruesome; she and her son were left to starve to
death in John’s dungeons (though whether this was at Corfe or Windsor is
unclear). Tradition has it, that when their bodies were found, William’s cheeks bore his mother’s bite marks, where she had tried to stay alive following his death:

‘On the eleventh day the mother was found dead between her son’s legs, still
upright but leaning back against her son’s chest as a dead woman. The son,
who was also dead, sat upright, leaning against the wall as a dead man. So
desperate was the mother that she had eaten her son’s cheeks. When William
de Braose, who was in Paris, heard this news, he died soon afterwards, many
asserting that it was through grief.’ (Anonymous of Bethune)

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The Magna Carta of 1215 reflects the needs and events of the time in which it was issued; an England on the brink of civil war, disaffected barons demanding redress, the church and cities, such as London, looking for protection. It was drawn up by barons looking for reparations and legal protection from a king whose word could no longer be trusted, who meted out arbitrary punishments and heavy taxes. It was not a charter that was intended for the protection and legal rights of every man, woman and child in the land; though it has come to be seen as just that in subsequent centuries. Indeed, the common man does not get a mention, and of the sixty-three clauses, only eight of them mention women as a gender.

Only one clause uses the word femina – woman – and that is a clause which
restricts the rights and powers of a woman, rather than upholding them.
Clause 54 states: ‘No one shall be taken or imprisoned upon the appeal of a
woman for the death of anyone except her husband.’ At first glance, this has to be the most anti-feminist statement ever made, a woman was not allowed to give evidence of a murder unless it was her own husband who was killed. However, the barons believed they had justification for inserting this clause. In a time when a man had the right to face his accuser in trial by combat to prove his innocence, this right would be automatically removed if his accuser was a woman; women were not allowed to use force of arms. A female accuser was seen as being able to circumvent the law, and therefore the law was open to abuse. It was not just that a woman may bear false witness and the accused would have no right of redress in battle; it was also that a woman may be manipulated by her menfolk to make an accusation, knowing that she would not be required to back it up by feat of arms. Whereas her husband, father or brother may have been challenged to do just that.

However, while it is possible to see why this clause was written, it does not
deny the fact that women were treated so differently and denied the
fundamental right to justice simply because of their gender. This very clause was used on 5 July 1215, when King John ordered the release of Everard de Mildeston, an alleged murderer. Everard had been accused of the murder of her son, Richard, by Seina Chevel. Such a charge was now forbidden under the terms of Magna Carta, and the accused was therefore released. It is, of course, true that many of the clauses of Magna Carta refer to people in general, rather than just men, and that women are included in such clauses, as well as in the eight which refer to them specifically. However, the significance of women in the Magna Carta story is not just their limited inclusion in the charter itself, but also in their experiences of the unsettled times in which they lived, in their influence on the charter and in their use of its clauses to exact recompense for injustices they have experienced.

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The political crisis which saw the issuing of Magna Carta, and the civil war which followed, was not just significant to the barons involved, but to their wives and families, tenants and retainers. The conflict tore families apart as they took sides in the struggle and saw more than one baron change sides mid-crisis. Wives and daughters were caught in the middle, often torn by divided loyalties; between their birth family and the family into which they had married; between their fathers and their husbands. For instance, Matilda Marshal was the eldest daughter of William Marshal, a man known for his staunch loyalty to the crown, but she was married to Hugh Bigod, son of Roger, second Earl of Norfolk, one of the leaders of baronial opposition; Roger and Hugh were both named among the twenty- five barons appointed to ensure that John adhered to the terms of Magna
Carta, known as the Enforcers of Magna Carta.

Some of the clauses are specific to the people on the political stage in 1215.
Clause 59 of Magna Carta, for instance, refers to two particular women,
though they are identified by their relationship to the king of Scots, rather than their names. These were two of the sisters of Alexander II, who had been held hostage by King John since the 1209 Treaty of Norham. John had promised to find husbands for the two princesses, preferably within the royal family. However, the marriages had never materialized and, six years on, the young women, Margaret and Isabella, were now in their twenties, and still unmarried. The Magna Carta clause opens with; ‘We will treat with Alexander, king of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and hostages…’
As with many of the issues addressed in Magna Carta, the problem of the
Scottish princesses was not resolved immediately. Margaret was eventually
married, in 1221, to King Henry III’s justiciar, Hubert de Burgh; a lowly marriage for the daughter of a king. Isabella, however, remained unmarried and in 1222 returned to Scotland. She was eventually wed to Roger Bigod, 4th Earl of Norfolk, in 1225. Roger was the son of Matilda Marshal and therefore grandson of William Marshal, Henry III’s regent. At only 13 years of age, young Roger was still a minor and with an age disparity of around 17 years, the marriage was not a happy one. The couple never had children and Roger tried to have the marriage annulled at one stage but was refused by the church.

These are just a handful of examples of how the lives of women are woven into the Magna Carta story. The deeper you dig, the more fascinating stories you will find. Magna Carta started England on the road to democratic government and, more importantly, universal suffrage, culminating in votes for women in 1918. Magna Carta was the first step. Within a generation of the charter’s first issue, women such as King John’s own daughter, Eleanor de Montfort, were helping to fight for political reform and others, such as Isabel d’Aubigny, were using its clauses to their advantage. Women had been a part of the fight for and against King John in the lead up to the first issuing of Magna Carta. They had influenced its creation and continued to use its clauses to fight for their rights and those of their families. There was still a long way to go, especially for women. Magna Carta was not the start of the women’s rights movement, but
it serves as a benchmark for how far society has come in the last eight
centuries.

Photo information:

Ladies of Magna Carta; the Magna Carta (British Library); Magna Carta memorial, Runnymede (Jayne Smith); King John (British Library); Windsor Castle, possible location for the sad death of Matilda de Braose and her son William (my photo).

Author bio:

Sharon Bennett Connolly
Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history her whole life. She
has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. For Christmas 2014, her husband gave her a blog as a gift – http://www.historytheinterestingbits.com – and Sharon started researching and writing about the stories that have always fascinated, concentrating on medieval women. Her latest book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England, released in May 2020, is her third non-fiction book. She is also the author of Heroines of the Medieval World and Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest. Sharon regularly gives talks on women’s history; she is a feature writer for All About History magazine and her TV work includes Australian Television; Who Do You Think You Are.

Links:
Blog: https://historytheinterestingbits.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Thehistorybits/
Twitter: @Thehistorybits
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sharonbennettconnolly/?hl=en
Amazon: http://viewauthor.at/SharonBennettConnolly

Pen & Sword: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Ladies-of-Magna-Carta-
Hardback/p/17766

Book Review: “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter” by Danna R. Messer

51351935Medieval women held many different titles that defined their roles and their connections. Mothers, daughters, and wives tended to be the most popular and the most common. Titles such as queen, political diplomat, and peace weaver tend to be rare and given to women of power. Yet, these words accurately depict a unique woman who lived during the Angevin/ Plantagenet dynasty. She was the illegitimate daughter of the notorious King John and the wife of Llywelyn the Great, a Prince of Wales. She worked tirelessly to establish peace between England and Wales, yet she has not received much attention in the past. Her name was Joan, Lady of Wales, and her story is brought to life in Danna R. Messer’s book, “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I did not know much about Joan, except what I read about her in Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest book, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth-Century England”. She sounded really interesting so when I heard about this book by Messer, I wanted to read it to learn more about Joan.

As someone who did not know a lot about Joan or medieval Wales, I found this book informative and enjoyable. Messer takes the time to explain what life was like for a royal Welsh couple, like Joan and Llywelyn, and why their marriage made such an impact in the long run. On paper, it was a princess from England marrying a prince from Wales, but what made this union so unique was the fact that Joan was the illegitimate daughter of King John and yet she was treated like a beloved legitimate child. Of course, this marriage was first and foremost, a political match, but it seemed to have developed into a strong and loving partnership, that endured 30 years of trials and tribulations.

One of the major trials that Joan had to deal with was to prevent England and Wales from going to war against each other. Truly a monumental challenge for, as Messer meticulously points out, Llywelyn and either King John or King Henry III were constantly having disagreements. I could just picture Joan getting exasperated that she had to try to calm things down between England and Wales every single time. Her diplomatic skills were truly remarkable, especially with how much influence she possessed in both countries.

Probably the most controversial event in Joan’s life is her affair with William de Braose, which led to his execution and her imprisonment. Messer does a good job explaining what we know about this situation. Unfortunately, like many events in Joan’s life, Messer has to use a bit of guesswork to try and put together the clues about Joan and figure out what happened. It can be a bit frustrating, but we have to remember that Joan lived over 800 years ago and women were not recorded as detailed as they are now or even 500 years ago. I think we can give Messer a pass on guessing where Joan was and what her role was in certain events.

Overall, I found this book enlightening. I think Messer’s writing style is engaging and she was dedicated to finding out the truth, as far as the facts would take her. I think this is a fantastic book for someone who needs an introduction to medieval Welsh royal lifestyle, the power of royal Welsh women, and of course, a meticulously detailed account of the life of Joan, Lady of Wales. If this describes you, check out “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter” by Danna R. Messer.

Book Review: “Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown: The Kings and Queens Who Never Were” by J.F. Andrews

52645565._SX318_SY475_In history, we tend to focus on those who were crowned kings and queens of different nations. Their strengths and their weaknesses. Their accessions and the legacies that they left behind. With every story of someone who triumphed in gaining the throne, there are tales of those who were close to the throne but were never able to achieve the ultimate goal of ruling a nation. These “lost heirs” fall into two categories; either their names live on in infamy or they are thrown into the dust of the past. Who were these men and women and why did they lose their chances to sit on the throne? These questions are explored in J.F. Andrews’ book, “Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown: The Kings and Queens Who Never Were”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The title was what drew me into reading it, since these figures rarely get attention, let alone have an entire book dedicated to their lives. I have never read a book by J.F. Andrews, which is not surprising since it is a pseudonym for a historian who has a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies. I want to know who the historian really is since, in the historical field, it is a rarity to use a pseudonym, but that may just be my own personal curiosity.

Andrews’ book begins with the death of William the Conqueror and extends through the reign of Henry VII. With over 500 years of Medieval English history (with the main focus being on the Plantagenet family), it can get a bit confusing to figure out how everyone is connected, but Andrews provides a simplified family tree at the beginning of each chapter to help the reader out. It is a brilliant move and it also shows how vast Andrews’ knowledge of Medieval England’s royal families truly is.

When we tend to think about those would inherit the throne, we tend to think about the firstborn sons, like Robert Curthose, Henry the Young King, Edward the Black Prince, and Edward V. However, as the reader will learn, they were not the only ones who had a chance at the throne. Men, like Richard duke of York, believed that their claim to the throne was stronger than the person who was king. There were also those who were seen as a threat to the king who sat on the throne because of their lineage. They were all legitimate, as Andrews chose not to include those who were illegitimate.

Another factor that united all of these stories was that they all ended in tragedy. Some died from medical conditions at a young age. Others were either imprisoned, never to be heard from again. Yet the majority died in battle, either fighting for or against the king who sat on the throne at the time. Most of them, except for Richard duke of York, died relatively young, which makes us as readers wonder what their reigns might have been like if they were able to be crowned king or queen respectfully.

Overall, I found this book rather informative. Andrews’ writing is enjoyable and is easy to follow. This book really makes you wonder what if these lost heirs became kings and queens, how different history would have been. If you want to read an intriguing book about some mysterious men and women in history, I highly recommend you read, “Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown: The Kings and Queens Who Never Were” by J.F. Andrews.

Book Review: “Edward II’s Nieces The Clare Sisters: Powerful Pawns of the Crown” by Kathryn Warner

50021431Being part of a royal family has its perks, like power and prestige. However, especially in medieval Europe, it meant that you could not marry the person you loved. Marriage was used as a tool to create strong alliances and the women from royal families were used as extremely powerful pawns to strengthen these connections. During the reigns of King Edward II and Edward III, three sisters proved to be very valuable pawns in the marriage market. They were the Clare sisters, Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth. Their stories of their numerous marriages and abductions help to tell the tale of English politics during the reigns of their uncle King Edward II and his son Edward III. Kathryn Warner’s latest book, “Edward II’s Nieces The Clare Sisters: Powerful Pawns of the Crown” explores how these sisters and their families helped transform England during this transformative time in history.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I was not familiar with these three sisters before I read this book and I wanted to learn about them. This is the second book that I have read by Kathryn Warner and it was just as enjoyable and informative as the first one.

To understand why these three sisters were important pawns in the marriage market, Warner explains who their parents were. Their mother, Joan of Acre, was the daughter of King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. Joan of Acre married one of the most powerful noblemen in England, Gilbert “the Red” de Clare, earl of Gloucester. The couple had four children; Gilbert, Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth. The massive de Clare estate would have gone to Gilbert (since he was the only son and women could not inherit under normal circumstances), however, he died at a young age, which meant that the estate was divided amongst his sisters, making them extremely valuable as wives to whoever the king wished.

Between the three sisters, there were seven husbands. Some of the marriages were relatively traditional and others were abductions in which the sisters had no choice but to marry their kidnappers. Some of the husbands, Hugh Despenser the Younger, Piers Gaveston, and Hugh Audley, were favorites (and, in the cases of Hugh and Piers, lovers) of King Edward II, allowing for their wives to have rather a unique position in history. All three of the sisters enjoyed times when they were in good favor of King Edward II and Isabella of France, but they all would experience times when they were placed under arrest in the 1320s. Each sister left a lasting legacy, especially Elizabeth who founded Clare College at the University of Cambridge.

Warner could have easily written three short biographies about each sister, but by combining their stories into one biography, the readers can understand the complex story of the Clare inheritance and how marriage, money, and power truly played a role in the reign of King Edward II. My only concern with this book is that I wish Warner included some sort of family tree/ trees to show how everyone was connected. Warner did include lists of the sisters’ husbands and children in the back, but when I was reading, I was getting slightly confused about how they related to one another and I think that family trees might have helped clear up the confusion that I had.

Overall, I found this book intriguing and complex. By telling the story of Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth de Clare as three biographies in one book, Warner presents a new perspective into the life and reign of Edward II. The Plantagenet family during this time was a closely knit web of power that had to rely on each other to survive or to fall. If you want a great book to introduce you to three fascinating sisters whose marriages during the reign of the infamous Edward II transformed England then, “Edward II’s Nieces The Clare Sisters: Powerful Pawns of the Crown” by Kathryn Warner is a wonderful place to start.

Book Review: “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor De Montfort” by Darren Baker

52044884._SX318_SY475_Two women who shared a name, related by marriage but divided by political and monetary motives. In Medieval Europe, this statement could refer to any number of women, but the two women who are the center of this particular story revolve around medieval England and the reign of King Henry III. One was Henry’s sister whose marriages and money problems were a thorn in her brother’s side. The other was Henry III’s wife who stood by his side and protected their children even when the nation despised her. Their names were Eleanor de Montfort and Eleanor of Provence respectfully; their stories are filled with disasters and triumphs that would shape how England was ruled in medieval times. Darren Baker explores their lives and the lives of their families in his latest biography, “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor De Montfort”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I wanted to read more books about Medieval Europe and this one caught my eye. I have never read a book by Darren Baker or about either Eleanors, so I did not know what to expect. I am glad I decided to take a chance on this book.

Baker’s book begins with the story of King John’s children, King Henry III and his sister Eleanor Plantagenet. As Henry III was figuring out how his new rule would work under the newly formed Magna Carta, Eleanor Plantagenet was married to William Marshal. In all likelihood, their union would have been successful, except that he died in 1231; they were only married for seven years, but this marriage would leave a massive inheritance problem in the form of the Marshal estate. Instead of marrying again, Eleanor decided to become a bride of Christ.

In the meantime, Henry III found his wife in France, Eleanor of Provence, making an alliance with the French that would prove to be beneficial in the long run. As Henry and Eleanor were settling down into married life, Eleanor Plantagenet left the religious life to marry Simon de Montfort, a friend and rising star in Henry III’s court. These two couples were thick as thieves until money and politics drove a wedge between them that could never be repaired. This conflict between the couples would help establish a parliamentary democracy in England, that caused a civil war to break out between the Montfortians/ Lusignans and the King/Savoyards. The war would end at the Battle of Evesham.

Since this is a double biography, Baker takes the time to show both sides of the conflict, through Eleanor de Montfort and Eleanor of Provence’s stories. It is really interesting to see how each woman handled the conflict and how chroniclers either praised or criticized them for their actions and who they were. My only concern with Baker’s approach is that he will sometimes put words into the mouths or in the minds of the historical figures. You could understand what Baker’s opinions were on certain issues. I don’t think I would have minded if it was every once in a while, but it was quite frequent and it started to bother me.

Overall, I did enjoy Baker’s writing style in this book. It may be a double biography, but it reads like a historical fiction novel. Although it is sometimes difficult to tell the two Eleanors apart, Baker does his best and presents a fascinating tale of a family in turmoil over finances and power. “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort” by Darren Baker is an enjoyable introduction into this fascinating, tumultuous time in Medieval English history.

Book Review: “Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy” by Matthew Lewis

47355586Civil wars between cousins have had many names in the past, notably in England, the Wars of the Roses. However, there was a civil war that pre-dates the colorful contest known as The Anarchy. Two cousins fighting against one another from the throne of England, but what makes this contest unique was the main protagonists caught in the middle. One was the only legitimate child of King Henry I, Empress Matilda. The other was Henry I’s favorite nephew, Stephen of Blois. This conflict stretched for decades and has fascinated historians for centuries. It is complex and at times, a bit confusing, but Matthew Lewis has chosen to shed some light on what happened during this period in history in his latest book, “Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Matthew Lewis’ books in the past and I didn’t know much about The Anarchy, so this book seemed like a good place to start.

The story of The Anarchy started when Henry I’s only legitimate son died tragically in The White Ship disaster. Although Henry I did have numerous illegitimate children, the only legitimate child that he had left was his daughter Matilda. She was married to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, thus she took her illustrious title Empress Matilda. However, when her husband died, she married Geoffrey, Count of Anjou.

When Henry I died in 1135, the throne was supposed to pass down to Empress Matilda, which would have been unprecedented as a woman never ruled England before. However, Empress Matilda’s cousin and Henry I’s nephew, Stephen of Blois got to England first and became King Stephen. To make matters a bit more confusing for those who study this time period, King Stephen married Matilda of Boulogne, who is known in this book as Queen Matilda. Although they shared the same name, these two women acted very differently when it came to how women in power demanded respect from the men around them.

As Lewis explains, The Anarchy which lasted from 1135 until 1154, was not this period of extreme chaos caused by King Stephen’s reign. There are some misconceptions about King Stephen and Empress Matilda that have been passed on through the centuries such as King Stephen was an ineffective leader and Empress Matilda was power-hungry and heavy-handed. Since Lewis decided to keep a very neutral approach, showing both sides of the conflict, which was such a strength in this book, the reader can understand what both Stephen and Matilda were fighting for and how they fought their war. Lewis also showed how the barons, clergy, and other European rulers played into this confusing conflict which led to Empress Matilda’s son Henry II becoming the first Plantagenet King of England.

This was a great introductory book to the conflict known as The Anarchy and the colorful characters of King Stephen and Empress Matilda. Lewis was able to combine well-researched information and an easy to understand writing style to bring this conflict to life. As someone who did not know a whole lot about The Anarchy before I read this book, I found it rather enlightening. The only qualm that I did have with this book was that I was getting confused about the barons and clergy who were helping either side and which side they were on. I do wish that Lewis included a table of names of the people involved to help clear the confusion. Overall, I did enjoy this book. If you want a great book that introduces you to the tumultuous time in English history known as The Anarchy, I recommend you read, “Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy” by Matthew Lewis.

Book Review: “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors” by Dan Jones

24611635._SY475_England throughout the centuries has known internal strife with civil wars to determine who had the right to rule the island nation. None more so than in the fifteenth century when a tug of war for the English crown broke out. Today, we call this time period “The Wars of the Roses”, but what was it all about? Who were the main figures during this time? What were the crucial battles that defined these wars? How did the Plantagenet Dynasty fall and how did the Tudors become the new dynasty to rule England? These questions and more are explored in Dan Jones’ book, “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors”.

I will admit that this was not my first time reading this particular book. I did borrow it from my local library and read it a few years ago, but I enjoyed it so much that I decided that I wanted to add it to my personal collection.

Jones begins his book with the horrific execution of the elderly Margaret Pole, the last white rose of York. Her death had more to do with her Plantagenet blood and the fact that she was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, than with any crime she committed. It was the royal blood and who had the right to rule that was at the heart of the Wars of the Roses, as Jones goes on to explain.

Although the true origins of the conflict go back to the sons of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Jones chooses to explore the reign of King Henry V, Catherine of Valois, and their son Henry VI. When Henry V tragically died of dysentery, his infant son Henry VI became king of both England and France. This wouldn’t have been a problem if Henry VI was as strong as his father, but alas, as king was very weak, which meant that he needed help to rule his kingdoms. It was the rivals between the powerful men and women behind the crown, like Richard, Duke of York and Margaret of Anjou, which led to the thirty years of civil wars.

What I appreciate about Jones’ book is that his focus is on the people who made the Wars of the Roses so fun to study. From Henry VI and his dynamic wife Margaret of Anjou to the sons of Richard duke of York; Edward IV, Richard III ( Ricardians might not agree with Jones’ assessment of Richard III) and George Duke of Clarence. Then there are figures who stand on their own who worked behind the scenes, like Warwick “The Kingmaker”, Margaret Beaufort, Owen and Jasper Tudor, the Princes in the Tower, and the ultimate victor, Henry VII.

Jones was able to weave the stories of these extraordinary people with the bloody battles and the politics that defined the era into this delightful book. It acts as a fantastic introduction to this turbulent time in English history that brought the downfall of the powerful Plantagenets and brought forth the Tudors. Another enjoyable and engaging book by Dan Jones. If you want to begin a study into this time, I highly recommend you read, “The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors”.

Book Review: “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount

27109857The medieval era was one of the most turbulent times in all of English history, full of family feuds, gruesome wars, and so many twists and turns. We tend to focus on the big stories, but, it was not just about the royalty and the nobility, there were also lower classes whose lives went on in the background. What was everyday life like for both the rich and the poor? What ceremonies and recipes did they use? What were wills and court cases like? These questions and more are explored in Toni Mount’s delightful book, “A Year in the Life of Medieval England”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. This book looked really intriguing and I really wanted to read a book covering medieval England.

This book was an absolute joy to read. Mount’s book is like a diary, it documents every day of the year with new facts and events. From January 1st to December 31st, Mount dives into the lives of both the rich and the poor alike. Unlike normal diaries, Mount does not stay with one specific year. Instead, she includes events from 1066 all the way through 1500 to give a full view of what life was like in Medieval England. I normally do not like it when a book jumps around chronologically, yet it worked rather well in this book.

From William the Conqueror to King Henry VII and every king in between, Mount explores the lives of the monarchy, highs, and lows. Coronations, battles, births, and deaths, with numerous treaties in-between. Naturally, there were a lot more members of the lower classes than the royal houses, but Mount chose a handful of their colorful stories to include in this book. What is wonderful is that you truly understand what they might have been going through since Mount has transcribed letters, lawsuits and wills so that the readers can get that window into the past.

What I really loved about this book was that Mount was able to include a plethora of facts while keeping the writing style comprehensive so that even a novice can understand. Mount does site each of her sources at the end of each passage for convenience, but it also acts as a stepping stone for those who want to do their own independent research. Of course, with any dive into a new area of study, there will be terms that might be unfamiliar to new students, but Mount takes the time to define these terms.

From Plantagenets to peasants, the stories of Medieval England come back to life in this rather handy companion book for inspiring medievalists. An easy and thought-provoking read that anyone who is interested in Medieval England would be delighted to have in their own collections. If you want a book that explores what medieval people, both rich and poor, experienced in a year, I highly recommend you read, “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

Guest Post: Was Henry IV A Usurper? By Michele Morrical

170px-king_henry_iv_from_npg_(2)Some medieval English kings have unfairly gotten a bad rap. Others are deservedly vilified (Richard III, I’m talking to you).

Our modern-day perception of English kings is largely constructed from only a few sources. Of course, we have the writings of Shakespeare which were generally based on the real events of English monarchs but had lots of extra drama added in to spice things up. We also have the writings of chroniclers who actually lived in the middle ages, but they aren’t always reliable. Just imagine if you were hired by Henry VIII to write the history of his reign. You would definitely write it in a way that reflected very well on the king. And we have modern-day historians who try to bring the past to life with new interpretations of English monarchs and their new explanations of their controversial actions.

One of the English kings who has received very little attention over the years is Henry IV, also known as Henry of Bolingbroke and Henry of Derby. The common perception is that Henry was a usurper, but was he really? Did he seize the throne from Richard II illegally or was he the rightful heir?

What was Henry IV’s claim to the throne?

To answer this question, we must go back a couple of reigns to Henry’s grandfather, King Edward III, a Plantagenet king that ruled England from 1327 to 1377. King Edward was also the nephew of King Charles IV of France through his mother Isabella. When Charles IV died childless, Edward asserted his right to the French crown as Charles’ nearest male relative. The French overruled him citing Salic Law which said inheritance could not be passed through a female line. So the throne went instead to Philip of Valois, Charles’ cousin through a completely male line. As if losing his claim to the kingdom of France wasn’t enough of a blow to Edward, Philip also confiscated Edward’s land in France. Edward was not one to take things lying down so he took military action against France and initiated the Hundred Years War.

One of King Edward’s best military commanders was his eldest son, Edward of Woodstock, also known as the Black Prince. The king’s son was raised and educated in preparation to be the next king and he was perfectly suited to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, there was a major problem. His repeated military expeditions around Europe caused him to become quite ill, including a raging case of dysentery. He died in 1376 at the age of 45. He had not outlived his father, therefore he never got the chance to fulfill his destiny as King of England.

After the death of the Black Prince, King Edward wrote his will and “Act of Entail” in which he named his heir. Rather than naming his eldest living son (John of Gaunt) to be the next king, he did something unusual. He instead named his grandson, Richard of Bordeaux, eldest living son of the Black Prince, to be next in the order of succession using a device called “Right of Substitution”. Essentially since the Black Prince died prematurely, his son Richard was accepted as a substitute.

After Richard, he named the next in line for succession to be John of Gaunt and the male heirs of his body, followed by his other living sons, Edmund, Duke of York, and Thomas, Duke of Gloucester. Interestingly enough, the “Act of Entail” document was kept secret from the public. The only people who knew about it were those named in the entail and the king’s closest confidants. It was never introduced to Parliament to put into law. Many rulers were hesitant to publicly name their heir because that gave any discontented subjects someone to rally around and overthrow the king.

If King Edward had followed traditional Salic Law rules, his eldest living son, John of Gaunt, would have been named his heir followed by Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, which would have left Richard completely out of the succession. Imagine how different the course of English history would have been if Edward had not made this decision to use the uncommon right of substitution. The inheritance would have been strictly through the house of Lancaster, cutting out the house of York. The Wars of the Roses may have never even happened.

Henry of Bolingbroke would have known about King Edward III’s act of entail and that he had been named third in line for the throne (after Richard and John of Gaunt) rather than second in line after Gaunt. Even so, being third in line to the throne wasn’t so bad for Henry. He lived a relatively comfortable life as a royal heir and spent his youth preparing to be a successful ruler like his grandfather. Henry became one of the most respected knights in Europe, he traveled abroad on crusades, and he learned it was better to work with the nobles and forge alliances rather than trying to control them. There was only one problem…Richard absolutely hated Henry. Richard was none of the things that Henry was. Richard was not strong and athletic, he did not joust, and he was not an experienced military leader. He was basically the antithesis of Edward III. Richard was terribly jealous of Henry and felt threatened that Henry or his father might one day try to wrestle the crown from his head.

Richard’s Revenge

For the first 10 years of Richard’s reign, it was assumed that Edward’s entail would be upheld by Richard but in the Parliament of 1386, Richard did something shocking. He threw out his grandfather’s entail and instead declared that his heir would be the twelve-year-old earl of March, Roger Mortimer, great-grandson of King Edward III. Roger’s mother Phillipa was the daughter and only child of King Edward’s second-born (yet deceased) son Lionel of Antwerp. Even though Lionel was deceased, Richard used the right of substitution in selecting Roger, just as Edward III had done in selecting Richard as the Black Prince’s substitute. However, it was highly unusual to name an heir through a female line, especially when there were plenty of other male heirs to choose from. Richard selected the Mortimers so that John of Gaunt, Henry of Bolingbroke, and the entire Lancastrian line would be excluded from the succession. He was putting them on notice that they better work for him instead of against him.

Richard’s declaration was met with great resistance from the lords of his realm who were already disgruntled from enduring years of his tyrannical treatment. They had been terribly unhappy about Richard’s style of kingship, lack of military experience, misguided attempts to negotiate with France, reckless financial spending, attempts to degrade the power of Parliament, and general misrule resulting from Richard’s circle of favorites. Threatening civil war and deposition, the Lords were successful in pressing Richard to exclude the minor Roger Mortimer from succession and to reinstate King Edward III’s entail naming John of Gaunt and his son Henry as the next in line to the throne.

Richard was a very spiteful and vengeful man. He would agree to a deal when he was face-to-face with the nobles, but behind their backs, he would plot to punish them for any sign of disloyalty. Over the next 10 years, he continually threatened the lords and nobles with arrest, confiscation of lands, titles, goods, and even exile if they didn’t bend to his every whim. Richard again changed the order of succession, throwing out John of Gaunt, Henry, and the Mortimers. He decided that the person who would be the least threatening to his reign would be Edward III’s fourth son, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, who was an arthritic invalid.

Henry of Bolingbroke was always at the top of Richard’s hit list but since he was such a close royal relative, Richard couldn’t afford to take him out. His reputation would have been destroyed if he used force to get the likable, respected knight out of the picture. So instead of using force, he used a 1397 civil dispute between Henry and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, as the mechanism to remove him. Richard ruled both men guilty and sentenced them both to exile: Henry for 10 years and Norfolk for life.

As if exile wasn’t punishment enough, just one year later when John of Gaunt died, Richard delivered the knock-out punch. Despite his promise to Gaunt, Richard revoked Henry’s entire Lancastrian inheritance and confiscated all of his lands and assets. Furthermore, Henry was to be considered a traitor to England. Henry of Bolingbroke had nothing left. To fall so far from being the heir to the throne down to a penniless vagabond was untenable for Henry. And there was only one person at fault: his cousin, King Richard II.

Henry’s Return to England

As Henry lived in exile, he thought about his situation and strategies for getting back what was rightly his. There weren’t many options. There was certainly no chance now at reconciliation with Richard, things had simply gone too far. The only way he would be allowed to return to England and be restored to his rightful inheritance would be if Richard was no longer the king of England.

Removing King Richard II from the throne is not something Henry could do by himself. Luckily, he had friends in high places who had also been unfairly treated by Richard. Together with several dukes and earls, Henry planned an uprising against Richard to protest his tyrannical rule. Henry landed in England on July 4, 1399, at Ravenspur in Yorkshire with only 300 men. As he traveled towards the safety of the Lancastrian stronghold, Pontefract Castle, his army grew into the thousands. Henry had become the leader of the revolution. He swore to his followers that his only intent was to defend England from Richard’s tyranny and to reclaim his Lancastrian inheritance. He promised that he would not take the throne for himself by force.

King Richard was with the royal army in Ireland at the time of Henry’s invasion. The Keeper of the Realm during his absence was his 58-year-old heir, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York. Edmund knew that his nephew was a cruel despotic ruler and he instead threw in his lot with Henry. Edmund agreed to support his uprising and would not take measures to suppress his army. Edmund also believed that Henry had been treated unfairly and was perfectly within his rights to reclaim his inheritance.

So Henry’s army moved across the country unchallenged until he came to Conway Castle where King Richard was hiding. Rather than fighting, they negotiated. Henry demanded that he be allowed to return to England and that his lands be restored to him. Richard agreed but then shortly thereafter declared he had no intent to keep his promise. In fact, he was more determined than ever to see Henry dead. Henry’s army arrested Richard and took him into their possession.

While Richard was kept under lock and key in a variety of royal castles, Henry was working with English lawyers to legally reinstate his claim to the Lancastrian inheritance. They determined that the best course of action would be for Richard to sign a written resignation which would then be ratified by Parliament. After much resistance, the king finally relented and signed the document. In doing so, he stepped down from the throne and agreed to Henry’s accession, just as King Edward III’s act of entail had outlined nearly twenty-five years earlier.

The Rule of Succession in England

Was Henry right to overthrow Richard II in an attempt to restore justice to the kingdom of England? Or did he take advantage of the circumstances by claiming the throne for himself?

It all comes down to this. Were any laws broken when Edward named his grandson Richard as his heir instead of his eldest living son John of Gaunt? Likewise, did Richard break any laws when he bypassed Edward’s entail and named Edward of Langley as his heir? Did Henry break any laws when he accepted the crown for himself and deposed his cousin Richard? Should kings have to uphold entails from their predecessors or was it legal for them to change it to their own personal liking?

We cannot judge these decisions as morally right or wrong, rather we can only judge them in terms of the law or the absence of law. In England during the Middle Ages, there was no law that strictly defined the order of succession. Other European kingdoms, such as France, observed Salic Law which prohibited women from being crowned as well as their sons. Germanic kingdoms followed the semi-Salic rule which allowed a woman to inherit but only if all the men in the royal bloodline were dead.

England was a kingdom heavily influenced by their different European neighbors so England’s laws and customs were a mish-mash of the various customs immigrants had brought with them to England. Since England had never put the order of succession into a legal act, it was basically up to the current ruler to choose the next heir to the throne.

Is it any wonder England had so many disputes over control of the kingdom during the Middle Ages? With no legal rules governing the order of succession, it became open to interpretation and that’s when the royal heirs and nobility used it to their advantage. It made it much more possible to maneuver their own royal relatives into positions where they might someday have a shot at the throne themselves.

Was Henry IV a Usurper?

It is my judgment that Henry IV was not a usurper. To be a usurper, one has to either seize authority illegally or by force.

Although Henry did amass a sizable army, they did not resort to violence to solve the conflict. The army was merely a show of force so that Richard would take them seriously and understand the gravity of the situation.

Henry was careful to use lawyers to find a legal way to depose King Richard II and thus overturn his previous statute naming Edmund of Langley as his heir. With Richard deposed and all of his previous acts of Parliament voided, the order of succession had to revert back to the previous king. That would make King Edward III’s act of entail valid again and Henry of Bolingbroke next in line to the throne.

 About the Author

Michele Morrical is a writer, blogger, and amateur historian on all things Tudor and Wars of the Roses. She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with her husband, son, daughter, and many pets. You can find her writings at michelemorrical.com.

My journey into Tudor history began about 10 years ago with the TV show “The Tudors” from Showtime. As I watched the show, I wondered how much of it was really true because the storylines were more dramatic and shocking than any soap opera I had ever seen. I picked up Margaret George’s autobiography of Henry VIII and I was hooked. I’ve since read over 100 books on the Tudor period and I’m currently writing my own book about the Wars of the Roses

Biography: George Plantagenet 1st Duke of Clarence

georgeclarence(Born October 21, 1449- Died February 18, 1478). Son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. Married to Isabel Neville, Duchess of Clarence.
Father of Anne of York, Lady Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, Richard of York. George was a young man who believed that he would be a better king than his brother Edward IV. He revolted a few times and it led to his death by an unusual means.

George Plantagenet was born on October 21, 1449 to Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. His father died at the battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460 and in March 1461, his brother became King Edward IV. George was created the 1st Duke of Clarence and a Knight of the Garter by his brother and the following year, he received the Honour of Richmond and was created lord-lieutenant of Ireland.

When George was named as a possible suitor for Mary, the daughter of Charles the Bold, later the Duke of Burgundy, he would enter into the influence of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick. Warwick, also known as “the kingmaker”, helped Edward IV become king but when Edward married Elizabeth Woodville instead of Bona of Savoy, which would have established an alliance with France, Warwick and Edward were not as close as they once were. Warwick decided to get back at Edward and in July 1469, George married Warwick’s daughter Isabel (or Isabella), which was a marriage that Edward did not support at all.

Warwick then started a series of uprisings in northern England; Edward was a popular king but his marriage with Elizabeth Woodville sullied his image a little while Warwick was seen as a national hero. Edward did employ an army, but when he saw that he was outnumbered, he dispersed his army and allowed himself to be captured by Warwick. Warwick had Edward imprisoned in the Tower, but when his reputation began to suffer, he released Edward in October 1469. Warwick and George both decided to reconciled with Edward but Edward never truly trusted either of them ever again.

George was loyal to his brother, but when Warwick deserted Edward and fled to France, George went with his father in law. On the way to France, Isabel gave birth to their first child, a girl, on 16 April 1470, in a ship off Calais. The child would not survive. Warwick joined forces with Margaret of Anjou and Louis XI of France to restore Henry VI to the throne. In September 1470, Warwick and his rebellion made its way to England. Warwick removed Henry VI from the Tower and restored him to the throne.

Henry VI rewarded George by making him next in line to the throne after his own son, removing Edward IV from the line of succession completely. Warwick had his younger daughter, Anne Neville, George’s sister-in-law, marry Henry VI’s son in December 1470. This obviously infuriated George since this meant that Warwick had no desire of making George the next king and so George secretly reconciled with his brother.

Warwick made a mistake and decided to take Louis XI’s advice and declare war on Burgundy. This forced the duke of Burgundy, who had stayed on the sidelines this entire time, to help Edward IV raise an army. Edward returned to England on March 11, 1471. His army defeated Warwick’s army at the Battle of Barnet in April 1471, where Warwick was killed. After Warwick’s death in April 1471 Clarence appears to have seized a vast sum of the estates Warwick owned. George did not gain all of Warwick’s properties as his younger brother Richard Duke of Gloucester married the widow Anne Neville. In March 1472 was created by right of his wife Earl of Warwick and Salisbury. A quarrel between George and Richard ensued, and in 1474 the king interfered to settle the dispute, dividing the Warwick estates between his brothers.

In 1475 George ‘s wife Isabel gave birth to a son, Edward, later Earl of Warwick. Isabel died on December 22, 1476, two months after giving birth to a short-lived son named Richard. Though it is believed that Isabel died of either consumption or childbed fever , George was convinced she had been poisoned by one of her ladies-in-waiting, Ankarette Twynyho, whom, as a consequence, he had judicially murdered in April 1477 right after her trial. The same year, George was eligible for Mary Duchess of Burgundy’s hand, but when Edward refused the marriage suit, George left court.

Edward was convinced that George was aiming at his throne after three of George’s men were tried for treason and were executed. George was thrown into prison, and in January 1478 the king unfolded the charges against his brother to the parliament. He had slandered the king; had received oaths of allegiance to himself and his heirs and had prepared for a new rebellion. Both Houses of Parliament passed the bill of attainder, and the sentence of death was announced. It is said that Edward gave his brother a choice on how he would die and George said that he would like to be drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine. What we do know is that George Duke of Clarence was executed in private either on February 17th or 18th 1478. Two of his children would outlive him: Edward earl of Warwick, who was executed in 1499, and Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury.