Friday, 27 March 2015

Henry the Young King and Easter Celebrations

Happy Easter to all Henry the Young King readers! Our blog is taking a break till around 10 April. I hope we will be back by then with a brand new post. Before we say "Goodbye!", let me mention a few of Henry's Easters:

24 March 1174: Great Revolt of 1173-74. Henry was probably at the court of his father-in-law, Louis VII of France (1120-1180). In January, Henry with Philip of Flanders (1143-1191) and Theobald of Blois (1130-1191) broke the winter truce and attacked Sees, but without success. Both sides agreed to truce until after Easter

13 April 1175. Henry the Young King and Henry II kept Easter at Cherbourg. Possibly to this period belongs a royal charter in favour of Notre Dame de Voeu, at Cherbourg, attested by Maurice de Creon, Hugh de Lacy and Osbert de Hosa.

4 April 1176. Henry the Young King, his father and two younger brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, kept Easter at Winchester. Henry the Young King and his wife, Marguerite, were waiting at Porchester for a fair weather to cross the Narrow Sea, when Henry was sent for c.31 March to join his father. It is possible that the Young Queen also joined the court at Winchester. Richard and Geoffrey landed at Southampton on 2 April and arrived in Winchester on 3 April (Eyton).

1 April 1179. Henry the Young King and Henry II kept Easter together at Winchester. The Young King had returned to England after three years' absence. He had embarked at Wissant on 26 February (Ralph of Diceto). Roger of Howden gives the Midlent (c.11 March) as the arrival date. If we are to trust Diceto, Henry reached the English shore just in time to celebrate his twenty-fourth birthday in the comapny of his father. After spending Easter and Pentecost in England with his father, Henry the Young King crossed to Wissant on 22 April 1179. 

As for today's anniversaries, Eyton in his Court, Household and Itinerary of King Henry II gives 27 March as the day when Henry's mother was ambushed by the Lusignan brothers and it was only due to Willaim Marshal's uncle intervention she managed to avoid being captured. Further details here, in my last year's post.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Sir Lancelot of the Lake in Siedlęcin

Since my lady of Champagne wishes me to undertake to write a romance, I shall very gladly do so, being so devoted to her service as to do anything in the world for her, without any intention of flattery. But if one were to introduce any flattery upon such an occasion, he might say, and I would subscribe to it, that this lady surpasses all others who are alive, just as the south wind which blows in May or April is more lovely than any other wind.... I will say, however, that her command has more to do with this work than any thought or pains that I may expend upon it. Here Chretien begins his book about the Knight of the Cart. The material and the treatment of it are given and furnished to him by the Countess...

Thus began Chrétien de Troyes in the opening lines of his Le Chevalier de la charrette [Lancelot, The Knight of the Car]. The Countess he mentioned was Henry the Young King's elder half sister Marie of Champagne (1145-1197), who not only comissioned the work, but also supplied Chrétien with material [or plot] and interpretation. It just so happened that yesterday marked the 817th anniversary of Marie's death. You can learn more about this exceptional lady here.

                 Sir Lancelot fighting the lions and leopards (from Bibliotheque nationale de France)

Chrétien, whose contribution to the flowering of Arthurian romance is unsurpassed, compeleted Le Chevalier de la charrette before 1181, which means that the Young King must have had the occasion to "meet" Sir Lancelot. Let us not forget that it was Chrétien who developed the character of Lancelot and his are the first surviving literary portraits of King Arthur's greatest knight. Neither Marie nor Chrétien could have foreseen that Lancelot's fame was to reach as far as the Lower Silesia District [today Poland] where in the first half of the 14th cantury Henryk I Jaworski [Henry I of Jawor] had the walls of the Great Hall of his ducal tower in Siedlęcin painted with the scenes of the life of Sir Lancelot of the Lake. The curious thing is that today Siedlęcin is the only place in the world where you can still see the wall paintings depicting the legend of Sir Lancelot of the Lake. To learn more about Sir Lancelot in Siedlęcin Ducal Tower, I have invited Dr Przemysław Nocuń of Jagiellonian University [Cracow] to our humble abode. He has kindly agreed to answer a few questions.

Thank you for accepting my invitation. I am deeply honoured. Could you tell us w
hat treasure can be found in the Ducal Tower in Siedlęcin?

No straight answer to your query I am afraid, for the tower is a treasure house of different artefacts and a treasure itself. It is an exceptional building, one of the best- preserved medieval residences of this type in Central Europe, practically unchanged since the 14th century. Thanks to dendrochronological research we were able to determine that the trees used for ceiling construction had been cut in 1313 and 1314, so 700 years ago! Which makes the ceilings themselves extremely valuable. The most priceless treasure, however, can be found in the former Great Hall - the mural paintings depicting the story of Sir Lancelot of the Lake [Lancelot du Lac] are unquestionably of greatest value. The recent research revealed that they were created in the second or third decade of the 14th century. They are the oldest surviving profane paintings in Poland and the only ones in the world depicting the story of Sir Lancelot of the Lake preserved in situ.

Are the Siedlęcin paintings really unique and there are no other of this type in Europe and in the world?

It depends what we mean by "unique". Looking at the paintings as an ilustration of the Arthurian legends which were immensly popular in the Middle Ages, we have to admit that there are more than ten surviving in  Europe. But if we take into consideration only the main theme - that is the history of Sir Lancelot of the Lake - the Siedlęcin murals are absolutely ones of a kind. There were similar paintings at the castle of Frugarolo in Northern Italy , but in the 20th century they were taken down from the walls and placed in the museum in Allesandria near Turin, which means they cannot be admired in the interior of the medieval castle they had been originally created in. This makes the Siedlęcin paintings absolutely unique.

Could you tell us a few words about Duke Henryk himself? What do we know about him?

Henryk I of Jawor was a fascinating figure. Born in the last decade of the 13th century as the third son of  Bolko I Surowy [the Strict] and Beatrycze of Brandenburg, he was a little boy when his father died. It was not until 1312 that he assumed formal control of his inheritance, the Duchy of Jawor. Shortly afterwards he comissioned the building of the Tower. Henryk was an acute politician which helped him to retain independence from Bohemia when all other Silesian dukes swore fealty to King  Jan Lucemburský [John the Blind]. He joined anti-Luxembourg coalition and in 1316 married Anežka Přemyslovna of Bohemia, daughter of the former King Wacław II of Bohemia and Poland and Queen Dowager Ryksa Elżbieta, and granddaughter of King Przemysł II of Poland. Unfortunately their marriage proved childless.  By 1335 there were only two Silesian dukes powerful enough to oppose the Luxembourgs. These were Henryk and his nephew, Duke Bolko II Mały [the Small] of Świdnica.

Were the Arthurian romances popular in Poland and Silesia at the time? Or was Duke Henry the first to introduce them?

Preserved monuments and names of the Arthurian characters given to the sons of the Silesian noblility indicate that the Arthurian legends were known at the courts of medieval Poland and Silesia. However, most of the preserved monuments with Arthurian motifs come from the second half of the 14th or from the 15th century. Zielona Komnata [the Green Chamber] at the Castle of Legnica, for example, with the representations of the Nine Worthies introduced into late medieval literature by Jacques de Lomnguyon and Guillaume de Machaut, was created in the early 15th century. King Arthur - one of the Worthies - was depicted in the paintings.

Henryk I of Jawor was not only the first to comission Arthurian paintings in one of his seats, but he might have founded an order of chivalry based on the legend of the Knights of the Round Table as well. There was a similar order founded at the court of King Charles Robert of Hungary in the early fourteenth century called the Knightly Order of Saint George Martyr. We know that in Silesia the flowering of similar groups dates back to the early fifteenth century, for example Rudenband at the court of Bishop Wacław II of Legnica. If we assume that Henryk did initiate a similar group then he fully deserves to be called a pioneer.

What do the paintings tell us about everyday life in the tower and the tower itself?

I think there ar two factors that should be taken into consideration. The construction of the tower itself and decorating the walls of its Great Hall with Arthurian paintings suggest close ties with the western court culture and high cultural awareness of the ducal couple. I am sure that the tower furnishings were rich and luxurious as well. Courts of Silesian dukes, especially the ones of Jawor and Świdnica, had close and permanent ties with royal and ducal courts of western Europe. Duke Henryk's financial problems indicated by the historical sources might have stemmed from his too high aspirations. However, to draw conclusions of what the life in the Tower must have looked like we should rather focus on the building itself than on the paintings in the former Great Hall. The storey and room layouts speak for themselves and make it clear that all had been carefully planned. The chambers of the ducal couple were placed above the second floor with the Great Hall and had the highest ceilings. Today we can only guess how the original room division must looked like and how richly decorated and furnished the chambers must have been.

While browsing your official website I have come across the information about the Swiss connections of Dukes of Jawor and Świdnica. Could you tell us about them? Did they have anything in common with the paintings?

In his book about the decoration of Siedlęcin Great Hall, a Wrocław based art historian dr Jacek Witkowski, who is considered a leading expert in Siedlęcin Ducal Tower and European court culture, directs our attention to the close painting analogies existing around Zurich and Konstanz, and links them to Agnes, the wife of Henryk's nephew, Bolko II Mały [the Small] , duke of Świdnica. Agnes was the daughter of Duke of Austria, Leopold I from the House of Habsburg, and Catherine of Savoy, which meant close ties with Switzerland. If we assume that the authors of the paintings came to Silesia with Agnes, then we have to accept that the murals were created as late as 1338. It seems, however, that the Swiss connections might have been established earlier. Linear-idealistic style flourished in Switzerland already in the first decade of the 14th century - analogical in style, narration and completion were the paintings in the cathedral and one of the patrician houses in Zurich. Zurich was also the place where the Manesse Codex was completed in the early 14th century, one of the portraits in it depicting Duke of Wrocław, Henryk IV Probus [the Righteous].

Henryk IV Probus, Duke of Wrocław in the Codex Manesse (Wikipedia)

Let me ask you how have you come to take such an avid interst in the Tower and its history?And what is your role as a member of the Ducal Tower of Siedlęcin Society?

I think that all those who have a chance to see the Tower will remain under its spell. At least this is what happened to me when being a primary school student I went to Siedlęcin on a class trip. Many years later I became one of the founder members of  the Chudów Castle Fund (the Upper Silesia District, Poland). which has been owner of the Tower in Siedlęcin for more than ten years now. Working for the society I had an opportunity to conceive a few successful projects aimed at important works in the Tower, namely preservation of the paintings and plasters in 2006 and 2007. Also around this time, the Tower with the tourist information centre was opened to visitors. Being the scientific worker of the Institute of Archeology of Jagiellonian University I have been in charge of the archeological research in the Tower since 2008. Due to growing interest, a few years we established a society meant to support all the Tower future projects. Members of the society with the assistance of the students of Jagiellonian University, who worked as volunteers, all helped to organize and enrich the archaeological exhibition over the years. I hope that we can also count on volunteers' help in our upcoming projects, which include, inter alia, medieval music concerts and further preservation works. It would be wonderful to encourage volunteer cooperation from other European countries.

Thank you for the fascinating and insightful answers to my questions. I do hope that our today's conversation will make people flock to the Tower. Not only as visitors but also as the active supporters.  Best of luck with all your forthcoming projects.

Pay a visit to Siedlęcin Tower  official  website here.

Photos from the Tower archives 

Fragment of Lancelot, The Knight of the Cart translated by W.W. Comfort from The Hero of Camelot

Friday, 6 March 2015

Henry II of England's Birthday and Other March Anniversaries

Belated birthday wishes to Henry the Young King's father Henry II of England, who was born on 5 March 1133 at Le Mans. The ruler of the greatest empire since Charlemagne, stretching from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees, famous for his administrative skills, personal charisma, sense of humour, symptoms of ADHD and fits of the Angevin rage, Henry was one of the greatest medieval kings. Here's a brilliant birthday post by Ms Elizabeth Chadwick, providing a few glimpses of Henry as a boy as described in her novel Lady of the English.

Rather sheepishly, I have to mention that exactly forty years later, Henry’s eldest surviving son and heir, Henry the Young King gave his sire the worst birthday present ever. He escaped from Chinon Castle, where he was staying in his father's company, and made his way to the French territory, triggering what was to become the Great Revolt of 1173-74. Coming to his defence I need to point out that this was in great measure Henry II’s own fault. To see what I mean, take a look at my last year's post here.

Here are a few other March anniversaries:

2 March 1127: The murder of Count Charles of Flanders, who was assassinated while kneeling at morning prayer in the church of St Donatien in Bruges. Charles died childless and his death affected the lives of the Young King’s paternal ancestors: Henry I, his daughter Matilda and the young Geoffrey of Anjou. 

2 March 1170: Henry II, after settling matters in Brittany, crossed to England in a violent storm. One of the ships, with four hundred men on board, sank and the others were dispersed, reaching various ports along the south coast. The king, safe and sound, landed at Portsmouth the following day.

3 March 1170: Henry the Young King’s younger brother Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, crossed to England from Normandy. During his father’s Christmas court of 1169 held at Nantes eleven-year-old Geoffrey received the oaths of fealty from the Breton barons. 

6 March 1204: Chateau Gaillard, Normandy, the great fortress of Henry the Young King's younger brother Richard [the Lion Heart] fell to the forces of Philippe Auguste when the forces of Henry and Richard's younger borther King John surrendered after a lengthy siege. Normandy fell to the French crown. 

7 March 1226: the younger half brother of Henry the Young King, William Longespée (b.1176), Henry II's illegitimate son by Ida de Tosny died. At the time of his birth Henry the Young King was a mature man. When William was seven, Henry was already dead. I doubt that the younger brother (William was twenty-one years Henry's junior) born out of wedlock mattered a lot to the Young King, but Longespée, a skilled knight and battle commander, was a colourful figure in his own right. In 1196 his half brother Richard I the Lion Heart married him to the great heiress, Ela of Salisbury, thus making him the 3rd Earl of Salisbury.

11 March 1198: Henry the Young King’s half-sister Marie, Countess of Champagne for over thirty years, died. Today she is best remembered for being Eleanor of Aquitaine’s eldest daughter and because of her associations with Chretien de Troyes. Under her and her husband, Henry the Liberal’s (1152-81) patronage the court of Champagne and its literature flowered. You can read about Marie here.

14 March 1176: Great council assembled at London. At the time Henry the Young King appointed Geoffrey, provost of Beverley and nephew of Roger, Archbishop of York to be his chancellor (Geoffrey would die on 27 September next year in the "sinking of several ships" while crossing from Normandy to England). Henry and Marguerite spent the second half of March in Porchester awaiting a fair wind to cross the Narrow Sea. About 31 March Henry is summoned by his father to come to him to Winchester to spend Easter with him. Henry complied.

16 March 1181: Henry the Young King's borther-in-law Henry I ‘the Liberal’ of Champagne, Marie’s husband died, having returned from the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Upon his death Marie became a regent for their eldest son, also Henry (future king of Jerusalem) and ruled in his name for six years until he reached maturity. Henry the Liberal, who at twenty-five succeeded his father as count of Troyes and Meaux, constructed a territorial state from his father’s disparate lands and made Champagne one of the major states of northern France.

19 March 1148: Henry the Young King’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine and her first husband, Louis VII of France, ‘ragged and seasick’, sailed into the port of St Simeon near Antioch. They were on their way to free Jerusalem in the course of the second crusade, the expedition that proved to be disastrous for them, not only in the matters of politics, but also their royal marriage.

19 March 1163: Prince Henry and his father were at Dover where the meeting was arranged between them and Count Thierry of Flanders and his eldest son, Philip to discuss the matter of military services the counts of Flanders were bound to render to the kings of England.

19 March 1178: Midlent Sunday: Henry, his father and his younger brother John were present at the dedication of the church of Bec (dedicated by Rotrou Archbishop of Rouen). Henry II endowed the church with the annual payement of 100 pounds of Angevin money (from his mills of Robec, a stream which falls into the Seine near Rouen).

21 March 1152: After fifteen years Eleanor’s marriage to Louis VII of France came to an end. Louis had the marriage declared null on grounds of consanguinity, but it was only a cover. He yearned for a male heir and Eleanor, apparently, was unable to provide him with one. In the fifteen years she bore him only two daughters, Marie (b. 1145) and Alix (b.1151). Scarcely two months passedsince the divorce when she married Henry of Anjou, whom she later gave five sons (Henry the Young King among them) and three daughters.

22 March 1159: Henry II issued summons to his vassals in both England and his continental domains to assemble at Poitiers on 24 June in order to set off to regain what he considered his wife’s rightful inheritance, Tolouse.

25 March 1175: after conference at Gisors (24 February) Henry, staying at Rouen at the time, was summoned by his father (then at Caen) to accompany him to England. The Young King refused, which may indicate that he and his father were not fully reconciled at the time - it was the aftermath of the Great Revolt of 1173-74.

26 March 1182: Henry the Young King’s first cousin, Elisabeth/Isabelle, the elder daughter of Petronilla (Eleanor of Aquitaine’s sisiter) and Raoul of Vermandois and the wife of Philip of Flanders died. Her passing gave rise to dispute over her dowry and its succession between her husband, her younger sister Eleanor of Beaumont-sur-Oise and the French king, Philip Augustus. 

26 March 1199: Henry the Young King’s younger brother, Richard I, the great crusader king was struck in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt while he was besieging the castle of the Viscount of Limoges, who had rebelled against Richard and made the treaty with Philip Augustus. This is how Bernard Itier, who at the time of Richard’s death was a monk in the abbey of St Martial in Limoges (where he later became librarian), described the event: ‘… most warlike King of the English, was struck in the shoulder by an arrow while besieging a keep at a place in Limousin called Chalus-Chabrol. In the castle there were two knights with about thirty-eight others, both men and women. One of the knights was called Peter Bru, the other Peter Basil, of whom it is said that he fired the arrow which struck the King…’ The wound proved mortal and Richard died within eleven days, ‘on the Tuesday before Palm Sunday, on 6 April, in the first hour of the night’.  

27 March 1168: According to Eyton, on this day Patrick, Earl of Salisbury, the uncle of William Marshal was killed in an ambush in Poitou. Together with his then twenty-one-year-old nephew and a small force he was escorting Queen Eleanor from castle to castle when they were surprised by the Lusignan brothers. Shortly before Henry II had quelled the rebellion of which they had been chief instigators and took the Castle of  Lusignan. Further deatils here.

29 March 1187: Henry the Young King’s nephew, Arthur of Brittany, son of Geoffrey and Constance, was born at Nantes, eight months after his father’s untimely death at Paris. More information here.

c. March 1179: during his short stay in England young Henry visited Worcestershire

c. March 1181: Henry's natural brother, Geoffrey, bishop elect of Lincoln, after consulting his father and his three younger half-brothers, Henry, Richard and Geoffrey, renounced his election. They were all staying in Normandy at the time.

Closing days of March 1182: Henry's father held conference with young Philippe Capet and count Philip ofd Flanders at Senlis. Henry the Young King was present together with the papal legate Henry, the bishop of Albano and William, Archbishop of Reims (Philippe's maternal uncle).

March 1183: Henry and his borthers Richard and Geoffrey met their father at Angers. They made "peaceable arrangements" among themselves and swore fealty to Henry II. then a conference was held at Mirabel to discuss further details. Geoffrey was sent to Limoges to negotiate with the disgruntled Poitevan barons and summon them to the conference, but joined them instead. Henry the Young King sent Marguerite to her borther;s court at Paris and went to Limoges to "convert" Geoffrey, but joined the rebels too. The war with Richard began.


Court, Household and Itinerary of King Henry II by Robert William Eyton, 1878. Internet Archive.

The Charters of Countess Constance of Brittany and her Family, 1171-1221, ed. by Judith Everard and Michael Jones. Google Books.

Images of History by Ralph of Diceto in The Plantagenet Chronicles ed. by Dr Elizabeth Hallam.Greenwich Edition, 2002.

The Annals of Roger of Howden. Vol I. Trans. by Henry T. Riley. Internet Archive of Northeastern University Libraries

The Angevin Empire by John Gillingham. Edward Arnold, 1984.

Henry Plantagenet by Richard Barber. The Boydell Press, 2001.

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Marion Meade. Pheonix Press Paperback, 2002.

Aristocratic Women in Medieval France ed. by Theodore Evergates. University of PennsylvaniaPress, 1999.

The Aristocracy in the County of Champagne 1100-1300 by Theodore Evergates. Google Books.

Richard the Lionheart by John Gillingham. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.

William Marshal. Court, Career and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire 1147-1219 by David Crouch.Longman, 1990

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Happy Birthday to Henry the Young King!

Happy Birthday to Henry the Young King who was born exactly 860 years ago today, on 28 February 1155, in the manor of Bermondsey, London, as the second son of Henry II of England (b. 1133) and Eleanor (b.1124), Queen of England and Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right. I wrote about Henry's birth here plus I would love to recommend a moving scene in Ms Elizabeth Chadwick's Winter CrownToday I want to mention that before he was safely delivered into this world, Henry could already boast about sea-crossing in a violent storm and attending, no more no less, but a coronation. Further details here. Using the occasion, I would like to thank all the lovely people whose unwavering support made our blog what it is today, the realm of Henry the Young King, with its sovereign hopefully not as much forgotten as a few years ago.

Many thanks to two very special ladies, who never cease to inspire our work in the Young King's chancery, Ms Sharon Kay Penman and Ms Elizabeth Chadwick. To Ms Marsha Lambert and Ms Stephanie Churchill Ling for being our Guardian Angels; Ms Kathryn Warner for her encouragement, kind support and fresh approach to writing about history. To Ms AnerjeMs Joan BattistuzziMs Gabriele C. for their lovely and thought-provoking comments; ; to Mr Richard Willis for inviting me and Henry to his blog (and my first offiicial post on Henry), his friendly words of advice and our chats about the Angevins; Ms Emilie Laforge, who has become Henry's godmother; also Mr David Parr, Mr Ken John, Ms Maria GraceMr David PillingMr Darren Baker, Ms Sonja Koch (our Dear Kleine Dame aus Berlin), Ms Elisabeth Millard, Ms Paula Lofting, Ms Jayne Smith, Mr Koby Itzhak, Ms Sarah Butterfield, Ms Karin Durette, Ms Teka Lynn, Mr Valentino Krizanić, and Mr Roman Wysocki. Special thanks to Mr Malcolm Craig for being My Friend in the Twelfth-Century History. I hope I have mentioned all the lovely people who have supported us in our efforts to bring the Young King to life. Thank you!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

With All For All: The Life of Simon de Montfort. Interview with Darren Baker

In January 1265, Simon de Montfort summoned a Parliament in the name of the Young King’s nephew, Henry III, that has been long recognized as a prototype for the institution today. Many historians are apt to disagree, but celebrations are already underway to mark the 750th anniversary of that event. According to the author of a new biography on Montfort, it’s right that they do, because his contribution to political reform in England was immense and incomparable for centuries to come. We have asked Darren Baker to drop by and share a few of his thoughts on him.

I am honoured to welcome Darren Baker to our humble abode to talk about his recently released biography of Simon de Montfort. Thank you for accepting my invitation. Could you tell us why Simon de Montfort? Do you remember the first time you saw his name?

Thanks for having me here. It’s an honour for me as well to be in the realm of the Young King, whom I met for the first time in Thomas Costain’s books on the Plantagenets. My lifelong fascination with Simon de Montfort began in these same books, although I remember seeing his name for the first time in another book as a young boy. There was something about this king being defeated and captured by his French brother-in-law that caught my imagination. I could probably point it out to you on the page if you showed me the book today, it’s stuck with me that long.

If I am correct, you have been researching Simon for several years now. When exactly did you start thinking about writing his biography?

There had been no new biography of him in twenty years and nearly all of them take a generally hostile view anyway. So I set out to write the biography I wanted to read. It’s certainly no whitewash, just looking at the same events from a different angle with a bit more cross-current of information. I gave myself nine months to write it and actually made that deadline with two days to spare.

                                   Darren Baker  in front of the Lewes Memorial

What have you learned about him over the years of your research in addition to his contribution to the development of Parliament? Could you tell us a few words about Simon himself?

I had to learn more about the two pivotal events in his life, the Albigensian crusade of his childhood and Henry’s entire reign. I suppose not surprisingly, I came away from the first with a much better opinion of his father than historians generally have, and in the case of Henry, I grew to respect him because he was a better man at heart than most other medieval English monarchs. He seems to be all but forgotten by the British public today, probably for no other reason than he was no warrior king like Richard I, Edwards I and III, and Henry V, and yet everywhere today you see more of his legacy than all of them put together. As for the kind of man Simon was, we don’t know what he looked like, we can just go by the very general description of one chronicler that he was tall in body and handsome in face. Another one noted he had a courteous and pleasant way of speaking. Put these two together and I don’t see the modern tendency to portray him as grasping, harsh and imperious. But there has always been this natural inclination, even in his own day, to see him like his father, who was not afraid to employ fire and sword against the Albigensian heretics. It’s probably fair to say he had a breadth of personal qualities, both good and bad, that made him stand out amongst the average nobleman of that era.

This roll of the genealogical line shows Simon and Eleanor's children in the bottom row: Henry, Simon, Amaury, Guy, Richard and Eleanor

Simon and Eleanor's marriage must have been a love match. What do we know about Simon’s relationship with his wife and children?

It was certainly a love match in the sense they had to be married in secret. They were lucky her brother was the type to fall for such romances and so lent them his support. Of course, they had their trials like any marriage. On one occasion they were upbraided by a friend, she for what he called marital insubordination and Simon for his temper. They had financial troubles and it seems he at least was plagued at sometime or other by the fact that she had broken her vow of chastity for him. Whether he actually seduced her, as Henry later charged, we’ll never know for sure. Both had phenomenal energy and were supreme organizers, and for whatever friction was caused by having similar high-strung temperaments, they made a formidable team. He stood up for her against the likes of the Marshal family and her own half-brothers, and she stood by him through all the troubles ahead with her brother. They doted on their children, but were not uncritical, and they in turn remained steadfastly loyal to the end, something many historians don’t necessarily see in a positive light.

                   The ruins of Odiham Castle, where Simon and Eleanor saw each other for the last time.

Simon and Henry III were brothers-in-law. Was the animosity between them purely political or did it touch the “personal” side as well?

You get the feeling they became great friends after Simon’s arrival at court. They were about the same age, were devoted to religion and learning, and Henry was enamored of French culture, which also helps explain why he couldn’t get enough of his wife’s family. Montfort certainly stuck by him during the rebellion of Richard Marshal in 1234 and through all the grumbling that accompanied the arrival of the Savoyards two years later. Allowing his sister Eleanor to marry him was the greatest testament to their friendship, and yet it was in tatters within two years, all because Henry got the feeling that Simon had used him and in the end was more trouble than he was worth. Their relationship never recovered, but with Eleanor in the middle, they had no choice but to deal with each other.

                                                                             Henry III enthroned, flanked by Westminster Abbey and church bells. 

Could you remind us what exactly Henry III did or did not do to find himself opposed by his disgruntled barons?

Henry had been stung badly by the Marshal rebellion and later by all the antagonism created by Simon and Eleanor’s secret wedding. We can see from that point on he was eager to create a court of his own making, mainly dominated by his wife’s family from Savoy and later by his own half-brothers from Lusignan. He dismissed the great officers of state and consulted his English magnates only when he needed money for his misadventures. They naturally resented all his favoritism for these foreigners and refused him one tax after another, so Henry turned to more devious methods to get the money, namely by exploiting Jewish finance and putting pressure on his sheriffs to collect more in fines, fees and rents than was justifiable. By the time the barons had enough of his relatives in 1258, so did the whole realm with his reign in general.

What turn might history have taken had Lord Edward stayed in Simon’s custody?

Montfort had made Edward’s release conditioned on moving him out of his lordship of Cheshire and installing his own son in his place. His reason was to keep Edward and his Marcher friends from teaming up in the future, which is exactly what happened after he escaped. Montfort knew his nephew well enough to know he would never abide by the loss of Cheshire or his scheme to impose constitutional controls on his future reign. His only hope was to keep him under closely supervised parole even after his official release long enough for the arrangements of his government to sink in among all the parties concerned, even if that took years. In the end, the treachery of the Clare family changed everything in a matter of months.

                            Simon turned Kenilworth Castle into a nearly impregnable fortress. It was the last holdout of the the Montfortians.

What did Simon's death at Evesham mean for his family? We know that his eldest son Henry perished with him, but his other children and Eleanor? What happened to them?

Eleanor held on to Dover while she sent her sons Amaury and Richard ahead to France, then followed them over with her daughter Eleanor. She died ten years later in a nunnery founded by her husband’s sister. The oldest surviving son Simon, whose tardiness had contributed as much to his father’s defeat as Edward’s generalship, held out until the end of the year. By that time Henry had stripped the family of the earldom of Leicester and given it to his son Edmund. He offered the younger Simon some form of compensation, but Henry and Edward’s promises were so worthless by that point that he felt it was better to escape to France. The fourth son Guy had been wounded at Evesham and was still in prison when he too escaped the following year, in 1266. Louis and Margaret of France tried to reconcile the two families, but Henry only pretended to go along, so the Montfort boys moved on. Richard went south to campaign and disappeared from the records. Guy achieved the most notoriety when he threw away a promising marriage and military career by murdering his cousin Henry of Almain in Italy with the help of his brother Simon, who died later that year. Guy served only the most meager of sentences for this act of vengeance, an indication that continental Europe thought the English royal family had it coming for the desecration of Simon’s body at Evesham. Guy went back to campaigning, was captured, and died in prison. Edward got his own revenge by capturing Amaury and Eleanor as they sailed to Wales with the intention of her marrying Prince Llywelyn. He kept Amaury in prison for six years before releasing and deporting him. He had the most colorful career of the lot and died sometime around 1300. Eleanor was allowed to marry Llywelyn, but she subsequently died in childbirth in 1282, and her child was whisked away to live her entire life in a nunnery after Edward’s Marchers killed Llywelyn. She died in 1337, the last British Montfort of that line. Guy left behind two daughters in Italy.

Do you think Henry and Edward found it difficult to blot out the memory of Simon from the social consciousness of the nation?

Most definitely. They had to pass statutes preventing people from going to his shrine at Evesham or even talking about the miracles to be had there. Edward rarely failed in anything he took in hand and within ten years he managed to shut down the cult. To do that, however, he had to put aside his own personal bitterness and reach out to the surviving Montfortians and adopt several of the precedents set by Simon during his rule. But of course there was little he could do about Simon’s impact on the lower rungs of society, about all the songs and tales that continued to flourish into the next century. One wonders what he might have thought of his own son Edward sitting down one night as king and being entertained by a redheaded woman named Alice singing, not about the great Hammer of the Scots, but about Simon de Montfort.

                                                                The memorial to Montfort marks where his remains were interred at Evesham Abbey.

What about Simon's legacy in England?

If most people recognize the name at all, it has something to do with Parliament, even if there is nothing around the houses of Parliament to indicate it. The Victorians erected a statue of Richard the Lionheart there instead, probably for no better reason than they liked his name and he represented the idea of raw British might. There is also the problem of Montfort’s order for the Jews of Leicester to leave just after he was given seisin in 1231. The case itself is very complicated and we can no more expect the people of the Middle Ages to understand our condemnation of religious intolerance than we can understand their use of torture in judicial proceedings. But there will always be that ill-informed politician ready to dip back into the past in order to cast the first stone.

How would you encourage readers to approach your book?

Look at the pictures first, because that’s what I do when I pick up a book. I actually hadn’t thought of any when I first sent the manuscript to the publisher, but they encouraged me to go scouring through several online sources and I’m quite happy with the lot we came up with. I try to make the captions as detailed as possible for that reader who has only time for a quick flip-through in the bookstore. I also had a few run-ins with my editor, who was reasonably keen to follow the rules of grammar, but I wanted to ensure that what I was doing was storytelling and not just telling a story. Because it is a great story first and foremost, and I deliberately chose an introduction that sets the tone for the conflict to come between two of the most fascinating power couples in English history: Simon and Eleanor and Henry and Eleanor.

Thank you for paying a visit to our Lesser Land and giving us the opportunity to learn more about Simon de Montfort and his legacy. Good luck with all your upcoming projects. Hodně štěstí s novou knihou. Já už se těším na čtení.

Darren Baker was born in San Diego, California, but grew up near Charleston, South Carolina. He went into the Navy after high school, serving aboard a submarine during the 1980s. He left to attend the University of Connecticut, where he took his degree in modern and classical languages. A backpacking tour behind the former Iron Curtain led him to where he lives today, in the northeast corner of the Czech Republic, making him a neighbour of mine. He stayed here because he met a young lady, who now accompanies him, along with their two children, on his medieval excursions. He is making plans to write a biography of Henry III because, like Simon, he too deserves a fair hearing from a modern audience.

You can learn more about the book from Darren Baker’s website Simon de Montfort 2014
You can also order the book from Amberley Publishing
Click here to buy the book from

Monday, 16 February 2015

13 February 1177: The Wedding at Palermo

Belated Happy Wedding Anniversary to Henry the Young King's youngest sister Joanna (b.1165) and William II Sicily (b. 1155) who were married with the pomp and ceremony of a royal wedding on 13 February 1177 in Palermo, probably in the beautiful Palatine Chapel comissioned by William's grandfather in Palazzo Reale.

"The city of Palermo was resplendent with the marriage celebrations of the king of Sicily and the king of England's daughter. Archbishops and bishops, counts and barons, clergy and people flocked at once to solemnize the marriage and the crowning of the new queen, and Walter archbishop of Palermo performing the marriage ceremony..." (Ralph of Diceto in Images of History)

          The Plalatine Chapel comissioned by Roger II of Sicily (photo by Urban via Wikipedia)

Joanna was born in October 1165 as the youngest daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124-1204) and Henry II of England (1133-1189). At the time of her birth Eleanor was in her forties, already a mother of seven children (not to count the eldest son William, who died aged three in 1156), two by her first husband Louis VII of France (1120-1180) and five by Henry. Eleanor was to give birth to one more child, a son whom she was to name John (1166-1216). When Joanna turned three there were already plans to marry her off to William of Sicily. The latter came to the throne in 1166 upon his father's death with his mother Marguerite of Navarre (c.1128-1183) acting as regent. Sharing a common Norman ancestry and culture, the Sicilian court maintained close ties with Henry II's realm and the stage for Joanna and William's bethrothal was set as early as 1169. Not only queen regent Marguerite was in favour of the marriage, but also her influential adviser and William's confidant Vice-Chancellor Matteo d'Ajello (d.1193). However, the murder of Thomas Becket in December 1170 brought the marriage negotiations to a halt. It took Joanna's father and the pope some time to reconcile. In the meantime, the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus offered William his daughter as a future wife. Agreement was reached, but much to William's embarrassment the emperor did not keep his side of the bargain and the girl never arrived.

In 1176 William renewed negotiations with Henry II. His envoys - three prominent churchmen and the Justiciar of Sicily accompanied by the Archbishop of Rouen, who was the uncle of queen Marguerite of Navarre  - arrived in London, where on 20 May Henry "with the consent of all the bishops, earls and barons of the kingdom" agreed to give Joanna in marriage for the king of Sicily. About 31 May, so before his delegation including John, Bishop of Norwich; Paris, archdeacon of Rochester; Baldwin Bulot and Richard de Camville, left England for Sicily, the king visited Winchester where Joanna was residing at the time, perhaps to inform her in person about the agreement that had been reached. Telling proof of his fatherly love and concern. On 15 August Henry held a council there to discuss Joanna's marriage in detail.

Joanna left England for Normandy about 8 September, her escort consisting of her uncle Hamelin de Warenne [Henry II's natural brother], Richard, Archbishop of Canterbury; Rotrou, Archbishop of Rouen; Geoffrey, Bishop of Ely; Gilles, Bishop of Evreux; Henry, Bishop of Bayeux; Hugh de Bauchamp, Osbert de Camera, and Geoffrey de la Charre [Eyton, p.206]. On her journey to St Gilles she was accompanied by her brother Henry who led her through domains which were nominally his as far as Poitiers, where he entrusted her to Richard's care. Neither Henry nor Joanna could have known that they were never to see each other again.

At St Gilles she was welcomed by William's delegation. There were 25 galleys awaiting her. Her dowry consisted not only of fine horses and ships, but also of a golden table, 24 golden dining vessels and a silk tent of considerable size, which we know thanks to a description of the gifts her father presented her with upon her daparture and thanks to her brother Richard's list of the items that were to be restored to her by Tancred of Lecce, when the latter seized the throne after William's death. Joanna and her entourage spent Christmas of 1176 at Naples, probably due to her susceptibility to seasickness. 

                                The Palatine Chapel, detail. Thanks to Secret Italy: Italy Lifestyle Blog

When on 2 February 1177, Joanna, accompanied by Gilles, bishop of Evreux and other envoys of her father, entered Palermo by night, William and "the whole city" were waiting at the city gates to welcome her, and "lamps so many and so large, were lighted up, that the city almost seemed to be on fire, and the rays of the stars could in no way bear comparison with the brilliancy of such a light". Joanna "resplendent with regal garments" was mounted on one of the king's horses and escorted to a palace where she was to await her wedding and coronation (Howden p. 413). The girl must have been bedazzled as all members of her retinue, who gave a detailed account of their stay in Sicily upon their return to the Angevin domains. Back in England and in their continental domains her father, her captive mother, her elder brothers must have felt both pride and relief when listening to the story of her warm reception.

When Joanna and William married, she was seven months shy of her twelfth birthday and he was twenty-two, so the same age as her eldest brother Henry. Following the tradition, they were crowned king and queen shortly after they were pronounced man and wife, at the same ceremony, being William's second coronation. On their marriage William issued and executed a charter in Joanna'a favour:

"...we, William, by the favour of the Divine grace, king of Sicily, and of the dukedom of Apulia, and of the principality of Capua, do unite unto ourselves by the laws of matrimony and the bond of wedlock, with the Divine sanction and under happy auspices, the maiden Joanna, of royal blood, and the most illustrious daughter of Henry, the mighty king of the English; to the end, that her fidelity and her chaste affection may produce the blessings of the married state, and that by her a royal offspring may, by the gift of God, hereafter succeed us in the kingdom, which, both by reason of its endowment with all virtues, and of its title by birth, by the divine grace, both may and ought to be raised to the throne of this realm. But, inasmuch as it is befitting our exalted position that so noble and illustrious an alliance should be honored with a becoming dowry, by this present writing we do give, and as a dowry, do grant to the before-named queen, our most dearly beloved wife the county of Mont Saint Angelo,  the city of Siponto and the city of Vesta, with all the rightful tenements and appurtenances thereof." (Hoveden, pp. 414-415)

Joanna received the afore-mentioned lands in demanio, which meant she could keep them as long as she lived, no matter whether she was to reign or not. Those lands were to be of crucial importance in the future, as time was to show. 

God bless Roger of Hoveden for his chronicle, which is not only a treasure chest full of precious little nuggets of information,  but also archive of official documents. Roger was not a member of Joanna's entourage in 1177, but he accompanied Joanna's brother Richard I on his way to the Holy Land in 1190, keeping what can be called the official diary of the Third Crusade. Thanks to him we have a rare opportunity to read a detailed account of what befell Joanna after her husband's death. But let me post about it on 11 November, being the day William passed away in 1189.


Images of History by Ralph of Diceto in The Plantagenet Chronicles ed. by Dr Elizabeth HallamGreenwich Editions, 2002.

The Annals of Roger of Hoveden

Court, Household and Itinerary of King Henry II by Robert William Eyton, 1878. Internet Archive.

Joanna, Queen of Sicily by Dana Cushing

"To have and have not: the Dower of Joanna Plantagenet, Queen of Sicily (1177-1189)" by Colette Bowie in Queenship in the Mediterranean, Negotiating the role of the queen in the Medieval and early modern eras by Elena Woodacre, Google Books

Richard the Lionheart by John Gillingham,Wiedenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.