Tag: Plantagenets

Nuns and Infamous Military Campaign of 1379

There were in the region of 3,300 nuns and 256 convents during the years between 1216 and 1350. Remember the population between 1300 to 1400 was at the beginning of the century circa of 4 million falling to 2 million by the end due to the plague. Women in medieval times were categorised as: maidens, wives, nuns and widows.The status of a maiden or wife will depend on the man who supports her. A young girl will be supported by her father a wife by her husband and nuns, who is considered to be the brides of Christ, supported by the nunnery she belongs to.



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A girl would become a nun in medieval England generally for the reasons it was the family’s wishes and way of gaining an education or she had a true belief and wanted to serve God.

A nun normally took her vows at the age of 16 although those of more noble birth may be younger.Wealthy women often retired to convents and paid nuns for their hospitality. They were however consider a bad influence but the cash struck nunneries were poorly funded and were unable to refuse.

Women were not considered important and nuns were to a man considered no more higher in standing. The story of Sir John Arundel emulates this vividly. Planning to sail to Brittany in the autumn of 1379, Arundel and his men took refuge in the convent when the seas were too rough to set sail . The winds changed and Arundel and his soldiers are relayed for a greater amount of time. This leads to boredom among the young men who then start drinking and teasing the nuns. The nuns as things get worse lock themselves in their rooms where the men then break in and rape the nuns several times. This then leads to looting the nunnery. The soldiers then move on to a church where a wedding is taking place and they then take the bride and each of the soldiers takes it in turns to rape her.

The winds change and they are able to sail they take the newly wed bride and a large number of  nuns on board the ship with them for their continued pleasures. Shortly after they set sail they hit bad seas again and water starts to leak into the ship and is slowly going down due to the excess cargo (the nuns and newly wed bride). The solution was to throw the no longer needed cargo overboard. Around 60 women were thrown over left to drown or eaten by the fish and sea monsters as they would have it in those days.

Nuns Arundel

These events were recorded by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham and although not an everyday occurrence provides evidential support to the value that was put on a woman or a nun’s life.

Further recommended reading if you would like to learn more:

The Chronica Maiora of Thomas Walsingham (1376-1422)

The Marshal – William Marshal

William was one of the most influential men throughout the Plantagenet dynasty. He served under four Plantagenet kings and was born in 1146 circa during in the anarchy years of King Stephen’s reign. William was the son of John Marshal who supported King Stephen but later changed sides to back Empress Matilda in her claim for her son Henry as successor to the throne.

Jousting the perfect training for a knight
Jousting the perfect training for a knight

William was made guardian of Henry the Young King by Eleanor of Aquitaine after she had watched and been impressed with his skills in jousting. He rebelled with Eleanor and Henry the Young King in 1173 against Henry II.

In 1183 following Henry the Young Kings death William went on crusade and on his return in 1185 he served the court of Henry II and the Plantagenet dynasty loyally for many years. He was at Richard I coronation and got his earldom in 1189 through his marriage to Isabella the 17 year old daughter of Richard de Clare. This was arranged by the old king shortly before he died but confirmed by Richard to retain William’s loyalty.

He helped deny John when he revolted whilst Richard was away on crusade but later backed John’s claim in 1199 to the throne over his cousin Arthur. On John’s death in 1216 William became regent to Henry III who was 9 years old when he became King. William took a lot of important decisions during this time and calmed the baron’s unrest and led the English into battle against the French in Lincoln.

Marshal coat of arms
Marshal coat of arms

He died in May 1219 and was buried in Temple church, London. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Temple church the other day and William Marshal Effigy as shown below.

Me with William Marshal effigy at Temple Church, London.
Me with William Marshal effigy at Temple Church, London.

Temple church is well worth a visit. And if you enjoy historical fiction I would recommend books by Elizabeth Chadwick, my favourite historical fiction writer. I have added some links below.

The Scarlet Lion (William Marshal)

The Greatest Knight: The Story of William Marshal

Longshanks – Edward I

Edward was the son of Henry III and became King of England following his father’s death in 1272.

He was tall, over 6ft tall that earned him the nickname Edward Longshanks, and handsome and was known for his devious nature and bravery. He married Eleanor of Castille (another Eleanor) in 1254 and before her death in 1290 she have provided Edward with 16 children which 7 survived. Edward was truly in love with Eleanor and his children something that is covered on day X of my A to Z Challenge.

edward-i A
In 1277 he mounted a campaign into Wales, this a campaign that saw a Welsh rebellion that lasted to 1283. Eventually to satisfy the Welsh, they would only accept terms if the appointed Prince of Wales was someone who did not speak English. Edwards agreed to the Welsh terms to keep them happy, but Edward was smart and devious and appointed his infant son who spoke no English being only a few months old.

edward_I B
Problems arose in Scotland in 1290 when he appointed John Balliol to the Scottish throne. There was widespread opposition from the Scottish believing that Balliol was just a pawn for the English. A number of Scots rebelled led by William Wallace against the English. Edwards’s military skill and bravery led to Wallace and the rebellion being crushed and an example of Wallace was made where he was hung drawn and quartered.

In 1294 a war with France over Gascony broke out and already under financial pressures from the military campaigns in Scotland meant Edward needed to claim funds from parliament where there was strong opposition. Eventually a settlement was agreed with Phillip IV of France in 1299 with the marriage to his sister Margaret in 1299 who bore Edward three further children.

Edward I Tomb at Westminster Abbey
Edward I Tomb at Westminster Abbey

Edward died in 1307 on his way to Scotland. Buried at Westminster Abbey with the words inscribed ‘Here lies Edward I the hammer of the Scots.

Knights Templar

Knights Templar also known as the Poor Knights of Christ was a military monastic order dedicated to the crusades. Formed by nine knights in 1118 to protect pilgrims in the holy land. The order was named after its headquarters known as Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. The headquarters was moved to Acre after Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187.

Kinghts 1

The Templars began to amass riches in the crusader states in East and West Europe. Although the Knights Templar were involved in many disputes primarily with their rivals the Hospitallers that lead to endangering the defences of the Holy Land their bravery was unquestioned.  The siege of Damietta part of the fifth crusade in 1219 won them much admiration where they were heavily outnumbered yet the crusaders managed to take control of the city.

Knights-Templars 2

In 1307 the Templars were tortured by Philip IV of France for heresy and five years later the order was dissolved and the Templars wealth split amongst the Hospitallers. The last grand master, Jaque de Molay was burned to death in 1314.

Recommended reading if you would like to know more about the Knights Templar.

Secrets of the Knights Templar: The Hidden History of the World’s Most Powerful Order

John Lackland – King John of England

John was the youngest son of Henry II was born 1167. Although John gained the nickname Lackland because he received no major fiefs from his father he remained his father’s favourite son. He joined his brother Richard I to conspire against his father. Following his father’s death in 1189 Richard became King. Richard duly bestowed upon John a number of Lordships.

john 1

He married Isabella of Gloucester, who was sixteen years old, in 1189 and divorced her as she failed to produce any children and an heir to throne.

John fell out with Richard following him appointing Arthur the duke of Brittany as the successor to the throne. John whilst Richard was away on the third crusade plotted against him with the assistance of Philip II of France. When Richard was taken prison and held in Germany John tried to prolong his imprisonment and take the throne for himself but was denied by Eleanor and others loyal to Richard. Richard after his release eventually pardoned John and named him as his successor.

John became King in 1189 following Richard’s death and following the divorce remarried Isabella of Angouleme.

Arthur, duke of Brittany and John’s nephew, made claim to the throne and proved a danger and John won a considerable victory at Mirebeau gaining him great respect. Arthur was held prisoner and was treated cruelly and was murdered whilst imprisoned rumoured to be upon John’s orders. This created tensions with his subjects in France and he lost possession of Normandy, Maine, Anjou and others. The overall losses damaged his reputation immensely a trait of John’s.

John had further complication when the archbishop of Canterbury died and the monks elected successor was rejected by John that created great anger with the pope that placed England in interdict in 1208.

Problems arose in Ireland with the Anglo-Norman lords which John managed to temporarily overthrow. However on his return to England there was hostility from the English barons over costly expeditions to France to recovers lands that John had previously lost. John continued to try to raise revenue from the barons who refused and rose up against John eventually getting John to agree to the terms of the Magna Carta in 1215 at Runnymede. This was the  first of a series of concessions by which English monarchs lost powers in raising taxes without the agreement of the barons.

John 2

The Magna Carta however failed to stop John behaviour as he chose simply to ignore it and waged war against the barons. This could have been the end of the Plantagenet reign if it was not for John’s death in 1216. This allowed peace and a quick agreement to install John’s son Henry III under the regent of William Marshal to continue the Plantagenet dynasty.

John 3

If you wold like to know more about King John I would recommend the following book:

King John (The Yale English Monarchs Series)

Isabella ‘the She-wolf’ of France

Isabella was renowned for her beauty, but a woman due to circumstances, was to become hard and cruel and a word of warning to any men reading, the mind of a betrayed woman shown here will make your eyes water as you will find out.

Isabella 2 Isabella 4

Isabella of France was born we believe in the year 1292 and was daughter of Philip IV. She was betrothed to Edward II in the year 1303 when she was 11 years and married to him in 1308 after Edward had taken the throne.

She was praised for her great beauty, however this was something Edward, so historical theorists have concluded, did not appreciate in quite the same way and preferred the male company of his close friend Piers Gaveston who received favoritism over Isabella. Following Gaveston’s death in 1312 the marriage improved for a period of time.

However Edward was known as a despotic and weak King and as with Gaveston where he had been highly influenced Edwards new allies the Despensers had the same influence.

When war broke out with France in 1324 the Despensers persuaded the king that she was a risk to the country’s security so they took control of her estates and reduced her allowances. Isabella visited France in 1325 and it was here Roger Mortimer and her became lovers. Isabella, (I believe anyway) purposely tricked Edward and the Despenser into sending Prince Edward (the future King Edward III) over to France in order sign agreements on behalf of the King. With Prince Edward safe in his mother’s custody Isabella and Roger Mortimer plotted to remove the Despensers and Edward himself if necessary.

In September 1326 she landed in England and within four months Edward II and been deposed and imprisoned and Prince Edward crowned as Edward III of England in January 1327.

Isabella was now a woman who wanted revenge for the years she suffered in marriage to Edward and to a man that came between them after Gaveston’s death. Her delight and enjoyment in watching Hugh Despenser gruesome execution.

Eight days after his capture on the 24th November 1326 he was executed in Hereford. He was dragged through the streets with each limb tied to a different horse where he was pulled and dragged through the streets to the castle. He was then hanged but only until he was nearly dead. All the time Isabella watched on and smiled with great satisfaction. Then lowered and tied to a ladder whilst the executioner climbed up beside him and cut off all his clothing. Hugh hung there stretched out naked. According to one chronicler he was a very well hung man, perhaps this was one of the reasons Edward had grown so fond of him. His great manhood would do him no good now as the executioner grabbed hold of his genitals and, whilst Hugh le Despenser is still living and breathing cuts off his penis and testicles and holds them out for Isabella to enjoy the site of his pain. Still breathing the executioner cuts out his entrails and heart and then decapitates him whilst Isabella looks on laughing and feasting as the crowds cheer. Isabella and Roger Mortimer celebrated into the night. But she was not finished, there was still her husband held captive to deal with. There could be no public execution of a king yet whilst imprisoned who would know what would happen to him.

Hugh Despenser 1

One thing for sure is Edward dies whilst in captivity, or pretty sure if we dismiss that he escaped and wandered the country as hermit. The question is how died, whichever way it was I am going on the theory that Isabella had an influence in what happened.

First theory  (Oblige me if you will with a little poetic licence) : Edward whilst in captivity was treated badly by his gaolers, kept in a cell with the stench of his own excrement and buckets from the latrine emptied over his head for fun. Then one night his cell door was opened and three gaolers walked in, they picked him up and threw him face down on the singular table in the cell and pulled off his trousers. It was then that Edward first felt the heat and then saw the red glowing end of the heated poker. Two of the men pulled Edwards legs wide apart as the other pushed the poker up his rectum. It is said that all those in neighboring cells had never heard such screams of pain.


Well that’s one theory but not very likely. In fact I seemed to recollect that this story never materialized until many centuries later. What I think is the most likely is he was left to starve, leaving no incrimination on the Queen or Roger Mortimer.



Henry II

Henry II was the first king of the Plantagenet dynasty that ruled England from 1154. He was born 5 March 1133 to the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet and the Empress Matilda. In 1153 Stephen who was king of England acknowledge Henry as his successor to the throne following years of war known as The Anarchy by Matilda. Matilda was the daughter of Henry I and this was her claim to throne. The following year Stephen died and Henry became King of England.

Henry_II coronation

Henry’s empire was expanding that now included Aquitaine following his marriage to Eleanor in 1152. Eleanor bore Henry five sons, two of which would go on to become Kings, Richard and John.

Henry gained great respect for his military knowledge and his advanced government administration along with his close friend and Chancellor Thomas Becket at the time of his early reign. Thomas became Archbishop of Canterbury with Henry’s blessing initially. However after a falling out with the church, Becket excommunicated Henry’s loyal supporters. Henry in Normandy at the time enraged by Becket’s action and four knights took it upon themselves, believing this to be Henry’s wishes, to go to Canterbury and kill Becket.

Henry did penance for his old friends death he wore a sack cloth and walked bare foot through Canterbury to the cathedral where he was flogged by monks.

Henry II penance

In 1173 Henry’s three eldest sons, Henry the Young King, Richard and Geoffrey and his wife Eleanor rebelled. The main reason for the rebellion was due to Henry’s will and the divisions of land. Henry saw off the rebellion that led to Eleanor being put under house arrest for the rest of Henry’s life.

The son continued the disputes until, Henry the Young King died of a fever in 1183, Geoffrey died in 1186 whilst conspiring against Henry with Phillip II of France.

Richard and Phillip attacked Henry in 1189 imposing humiliation after seizing the city of Tours. The final blow was that John had now sided with Richard.

Henry retired to Chinon where he died on 6 June 1189, he was buried in the Plantagenet mausoleum at the abbey of Fontevrault.

Tombs of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine in Fontevraud Abbey
Tombs of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine in Fontevraud Abbey


Today I wanted to look at one of the forms of entertainment the aristocracy used to engage in. Falconry was a very popular pastime and status symbol amongst medieval aristocracy for both men and women.  It was often referred to as the sport for Kings as peasants could not afford to keep or train the birds. The Plantagenet’s and many women, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, took great joy and pride in the sport. Depending on your ranking within society you would be permitted a different bird as listed below:

  • King and Queen: Gyrfalcon (male & female)
  • Prince: Female Peregrine
  • Duke: Rock Falcon (subspecies of the Peregrine)
  • Earl: Peregrine
  • Baron: Male peregrine
  • Knight: Saker
  • Squire: Lanner Falcon
  • Lady: Female Merlin
  • Yeoman: Goshawk or Hobby
  • Priest: Female Sparrowhawk
  • Holywater clerk: Male Sparrowhawk
  • Knaves, Servants, Children: Old World Kestrel
    Gyrfalcon 1

    In the middle ages falconry was used as an entertainment to show off the skills of the birds rather than for the purpose of hunting for food.


Battle of Evesham

The battle of Evesham, Worcestershire took place on 4th August 1265 and was between the rebels led by Simon de Montfort and those troops loyal to the King.

Henry III and his son the then Prince Edward were held prisoner by rebels. Prince Edward managed to escape after tricking his guards, he rallied troops to attack the rebels. De Montfords support was starting to diminish following failed attempts at parliament to reach a long term solution.

Death_of_de_Montfort Evesham

The terrain favoured Edwards men on the high ground and they far outnumbered De Montforts by at least two to one. De Montfort, having been in battle with the odds against before and winning decided to attacked immediately leading his men into what would be a slaughtered. Edward had selected men to make sure they found and killed the rebel leader. Finally tracked down where he was surrounded and slain by the group with the final death blow coming from Roger de Mortimer. Simon de Montforts body was mutilated with his testicles cut off and hung over his nose. His body then dismembered with his head and arms sent to lords throughout the country as a warning never to cross the king and his hand sent to his wife Eleanor the King’s sister.

The king Henry was wounded but escaped any serious injury.

To find out more about The Second Barons’ War: Simon De Montfort and the Battles of Lewes and Evesham click here

Simon de Montfort

Today and tomorrow is dedicated to Simon de Montfort. Today is about how powerful and influential he became and tomorrow see’s his gruesome downfall at the Battle of Evesham. D for de Montford and E for Evesham. I think I can get away with that.

Simon de Montfort was born in Normandy in or around 1208 and came to England in 1229 to claim the earldom of Leicester that was linked through his mother. He became a close of friend of the Young King Henry III and this lead to the marriage to the King’s sister Eleanor in 1238. He finally gained his title of the 6th earl of Leicester the following year.

Simon de Montfort

In 1240 he went on crusade and returned two years later and supported Henry in campaigns in Gascon against Louis IX of France. He then became Governor of Gascony taking full control of Gascony region where he crushed the feuding barons. This caused friction in the area and following the King receiving relentless complaints from the Gascon barons Simon resigned as Governor. Relationship after were strained from then on between Simon and Henry.

Simon in 1258 led the barons seeking reforms on the king and helped draw up the Provision of Oxford that were an extension to and more empowering documents than the previous Magna Carta. The Provision put restriction on Henry, as King of England, and introduced a new form of government. Henry after agreeing the Provisions violated the terms of the agreement that led to the barons declaring war against the King. Simon led the barons in their revolt.

On the 14 May 1264 Simon and the barons were victors at the Battle of Lewes capturing the King and his son Prince Edward, who was to become Edward I in future years. A government was formed, ‘Mise of Lewes’, where Henry was forced to sign removing his powers and Simon de Montfort became ruler of England.

At this point things were looking good for Simon but how long can it last. Find out tomorrow with the Battle of Evesham blog.


To find out more about The Second Barons’ War: Simon De Montfort and the Battles of Lewes and Evesham click here