Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What's Happening at WOH

Things have been a bit quiet here at the "Women of History" Blog.

I posted a new article on "Concubinage", but for some reason, and it might be just me only, it doesn't seem to be appearing.

The article on "Handfasting" relates to medieval marriage customs, for those interested in the social aspects of medieval history.

The article on "Anglo-Saxon Dooms" refers to medieval laws pertaining to women.

I have also added a few "notorious notables" to the collection of biographies of medieval women.

Hope to update further.

~~~ Mel

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Commonly refers to a relationship between a man (usually of higher social status) and a woman, where the man has an “official” wife, and possibly more than one concubine. Concubines had limited rights though any children are acknowledged, though their status is second to that of children born unto the “official” wife. Concubinage was usually an “exclusive” arrangement between two parties.

With the tolerance of polygamy, a concubine was only defined in terms of her disparity in position or rank with the principal wife.

A legitimate spouse, of an inferior social grade or a bondwoman, is often given the appellation of concubine. This term did not invalidate her marriage, it did, however, indicate that she was not equal to her husband in rank, nor did she share in her husband’s property or in the administration of his household.

From Genesis 21:9-14, we see that the dismissal of a concubine and of her children was permissible.

Ancient Greece:
Concubines were permitted in ancient Greece and their children were legitimate if recognized by their fathers.

Roman Empire:
A concubine was recognized by law in the absence of a legal wife. She was usually from a lower social rank than her husband, and her children, though not considered the equals of those of the legal wife (uxor) were nevertheless termed natural (naturales) to distinguish them from spurious offsprings (spurii). The father of these children was required to maintain them, as he would his legitimate offspring, and to provide for them upon his death - in the absence of legitimate children, this amounted to one-sixth of his property. Legitimate concubinage under Roman Law did not require the intention of the two parties to remain together until the death as man and wife.

The “Lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus” and the “Papia Poppæa” both allowed for temporary and permanent concubinage. The “Lex Julia” stipulated that only women of low rank should be chosen as concubines, and any children would be considered illegitimate unless their parents later married. Permanent concubinage, though not recognized by the civil law, was viewed as a real marriage, as it involved the intention and consent of both parties to form a lifelong union. This the Church allowed. However, the “Lex Julia” was condemned as immoral by the early Christian Church.

The Council of Toledo (398 - 400) pronounced a sentence of excommunication against any person who in addition to having a legal a wife also kept a concubine. It stated that: “…. if a man has no wife, but a concubine instead of a wife, let him not be refused communion; only let him be content to be united with one woman whether wife or concubine".

With the fall of the Roman Empire (410), the institution of legitimate concubinage fell into disuse and concubinage came more and more to have only the modern significance, that of a permanent illicit union, and as such was variously proceeded against by the Church.

Roman Britain:
A concubine was defined as a woman who had regular “activities” (one may assume of a sexual nature) with a man, and lived in a state of cohabitation. Children born of this union were considered illegitimate. However, the state of concubinage often came about as a result of a lack of dowry - a father would then give his daughter as a concubine.

Secular law took into account concubinage of both married and unmarried men, for example, listing concubines among the people—including their wives—whom men could punish physically and detailing what kinds of gifts concubines could receive.

As late as the mid 11th Century, Roman Councils (1052 & 1063), those who had both a wife and a concubine at the same time” were forbidden communion - this implies a sort of tolerance.

In Germany, "left-handed" or "morganatic" marriages were allowed by the Salic law between nobles and women of lower rank. In different states of Spain the laws of the later middle ages also recognized concubinage.

In the East, however, Byzantine Emperor Leo (d. 911) insisted that only a formal marriage had legal status; whilst in the Western Empire, concubinage was still recognized even by the Christian Emperors.

In Iceland, a concubine was recognized in addition to the lawful wife, though it was forbidden for either to dwell in the same house - therefore sepearet households needed to be established.

The Norwegian law of the later Middle Ages provided in the absence of legitimate sons, the kingdom should descend to illegitimates.

In the Danish code of Valdemar II. (enforced from 1280 to 1683), stated that a concubine kept openly for three years shall thereafter become a legal wife - this was the custom of hand vesten or "handfasting".

In Scotland, the laws of William the Lion (d. 1214) speak of concubinage as a recognized institution; and, in the same century, the great English legist Bracton treats the "concubina legitima" as entitled to certain rights.

It became an established pattern for a man of higher status to maintain a low status woman as a concubine - this could also include servants. In the case of the aristocracy, some high status women became the concubines of the nobility or royalty. In this instance, where marriages were usually arranged for political or social reasons, the concubine could provide an emotionally satisfying relationship. For unmarried or widowed men, this type of arrangement could given the semblance of a “normal” family life - even more so if children were the result of the union.

Concubinage was also used as a means of social advancement. High status men flaunted their wealth and power through richly attired concubines, who were maintained with their own household. Low status women (and their families) were attracted by the prospect of an alliance with wealthy and powerful men. In these circumstances, children were traditionally provided for (education, dowry, and marriage). For high status men, the arrangement of marriages of former concubines and illegitimate children was seen as a means of maintaining a social network.

In 14th Century Italy some patrons and concubines (now identified by the term “femina”) defined their obligations in written contracts. In the late 14th Century, however, a small number of cities (including Cremona and Würzburg) began to make concubinage a crime.

By the late 15th Century, long-term concubinage began to wane as both the Church and State invested in the institution of “legitimate” marriage with an emphasis on increased social and moral obligations and responsibilities. More and more cities began to make concubinage a crime, with adulterous relationships receiving harsher punishments.

The Fifth Lateran Council (1514) and The Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) renewed the old ecclesiastical penalties against concubinage, and they added new ones. These forbade and rendered null and void any and all clandestine unions, and thus removed forever the appearance of legitimate concubinage.

At the same time, in France (1516), there was a substantial increase in the legal disabilities of concubines and their children, who were considered illegitimate and had limited inheritance and other rights.

However, in Islam, concubinage was alive and well, and was critical to the success of the Ottoman Harem. From the mid to late Middle Ages, concubinage was normal and unremarkable. It is interesting to note that many of the Ottoman Sultans themselves were almost invariably the children of slave concubines. For the average Muslim man, there was no limit on the number of concubines he could possess. It was however, forbidden under Law for a Muslim man to marry his concubine - and yet, one of the most charismatic of Muslim Sultans, Suleyman the Magnificent, did just that, and agains breaking with Muslim traidtion, he maintained a monogamous marriage.

“In its strict sense it is used of those unions only in which the man and the woman are free from any obligation arising from a vow, the state of matrimony or Holy Orders, or the fact of relationship or affinity; it is immaterial whether the parties dwell together or not, the repetition or continuance of illicit relations between the same persons being the essential element”. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

In Japan (1860s), the Meiji Civil Code legally adopted monogamy. During this period, when respectable men and women were not permitted to engage socially, men turned to concubines for entertainment and sexual pleasures (Geishas). Again, a concubine was regarded as a status symbol - it meant wealth, power and authority. Women, especially low status women, had very few rights, and it was not uncommon for a poor family to sell their daughter into concubinage in order to provide for the whole family.

Servile or Involuntary Concubinage:
Custom in which a young woman or girl is “transferred” by inheritance (through the death of a male) or purchased (when the female is sold, often by her family). It is an involuntary state that in some cases involves the sexual slavery of one party, usually the female.

Nepal - traditionally, young girls were offered by serfs as servile concubines to their feudal overlords.

Ethiopia - a man would assault / defile a young girl against her will then go to her family demanding her as a wife - family or girl could not refuse as unlikely she would marry.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dictum of Kenilworth

The Dictum of Kenilworth was a set of terms offered by King Henry III of England to the supporters of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, to end their rebellion.

Background – the Second Barons War:
The Second Barons’ War was a civil war (1264 – 1267) led by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester against the royalist forces of King Henry III of England and his son Prince Edward (later King Edward I).

The main cause of the civil war was dissatisfaction with Henry III’s government and fiscal mismanagement. Henry’s foreign policies (war with Sicily) were also a source of contention.

Henry III was forced to agree to the Provisions of Oxford (1258) which effectively curtailed royal power and gave that power to the Parliament. Henry III obtained a Papal Bull (1261) which then “annulled” the Provisions of Oxford, and resulted in the Second Barons’ War.

The Second Barons’ War:
For the first few years, de Montfort was ascendent (1263 – 1264), winning battles and capturing a defeated King Henry III (1264). Henry was now merely a figurehead – however, de Montfort’s reforms began to cause dissention amongst his own followers who felt that he had gone too far.

Simon de Montfort began to suffer a series of reversals following the escape from captivity of Prince Edward. At the battle of Evesham (4/8/1265), de Montfort was defeated and killed. Henry III regained his lost authority.

The Terms of Surrender:
A few loyal supporters of de Montfort fled to Kenilworth Castle where the forces of Prince Edward set about laying siege (May 1266). It was considered one of the largest sieges over to have been undertaken on English soil – Kenilworth housed over 1000 of de Montfort’s supporters.

The terms were offered to those who still held out against the King, in Kenilworth Castle (October 1266). They were initially rejected – those supporters of de Montfort who held out against the King had their lands and titles confiscated. However, failing provisions and sickness proved to be a motivating force in the acceptance of the Dictum of Kenilworth. The terms were accepted by Henry de Hastings, garrison leader, on behalf of those who held out, and safe conduct was issued (14/12/1266).

After some slight modification to the original terms of the Dictum of Kenilworth, peace was concluded the following year (1267).

The Dictum of Kenilworth states:
*** That the liberties of the Church shall be preserved, and also the great charters, which the king is bound by his oath to keep (drawn up by an assembly of clergy at Coventry).
*** It declares that there shall be no disherison (disinheriting or debarring from inheritance), but instead, fines from seven to half a year's rent.

The modification sought by the supporters of de Montfort was:
*** The right to buy back confiscated estates.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 27/3/2007)

Provisions of Oxford

This document was regarded as England’s first Constitution. It was written in Latin, French, as well as Middle-English.

The government of England was firmly in the hands of a King considered ill-suited to reigning. Henry III had ascended the throne as a minor who was governed by a Regency Council until he came of age. His rule was one of fiscal mismanagement and ill-conceived military enterprises. His court was filled with “foreigners” whose influence over the King was to the detriment of the Kingdom.

Meeting at Oxford:
A group of notable Barons, led by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, met at Oxford to discuss government reform (June 1258). At the conclusion of the meeting they put forth a document that would essentially removed power from the King and in its stead, place that power in the hands of a Council of 15. In effect, the Provisions of Oxford would be removing the concept of “absolute monarchy” – the King would be merely a figurehead for Parliament.

Objective of the Provisions:
The Council would consist of - seven earls, five barons, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Worcester and one royal clerk. This Council was not to be chosen by the King – this ole would be undertaken by the Earl Marshal, Hugh Bigod, John Mansel and the Earl of Warwick.

The Council was responsible for the supervision of government appointments, administration on a local level, taxation, and custodianship of all royal castles.

Parliament was to meet every three years and would be responsible for monitoring the Council. In addition, Sheriffs were to be elected for one year only and received a wage for their services; and finally Henry’s “foreigners” would be dispossessed of their lands and banished from English soil.

At the time, King Henry III was forced to accept the agreement as he needed funds and was forced to plead his cause before the Parliament. In exchange for his acceptance of the Provisions of Oxford, King Henry III received the revenues he required.

The Provisions of Oxford would be replaced the following year by the Provisions of Westminster (1259). Three years later, and with papal sanction, Henry III overthrew the Provisions (1262) and sowed the seeds for the Second Barons’ War (1263 – 1267).

The Provisions were annulled for the final time by the Dictum of Kenilworth (1264). However, the legal clauses contained within the Provisions of Westminster were reaffirmed in the Statute of Marlborough (1267).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition (2001-05)
Britannia Concise Encyclopedia
History of the Office of Sheriff
The Project Gutenberg “E-Book of The History of England” by T.F. Tout

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 25/3/2007)

Anglo Saxon Britain

every man must have a lord

So says a Law of Alfred the Great. And despite most men at the time considering themselves to be free-men, Alfred's Law stated that a man must have someone to whom he can give service or perform duties, and to whom he was responsible to for his behavour.

Upper Class:
These were called"thegns" (thane, noble, aristocrat) and were the prime landowners and local leaders. The thegn lived in a village or burgh (dwelling) surrounded by his family, servants and men-at-arms. His residence was a round, thatched barn-like Hall, grouped together with smaller buildings (bowers, stores, kitchen, church).

Thegns owned land equivalent to at least five hides (120 acres). All large grants of land were called bocland as the details were written down in a boc (book).

The thegns travelled with the King - they were bound to serve the King during times of war. The thegns were supported by the labours of their serfs and farmers. These villagers lived in huts nearby with their grazing lands beong the village.

The greatest of the thegns were the earldormen or earls who ruled the largest tracts of land. These men paid rent for their lands, and were entitled to attend the moot (meeting-place).

Middle Class:
Next came the freemen - he too paid rent for his alnd and attended the moot, although as time passed, his independence was to be greatly reduced. The freeman would later become known as a churl. The freeman held a small farmland which provided for the needs of the thegn.

Lower Class:
Lower than the churl was the gebur - a peasant or villein (agriculatural worker, farmer). He held land equivalent to approximately 30 acres, in return for which he owed his thegn two to three days' work per week, and various gifts.

The cottager had even less land and also gave service in lieu of paying rent. Labourers were free although they held no land and worked for pay.

Serfs - these were the lowest of all. They were also known as thralls or bondsmen. They held no land and were treated no better than slaves. These were the poorest - often a man would sell himself and his family into serfdom in return for food, shelter and work; a freeman who had lost everything (land, crops) might also become a serf; whilst a man whose father was a serf was also a serf. It was considered a most pious act to free a serf - and this could be done on the deathbed or through a will.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 27/07/2006)


Late Anglo-Saxon Period:
This custom involved the tying or binding of the (right) hands of the bride and groom with a cord. Usually, this take places only for the duration of the wedding ceremony, however, it may also last until consummation.

Typically, if the left hands were bound together, it usually meant that the woman was the mistress. In this instance, she herself would have no claim to name, property or inheritance - however, her children would be considered as legal heirs, though second to any “legitimate” offspring.

This form of handfasting was prevalent among the Germanic peoples. It was often referred to as concubinage. Today we would consider this as a “de facto” marriage or cohabitation.

It is also referred to as “more danico” or the Danish custom. This form marriage (Danish Custom) was prevalent in northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia, Northern France and England. You could say it was the custom of the Viking peoples.

For instance:
In Normandy, you have the “marriage” of Gunnor de Crepon and Richard I, 3rd Duke of Normandy. Gunnor was Richard’s “handfast” wife although he sought a canonical (church) marriage with Emma, daughter of Hugh Capet, Regent of France, as part of a political alliance. The “church” marriage would produce no heirs - all Richard’s heirs to Normandy would be through Gunnor - including the father of William the Conqueror.

In England and Denmark: here we have Canute and Aelfgifu of Northampton. She is referred as Canute’s “handfast” wife. When seeking to strengthen his position in England, Canute sought a canonical (church) marriage with Emma of Normandy. However, the sons of both Emma and Aelfgifu succeeded in England and Denmark - though there was a fierce rivalry for both thrones.

Harold II, King of England (d.1066) married (1040s) Edith Swan-neck (mother of his children) not in a church but according to the “Danish Custom”. Harold also sought a wife - this marriage would be for politics alone and as such, he married the widowed Ealdgyth of Mercia (c.1064), sister of Edwin and Morcar, two northern (and rebellious) Earls.

Medieval Period:
In Scotland, the custom was referred to as “marriage by habit and repute”. The couple lived together as if married (cohabitation, de facto) and this was how they presented themselves in society. Many times there were no “witnesses” to the exchange of consent, so it became important, especially where heirs were involved, to have this form of marriage recognized by the court system.

As time progressed, so did the development of the marriage custom. “Handfasting” became a form of betrothal whereby before witnesses, consent to a marriage was agreed. It was at this stage that dower gifts and “morning gifts” were agreed upon by both parties.

Now, if a couple were “handfasted” and then consummated their betrothal, they were considered married. Handfasting was an agreement to marry - it was not, at this point in time, considered an actual marriage ceremony - that would occur later. If no consummation took place, then no marriage was considered to have taken place. In this instance, one or both parties could later, in need be, “cancel” the betrothal. And again, once the consent was given in the “handfasting ceremony” and the couple undertook a “church” ceremony, then the marriage was considered legally binding.

From the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, the custom of “handfasting” was on the decline.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Joan of Arc

St. Joan of Arc (c.1412 - 1431)
"Maid of Orleans"

Joan was the daughter of prosperous peasants. From a young age (13yo), Joan claimed to hear the voices of Sts. Michael, Catherine and Margaret, who insisted she help French forces besieging English at Orleans (1429).

Upon convincing the local military commander, Robert Baudricourt, Joan was received at the French Court. Here, Joan gained the support of the most powerful woman at court - Yolande de Aragon, Countess of Anjou - and mother-in-law of King Charles VI of France. It was through the patronage of Yolande that Joan met with the Charles at Chinon (March 1429).

For Charles, Joan held the key to his need - that was to be crowned King of France at Rheims. Being a superstitious man, Joan provided the impetus - and she would prove to be an apt figurehead for the French army. Bouyed by her initial success, Joan led the French to a victory at Orleans - and Charles received his much wanted coronation at Rheims.

Joan continued to fight in later battles, however, the intial enthusiasm for her began to wane. She was wounded and defeated in Paris. Captured by Burgundians (1430) and sold to English. It is interesting to note that Charles could have ransomed Joan but did not.

Joan was tried as witch and heretic. The trial was engineered by the English under Bedford in an attempt to retain what little control they held in France at the time - and in order to justify the crowning of 10yo Henry VI as King of France (1431). The trial was purely for political show. Joan was burnt at the stake at Rouen (May 1431).

An ecclesiastical court reversed guilty verdict (1455) and she was canonized (1920).

There is an interesting article by Norman Boutin regarding Joan's ultimate fate at the stake.

Further Reading:

Anglo Saxon Dooms

Anglo-Saxon Dooms (Laws) - Pertaining to Women

I thought I might post a few Anglo-Saxon Laws or Dooms that pertain to women. It will be followed by a brief Glossary of Terms.

The Laws of Æthelberht, King of Kent, 560-616 A.D.
10. If a man lie with the king's maiden, let him pay a bot of fifty shillings.
11. If she be a grinding slave, let him pay a bot of twenty-five shillings. The third (class) twelve shillings.
14. If a man lie with an eorl's birele, let him make bot with twelve shillings.
16. If a man lie with a ceorl's birele, let him make bot with six shillings; with a slave of the second (class), fifty scaetts; with one of the third, thirty scaetts.
31. If a freeman lie with a freeman's wife, let him pay for it with his wergeld, and provide another wife with his own money, and bring her to the other.
77. If a man buy a maiden with cattle, let the bargain stand, if it be without guile; but if there be guile, let him bring her home again, and let his property be restored to him.
78. If she bear a live child, let her have half the property; if the husband die first.
79. If she wish to go away with her children, let her have half the property.
80. If the husband wish to have them, (let her portion be) as one child.
81. If she bear no child, let her paternal kindred have the fioh and the morgengyftt.
82. If a man carry off a maiden by force, let him pay fifty shillings to the owner, and afterwards buy (the object of) his will of the owner.
83. If she be betrothed to another in money, let him make bot with twenty shillings.
84. If she become gaengang, thirty-five shillings; and fifteen shillings to the king.
85. If a man lie with an esne's wife, her husband still living, let him make two-fold bot.

Laws of King Alfred 871 - 901AD
Of fornication with a nun
8. If any one carry off a nun from a minster, without the king's or the bishop's leave, let him pay a hundred and twenty shillings, half to the king, half to the bishop and to the church-hlaford who owns the nun. If she live longer than he who carried her off, let her not have aught of his property. If she bear a child, let not that have of the property more than the mother. If any one slay her child, let him pay to the king the maternal kindred's share; to the paternal kindred let their share be given. . . .

The Laws of King Edmund I, 939-946 A.D.
Of nun's fornication and of adultery.

4. He who commits fornication with a nun, let him not be worthy of a consecrated burial place (unless he make bot), any more than a manslayer. We have ordained the same respecting adultery.

bot = remedy, compensation
eorl = earl, nobleman
ceorl = churl, peasant
scaetts = money, payment
fioh = fee, money
morgengyftt = morning gift, gift from husband to wife on the morning after marriage
esne = serf, labourer, working class
gaengang = pregnant (return)
birele = cupbearer, steward

minster = monastery

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


One of the most frustrating problems associated with the compilation of medieval biographies, or biographies in general, is the abundance and variations of names.

Take for example:

  • Adelaide - also referred as: Adelheid, Adela, Adlais, Adelaise, Adeliza, Alice, Alys, Alix.
  • Blanche - Blanca
  • Hugh - Hugues
  • Constance - Constantia
  • Beatrice - Beatrix
  • James - Jacques, Jaoa
  • Henry - Henri, Enrique, Heindrich, Heindrick
Take into account all variations of the name depending on which country your source comes from, and I think you get my meaning.

Then, add to that the confusion over place names. Take for example Adelaide of Poitou - also known as Adelaide of Aquitaine (and all versions of her first name as listed above). Also, consider Alice Capet - aka: Alice of France (and again, numerous versions of her first name).

So, before you sit down and think you have a dozen different people whose lives all mirror each other, with a little more probing you may actually turn out to have just the one. Research and cross-referencing is essential.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Internet Plagerism

This topic has been the bane of my existance for the last few years. I have been akin to a dog with a bone - it's something I just can't let go.

Why you might ask. Well, because I have been a "victim".

When I first put together my website, "Women of History" back in 1998, I little realised that it would be copied - maybe I should say "cut and paste" - without permission and without discrimination, and posted just about everywhere.

I didn't mind when visitors to the website came for research, and asked permission to use my information, with the relevant accredition. There was little to no information on the web regarding the majority of biographies that I researched and then posted. So, I was quite happy to promote historical women that weren't as famous as some of their counterparts.

However, I first became aware that my website had been "copied" with the emergence of the "w....pedia" phenonenom (c.2001) when doing a search. Yes, when I first put my biographies out on the web in 1998 there was no such thing called a "w....pedia". As you know, this and its ilk, are an encyclopedia that is built upon "user" contributions. Simply put - websites are systematically data-mined and reproduced, without credit.

I also found quite a bit of my work (researched and written by me) reproduced on forums and other websites - again, without permission and without credit; and when sent a "please explain" email - no response.

So, how could I prove that these were MY works and that I wasn't the guilty one? Well, I have all my original notes - so what you might say. I have numerous copies on discs - again, so what.

But just today I came across the most amazing thing - Internet Archive. Guess what - every single page ever posted on the Internet has been archived from 1996.

Well, "Women of History" has been around since 1998 - and every page that I ever created has been archived! Mind you, some of the graphics are missing, but all my textual work (as each page was revised and updated) is there, right up until each page's very last update (2006, I believe).

So, now I have the proof - right in front of me. What can be done - nothing much unfortunately. But now I can log every single page with the date that it was archived as proof - it's going to be a long night!

But, I can hear you say, I have posted my works here on the Blog. That's okay - some of the biographies are old versions, and others are articles that are there for general use (all dated and documented from my end).

Author beware .......

Thursday, June 7, 2007

William March

William March (de Marisco)

Son of the Justiciar of Ireland, Geoffrey de Marisco (d.1245).

William married the Matilda, niece Henry of London, Archbishop of Dublin (issue from marriage).

Lundy Island had been in the possession of the de Mariscos since the reign of King Stephen of England. King Henry II attempted to take possession of Lundy (1155) in order to give it to the Knights Templar. It is known that the de Mariscos were fined (c.1195) for retaining the Island of Lundy against the wishes of King Henry and against the rights of the Knights Templar.

Already at this stage, the family maintained Lundy as a base from which to control shipping in the Bristol Channel. However, the Island soon became a base for pirates and other criminal types. The de Mariscos built a strong castle, with nine-foot (2.74 m) thick walls that safeguarded both the family and their 'subjects' for seventeen years. The coastline was also fortified and defended.

William de Marisco obtained a post at the court of King Henry III. However, William was implicated in the murder of Henry Clement, King's Messenger and Envoy of Maurice FitzGerland, Justiciar of Ireland (1135). William was accused of slitting Clement's throat. William fled to the safety of Lundy where, despite being outlawed, he was relatively safe from arrest.

William joined the rest of the de Marisco family in a plot to assassinate King Henry III (1138). Henry III had seized de Marisco lands in Somerset - the de Mariscos retaliated.

But by now Henry III had had enough. William ruled Lundy like a King; he kidnapped and ransomed merchants; and embarked upon all acts of piracy. Henry III sent a force of hand-picked men to Lundy. This small Royal force concluded a successful assault upon the Island (1242). Eventually William and sixteen of his close followers were captured - alive.

William was tried, and hanged, drawn and quartered. Lundy Island was removed from the possession of the de Marisco family.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 2/3/2007)

Thomas Blood

Thomas Blood (c.1618 - 1680)
Irish Colonel and adventurer.

Thomas lost his estates during the Restoration (1660). He attacked Dublin Castle (1663); and later he brazenly stole the English Crown Jewels from the Tower of London (1671) - reputedly the only person to have successfuly done so. Despite getting away with the loot, he was quickly captured.

Rather than recieving the harsh treatment one would expect, Thomas found himself greatly favoured by King Charles II of England (aka: "the Merry Monarch"), who pardoned him and restored his estates.

See the following articles:
Thomas Blood - And the Theft of the Crown Jewels
Clare People - Thomas Blood
Thomas Blood - Wikipedia
The Newgate Calendar

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 2/6/2006)

Roussell of Bailleul

Roussell of Bailleul
Norman Adventurer

Roussel led a group of (exiled?) raffish Normans into Byzantium. He was employed by Emperor Romanus Diogenes as a Lieutenant.

Anna Comnena in her book "The Alexiad" describes Roussel (or Ursel as she refers to him) as thus:

"Now this man was a Frank by birth who had been enrolled in the Roman Army, reached a high pitch of prosperity, and after gathering a band, or rather quite a considerable army, of men from his own country, and also of other races, he immediately became a formidable tyrant. For when the hegemony of the Romans had received several checks, and [8] the luck of the Turks was in the ascendancy, and the Romans had been driven back like dust shaken from their feet, at that moment this man too attacked the Empire. Apart from his tyrannical nature, what more especially incited him to openly establishing his tyranny just then was the depressed state of the imperial affairs, and he laid waste nearly all the Eastern provinces. "

His military record was not unblemished – at Mantizekt (1071) when he saw that the Greek’s position hopeless, he refused to send own men into battle. He rebelled against Isaac Comnenus and began his own conquest of Galatia. Isaac was defeated by the Seljuk Turks.

Roussel charmed his way back into Imperial favour. Roussel was sent by Emperor Michael VII Dukas to lead mixed force of Normans and Frankish cavalry against the Turks in Anatolia. Once deep into enemy territory, he again betrayed his trust and with his 3000 loyal followers, Roussel set up a self-declared independent Norman state along southern Italian lines. He managed to capture Caesar John Dukas, uncle of the reigning Emperor Michael and proclaimed John Dukas Emperor (1073).

Emperor Michael allied himself to the Seljuk Turks and persuaded them to eliminate Roussel's state in return for the territory (1074). Roussel himself managed to escape and General Alexius Comnenus (later Byzantime Emperor Alexius I Comnenus) was sent to hunt him down. At Amasea – Roussel set up himself as Governor and so endeared himself to local population that they only agreed to his removal on being told, untruthfully by Alexius, that they would be blinded.

A period of imprisonment at Constantinople followed. When army of Nicephorus Botaneiates marched on capital (1077), Roussel was released by Emperor Michael who gave him one last chance. Invested with new regiment and inflicting a crushing defeat on rebels – Roussel turned traitor for third time and declared for usurper.

On the journey from Amasea to Constantinople, Alexius Comnenus had fallen victim to his fascination. When starving in prison, Alexius had secretly brought Roussel food. During his confinement, Roussel most probably often spoke to Alexius of Robert Guiscard in whose army he had formerly served.

Roussel was intelligent, cunning, and not without military skill.

His fate remains unknown - it is presumed that having turned traitor yet again, he was imprisoned, tortured and executed.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 17/9/2006)

Notes on Articles

From time to time you may notice that I have published articles or items that are not biographies of medieval women.

Politics has always been an interest of mine, and as such, I have developed a fascination with medieval politics. Afterall, a knowledge of what is happening in the political spectrum of medieval society is just as important as documenting the lives of some of the women who lived in these times.

My interests in medieval history are extremely ecclectic and are not solely focused on the lives of history's women - some of the men-folk have led some rather interesting lives. I may decide to add a few of the most "interesting" (insert infamous) ones. So in the spirit of equality, I have included some "notorious notables" - afterall, everyone loves a good villain!!!.

~~~ Melisende

Lords Appellant

Lords Appellant

The "Lords Appellant" were five nobles who appealled (accused) certain favourites and/or friends (including Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk) of King Richard II of England of treason (November 1387).

They were: Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester; Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel; Thomas de beauchamp, Earl of Warwick; Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby (later Henry IV); and Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham.

They opposed the King's policy of peace with France; accused the Archbishop of York, his friends and associates of treason, and had them impeached (1388) - four, including the former Chief Justice, were executed.

Richard bided his time, gradually restoring authority until able to arrest surviving Lords and accuse them of treason (1397).

A. Tuck, "Richard II and the English Nobility" (1974).

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 30/5/2006)

Lords Ordainer

Lords Ordainer

Simply, a Baronial Committee of 21 Lords who governed England via a series of Ordinances (decrees) during a period in the reign of King Edward II of England (1311 – 1312). The Lords sought to restrict the King’s power with regards to appointments and prerogatives (privileges), and to regulate his household. The war with Scotland proved to be a failure both financially and militarily. The huge debts incurred by the Crown and the loss to Bruce at Bannockburn (1314) increased Edward’s unpopularity.

The Lords Ordainer came into being during the reign of King Edward II of England (r.1307 – 1327), when the King found himself under the influence of his favourite, Piers Gaveston, a young man who was not of noble birth. This young man had been a firm favourite of Edward’s since he was a youth, and Edward awarded Gaveston with titles and offices (Regent of England, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Earl of Conrwall).

The nobles resented the power and influence over the King that Gaveston came to wield, and repeatedly (Parliaments of 1310, 1311) asked that the King banish Gaveston, and so bring about peace in government. The Lords and Nobles, who would have been the receipients of these favours were jealous and felt that they were being excluded from a position of influence and power over the King that their predecessors had enjoyed in the past.

With the threat of civil war looming, Edward conceded, banished Gaveston (1311) and accepted the Ordinances. But the concession barely lasted one year. Gaveston returned (1312) and his wealth, possessions, and offices were reinstated by Edward. His arrogance had not abated and he made even more enemies.

The Lords and Barons, lead by the King’s cousin, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, rebelled against Edward II, and in the ensuing war, Gaveston was captured and executed as a traitor (19/6/1312).

Power was removed from Edward II and England was ruled by the Lords Ordainer under the leadership of Thomas of Lancaster (1312 – 1322). Thomas of Lancaster was replaced by the more moderate Aymer de Valance, Earl of Pembroke, who tried to facilitate a more conciliatory approach to stabilising the government.

Eventually, the Lords and Nobles lost impetus – Gaveston being removed. Edward, now under the influence of the Despensers (father and son), became focused on the destruction of those Lords and Nobles responsible for the death of Gaveston. Edward went to war against his barons – and won. Thomas of Lancaster was executed in the same manner as Gaveston had been (22/3/1322) – this (the manner of his execution) caused outrage amongst all nobles as being a most vile act perpetrated upon the highest ranking (and royal) peer in the country. Edward revoked the Ordinances at a Parliament at York (1322) – in all 28 knights and barons were executed for rebelling and many exiled.

History of the Monarchy > The Plantagenets > Edward II
Britannia: Monarchs of Britain
“Baronial Opposition to Edward II” by J.C. Davies (1918, repr. 1967);
“The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History” by T.F. Tout (2d ed. rev. by H. Johnstone, 1937);
“Edward of Carnarvon, 1284–1307” by H. Johnstone (1947).

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 26/3/2007)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Elvira of Aragon

Elvira of Aragon
(Also known as Elvira of Castile)
Princess of Aragon and Countess of Toulouse

Elvira was one of the very first noblewomen to go on Crusade.

Elvira was the illegitimate daughter of Alfonso VI of Castile. She married (c.1094) Raymond of St. Gilles, Count of Toulouse as his third wife. Raymond was one of the first great magnates to "take the Cross" (November 1095).

Elvira and her children accompanied Raymond and the Crusading army throughout its journey, across the Alps and down through Italy, crossing over to Dalmatia and then onto the wonder that was Constantinople (21/4/1097).

After remaining at the Byzantine Court, the Crusaders moved through Asia Minor. After taking the city of Nicaea, the Crusaders were joined by the Emperor Alexius I (June 1097). Elvira remained with the Crusaders during the siege of Antioch - her husband was gravely ill (1098).

After the city was taken, Raymond decided to continue on towards Jerusalem with those Crusaders who remained. With the taking of the city of Jerusalem (June 1099), Raymond was considered as one of the candidates for the Crown - he did not however, have the required support.

In the end, Raymond decided he wanted his own "kingdom" and moved onto Lattakieh. Following a blockade, Raymond entered the city as its ruler (September 1099). The following year, Raymond left Lattakieh for Constantinople (June 1100). Elvira and her children remained in the city, under Byzantine protection.

Raymond abandoned Lattakieh (1101) and Elvira accompanied Raymond to the city of Tortosa. Form there, Raymond placed the city of Tripoli under siege. He built a castle as his headquarters, Castle Mount Pilgrim (1104).

Around this time a son was born to Elvira - Alphonse-Jordan (c.1104). The following year, Raymond received extensive burns during the siege of Tripoli, and just prior to his death (28/2/1105), concluded a truce.

By now, all of Elvira's older children who had survived the perils of the Crusade, were dead - only Alphonse-Jordan remained, and he succeeded to Raymond's land in the East.

However, Elvira much preferred the lands in southern France, and arranged to exchange these with Raymond's older son, Bertrand, and so she and her young son returned to Toulouse (1108).

Elvira was said to have married a second time (c.1117) before her death (c.1151).

~~~ Melisende

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Fabiola (d.399AD)

Fabiola was a women from a Roman patrician family.

She converted to Christianity aged 20yo.

Fabiola divorced her first husband, who was said to have been abusive, remarried and was widowed.

Fabiola turned her immense energy and wealth to founding hospitals and raising the standards of nursing. Hers were by no means the first hospitals; however, they were unique in their time for being both public and giving general treatments. Fabiola's hospitals also practiced surgery as well as nursing.
Fabiola opened a Hospice for pilgrims at Porto with St. Pammachius.

Among Fabiola's associates were at least 15 other well-educated Roman women. Fabiola visited Jerome at Bethlehem (395), and gave her support to him in his controversy with Patriarch John of Jerusalem.

Following her death, Fabiola was canonised.

More on Fabiola.

~~~ Melisende

Mary Ward

Mary (Joan) Ward

Mary was an English lay sister who entered the convent of Poor Clares at St.Omer (1606) and adopted the name of "Mary".

Mary founded a religious community for women in France three years later (1609) that included a school for girls. Mary went on to establish communities at: Liege, Cologne, Vienna, Prague, Rome, Naples and elsewhere. Each community would have a school for English refugee boarding students and poor local girls.

Mary attempted to establish a school in England (1619) similar to those she had established throughout Europe, emphasisng the study of Latin. However, she was forced to deny charges that it was her intent to have these women preach sermons and administer the sacrements. As such, the English authorities suppress her schools for girls. Mary will continue to operate them, defying persecution.

Pope Urban VIII issues a Decree (1631) dissolving her institutes for women. However, upon hearing of Mary's imprisonment in Germany, Pope Urban VIII orders her release from her small cell.

Mary will go to Rome where she will remain. Mary will again return to England (1639) and opens a school in her hometown of York. The Civil War is raging throughout the English countryside, causing disruptions of her classes at her schools (1642). Mary is now 57yo.

Mary will continue to run the school at York until her death (c.1645).

More on Mary Ward.

~~~ Melisende

Elena Piscopia

Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia
(1646 - 1684)

She was the daughter of Giovanni Battista Cornaro, Procurator of St.Marks. Her family was from the Venetian nobility, and produced 4 Doges, 3 Popes, 8 Cardinals and 1 Queen of Cyprus.

Elena began her classical education aged 7yo - she studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Mathematics, Philosophy and Astronomy. Theology was her favourite subject, and her later disputations in Latin and Greek at Padua drew scholars from all over Europe.

The University of Padua's rector approved Elena's application for the Doctorate of Theology - however, the Church raised objections to the granting of this particular degree (Theology) to a woman. Instead, Elena was obliged to apply for a Doctorate in Philosophy.

Elena's examinations drew such a crowd of academic, religious and political luminaries that the ceremony had to be moved to the Cathedral of Padua for lack of space at the Univeristy.

Aged 32yo, Elena was awarded a Doctorate of Philosphy (25/6/1678) - it is the first university degree ever received by a woman.

Elena spent the last 6 years of her life ministering to the poor while continuing her studies and devoting herself to religious observerances.

Elena died aged 38yo (1684), most likely of tuberculosis. She was buried in the Church of Sanat Giustina, Padua. The citizens of both Venice and Padua mourn her death.

A fuller account of Elena - written by Sarah Thieling (1995).

~~~ Melisende

Catalina Erauzo

Catalina de Erauzo
(1585 - 1650)

Catalina was a Spanish Novitate, who aged 15yo (1607), escaped from her convent in boys clothing. She assumed the name of "Antonio Ramirez de Guzma; and embarked upon a life in which she would develope a reputation for purse-snatching, gambling, dueling and womanizing.

Catalina accidentally killed her own brother in a fight that took place at night - she could not she who she shot at (c.1620 - 1621). She was then convicted of murder (1623) and hid in a Church for 8 months. When she made her escape, Catalina found herself convicted for a different murder altogether.

On the day of her execution, Catalina confesses all to her enemies and reveals her true sex to a clergyman. Catalina is taken to a convent for examination by nuns who discover not only is she a woman, but she is also a nun and a virgin.

Catalina is freed. She is given permission to wear men's clothing and absolved of his sins by Pope Urban VIII.

For a more in depth biography:
Catalina de Erauzo

~~~ Melisende

Caterina Cornaro

CATERINA CORNARO (1453 - 1510)
Queen of Cyprus (1469 - 1489)

Caterina was the daughter of a prominent Venetian merchant family.

She was married by proxy to Jacques (James) II (1468), and given surname Veneto - 'daughter of St. Mark' . This ensured that as a daughter of Republic, Cyprus would pass to Venice if Caterina survived both her husband and heirs. Caterina underwent a formal marriage at Famagusta (1469).

Following the death of husband, Jacques II, Caterina's infant son Jacques III succeeds but mysteriously dies aged 2 months old (1469).

Caterina succeeds to Cyprus in own right (1473). However, it is not before long that power is taken out of her hands by Venice (1489) and she is "persuaded" to abdicate. Venice assumes direct rule of Cyprus.

Caterina spent remainder of her years in voluntary exile in Italian town of Asolo.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)

Monday, June 4, 2007

Jane Seymour

JANE SEYMOUR (c.1506 - 1537)
Third Queen of King Henry VIII of England.

Jane was the eldest daughter of Sir John Seymour. She was one of the ladies-in-waiting serving Queen Anne Boleyn at court.

Following the downfall and execution of Queen Anne Bolyen, Jane was betrothed to King Henry VIII of England (20 May 1536). Jane and henry were married ten days later (c.30 May 1536).

Jane's coronation as Queen of England was postponed due to the summer plagues that were prevalent in London.

Jane was aged 33yo when she found herself pregnant to Henry - their son, Edward was born (12/10/1537) at Hampton Court. Edward was baptized (14/10/1537) - and although both young princesses had been declared "bastards", Mary (21yo) and Elizabeth (4yo) were in attendance.

Jane fell ill (15/10/1537) - and she died within a fortnight. Her funeral was held at Windsor.

~~~ Melisende

Katherine Parr

Katherine Parr (c.1512 - 1548)
Sixth Queen of Henry VIII of England.

Katherine was twice widowed - both men elderly and left her considerable fortunes. She was on the verge of contemplating a third marriage to Thomas Seymour (brother of Jane Seymour) when King Henry VIII of England declared himself. Katherine reputedly told Henry she'd rather be his mistress than his wife.

Katherine married (aged 30) Henry (aged 52) in chapel at Hampton Court (1543). There were no children from any of her previous marriages and there would be none with Henry VIII.

Katherine was a devotee of the "new religion" - Protestantism - and her learning and teaching saw her nearly sent to Tower as heretic. She managed to keep her head.

Following the death of King Henry VIII, Katherine finally married Thomas Seymour (1547). There was a scandal involving Thomas Seymour and the Princess Elizabeth, who was residing in Katherine's household at the time, and Elizabeth was removed.

Katherine died in childbirth.

~~~ Melisende

Women Warriors of Japan

The following Article "The Role of the Arms-Bearing Women in Japanese History" was written by Ellis Amdur. Ellis draws upon the ancient Japanese myths and histories to bring these female warriors to life.

Another website "
Women Warriors - Female Samurai in Ancient Japan" actually focuses on medieval women in the Samurai class.

And the following website dedicated to the History of the Samurai, features a section on "
Female Samurai".

From the website "
Defensive Weapons of the Japanese Samurai" comes the following paragraph:

"Women from Samurai families were often trained to defend themselves with a rather extraordinary concealed weapon peculiar to their gender. When dressed formally, Japanese women usually wore one or more long pins, called kansashi, hidden in their hair. Kansashi were approximately six inches long and primarily served to keep a woman's long hair up and in place. The pins were also quite capable of piercing an attacker's chest or throat in an emergency."

Samurai women rarely took to the battlefield, but they were responsible primarily for the defence of the home and children. Like their men-folk, personal homour was paramount, and they were also prepared to die in defence on the honour of the family. As such, Samuarai women carried small daggers.

Other weapons used by female Samurai were the naginata (used at close range similar to a halberd), the kaiken (knife or dagger), and the bow and arrow. The kaiken had a secondary use - women, especially court women, used the kaien to perform jigai (ritual suicide by slashing of the throat).

Another role of Samurai women was the washing and preparation of the decapitated heads of the enemy. These were then presented to the victorious Samurai generals.

With the unification of Japan under Tokugawa Ieyasu, the role of Samurai women changed to a more domestic role.
Biography - Tomoe Gozen

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 17/9/2006)

Celtic Women

Quotes regarding Celtic and Gallic Women during the Roman Occupation

Tacitus: "armies on the point of collapse have been rallied by their women pleading with their men, thrusting forward their bared breasts, and making them realise the imminent prospect of enslavement."

and "the victorious Romans were confronted by women in black robes who stood at their wagons and slew the fleeing warriors - their husbands, brothers or fathers - and then strangled their own children and cast them beneath the wheels of their wagons before cutting their own throats."

Plutarch: "here the women met them holding swords and axes in their hands. With hideous shrieks of rage they tried to drive back the hunted and the hunters. The fugitives as deserters, the pursuers as foes. With bare hands the women tore away the shields of the Romans or grasped their swords, enduring mutilating wounds."

Dio Cassius: "the Romans pursued the Celts to their wagons and fought with their women."

Diodorus Siculus: "The women of the Gauls are not only like men in their great stature, but they are a match for them in courage as well."

Ammianus Marcellinus: “…a whole band of foreigners will be unable to cope with one [Gaul] in a fight, if he calls in his wife, stronger than he by far and with flashing eyes; least of all when she swells her neck and gnashes her teeth, and poising her huge white arms, begins to rain blows mingled with kicks, like shots discharged by the twisted cords of a catapult.”

The following quote is of much later date. It is from a document known as the "Caid Adamnan" which is an Old-Irish Treatise on the Law of Adamnan (c.697AD) which was written by St. Adamnan of Iona. It purports to be the first Irish law for the protection women, children, and the clergy from violence. However, the following excerpt is especially telling of the role of celtic women in the 7th Century AD:

3. The work which the best women had to do, was to go to battle and battlefield, encounter and camping, fighting and hosting, wounding and slaying. On one side of her she would carry her bag of provisions, on the other her babe. Her wooden pole upon her back. Thirty feet long it was, and had on one end an iron hook, which she would thrust into the tress of some woman in the opposite battalion. Her husband behind her, carrying a fence-stake in his hand, and flogging her on to battle. For at that time it was the head of a woman, or her two breasts, which were taken as trophies.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: July 2005)

Pope Joan

The myth of the woman, who disguised as a man, sat enthroned as Pope in the Vatican; her identity only being discovered when she gave birth.

And it is just that - a myth. Whilst it would have been quite a feat for a woman to sit atop the throne of St Peter, the legend actually became current approximately 400 years after the so-called fact.

Looking at the Papal lists for the 9th Century:

St. Leo III (r.26/12/795 - 12/6/816) - the Pope who crowned Charlemagne (800).
Stephen IV (V) (r. 22/6/816 - 14/1/817) - crowned Louis the Pious (816).
St. Paschal I (r.25/1/817 - 11/2/824) - met Lothair, son of Emperor Louis (823).
Eugenius II (r.21/2/824 - 27/8/827) - papacy under direct control of the Emperor.
Valentine (r. August - September 827).
Gregory IV (r. October 827 - 25/1/844) - reign of Anti-Pope John VIII, a deacon, who though elected was quickly expelled (January 844).
Sergius II (r. January 844 - 21/1/847) - considered one of the most corrupt Popes.

The reigns of Leo IV (r. January 847 - July 855) and Benedict III (r.29/9/855 - April 858) were fairly fluid - Hadrian, Cardinal Priest of San Marco was elected but refused to accept (July - September 855) and so elections were re-held and Benedict III ascended the papal throne. There did coincide the reign of Antipope Anastasius (r.855) - but his election was due mainly to political interference, and he was deposed.

St. Nicholas I (r.24/4/858 - 13/11/867) - this was Hadrian, who previously refused his election - this time the issue was forced by Emperor Louis II.
Hadrian II (r.14/12/867 - 14/12/872) - not to be confused with Pope Nicholas I - he was, however, related to both Popes Stephen IV and Sergius II.
John VIII (r.14/12/872 - 16/12/882) - one of the first Popes to be assassinated.
Marinus I (r.16/12/882 - 15/5/884) - election approved by Emperor Charles III.
Hardian III (r.17/5/884- 17/9/885 - mysterious death.
Stephen V (VI) (r. September 885 - 14/9/891) -deposition of Emperor Charles III (887).
Formosus (r.6/10/891 - 4/4/896) - notorious for the circumstances following his death (see: Pope Stephen VI).
Boniface V (r. April 896) - twice defrocked for immorality.
Stephen VI (r. May 896 - August 897) - notorious exhumation and trial of predecessor, Formosus.
Romanus (r. August - November 897) - deposed, imprisoned and murdered.
Theodore II (r. November - December 897) - rehabilitated Formosus and denounced Stephen VI.
John IX (r. January 898 - January 900) - irregularity of election - one Sergius was elected then expelled prior to John’s accession.

The Chroniclers of the times make no mention of a Pope Joan - the Papacy was in a constant state of factional turmoil. Popes were being elected and deposed with an unseemly regularity. Their reigns were often not deserving of the sometime saintly aura with which they are remembered. And add to this the controversy surrounding the enthronement of Empress Irene on the Imperial throne in Constantinople (800), no women would easily ascended the Papal throne without her sex going unnoticed.

The Theophylact women of Rome "ruled" the papacy for a period of approx. 30 years over 100 years after Pope Joan was said to have reigned. However, the Papacy has a (centuries) long history of Imperial and political domination and manipulation by men. No Pope John Doe legends abound - just plenty of Anti-Popes!

Wikipedia, though not a source that I would rely upon, has a rather interesting little note in it's Pope Joan article:

It is also notable that enemies of the Papacy in the 9th century make no mention of the female Pope. For example, Photius I of Constantinople, who became patriarch in 858 and was deposed by Pope Nicholas I in 863, was understandably an enemy of the Pope. He vehemently asserted his own authority as patriarch over that of the Pope in Rome, and would certainly have made the most of any scandal of that time regarding the Papacy. But he never mentions the story once in any of his voluminous writings. Indeed, at one point he mentions "Leo and Benedict, successively great priests of the Roman Church".

So, just like today, scandal makes the headlines - and in this instance, there was no mention of the scandalous reign of a female Pope. And also like today, making political mileage of ones enemies was a powerful political tool in the 9th Century, and it was a tool that was used without remorselessly.

Acquisition of the Papal throne was just as important as the attainment of any secular throne. It meant power and prestige, and for some, it meant the achievement of sainthood. It was not accepted lightly, and when attained, it was not given up without a fight.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 29/12/2005)

Friday, June 1, 2007

Isabella of Angouleme

Isabella of Angouleme
(1186/1188 -1246)
Queen of England

Wife and Queen of King John of England. Isabella was the daughter of Aymer Taillefer, Count of Angouleme (a vassal of first King Richard and then King John of England) and Alice de Courtenay. At the tender age of 14, Isabella was betrothed to Hugh "le Brun" de Lusignan. But things took a different turn. In England, King John dissolved his own marriage (1199) to Isabella of Gloucester and Isabella's own betrothal was broken. Isabella was married John, King of England (24/8/1200) at Bordeaux (becoming his second wife). She was crowned in England.

Isabella was the mother of sons Henry III King of England, Richard Earl of Cornwall and daughters Joanna (betrothed to Hugh "le Brun" de Lusignan) and Isabella. Isabella accompanied John wherever he went during his troubled reign (a slight understatement don't you think).

Isabella was at Gloucester when news of John's death reached her (1216) - her 9yo son Henry was proclaimed King of England and crowned. Isabella did not participate in her son's regency - she left for Angouleme and married the still unwed Hugh "le Brun" de Lusignan, Count de la Marche (1216). The English refused, however, to pay her the revenues due her as Queen Mother and demanded the young Princess Joanna back as a proposed bride for the Scottish King. Isabella bore Hugh de Lusignan five sons and four daughters (prior to Sept. 1244).

On the French political front, Isabella was said to be the instigator in plot to poison King Louis IX of France. Not waiting to see the outcome, Isabella fled to the Abbey of Fontervault, where she took refuge. Isabella died two years later, and by her own request, was buried in an open cemetary at Fontervault. Hugh de Lusignan died three years later on crusade in the Holy Land. Isabella's son King Henry III of England moved her body inside the church to lie alongside Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard I.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 - Women of History)

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine
Duchess of Aquitaine, Queen of France, Queen of England

Eleanor was born (c.1121/1122) at Bordeaux. She was the daughter of William X, Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitou (d.1137). She spent much of her youth in Aquitaine, becoming an educated young woman. It was here that she learned what became the beginnings of the "courtly love" through the songs and such from her troubadour father. After the death of her father, Eleanor became heiress to the vast Duchy of Aquitaine.

Eleanor also came to the attention of a great number of men eager to become her husband (and mostly likely attain her wealth). This problem was solved when she was married (her first of two) to King Louis VII of France(1137). By Louis Eleanor had two daughters, including Margaret of France.

Tiring quickly of Louis' rather over-pious lifestyle, she was greatly enthused when the Crusades were announced. She gathered about her her own army from Aquitaine, and with her numerous attendant ladies, Eleanor accompanied Louis on the Crusade (c.1147/1148). After a debacle on the battlefield in which she was involved with her part of the crusader army, she was rather glad to reach Antioch where her uncle Raymond of Poitiers was Prince. Eleanor met the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus, and was welcomed by Queen Melisende of Jerusalem.

The crusade was a failure (Louis of course blamed Eleanor) and she was sent home in disgrace. Eleanor and Louis were divorced soon after their arrival back in France. Eleanor met and fell in love with Henry FitzEmpress - Henry Plantagenet (12 years her junior). Her marriage to Louis, all over bar the shouting, was annulled - they were fourth cousins (1152). After two attempted abductions, one by Henry's younger brother Geoffrey and one by the brothers Lusignan, Eleanor married (2) Henry at Bordeaux, six weeks after her divorce was granted - she was already five months pregnant (18/5/1152). Marriage to Eleanor made Henry Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Lord of Aquitaine. After the devastating English civil war and the death of King Stephen, Henry was made King of England (1154). Eleanor's first son by Henry, William, was born in Normandy and brought to England. Eleanor was then crowned at Westminster Abbey.

Eleanor was never popular with the English as she considered a foreigner. Tragedy followed - her son William died (he was buried near his great-grandfather Henry I). More children followed: daughter Matilda, sons Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, John, daughters Eleanor, Joanna: Matilda to marry French prince, Richard to princess Alys of France, Joanna to King of Sicily, Geoffrey betrothed to Constance of Brittany, Eleanor to the King of Castile. Eleanor supervised the education of her children and saw to their advantageous marriages. Her son Henry was crowned the "Young King" in father's lifetime. Eleanor regarded Richard (her favourite and perhaps the most like her of all her children) as her heir in Aquitaine and he was made Duke.

Eleanor encouraged her sons to rebel against their father, as she was, by now, fed up with Henry's infidelities. Her conspiracy against Henry was discovered and she was confined to "house arrest" at Winchester (1173 - 1189) when aged 67. Following the death of Young King Henry (c.1183), and of King Henry II (1189), Richard became King of England. Eleanor was released from her imprisonment and became trusted advisor to Richard. It was Eleanor who negotiated with Navarre for marriage between Princess Berengaria and Richard. Eleanor conducted bride-to-be to Sicily, but was unable to follow Richard on Third Crusade, and so returned to England to govern in Richard absence - son John was behaving rather treacherously. When Richard was taken prisoner returning from the crusade, Eleanor organised the raising of his ransom, and saw Richard freed and recrowned.

Eleanor outlived Richard by five years. She took no part of the government of England under her son King John, but retired to Aquitaine. From her homeland, Eleanor arranged the marriage of granddaughter Blanche of Castile to the grandson of Louis VII (1200). Eleanor died (1/4/1204) at Fontervault Abbey, which she had continuously patronised, and was subsequently buried there.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 - Women of History)

Historical Tidbits

Historical Tidbits

  • King James I of England (aka: James VI of Scotland) used the term "Great Britain" for the first time on 20th October 1604. However, Parliament would pass the Act of Union over a century later.

"Seeing that there is but one head of both peoples, which is Ourself, We have thought good to discontinue the divided names of England and Scotland out of Our Regal style, and do intend and resolve to take and resume unto Us the name and style of King of Great Britain."

  • The Wars of the Roses was never actually called as such. It was not until 1829 that the term was first used by Sir Walter Scott in his novel "Anne of Geierstein".
  • The reign of Charles II of England did not actually start in 1660 - it began with his father, Charles I's execution in 1649 - his Restoration was conditional (see: Declaration of Breda). As such, all the parliamentary Acts of Charles I, declared illegal under the "Commonwealth" were once again legal. So simply put, the English Civil War in fact achieved nothing.

  • The reforms instituted by Simon de Montfort (d.1265), which culminated in the Provisions of Oxford (1258), continued to be implemented by the man who opposed him both on the field of battle (Second Barons War) and in the Parliament - King Edward I of England.