Category Archives: British Royals

Edwina Mountbatten, Countess Mountbatten of Burma

by Scott Mehl

source: Wikipedia

Edwina Ashley, Countess Mountbatten of Burma

Edwina Mountbatten, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, was the wife of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, a member of the extended British Royal Family. She was born Edwina Cynthia Annette Ashley on November 28, 1901, at Broadlands, her family’s home in Romsey, Hampshire. Her parents were Wilfrid Ashley, (later 1st Baron Mount Temple) and Amalia “Maudie” Cassel. Through her father, she was a great-granddaughter of the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury and a great-great-granddaughter of the 6th Duke of Beaufort. Through her mother, she was a granddaughter of Sir Ernest Cassel. Edwina had one younger sister:

After her mother’s death, and father’s subsequent remarriage, Edwina went off to boarding school, first at The Links in Eastbourne and then Alde House in Suffolk. Not being a good student, and not enjoying life in boarding school, the problem was solved when her grandfather invited her to come live with him at his London residence, Brook House. Sir Ernest Cassel was a successful financier and capitalist who had become one of the richest men in Europe. He had been a close friend and advisor of King Edward VII who had bestowed several honour on him during his reign. Upon his death, he left an estate valued at over £6 million (approx. £240 million today), a large portion of which went to Edwina.

Edwina quickly became a prominent member of London society, and through those connections, met her future husband – then Lord Louis Mountbatten – in 1920. Louis was the younger son of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Marquess of Milford Haven (formerly Prince Ludwig of Battenberg) and Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine. A romance quickly began, and the two were engaged in India on Valentine’s Day 1922. They married on July 18, 1922 at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, in the presence of The King and Queen and numerous royals from other European countries. The Prince of Wales served as Best Man. Following a honeymoon in North America, they settled at Brook House in London and went on to have two daughters:

Edwina’s grandfather had died the previous year, leaving Edwina a very wealthy woman. In addition to £2 million pounds (£80 million today), she also inherited several properties including Brook House in London, Moulton Paddocks in Newmarket, Suffolk, and Branksome Dene (now Zetland Court) in Bournemouth, Dorset.

She also later inherited two properties from her father, upon his death in 1939. These were Broadlands, and Classiebawn Castle, in County Sligo, Ireland. The family still owns Broadlands, but Classiebawn Castle was sold in 1991. (It was while at Classiebawn that Edwina’s husband was assassinated by the Provisional IRA in 1979).

Edwina’s wealth allowed her to pursue a life of leisure and indulge in anything she wanted to. She often set off on travels around the world – sometimes completely out of contact with her family. But she was also quick to lend financial support to friends and relatives, and was often the primary source of income for several members of her husband’s family. It was during World War II that this selfless willingness to help others developed into a life of service. She served as President of the London Division of the British Red Cross and was named Superintendent-in-Chief of the St. John Ambulance Brigade in 1942. During her husband’s time as Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command, she traveled extensively to the Allied prisoner of war camps, and assisted to repatriate the prisoners.

In August 1946, her husband was created Viscount Mountbatten of Burma, and the following year appointed to serve as the last Viceroy of India, charged with overseeing India’s independence from Britain. During this time, and the subsequent ten months when he served as Governor-General, Edwina worked tirelessly to ease the suffering amongst the poor and helpless in India. It was during this time that she became Countess Mountbatten upon her husband’s elevation to an Earldom. Her close relationship with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, is often the source of speculation that the two were romantically involved. Although denied by official biographers and Edwina’s own daughters, the rumors continue to this day. It was no secret that both Edwina and her husband had numerous affairs and lovers through the years, so any close friendship either of them had quickly became the subject of gossip and rumors.

In the years after India, Edwina continued her charity work and pursued her love of traveling around the world. It was while on an inspection tour for the St. John Ambulance Brigade that Edwina died on February 21, 1960. She was in Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu), British North Borneo at the time, and passed away in her sleep. Her body was flown back to Britain and, per her wishes, buried at sea off the coast of Portsmouth on February 25, 1960. In a show of friendship and respect, Prime Minister Nehru sent two Indian destroyers to accompany her body during the burial.

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Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma

by Scott Mehl

source: Wikipedia

Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma

Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, was a member of the extended British Royal Family and a distinguished Naval officer. A great-grandson of Queen Victoria (and the last great-grandson to be born during her lifetime), he was born a Prince of Battenberg but grew up fiercely British. In addition to his naval career, he also served as the last Viceroy and first Governor-General of India. Mountbatten also played a very prominent role in the lives of his nephew, The Duke of Edinburgh, and grand-nephew, The Prince of Wales.

Prince Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas of Battenberg was born on June 25, 1900 at Frogmore House, the youngest child of Prince Louis (Ludwig) of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine. He was christened at Frogmore on July 17, with Queen Victoria and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia among his godparents. Louis – known almost from birth as “Dickie” – had three elder siblings:

Through both of his parents, he was closely related to numerous other royal families of Europe. His mother’s younger sister was Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, and in his childhood, Dickie was close to her children. At a very young age, he began a “lifelong love affair” with one of them – Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna – and kept a framed photo of her by his bed for his entire life.

At the age of 10, Dickie was enrolled at the Lockers Park School in Hertfordshire, and then at 13 entered the Royal Naval College, Osborne. Destined for a naval career, he received his first posting in July 1916, as a midshipman on HMS Lion. After studying for two terms at Christ’s College, Cambridge, Louis was posted to HMS Renown, accompanying The Prince of Wales on a tour of Australia. The following year, on HMS Repulse, he again accompanied his cousin on a tour of India and Japan. It was during this trip that he became engaged to his future wife.

Dickie first met Edwina Ashley in October 1920, when both attended a ball at Claridge’s in London, hosted by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III. Edwina was the daughter of Wilfrid Ashley, 1st Baron Mount Temple (a grandson of the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury) and Amalia Cassel (daughter of Sir Ernest Cassel). The two soon found themselves invited to the same house parties and shooting weekends, and a romance began. Both were guests of the Duke of Sutherland at Dunrobin Castle in Scotland in September 1921, when Louis received word that his father had died. When Edwina’s grandfather died just ten days later, the two grew very close in their shared grief. Several months later, Edwina went to visit Dickie while he was in India with the Prince of Wales. It was there, at a Valentine’s Day Ball held at the Viceregal Lodge in Delhi, that Dickie proposed.

Louis and Edwina were married on July 18, 1922, at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster. The wedding was a lavish affair, attended by The King and Queen and other members of the British Royal Family and other royal houses of Europe. The bridal party included the Prince of Wales, who served as Best Man, and Dickie’s four nieces – Princesses Margarita, Theodora, Cecilie and Sophie of Greece. Following a honeymoon which took them to Canada and The United States, Dickie and Edwina settled at Brook House in London – one of several properties Edwina had inherited from her grandfather. They went on to have two daughters:

Admiral Lord Mountbatten receiving the Japanese surrender at Singapore, September 1945. source: Wikipedia.

Dickie was posted to several other boats before being given his first command – HMS Daring – in 1934. This was followed by commands of HMS Wishart (1934-1936), HMS Kelly (1939-1941) and HMS Illustrious (1941). From 1941-1943, he served as Chief of Combined Operations, and then from 1943-1946 as Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command. In that role, in September 1945 Mountbatten received the Japanese surrender in Singapore.

On August 27, 1946, he was created Viscount Mountbatten of Burma by King George VI. The following February, Prime Minister Clement Atlee appointed him Viceroy of India, and tasked him with overseeing India’s independence from Britain. Following independence in August 1947, Mountbatten served for the next ten months as the country’s first Governor-General. During that time, on October 28, 1947, he was created Earl Mountbatten of Burma and Baron Romsey. As Mountbatten had no sons, the Letters Patent creating both the Viscountcy and the Earldom were written to allow the titles to pass to his daughters and their male heirs. Had this not been done, the titles would have ended upon Mountbatten’s death. Instead, they passed to his elder daughter, Patricia, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma.

Following his time in India, Mountbatten returned to military service in 1949, serving as Commander of the 1st Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet. From 1950-1952, he served as Fourth Sea Lord, and then from 1952-1954 as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. Finally, in April 1955, nearly forty-one years after his father had been forced to relinquish the role due to anti-German sentiment, Mountbatten was made First Sea Lord – the head of the British Royal Navy. The following year, he reached the rank of Admiral of the Fleet. Dickie served as First Sea Lord until October 1959, when he became Chief of the Defence Staff, serving until his retirement in July 1965. During this time, he also served as Chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 1960-1961.

Earl Mountbatten of Burma, in uniform as Colonel of the Life Guards, with Gold Stick in Hand (1973). Source: Wikipedia, photo: by Allan warren – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28983433

Upon retiring, he was granted several honorary appointments. He was made Colonel of the Life Guards, Gold Stick in Waiting, and Life Colonel Commandant of the Royal Marines. The Queen also appointed him Governor of the Isle of Wight. In 1974, he became the first Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight.

Lord Mountbatten was killed on August 27, 1979 when his boat was blown up by the Provisional IRA on Donegal Bay, in County Sligo, Ireland. He had been staying at his summer home, Classiebawn Castle, in County Sligo, Ireland, with much of his family. Mountbatten, his grandson Nicholas, his son-in-law’s mother, The Dowager Baroness Brabourne, and a young crew member, Paul Maxwell, all died as a result of the blast. Mountbatten’s daughter Patricia, her husband John, and their son Timothy were all critically injured, but survived.

A ceremonial funeral was held at Westminster Abbey on September 5, 1979, attended by most of the British Royal Family and many other European royals. He is buried at Romsey Abbey.

Earl Mountbatten’s tomb at Romsey Abbey. Source: Wikipedia, photo by JohnArmagh

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Nadejda Mikhailovna de Torby, Marchioness of Milford Haven

by Scott Mehl

source: Wikipedia

Nadejda Mikhailovna de Torby, Marchioness of Milford Haven

Countess Nadejda Mikhailovna de Torby was the wife of Prince George of Battenberg (later George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven). She was born in Cannes on March 28, 1896, the second daughter of Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich of Russia and Countess Sophie von Merenberg. As her parents’ marriage was morganatic, her father was stripped of his position at the Imperial Court and banished from Russia for the rest of his life. The morganatic marriage also meant that none of Mikhail’s styles or titles passed to his wife or their children. However, shortly after they married, Sophie’s uncle – Adolphe, Grand Duke of Luxembourg – created Sophie Countess de Torby, a title which also passed down to Nadejda and her two siblings:

Nadejda (left), with her brother, sister and father. source: Wikipedia

By the time she was four, Nadejda’s family had settled in England, but also spent part of the year at their villa in Cannes. The family became prominent members of British society, and developed friendships with several members of the British Royal Family. It was through these friendships that Nadejda met her future husband, Prince George of Battenberg.

George was the eldest son of Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine (later the 1st Marquess and Marchioness of Milford Haven). His siblings included Princess Andreas of Greece, Queen Louise of Sweden and Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Nadejda and George married at the Russian Embassy in London on November 15, 1916. They settled at Lynden Manor in Bray, Berkshire, and had two children:

When King George V asked his German relatives to relinquish their German titles in 1917, Nadejda and her husband became simply Mr. and Mrs. George Mountbatten. Several months later, when George’s father was created Marquess of Milford Haven, George assumed his father’s subsidiary title, Earl of Medina. It would only be another 4 years when George’s father died, and he and Nadejda became the 2nd Marquess and Marchioness of Milford Haven. In later years, Nadejda and her husband helped to raise George’s nephew, Prince Philippos of Greece (now The Duke of Edinburgh).

1934 saw Nadejda drawn into the international spotlight during the contentious custody trial of Gloria Vanderbilt. Nadejda was a close friend with the child’s mother – Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt – and became part of the story when a former maid of Mrs. Vanderbilt suggested during testimony that her employer and the Marchioness were lovers. After publicly denouncing the allegations as “malicious, terrible lies”, Nadejda considered traveling to New York to testify on her friend’s behalf, but was talked out of making the trip by King George V and Queen Mary.

However, one relative who did travel to testify in Mrs. Vanderbilt’s defense was Gottfried, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, who was married to Princess Margarita of Greece and Denmark, a niece of Nadejda’s husband. Gottfried had briefly been engaged to Mrs. Vanderbilt in the late 1920s, and was called to testify on her behalf after scandalous allegations were made in court testimony about their prior relationship.

And here’s another interesting tidbit of information relating to Mrs. Vanderbilt. Her twin sister, Thelma, Viscountess Furness, was the mistress of The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII / Duke of Windsor) in the early 1930s. It was Thelma who introduced the Prince to her good friend, Wallis Simpson. The rest, as they say, is history!

Four years later, Nadejda was widowed when her husband succumbed to bone marrow cancer in 1938. Nada was very close to her sister-in-law, Edwina, and the two often traveled together around the world.

Nada (center) with her son David and his fiancée, Romaine Pierce SImpson, photographed in October 1949. source: Zimbio

The Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven died in Cannes on January 22, 1963. She is buried beside her husband in the Bray Cemetery in Bray, Berkshire.

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George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven

by Scott Mehl

source: Wikipedia

George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven

George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven was born on December 6, 1892, at The New Palace in Darmstadt. At the time of his birth, he was HSH Prince George Louis Victor Henry Serge of Battenberg, the third child and elder son of Prince Ludwig (Louis) of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine. George had three younger siblings:

George with his mother, Victoria.

A remarkably intelligent and clever child, George had his own workshop at his father’s Heiligenberg Castle by the age of ten, and was soon designing and building precise working models of steam engines. He enjoyed complex math problems “for relaxation” and was recognized by his superiors at Dartmouth Naval College for being perhaps the most clever cadet the college had ever seen. During his time in the Royal Navy, he devised a system to provide air conditioning in his cabin, and invented a device which would brew his morning tea, triggered by an alarm clock.

Wedding portrait of George and Nadejda.

On November 15, 1916 at the Russian Embassy in London, George married Countess Nadejda Mikhailovna de Torby. Nadjeda was born in Cannes on March 28, 1896, the younger daughter of Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich of Russia and Countess Sophie von Merenberg. Following their wedding, George and Nadejda settled at Lynden Manor, in Bray, Berkshire, and had two children:

The following year, in 1917, King George V of the United Kingdom asked his relatives to relinquish their German royal titles. On July 14, 1917, the Battenbergs gave up their titles and styles, and took on the surname Mountbatten. George, having previously been created a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, became Sir George Mountbatten. Four months later, on November 7, 1917, his father was created Marquess of Milford Haven, and George assumed the courtesy title Earl of Medina. Four years later, in 1921, George succeeded his father as 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven.

In the late 1920s, having lost most of his inheritance to German inflation – and having a wife with very expensive tastes – George left the Royal Navy for a career in business. He worked for a brokerage house before moving to the British Sperry Gyroscope Company where he became chairman. He also served as director for several large companies, including Electrolux and Marks & Spencer.

In 1930, George became instrumental in the upbringing of his nephew, Prince Philip of Greece. Philip’s mother suffered a breakdown that year, and his father was more-or-less separated from the family, living with a mistress on the French Riviera. George became Philip’s primary guardian, serving as a surrogate father and arranging for, and financing, Philip’s education.

In 1934, George and Nadejda were brought into the international spotlight during the custody battle for the young Gloria Vanderbilt in New York City. Allegations had been raised that Nadejda and Gloria’s mother – Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt – had been lovers. Nadejda traveled to New York to testify in the case, decrying the allegations as “malicious, terrible lies.”

In December 1937, George suffered a fall and broke his femur. A month later, when it didn’t appear to be healing, further examination found that he was suffering from bone marrow cancer. Fearing that the diagnosis would cause him to decline quite quickly, the doctors chose to withhold it from him, in agreement with the family. He lingered for several months, finally losing his battle on April 8, 1938. He is buried at the Bray Cemetery. By the time of his death, George had accumulated a large collection of erotic art, which he left – on permanent loan – to the British Library. The library’s index describes the collection as “prospectuses and catalogues of erotic and obscene books, pictures and instruments, dating from 1889 to 1929. 81 parts. Collected by George Mountbatten.”

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Adela of Normandy, Countess of Blois

by Susan Flantzer

Credit – Wikipedia

Adela, a daughter of King William I of England (the Conqueror) and Matilda of Flanders, was born around 1167, probably in Normandy. She is the mother of King Stephen of England who fought a long civil war known as The Anarchy for the English throne with his first cousin Empress Matilda, the only surviving legitimate child of King Henry I of England.

Adela had four brothers and at least four sisters. The birth order of her brothers is clear, but that of her sisters is not. It is fairly certain that Adela was her parents’ youngest daughter. The list below is not in birth order. It lists Adela’s brothers first in their birth order and then her sisters in their probable birth order.

Despite her royal duties, Adela’s mother Matilda oversaw the upbringing of her children and all were known for being well educated. Her daughters were educated and taught to read Latin at the Abbaye-aux-Dames (Holy Trinity) in Caen, Normandy. For her sons, Matilda secured Lanfranc, later Archbishop of Canterbury, as their teacher. Adela had a close relationship with her brother, the future King Henry I of England. They were probably the youngest children in the family and probably the only ones born after their father’s conquest of England in 1066.

The chronicler Orderic Vitalis says that Adela’s father wanted an alliance with Theobald III, Count of Blois and so a marriage was arranged between Adela and Theobold’s eldest son Stephen.  Adela and Stephen probably were married in 1081 in Chartres, one of the main cities in the County of Blois.

Adela and Stephen had ten children, listed below in their probable birth order:

Adela and three of her sons, William, Theobald and Stephen; Credit – Wikipedia

In 1089, upon the death of his father Theobald, Adela’s husband Stephen became Count of Blois and inherited the counties of Blois, Chartres , Châteaudun , and Meux. Stephen left for the Holy Land in 1096 to participate in the First Crusade (1095 – 1099) along with Adela’s brother Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy. In her husband’s absence, Adela acted as regent. During the Siege of Antioch, Stephen, together with other Crusaders , considered their situation very weak and were sure of certain defeat, so they abandoned his comrades in arms. Stephen returned home in 1098 without having fulfilled his crusading vow to make his way to Jerusalem.

Because Stephen had returned home without fulfilling his vow to get to Jerusalem, he was pressured by Adela to join the Crusade of 1101, also called the Crusade of the Faint-Hearted because of the number of participants who joined this crusade after having turned back from the First Crusade. Stephen did manage to get to Jerusalem, but this time instead of returning home because he reached his goal, he chose to remain and continue fighting. On May 17, 1102, during the Second Battle of Ramla, Stephen II, Count of Blois was captured after being besieged in the tower of the city and beheaded at the age of 57.

The new Count of Blois was Adela’s eldest son William. However, Adela soon removed him from a number of his duties because of his erratic behavior. He was nicknamed William the Simple, possibly because of a mental deficiency. When the next eldest brother Theobold came of age in 1107, Adela made him Count of Blois. William retired to his wife’s home in Sully-sur-Loire.

Around the same time, Adela sent her youngest son Henry, destined for a life in the Church, to the Abbey of Cluny in Cluny, Saône-et-Loire, France.  In 1126, Henry’s maternal uncle King Henry I of England appointed him to be the Abbot at Glastonbury Abbey in England. Three years later, Henry was made Bishop of Winchester and because he so loved Glastonbury Abbey, he was allowed to remain as the Abbot. In 1139, Henry became a papal legate, a higher rank than the Archbishop of Canterbury, making him the most powerful person in the English Church. Henry was a power player during the reigns of his uncle King Henry I, his brother King Stephen, and his first cousin once removed King Henry II.

Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester; Credit – Wikipedia

On November 25, 1120, the White Ship left Normandy, bound for England and carrying many of the heirs of the great estates of England and Normandy including William Ætheling, the only son and the heir of Adela’s brother King Henry I of England. Also on board was Adela’s daughter Lucia-Mahaut and her husband Richard d’Avranches, 2nd Earl of Chester. Unfortunately, the White Ship hit a submerged rock, capsized, and sank. About 300 people drowned. The chronicler Orderic Vitalis writes that only two people survived the shipwreck by clinging on to a rock all night. For more information, see Unofficial Royalty: The Sinking of the White Ship and How It Affected the English Succession.

The Sinking of the White Ship; Credit – Wikipedia

The tragedy of the White Ship left King Henry I with only one legitimate child, his daughter Matilda. Henry I’s nephews, including the sons of Adela, were the closest male heirs. In January of 1121, Henry I married his second wife Adeliza of Louvain, hoping for sons, but the marriage remained childless. On Christmas Day of 1226, King Henry I of England gathered his nobles at Westminster where they swore to recognize Matilda and any future legitimate heir she might have as his successors. That plan did not work out. Upon hearing of King Henry I’s death on December 1, 1135, Adela’s son Stephen of Blois, quickly crossed the English Channel from France, seized power, and was crowned King of England on December 22, 1135. This started the terrible civil war between Stephen and Matilda known as The Anarchy. England did not see peace for 18 years, until Matilda’s son acceded to the throne as King Henry II of England in 1153.

King Stephen of England; Credit – Wikipedia

Adela lived through the sinking of the White Ship, her son Henry becoming Bishop of Winchester, her son Stephen becoming King of England, and the beginning of the terrible civil war, The Anarchy. In 1120, Adela had retired to the Priory of the Holy Trinity of Marcigny-lès-Nonnains in Marcigny, now in the Burgundy region of France. There is some evidence that Adela served as the prioress. Although Adela was living out her life as a nun, she did not totally isolate herself. She continued to exert her influence and communicated with her children and the religious and political leaders of the lands she once ruled. Adela died on March 8, 1137, aged 69–70, at the Priory of the Holy Trinity of Marcigny-lès-Nonnains. She was buried at the Abbaye-aux-Dames in Caen, Normandy near the grave of her mother with these simple words on her grave, “Adele, fille du roi” (Adele, daughter of the king).

Abbaye-aux-Dames; Photo Credit – By I, Pradigue, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2441612

Wikipedia: Adela of Normandy

Works Cited
“Adele d’Inghilterra.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.
“First crusade.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Jan. 2017. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.
Online, Catholic, and St Adela. “Adela of Normandy.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Jan. 2017. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.
“Stefano II di Blois.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.
“Stephen, count of Blois.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Nov. 2016. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.
Susan. “November 25, 1120 – the sinking of the white ship and how it affected the English succession.” British Royals. Unofficial Royalty, 25 Nov. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.

Robert III Curthose, Duke of Normandy

by Susan Flantzer

Credit – Wikipedia

Robert Curthose, the eldest son of King William I of England (the Conqueror) and Matilda of Flanders, was born in Normandy around 1051. Despite being the eldest son, Robert did not follow his father upon the English throne. Robert’s nickname Curthose comes from the Norman French courtheuse, meaning “short stockings.” The chroniclers William of Malmesbury and Orderic Vitalis reported that the insulting name came from Robert’s father who was making fun of his son’s short stature.

Robert had at least eight siblings. The birth order of the boys is clear, but that of the girls is not. The list below is not in birth order.  It lists Robert’s brothers first in their birth order and then his sisters in their probable birth order.

As a child, Robert was engaged to marry Marguerite of Maine, daughter of Hugh IV, Count of Maine, but Marguerite died in 1063 before they marriage could take place. Robert was brave and well trained as a knight, but also had a lazy and weak character.

In 1066, Robert’s father, William III, Duke of Normandy, invaded England and defeated the last Anglo-Saxon King, Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings. The Duke of Normandy was now also King William I of England. Even before the division of land occurred in 1087, Robert and his brothers had a strained relationship. The contemporary chronicler Orderic Vitalis, wrote about an incident that occurred at L’Aigle in Normandy in 1077. William Rufus and Henry grew bored with playing dice and decided to make mischief by emptying a chamber pot on their brother Robert from an upper gallery. Robert was infuriated, a brawl broke out and their father had to intercede to restore order. Angered because his father did not punish his brothers, Robert and his followers then attempted to siege the castle at Rouen (Normandy), but were forced to flee when the Duke of Normandy attacked their camp. This led to a three-year estrangement between Robert and his family which only ended through the efforts of Robert’s mother.

In 1087, King William I divided his lands between his two eldest surviving sons. Robert Curthose was to receive the Duchy of Normandy and William Rufus was to receive the Kingdom of England. Henry was to receive 5,000 pounds of silver and his mother’s English estates. King William I of England (the Conqueror) died on September 9, 1087. Robert Curthose became Robert III Curthose, Duke of Normandy and William Rufus became King William II Rufus of England. Henry received the money, but no land.

William Rufus and Robert Curthose continued having a strained relationship. William Rufus alternated between supporting Robert against the King of France and opposing him for the control of Normandy. Henry was constantly being forced to chose between his two brothers and whichever brother he picked, he was likely to annoy the other. After William I died and his lands were divided, nobles who had land in both Normandy and England found it impossible to serve two lords. If they supported William Rufus, then Robert might deprive them of their Norman land. If they supported Robert, then they were in danger of losing their English land.

The only solution the nobles saw was to unite Normandy and England, and this led them led them to revolt against William Rufus in favor of Robert in the Rebellion of 1088, under the leadership of the Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror. The rebellion was unsuccessful partly because Robert never showed up to support the English rebels.

In 1096, Robert left for the Holy Land on the First Crusade. In order to raise money for the crusade, he mortgaged the Duchy of Normandy to his brother King William II Rufus. The two older brothers made a pact stating that if one of them died without heirs, both Normandy and England would be reunited under the surviving brother. William Rufus then ruled Normandy as regent in Robert’s absence.

On August 2, 1100, King William II Rufus rode out from Winchester Castle on a hunting expedition to the New Forest, accompanied by his brother Henry and several nobles. According to most contemporary accounts, William Rufus was chasing after a stag followed by Walter Tirel, a noble. William Rufus shot an arrow, but missed the stag. He then called out to Walter to shoot, which he did, but the arrow hit the king in his chest, puncturing his lungs, and killing him. Walter Tirel jumped on his horse and fled to France.

William Rufus’ elder brother, Robert Curthose, was still on Crusade, so the youngest brother Henry was able to seize the crown of England for himself. Henry hurried to Winchester to secure the royal treasury. The day after William Rufus’ funeral at Winchester, the nobles elected Henry king. Henry then left for London where he was crowned three days after William’s death by the Bishop of London. King Henry I would not wait for the Archbishop of Canterbury to arrive. There is still speculation that there was a conspiracy to assassinate William Rufus.

On his way back from the Crusades, Robert married a wealthy heiress Sybilla of Conversano in 1100 at the bride’s hometown of Apulia (now in Italy). Unbeknownst to Robert, the death of his brother William Rufus removed the necessity of redeeming the Duchy of Normandy. Upon returning to Normandy, finding out that one brother was dead and the other brother had seized the English throne, Robert claimed the English crown based upon the pact he had made with William Rufus: that if one of them died without heirs, both Normandy and England would be reunited under the surviving brother. In 1101, Robert led an invasion to oust his brother Henry from the English throne. He landed at Portsmouth with his army, but found that there was little support for his cause. Robert was forced to renounce his claim to the English throne in the 1100 Treaty of Alton.

Robert and Sybilla had one son:

  • William Clito (1102 – 1128), heir to the Duchy of Normandy, married (1) Sibylla of Anjou, no issue, marriage annulled (2) Joanna of Montferrat, no issue

Less than six months after her son’s birth, Sybilla died on March 18, 1103 at Rouen in Normandy and was buried at Rouen Cathedral. According to chroniclers Orderic Vitalis and Robert de Torigni, Sybilla was poisoned by her husband’s mistress Agnes de Ribemont.

In 1105, King Henry I invaded Normandy and defeated Robert’s army at the Battle of Tinchebray on September 28, 1106.  Normandy remained a possession of the English crown for over a century. Robert was captured after the battle and spent the rest of his life imprisoned, first at
Devizes Castle for twenty years and then at Cardiff Castle for the remainder of his life.  Robert Curthose lived into his eighties and died at Cardiff Castle on February 10, 1134. He was buried at the in the abbey church of St. Peter in Gloucester which later became Gloucester Cathedral. The memorial to him which can still be seen at Gloucester Cathedral is from a much later date.

Memorial to Robert Curthose; Credit – By Nilfanion – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24852186

Robert’s only child, William Clito, was unlucky all his life. His attempts to invade Normandy failed twice (1119 and 1125). His first marriage to Sibylla of Anjou was annulled by the scheming of his uncle King Henry I. His second marriage to Joanna of Montferrat, half-sister of King Louis VI of France was childless. Louis VI did help William Clito become the Count of Flanders, but William Clito was wounded in a battle and died from gangrene at the age of 25 on July 28, 1128. He was buried at the Abbey of St. Bertin, a Benedictine abbey in Saint-Omer, France. He left no children and his imprisoned father survived him by six years.

William Clito; Credit – Wikipedia

Wikipedia: Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy

Works Cited
Anglorum, Gesta Regum. “Robert II de Normandie.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 1063. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
“Robert Curthose.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Jan. 2017. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
“Roberto II di Normandia.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
Susan. “King Henry I of England.” British Royals. Unofficial Royalty, 30 Aug. 2015. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
Susan. “King William I of England (the conqueror).” British Royals. Unofficial Royalty, 25 Aug. 2016. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
“Sybilla of Conversano.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Oct. 2016. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
“William Clito.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Oct. 2016. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
http://www.unofficialroyalty.com/king-william-ii-rufus-of-england/
Williamson, David. Brewer’s British Royalty. London: Cassell, 1996. Print.

Empress Matilda, Lady of the English

by Susan Flantzer

Credit – Wikipedia

Matilda, the only daughter and the eldest of the two children of King Henry I of England and his first wife Matilda (born Edith) of Scotland, was born circa February 7, 1102, probably at the manor house at Sutton Courtenay in Oxfordshire, England.  Matilda is sometimes known as Maud or Maude which are variants of Matilda.  Matilda was the Latin or Norman form and Maud/Maude was the Saxon form.

Matilda’s paternal grandparents were King William I of England (the Conqueror) and Matilda of Flanders.  King Malcolm III of Scotland and Saint Margaret of Scotland were her maternal grandparents.

Matilda had one younger brother who was the heir to the throne:

Matilda’s father King Henry I is the British monarch who had the most illegitimate children, at least 24. The most notable of the illegitimate children was the oldest, Robert Fitzroy, 1st Earl of Gloucester, who became Matilda’s chief military supporter during the civil war known as The Anarchy.

Nothing is known of Matilda’s early childhood. In 1108 or 1109, a marriage was contracted between Matilda and Heinrich V, Holy Roman Emperor who was about 16 years older than Matilda. In February 1110, Heinrich’s envoy Burchard, later Bishop of Cambrai, came to England to bring Matilda to Germany. Also accompanying Matilda were English clerics and Norman knights including her first cousin Henry of Blois, then an archdeacon, later Bishop of Winchester.

Matilda and Heinrich first met at Liège (now in Belgium. They then traveled to Utrecht (now in the Netherlands) where they were officially betrothed on April 10, 1110. On July 25, 1110, Matilda was crowned by the Friedrich I, Archbishop of Cologne.  Eight-year-old Matilda was then placed into the custody of Bruno, Archbishop of Trier, who educated her in the German language and culture and in the government of the Holy Roman Empire. On January 7, 1114, 12-year-old Matilda married 28-year-old Heinrich at Mainz Cathedral.  Matilda, now with her own household, entered public life in Germany as the Holy Roman Empress. Matilda and Heinrich had no children.

Heinrich and Matilda; Credit – Wikipedia

On November 25, 1120, William Ætheling, King Henry I’s only legitimate son and Matilda’s brother, was returning to England from Normandy when his ship hit a submerged rock, capsized and sank. William Ætheling and many others drowned. See Unofficial Royalty: The Sinking of the White Ship and How It Affected the English Succession. Although King Henry I had many illegitimate children, the tragedy of the White Ship left him with only one legitimate child, his daughter Matilda. Henry I’s nephews were his closest male heirs. Henry I’s first wife, Matilda of Scotland, had died in 1118. In 1121, 53-year-old Henry I, hoping for a male heir, married the 18-year-old Adeliza of Louvain.

The sinking of the White Ship; Credit – Wikipedia

Back in Germany, Matilda’s husband Heinrich was suffering from cancer. He died on May 23, 1125 at the age of 44, leaving Matilda as a 23-year-old childless widow with the choices of becoming a nun or remarrying. Some offers of marriage started to arrive from German princes, but she chose to return to Normandy in 1125 or 1126.

Henry I’s marriage to Adeliza of Louvain remained childless and the future of the Norman dynasty was at risk, so Henry looked to his nephews as possible heirs. His sister Adela had married Stephen II, Count of Blois and Henry considered two sons from this marriage: his nephews Stephen of Blois and Theobold, Count of Blois and Count of Champagne.  Somewhere around 1113 – 1115, Stephen first visited his uncle’s court in England. He soon became a favorite of his uncle who bestowed upon him lands won in battle, the County of Mortain (in France) and Alençon in southern Normandy. In 1125, King Henry I arranged for Stephen to marry Matilda of Boulogne, the only surviving child and heiress of Eustace III, Count of Boulogne.

Another option was the only son of Henry I’s elder brother Robert Curthose, William Clito, who was in open rebellion against his uncle for the Duchy of Normandy which Henry had taken from William Clito’s father. Upon Matilda’s return to her father’s court, Henry I’s preferred choice of a successor fell to his daughter and her successors. On Christmas Day of 1126, King Henry I of England gathered his nobles at Westminster where they swore to recognize Matilda and any future legitimate heir she might have as his successors.

In 1126, King Henry I arranged for Matilda to marry Geoffrey of Anjou, eldest son of Fulk, Count of Anjou. Matilda was quite unhappy about the marriage. She was eleven years older than Geoffrey and marriage to a mere future Count would diminish her status as the widow of an Emperor. Nevertheless, the couple was married at the Cathedral of Saint Julian of Le Mans on June 17, 1128. The couple did not get along and their marriage was stormy with frequent, long separations. Matilda insisted on retaining her title of Empress for the rest of her life. In 1129, Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou when his father left for the Holy Land where he was to become King of Jerusalem.

Matilda and Geoffrey had three sons:

Geoffrey of Anjou; Credit – Wikipedia

On December 1, 1135, King Henry I of England died. His nephew Stephen of Blois quickly crossed from Boulogne (France) to England, accompanied by his military household. With the help of his brother, Henry of Blois who was Bishop of Winchester, Stephen seized power in England and was crowned King Stephen of England on December 22, 1135. Empress Matilda did not give up her claim to England and Normandy, leading to the long civil war known as The Anarchy between 1135 and 1153.

King Stephen of England; Credit – Wikipedia

Matilda’s illegitimate half-brother Robert of Gloucester rebelled against Stephen, starting the beginnings of civil war in England. Meanwhile, Matilda’s husband Geoffrey took advantage of the situation by invading Normandy. Matilda’s maternal uncle King David I of Scotland invaded the north of England and announced that he was supporting the claim of Matilda to the throne. Matilda gathered an invasion army and landed in England in September 1139 with the support of her half-brother Robert of Gloucester and several powerful barons.

In 1141, at the Battle of Lincoln, King Stephen was captured, imprisoned, and deposed while Matilda ruled for a short time. Stephen’s brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester turned against his brother and a church council at Winchester declared that Stephen was deposed and declared Empress Matilda “Lady of the English.” Stephen’s queen, Matilda of Boulogne, rallied Stephen’s supporters and raised an army with the help of William of Ypres, Stephen’s chief lieutenant. Matilda of Boulogne recaptured London for Stephen and forced Empress Matilda to withdraw from the siege of Winchester, leading to Stephen’s release in 1141 in exchange for the Empress’ illegitimate brother Robert of Gloucester who had also been captured.

Battle of Lincoln; Credit – Wikipedia

After the Battle of Lincoln, Empress Matilda established her base at Oxford Castle. In December 1141, Stephen unexpectedly marched upon Oxford. He attacked and seized the town and then besieged Matilda at Oxford Castle. Matilda responded by escaping from the castle. The popular version of story has Matilda dressed in white as camouflage in the snow, being lowered down the wall with several knights, and escaping into the night. The chronicler William of Malmesbury, however, suggests Matilda was not lowered down the walls, but instead sneaked out of one of the gates. Matilda safely reached Abingdon-on-Thames and Oxford Castle surrendered to Stephen the next day.

Oxford Castle; Photo Credit – Susan Flantzer, July 2015

By the mid-1140s, the fighting had slowed down, there was a stalemate and the succession began to be the focus. Empress Matilda returned to Normandy in 1147. In the same year, Matilda’s husband and her eldest son Henry FitzEmpress, the future King Henry II, mounted a small, unsuccessful mercenary invasion of England. Matilda remained in Normandy where she focused on stabilizing the Duchy of Normandy and promoting her son’s rights to the English throne.

Stephen unsuccessfully attempted to have his son Eustace, recognized by the Church as the next King of England. By the early 1150s, most of the barons and the Church wanted a long-term peace. Ironically, Stephen’s son Eustace died on the same day that Henry FitzEmpress’ eldest son William was born. Although William died when he was three years old, the irony of the birth and the death must have been noticed at the time.

When Henry FitzEmpress re-invaded England in 1153, neither side’s forces were eager to fight. After limited campaigning and the siege of Wallingford, Stephen and Henry agreed upon a negotiated peace, the Treaty of Winchester, in which Stephen recognized Henry as his heir. Stephen died on October 25, 1154 and Henry ascended the throne as King Henry II, the first Angevin King of England.

Empress Matilda lived long enough to see her son Henry firmly established on the English throne. She spent the rest of her life in Normandy, often acting as Henry’s representative and presiding over the government of the Duchy of Normandy. Matilda helped Henry deal with several diplomatic issues and was involved in attempts to mediate between Henry and his Chancellor Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1160s. As she grew older, Matilda paid increasing attention to church affairs and her personal faith, although she continued to remain involved in governing Normandy.

Matilda, aged about 65, died on September 10, 1167 in Rouen, Normandy. She was buried before the high altar of the abbey church of Bec-Hellouin.  Her epitaph read: “Great by birth, greater by marriage, greatest in her offspring: here lies Matilda, the daughter, wife, and mother of Henry”. Her tomb was damaged in a fire in 1263 and later restored in 1282, before being destroyed in 1421 by English mercenaries during the Hundred Years War between England and France. In 1684, some of her remains were found and reburied in a new coffin. Matilda’s remains were lost again after the destruction of abbey church by Napoleon’s army, but were found once more in 1846, and then reburied at Rouen Cathedral in Normandy, France.

Matilda is one of the main characters in Sharon Kay Penman‘s excellent historical fiction novel When Christ and His Saints SleptThe years of the civil war fought by Matilda and Stephen serve as a backdrop for Ellis Peters‘s historical detective series about Brother Cadfael, set between 1137 and 1145.

Rouen Cathedral; By Daniel Vorndran / DXR, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31189606

Wikipedia: Empress Matilda

Works Cited
“Empress Matilda.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Dec. 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.
“Mathilde l’Emperesse.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Jan. 1114. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.
“Matilda (England).” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.
Susan. “King Henry II of England.” British Royals. Unofficial Royalty, 7 Aug. 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.
Williamson, David. Brewer’s British Royalty. London: Cassell, 1996. Print.

Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile

by Susan Flantzer

Credit – Wikipedia

Born on October 13, 1161 at Domfront Castle in Normandy (France), Eleanor was the second of the three daughters and the sixth of the eight children of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was named for her mother and was baptized by Henry of Marcy who was the Abbot of Hautecombe Abbey in France at the time and later was Cardinal Bishop of Albano in Italy. Her godfathers were Robert of Torigni, a Norman monk, prior, abbot and an important chronicler, and Achard of St. Victor, Bishop of Avranches.

Eleanor had seven siblings:

13th-century depiction of Henry and his legitimate children: (l to r) William, Young Henry, Richard, Matilda, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Joan and John; Credit – Wikipedia

It is possible that Eleanor and her younger sister Joan were brought up at Fontevrault Abbey near Chinon, in Anjou, France, but neither of them were to become nuns as their marriages would be used for their father’s alliances. In 1165, envoys from the Holy Roman Empire came to Rouen, Normandy with the purpose of negotiating two marriages with King Henry II, one between Eleanor and a son of Friedrich I (Barbarossa), Holy Roman Emperor, and the other between his eldest daughter Matilda and Heinrich the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, who was a cousin of Friedrich I (Barbarossa), Holy Roman Emperor. The marriage plans for Eleanor fell through, however, her sister Matilda did marry Heinrich the Lion. Instead, Henry decided to use Eleanor’s marriage to cement an alliance with the Kingdom of Castile and prevent Castile from making an alliance with France.

In 1170, Raoul de Faye, the Seneschal of Poitou and a trusted adviser of Eleanor of Aquitaine, negotiated a marriage for nine-year-old Eleanor with the 15-year-old King Alfonso VIII of Castile, who had succeeded to the throne at the age of three. The marriage treaty provided Alfonso with a powerful ally against his uncle, King Sancho VI of Navarre, who had seized some of Alfonso’s land along the Castile-Navarre border. The treaty also served to reinforce the border along the Pyrenees Mountains between Henry’s French territory and the Spanish kingdoms. Eleanor was to receive the County of Gascony, directly north of the Pyrenees Mountains, as a dowry but only upon the death of her mother as it was one of her mother’s territories. Due to the bride’s young age, the marriage was postponed. In September of 1177, Eleanor was sent to Castile where she married Alfonso VIII at the Romanesque-style Burgos Cathedral. Thereafter, she was known as Leonor, the Spanish version of Eleanor. The marriage was happy and successful.

The marriage of Eleanor and Alfonso; Credit – Wikipedia

Eleanor and Alfonso had twelve children:

Eleanor was particularly interested in supporting religious institutions. In 1179, she had a shrine built at Toledo Cathedral in honor of St. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who had been murdered at Canterbury Cathedral by four of her father’s knights. In 1187, Eleanor and Alfonso founded the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas, a monastery of Cistercian nuns located near the city of Burgos now in Spain. The monastery became the burial place of the Castilian royal family. A hospital was also created at the abbey to feed and care for the pilgrims who were traveling along the Camino de Santiago, the road to the to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Eleanor and Alfonso’s youngest daughter Constanza became a nun at the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas.

Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas; Photo Credit – By Lourdes Cardenal – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2939362

King Alfonso VIII of Castile died from a fever on October 5, 1214 at the age of 58. Eleanor was so distraught over his death that she was unable to attend his funeral. Instead, her eldest daughter Berengaria stood in for her. Eleanor then became ill and died on October 31, 1214 at the age of 53, less than a month after the death of her husband. Eleanor and Alfonso were buried at the abbey they founded, the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas. The tombs containing the remains of Alfonso VIII, King of Castile and Eleanor, Queen of Castile were placed next to each other in the nave of the church of the abbey at the beginning of the choir.

Tombs of Alfonso (left) and Eleanor (right); Photo Credit – De Javi Guerra Hernando – Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35701304

Wikipedia: Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile

Works Cited
“Alfonso VIII de Castilla.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, Mar. 2007. Web. 11 Jan. 2017.
Cawley, et al. “Alfonso VIII of Castile.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Jan. 2017. Web. 11 Jan. 2017.
“Eleanor of England, queen of Castile.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Jan. 2017. Web. 11 Jan. 2017.
Kelly, Amy. Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings. New York: Book-of-the-Month-Club, 1950. Print.
“Leonor Plantagenet.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, Mar. 2007. Web. 11 Jan. 2017.
“Sepulcro de Alfonso VIII de Castilla y de Leonor de Plantagenet.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 1080. Web. 11 Jan. 2017.
Weir, Alison. Eleanor of Aquitaine By the Wrath of God, Queen of England. London: Jonathan Cape, 1999. Print.
Williamson, David. Brewer’s British Royalty. London: Cassell, 1996. Print.

Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany

by Susan Flantzer

Credit – Wikipedia

Born on September 23, 1158, Geoffrey was the fourth of the five sons and the fifth of the eight children of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was named after Henry II’s brother Geoffrey, Count of Nantes who had died two months before his nephew’s birth.

Geoffrey’s parents, Henry II and Eleanor, holding court; Credit – Wikipedia

Geoffrey had seven siblings:

13th-century depiction of Henry and his legitimate children: (l to r) William, Young Henry, Richard, Matilda, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Joan and John; Credit – Wikipedia

Geoffrey’s father King Henry II of England was determined to expand and maintain his French territory. Henry II’s brother Geoffrey had been Count of Nantes and Nantes was one of the two traditional capitals of Brittany. Upon the death of Geoffrey in 1158, Conan IV, Duke of Brittany attempted to reclaim Nantes. However, Henry II annexed it for himself and steadily increased his power in Brittany. Henry II considered himself overlord of Brittany and Conan IV, Duke of Brittany as his vassal.

In 1166, Henry II invaded Brittany to punish a local barons’ revolt. In order to gain complete control over the duchy, Henry II forced Conan IV to abdicate in favor of his five-year-old daughter Constance and then betrothed his eight-year-old son Geoffrey to Constance. Henry never claimed the Duchy of Brittany. After Conan IV abdicated, Henry II held guardianship over Brittany for Conan’s daughter Constance, and then for his son Geoffrey to rule by the right of his wife. Henry II had now provided his three surviving sons with territory of their own: Henry would become King of England and have control of Anjou, Maine, and Normandy; Richard would inherit Aquitaine and Poitiers from his mother and Geoffrey would become Duke of Brittany. Henry II’s youngest son John would be born later in 1166 and would have no land, hence his nickname John Lackland.

Henry’s claims over lands in France (in dark orange, orange and yellow) at their peak; Credit – By France_blank.svg: Eric Gaba (Sting – fr:Sting)derivative work: Hchc2009 (talk) – France_blank.svg, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12603376

In May of 1169, Geoffrey was enthroned and invested as Duke of Brittany at Rennes Cathedral and received the homage of the Breton nobles at Christmas of 1169. Geoffrey and Constance were finally married in July of 1181.

Geoffrey and Constance had three children:

As the sons of King Henry II grew up, tensions over the future inheritance of the empire began to emerge, encouraged by King Louis VII of France and then his son King Philip II of France. In 1173, Henry the Young King rebelled in protest and was joined by his brothers Richard and Geoffrey and by their mother Eleanor of Aquitaine (The Revolt of 1173-1174). France, Scotland, Flanders, and Boulogne allied themselves with the rebels. King Henry II eventually defeated the revolt and had Eleanor imprisoned for the next sixteen years for her part in inciting their sons. In 1182–83, Henry the Young King had a falling out with his brother Richard when Richard refused to pay homage to him on the orders of King Henry II, Geoffrey supported his brother Henry. As Henry the Young King was preparing to fight Richard, he became ill with dysentery (also called the bloody flux), the scourge of armies for centuries, and died.

Seal of Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany; Credit – Wikipedia

With the death of his eldest son, King Henry II had to make plans for the disposition of his empire, but he kept his thoughts secret. This caused more ill feelings between him and his three remaining sons, Richard, Geoffrey, and John. King Philip II of France was determined to exploit the situation to his benefit. Geoffrey spent a lot of time at Philip’s court in Paris and the two were close friends. Dissatisfied with having just the Duchy of Brittany, Geoffrey also wanted the County of Anjou and Philip encouraged him in his plans to once again rebel against his father.

Geoffrey remained in Paris through the summer of 1186, but his plans came to naught because on August 19, 1186, Geoffrey died at the age of 27. One contemporary source says Geoffrey died of a fever. However, several other sources say he was thrown off his horse during a tournament and trampled to death. Geoffrey was buried in the choir of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. King Philip II of France was so overcome with grief for his friend that he had to be restrained from throwing himself upon Geoffrey’s coffin in the open tomb. Geoffrey’s half-sister from his mother’s first marriage to King Louis VII of France, Marie, Countess of Champagne, attended his funeral and contributed funds to pay for masses for his soul.

Geoffrey’s death left Constance a widow at the age of 25 with two young daughters (little Matilda died three years later) and pregnant with another child. On March 29, 1187 in Nantes, Brittany, Constance gave birth to Geoffrey’s posthumous son.  King Henry II wanted his grandson to be named Henry, but in defiance of Henry II, the infant was named Arthur after the legendary King Arthur. King Philip II of France claimed the guardianship of Arthur, but King Henry II refused because he did not want Philip II to gain a stronghold in Brittany. Constance was to act as a regent for her son, but Henry II did not trust her. In 1188, Henry II arranged for Constance to marry Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester, one of the most powerful earls in England. The marriage was an unhappy one, the couple became estranged, and there were no children.

In 1189, King Henry II died and was succeeded by his eldest surviving son King Richard I. As Richard’s marriage was childless, in 1191, he officially proclaimed his nephew Arthur as his heir. Then in 1196, Constance had nine-year-old Arthur proclaimed Duke of Brittany and her co-ruler. Because of this, King Richard I had Constance abducted and imprisoned by her estranged husband. Arthur was secretly taken away by his tutor to the French court to be brought up with the future King Louis VIII, son of King Philip II.

In 1199, Constance was released and her second marriage was annulled. That same year, Constance married Guy of Thouars and the couple had two daughters including Alix of Thouars who succeeded her half-brother Arthur as Duchess of Brittany. Constance died at the age of 40 on September 5, 1201 at Nantes. The cause of her death is suspected to be leprosy and/or childbirth complications after giving birth to twin girls who also died. Constance was buried at the Abbey of Villeneuve in Sorinières, south of Nantes, which she had founded. Her third husband Guy of Thouars and their daughter Alix are buried with her.

Geoffrey and Constance’s surviving children Arthur, Duke of Brittany and Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany had unhappy endings. In 1199, as King Richard I of England lay dying of a gangrenous arrow wound, he named his brother John his successor fearing his 12-year-old nephew Arthur was too young to be able to successfully reign. This decision bypassed the children of his deceased brother Geoffrey, both of whom had better claims to the throne based upon the laws of primogeniture.

Arthur I, Duke of Brittany paying homage to King Philip II of France; Credit – Wikipedia

Many members of the French nobility refused to recognize John upon his accession to the English throne and his French lands. They were of the opinion that Arthur had a better claim because his father was an older brother of John. In 1202, 15-year-old Arthur started a campaign against his uncle John in Normandy with the support of King Philip II of France. John’s territory of Poitou revolted in support of Arthur. Arthur besieged his grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, John’s mother, in the Château de Mirebeau in Poitou.   John marched on Mirebeau, taking Arthur by surprise on July 31, 1202. Arthur was captured and imprisoned in the Château de Falaise in Falaise, Normandy. By 1203, Arthur had disappeared. His fate is unknown, but presumably, he was murdered on the orders of his uncle John.

Eleanor of Brittany; Credit – Wikipedia

Arthur’s sister Eleanor was also King John’s prisoner because she and any children she had could pose a threat to John’s throne. She remained imprisoned for her entire life, into the reign of John’s son King Henry III of England, dying in 1241 at the age of 57. Her imprisonment in England made it impossible for her to claim her inheritance as Duchess of Brittany. During her 39 year imprisonment, Eleanor, who was apparently innocent of any crime, was never tried or sentenced. She was considered a state prisoner, was forbidden to marry, and guarded closely even after her child-bearing years.

Wikipedia: Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany

Works Cited
Bretagne, Histoire de. “Geoffroy II de Bretagne.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 1181. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
“Constance, Duchess of Brittany.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Nov. 2016. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
“Geoffrey II, duke of Brittany.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Jan. 2017. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
“Henry II, King of England.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Jan. 2017. Web. 10 Jan.
Kelly, Amy. Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings. New York: Book-of-the-Month-Club, 1950. Print.
Susan. “King Henry II of England.” British Royals. Unofficial Royalty, 7 Aug. 2016. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
Susan. “King John of England.” British Royals. Unofficial Royalty, 21 Aug. 2016. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
Weir, Alison. Eleanor of Aquitaine By the Wrath of God, Queen of England. London: Jonathan Cape, 1999. Print.
Williamson, David. Brewer’s British Royalty. London: Cassell, 1996. Print.

Matilda of England, Duchess of Saxony and Bavaria

by Susan Flantzer

Credit – Wikipedia

Matilda of England was born on January 6, 1156 at Windsor Castle. Named for her paternal grandmother Empress Matilda, Lady of the English, she was the eldest daughter and the third of the eight children of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Through her youngest son Wilhelm of Winchester, she is an ancestor of the House of Hanover which ascended the British throne in 1714.

Matilda’s parents, King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine; Credit – Wikipedia

Matilda was baptized by Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury in the Priory Church of the Holy Trinity in Aldgate, London.  She was brought up in both England and Normandy.

Matilda had seven siblings:

13th-century depiction of Henry and his legitimate children: (l to r) William, Young Henry, Richard, Matilda, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Joan and John; Credit – Wikipedia

In 1165, Rainald of Dassel, Archbishop of Cologne came to Rouen, Normandy with the purpose of negotiating two marriages with King Henry II, one between his second daughter Eleanor and a son of Friedrich I (Barbarossa), Holy Roman Emperor, and the other between his eldest daughter Matilda and Heinrich the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, who was a cousin of Friedrich I (Barbarossa), Holy Roman Emperor. The marriage plans for Eleanor fell through, however, her sister Matilda did marry Heinrich the Lion.

Heinrich the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Duke of Bavaria was one of the most powerful princes of his time, one of the most important allies of his cousin Friedrich I (Barbarossa), Holy Roman Emperor, and was the founder of several German cities including Munich and Brunswick, which was his capital. He was born circa 1129, so he was about 27 years older than Matilda. He was a member of the House of Welf (also Guelf or Guelph) which has included many German and British monarchs from the 11th to 20th centuries. Heinrich’s first marriage to Clementia of Zähringen had been annulled due to political reasons.

At the end of September of 1167, Matilda left England with her mother Eleanor of Aquitaine bound for Normandy with three ships carrying a large entourage, her trousseau and large dowry totaling £4500, worth nearly one-quarter of England’s annual revenue. From Normandy, Matilda traveled with her future husband’s envoys to Germany. On February 1, 1168 at Minden Cathedral, 11-year-old Matilda married 38-year-old Heinrich. Despite the age difference, the marriage was a happy one and led to an increase of trade between England and the Holy Roman Empire.

Wedding of Matilda and Heinrich from a portrait on their tomb; Credit – Wikipedia

Matilda and Heinrich had five children:

Matilda or Richenza (1172–1204) married (1) Godfrey, Count of Perche, had issue  (2) Enguerrand III, Lord of Coucy, no issue
Heinrich V, Count Palatine of the Rhine (circa 1173–1227), married (1) Agnes of Hohenstaufen, had issue (2) Agnes of Landsberg, no issue
Lothar of Bavaria (circa 1174–1190)
Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor and Duke of Swabia (circa 1175–1218), (1) Beatrice of Swabia, no issue (2) Maria of Brabant, no issue
Wilhelm of Winchester, Lord of Lüneburg (1184–1213), married Helena of Denmark, had one Otto, 1st Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, ancestor of the House of Hanover

Matilda’s effigy; Photo Credit – Von Benutzer:Brunswyk – Benutzer:Brunswyk, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=775815

In 1172, Heinrich went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and Matilda served as regent during his absence. Matilda was a strong supporter of the 1173 canonization as a saint of Thomas Becket who had been murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four of her father’s knights in 1170. Brunswick Cathedral where Matilda and Heinrich are buried had been dedicated to St. Thomas Becket, St. Blaise and John the Baptist upon its consecration.

Heinrich governed his lands independently of the Holy Roman Empire and his independent government and expansion efforts caused conflict with clergy and other nobles as well as Friedrich I (Barbarossa), Holy Roman Emperor. Eventually, Heinrich was overthrown in 1180. After fighting a losing war, he was forced into exile in 1182 and sought refuge with his father-in-law King Henry II of England. Matilda accompanied her husband into exile along with their daughter Richenza and their sons Heinrich and Otto. Their son Lothar remained in the Holy Roman Empire. Until June of 1184, the family lived at Henry II’s court in Normandy (Henry was also Duke of Normandy). The family then moved to England for about a year where Matilda and Heinrich’s youngest child was born in Winchester and where they spent Christmas of 1184 at Windsor Castle.

Through diplomatic efforts with the Friedrich I (Barbarossa), Holy Roman Emperor, King Henry II of England and the Pope, Heinrich was allowed to return to his lands after three years of exile. In the spring of 1185, Heinrich and his family traveled from England to Normandy where his children Richenza (who had changed her name to Matilda while in exile), Otto and Wilhelm were left to be raised in their grandfather’s court. At the end of September of 1185, Heinrich the Lion returned to Brunswick with Matilda and their eldest son Heinrich.

Early in 1189, the Holy Roman Emperor again ordered Heinrich to go into exile, but this time Matilda remained in Brunswick to protect her husband’s interests. Heinrich would not make peace with the Holy Roman Emperor, this time Heinrich VI, Holy Roman Emperor, the son of Friedrich I (Barbarossa), until 1190, nor would he ever see his wife Matilda again. On June 28, 1189, Matilda died at Brunswick at the age of 33, about a week before the death of her father King Henry II of England. She was buried at the still incomplete Brunswick Cathedral where her husband Heinrich was also buried upon his death in 1195.

Tomb of Matilda and Heinrich; Photo Credit – Von Brunswyk – DE:Wiki, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4217450

Crypt of Heinrich the Lion, Sarcophagus of Heinrich on left and Matilda on right; Photo Credit – Von Brunswyk, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18904214

Wikipedia: Matilda of England, Duchess of Saxony

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“Matilda of England, Duchess of Saxony.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Aug. 2016. Web. 8 Jan. 2017.
Weir, Alison. Eleanor of Aquitaine By the Wrath of God, Queen of England. London: Jonathan Cape, 1999. Print.
Williamson, David. Brewer’s British Royalty. London: Cassell, 1996. Print.