Toulouse cross

Book review: Fitzempress' Law, by Diana Norman

This was Diana Norman's first published novel, and copies of it are extremely rare and usually very expensive. I'd always wanted to check it out, so when a careless bookseller posted an only slightly imperfect copy on Abebooks at about a tenth of the going rate, I pounced on it.

It has the same setting, and a good deal of the same subject matter - Henry II, the predicament of medieval Jews - as the dismal Mistress of the Art of Death series that she started writing a quarter of a century later. The difference is, that it's actually damn good.

It's a time-travel novel, and all time-travel novels have to start with a more-or-less ludicrous contrivance to get the story moving; you just have to hold your nose and swallow it. In this case, three young hooligans assault an old woman, who hexes them so that their motorbike crashes and their bodies lie in a coma in hospital while their personalities are transported into the bodies of three young 12th-century Hertfordshire people, each of whom has a major difficulty that can only be solved by recourse to 12th-century law - Henry FitzEmpress' law. Okay: so far, so hokey. But Norman had really immersed herself in re-imagining 12th-century life in Hertfordshire (she set much of the action in the village where she lived, and it's clear she researched it intensively) and trying to create a mind-set for its inhabitants. You might or might not like the choices she made: for example, she, like Alfred Duggan, found a parallel between the Anglo-Norman knightly mindset and that of public school, colonial Englishmen, and gave her above-the-salt characters dialogue to match; and her Jewish characters talk like New York Yiddisher Jews (Reuben the moneylender of Cambridge says to his wife, 'Momma, today we entertain a goy to dinner'). But they are honest and coherent choices. And it's full of the flavour of real medieval life - asides like a note on not only the rarity of hedges in pre-enclosure England, but their edibility (hazels! rosehips! haws! crab apples! Yum!), and characters with genuinely non-modern attitudes. I would seriously recommend it.

How the hell did Norman simply forget everything she had known in 1980 when she came to write the character and milieu of 'Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar' - who is far less convincing in a medieval setting than the time-travelling heroes of this book?

Cross-posted to oltramar

Rose Red

Richard I'sletter to Saladin, 1191 AD

*I* giggled.

Scholars disagree over whether Richard I was really interested in getting to know Saladin over coffee or just looking for one fun night. Those who argue the former insist that organizing a whole crusade just for a one-night stand seems like an awful lot of effort, even if Saladin did carry an exceptionally large scimitar. More likely, Richard I truly was interested in something more serious, but Saladin couldn’t see himself being with someone who couldn’t even conquer Jerusalem.
Rose Red

A previously unnoticed granddaughter of King Harold II

For some years, researchers had noted a peculiar epitaph for one William D'Eyncourt, preserved in Lincoln cathedral records, attesting that the aforesaid William was regia styrpe progenitus (of royal stock) and was raised in the court of King William II Rufus.

The epitaph goes on to name William's father, Walter D'Eyncourt, lord of Blankney, and his kinsman, the bishop Remigius. Charter evidence also shows that William had two younger brothers, Ralph and Walter, and that his mother was named Matilda.

Matilda it seems was an heiress of some manors and lands in Cambs., Suffolk, and Norfolk all formerly belonged to Alain Rufus of Brittany, a companion of William the Conqueror. So here's where it gets interesting.

Alain Rufus and his brother, Alain Noir (their father was evidently not a man possessed of great imagination) were members of the tippy-top of Breton society. Their nephew Alain of Richmond married the heiress to Brittany and *his* granddaughter was Constance who married Geoffrey, son of Henry II. The Alains also were cousins of Alain IV of Brittany who was married to the Conqueror's daughter Constance and who's illegitimate son Brien FitzCount was a prominent supporter of the Empress Maude.

Alain Rufus was involved in quite the scandal, when he attacked the abbey of Wilton and abducted Gunhilda, the daughter of King Harold Godwinsson by his lover, Edith Swan's Neck. Shortly after her father was killed in 1066, Gunhilda's brothers and sister Gytha fled the country. Gunhilda was perhaps too young to leave her mother, and stayed behind. She was sent to Wilton and was seemingly educated there (archbishop Anselm mentions in one of his letters that she wrote to him herself). A few years later, Alain Rufus liberated her from Wilton and Gunhilda never went back.

In 1093, Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, wrote to Gunhilda shortly after the death of Alain Rufus, pleading with her to return to her nunnery. He wrote, "You were the daughter of the king and queen [here Anselm was presumably being polite when he refers to her mother as Harold's queen]. Where are they? They are worms and dust. Their exalted rank, their pleasures, their riches, neither preserved them nor went with them. You loved Count Alain Rufus and he loved you. Where is he now? Where has your beloved gone? ... He does not care now for your love in which he delighted while he lived..." Anselm then goes on to scold her for taking up with her dead lover's brother, Alain Noir: "...if you are joined with him, God may condemn him with you by eternal death."

As discussed by Richard Sharpe, author of "King Harold's Daughter" (Haskins Society Journal 19, 2008), the simplest explanation for all this is that Matilda, wife of Walter Deincourt, was a daughter of Alain Rufus and Gunhilda. As her mother was believed to a nun and her parent's relationship was highly irregular, Matilda was likely not considered legitimate. However, her father or her uncle may have made arrangements for her to inherit some of his property. If we assume a date of about 1070 for the start of Gunhilda and Alain Rufus' liaison, Matilda could very well have been old enough to be married by the mid-1090s and the mother of a young son who's rank and parentage entitled him to be brought up in the court of William II in the late 1090s. Her younger son, Ralph, inherited his father's barony and produced a line of D'Eyncourts.
Rose Red

King Kundafrun of Armaniyah

I posted awhile back about what appears to be an ersatz version of Richard I that appears in Arabic hero epics recorded by M.C. Lyons. I thought I'd post a bit more on it.

Kundafrun, king of Armaniyah (England) seems to be Richard, syncretized with local legends and half-remembered factoids. It reminds me a bit of how old Persian folktales recast Alexander the Great in their own image of a warrior prince. Lyons suggests the name is a corruption of "Comte de ---" (Count of --).

Kundafrun, "lord of all the English isles", appears on the scene after his daughter Runaqis elopes with the Muslim hero Arnus. In a convoluted series of events, Runaqis disappears and Arnus and Baibars (also based off a real person) go in search of her. They track her to her homeland of Armaniyah but are drugged by an old man who is Kundafrun in disguise. Then the "real" Kundafrun appears and killed old-man-Kundafrun, only to turn out to be Shiha, Arnus and Baibars' homeboy, who'd taken on the form of Kundafrun by using a magic mirror.

Rumiya, the sister of Kundafrun, vows revenge. She summons a djinn to spirit away her niece Runaqis, who shortly afterward gives birth to her and Arnus' daughter, Miriam. Many years later Miriam becomes a warrior queen, defeats many men in battle, and wins the heart of Baibars' brother Toqtimur. She is kidnapped by multiple assailants and lusted after by TWO of her own half-brothers, Timurj and Qatalunaj.

Kundafrun reappears, alive, and attacks Aleppo. The hero Ibrahim fights him in single combat for seven days straight, but cannot hurt him as Kundafrun's "bones are like those of a crocodile." Kundafrun is overcome once again by Shiha and apparently dies.

He's alive AGAIN when he invades Muslim lands alongside the Byzantines. There's a sequence dealing with Kundafrun's rivalry with "King Ptolemy of Marjan". He sends an emissary named Uqba to speak with Ptolemy, who instead arrests him. Uqba curses Kundafrun and says that Kundafrun murdered his own father (!). Kundafrun allies with his former Muslim enemies to defeat Ptolemy, and victorious, is converted to Islam by the angel of death in a dream.

Ptolemy and Uqba go to Sextus, "king of the land of the Franks", who is one hundred and twenty years old. They tell him that Kundafrun has turned Muslim, and he joins with them. Kundafrun is captured in battle and spat upon. The warrior princess Fatima rescues him and Ptolemy converts to Islam as well and denounces Uqba.

This whole tale reads to me like some garbled account of Richard's falling out with King Philippe II, perhaps with Leopold V of Austria mixed in, heavily romanticized.
Elizabeth I coronation portrait

Let me introduce myself...and ask a question!

I am an English history buff--anything from 1066 to 1603 is what I love, though I freely admit to having a decided leaning towards the Tudors.  I believe in Richard III's basic innocence (at least in regards to his nephews' deaths), love Eleanor of Aquitaine, and have a great fondness for the love stories of John of Gaunt & Katherine Swynford and Catherine d'Valois & Owen Tudor.

That all said, I do have a question if anyone can help me.

I recently re-read Sandra Wilson's Alice.  So-so book, though it did have some interesting perspectives on the historical figures.  I was curious about what's listed on the last page--a quote from the Warwick Castle guidebook (I believe) about the Earl of Warwick's death:
"Soon after Gaveston's execution, the Earl [of Warwick] died mysteriously; it has been suggested that he was poisoned by Gaveston's mistress."

Some preliminary research doesn't turn up anything about it except that maybe Edward II had him poisoned.  I'll keep looking, but it seems we have some experts here, with resources I don't have.

Thanks, all!  I look forward to joining the discussions.
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Rose Red

Ermengarde of Anjou (c. 1072-1147)

Found some info about this lady in Robert of Arbrissel: A Medieval Religious Life by Bruce Venarde.

Ermengarde, born c. 1072, was the daughter of Count Fulk IV of Anjou by his first (of five) wives, Hildegarde de Baugency. Her younger half-brothers were Geoffrey IV Martel (by stepmother #1 Ermengarde de Bourbon) and Fulk V, later King of Jerusalem (by stepmother #4, Bertrade de Montfort). Ermengarde is the same woman who is frequently, and falsely, stated to have been one of the wives of William VIII of Aquitaine. I've ranted about her "Weir'd" treatment before due to this fallacy.

Anyway, Ermengarde did marry Alain IV, duke of Brittany, in the early 1090s and afterward had quite a remarkable career. When her husband left on Crusade, Ermengarde ruled Brittany, a land described by her contemporary Baudri, bishop of Dol, as a "land of scorpions", as regent from 1096-1101. The poet Marbod de Rennes praised Ermengarde as "the glory of Brittany" (decus Armoricae regionis), lauding her eloquence and intelligence. After Alain returned from Crusade, they had three children but he seems to have had problems handling either his marriage or his county.

Ermengarde seperated from Alain about 1109 and petitioned for an annulment on grounds on consanguinity. This was when Robert d'Arbrissel wrote to her, giving her advice on her marriage. I'll quote some relevent bits:

Do not regret too much that you are bound to an infidel husband. Remember the holy woman Esther, who was married to the infidel prince Ahaseurus... And the Gospel says that an unbelieving husband will be saved through a faithful wife....
Concerning your sin of incest
[the marriage to Alain] and the sin of your daughter [Hawise of Brittany, married to Baldwin VII of Flanders] whom you have given over to death: anxious and troubled, humbly and submissively, pray to God that he free you, lest you perish. You cannot be seperated from your husband by ecclesiastical law. You have done what you could; you fled. For your daughter, seek seperation by any means neccesary.

The annulment was denied, as Robert aludes to here. Alain IV abdicated in 1112 and retired to the monastery of Redon. Ermengarde remained at the Breton court, becoming influential in the government of her son, Conan III. In 1130, Ermengarde became a supporter of Bernard of Clairvaux and followed him to Burgundy. From there, Ermengarde set out with a company of nuns to Jerusalem, where her brother Fulk was now king. By this time she was already in her fifties, making the perilous journey to the Holy Land! She sent several years in Jerusalem at her brother's court (and must've known his young sons Baldwin and Amaury). After Fulk's death, Ermengarde returned to France, and died at the Breton court in 1147.

And all she's remembered by is the spurious wife of her first cousin, William VIII of Aquitaine.
Toulouse cross

Writing off medieval women as “arrogant” and"infatuated"

Did anyone here watch the first episode of Helen Castor’s BBC series ‘She-Wolves’, about English medieval queens, last Wednesday?

I found it interesting to see an avowedly feminist take on Matilda, and the problem she faced in trying to create the role of queen regnant, previously unheard-of in England. It is an indictment of male medieval historians in general that so many of them, right up to the present day, have taken 12th-century chroniclers’ accounts of her ‘arrogance’ at face value. As Castor said, if Matilda hadn’t abandoned the ‘modest gait and bearing proper to the gentle sex’, she wouldn’t have got far as a ruler.

A parallel case, to my mind, is the way historians have dumbly repeated the chroniclers’ assessment of Constance of Antioch’s choice of Reynaud de Chatillon as a second husband in 1153. Naturally, for a 12th century male writer, it was axiomatic that any woman who refused her male relative and overlord’s choice of husband for her by could only be acting out of sensuality and infatuation; but considering what a high opinion her kinsmen Aimery I, Baldwin IV and Raymond of Tripoli all had of his military talents, you’d think a modern historian might at least consider the possibility that she valued the same qualities in him that they did?

Cross-posted to Oltramar
Rose Red

Susanna ferch Llywelyn, granddaughter of King John

I've posted a couple of times about the family of King John's illegitimate daughter Joan, who married Llywelyn Fawr. This post concerns their most obscure child, Susanna.

Susanna was possibly the youngest of Llywelyn and Joan's three daughters together (for evidence that Elen and Gwladys were Joan's daughters, see this post). She had one known full-brother, Dafydd, and several half-brothers.

In 1228, Susanna was in England in the custody of her uncle, King Henry III, who granted guardianship of her to Nicholas de Verdun and his wife Clemence le Boteler. Clemence was almost surely Susanna's maternal grandmother, the mother of Joan. In 1229, Susanna's siblings Dafydd and Gwladys visited Henry III's court, and it's entirely possible she saw them both there.

Malcolm, earl of Fife, died in 1228, leaving as his heir his nephew, Malcolm. This younger Malcolm was now a ward of the Scots king Alexander II. Now, Alexander II was married to Joan, the legitimate sister of Henry III and Joan of Wales, and his relations with the English court during this period were fairly warm. Possibly it was Henry III who hit upon the idea of marrying his niece Susanna to this young earl of Scotland.

Susanna's sister Elen had married the Scots princeling John le Scot, earl of Huntington, in 1222. Therefore, Susanna's family already had strong ties to the premier families of Scotland. Susanna was sent to Scotland to marry Malcolm, which she did about 1230, and anyway certainly before 1237, when a document mentions "Maurice, servant of the countess of Fife"). Together, Susanna and Malcolm had two sons, Colban and Macduff.

There has been some confusion over this point, so I will try to make it clear as possible. Susanna predeceased Malcolm. He then remarried to a woman named Ellen, evidently quite a bit younger than him. When Malcolm died in 1266, his widow Ellen then remarried to Donald, earl of Mar, by whom she had five children. Elen was still alive as of 1295.

Evidently, some exciteable historians and genealogists didn't pay attention to the chronology and thought that if Malcolm married Llywelyn's daughter, and Donald married Malcolm's widow, then the two women had to be identical! Except that obviously its a little hard for a woman who first married before 1237 to be producing a litter of children by a second husband after 1266, then survive to 1295! Susanna and Ellen are two seperate people and should not be confused. There was only one Elen ferch Llywelyn Fawr, and she married John le Scot and Robert de Quincy. The Ellen who remarried to Donald of Mar was NOT a member of Llywelyn Fawr's family.
Rose Red

Scott Lynch's "So Much Less Gay" Henry V

In 'honor' of Orson Scott Card's recent butchering of Shakespeare's masterpiece, Hamlet, Scott Lynch has written "The So Much Less Gay and Not Written With Big Gay Words version of The Cronicle History of Henry V formerly by William Shakespeare".

I sort of love Lynch's reimagining of Henry V as the sort of guy who would tell his bride, "You are very pretty, but from now on you must speak English like Jesus did."