Category Archives: Plantagenets

Fotheringhay Castle

King Richard III is a very interesting character that many people have lots of different opinions on.  His life seems to be full of intrigue and mystery with plenty of controversy.  Whether it is the story of the princes in the tower, war with Scotland, numerous rebellions, then his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field or the recent finding of his body under a car park, there is enough for everything to find something to peak their interest.

Recently I have been lucky enough to be able to look at an upcoming book regarding Richard. ‘The World of Richard III’, by Kristie Dean and published by Amberley Publishing and is due out later this year.9781445636344

The book is a historical tour guide of places that are associated with the king. It is broken down into seven different sections from Richard’s early life, through his brother’s reign, then his own kingship to his death.   I like that it includes a family tree of the York family and also a map giving you each location represented on the British Isles. A lot has been made in the media recently about Richard and his final resting place with the finding of his skeleton in the car park in Leicester.  So I have decided for this post I want to take a look at the places that shaped Richard’s early life.

The following is an extract from the book;

All that is left of the once impressive castle is a grassy mound by the river and a few fragments of masonry from the keep.  Standing here, it is hard to picture the busy, bustling place the fortress once was.  It is almost as if the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, held in the Great Hall of Fortheringhay in February 1587 left an indelible mark of sadness on the area.’


Richard III was born on 2nd October 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle.  The last son of Richard, 3rd Duke of York and Cecily Neville no one would ever of expected him to reach the heights of king.  The castle that Richard was born in was roughly about 350 years old at his birth.  William I granted the area to Judith of Lens who was the wife of Walteof, Earl of Northumbria.  Their daughter Maud married Simon de Senlis who was made Earl of Huntingdon and around 1100 he founded Fotheringhay Castle.

The story of the castle takes a twist with the lords becoming Scottish.  de Senlis was dead by 1113 and King Henry II then arranged for Maud to marry the future king of Scotland David.  David then acquired Fotheringhay as well as other properties in Huntingdonshire.  The castle then followed through the Scottish royal family into the 13th Century. The first known documented evidence of the castle was when King John, who had hostages from many of his barons to ensure their loyalty acquired the castle.  John had David, Earl of Huntingdon’s son and wrote ‘You have given us your son as hostage, therefore we require you to yield to us your castle at Fotheringhay.’  Baron’s were not happy that the king was claiming all their castles and to try and appease them John started reversing his actions in 1215 and Fortheringhay was returned to David. Shortly after David rebelled against the king and the castle was awarded to William Marshall, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. There was disputes regarding the castle between Marshall and David.  David died and Alexander II of Scotland laid claim to the castle and eventually it was to form part of the dowry of Joan, Henry III of England’s sister who was to marry the Scottish king.  Marshall finally gave the castle over to the English king on 3rd December 1219.

During the rest of the 13th Century the castle changed hand many times.  Edmund Langley, son of Edward III of England obtained the castle in 1377 becoming his principle seat when he became Duke of York in 1385. Langley died in 1402 and the castle passed down to his eldest son Edward.  Edward died childless and after moving to his brother the castle went on to his son Richard.  Richard (father of Richard III) was Duke of York and husband of Cecily Neville.  They went on to become the parents of two kings, Edward IV and Richard III.  Richard the elder became ‘protector and defender of the realm’ on 27th March 1454 while Henry VI, suffered from mental illness.

Richard III

Richard III

During the War of the Roses, Richard died at the battle of Wakefield in 1460, but the castle didn’t come out of favour and his now widowed wife entertained greatly at the castle.  Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s queen resided at the castle in 1469. The castle was given by Henry VIII to his wife Katherine of Aragon who spent a lot of money on the castle restoring it and bringing it up to date.

Another famous chapter in the castle’s history was the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots.  Her trial took place in the Great Hall at Fotheringhay on the 14th and 15th of October 1586.  Found guilty on the 25th October and then told on the 7th February the following year that her execution would take place on the next day.

Despite the castle size and previous importance it was left to ruin and within 50 years of Mary’s execution it was reported to be in a ruinous state and completely demolished soon afterwards.

‘A moat surrounded the castle and the entrance would have been through a gatehouse.  The great stone keep would have sat atop the mound surrounded by a wall and would have been accessible through steps leading from the inner bailey to the top.  During the time of Marie de St Pol, the castle was said to have a large hall, two chambers, two chapels, a kitchen, a bake house and a porter’s lodge.  When Richard lived there, the windows might have been ornamented by a falcon enclosed in a fetterlock, which was an emblem of the House of York.’ Another extract from the book foth 2 Today the castle is a scheduled monument of national importance, historical building and archaeological site.  There is little today except for the earthworks and some masonry remains.  Fotheringhay is open to the public during daylight hours and provides views along the Nene valley demonstrating it’s excellent defensive position.

The World of Richard III by Kristie Dean is published by Amberley Publishing, 2015. The book is available to buy at all good bookstores, as well as online at the Amberley website, Amazon and The Book Depository.

Four Knights to kill a priest



How can you talk about Henry II of England and not mention Thomas Becket? ‘Will no one rid of this turbulent priest?’ are the most commonly quoted words uttered by Henry that sent four knights on their way to commit murder under the presumption of royal command. It is those four knights that I want to look at a little closer, and find out if it was Henry that gave the seed of thought who where the real murders of Thomas Beckett.

Reginald FitzUrse

Reginald FitzUrse was born in 1145 and was the eldest son of Richard FitzUrse. FitzUrse translates as ‘son of bear’, Fitz taken from the Norman-French ‘fils de’ meaning ‘son of’ and Urze from the latin ‘ursus’ meaning ‘bear’. Reginald’s shield bore the cognizance of a bear. On the death of his farther in 1168 Reginald inherited the manor of Wiliton in Somerset. He also held land at Barham in Kent which took its name from Reginald ‘Bar’ from the word bear and ‘ham’ from hamlet. Reginald was a knight attendant to Henry II.
It is believed that FitzUrse could have been the ringleader during the assignation of Thomas and it is said he delivered the first but non-fatal blow during the attack to Becket’s head. After the assassination Reginald escaped to Scotland with the other knights and onto Morville’s castle at Knarsborough where he stayed for a year. All four were excommunicated and ordered by the Pope to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for 14 years. It is believed that none returned although some legends state that FitzUrse fled to Ireland and fathered the McMahon clan.

Hugh de Morville

Hugh de Morville is believed to be the eldest son of Hugh de Morville, Lord of Cunningham and Lauderdale and appears in the services of Henry II from 1158. His mother was Beatrice de Beauchamp. It is believed also that Hugh the younger held the title of Lord of Westmorland.
After the assassination de Morville assisted with the building of a church at Alkborough in today’s North Lincolnshire. This didn’t do enough to impress Pope Alexander III who still excommunicated all four knights and after an audience with the Pope they were exiled to fight ‘in knightly arms in The Temple for 14 years’ in Jerusalem.

The Lordship of Westmoreland passed to Hugh’s sister Maud in 1174 and it is believed that he must of died before 1202/03 as his lands were then in the hands of co-heiresses.

William de Tracy

William de Tracy was the great grandson (through the illegitimate William I de Tracy) of King Henry I. Henry granted William I the feudal barony of Brandninch in Devon. His parents were John de Sudeley and Grace de Tracy and he had a brother called Ralph de Sudeley. William took his mother’s name and also inherited her lands at Brandninch. William passed these lands onto his son William III and then it passed to his grandson Henry who lost the lands by 1202.
Like the other knights William was excommunicated on Maundy Thursday 25th March 1171 and sentenced to give 14 years of service in the holy land. There is speculation as to what happened to William next. Herbert of Bosham says that de Tracy died of leprosy at Cosenza in Southern Italy in 1174. Romwald, Archbishop of Salerno confirms de Tracy’s journey east and also by Roger Hovenden who stated that the Pope instructed the knights, once their duties were fulfilled, to visit the Holy Places barefoot and in hairshirts and then to live alone for the rest of their lives on the Black Mountain near Antioch, spending all their time there in vigils, prayers, and lamentations. It is thought that de Tracy retired to a hermitage there.

Richard le Breton

Richard le Breton was the son of Simon le Bret or Simon Brito of Sampford Brett in Somerset and where neighbours to the FitzUrses. He served in household of William X, Count of Politou brother to Henry II. It is believed that the le Breton’s received the land at Sanford in Somerset due to the service of Auvrai Le Breton at the Battle of Hastings.
According to the account of the assassination by Edward Grim de Breton is meant to have broken his sword when chopping at Becket’s head. After the service in the holy land following excommunication it is believed that de Breton may have retired to Jersey. One of his descendants is said to possibly be Lillie Langley a mistress of King Edward VII

Henry II, from Civil War to Empire.

So I have had a little block recently, and some real life events have put me on hold.  February has been a bit of a wash out for the blog but hopefully things will begin to get a little bit better and I can continue on with my quest.

Henry II is the next King on my list of Plantagenet’s and I suppose this is maybe not helped me, the question is with Henry II where to start?

It looks like even before he became King he led a busy life.  Securing lands in France, helping his mother against Stephen and securing the crown of England for himself.  So to begin with I have decided to take this piece from the Treaties of Wallingford and Winchester where he finally managed to succeed in securing his succession to the throne of England.

Henry was now the adopted son of Stephen who accepted him as his rightful successor to the throne.  Stephen promised to listen to Henry but retained all his Royal powers and castles.  William, Stephen’s ‘other’ son would do homage to Henry renouncing his claim to the throne for promises that his lands were safe.  The agreement was sealed with a kiss of peace at Winchester Cathedral.  Although following the agreement peace remained precarious and after rumours of a plot to assassinate Henry he returned to Normandy.

Stephen fell ill of a stomach disorder and died on 25th October 1154.  Once news reached Henry he returned to England to take oaths of loyalty from some of the barons.  He was crowned at Westminster alongside Eleanor on the 19th December 1154.  During the civil war known as ‘The Anarchy’ much of England had suffered some form of destructive action.   Henry upon receiving the crown set to trying to establish normality.  The king’s income had declined dramatically and the royal control over the mints remained limited.

Henry II

Henry presented himself as the legitimate heir to Henry I his grandfather through his mother Empress Matilda.  He tried to begin by rebuilding the kingdom in his grandfather’s image.  Although the majority of this work had to be carried out at a distance as he spent six and a half of the first eight years of his rule in France.  Despite this work was carried out to demolish unauthorised castles that had sprung up during the civil war.  Efforts were made to restore the royal justice system and royal finances and Henry invested heavily on the construction and renovation of new royal buildings.

Now King of England Henry’s troubles did not end there.  Throughout the 1150’s Henry was continually at conflict with different Kings, Counts, Dukes and overlords from different areas of France and the British Isles.  In 1157 Henry through continuing pressure managed to make a young Scots King Malcolm to return the lands in the north of England that had been taken during the Anarchy.  Welsh princes were a little harder to subdue.  Henry had to fight two different campaigns one in the north and one in the south of Wales.  In 1157 and 1158 both Owain Gwynedd and Rhys ap Gruffydd submitted to Henry’s rule returning to pre-civil war borders.

Henry continued to have problems with Louis VII of France throughout the 1150’s that led to the disputes drawing in other powers from the region.  Henry also had the greater resources at the time after his succession in England.  Theirry the Count of Flanders signed a military alliance with Henry albeit with a clause that stopped him being forced to fight against Louis.  Theobald V, Count of Blois also became allied with Henry.  On returning to France from England Henry looked to squash any possible rebellion with the French Lords.  As a result the peace treaty of 1154 between Henry and Louis was signed.  Clauses of the peace treaty stated that Henry bought back Vermon and Neuf-Marche from Louis.  The treaty was shaky and tensions remained high as Henry hadn’t paid homage to Louis for the Dukedoms in France.  In an attempt to improve the situation Henry met Louis at Paris and Mont-Saint-Michel in 1158.  They agreed to betroth Henry’s eldest son the ‘Young Henry’ to Louis daughter Margaret.  Part of the marriage arrangement was that Louis would betroth the disputed territory of Vexin to Margaret upon the marriage.  Although this ultimately gave the lands to the Henrys it also implied that Vexin was Louis to give away in the first place.

Henry also had turned his attention to the Duchy of Brittany.   The Breton dukes held little power across the duchy and most of the power was with local lords.  In 1148 Conan III died, leaving a power vacuum which lead to civil war.  Henry claimed himself overlord of Brittany on the basis that the duchy had previously owed loyalty to Henry I.  Henry ruled Brittany through proxies and backed the claim of Conan IV’s claim to the majority of the area because of Conan’s strong English ties.  Conan’s uncle Hoel continued to rule in the county of Nantes until he was deposed by Henry’s brother Geoffrey in 1156.  Geoffrey then died in 1158 and Conan annexed Nantes into the control of the overall duchy.  Louis made no moves to stop Henry’s power within Brittany from growing.

Henry hoped to make a similar move for control of Toulouse in southern France.  Toulouse was part of the Duchy of Aquitaine but had become increasingly independent and was ruled by Count Raymond V.  Encouraged by Eleanor, Henry allied himself with Raymond’s enemy Raymond Berenguer of Barcelona.  In 1159 Henry threatened to invade himself to dispose of Raymond.  Henry did invade Toulouse but found Louis visiting Raymond who was married to Louis sister Constance.  Not willing to attach whilst Louis was in attendance in case it looked like a move against Louis himself Henry backed off.  Henry then ravaged the surrounding county, seizing castles and taking the province of Quercy.  Toulouse would be a long running dispute between Henry and Louis and the chronicler William of Newburgh called it ‘the forty year war’.

Henry and Eleanor holding court.

Henry and Eleanor holding court.

After Toulouse Louis tried to repair relations with Henry and in 1160 a further peace treaty was signed that stated that Henry was promised the lands of his grandfather Henry I.  It also reaffirmed the betrothal of Margaret and Young Henry, with the Young Henry giving homage to Louis for his lands in France and reinforcing his position as heir to Louis through the marriage.  Louis thou quickly moved his position after the death of his wife Constance.  Louis married Adele the sister of the Count of Blois and Champagne.  Louis then betrothed his two daughters Marie and Alix to Theobold of Blois’ sons.  Henry was not happy.  He had custody of Margaret at the time and managed to persuade Papal legates into marrying the two children although they were only five and three.  He then seized Vexin to conclude the previous promised marriage arrangement.  This then made Louis unhappy and he declared the treaty from 1160 broken in spirit by Henry’s actions.

This lead to increased tensions in the area and Theobald mobilised his forces along the border of Touraine.  Henry then attached Chaumont in Blois in a surprise attack taking the castle.  In 1161 it seemed likely that war would ravage across the region, but a fresh peace was negotiated in Freteval and a second agreement in 1162 that was overseen by Pope Alexander III.

Henry now controlled more of France than any man had since the days of the Carolingians.  These lands with his possession’s in England, Wales, Scotland and most of Ireland was vast and referred by historians as the Angevin empire.  His mother now in her early sixties I am sure would have been very proud and happy with how he had grown his lands and established his empire.  He ruled in England for another 27 years after the agreement overseen by Pope Alexander III and the as the early part of his life and reign this time was also never quiet with lots of significant events but we will pick these up later.  As I mentioned at the beginning with Henry it was always a question of where to start as so much happened within his life, but it must be said the Empire he grew surely rivalled anything previously seen in Western Europe.  The Plantagenet’s were truly now on the map.

Robert Fitzroy, 1st Earl of Gloucester the military behind Matilda

Robert Fitzroy, 1st Earl of Gloucester was the illegitimate son of King Henry I of England. He fought for Matilda his half-sister during the Anarchy in which she warred against Stephen of Blois for the English crown.
It is believed that Robert was the eldest of Henry’s illegitimate sons born before 1100 and before his father accession to the throne. The name of his mother is disputed, it is believed that she may have been Nest ferch Rhys a Welsh Princess, daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr. It is also stated that it may be a member of the Gay or Gayt family of North Oxfordshire. A number of Robert’s illegitimate siblings also had mothers from this region.

He had been contracted by his father to marry Mabel FitzHamon daughter and heir of Robert FitzHamon. His wife brought with her Gloucester in England, Glamorgan in Wales and also lands in Normandy. It was after the White Ship disaster and the marriage that Henry then created Robert, Earl of Gloucester.
1st Earl Gloucester 2

He had seven different children with Mabel, of which included; William who succeeded as the 2nd Earl of Gloucester, Robert who became Bishop of Worcester and Matilda who married Ranulf the 4th Earl of Chester. He also had four known illegitimate children.

There is evidence that Robert was considered as a candidate for the throne but due to his illegitimacy he was ruled out. It is written within the Gesta Stephani (unknown author, 12th Century manuscript)

‘Among others came Robert, Earl of Gloucester, son of King Henry, but a bastard, a man of proved talent and admirable wisdom. When he was advised, as the story went, to claim the throne on his father’s death, deterred by sounder advice he by no means assented, saying it was fairer to yield it to his sister’s son (the future Henry II of England), than presumptuously to arrogate it to himself’

Robert went on to become Matilda his sister’s main military commander during the Anarchy. At the Battle of Lincoln on 2nd February 1141 Robert led an army to victory breaking King Stephen’s siege of the castle at Lincoln and went on to capture and take prisoner King Stephen. This led to Matilda taking control of the country for a short period of time. Robert’s forces were then defeated at the Rout of Winchester on 14th September 1141 leading to his capture near Stocksbrige.

Robert was exchanged for King Stephen which then led to King Stephen taking back power and Matilda giving up her best chance of becoming Queen. She later returned to France where she died in 1167.

Robert of Gloucester died in 1147 at Bristol Castle. He was later buried at St James Priory in Bristol which he had founded and was succeeded by his son William FitzRobert as the 2nd Earl of Gloucester.

Chimneypiece of the Banqueting Hall, Cardiff Castle, carved by Thomas Nicholls to instructions by the architect William Burges. 1870s. Robert the Consul was the 1st Earl of Gloucester and the 2nd Lord of Glamorgan, the nobleman credited with having built the Norman keep of Cardiff Castle. The main figure on Nicholls's huge chimneypiece depicts this twelfth-century hero setting off on one of his exploits, gazing up at his wife as she waves from the ramparts of a castle, with heralds blowing their trumpets from the castle's ramparts.

Chimneypiece of the Banqueting Hall, Cardiff Castle, carved by Thomas Nicholls to instructions by the architect William Burges. 1870s. .

The House of Plantagenets, the beginnings

So to try and stick with my previous post in stick with a ‘theme’ I am going to focus my next couple of pieces on the Plantagenet Kings of England and their families.  It is easy to see very quickly that the crown jumped between, brother, nephew, grandsons – with Queen Consorts and Princesses marrying two and sometimes three times making the web of succession and rule an every spiralling bigger mess.

I am going use the blog to chart my learning and the different paths that I travel down to try and understand the mess that was created within early Medieval England.

The Plantagenets ruled in England from 1154 when Henry II inherited the crown from his cousin Stephen after his mother Empress Matilda had negotiated the succession of the crown for her son.  This lasted until Richard III who died at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the throne then passing to the victor of the battle his niece’s husband Henry Tudor beginning the dynasty of the Tudors.

Firstly I think it is important to try and understand who each of the Kings where and from whom they succeeded and from where they gained their right to claim themselves as King.  Below is a list of the different Plantagenet kings in chronological order.

The Plantagenets

  • Henry II, reigned between 1154-1189 and was the grandson of Henry I and the cousin of Stephen the previous King of England
  • Richard I ‘the lionheart’, 1189-1199, was the son of Henry II
  • John, 1199-1216, was the son of Henry II and brother to Richard I
  • Henry III, 1216-1272, son of John
  • Edward I ‘Longshanks’, 1272-1307, son of Henry III
  • Edward II, 1307-1327, son of Edward I
  • Edward III, 1327-1377, son of Edward II
  • Richard II, 1377-1399, grandson of Edward III, son of Edward of Woodstock

House of Lancaster

  • Henry IV, 1399-1413, grandson of Edward III, son of John of Gaunt and cousin of Richard II
  • Henry V, 1413-1422, son of Henry IV
  • Henry VI, 1422- 1461 and 1470-1471, son of Henry V

House of York

  • Edward IV, 1461-1470 and 1471-1483, great-grandson of Edward III, son of Richard of Plantagenet and cousin of Henry VI
  • Edward V, 1483-1483, son of Edward IV
  • Richard III, 1483-1485, uncle of Edward V and son of Ricahrd of Plantagenet

Within the 331 years of Plantagenet rule many important events happened in England, from the signing of the Magna Carta, the Peasants Revolt, The Hundred Years War to the War of the Roses, the shape of England was truly taken from a fledgling nation to a real powerhouse within Europe.

I want to explore the reign of each of the Kings and breakdown things of interest which I will blog over the next coming weeks and months, whilst also looking at their Queen Consorts and the wider families that they married from.