Category Archives: Magna Carta

O Robin, Robin, wherefore art thou Robin?

Who is the High Sheriff of Nottingham really worried by?

One windy day on top of the motte of a Norman castle ruined the reputation of Robin Hood for me. And some better truths emerged from the uncertain mists of history. As a result, a legend was exposed for what it is.

After hearing a radio broadcast concerning the estate of Laxton, in Nottinghamshire, we found that it was the last remaining example of a Saxon strip farm left in England. So we went to view it and heard a presentation by the Bailiff. It was incredible to discover that the estate was managed by him in a Bailiff’s court in the manner of old.

After the presentation we went off to a high point to view the landscape. The Bailiff did not mention the castle but we were soon on top of the motte surveying the area. Interestingly, it sits on the west side of the River Trent and the major arterial, Great North Road, otherwise known poetically as the, A1 (M). From the height my attention was soon drawn to a view of three towers on the horizon.

“What’s that?” I asked.
“Lincoln Cathedral,” was the answer.

Thus came the end of my interest in a Saxon strip farm and the beginning of the search for the History of Laxton castle. The result of this led me to write the new novels of: ‘The Wars of the Magna Carta’.

Forming a legend

Within this story we find King John, formerly prince, who only became king after his brother Richard died. After much researching, a tale gradually emerged of female heroism and a hidden history. Of that you may read in the ‘The Wars of the Magna Carta’ books, but of Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and the forests of Sherwood?

In a world where stories tended to be passed on by Bards and Ballards, the truth often becomes left behind until it is secondary to a good story. This is not surprising when the tale could earn a meal from the telling whilst sat around a blazing log fire.

Thus do we form legends, until they take themselves into print. As you can see, we fashion a new truth from the imaginings of the firelight’s flickerings.

So we come to Robin Hood

The name in various forms appears in writings of the thirteenth century, most notably in an allegorical fantasy with the title: ‘Piers the Plowman’. Other later documents mention undesirables in the woods but this does not mean the Merry Men, it means those, ‘Outside the Laws,’ of the forest.

As time passes, Robin Hood begins to make more frequent appearances in literature, gathering characteristics as he goes, until he becomes ‘truth’ itself. Then in the nineteenth century, Sir Walter Scott, no less, gives him a new impetus in his novel ‘Ivanhoe’ (1820). As a result, the modern hero is set into history as fact.

But here is a problem; to research the history of Laxton is to research the history of Lincoln and Nottinghamshire. This includes the history of the forests, and of all the documents dissected, the chronicles, the pipe rolls, and various other contemporary sources of official records. In none of these are there mentions of the character of Robin, or Locksley, so richly drawn in legendary history.

There must be a history, but it is one of truth, of the times, of King John, of the Forests and the High Sheriff of Nottingham, and of the keepers of the King’s Forests, of two valorous women, of Nicholaa of Lincoln and Matilda of Laxton, female castellans, female Keepers, and one female Sheriff of Lincoln town.

The Sheriff of Nottingham

What of Robin’s adversary, the High Sheriff of Nottingham? His name was Philip Marc and he was only responsible for the royal hunting enclosure within the bounds of Sherwood. He made a mess of that small duty. In the 1215 Magna Carta – article (50) this appears:

“We will remove completely from their offices the kinsmen of Gerard de Athée, and in future they shall hold no offices in England. The people in question are: Engelard de Cigogné, Peter, Guy, and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogné, Geoffrey de Martigny and his brothers, Philip Marc and his brothers, with Geoffrey his nephew, and all their followers.”

It seems that Philip had been doing some tax collecting of his own. As a result he was interfering with the management of the forest by its rightful keeper, Matilda of Laxton.

So stand aside Robin Hood; Hollywood might love you, but history knows you for what you are, a figment of many imaginings. The real hero who fought against the Sheriff of Nottingham was Matilda of Laxton. You can read more of her and the heroine of Lincoln, kindred spirits, in the stories of: ‘The Wars of the Magna Carta’.

Available from Amazon in paperback and also on Kindle.

Isabella de Angouleme

There are plenty of English Queens with a great history. Isabella de Angouleme deserves a place on the list because of her unique story and the impact she had on one of the most successful Kings in our history, her son Henry III.

Isabella’s story starts somewhere between 1188 and 1191 in south-west France. She was the daughter of Alice Courtenay and Count Aymer Taillefer. Her noble birth earned her good looks and the right to rule the lands of Angouleme.

Promise

As with lots of noble girls in this period, her parents looked to find Isabella a good husband. Not needing to search too far their neighbour, Hugh of Lusignan, was originally chosen. However, the marriage had to wait until Isabella came of age. This delay also gave her father the chance to look for better offers.

The best opportunist offer came from John of Anjou, the youngest son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and brother to Richard, destined to become King of England. John’s goal was to gain a wife with lands to control. His marriage to Isabella de Angouleme went ahead on 24th August 1200, as John had succeeded Richard on his death in 1199, that made her Queen Eleanor of England. Embarrassing as there also existed two dowager queens of England. John and Richard’s father’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine was still active in the affairs of state, and Richard’s wife, Berengaria was also in the picture.

Answering the insult

Naturally Hugh of Lusignan was not pleased with John’s move. He made an appeal to the King of France about the matter. Philip II chose to confiscate John’s French lands.

What originally looked like a wise move from John now seemed like an opportunity to far. While he did gain the lands of Angouleme, he lost his own ancestral lands, a domain that was much larger. This began the break up of the Angevin Empire.

The Blame

John took a lot of the blame for the marriage and losing the lands. However, Isabella de Angouleme was also blamed. Rumours even began to spread that the 12 year old bride had used witchcraft to bewitch John.

Isabella de Angouleme – Queen of England

The relationship between John and Isabella was an interesting one. At first the royal couple led very separate lives. Isabella even lived with John’s former wife, Isabella of Gloucester, who he dumped in favour of the younger girl.

Isabella de Angouleme conceived her first child, Henry, six years after the couple wed. He was born on 1st October 1207. Amazingly, during the pregnancy John showed a different side of his character and doted on his wife. He even tried to reconcile the relationship between his wife and her half-brother. These actions are in stark contrast to John’s reputation as a villain.

After Henry, Isabella went on to have four more children. The first, Richard, came in 1209. The queen then had three daughters – Joan (1210), Isabella (1214) and Eleanor (1215). The children meant that John’s line was secure.

While family life was going well for the King, there were problems elsewhere. The loss of his French lands was a big blow. Added to other missteps, including with the Magna Carta, and it plunged England into war. John lost his life during the war in October 1216 after suffering with dysentery.

Amazingly, Isabella de Angouleme was not quite 30 when her husband died. More surprising, John did not mention her in his will and did not choose to give her a role in the government for their nine year old son, the new King Henry III.

The Embarrassing Mother

While she was Queen of England Isabella did not have power or money of her own. John’s decision not to give her a role in government meant her prospects as Queen Mother did not look any better.

Incredibly, in 1217 while England was still at war, Isabella chose to sail home to France, leaving her son in England with his advisors. She took her eldest daughter Joan with her, planning to have her marry Hugh of Lusignan, Count of La Marche, the son of the neighbour she was initially betrothed to as a child.

Isabella’s story took another twist in 1220 when she married Hugh du Lusignan instead of Joan. Her reasoning was that she wanted to save her daughter from the perils of early marriage and childbearing, something she had firsthand experience in. However, Isabella chose to bargain with the English government for Joan’s return. She got a financial settlement and her daughter returned home.

As you can see, Isabella de Angouleme has an amazing story. What is even more astonishing is that even though he was left without a mother at such a young age, Henry III became one of the longest reining kings in English history. He had the perfect advisors in William Marshal, Peter Des Roches, and Hugh de Burgh.

If you want to pay respects to Isabella you can visit her tomb at Fontevraux Abbey in France. The picture above is her effigy.

Read on

If you want to read more incredible stories about some of these characters, pick up Wars of the Magna Carta by Austin Hernon today. In addition, keep your eyes out for new books in the future where Henry III will be a central character.

William Marshal – Knight

William Marshal is an incredible figure in English history. He was a dedicated Knight, loyally serving several Kings, and led an army that helped to save England from the French in the First Barons’ War. His story is amazing, even more so because it is true.

Background

William was born in 1146 into a minor, but noble family. Like many young men of the time he joined another household, the de Tancarvilles, at the age of twelve, for training as a knight.

It is not known if William had his sights set upon becoming head of the army at the time. However by serving through the reign of several kings, from Stephen onwards, he rose to that position by the time of King John.

William Marshal excelled at his profession as a Knight. He was a hero who cut through the tournament lists ‘like a hot knife through butter’. His proficiency quickly claimed the attention of other noble families and a marriage to Isabel de Clare brought him into one of the great families of the land, providing land, riches, and also prestige at court. In 1199 he became the Earl of Pembroke.

Thus we find him at the centre of our story in the ‘Wars of the Magna Carta’.

Loyalty

One of the things William Marshal will always be linked to is the Magna Carta. He was loyal to King John even after John’s signing and subsequent repudiation of the charter of rights which led to civil war in 1215. It is most likely William gave his support to the King because he wanted to preserve the State of England rather than believing power should remain with the King.

In 1216 much of England, from the Wash to Bristol, was in the hands of rebel barons. King John and his remaining allies, including William, had the challenge of defeating the rebels and their French allies.

The situation became even more complex when King John, who had been suffering from dysentery, died following a visit to Lincoln. The crown fell to John’s 9 year old son Henry III. How would the youngster manage the kingdom, how would he even survive in times when the life of a king was not guaranteed?

To make matters even harder for the young monarch, his mother, Isabella of Angouleme, left England for France in high dudgeon for not being given a place on her son’s Council of Regents.

William Marshal was one of the key figures to restore the peace. He, along with Hubert de Burgh and Peter des Roches, became the protectors of and key advisors to Henry III.

One of the turning points in the war was the breaking of the Siege of Lincoln. Through the incredible work of Lincoln’s castellan Nicholaa de la Haye and Matilda of Laxton, the stronghold was holding. However, the invading French army was slowly wearing down the defenders. Perfect timing from William Marshal, who at the head of the English relieving army, broke the siege.

Peace

After the end of the First Barons’ War William remained a loyal supporter of Henry III. He also had a role in the reissue of the Magna Carta, signing as one of the Barons to bear witness to the new King signing it.

William’s tomb is in Temple Church, London. The tomb features an effigy of the Knight in life; you can view it in the image above.

Part of William Marshal’s story is re-told in the series, ‘Wars of the Magna Carta’. The novel is available from Amazon in ebook as well as paperback.