Black Will da Braose, the Bad Guy

If you’ve read all the posts in the da Braose series (especially the first one), that’s amazing.  You already know about Black Will’s checkered family past, and that his grandpa was known was William III ‘the Ogre’ da Braose.  His uncle William IV da Braose had died of starvation and thirst walled up in a dungeon in Corfe Castle, for sins his parents committed and in order to torment the true object of that terrible punishment, Black Will’s grandmother, Maud (a woman who truly could not keep her mouth shut when it would have been very helpful to do so).

By all accounts, though, Black Will was much more charming and diplomatic than his grandparents.  His father, Reginald, had gotten the family back into royal favor, and William became, upon his father’s death, Lord of Abergavenny.  I’m sure I’m not the only American teenager who became obsessed with Abervagenny because of Marty Wilde’s song

It’s a beautiful part of the world. Anyway, it wasn’t enough for Black Will, although my conjectures on the wandering lives of men (and sometimes women) in Medieval Times include the fact that, in an effort to space children, sometimes men left and meandered about right after their wives had children, returning only briefly to impregnate them again. There were lots of reasons for this method of birth control (it has roots deep in the past when hunter-gatherers, including those of Europe, had tabus on post-partum sex, in order to space children in a more humane and healthy way). But, as nearly all marriages of the day were arranged marriages, there was often no love lost between the marital partners and, I think, often a distinct lack of true passion. Today’s statistics show that men and women are almost equally unfaithful (it might have been the same back then, except that women who got pregnant when their husbands were physically absent were obviously subject to scorn and worse; everyone could count back 9 months). So in a way, the absent husband could expect his wife to stay at home, technically faithful, and he could wander about, sexually and in terms of the way he spent his time.

At any rate, there was a lot of traveling away from home during those days.  To be fair, Black Will’s wanderings were mostly in order to try and secure his lands against the Welsh.  He was, after all, a Marcher Lord, a man whose fortunes were tied to stealing land from the people of Wales and securing it for the crown of England.  That’s about all his family could expect, after the disgrace suffered by his grandparents.  Indeed, although his grandfather had lands in Normandy, Ireland and England, as well as Wales, it seems clear that William ‘the Ogre’ de Braose was sent to Wales in part because of his cruel practices.  Will’s own grandmother had managed to lead a defense of a stolen Welsh castle that resulted in the deaths of 3,000 valiant Welshmen, fighting to get it back.  It would be only two more generations and Wales would forever lose its sovereignty (unless it gets its sovereignty back someday, which I hope it does).

Black Will’s father, Reginald, was more known for his smooth tongue and diplomacy, though, rather than cruelty.  He was still alive and would have been the person who approved and arranged the marriage between Will, aged approximated 22 and Eva Marshall, aged approximately 16.  This age was not considered particularly young for a highborn girl, the daughter of the powerful 1st Earl of Pembroke, the venerable William Marshall, the protector of England, sometimes called the Last True Knight.  William Marshall adhered to the code of chivalry, treated his daughters well, and they were raised away from the brutality and warfare of England, in the pastoral countryside of Ireland.  They were apparently beautiful and high-spirited girls, but Eve brought little in the way of dowry, as the 10th child and youngest of 5 daughters.  The de Braoses’s didn’t need land or money as much as they needed to have their honor restored, and for that, no girl could have served the purpose better than one of the daughters of William Marshall, who was a kind of Matt Dillon or Daniel Boone of his day.  Marshall certainly took part in expanding the domains of England and served under some pretty harsh kings, but he was known to be personally a man of honour, compassion and good faith.

Will and Eva’s first daughter (of four) was born in 1222.  She was only six (and her sisters, Maud, Eleanor and Eva were 4, 2 and 1, respectively – the spacing between the children being fairly close, and the last two very close together:  probably a really serious attempt to procure a male heir) when her father was captured by Llewyllen ‘the Great’ Fawr of Wales. 

As it turned out, Llewyllen, another honorable man, decided to keep Black Will in royal confinement at his castle at Aber, near contemporary Abergwyngregyn.  Llewyllen’s own arranged marriage to a much younger woman, Princess Joanna, illegitimate daughter of King John of England, had turned into a passionate relationship.  But, Llewyllen was away a lot, and Joanna was a passionate woman.  Black Will, whose name is partly a reference to his hair color, gotten from a Welsh ancestress, is still known to history as Black Will due to his seduction of Joanna.  Handsome, blue-eyed, dashing and charming, the highborn prisoner soon found his way into Joanna’s bed while his wife tried to raise ransom for him.  His father died at around the same time, and it is likely that a good part of Black Will’s inheritance went into the large (£2,000 ).  During the negotiations, Will also pledged not to attack the Welsh again and as a sign of that pledge, betrothed his six-year-old daughter to Llewyllen’s 13 year old son.  The young girl was sent to live at Aber.

Apparently, Black Will had fallen hard for Joanna, or else he just liked the fact that he’d cuckolded Llewyllen Fawr, but the risk he took in returning to Joanna, attempting to bed her in 1230, slightly less than 2 years after he’d last seen her, was considerable.  Llewyllen was of course away at the time, and Black Will knew that.  What he didn’t know was that Joanna was terribly determined to reject any further dalliances with him.  Or at least, that’s how she told the story.  There is no reason to doubt Joanna’s testimony to her husband (who eventually forgave her, after she admitted first the earlier affair but swore that it had ended in 1228, and that Black Will had acted on his own and with illicit intent in showing up in her bedchamber in 1230).  I’m not so sure.  Joanna knew what was at stake, both times.  She must have really fallen hard for Black Will (in her husband’s absence), because he did feel drawn back to see her.

Through a series of events, probably involving self-interested persons within the Welsh royal family, Joanna was caught in the bedchamber, not in flagrante but certainly in the bedchamber, alone, with Black Will.  It was actually Llewyllen’s own private bedchamber, where Joanna usually slept, to rub salt into the wound.  Given that the Welsh were already suspicious of Llewyllen’s English wife, it’s amazing that Llewyllen didn’t execute both his wife and her lover.

But it was Black Will who paid the price.  He was executed in public, near Abergwyngregyn, at the age of 33.  He probably expected to talk or bargain his way out of the situation, but Llewyllen acted quickly, while still in high temper, and Will died about a week after he’d arrived in his attempt to resume his affair with Joanna.  Joanna was exiled to a monastery, but after about a year, Llewyllen forgave her, took her back into his life and his bed, and apparently, no one ever spoke of this mistake again.  It is a rare store of a wayward wife who was loved enough that her marriage survived an affair.  So, again, the Middle Ages were not much different than the world today.  People sometimes break up when affairs are discovered, sometimes they break off the old relationship and run off, and sometimes, people patch things up.

Black Will left behind four daughters.  The eldest, Isabella, would still go on to marry David of Wales, despite the fact that her father-in-law had hung her father.  That must have made for some awkward family gatherings.  The other three remained in the care of Eva Marshall, who was now the de facto ruler of Abergavenny.  Isabella would die childless, but the other three girls would live to have children. 

Two of those daughters,


The War of the Roses, Part Two

Richard II might have gone on with his peace plans (except for attacking Ireland) if things had not deteriorated in France. First, the French King, Charles VI, was apparently insane.

Remember, first, that a couple of generations back, King Philip IV, the Fair, of France had three sons and a daughter (Isabella the She-Wolf). All three sons died either without issue or with only female children, setting off Edward III’s claim on the French throne.

The last of those sons to reign, Charles IV was, like his father, known as “the Fair.” When he died, his wife actually was pregnant, and a regency was set up in case the child was a boy. Charles of Valois, Charles IV’s uncle, Philip VI’s grandson, was the regent. When the child failed to be a boy, Charles of Valois became King Charles V of France. The Capetian dynasty was no more. The Valois dynasty began. It is Charles V’s son, Charles VI of Valois who was King while Richard II was attempting to settle things with the French.

Charles VI is also known as Charles the Mad. So, illness is another factor that these lineages have to deal with, both physical and mental. Charles’s first psychotic episode apparently occurred after the attempted murder of a good friend. While attempting to raid Brittany, where the assailant was hiding out, he appears to have lost contact with reality and attacked his own companions. They subdued him. During some of his episodes, he was unable to respond when asked his name. The exits to his primary residence in Paris had to be walled up or he’d run screaming through the streets.

Sometimes, he believed himself made of glass and made frantic attempts to avoid breakage.

Charles VI’s younger brother watched all this (and more) with some perplexity. You can probably imagine how the younger brother of a King feels about fate, when the King is mad.

It is this same Charles who gave his 6 year old daughter to King Richard II as part of a peace treaty.

When we last mentioned him, Richard II had banished Henry Bolingbroke for life and disinherited them, then gone off to wage more war against Ireland. Henry lost no time in finding an advisor, a former Bishop of Canterbury and returning to England where he used his wealth raise and army and defy Richard. Henry laid waste to Cheshire, which made other areas (many of them already opposed to Richard) very prone to cooperating with him.

By the time Richard II got back from Ireland, Henry had consolidated an army and power, and had no trouble defeating Richard and imprisoning him. This can be seen as the mark of a “true Plantagenet” as it’s the kind of thing Geoffrey did constantly, at which Henry II excelled, and which King Richard the Lion-Heart, King John and Edward I also reveled in. Naturally, Richard II no longer considered Henry IV to be the best choice of an heir.

Without any offspring, what was Richard’s approach to choosing an heir? According to his grandfather’s entailment on the throne, designed to keep the youngster from making errors, only the male line could be considered. But meantime, Philippa, daughter of Lionel, had married a Mortimer and had a son. Edward III had specifically banned any such line of succession; only the male lines could be considered. If Edward III”s will was followed, then Henry was the rightful heir.

But Richard II was a King, himself. Whether or not he ever formally renounced the entailment of his grandfather, he certainly decided to pass the crown to grandson of Lionel even though that boy, Edmund, inherited his rights through the female line. It had been done before (Henry II claimed the throne of England via his mother, Empress Maud). Did it make a difference that Maud was an Empress (the dowager Holy Roman Empress)? Maybe. Philippa was merely Duchess of Ulster.

In every generation of medieval British royalty there are always nobles and hangers-on who are attempting to be ennobled. People do favors for Kings, they put their eggs in one basket so to speak, and through showing loyalty that is often brutal to others, they attempt to protect the King and insinuate themselves into his favor. The Mortimers were experts at this (as were the de Braoses, the de Lucys, the Staffords and many others). Remember that Isabella the She-Wolf had allied herself with Roger Mortimer, her lover and staunch supporter. The entire Mortimer clan benefitted from high marriages, including the marriage of

While Henry would have been Richard II’s closest and most likely male heir, considering the circumstances, Richard II had chosen a more distant cousin – but still a child – as his heir apparent. When Richard II died (mysterious circumstances) in prison, Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby, swept the little heir apparent aside and had himself crowned Henry IV of England, Plantagenet.

As the son of the first Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, Henry IV Plantagenet was known as a Lancastrian Plantagenet.

Let’s remember that John of Gaunt was regent for the little boy Richard II, whose father was John’s elder brother. Had little Richard not been born, John might have been King John II. He remained relatively loyal and certainly showed more than simple self-interest in his life, but of course, he loved his own son and was devastated by claims that Henry IV was a traitor.

In the end, this turns out to be a tragic tale of too many sons. Edward, the Black Prince, beloved, heroic and masterful, dies before he can become King. His small son takes over the job while his brothers have to play entirely different roles than they would have played as brothers of a King. John must have been consigned to a minor role in history as the third son of a King (after Edward, the Black Prince, would have come Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Plantagenet, the second son of the King to survive infancy). So what happened to Lionel? Why wasn’t he regent and why was it John’s son who eventually became King?

As befitted a second son, Lionel was given a great marriage and a great patrimony: Ireland. He was Duke of Ulster. He moved to Ireland to oversee its affairs (and received military aid from his nephew, Richard II). He paid up tribute to Richard from Ireland and made himself rich and powerful on his own island. His noble Irish wife died young, leaving him with just one daughter, Philippa of Clarence and Ulster. So, poor Lionel had no son to contribute to the throne of England. John of Gaunt, who was at home and had a son, was positioned to make a move on the throne.

But there were two more sons of Edward III. Once the hereditary schema fell apart at the death of Richard II, one might suppose that the next in line would be…Lionel. Lionel had, however, meantime died. John was rightfully next after Lionel, but he too had died. So, using the same logic as was applied when Richard II’s father died without taking the throne, Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt seems to be a good claimant for the throne in any case. His two younger brothers didn’t see it that.

To the younger brothers, the two eldest brothers, Edward and Lionel, were both out of the picture and it seemed that all ordinary lines of succession were ignored and the throne was in freefall.

The fourth son’s name was Edmund, Duke of York, Earl of Surrey and Earl of Cambridge. Only a year younger than John of Gaunt, Edmund of Langley was sent to the Earl of Surrey for fostering, as was common in those days. He saw military service in France and was wounded there. His first wife was the daughter of King Pedro of Castille. When she died, he married one of those Hollands, who had ingratiated themselves so well into the reign of Richard II. With Isabella, Princess of Castille, he had two sons and a daughter. The eldest, Edward, died in the Battle of Agincourt (part of the Hundred Years’ War; a British victory over the French). So unlike Lionel, as things got more tangled in the succession, Edmund did have sons – the second of whom, Richard of Conisburgh, would attempt to claim the throne from his cousin, Henry IV.

Richard of Conisburgh was an ambitious young man. He was married to his first cousin, twice removed, Anne Mortimer. Now pay attention here, because in addition to being part of the Mortimer clan of constant ambition, she was also the granddaughter of Lionel. Lionel’s daughter, Philippa was her mother.

Now, Philippa, had she been a man, would have had a much stronger claim to the throne than Henry. Now her daughter, who might have been a Princess of England, is married to a man just one step away from being King. This is a volatile mixture when so much is at play and at stake. This is why Lionel’s side of the family is “Yorkist” (they joined with Richard of Conisburgh, son of the Duke of York). They had to get a papal dispensation because they were too closely related.

Richard, 2nd Duke of York, and Anne Mortimer had two sons, one of whom died young, and a daughter, Isabel. The surviving son, also named Richard, became the 3rd Duke of York.

Meanwhile, many people felt that Henry IV had killed Richard II (which sounds about right) and grabbed the throne. Even though he had a strong and rightful claim to the throne, the whole part about imprisoning the King and then the King dying while imprisoned was not good. Uprisings began, chief amongst them was a new uprising in Wales, which had been denied its independence thoroughly since the time of Edward I. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland also refused to serve King Henry IV.

But Henry IV had an army, and he trained his own eldest son, Henry, in the arts of war, so as to have a loyal co-commander, in the style of a good King. He was able to use young Henry and an army of about 400 to quell both the Welsh and the Northumbria uprisings. He also suffered a good deal from health problems.

The health problems would prove significant. For more, you’ll have to wait until I write Part Three.

The War of the Roses, Part I

I’m on the Crimson side, by kin and by loyalty.

While it’s a tad frightening to see how many of my various 18th and 19th century ancestors in the Taylor clan are descendants of some de Braos or another, there’s way more information on some of our later, more famous ancestors:  the Plantagenets.

One of the reasons I find genealogy so interesting is that, as a modern person, I know that it’s partly fortune that determines whether boys or girls will be born.  Now, I know that there’s been some recent research indicating that several variables are involved in whether people have boys or girls.  I want to mention some of the proposed variables.

Men who have a disproportionate amount of brothers are more likely to have sons.  This would be passed along the male line if it is genetic as opposed to environmental or epigenetic.

Bolder, more assertive women are more likely to have sons.  Now this one seems like a long shot to me, but the theory would be that women’s bodies are more likely to host and keep a masculine pregnancy if they’re already rather more testosteronized.  Lots of assumptions there – and yet…well, who could have been bolder than Eleanor of Aquitane, maternal founder of the Plantagenets?  At the same time, she gave her first husband, Louis VII, King of France, only daughters.  Louis’s siblings were almost 50/50 in terms of sex ratio, but with each of his wives he had mostly girls.  Which is interesting.  But, if this one is true, then was Eva Marshall, wife of Black Will de Braos a timid woman?  Would love to know.  Anyway, she had only girls.

Older couples are more likely to have daughters.  Statistical fact, apparently, no one knows why.  Less support for Y-sperm from the man’s body?  I don’t know.

Men with high functioning “male brains” have more sons; women with high functioning “female brains” have more daughters.  This was reprinted from a set of studies in Psychology Today.  What they’re talking about is a broader hypothesis that in order for certain traits to take hold in a population, they must be passed on, so successful men must pass on traits that make men successful to boys, and the same for women.  Okay, makes sense.  But is it true?  In my family, it seems to me that lots of “successful” males and females were born, but only the men were given much opportunity to avail themselves of wealth, power or thrones.

Were you waiting for me to mention culture?  Because, in the end, that’s what I’m interested in.  What kind of system takes high functioning women like Eleanor of Aquitane and locks them up for 15 years for no other reason than that their husband wants to?  I realize he was a king and back then, kings attempted to get their way in all things and Henry II was definitely no pushover.  But it isn’t just Eleanor.  It’s so many women of that period – and onward – whose lives are hedged in, fenced in, boxed in, so that there’s virtually no room for them to breathe, much less be educated.  They’re having so many children, for one thing.

Religion is the linch pin of this system.   Not only does the church dictate male primacy, it also dictates legitimacy.  A man can only have one legitimate wife.  Until the Reformation, that wife had to be the one that the man married in the One Holy Apostolic Catholic Church – of Rome, if you were European.  Illegitimate children abound in my lineage (I’m one, myself, of course).  A very big deal was made of illegitimacy all the way down through the ages, in my family.  Is there some kind of gene for conventionality?  If so, some of my family members had it – and others delighted in flouting it.  Mostly, of course, it was the men who flouted convention by taking concubines regularly.  One can understand this in kings like Llewellyn Fawr and Henry II, whose marriages had to bring political alliances, regardless of what their hearts or loins told them.

So, anyway, Henry II was very powerful.  He managed to run off with the King of France’s wife, and she had to leave behind her two small daughters, princesses Marie and Alys.  Marie’s lineage would eventually join with her mother’s descendants – some 8 generations later, when one of her great-grand-daughters married another descendant of Eleanor, but through Henry II, not Francis VII – a Plantagenet, but a Yorkist.   Both Marie and Alys are maternal ancestors of U.S. Presidents, contemporary British royalty, Churchill and Lady Diana.  Alys is a maternal ancestor of Louis XVII, even though for centuries, her descendants held no thrones.  They still kept in the game, so to speak.

So Eleanor, Queen of France and Duchess/Queen of Aquitane runs off with Henry II, who is about to become King of England after one of those big succession crises.

Henry II is not the son of a King.  He is the son of a daughter of a King.  When Henry I died, his eldest son had already died in the tragic, Titanic-of-its-Day, the wreck of the White Ship.  At least three of Henry Beauclerc I’s children were on that ship, which was supposed to be the best and fastest ship in the world, when it capsized off the coast of Normandy.

Henry Beauclerc (which means “fine scholar”) was an amazing man who outlived many of his children.  And he did have many children.  He was married in the Church twice, but he had an extraordinary number of illegitimate children.  I am descended both from his legitimate heir (Empress Maud), except that even though he named his eldest legitimate daughter as his heir, his contemporaries weren’t buying that.  No woman could reign in her own right.   Anyway, poor Empress Maud was driven out of her own country by her cousin, Stephen of Blois, who claimed to be the most direct male heir (I am also descended from him, but he blew it and lost the throne – he is perhaps the only English king whose father was not king and whose descendants did not rule).

Anyway, Empress Maud married roguish, handsome, virile and militaristic Geoffrey Plantagenet.  Her father arranged this marriage for her, perhaps thinking that Geoffrey was ambitious enough to make sure his wife retained the throne of England.  But Geoffrey was far more concerned about preserving his own paternal heritage, back in Normandy, where he was Count of Anjou (love their pears) and Maine.  He later achieved his own ambition of becoming Duke of Normandy.  He also didn’t like Maud very much.  Geoffrey’s nickname was “the Fair” and he was apparently very handsome and quite the womanizer.  He liked wearing personal adornment and the nickname “Plantagenet” refers to a sprig of yellow flowers that he wore in his hat.  Maud was rather serious, perhaps a bit mopey and imperious.  Before being married off to Geoffrey, Maud had already been married off at a very young age to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V, who was basically the King of Germany.  He was 21 years older than herself.  When she was called back from Germany to marry the Norman count, Maud spoke German and had to leave her children from that marriage behind.  Perhaps she was not a happy camper.

But one thing is clear, she fought hard to get that throne away from her childhood playmate and cousin, Stephen of Blois.  A big war ensued.  Maud gave birth to 4 sons from Geoffrey, one of whom died in infancy.  Henry II was her eldest son, a precocious boy who loved both his parents, despite their antipathy towards each other.

Maud raised Henry to be King.  In order to become King, he had to perform a military conquest of England, which he attempted for the first time at the age of 14.  Henry Curtmantle II of England was well-connected.  His father was the Duke of Normandy (Stephen of Blois claimed that title but was unable to defend it).  His great-uncle was King David of Scotland, who became an ally against King Stephen.

Henry did not lack for confidence and he and Eleanor, for a long time, were good partners and together, they had four sons who survived to adulthood and two that did not.  The fact that Maud had been birthing all those boys, that Henry had only brothers, and that Eleanor had sons with Henry and only daughters with Louis VII is interesting.  Eleanor also had daughters with Henry, though.  Altogether, Eleanor produced 12 children, 10 with Henry, 6 of them boys.  Richard the Lion-Heart is perhaps the most famous, and King John the most infamous.

For a long time, Plantagenets ruled in England.  King John begat Henry III Plantagenet, King of England, along with many other children who have surviving descendants today.  Henry III was the father of Edward I Plantagenet, King of England, a great warrior and energetic King.

It is with Edward I that more dynastic troubles begin.   Like a true Plantagenet (or a true descendant of Eleanor of Aquitane), Edward managers to produce four sons who survive past infancy (six total).   Unfortunately, three of the four predecease him and the fourth, as one chronicler has said, “was never worthy to be born.”  Poor Edward II.  He was a boy, a younger brother, and so became king even when he had some sisters (like Joan of Acre) who would have been fine rulers.  But his inability to rule was based largely on sex and gender.  Just as England was not ready for Queen Maud and believed a man, even though more distant from succession, should rule in her place, in the 13th century, England was not ready for a gay King.

King Edward II upset everyone by openly taking a lover (the charming Piers Gaveston).  The story has a tragic ending and I want to say more about it later.  But for now, just remember that Edward’s father, King Edward I Longshanks arranged a marriage for him, with the sister of the King of France, Isabelle – the “She-Wolf of France.”  She got that name because she got to England, was increasingly unhappy with her marital arrangements, and managed to take much more of an interest in actual government than her husband.  I think she also got that name because she insisted on reproducing with her somewhat reluctant husband, with whom she had at least two children before taking up with a lover (so the paternity of some of those royal Plantagenet kids was in doubt; indeed, perhaps all of them should be doubtful – who knows?)

Isabella’s eldest son, Edward III, did resemble his father physically, but his mother made sure he was raised apart from his father, and when the time was right, placed her son in open rebellion against his father.  By then, Edward II had taken a different lover, also handsome and brave. Hugh Despencer.  Isabella had taken herself back to France, where her brother put diplomatic pressure on Edward II to come to France to pay homage for the territory of Gascony.  Edward II sent his young son, instead, which was a huge mistake.  Isabella now had all she needed to essentially launch an invasion.  One of the groups who was opposing Edward II and in favor of putting Edward III on the throne was arranged around the Earl of Lancaster (who was a wicked and terrible man, in my view – but that will have to go in a different chapter if we are ever to get to the War of the Roses).

Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, invaded England and captured Edward II.  With her husband in prison, and public opinion strongly against him, Isabella became the de facto ruler of England, taking the Great Seal into her own hands.  No one was willing to actually kill a King, but life in prison for being gay seemed just to these people.  King Edward II’s trial made no mention of his sexuality, though, only claiming that he had listened to wrong advice, that he was incompetent as a king, and that he had “pursued occupations unbecoming to a monarch.”  This is pretty revolutionary stuff:  that a king could be deposed in this way.  Deposed he was, and his son, Edward III Plantagenet took the throne at the age of 15.

Only two of Edward II’s progency with Isabella ever had children.

Edward III’s rule was complex, but one thing he did was to punish the Earl of Lancaster who had gone against his father by removing the title from him and giving it to one of his sons, John of Gaunt, and elevating the title to Duke.

Had Edward III’s heir, Edward the Black Prince, Prince of Wales, not died young, the war between his brothers would not have taken place.

So we have the ever-lurking main principle:  death, especially infant death and early death, stalking these people’s attempts to keep the rules intact and a direct male heir on the throne.

In order to examine what happened more closely (because it’s a situation that comes up now and again, but is still unusual) we can think about what is supposed to happen with succession today.  In a future world, after King Charles dies, should Prince William die without an heir, then Prince Harry becomes the heir apparent.  Clear, right?

But what if Kate were pregnant or had a small infant?   Now that girls can sit on the throne, I suppose England would wait with baited breath to see if the infant was born alive (which it very likely would be, given modern medical care) and then name Baby as heir apparent instead of Harry.  If this all happened today, the succession would obviously still be Charles first, but if William were gone, then William’s baby.

And so it was with the Black Prince’s son, Richard II.

Richard II would seem an unlikely person to be King of England for 22 years, but he was.  He was the son of the Prince of Wales, the heir apparent, who died before taking the throne.  He had an older brother who was of course the heir apparent, but Prince Edward of Angouleme died when Richard was just four years old, making him heir to the Prince of Wales.

When Richard’s father died, he was 9 and so he became the heir apparent.  The old King Edward III died about a year later, and so Richard was crowned King Richard II (Lion-Heart was the first).

He was only ten.

Now age begins to play a role.  Richard II of course had to have regents.  John of Gaunt, the first Duke of Lancaster, became that regent.  By all accounts, John of Gaunt was a very intelligent, well-trained and able man.  Portraits of him show a dark, handsome man who strongly resembles his father, Edward III (son of the She-Wolf).

Now, this was the time of the Hundred Years War, which everyone has heard about.  It was started by Edward III and lasted slight more than a hundred years.  This conflict between England and France was over hereditary disputes dating back to William the Conqueror.  Both sides developed standing armies, and this was the first time since the Roman era that standing armies were kept.  

The war started largely because Isabella the She-Wolf’s brothers all died without male heirs.  Remember that whole thing about Louis VII having mostly girls?  Well, that particular problem did not befall Philip IV, King of France and Isabella’s father – he had three sons.   But only two of them managed to produce children, and all the children were girls.  In a reversal of fate and fortunate, Isabella the She-Wolf had, of course, managed to produce boys – and her boy was the King of England, Edward III, who therefore promptly made a claim on the throne of France when his grandfather and uncles were all dead.  This did not sit well with the French, who did not want a King of England on their throne.

In the end, the French won the war (surprised?  don’t forget – they had Joan of Arc on their side and she’s credited with that win, by me) but not before Edward III himself was long dead.  Richard II had tried to stop the war, but was unsuccessful.

Richard II wanted to stop the war for some very good personal reasons.  He wasn’t a warlike person, he preferred a courtly life.  He believed he had duties as a king, and he did not keep a tremendously lavish lifestyle, but he certainly didn’t want to be mucking about going to war.  The French were threatening to invade throughout his reign and he really wanted to negotiate peace and go on about his life.  Since the French were massing for an invasion, English Parliament wanted to raise taxes and Richard’s Chancellor, de la Pole (descendant of Normans) was at the forefront of pushing for an unprecedented levy of taxes not to lavish upon the King but to fill a giant war chest.  Since Richard II’s own father had gained the throne through the deposition of Richard’s grandfather, deposition was a buzzword.  Parliament threatened to depose Richard II (and they were serious) so Richard II fired de la Pole and was furious about being pushed around by Parliament.

Richard went on a royal circuit around England, appointing a new Chancellor who would attempt to raise a military loyal to the King, so that deposition wouldn’t be such a threat.  Richard did in fact manage to gain quite a bit of support, but at the same time, the anti-taxation, anti-de la Pole forces wanted to push their point by trying de la Pole for treason.  At some point, the young cousin of the King, Henry, Earl of Derby, joined the Opposition.  Henry was the son of Richard’s former regent and uncle, John of Gaunt.

Richard’s side did not win.  Some were executed, de la Pole fled the country (and was condemned to death in absentia).  Even some of Richard’s chamber knights were executed by a conglomeration of forces that now included his cousin.

Richard sought to mollify France (John of Gaunt helped him with that) and restore peace.  France once again demanded that the English King pay homage to France, which if he had done so, would have riled the English population that he had just succeeded in settling down a little.

Instead the King of France and the King of England arranged a 20 year truce based on marriage.

Richard was to marry the daughter of the King of France, a six year old child named Isabella of Valois.  Now, Richard was already married, to Anne of Bohemia.  For whatever reason (one always wonders), Anne had no children.  The marriage was somehow put aside (the wealthy are usually able to get divorces when they are keen on them, Henry VIII wasn’t the first with this problem).  So Richard marries the 6 year old, and everyone understands that this is a real roadblock to him producing an heir any time soon.

Richard was able to go back to his main interests with the truce underway.  He developed a court of art and culture, and banished militaristic, frat boy behavior to the margins of his world.   He was 31, his new wife was 6.  She was in the care of her own ladies within his court.

Somewhat stung by claims that he was too peaceful to be a King (people were apparently calling him a wuss) and with the English still very focused on being irritated with France, Richard chose to head off to Ireland to quell rebellions there.  Now, as everyone knows, the Irish can be rebellious, but they are a smaller island than Britain and the English Crown at that time now had a standing army (prepared for France, but chomping at the bit to be paid in spoils and also, either needing to be disbanded or put into use).  So Richard takes this massive army, geared and kitted up to deal with France over to Ireland, for one of Medieval history’s most infamous and unequal wars.  You might say that Richard only wanted to go to war when he knew he could win.

Needless to say, this was a great military success.  The Irish were still organized along the lines of tribal chiefdoms, fierce and combative, but no match for 8,000 Englishmen with cavalry.

Also, needless to say, as soon as Richard went home to enjoy his glory, the Irish were resistant again.

Riding on his feelings of military triumph, Richard went home and had large parts of his former opposition arrested and placed in prison.  Some were tried fairly quickly and executed.  But Richard couldn’t really put Uncle John of Gaunt nor cousin Henry, Earl of Derby in prison and they had allied themselves with the Opposition.   I probably do have to say that throughout English history (and the history of many peoples), leaders acting like tyrants upsets people even if they previously liked the leader.  That’s another reason I’m very interested in all of this.

John of Gaunt apparently abandoned all allegiance to his former comrades and stuck by the King, even as the King began to levy fines against the lesser members of the opposition and enrich the Crown.  Richard was getting the hang of being a ruler.  He took money away from his enemies and elevated men closer to himself, like the de Hollands, who were his half-brother and nephew, whose only certainty of rank involved allegiance and kinship to Richard.  A series of my male ancestors were in this little gaggle of King-followers, whose children intermarried amongst themselves while the party was still going strong.

Nevertheless, John of Gaunt was the richest man in England.  And Richard had no children.  Who would reign after him?

If Prince William were to be Prince of Wales, but Kate never had children, then Harry would reign after him – right?  So, if Richard has no children – and no brothers – doesn’t his uncle get to rule?

The King’s gaggle of loyalists saw the threat.  What if the King died and an opposition member (either John of Gaunt or his son) became King?  That wouldn’t be good for them and their newly found wealth and power.  One of the loyalists managed to get into a quarrel with young Henry (also known as Bolingbroke) and a parliamentary committee at first wanted the two to to settle their differences by battle.  The King intervened, banishing Henry for 10 years, the other man for life.

Not long after, John of Gaunt died, I think, of a broken heart.  Or stress.  The banishment of his son, his son’s managing to get into conflict with the King’s men, after all John had done to be diplomatic and keep things peaceful, was too much for him.

Richard was quick to react (although in retrospect, it was a stupid move).  Fearing that Henry would come back as his father’s heir and manage to wield all that wealth, he extended the banishment to life and disinherited Henry (he could have confiscated John of Gaunt’s lands, but he did not).

Henry went on living in Paris, with funds from his family.  Richard went back to fight in Ireland some more.





If Ted and Sylvia had been bloggers?

Poet Laureate Ted Hughes

was recently given a memorial in the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.  My own feelings about him have been more negative than ambivalent, as I am a great fan of Sylvia Plath.  I was only 8 years old when she died, and so I didn’t discover her works until after she was gone.  I was 15 when I read The Bell Jar, and then Ariel.  Despite my youth, these books resonated with me and I determined that I, too, would become a poet and a novelist.  Very quickly, though, I became aware I just didn’t have what it took to do either.  My poems, looking back, ranged from awful (which I knew at the time) to having some promise (but I didn’t know what was wrong with them or how to rework them).   I ceased writing fiction becaues I couldn’t write like Sylvia (or Margaret Atwood or even Erika Jong).  The way to write a great novel, it seemed, was to write something semi-autobiographical and, well, nothing had happened to me worth writing about, not even by age 20.  I wasn’t winning literary awards, like Sylvia, I hadn’t won trips to work on prestigious magazines in New York City (Mecca, to me, back then) and even if I had, my parents wouldn’t have let me go.

Sylvia wrote about her own life, which included a lot of depression and pain.  Her mother, in particular, was not a sympathetic character in The Bell Jar.  This aspect of writing – the possibility of wounding people who are close to us – is a roadblock for many writers, and a frequent cause of writer’s block.  Sylvia’s views on her own life, her marriage, the lives of her children were the central themes in her poetry.  Once she was dead, these literary fragments were all they had of her.  Given that Frieda, her daughter, was at the ceremony in Westminster Abbey, one can assume that Frieda has retained an intense interest in Sylvia’s work.

Ted Hughes first attracted

Sylvia Plath

through his poetry, but after her death, he found it very difficult to write.  He did grieve.  But eventually his need to write kicked in again, and he turned to some of his more difficult and highly contextualized poems.  She enjoyed his poetry so intensely, and that they fell into a rhythm of intensely writing poetry together in the first part of their marriage.  At that time, they were lost in a romantic dream of mutual poetry, had no special need for any other audience.  Later, Ted would do the unthinkable and take a mistress.  Sylvia found out about the mistress not too long before she killed herself.

How many people today avidly read poetry?  Not many.  We are far more likely to read tweets or blogs.  Would Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, each of them profoundly lonely and often depressed, have turned to blogging as an outlet?  Would blogging have worked for this purpose?  If they had not initially had each other as discerning audiences, it seems likely that the desire to write – which I think is simply inescapable for some of us – would have worked itself out in a blog or other internet venue.  But blogs, read by strangers, are not the same.  Blogs often strive for humor, for quick fixes of information.

What then, do people do with their deeper puzzlements and griefs these days?  Are we a lot happier now?  Both Sylvia and Ted felt the need to delve deeply, not just into their own sad subjects, but into the forces and sadnesses that made people around them as they were.  Sylvia focused a great deal on her natal family, whose reactions to her works were mixed.  I encouraged my own mother to read The Bell Jar  and she started it, but reported that it was a terribly depressing and pointless book, and couldn’t see why anyone would read such a thing.  I, on the other hand, had felt so heartened to realize that someone else – not just me – was struggling with being a young woman in the mid-20th century.  When I felt suicidal, I could think about Sylvia and the fact that, like many of her fans, I had concluded that she didn’t really intend to kill herself, didn’t really want to die – she wanted to be understood, she wanted to live in a different way than that available to her at the time.  When I felt stifled, I could remember that Sylvia, luminous as she was, also not only felt stifled, but was stifled, by her publishers, her family, even the husband who once so encouraged her.

Ted Hughes has been villified as a pompous, abusive and cruel husband who didn’t really want Sylvia’s poetic gifts to outshine his own.  There seems to be no doubt that he was a difficult person; perhaps both of them were prone to depression.  If Sylvia had not become so famous – and then died – would Hughes’s poetry have been so well received?   He gained a great deal by marrying her, and possibly even more by her death.  He wrote about how difficult this all was, but from my point of view, his poetry became less auto-biographical, more inscrutable.  I don’t wonder at that.  How does a person reveal themselves to the world after even one tragedy, after the suicide of even one wife or lover?

Again, I think about our modern age and how difficult it is to get more than a few readers for a blog, or followers for one’s tweet-feed.  Celebrity now centers around mass media.  Katha Pollett wrote about Ted’s work in the New York Review of Books:

“The trouble is,” said Pollitt, “if you added them all up, you’d have a twenty-page chapbook, instead of a volume of nearly 200 pages in which that intimate voice, insisting on its personal truth, is overwhelmed by others: ranting, self-justifying, rambling, flaccid, bombastic. . . . The more Hughes insists on his own good intentions and the inevitability of Plath’s suicide, the less convincing he becomes.”

She was speaking of how many people read Hughes expecting to find what we find in blogs – some kind of personal voice, some recounting of his unique personal experiences, especially his life with Sylvia.  Note that Katha thinks he can’t speak of his life with Sylvia, even much later, without ranting, self-justifying…and being flaccid or bombastic.  Like many of us, Katha is not convinced that Sylvia’s suicide was inevitable – or that Ted was not part of the cause, if only because he lacked good intentions.  Think of how blog comments would go if Ted had decided to blog about Sylvia’s death rather than write poetry.  Katha also implies that Ted’s work could have been boiled down – to a blog, or a series of tweets.

Katha even goes so far as to claim that Hughes steps into Sylvia’s shoes once she’s dead, appropriating her poetic devices – her voice. 

One of Sylvia’s reasons for suicide was her discovery that Ted was having an affair with Assia Wevill.  Her ability to cope with life at that time was marked by all the hallmarks of severe depression.  She was given anti-depressants (although a type that had previously made her condition worse, unknown to her new doctor).  She killed herself within a few days of starting the anti-depressant (these were 1960’s anti-depressants, not the best), but they probably had the paradoxically effect of making a very sad, immobilized person gain the ability to plan.  She had an in-home nurse to look after her, but she accomplished her death before the woman was due to show up.  She carefully plugged the cracks in the doors to the kitchen with wet towels, so her two sons in the next room would not die from carbon monoxide poisoning.

A friend of hers, Al Alvarez, has stated the obvious:  this was an unanswered cry for help.  But after Ted Hughes’s defection 5 months earlier, after the demise of their very close relationship, there was no one Sylvia felt she could turn to for help.  She was 30.

A few years after Sylvia’s death, Assia herself committed suicide.  She left hints that Hughes was abusive to both her and to Sylvia.  Ted survived though, and found more material for his poetry in these tragedies.  The literary world seems to find such tragedy and scandal as interesting as the tabloids do.

There was a twist to Assia’s death, though.  She also killed her four-year-old daughter, whose father was Ted Hughes.  Ted’s poems began to address his own dark and “bloody” nature.  But he survived -for decades.  Given the tragic material that life had dealt him (or that he had somehow attracted to himself), it’s no wonder that he had plenty of material for his famously dark poems, poems which eventually earned him a memorial in Westminster Abbey.

Ted profited financially from Sylvia’s death, as he owned the rights to her work.  He lived comfortably and wrote more poems.  There was no public feedback, as his poems stayed comfortably ensconced within the literary community – mainly in Great Britain.  Tabloids did not review his writings, there was no blogosphere.  Instead of having to get a bunch of dislikes on Facebook or Youtube, he received honors from The Queen.

Eventually, Ted died of cancer, of something eating him up from within.  His funeral was mainly attended by fellow poets.  About 10 years later, his orphaned son with Sylvia committed suicide as well.

What do we make of this wake of suicides?  Obviously, one wants to say that proper use of anti-depressants might have helped, but in this highly sensitive, poetic group of people, is that truly the solution?  Creative genius is what it is.  Was Hughes a kind of poetic vampire, thriving on the sadness, melodrama and intense angst of those around him?  Was he a bully, incapable of supporting others?  Is his poetry indeed so good that he needs to be memorialized in Westminster, or is it that he was Sylvia Plath’s husband?  Was Sylvia herself one of our great poets or was it her own life – lived in a time when women writing of the contradictions of being creative females, at a time when there were finally a few such women around – that made her so famous?

Let’s not forget that Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton and Amy Winehouse have all met a similar fateto Sylvia.  In the sixties and seventies (and later), there were an extraordinary number of books on the fate of  creative women.  Madwoman in the Attic takes the problem back into earlier literary times, and Diane Wood Middleton’s book on Anne Sexton is a really eye-opener.

Should Ted be the memorialized poet?  I’d appreciate your viewpoints.  But I do think that if both of them had been bloggers and received immediate feedback from “the world” their stance toward the world (and their depression) would have been different.  But as sensitive folk, the kinds of things that would have been said to them…well, could they have taken it?  Was meanness cloaked in anonymity so prevalent then?  I think not.  They hoarded their tragedies, as anyone who has read The Bell Jar must know.  Sylvia burst forth into many sparkling dimensions, the raw, the tragic, the transcendent in the poems of her last days – the works completed between the time she found out about Ted’s affair and her death, at home, by gas oven.  I don’t see Ted bursting forth, but I guess others think he produced a body of work that makes him esteemed enough to have a memorial at the foot of T.S. Eliot,  perhaps, in a way, Ted occupies his proper place in a kind of waste land.

But if Ted had abandoned poetry and just told us what really happened, some mysteries about life would have been cleared up, at least for me.  As it stands, the tragedies of his life assisted in building his reputation as the kind of poet Wikipedia calls a “bard,”  apparently referring to the sonorous, sadness of bards in ancient times.  The terrible world that Hughes evokes in his poetry, the truths he tries to expose in his words are, however, not the wide social vistas of war, not the launchings of thousands of ships or the deaths of princes.  Instead, it is the private, personal hell of a man surrounded by deaths of innocents, of the creative.  Perhaps no other man of the 20th century had the dubious privilege of looking straight into the face of so much alienation, so much loneliness, fear and grief and lived to write poems about it.

I’ve tried to read his poems from a neutral stance, with the charity I’d give any poet.  His estate has kept many of them out of public view, but Amazon has its previews.  The remembrance poems for Sylvia stand in between poetry and prose, the words of a man battling to remember what he can of his dead wife, to remember what he did not immediately forget, as it happened.  We see an angry Sylvia, we see a husband who may not have liked her very much.  I sense that he blames her for not coming through her therapy, for not making a rational decision not to be depressed.  I see a man who is a bit embarrassed at his wife’s moods, who scrutinizes her closely, who isn’t sure he likes her Americanness.  He sounds as if Sylvia and her friends are too talkative for him, he who wants to hold forth in his own voice.  Does he understand her moods?  At times, he seems to think he has the power to temporarily alleviate her darkness, in the manner of a White Knight.

His words are like the words that slip off people’s lips as they try to give glimpses of their past, and perhaps that is poetry too.

On the other hand, perhaps most people who tell the truth about the death of creativity, the death of love, end up sounding very much like poets.  Even if, today, they are bloggers.

Will: The Will of William the Conqueror

I hesitated about whether to refer to William, 4th Duke of Normandy as “William ‘the Conqueror'” or as “William ‘the Bastard'”.  The term “Bastard” would probably make this blog slightly more popular.  But, since my focus is on the Will to Power, no one person’s epithet says “Will to Power” quite as clearly as the one attached to the name “William ‘the Conqueror’.”

William was a descendant of Rollo and Poppa, just like Black Will de Braose.   Let’s first establish that William was willful, was strong-willed.

In January, 1066, the King of England (Edward the Confessor) died without an heir.  We can view his childlessness as people did in that time, dereliction of duty.  As a King, one of his primary duties was to produce an heir.  Did he not want to/did not will it?  Or did he will it but find it impossible to do?

The traditional view on Edward is that his will directed him toward one object:  The Divine.  He had little interest in the material world, he was focused intensely on the Ideal and the Divine.  He took a vow of celibacy before he married and before he was required to become King.  Let’s also remember that it took another person (a wife) to produce this heir, so it was complicated.  Maybe she didn’t want to, and he wasn’t willful enough to, um, press the issue.  (Good for him)  At any rate, the story is that Edward took a vow of celibacy early on in life and that was the reason he failed to produce an heir.

His own father, Aethelred the Unready (better translated as ‘Unread’ or ‘Uncounseled’ or ‘Ill-Advised’) was interested in material power in the traditional sense:  he organized murders, wars and raids.  He produced several boys, several of whom were the warlike Kingly types expected of him.  He  was married to the sister of the powerful Duke of Normandy.  He hadn’t intended for Edward the Confessor to be King, he had older boys.  Edward’s older brother, Edmund Ironsides, had served briefly as King of England, too busy valiantly leading war crews against the encroaching Danes to find time to marry and produce an heir.   Another son, older than Edward, had been banished (to Hungry) from the Kingdom of England, as he was considered too big a threat to his father’s and brother’s power.   It’s possible that Aethelred actually felt he had enough warlike sons that Edward could follow his own volition and the religious life, which is what Edward did.

Aethelred the Uncounseled

Perhaps Edward realized at some point that William would make a good king and he didn’t need to try and make a king himself.  Bringing a boy up to be a King was tricky business.  Edward’s own father had not succeeded in imparting the warlike, dangerous mien thought needed to exercise a King’s will to all of his own sons.  The “vow of chastity” business is problematic.  It was a form of asceticism, of course, but if a man doesn’t have a very strong sex drive (or doesn’t prefer women), it isn’t much of a sacrifice.  We can’t read King Edward’s mind from this distance, but one wonders.  It’s also possible that Edward knew the English tradition (like the Saxon tradition) of electing Kings out of a possible group of barons and noble contenders would prevail whether or not he broke his vow.

Aethelred, in fact, had had a hard enough time ruling over England and needed help – from the very powerful, willful King of Denmark.  He needed the King of Denmark to calm or at least try to temper the constant raids from Scandinavian Vikings.  The English were not thrilled about being ruled by a puppet of Denmark, but such was the case by the time of Aethelred and Edward.  England needed whatever help it could get  if it wanted to stay out of the clutches of the Viking rulers.  One could say that the English had no will to be completely plundered by raiders, which was a constant possibility and reality.  Like most people, they wanted to hold on to their own stuff – and it took a good leader, with an army, to do that.  Edmund Ironsides was such a leader, but he died (perhaps of battle related injures) soon into his reign.

It’s unclear whether Edward the Confessor named William, the Bastard (he really was known by that name during his time) his successor as King of England.  That was what the Normans said he had done.  In that case, all should have gone well, except that Harold Godwinson, Edward’s brother-in-law (his wife’s brother) decided to usurp the throne.

Edward never liked the Godwins and some people say that’s why he refused to have sex with Edith Godwin, his wife.  She was 20 when they married in 1045, he was 42.  He eventually had a huge falling out with her family, most of her brothers fled England and he sent her to a nunnery in 1051.  Some historians say the excuse was that she had failed to produce an heir, but if he had taken a vow of celibacy, it’s hard to buy both viewpoints at the same time – unless Edward actually had the will to believe contradictory things about his own lack of fertility and found it easy to blame a woman in a sexless marriage for not having children.  People can believe all kinds of things, but if Edward were really so split in his view on things, no wonder he was not a strong King.  It’s more likely he just didn’t want her family around, as it seems clear he really didn’t like the Godwins.

Edith’s brother, Harold, was born on English soil, son of the Saxon Earl of Wessex, while William was of course Norman-French.  Up until that time, the English had followed no strict rules of succession, like Salic law, instead convening a kind of counsel to choose the next King.  The current King’s sons were always in the running and strong contenders, as it simplified things to use heredity.  But, the counsel could choose someone else (as it had done in the past) if it chose.  So, if Edward threw his weight (perhaps meagre) behind William, that would not necessarily have been enough to win over all of his subjects to the view that William should reign.  This business of being born on English soil was very important to them.

Harold and William had a history together.  Harold had been knighted by William during Harold’s sojourn in Brittany and Normandy in 1063.  It is not clear what Harold was doing in Brittany or Normandy, one legend has it that he was supposed to be telling William that Edward wanted him to be King.  At any rate, during the knighting ceremony, the Bayeux tapestry shows Harold pledging fealty to William in all his endeavors, which would of course include a claim to being King of England.

My own view is that is likely that Edward the Confessor didn’t have the power to actually name William the new King, probably knew that, and didn’t make much effort to solve the problem before he died.  He could have done much more.  He could have written a proclamation.  He could have had William crowned King of England while he lived, he could have done lots of things to make William King of England, but he did not.  If he wanted to obtain the power to name his heir, he exhibited little will in exerting himself toward that goal.

So, when Edward died, the crown was up for grabs.  The King of Denmark was eyeing it, Harold happened to be nearer and arranged his own coronation, probably at Westminster (where Edward had just been buried).  The fact that Harold was present at the funeral and could arrange a ceremony of coronation shows how social structure and will come together:  it’s one thing to want a crown, it’s another to actually have physical access to a particular crown and the usual crowning place.  No one really knew whom Edward had chosen (if anyone) as his successor.  Neither Harold nor William waited for any council to convene.  Events took on their own moment, spurred on by the wills of these two men:  Harold and William.

Harold had the home court advantage and William instantly began organizing a vast army.

King Harold as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry

Organizing vast armies took a lot of time and energy.  William’s degree of energy is phenomenal, and I am taking it to be a sign of an incredibly strong will to conquer England.  He had to personally plan and devise a way to move men and material across the English channel from Normandy.  It’s true of course that Normandy is a perfect place to launch an attack into England, so geography assisted William’s desires.  Would he have been so insistent on being King of England if he had been in Milan?  I doubt it.  William saw the great opportunity in front of him, though and acted very swiftly.  He hired virtually every carpenter on the entire continental Atlantic coast, mostly Flemings, and began constructing as many ships as possible.  He also paid for and directed the construction of portable forts to take to England.

He sent scouts to scout possible landing places and seek out the position of Harold’s gradually accumulating forces.  He forestalled most of Harold’s efforts to figure out what he was up to, while constantly spying on Harold.  He acquired hundreds of horses (if not thousands), many of them from amongst the best horse stock on the continent – from the Grentmesnil family, who specialized in warhorses and other horse specialties.  Harold had no access to Grentmesnil horses – and the Grentmesnils themselves joined William’s expedition.

Practically everyone of note in Normandy joined William’s expedition, convinced he would succeed and that they would be rewarded with large tracts of land in England (they were right).  It’s not clear that everyone knew there would be no turning back once they landed in England; William would build earthwork walls, walling in the ships, to make sure no one deserted the expedition.  He kept less than the number of ships needed to evacuate all the troops, sending the other ships back to Normandy to bring more men and supplies.  Even if he had not done the earthworks, which was a brilliant idea, most of the men had had quite enough of the sea after rocking about – with their horses and their armor and whatever else they wished to take with them beside them in these fairly small wooden boats – for the time it took to cross the channel.

This is a good example of communal will.  Those men had to want to come down to the beach, live in tents, practice warcraft, and wait for the ships to be built and the winds to be right.  More and more men came.  William had quite a bit of money, he borrowed more, but many of the men were not paid – they were there because they wanted a chance at grabbing English land and believed William was the right person to get them what they wanted.  The Earl of Meulan supplied in money what the Grentmesnils supplied in horses.  Other nobles did the same.  William of course also hired plenty of mercenaries.

But minor nobility from all over the Atlantic seaboard decided, on their own, to join their will to his.  The Scots ancestors of the de Braose family were among these people.  Good estimates of the size of William’s army place it at 3000 men – a huge number to transport at sea in small, rocking boats.  Thanks to the efforts of William’s wife, Mathilda, who may well be one of Europe’s earliest cartoonists, we have a visual record of these efforts.  It looks like two or three horses could ride per boat, and if no horses, then several men.  It’s very probable that Matilda watched the preparations and that her pictures are fairly accurate – no one knows for sure.  One historians estimates around 700 boats (one writer who saw the event counted 697) and William may have sent the boats with the carpenters and the wooden forts ahead, along with war materials such as lances and armor.

Men and horses in rocking boats

When William gave the command, some 3000 men boarded those boats and set sail under his command.  The people they were fighting against had stone castles, local serfs, local food and war materials.  William had only what he brought with him.

It was September  – only 9 months after Edward’s death – when William set sail.  Under the circumstances, just sending messages to the various places from which mercenaries were gathered would have taken incredible speed and effort.  Everyone riding by horseback to Bayeux must have taken much effort.  Training everyone to work in consort, stacking provisions, giving orders to load boats, dealing with the various languages spoken by his men:  all of that had to come from William’s command.

William was, personally, a very imposing man.  His inner mental strength was ably symbolized or embodied by his actual physical presence.  He is described by one of his own contemporaries as a large man, and so muscular and strong that he was the only person who could draw his bow.  No one was surprised by the fact that only he could draw that bow:  he was strong and he looked strong.  Would men have followed a weaker man into battle in the same way?

He had a receding hairline (lots of testosterone?), a big belly (which disturbed his regal handsomeness, apparently), and was never sick except for his last illness.  He was able to bend and shoot his bow while his horse was at full gallop.  When Mathilda depicted him in her tapestries, incidentally, she does not show the big belly.

It is sometimes said that the entire fleet was assembled in a month (doubtful) and that it was only the lack of proper winds that kept the fleet from sailing earlier (doubtful).  But, while Harold fumed and worried and waited, a psychological war of attrition was already taking place.  More and more men and material came to William, until he was ready, while Harold had immediately fortified the coast and taken all his ships to London (leaving the Channel unguarded).  Harold was afraid of a sea battle, and he was afraid of Norman piracy against individual ships.

While William had vast supplies still streaming in from Normandy, Brittany and Maine, Harold had to keep taxing his vassals to maintain his fortifications along the coast and soon Harold was running out of supplies.  William knew of this demoralization.  Harold apparently decided William wasn’t coming to England, and since he didn’t have spies in Normandy (and William did have people going back and forth), Harold concluded (wrongly) that William had given up.  It was only 8 months after Edward’s death, but Harold gave up and disbanded most of his army on September 8, as most of them were villeins (farmers who had to be soldiers as part of their vassalage) so that his army could go home to conduct the harvest.

William had spent his money hiring full time soldiers and accumulating noble, not vassal, knights.  He tried to sail on September 12, which is when the winds did actually thwart him.  On September 27, William’s fleet finally landed in England – probably not at Pevensey, as usually claimed, but at a marshy cove nearby, which was entirely unguarded, and which gave William secrecy – and a place to dam up the cove so that his own men could not turn back, even if they wanted to.

William had one of his port-a-forts erected on the isthmus of Hastings, which was mostly marshlands, to protect his flank from any sudden incursion from Harold’s ships (he needn’t have worried).  He wasn’t taking chances, he was thinking ahead, he was very focused on winning.  If the port-a-forts were not sent ahead, but arrived with the rest of the fleet, that must have been an incredible undertaking at the time of landing:  carpenters and fort materials pulled into play, horses to be fed and saddled and convoyed  (it’s said they had to be led rather than ridden through the cliffs and marshes near Hastings, they would have sunk into the mud had they been ridden), men to feed and tactics to implement.

Harold had had the bad luck of falling into a clash of wills with his own brother, Tostig, whom he had been fighting in the north of England.  It doesn’t seem as if this was a deliberate ploy by Tostig to aid William.  Harold had to rush his army from the north of England to Hastings upon world of the Norman landing.  It took him only 5 days – very fast.

William is credited with being the first general to assemble “combined forces,” meaning he had a variety of troops:  archers, lancers on horseback, foot soldiers.  The English army was almost entirely foot soldiers.  They had never seen an army like the one William brought to them.

Harold’s army was exhausted while William’s army was still ecstatic over their successful crossing and their own organization.  They could see that they could readily plunder the local countryside for supplies if need be.  William had given some thought about how to ramp his men’s spirits up even further – he had an entertainer launch the first salvo in the war, his jongleur, Taillefer – a jester.  Taillefer came prepared to entertain.  On the morning of the Battle of Hastings, he rode out to the ridge chosen as the point of command, and while juggling a sword, sang the Song of Roland.  He then attacked and killed an English soldier with the sword, and was instantly killed himself.  The troops roared into action.

At first, the battle didn’t go as William planned.  The English formed “shield walls,” in which the sturdiest and tallest of the vassals held up shields, while the archers shot arrows from inside the shield wall.  It was hard for the Normans to cut through the shield walls or aim down into the area where the English archers were hidden.  Even the well-trained horses shied away from the shield walls, the shield-bearers also possessing pointy lances and swords.

In the fierce fighting, William had three horses killed underneath him.  Naturally, he did not retreat or give up.  At one point, his troops saw him go down and thought he had been killed and they started a retreat – which actually provided the break that William needed to win.  When the English thought the Normans were at least retreating, they broke their shield wall formation and took pursuit.  William then led a cavalry charge into the midst of them, and now it was the English who ran away – but without their protective formation, the foot soldiers were easy prey for William’s horse mounted knights, and as William originally planned, it was his battle from then on.

Harold’s household knights were the last to give up.  William let the lesser foot soldiers flee the field without much pursuit, focusing on bringing down the King.  All the household knights were killed, and so was Harold.

The Norman invasion of England was essentially accomplished, after about 9 months of preparation, in one day.  There was little other serious fighting in this invasion (perhaps I’ll get a chance to talk about how some of the English defenders ambushed some of William’s men later that day or about how the English barons refused to come and swear fealty to William, so that William did have to eventually march on London), but essentially, the King was dead – and William was the new King, as he had claimed to be, all along.

William had sent some ships back to Normandy for reinforcements and more supplies, he was not at all underplanning this event.  Londoners made a half-hearted attempt to crown another King born on English soil – Edgar the Atheling was elected by the traditional counsel.  Only 15, he didn’t last long in the face of William’s army, and Londoners agreed to renounce him as King and to do homage to William in order to spare London further death and plunder.

King Harold became the last English king to die on a battlefield until Richard III, and the Norman conquest marked the last time England was conquered by a power from off the Isle.

William was crowned King of England, on Christmas Day, 1066, at Westminster.  I like to think that, to William, one calendar year was about enough time to conquer England – an amazing act of bravado, derring-do – and incredible planning.  He never wavered in his goal of conquering England, not once, in that entire span of time.  He was ready when the opportunity afforded by Edward’s death occurred, he speedily amassed people who would submit to his will, and he rewarded them as planned.  One of his first acts as King was to bring his Queen, Mathilda, over to England, where she would give birth to the first of William’s sons to be born on English soil – so that Henry I, William’s son, would fit the notion of being English-born – and would eventually rule after William.

It looks like William left nothing out of his plan, enacted by himself, with a bounty of structural components on his side, but after his own desire as the root of the plan.  He changed history.  And that, I believe, is what Nietzsche meant by possessing the “Will to Power.”

The de Braose Story: Will the Ogre and not-King Geoff

From Wikipedia:

An ogre (feminine: ogress) is a large, cruel, monstrous, and hideous humanoid monster, featured in mythologyfolklore, and fiction. Ogres are often depicted in fairy tales and folklore as feeding on human beings, and have appeared in many classic works of literature. In art, ogres are often depicted with a large head, abundant hair and beard, a voracious appetite, and a strong body. The term is often applied in a metaphorical sense to disgusting persons who exploit, brutalize, or devour their victims. Closely related is the troll figure, although these are sometimes not as malevolent.

William III de Braose, the murderer, is the same person as William III ‘the Ogre’ de Braose.  The word “ogre” is French, William III de Braose was Norman-French (and as we have seen, with an unusual lineage).

I’m claiming he’s a murderer (and I will present my case shortly), and the question of which came first:  the nickname or the deed?  is pertinent.  But first, let’s finally detail the crime.  It involves the murder of a 16 year old boy, Arthur of Brittany, a haunting precursor to the story of the deaths of the two princes in the Tower.

This is also the story of Prince Geoffrey, Plantagenet, who would have been, should have been King of England.  If you’ve watched The Lion in Winter, perhaps you started rooting for him to be selected by his wavering father, Henry II, after the unexpected and early death of the young king Hal (who had been crowned, Norman-style, at age 15, long before his father was dead).  Unfortunately, the young king died before the old king.  Tradition said that the next oldest son, Prince Richard would be the heir – and so it seemed it would be.  Unfortunately, Richard would eventually become king and then die without an heir – leaving the field open.  So, if Geoffrey had not died, he would have been king.

But, in this story, there is no brother-poisoning-brother, as in the tale of the Dukes of Normandy.  Geoffrey was not directly killed by a brother.  He died while in the court of King Philippe Augustus of France, to whom he had become a sort of soulmate and close friend.  Geoffrey died plotting against his father, but not in a war.  He was killed in a tournament when he was unhorsed, perhaps by someone not quite following the rules of the tourney, and then trampled to death by his own destrier.  He didn’t die right away, and no one around him seemed to suspect foul play.  He had a severe concussion and probably a subdural hematoma.  He would have been unable to remember the events right before he was knocked unconscious, so was unable to identify the arrant knight who unhorsed him – almost certainly on the English side (his father’s side).  Geoffrey was a liegeman of the King of France (as Duke of Brittany) and this was the first time he had publicly declared himself for the King of France, as against his father and brother Richard.  It’s interesting and perhaps ironic that he died in the same event, due to a mishap involving an unknown English knight.

When Geoffrey died, he left behind two young daughters and a pregnant wife.  Geoffrey had just changed the ancient laws of Celtic Brittany to male primogeniture (or at least, he thought he had) in order to simplify political life there.  He was very confident that his wife, Constance, would eventually bear him a son – and she did.  The third child was a son, who lived and was sworn in as Duke of Brittany as a tiny baby.

Now, had Geoffrey lived, when Richard the Lion Heart died, he would have been King of England.  If he had been King of England, his son Arthur would have been more than Duke of Brittany, he would have been heir apparent and eventual King of England as well.  In a system of male primogeniture, males inherit in order, first son first, last son last.  First son of a living first son is the next in line, supplanting all the younger brothers of his father.  These uncles are often discomfited or worse when this happens, but those are the breaks, that’s the way male primogeniture works and still works.

King Richard was well aware of this.  In his heart, I believe he wished his brother Geoffrey still lived, and that his brother John could be kept off the throne.  John was young, perhaps prone to acting younger than some of his age, a bit immature.  Callow.  But also quite observant and clever.  Richard did not much like clever, he liked swordplay.

The young Duke of Brittany was named heir to the throne of England when Richard continued after marriage without an heir.  It would be hard to begat an heir without actually sleeping near one’s wife occasionally.  Richard may have had one bastard son, in his youth, but the rest of his life almost seems a frantic avoidance, first of marriage itself, and then of married life.  Richard did not expect to die young, himself (I mean, if you already had two brothers who had died young, wouldn’t you think maybe God would favor the remainder?  Richard certainly put his life on the line for God, going off on Crusade for years, and surviving that against tremendous odds).

So Richard, back from the world’s most dangerous places, didn’t expect to be killed close to home.  They say most accidents happen in or near the home, and so it was with Richard.  While examining the battlements of yet another castle he was about to siege, he got, yet again, into range of an arrow from the archers on the battlements and took one through the shoulder.  This fairly minor wound festered (poison?  did they know about bacteria/poison?  I bet they did  –  there was so much dysentery, I’ll bet some soldiers put 2 and 2 together).  Anyway, Richard died of a festering wound, but not before (on his deathbed, and he knew he was dying), naming his brother John as his heir.  The idea is that he thought 1) that Arthur (aged 15) was still too young to hold the empire together  and 2) that his brother John was wolfish and a tremendous threat, one that Arthur could never withstand.  It was only practical (and Richard was practical) to name John.  That should have ended things.

But Duke Arthur of Brittany had been brought up by his mother with a crown in mind and Brittany had the money to pay for an army.  The young duke was, like Henry II, in charge of his own army, at age 14.  Bright, handsome, composed and regal, Duke Arthur fit the image that many had of a king.  Before leaving on Crusade, King Richard had named the boy his heir, in part to thwart his brother John’s schemes for the throne, in part because he truly believed the boy had a legitimate claim to the throne and would eventually make a good king, so Arthur was raised with a crown on the horizon.  He was only three when he became the heir apparent, but would remain in that key position until he was 12.  Prince Geoffrey, the boy’s late father, after all would be next in line to the throne.  If a current English heir apparent died but left issue, it is likely that child would be the heir, so Arthur’s claim – which was supported strongly by the continental components of the English empire – was very strong.  Indeed, when Richard changed his mind at the last minute (if he really did) and named his brother John as his heir, King John found himself immediately at war against Duke Arthur and nearly every other continental duchy.  Arthur was in rebellion against King John, pressing his claim to the throne, and had captured his own grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitane, and was holding her at Mirebeau, when King John came to her rescue and capture the boy-Duke.

The tradition in those days, upon the capture of a Royal, was to keep them in royal confinement, awaiting ransom.  This was usually quite comfortable.  Arthur was taken to the King’s castle at Rouen, in Normandy, where he was probably kept in one of its Towers, probably the one where Joan d’Arc was later held.  It no longer exists, but today, Rouen Castle maintains a similar tower:

Philippe Auguste's Tower at Rouen

Philippe Auguste's Tower at Rouen

There, King John pondered what to do with Arthur.  He had also captured the boy’s only sibling, Lady Eleanor.  He had no intentions of ever letting them out of captivity.  William, the Ogre, de Braose was put in charge of Arthur while Eleanor was sent into permanent captivity in England, at Corfe Castle.  It’s not clear that King John meant to keep her captive for the rest of her life.  She was very beautiful, with her father’s dark blonde hair and deep blue eyes, and he did considering marrying her off, as after all, her children would be maternal heirs, not the threat that Arthur was.

It is not clear who killed Arthur, as the crime was committed in a Royal Castle, possibly by King John, possibly by William the Ogre.  It was probably on Easter, and Duke Arthur may have been dining with the King, in the style of royal captivity.  The boy apparently provoked John into a rage and later, Maud de Braose would claim that the King strangled the 16 year old at dinner.  Or, alternatively, King John simply gave an order to execute Arthur without trial.  Or, in the manner of his father, King John simply made it clear that he wanted Arthur to disappear and William the Ogre obliged.  Contemporary sources say that Arthur was killed, and that William da Braose tied a stone to his body and dumped it into the Seine.  King John would never speak of what happened or explain what happened to the boy.  When the boy did not reappear for several years, it was finally assumed he was dead, and it was far too late for any further facts to be uncovered on the manner of his death.

At some point, Maud de Braose apparently grilled her husband about what had happened to the boy, and he told her that King John had killed Arthur.  Now, it may be that William the Ogre didn’t want to admit that he had himself done it, or it may be true that King John is the real murderer.  At any rate, it seems clear that King John intended for William the Ogre to take the fall for the crime, and to cover it up.  Immediately after the two left Rouen (and Arthur had disappeared, in April, 1203), King John made William the Ogre even richer, awarding him the lands of several rebel Marcher lords, within the border of Wales, knowing that de Braose would be a great ally in trying to subdue the Welch.  If Arthur had still been alive at Rouen, de Braose would surely have been left behind and in charge of the boy.  Maud knew the boy was dead, and with sons of her own, she may have truly wanted to know the depth of her husband’s complicity.

At any rate, 7 years later, Maud personally accused the King of murder.  Her husband had fallen out of the King’s favor.  William the Ogre, Lord of Bramber, was also Lord of Abergavenny and many other places in Wales, as well as Briouze in Normandy and Limerick, Ireland.  The man had a veritable mini-empire within King John’s empire (he had been rewarded with Limerick immediately upon John’s succession, always a kingly favorite).  Maud herself acted as a mini-empress, repeatedly being left with the military commands of various castles.  She defended  Llanbedr Painscastle in Wales for three weeks, resulting in the deaths of as many as 3,000 Welshmen.  The castle has gone to ruin, but its moat can still be seen and tales are still told about Maud’s defense of the castle.   The battle is said to be perhaps the bloodiest in Welsh history.  It gives some insight into the kind of man the Ogre was.

The Welsh prince Gwenwynwyn was attacking Llanbedr Painscastle in revenge for the murder of his cousin by William the Ogre.  WIlliam had ordered that the young man be dragged through the streets from a horse’s tail and then beheaded, a rather typical Norman-English tactic for subduing a town or region in those days.  This was horrifying to the Welsh, of course.  So, whether or not William the Ogre killed Arthur with his own hands, he certainly ordered the murders of many others, and did this sort of thing habitually in “defense of his lands,” most of which were given to him by King John without the consent of the current holders of the place.  Indeed, the practice of completely displacing the Welsh from their own towns and bringing in English settlers is reminiscent of what happened later on the American frontiers.

I believe that the reason the Ogre fell out of favor with his equally cruel King had to do with the disappearance of Arthur.  As the years went on, people blamed King John for the boy’s death, and King John wanted to shift the blame onto William.  William had told Maud, who was not a silent woman, that King John had strangled the boy and the story was spreading.  On the pretext of monies owed to the Crown, King John demanded to take several of William’s children and grandchildren hostage, with the ransom being so high that there was no hope of ever paying it.  When John rode into the castle where Maud and her son, William (along with other children and grandchildren) were staying in order to collect the younger William as a hostage, Maud imprudently told the King off.  “I’m not delivering my son into the hands of a man who murdered his own nephew,” she said.

John was so stunned that he did not react immediately.  Maud realized instantly that she had made a huge blunder and tried to appease John’s beautiful wife and Queen, Isabella, hoping that Isabella could intercede on her behalf, as John was gathering troops to bring against her.  She sent the Queen 400 cattle, the quality of which she had been boasting of to the Queen, whom she had met on many occasions and whom she hoped would act as a kind of friend.  That didn’t work.  Maud and her son, William, were forced to flee from place to place, managing to make it to Ireland.  Meanwhile, her husband fled the British Isles altogether, making it to France, and playing no part in trying to save his wife or children.

Maud and the younger William (who was a grown man at this time) were eventually captured after King John went so far as to send an expedition to Ireland in order to catch them.  They tried to flee to Scotland, but were captured.

King John took a novel view of Maud’s punishment.  First, he included her eldest son in the punishment, which must have been one of its most horrifying aspects to her.  Then, he had them taken to the dungeon of Corfe Castle.  

At Corfe in 1210, King John had Maud and her son walled up into the dungeon, with a piece of raw bacon and a sheaf of wheat, unmilled and uncooked, for them to eat.  Perhaps this was so he could say he had no intention of actually killing them.  There is no mention of any water, so we can only imagine how they managed not to die of thirst (perhaps they did).  The dungeon room was opened up 11 days later.  Maud and her son had tried to claw their way out, they were both dead, the young man had died first and Maud had tried to gnaw on his cheeks.

The Ogre, meanwhile, had become a beggar in the streets of France, offering no aid to the rest of his family, and dying there in France a year later.

It’s amazing, actually, that the rest of Maud and the Ogre’s 16 children, managed to continue to exist in England.  Reginald, the third oldest son, managed to regain Abergavenny and some of the other forfeited estates of his father, in 1216, just six years after his mother’s terrible death.  One can only imagine the kind of mental constitution it would take for a man to continue to curry favor with the King who had executed his brother and mother in such a terrible manner.

It is likely that King John gave Abergavenny back to Reginald in part because he hoped that the de Braose clan would deal with the Welsh sternly and he didn’t have anyone else who could play that role.  Reginald carefully managed his relations with the Welsh and instead of warring against them, he eventually managed to put aside his first wife Grace Briwere, Black Will’s mother, and marry Llewyllen Fawr’s daughter, Gladys Dru.

Upon the death of King John, King Henry III confirmed the da Braose claim to Abergavenny, paving the way for an easy transfer of the title of Lord of Abergavenny to Black Will.

The fact that Prince Geoff should have been King and had precedence over his brother John, meant that Duke Arthur of Brittany had a legitimate claim to the Throne of England.  Had Arthur become King, it is likely he could have held together the Angevin Empire, as he had the loyalty of Brittany, and had made progress in dealing with the King of France, who took Arthur’s side against John, resulting in John’s expulsion from his continental domains.  It’s interesting to think that had King Arthur reigned, England might well have maintained a substantial chunk of real estate on the continent, instead of being confined to the British Isles, which it then tried to bring firmly and entirely under England’s control.  The death of the potential King Arthur changed English and French history forever.  While King John could be brutal, he alternated between that brutality and making amends to the people he’d harmed, as when he restored the da Braose lands.  William the Ogre, however, gave no signs of anything except brutality – and then cowardice, when he left his wife and son to be locked up and fled the realm.

Rollo, Poppa and Will III, the Murderer

William III da Braose’s great grandmother, Agnes St. Claire, made him a descendant of Rollo and Poppa, the ancestors of the Dukes of Normany, and of William the Conqueror himself.  It seems like nearly all the Norman conquerors eventually managed to marry into some line coming from Rollo ‘the Dane’ Ragnvaldson (Rollo is “Robert” in French, and Ragnvald is “Reginald.”)  Rollo married Poppa of Valois, a descendant of Charlemagne through his son, the Italian King (Pepin).  Poppa was the daughter of the Count and Justiciar of Rennes, who in turn was a descendant of the Kings of Brittany.  In short, Rollo the Dane was a key figure in the Norman conquest of Normandy, and Rennes was a key city with which to ally oneself.  Poppa’s name was likely a play on the name Pepin.

Rollo can be considered the first Duke of Normandy, and he made sure his son Guillaume was considered the second Duke of Normandy.  Dropping their northern tongue, the Dukes of Normandy quickly switched to French (Norman-French, with a slightly different accent than the French of the Ile).  William could therefore consider himself both a Norman highborn lord and the grandson of a Scottish lord who joined the Norman conquest, not to mention a descendant of the Prince of Wales.

An intense and ambitious man, William III da Braose was also one of the most trusted companions of Prince John, son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitane, late King John.  William wasn’t content to sit home on his own lands when there was fighting, plundering and looting to be done.  While he couldn’t hope to bring home as much treasure as the King, he did well for himself.  In those days, killing and plundering and raping was so common, that you had to be a special kind of guy to earn the nickname ‘The Ogre’, as William III did.  It isn’t clear whether he got that nickname before or after he married Maud.   He was about 28 when he married.  There are a couple of different pedigrees for Maud, she was either 4 years or 11 years younger than William.  It is likely, given her prompt fertility, that she was 11 years younger, so 17 when they married.  She gave him 5 children, including 2 sons, all of whom survived to have further children, as William IV managed to marry and reproduce before meeting his grisly end.

Maud’s pedigree also made her a descendant of Rollo and Poppa, so William III and Maud were cousins.  Maud was a St. Valerie and a Montlhery.  Richard II, Duke of Normandy was her 4 times great grandpa (he was William the Conqueror’s grandpa, so Maud was a fourth cousin, two times removed, or thereabouts from William the Conqueror).  Everyone in William the Conqueror’s line intended to stay on the throne of England and probably no one had been as successful at enlarging the domain or ruling it so ably as Henry II, King John’s father.  Prince John was the fourth and youngest son of Henry II, and was never expected to sit on the throne.  It’s amazing to think that Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine had 5 total sons, and the youngest ended up with the crown.  Prince John is often made out to be an evil, terrible person from nearly the beginning of his life, but it looks like he had high aspirations for his reign and very bad luck.  He also, undeniably, had a mean streak that he probably learned by emulating his gruesomely fond-of-violence older brother:  Richard the Lion-Heart.

Like William the Ogre, Maud could claim an esteemed ancestry dating back to prehistory in northern Europe, although unlike William, she had more continental ancestry.  In place of his occasional Goth ancestor, she had the occasional German (Allemanian) ancestor.  Her family had been rooted in and around Dijon, France, not Scotland like William’s.  Her father had been one of William’s men at the Battle of Hastings, and like so many others, was rewarded with land and a highborn wife:  her mother was Eleanor de Domnart (Dammartin).  The problem with Maud’s family history though, is that her parents appear to be quite closely related (both Dammartin’s).  But, this could be forgiven as both were descendants of Hugh Capet; Robert II, King of France; Princess Constance of France and then, her son Hugh, Count of Dammartin.  Maud’s father’s grandpa was her mother’s great grandpa.

Now this degree of inbreeding was prohibited by Holy Mother Church (7 degrees of kinship, counted by the lineage was prohibited) and needed a special dispensation from the Pope.  There is no evidence that Maud’s parents got such a dispensation, they really weren’t important enough, they could fly under the radar.  But the desire to “keep it in the family” was very strong in Maud’s proud kin, who insisted they were double descendants of Robert II of France – a man whose stature was similar to Henry I Beauclerc of England’s at the time.  This was claiming high heritage.

So when Prince John chose his closest friends, he wasn’t choosing street ruffians, he was choosing aristocratic ruffians.  Now the thing is:  did William become ‘the Ogre’ before or after he killed the boy who might have been King Arthur?


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