Category Archives: Age of Chivalry

Throwing Shade in Rouen in the Middle Ages

Well, actually it wasn’t just insults,–for poor ol’ John I, Archbishop of
Rouen, it was insults and rocks.  Now, when reading about the Middle
Ages, there’s no avoiding the pervasive role piety and religion allegedly
played in life at all levels of society.  Then, accounts of real life events make
for a clearer understanding of how that actually worked out in real time.

John I Archbishop of Rouen (1067 – 1078, previously Bishop of Avranches)
was “animated with a lively zeal for virtue”.

Not everyone was appreciative.  Volume II of Orderic Vitalis’ “Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy,” mentions John “taking severe measures to separate incontinent priests from their concubines; and when in a synod he
prohibited their intercourse under pain of excommunication,” (he) …”was assailed with stones, and forced to make his escape, on which occasion when flying from the church he intoned with a loud voice the verse:

” God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance.”

What would Jesus say?  “Be fruitful and multiply.” ?  Nope.  “Hey.  Cut it out!  No throwing rocks in the house!”

How I Got My Name and the Conqueror of Ossory

The following incident took place sometime in 1169 or 1170 during
Strongbow’s conquest of Ireland.  Ossory was a petty kingdom of Ireland at
the time.  The occasion of the Irish conquest by Strongbow was at the
behest of Dermot Mac Murchada, King of Leinster who, after stealing
another king’s wife, was dispossessed of his kingdom.  Strongbow was
promised Dermot’s daughter Aoife (MacDermot) by her father, if he would
help him (Dermot) get his kingdom back.  Strongbow‘s real name was
Richard Fitzgilbert De Clare and his wife thus became Aoife MacDermot De
Clare when she married Strongbow.  (And that is from whence comes my
name.)  There is a famous painting depicting the marriage of Strongbow and Aoife in the Irish National Gallery.  Dermot, who was responsible for Ireland
being conquered by Strongbow and held in subjugation by the English from
that time until the 19th or 20th century, depending upon how you look at it,
is one of the great villains of Irish history.

Here’s what happened before the conquest of Ossory during that war,
according to Gerald of Wales in his history The Conquest of Ireland.
(Gerald was not only a medieval historian, he was also the tutor of  two sons
of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, King of England, i.e. Richard the
Lionheart and John Lackland, later King John.)

…Duvenald, the prince of Ossory, was the most implacable of all the
enemies of Dermitius (Aoife Note; Dermot) and some time before,
when the son of Dermitius was his prisoner, having become jealous of him,
he carried his vengeance to such a pitch, that he put out his eyes. …

Dermot’s, or actually Strongbow’s, army assaulted Ossory and won the day.
Dermot wasn’t exactly gracious in victory.

…The victory being thus gained, about two hundred
of the enemies’ heads were collected and laid at the
feet of Dermitius, who, turning them over one by one, in
order to recognize them, thrice lifted his hands to heaven
in the excess of his joy, and with a loud voice returned
thanks to God most High.  Among them was the head of
one he mortally hated above all the rest, and taking it up
by the ears and hair, he tore the nostrils and lips with his
teeth in a most savage and inhuman manner. …

And we think we live in violent times.  Talk about needing an anger management course.

If I could go back in time and speak to Dermot, I think the conversation
would go something like this:

“Now, ya just gotta reel it in a notch or two.  Calm down.  Y’know, attenuate your responses just a tad.  Here, I have something for you.  It’s called Prozac. Really, take one, you’ll feel much better and maybe won’t be so high strung.  No, I am not possessed of the devil, it’s just a pill.  Hey, put down that sword…”


So You Think You Have Marital Strife and In-law Problems?

Here’s an illustrative tale about marriage and family life in the fractious Middle Ages during the Age of Chivalry.   Marcher Baron William deBraose, lord of Abergavenny, was born around 1204.   He was the qunitessential A-lister.  Wealthy, well-connected, well born–what could go wrong?  The Welsh called him “Black William”.   Now before he came along the Welsh already hated his family, the deBraoses, who were, collectively, a powerful marcher lord family (of Norman origin of course) with a history of abuses of the Welsh. His grandfather, William deBraose, 4th Lord of Bramber, was known as the “Ogre of Abergavenny” (“the Ogre”) because in 1175 he invited several Welsh princes to Christmas Day festivities to settle their differences and had all of them and their entire retinues murdered.  Ho, ho, ho and Merry Christmas indeed!

The aforementioned Ogre had also been suspected of being complicit in the disappearance of Arthur of Brittany, at one time  heir-designate to the English throne, chosen by Richard Lionheart instead of his brother, John.   Arthur’s father  Geoffrey was a son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and a middle brother between Richard Lionheart and youngest son (eventually king) John.

Arthur of Brittany was no peach.  He had revolted against his uncle King John in 1202 and besieged his grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine, who John had to rescue.  It was for these acts that John captured and imprisoned him the same year, leaving the aforementioned Ogre in charge of the captive.  In 1203 Arthur disappeared, never to be heard of or from again.  It was widely assumed that his uncle, King John was responsible and it was said that he and/or the Ogre had bumped off Arthur, whose body was found by a fisherman.  It had supposedly been weighted down and dumped in the Seine but became entangled in the fisherman’s net.

Subsequently the Ogre/4th Lord of Bramber, alas, had a falling out with King John and had to flee for his life, escaping England disguised as a beggar and leaving behind his wife, Maud de St. Valery de Braose and his eldest son William, both of whom John threw into prison, where they were eventually believed to have been starved to death after being walled up somewhere within Corfe castle.

Compared to that, Black William could be considered only mildly delinquent.  Reginald, Black William’s far less notorious dad, was a son of  the Ogre but William was the one who took after his grandfather.

Against this backdrop of familial dysfunction, Llywelyn the Great (Prince of Gwynedd who eventually ruled most of Wales) was married to Joan, the illegitimate daughter of King John, (The Pope later legitimized her. I think money was involved.)  During a visit to Llywelyn’s castle Black William was caught in Llywelyn’s bedchamber with Joan.  Llywelyn had him hung publicly (by one account naked) on 2/5/1230.  William was only 26 and he’s still infamous, so I guess you could say he carried on the family tradition.

Yesterday though, I came across an interesting bit of trivia about that event. After hanging his wife’s frisky lover Llywelyn graciously sent a letter of apology to the wife, Eva Marshall (one of the five daughters of Sir William Marshall “the best knight who ever lived”) for having hung her husband.  His excuse was that his fellow Welsh nobles hated her husband and his family so much and  were so outraged at this public disgrace that he, Llywelyn–basically to keep up appearances–had to avenge/revenge the scandal/offense of  banging the queen and getting caught.  Amusingly (sort of) Llywelyn and the Marshall family had already arranged a marriage of one of Eva Marshall’s daughters to his only legitimate son.  He made some reference in the letter to that contractual arrangement, which went forward despite one of the in-laws having hung the father of half of the bridal couple.  The wedding feast must have been awkward.

Lywelyn seems like a polite guy.  As we all know, you should send your hostess a note after a social engagement gone awry.  Does his letter to Eva  count as socially progressive? Maybe pragmatic?  I guess that’s what passed for being sensitive back in the days of chivalry.

Eva? She inherited all of her husband’s lands, titles and wealth, and became the direct ancestor of all the English monarchs after Henry VIII and several before him.  One suspects she wasn’t all that heartbroken at Black William’s demise.

In view of all this, perhaps the Clintons aren’t really all that high on the family dysfunction scale.  How’d you like to argue with some of these folks at Thanksgiving dinner?