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The First Day of April

1 April 1175
After the Great Rebellion of 1173-74 had been won decisively by Henry II, his three eldest sons could do little else but accept their father’s conditions. Those were determined by the so called Treaty of Falaise (September 1174). On 1 April 1175 Henry the Young King did homage to his father at Bur-le-Roi* and the two kings were reconciled. The following persons were present at Bur on this occasion: the archbishop of Rouen, bishops of Bayeux, Avranches, and Rhedon, and earl William de Mandeville. And although after the ceremony was over the father and the son parted- the old king went to Valoins, and the young paid a visit to the court of his father-in-law, Louis VII of France- the meeting at Bur marked the beginning of what was to become the Young King’s “lost” year, as he would have probably called it himself. To learn why the 1175 was “lost” click here.

1 April 1204
On 1 April 1204, Henry’s mother, Eleanor, Queen of England and Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right died, having reached the noble (and unusual for the times she lived in) age of eighty. She outlived all but two of her ten children. She was one of the most remarkable figures of the twelfth-century Europe, not only a queen of two kings, but also a mother, shrewd politician and patron of the arts. This is how Richard of Devizes, a monk at St Swithun’s, Winchester described the Queen upon her return from Spain when she brought Richard’s bride, Berengaria of Navarre with her:

Queen Eleanor, an incomparable woman, beautiful yet virtuous, powerful yet gentle, humble yet keen-witted, qualities which are most rarely found in a woman, who had lived long enough to have had two kings as husbands and two kings as sons**, still tireless in all labours, at whose ability her age might marvel, brought with her the daughter of the king of the
Navarrese…


Eleanor inherited Aquitaine from her father in 1137, married Louis (later Louis VII), the successor of the French king, and shortly afterwards became queen of France. The couple had two daughters but their relationship deteriorated, and their marriage was annulled in 1152. Soon after the annulment Eleanor married Henry of Anjou. Within two years they were crowned King and Queen of England. The couple had eight children. Seven of them survived infancy and reached maturity. By 1166 the marriage was under strain, and when in 1173 three of their sons rebelled, Eleanor supported the uprising. It turned out to be a grievous mistake, for she was taken captive by her husband and kept in custody for the next sixteen years. She was released in 1189, when Henry died and their third surviving son, Richard, became king. With Richard on crusade she acted as his regent, governing England on his behalf and collecting funds to pay the ransom required to free him from German captivity. Eleanor outlived Richard and saw her youngest son, John become king of England. She died in 1204, at the Abbey of Fontevrault, the religious house she cherished throughout her lifetime and to which she had retired, mercifully being spared the knowledge of the fall of her and her husband’s empire.

1 April 1212
Yet one more important figure in Henry the Young King’s life, Countess Petronella of Leicester, a woman with a “man’s spirit”, who had firmly stood by her husband’s side in the Great Revolt of 1173-74, died on this day. Robert, Earl of Leicester was one of young Henry’s chief supporters on English soil. Together with his wife, Petronella-  who ‘by her decision, talents, and energy, was a fit match for her warlike earl’- were staying in Flanders at the time when Henry II’s forces laid siege to Leicester. Upon receiving the news the earl and the countess set sail for England at the head of a large force of Flemings and Normans, ‘both horse and foot’, landing at Walton in Suffolk on 29 September 1173. Immediately upon their arrival they joined forces with Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. At the time Richard de Luci, justicier of England together with Humphrey de Bohun and a large force, was stationing in the North ravaging the Lothians, land of the king of Scotland. However, upon learning of the earl of Leicester arrival in England, de Luci made truce with the Scots until the feast of Saint Hilary and hurried southwards. In the meantime earl Robert left Framlingham and set off for Leicester. The two armies met ‘on the road between Thetford and Bury St Edmunds’ which was known as Fornham, situated on a piece of marshy ground, not far from the church of St Genevive, where, shortly before the justicier joined forces with Reginald, earl of Cornwall, the king’s uncle, Robert, earl of Gloucester, and William, earl of Arundel. The fierce battle ensued in which ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the earl of Leicester was vanquished and taken prisoner, as also his wife … and all their might was utterly crushed. There fell in this battle more than ten thousand Flemings, while all the rest were taken prisoners … As for the earl of Leicester and his wife and Hugh des Chateaux, and the rest of the more wealthy men who were captured with them, they were sent into Normandy to the king the father; on which the king placed them at Falaise, and Hugh, earl of Chester, with them.’ (Howden, Annals, p.375)

A Winchester clerk, Jordan Fantosme, in his Chronicle of the War Between the English and the Scots in 1173 and 1174, provides us with yet further detail. Thanks to him we know the earl of Leicester’s movements after he landed in England and before he was captured at Fornham. When making a decision to go to Leicester the Earl was full aware of the dangers awaiting him on the way, the country being hostile to him, but following the advice of his wife, Petronella and Hugh de Ferrieres, earl of Derby, and hearing the Flemings remonstrating that: ‘We have not come to this country to dwell/ But to destroy King Henry the old warrior/ And to have his wool, which we desire’, he no longer hesitated. Putting confidence in the number and valour of his companions composed of 80 horsemen and 4000/5000 foot soldiers, Robert decided to take a risk. He seemed to forget that the ‘valour’ of his companions was rather doubtful for they were, in greater part, weavers, not knowing ‘how to bear arms like knights’. The Flemings did not get the wool they so much desired. Instead, being mercenaries, and the mercenaries in circumstances of defeat they received the most brutal treatment. They met their cruel and gruesome end when the villagers finished them off in the massacre that followed the battle of Fornham. ‘There was in the country neither villager nor clown/ who did not go to destroy the Flemings with fork and flail … by fifteen, by forties, by hundreds and by thousands/ by main force they make them tumble into the ditches … Upon their bodies descend crows and buzzards/ who carry away the souls to the fire which ever burns’. As Matthew Strickland pointed out in the twelfth century it was the most common practice to spare the rebel noble’s life and take him captive with possibility of ransom and to cut down his poor mercenary, his only consolation being ‘the priest of Saint Siward’ saying mass for his soul.

One can hardly doubt that Jordan was at Fornham that day, bearing witness or even taking part in the battle. How else could he provide us with such a detail? He does not miss to comment what befell the proud and formidable Petronella. Fully armed, carrying the shield and lance, she tried to escape, but ‘met with a ditch where she was almost drowned’, and she would have, had not Simon de Vahull lifted her up, saying:‘Lady, come away with me, give up that idea/ Thus it fares in war, to lose or to gain’. By ‘that idea’ Simon meant that Petronella wished to drown herself intentionally. She left her rings ‘in the midst of the mud … Never will they be found in all her life.’ Roger of Wendover provides further detail, claiming that ‘the countess had on her finger a beautiful ring, which she flung into the neighbouring river [the Lark], rather than suffer the enemy to make such gain by capturing her’. So much for the Battle of Fornham. Apart from being involved in her husband’s military campaigns Petronella was, as charters show, a powerful lady in her own right. Together with her husband she became a patron of religious houses in both England and Normandy. She also witnessed Robert’s charters and she granted her own- to St Evroult and St Mary’s, Lire. She held her own court and, after her husband’s death in 1190, had acquired her own seal. She became most powerful as a widow. It was then when, having become economically independent, she granted the majority of her charters.



* Bur-le-Roi, in the Bessin, was a favourite residence of Henry II (Eyton, p.189)

** By the two kings as sons Richard means not Richard I and John, as one may assume- they are still the two most famous and best remembered of Eleanor’s sons- but Henry the Young King and Richard I. Eleanor brought Berengaria in 1191 (so eight years before John became king) and Richard of Devizes completed his Chronicle in 1192.

Sources:

Court, Household and Itinerary of King Henry II by Robert William Eyton, 1878. Internet Archive. http://archive.org/details/courthouseholdit00eyto

Chronicle of the War Between the English and the Scots in 1173 and 1174 by Jordan Fantosme translated into English by Francisque Michel

Roger of Wendover’s Flowers of History Vol. II translated into English by J. A. Giles

The Annals of Roger de Hoveden  trans. by Henry T. Riley

Noblewomen, Aristocracy and Power in the Twelfth-Century Anglo-Norman Realm by Susan M. Johns. Manchaster University Press, 2003.

War and Chivalry. The Conduct and Perception of War in England and Normandy 1066-1217 by Matthew Strickland. Google Books.

“The Historic Sites of Suffolk” in The Suffolk Literary Chronicle. A Collection of Miscellaneous Literature and of Original and Selected Papers Relating to the County. Vol. I, 1838, printed and published by John King. Google Books.

The World of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Literature and Society in Southern France between the Eleventh and Thirteenth Centuries ed. by Marcus Bull and Catherine Leglu. The Boydell Press, 2005.

Comments

  1. An eventful day! I didn't know anything about Petronella, so that was a fascinating read, Kasia, thank you.

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  2. Thank you Kathryn! I find Petronella an intriguing figure indeed! I highly recommend the scene of her capture at Fornham as described in Sharon Kay Penman's Devil's Brood.

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  3. Thank you, Kasia for this interesting account. I agree, Petronella is intriguing & I do love that story of her armed with weapons, struggling in the water. And the ring!!

    Joan

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  4. I love this story too, Joan! Especially the way Sharon has described it from Geoff's perspective.

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  5. Even when I haven't been commenting, Kasia, I am still definitely reading with enjoyment! [Haven't been able to find the "like" button, or I'd be pressing that at the very least]. I love your postings!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Donna! Much appreciated :-)

      Delete

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