Wednesday, 11 December 2013

John de Breos, Lord of Bramber and Gower

Windsor Castle (Wikimedia)
Windsor Castle (Wikimedia)
This is the sad story of John de Breos (or de Braose), who was only 12 when his grandfather William was hounded out of the country by King John, and his grandmother and uncle were locked up in Windsor Castle and left to starve to death. 

This story is told in my book Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. John was nicknamed "Tadody" by the Welsh who hid him in Gower, and he was later in the custody of Engelard de Cigogny (castellan of Windsor) along with his brother Giles.

Cigogny was ordered to give the two boys up to William de Harcourt in 1214. But John was not freed. Peter de Maulay, constable of Corfe castle was ordered to free John into the care of the bishop of Winchester and Hubert de Burgh in 1216. Peter was again ordered to release John and Giles in 1218. This time the order seems to have been carried out.

John disputed his uncle Reginald's claim to the Braose lands, sometimes resorting to arms. Llywelyn the Great helped him to secure Gower in 1219. In return he married Llywelyn's daughter Margaret. In 1221, with the advice and permission of Llewelyn, he repaired his castle of Abertawy (Swansea) or Seinhenydd. He purchased the Rape of Bramber, the original Braose family seat, from Reginald and his son, William, in 1226.

In that year John confirmed the family gifts to Sele Priory, near Bramber, and to the Abbey of St. Florent, Saumur, and added others. After the death of Reginald in 1228, John became Lord of Skenfrith, Grosmont and Whitecastle, the three Marcher castles, by charter from the king but he lost these in 1230 to Hugh de Burghat the same time as Gower became a subtenancy of de Burgh's Honour of Carmarthen and Cardigan.

He had four children: William, Richard, John & Llywelyn de Braose. William was the grandfather of Alina, the subject of my book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth. John (the father) was killed by a fall from his horse at Bramber in 1232, and William inherited his estates.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Angevins

The Angevins were named after their territory of Anjou in France. In the 12th century they became rulers also of the kingdom of Jerusalem. When Fulk the Younger went to Jerusalem, his son Geoffrey Plantagenet succeeded him as ruler of Anjou.

Enamel effigy on Geoffrey's tomb
Henry I's daughter Matilda married Geoffrey Plantagenet, and after a long period of conflict over the English throne following Henry's death, it was finally agreed that their son Henry would be the next king. Henry II came to the throne ruling over not only England, but extensive lands in France. The Angevin empire included more land in France than ruled by the King of France! The lands stretched from the borders of Scotland to the Pyrenees, and included Ireland, given to him by Pope Adrian IV (the only English Pope). He was possibly the most powerful monarch in Europe at the time. 

His marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine and relationship with their children was immortalised in the film The Lion in Winter, starring Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn.

Martyrdom of Thomas Becket
Henry II spent much of his time away from England fighting abroad, and living in his French lands. The most memorable event of his reign was the murder of Thomas à Becket by over-enthusiastic knights, for which he was forced to do public penance. He hoped to prevent disputes between his four sons by crowning his eldest son, Henry, as king during his own lifetime, and giving substantial lands to his other sons. 

Unfortunately this only made his sons want power sooner, and they attempted to oust him from the throne. Henry, the eldest son, died of a fever and Geoffrey died in a tournament accident, so when Henry II died he was succeeded by Richard. Richard may have earned the name Lionheart, but he spent nearly all his reign outside England and never learned English. His reign was only a success because he appointed capable men to run the government while he went on Crusade. 

The last of the Angevin kings was John, who was not trained or equipped for the job. Recent study has suggested he may have been autistic and/or bipolar, which would go a long way towards explaining his erratic behaviour. Time after time, he mishandled and misread situations and lost many battles. By 1205, six years into his reign, only a fragment of the vast Angevin empire acquired by Henry II remained.

He was also forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, which restated the rights of the church, the barons and all in the land. John died in ignominy, having broken the contract, leading the nobles to summon aid from France and creating a precarious position for his young son and heir, Henry III.