About the historical figures of The Burning Candle
Born in medieval France, Isabel de Vermandois lived the majority of her years in England. Isabel’s paternal grandparents were the Capetian King Henry I and his wife, Anne of Kiev, a daughter of Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise of Russia. In 1096, Isabel became the wife of a hero of Hastings, Robert de Beaumont, Comte de Meulan. She gave birth to eight of his children, five daughters and three sons.
Within two decades of her marriage to Robert, William de Warenne, the second Earl of Surrey abducted her. They enjoyed a love affair, which likely resulted in the birth of William’s daughter, Gundred, during Isabel’s separation from Robert. After he died on June 5, 1118, William and Isabel married and had four more children. William died in May 1138. Isabel survived by a few years, but her date of death remains unclear.
Earlier sources list her death incorrectly as February 1131. Her eldest son, Waleran, did not inherit her dower estate at Elbeuf until 1141. Since several personal details of her life remain unknown, I speculated about certain aspects, keeping to the mantra “all within the realm of possibility.” During most of her years in England, both of Isabel’s husbands served King Henry I.
King Henry I
King Henry I was born circa May 1068 or 1069, near Selby, Yorkshire. His father was King William I of England, the duke of Normandy, also known as the Conqueror. Henry’s mother was Matilda of Flanders. Henry had three elder brothers. Robert Curthose succeeded to the duchy, Richard died in a hunting accident and William Rufus became the king of England. Henry’s sisters included his favorite, Countess Adela of Blois, Abbess Cecilia of Holy Trinity at Caen, Matilda, Constance, Adeliza / Adelaide and possibly Agatha. Henry became a count of the Contentin (1088 - 1091) and later the king of England, after he seized the crown upon the death of his brother King William Rufus II in August 1101.
Around the time of Henry’s birth, his parents were in the north for the dedication of a new Norman abbey. A turbulent world awaited the young prince. His father had defeated Harold Godwinson at Hastings only three years ago and resistance to the Norman conquest of England would rage during Henry’s formative years. As the youngest among his brothers, Henry must not have expected to gain much at their father's death. His eldest brother, Robert, coveted his inheritance at Normandy and revolted against King William to gain it prematurely. The king had designated William Rufus his heir in England. At their father’s eventual passing, Henry received money only. There must have been a bit of a rivalry between Henry and his elder brothers while growing up. Their mother had left Henry English lands, which William Rufus denied him. Robert and William Rufus also swore an agreement that if either man died, Henry could not claim the succession to Normandy or England. Due to Robert’s mismanagement of his finances, Henry gave him money and bought the title of the comte of the Contentin, a peninsula encompassing Cherbourg, Valonges and Bayeux.
Then in August 1100, King William Rufus died by a stray arrow, while hunting with Henry, his companion Robert de Beaumont, Comte de Meulan, and others. Some historians have suggested Henry might have arranged the assassination during the hunt. The man who allegedly shot the arrow was Walter Tirel, who had married into the Clare family. The Clares, another Norman baronial house, benefitted greatly during Henry's rule. Henry was in another part of the forest when he heard of his brother’s death. He and many others in the king’s retinue immediately scattered. Henry and Robert de Beaumont rode for the capital and treasury at Winchester. Within days, Henry claimed the crown. His brother Duke Robert had gone on Crusade, but he soon returned.
Henry settled down to the business of the kingdom and chose a bride, Eadgyth (who later took the Anglo-Norman name of her husband’s mother, Queen Matilda). Eadgyth was the daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland and Queen Margaret. Her birth fused the blood of Scottish kings and the old Anglo-Saxon royal line. Her mother Margaret’s grandfather was King Edmund II of England, called Ironside and Margaret’s brother was Edgar the Aetheling, the last legitimate Anglo-Saxon claimant of the crown after the Norman invasion. Henry married in November 1100 and became the father of Matilda, also called Maud. He named his son, William.
Henry is notorious for having publicly acknowledged at least 21 illegitimate children as his, more than any other English monarch has done. In fact, he did more than acknowledge them. His children became bishops and abbesses, earls and countesses, as well as the consorts of other powerful monarchs. The children were born from 1090 to as late as 1126. In The Burning Candle, an unnamed daughter of the king, whom he intended to wed with William de Warenne, is a strong secondary character. I called her Amieria. Her true name and final fate are lost to history. It is possible there are other illegitimate children belonging to Henry whom we will never know. The Royal Bastards of Medieval England, my primary source for knowledge of Henry’s children, cites 21 bastards. Hollister’s Henry I, mentions another daughter named Emma who is absent from other sources.
Henry enjoyed long-standing relationships with the mothers of his children. His mistress, Lady Sybilla Corbet of Alcester, bore him at least five children and might have been the mother of Robert Earl of Gloucester. Robert became a staunch supporter of his half-sister, Princess Matilda / Maud, in later years. Another daughter of Sybilla’s, her mother’s namesake, became the wife of Alexander I of Scotland. Nest, the daughter of the Welsh monarch Rhys ap Tewdwr, also bore Henry a son. Yet another mistress in Henry's later years was Isabel, the young daughter of Robert de Beaumont. Henry did not always have the best relations with his illegitimate children. One of his daughters, Juliane, married the nobleman Eustace de Pacy. In later years, Eustace and Ralph Harnec, constable of the castle of Ivry exchanged their children as hostages. Eustace blinded Harnec’s son for some unknown reason. As revenge, Harnec blinded Eustace and Juliane’s two daughters. When Henry did not punish Harnec, Juliane and her husband rebelled. She shot a bolt from a crossbow and almost assassinated her father.
Henry’s father raised him with the idea of the divine right of kings. From the beginning of Henry’s reign, he clashed with Anselm, the archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Paschal II over the entitlement of kings to demand homage from clerics and invest laymen as clergy. Anselm accepted exile rather than tangle with Henry. Pope Paschal seemed to have been more belligerent of the three. Henry warred with his brother Robert over the latter's claim to England. In 1101, the brothers averted a crisis by agreeing to similar terms as Robert had with their brother William Rufus regarding the succession. Peace did not prevail. Five years later, Henry and Robert met at the battle of Tinchebrai. The king emerged victorious and kept his brother in custody for the rest of his life. As ruler of Normandy and England with an heir groomed for the succession, Henry seemed destined only for greatness.
Henry suffered several setbacks. After the tenth year of his reign, the counts of Flanders and their counterparts in France under King Louis VI attacked the borders of Normandy. Henry spent much of the latter part of his kingship fighting battles in Normandy. In 1118, he suffered two tragedies, when Queen Matilda died on May 1 and the life of his chief counselor, Robert de Beaumont, ended on June 5. Greater pain awaited the monarch. Two years later, Henry’s heir, William, died on November 25, 1120. The White Ship, which brought the prince and his bride to Barfleur, France, struck submerged rocks. Henry made his nobles swear allegiance to his daughter Matilda / Maud, his only remaining legitimate child. Some in the kingdom considered her half-brother, Robert Earl of Gloucester, a candidate for the throne. Henry died in Normandy on December 1, 1135. William de Warenne, the second Earl of Surrey and his stepsons Robert de Beaumont, second Earl of Leicester and Waleran, Comte de Meulan, stood with others at the king’s deathbed. Stephen, Henry’s nephew by his favorite sister Adela and Henry’s daughter Matilda / Maud, both claimed the crown. The period historians call the Anarchy followed and would last for 18 years.
Robert de Beaumont
Robert de Beaumont was born in 1046, the son of Roger de Beaumont and Adeline de Meulan, sister to Comte Hugh II. Robert was the eldest of the siblings Aubree, Abbess of St. Leger de Préaux, and Henri, the Earl of Warwick. During his lifetime, Robert held the title of the Comte de Meulan, which he succeeded to upon the death of his maternal uncle Hugh in 1081. Robert also became Earl of Leicester under King Henry I of England in 1107.
To understand Robert’s heritage, consider the Viking Age and the invasions of the Danes and Norwegians who carved out the Norman duchy in northern France after 911. Robert, like many of the magnates who would gain power in Normandy and later England, came from a baronial family. His great-grandfather Thorold held the lordship of Pont Audemer near the Risle River. Some historians believe Thorold was the maternal nephew of the Duchess Gunnora, wife to Robert I of Normandy (942-966). In the generation of Robert’s grandfather, Humphrey, the family holdings increased. Vielles, Beaumont, and Beaumontel came under their control. Humphrey married the heiress of the forest of Brotonne, Aubree de la Haie. Of their daughter, Dunelme and sons, William, Robert, and Roger, the latter became a parent to Robert de Beaumont in 1046.
Medieval naming conventions have always interested me, especially among the nobility. Most took the names of their birthplaces or territories they seized or inherited. It would be a fair assumption Robert came into the world at Beaumont, where Roger had built a castle on the hill above Vielles. Roger had married Robert’s mother Adeline a year before their eldest son's birth. Adeline’s brother Hugh held rich territory to the east in the French Vexin. Roger and Adeline also became parents to Aubree and Henri. The sons of Roger would grow to have a special closeness with each other. From an early age, Roger ensured his sons were literate and taught them about administrative functions. Robert witnessed his first recorded charter, a gift to the abbey of Marmoutier, when he was only nine years old. He also became acquainted with the ducal court from an early age.
When William the Conqueror invaded England in September 1066, Robert represented his father’s interests, while Roger aided Duchess Matilda at the ducal court. Robert would have been twenty years old, newly knighted by William, when he led a devastating cavalry charge and feint at the battle of Hastings. After the defeat of the English, Robert’s brother Henri arrived from Normandy a year later. By 1068, he held the newly constructed Warwick Castle. Robert gained honors as well, including the worth of some eighty English manors. Above all, he prized the title ‘Comte de Meulan’ and often styled himself as such “by the grace of God.”
When the Normans claimed the duchy, technically they owed fealty to the kings of France, which brought personal consequences to Robert later in life. With the accession to Meulan, Robert moved into the sphere of the French court and owed the king of France homage for the county of Meulan. He also owed loyalty to the dukes of Normandy. Despite his riches, Robert wanted more. In 1088, he appeared outside the abbey of Bec and demanded of Abbot Anselm a pledge of fealty. It would be the first of many troublesome encounters between Robert and Anselm. The new duke of Normandy arrested Robert for threatening the abbey. Failing his father's intervention, Robert would have remained imprisoned. After Roger's death in the 1090’s, Robert became lord of the most important castles in his family's holdings at Beaumont, Pont Audemer, Vatteville, and Brionne. Robert also served the successive Norman kings of England, William Rufus and Henry I, as a chief counsel. Only one thing remained glaringly absent—a wife. Robert had opportunity and heiresses he or his father could have considered. Robert’s younger brother had also married Margaret de Perche several decades earlier. It is unclear why there is no record of a marriage for Robert before he reached his fiftieth year.
He first proposed to marry Godehilde de Toeni, in an age where a betrothal could be tantamount to a full marriage with all the benefits. For unknown reasons, she later married Baldwin, the son of Comte Eustace de Boulogne. Godehilde died while accompanying her husband’s crusading venture in the Holy Land. Robert chose another bride, Isabel, daughter of Comte Hugh de Vermandois. On her father's side, Isabel was a granddaughter of King Henry I of France. With the births of their children, Emma (1102), the twins Waleran and Robert (1104), Hugh (around 1106), Isabel (circa 1107 or 1113), Aubree (circa 1108-1109), Adelina and Maud, plus the newly created earldom of Leicester, Robert's future seemed bright.
Robert claimed Leicester by underhanded means, as described in the narrative. Ivo de Grentmesnil, the sheriff of Leicester, numbered among the rebels who had supported Duke Robert of Normandy against King Henry of England in 1101. Robert pleaded Ivo’s case before the king and received a grant of Ivo’s lands in exchange for money Robert offered Ivo to complete the Crusade. Ivo returned to England in later years, but he never retrieved his holdings from Robert. Ivo’s sons never gained their rightful inheritance. Robert’s mercurial personality allowed him to play various roles in medieval history. He could be a mediator and conciliator at court and an unrepentant opportunist concerning his personal interests and the wealth of his heirs.
After two decades of marriage, Robert lost Isabel to William de Warenne. Chroniclers of the period note he died a shamed and broken man, embittered by Isabel’s betrayal. He withdrew to his family’s monastic foundation at Saint Pierre-de-Préaux. In June 1118, his death neared. He took up the habit of the Benedictines. His last will and testament commended the care of his heirs, Robert and Waleran, to his master Henry. The archbishop of Rouen insisted the dying man renounce claim to the lands he had stolen in England and France, including Leicester and honors belonging to the abbey of La Croix Saint-Leuffroy. Robert refused most of the demands and stipulated his heirs would act on behalf of his soul. The twins did so, with later grants to Bec and Saint Pierre-de-Préaux. Robert died on June 5 and lay buried at the abbey. His heart went to another of his monastic foundations at Brackley. Within months, his widow remarried. In a few years, his heirs succeeded him as Robert, second Earl of Leicester and Waleran, Comte de Meulan.
William de Warenne
William de Warenne’s birth date is unknown. His parents were William de Warenne, first Earl of Surrey and Gundred, sister of Gerbod the Fleming. William was the eldest child. His sister Edith became the wife of Gerard de Gournay (until 1098) and of Dreux de Monchy. William fought his brother Reynald / Reginald, at the battle of Tinchebrai. William succeeded to his father’s title in 1088.
The surname ascribed to William by medieval convention suggests he was born in Varenne, Normandy. His Christian name came from his father, who served as a loyal companion of Duke William of Normandy, later the king of England. In 1088, the duke’s successor King William Rufus II made his father’s loyal companion, the first Earl of Surrey. The title soon fell to the younger William. His father died on June 24, 1088 of an arrow wound sustained during a siege of Pevensey Castle, when the leg turned gangrenous. William did not require a guardian. I assume he was born by at least 1070-1072, sixteen being around the age of majority.
The history of William’s mother, Gundred, is slightly convoluted. For centuries, genealogists referred to her as a daughter of Matilda of Flanders, wife of Duke William of Normandy. Gundred was most likely the sister of Gerbod the Fleming, the Earl of Chester in 1070, of no relation to Matilda of Flanders. Gundred might have married William’s father in the same year as her brother gained an earldom. Before Gundred’s death in 1085, she and William’s father founded the Clunaic monastic house at Lewes Priory.
As the eldest son, William inherited great wealth from his father, including lands in over thirteen English counties and his father’s seat at Castle Acre in Norfolk. In Normandy, the family holdings of Mortemer and Bellencombre would have been his also. Within a few years, William had settled on a prospective bride. She was Eadgyth, the daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland and his sainted queen, Margaret. Eadgyth had spent most of her life from the time she was six in 1086 at Romsey Abbey, near Southampton, but apparently never took the veil. She rejected William’s proposal, whether of her own initiative or on the advice of others. In November 1100, she married King Henry I, who had just seized the throne of England.
At the death of King William Rufus while hunting in the New Forest in August 1100, England devolved into chaos. Henry along with several nobles, including Robert de Beaumont, raced to Winchester and claimed the treasury and crown. Henry and William Rufus’ brother, Duke Robert Curthose held every expectation that he would have succeeded to the throne of England. The situation left Earl William of Surrey in a quagmire. He owed fealty to the king of England for his lands there. He could not risk losing his Norman estates. William chose to support Duke Robert. In July 1101, a Norman invasion force of 200 ships and 260 knights landed at Portsmouth, with William as part of the retinue. King Henry raced from Pevensey and met his brother the duke. The two sides came to an agreement, after which the duke returned to Normandy with William, who cannot have been a happy man at his departure. His men had supposedly raided some of his neighbors in Norfolk. For his failure to control them, William lost the earldom of Surrey, which he later regained in 1103. Afterward, William became a loyal supporter of King Henry and served as one of his commanders in 1106 at the battle of Tinchebrai, where Henry defeated his brother Robert and claimed Normandy.
As early as 1101-1103, King Henry might have been giving a thought on how to placate William, bitter about the loss of his earldom and his prospective bride to the monarch. The king proposed a match between one of his unnamed bastard daughters to William. Anselm, the archbishop of Canterbury, rejected the union for concerns about blood ties between William and Henry. Anselm’s letter to Henry regarding consanguinity strengthens the theory that William’s mother cannot have descended from Henry’s mother. The date of the letter has not been determined. Anselm could have written it as early as 1100 or before his death in April 1109. The letter states William and the unnamed daughter of the king could not marry because they were cousins in the fourth generation on the one part and in the sixth on the other. If William’s mother Gundred had truly been a daughter of Matilda of Flanders, Gundred would have been a half-blood sister to King Henry. His illegitimate daughter and William de Warenne would have been first cousins. If the archbishop knew of such close kinship, he would not have mentioned lesser-prohibited degrees as a reason for banning the marriage.
William must have scandalized England when he seized Isabel de Vermandois. There is no record of when they first met. As part of the nobility with close ties to the king, William and Isabel would have encountered each other at court. Some chroniclers of the period suggested the abduction concealed a long-standing affair between the two, while others believe Isabel did not willingly abandon her first husband. The event likely dates to a period after February 1116. In the same month, King Henry had sent Robert de Beaumont, Isabel’s husband and William to York. He tasked the men with bringing Archbishop Thurstan of York to heel. The archbishop refused to accept the supremacy of the archbishopric of Canterbury over his office. It is unlikely William and Robert would have cooperated in the venture if the former had stolen the latter’s wife at any point before their journey to York. It is possible, though uncertain, Isabel conceived their daughter Gundred during the first year of the affair. Various dates exist for Isabel and William’s children. After Robert de Beaumont’s death on June 5, 1118, Isabel and William married. Their son, also William, was born likely in 1119, followed by another daughter, Adeline / Ada and their sons, Ralph and Reginald. Isabel’s second husband died on May 11, 1138, according to the death registry at the Priory of Saint Pancras at Lewes. She survived him. Their eldest son, William, became the third Earl of Surrey.
Isabel de Vermandois
Isabel de Vermandois was born circa 1081 or 1085. Her parents were Hugh Magnus, Comte de Vermandois, younger son of the Capetian King Henry I and his wife Anne of Kiev and Adelaide / Adele Comtesse de Vermandois. Isabel’s siblings included Ralph (who succeeded their father as Comte de Vermandois), Henry, Simon, William, and her sisters, Matilda, Beatrice, Constance, and Agnes. In her lifetime, Isabel was Comtesse de Meulan, wife to Robert de Beaumont from 1096 to 1118 and Countess of Surrey, wife to William de Warenne from 1118 to 1138.
Isabel’s ancestry linked her with the most prestigious bloodlines throughout Europe. Her father Hugh was a younger son of King Henry I of France and Queen Anne of Kiev. Hugh married Adelaide / Adele, daughter of Herbert IV, Comte de Vermandois and Adele, Countess of Valois. Isabel’s heritage included the Capetian dynasty (from Hugh Capet, first King of the Frankish domain), Carolingian dynasty (from Charles Martel, royal grandfather of Charlemagne) and Russian royalty (through Anne of Kiev, daughter of Yaroslav the Wise, Grand Prince of Russia). Isabel was the second or third daughter of her parents. Some historians refer to her as Isabel de Crépy. She would have been born at Crépy-en-Valois, founded in the tenth century by the counts of Valois, just northeast of Paris. Her marriage to Robert de Beaumont occurred between the ages of 11 and 15 in 1096. As early as 1094, Isabel's mother had visited the Norman abbey of Bec, perhaps as an emissary for the negotiation of her daughter’s union. Robert was several decades older than his prospective bride.
The marriage of Isabel and Robert faced an impediment before the union could take place. Bishop Ivo of Chartres raised an objection. The couple shared kinship within prohibited degrees. The exact connection is uncertain though it might pertain to a common ancestor among the counts of Valois. As a condition for the papal dispensation regarding Isabel’s marriage, her father Hugh participated in the first Crusade. He reached the Holy Land, aided in the capture of Antioch, and should have gone to Constantinople with a request for reinforcements. Instead, he returned to France. Facing Pope Paschal II’s threat of ex-communication, Hugh joined another crusade against the Turks in September 1101 and died of his wounds a month later at Tarsus.
Hugh’s pledge to go on Crusade for the sake of his daughter’s marriage became unnecessary because Robert and Isabel wed in 1096 without awaiting the papal dispensation. Their first child, a daughter, Emma, arrived in 1102, making Isabel either as young as 17 or as old as 22 when she first became a mother. Subsequent children included the twins Waleran and Robert, Hugh, Aubree, Adelina, Maud, and Isabel.
After twenty years of marriage, Isabel surrendered to the temptation posed by William de Warenne, the second Earl of Surrey. Whether he seized her or they arranged the event beforehand, she never returned to Robert. Eventually, she and William would have five children together. The lives of Isabel’s descendants by both her husbands are equally fascinating and complex. The children of both marriages founded an unexpected companionship. In December 1138, Isabel’s eldest son Waleran and his younger half-brother William journeyed together to Rouen.
Of Isabel de Vermandois’ children with Robert de Beaumont, Emma likely went to a convent. Despite her betrothal at the age of one to Amaury de Montfort, brother of Queen Bertrade of France, Emma never married Amaury. I have no further information on her life.
Waleran de Beaumont became the Comte de Meulan after his father’s death and remained at the court of King Henry I with his twin Robert until he came into his patrimony. In 1122, he joined a rebellion against the king and gave three of his sisters, Aubree, Adelina, and Maud in marriage to his confederates. Two years later, Henry seized him and demolished his castle at Vatteville. Waleran remained imprisoned at Wallingford Castle until 1129 when he regained his freedom. He was at Henry’s deathbed on December 1, 1135. In the Anarchy, he supported King Stephen and accepted the offer of Stephen’s two-year-old daughter as his future bride. In 1141, Henry’s daughter Matilda / Maud, who continued warring with Stephen for the crown claimed Waleran’s lands in Normandy. Waleran switched sides and allied himself with Geoffrey Plantagenet of Anjou and Matilda / Maud.
Waleran married Agnes d’Evreux in 1141 and she soon gave him a son, Robert, followed by seven other children. Waleran again looked to advance by other means and came into the sphere of French influence. Having completed one pilgrimage to Spain around 1143, he joined the Second Crusade (1145-1149) and survived a shipwreck. The threat of war loomed between Duke Henry of Normandy, son of Matilda / Maud, and the French court. Waleran found himself on the wrong side. His sister Adelina’s son, Robert de Montfort, captured and imprisoned him in 1153. Duke Henry became Henry II of England in 1154. Whereas Waleran’s father rose to preeminence under successive Norman kings, Waleran could not gain the same advantage. He founded several Cistercian abbeys before retiring to Saint Pierre-de-Préaux in March 1166. Waleran died there twenty days later on April 9, having taken the habit of the Benedictines. Waleran’s granddaughter Clemence married Roger de Sable, a Grand Master of the Knights Templar.
Robert de Beaumont became the second Earl of Leicester. In 1121, he married Amice, the heiress of the honor of Breteuil. She gave him at least four children. Robert remained loyal to King Henry I until his death and thereafter, supported King Stephen and Henry II. He lost most of his estates in Normandy to those who supported the claim of Henry’s daughter, Matilda / Maud. In 1155, King Henry II named Robert as his justiciar, responsible for the administration of England during the king’s absences. Around this time, Robert married his eldest son and namesake to Petronilla de Grentmesnil, the great-niece of Ivo, who had lost Leicester to Robert’s father. In his role as justiciar, Robert also became embroiled in the controversy between Archbishop Thomas Becket of Canterbury and the king. Becket threatened Robert with ex-communication, but the earl died on April 5, 1168. His heart, like his father’s own, went to Brackley. Countess Amice took the veil. Through Robert’s granddaughter, Amicia, Isabel de Vermandois became the great-great-grandmother of Simon de Montfort, who rebelled against King Henry III.
Hugh de Beaumont became a great landowner of Bedfordshire in 1138. He may have gained the earldom of Bedford from King Stephen.
Aubree de Beaumont married Hugh fitz Gervase, one of her brother Waleran’s co-conspirators against King Henry I. Hugh held lands in the county of Chartres. When the rebellion failed, Henry consigned Hugh to prison.
Adelina de Beaumont married Hugh de Montfort-sur-Risle before October 1123. Hugh, a grandson of one of the companions of William the Conqueror, had a few children with Adelina including Robert de Montfort. After the failed rebellion against King Henry I, Hugh, as one of Waleran’s co-collaborators, endured imprisonment at Gloucester Castle. It is likely Hugh never left prison alive. Afterward, his son Robert de Montfort became the temporary ward of his uncle Waleran. Adelina may have remarried later. Isabel de Vermandois’ descendants through Adelina’s children were living up through 1667 in Staffordshire.
Maud de Beaumont married another rebel, William Louvel. He escaped into France after Waleran’s capture and later became lord of Ivry and Bréval.
Isabel de Beaumont is the most controversial of the children. Her date of birth is uncertain. She may have been the youngest mistress of King Henry I. Before Waleran’s release from Wallingford in 1129, Isabel had given the king a daughter, likely named Maud, who would later become abbess of Montivilliers. There are references to a second daughter, Isabel or Beatrice. After Waleran gained his freedom, Isabel de Beaumont married Gilbert de Clare, first Earl of Pembroke. Through this union, Isabel de Vermandois became the grandmother of Richard de Clare, also known as Strongbow, the Lord of Leinster and justiciar of Ireland. Richard’s daughter and eventual heir, Isobel de Clare, married William Marshal. He served the English rulers Henry II, Richard the Lionhearted, John and Henry III and became “the greatest knight that ever lived” according to Archbishop Stephen Langton of Canterbury. Through this union, Isabel de Vermandois became great-great-grandmother of William Marshal’s ten children and ancestress of the dukes of Norfolk until 1307.
Of Isabel de Vermandois’ five children with William de Warenne, Gundred de Warenne, married Roger de Beaumont, second Earl of Warwick. Roger was the heir of Isabel’s brother-in-law, Henri. In 1153 upon her husband’s death, Gundred expelled King Stephen’s garrison from Warwick and surrendered the castle to the future King Henry II. Gundred may have remarried after Roger’s death. Through Gundred and Roger’s union, Isabel de Vermandois became the ancestress of the Beauchamp earls of Warwick up through the 15th century. Her descendant, Edward Plantagenet, became the 17th earl of Warwick. King Henry VII kept him a prisoner of the Tower of London until 1499, when the king executed him for treason.
Young William de Warenne became the third earl of Surrey, loyal to King Stephen at the beginning of the Anarchy. He married Adela, a granddaughter of the infamous Robert de Belleme and had one child, Isabel de Warenne. Like his half-brother Waleran, he switched sides to Matilda / Maud briefly but soon returned to Stephen. Later, William joined his maternal second cousin, Louis VII of France, on Crusade. William died fighting the Turks in 1148. His daughter first married William de Blois, King Stephen’s second son. After her first husband died, Isabel wed Hamelin, an illegitimate son of Geoffrey de Anjou. Through Hamelin and Isabel de Warenne’s marriage, Isabel de Vermandois is the ancestress of the Warenne earls of Surrey until 1347 and the FitzAlan earls of Arundel and Surrey until 1415.
Ada / Adeline de Warenne married Prince Henry of Scotland, son of King David and the maternal grandson of Earl Waltheof, the last Anglo-Saxon earl of preeminence under the Norman regime. Henry and Ada had seven children, including two future Scottish monarchs, Malcolm IV and William I, called the Lion. Through Ada, Isabel de Vermandois is the ancestress of Scottish rulers until Margaret, Maid of Norway, in 1290. Ada was also mother to David of Scotland, the Earl of Huntingdon. His daughter Isobel married Robert de Brus, fourth Lord of Annandale. By this union, the great Scotsman King Robert the Bruce descends from Isabel de Vermandois.
Ralph de Warenne is a mystery. His brother Reginald de Warenne, while he inherited some of his father’s lands in Normandy and married Adeline de Wormegay, also left scant details of his life. Reginald’s son, William, founded the priory of Wormegay during the reign of Richard the Lionhearted.
About the characters of On Falcon’s Wings
On Falcon’s Wings is a work of fiction, inspired by my fascination with the late Anglo-Saxon period in England. The historical figures (denoted with the symbol * in the list of Characters) are factual, and I have done my best to render them as history recalls.
William’s marriage to Matilda of Flanders aided his cause at Hastings, as the Flemish contingent contributed to the Norman victory. William became king of England on December 25, 1066, a reign that lasted almost twenty-one years. Constant fighting in Normandy and rebellions in England plagued him. He died at Rouen at the age of fifty-nine on September 9, 1087. He left England to his second son William Rufus, Normandy to his eldest son Robert, and five thousand silver pounds to his youngest son Henry. After many years of feuding with his elder brothers, Henry became king of England in 1100.
William’s advisor, Hugh II de Montfort-sur-Risle, received over one hundred English tenancies and remained a trusted supporter. In 1087, he divided his holdings in England and Normandy between his and Alice’s sons, Hugh and Robert, before he took monastic vows and retired to the Benedictine monastery at Bec. He died shortly afterward.
Only Wulfnoth survived his Godwinson brothers. He remained a prisoner of the Normans until his death in Salisbury Castle, during the reign of William Rufus. Harold’s uncle, Abbot Aelfwig, his illegitimate nephew Haakon and all of Harold’s brothers but one, died with their king at Hastings. Harold’s brother Tostig had died earlier, fighting against him at Stamford Bridge. If Harold had awaited reinforcements after the battle of Stamford Bridge, as I had his brother Gyrth suggest, the outcome at Hastings would have been very different. Controversy remains surrounding Harold’s end. According to tradition, he died when an arrow lodged in his eye, just before four Norman knights beheaded and dismembered him, making it almost impossible to identify his body, until Edith the Fair found him. In the depiction on the Bayeux Tapestry, Harold’s standard, the Dragon of Wessex appears alongside the figure with the arrow in his eye. The standard in such proximity suggests the person is Harold, hinting at an almost divine justice that rained down from the heavens.
William made a strong case for his incursion into England. His version of Harold’s oath on holy relics in 1064 and his reliance on the blessing of Pope Alexander II before he invaded shows the importance of propaganda. For me, the Bayeux Tapestry is an example of history written, or rather stitched, by the victors. I do not think the legendary ‘arrow in the eye’ afflicted Harold, and instead had his brother Leofwine suffer that fate. In the end, it does not matter how Harold died, only that his passing forever altered England’s future.
Avicia is a fictional character, but I hope she reflects the difficulties women faced during this tumultuous period in history. Her enduring love for Edric, despite their differences, mirrors the struggles many Saxons and Normans endured after 1066, as they then united to establish the English country we know today. Avicia is always dedicated to her beliefs, and unwavering in her love for Edric, despite the pain it brings her. I wanted her to be sympathetic; the kind of heroine I would admire.
Avicia also had to have her match in a hero who would always love her, despite the difficulties and distance between them, a man ready to prove himself worthy of her in the end. Edric is a distant relative of Harold, and his commitment to the Godwinsons always separated him from Avicia and his family. He is not a perfect hero, but I gave him heroic qualities, which he often shows in his courage in dealing with the Godwinsons, his dedication to Harold’s cause and his own dignity as an English nobleman. Ultimately, these same traits led to his downfall. He had to lose almost everything and everyone before he could have an opportunity for real happiness with Avicia. I hope readers will think the lovers deserved a happy conclusion.
Edric is also a fictional character, though based on the true Saxon landowner of Newington near Hythe or Folkestone. Varying records for the Kentish village state, “Neuentone: Hugh de Montfort from Odo, bishop of Bayeux; Hugh de Montfort and Edric, the pre-Conquest owner, from him*.…Edric held it of King Edward, and it was taxed at two shillings then, and now at one, because the other is without his division….The whole, in the time of King Edward the Confessor, was worth twelve pounds, and afterwards three pounds, now twelve pounds….”**
Newington’s value before and after 1066 is one example of the devastating changes that the Norman invasion brought to England, but during the Domesday survey twenty years later, the property had re-bounded to its previous value. Less than ten percent of the Anglo-Saxon landowners, like Edric, remained in direct control of their property in England. In the reign of King Henry, Hugh de Montfort’s heir, Robert, lost the manor at Newington, and all his other English tenancies. The final fate of the real Edric is unknown, lost to history, as were so many other lives in the aftermath of Hastings.
*The Domesday Book: England’s Heritage, Then and Now, Crescent Books, Thomas Hinde, ed. (1995)
**’Parishes: Newington’, The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 8 (1799), pp. 197-210. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=63474&strquery=Newington Priory
Historical Timeline of On Falcon’s Wings
Earl Sweyn Godwinson of Hereford comes to King Edward of England, seeking the return of property Edward had given away to Sweyn’s brother Earl Harold Godwinson of East Anglia and Earl Bjorn Estrithson of Huntingdon. After Harold and Bjorn oppose this move, Sweyn meets with Bjorn on a pretext of reconciliation, but has him killed instead. Edward exiles Sweyn for the murder of his cousin and the witan declares him an outlaw. Sweyn flees to Flanders.
King Edward of England pardons Earl Sweyn Godwinson of Hereford, who returns to England and receives all his previous holdings.
King Edward of England appoints Bishop Robert Champart of London, former Abbot of Jumieges, as archbishop of Canterbury.
Tostig Godwinson weds Judith of Flanders, sister of Count Baldwin V of Flanders.
Edward receives a visit from his brother-in-law, Count Eustace of Boulogne. When Eustace attempts to return home from Dover in Kent, his men become embroiled in a skirmish with the townspeople over forced billeting of Eustace’s men. After Eustace complains, Edward orders Earl Godwin Wulfnothson of Wessex, also earl of Kent, to punish the townspeople, but Godwin refuses. Edward exiles the Godwinsons. Godwin and his wife Countess Gytha, with their children, except Harold and Leofwine, go to Flanders. Harold and Leofwine sail to Ireland. King Edward consigns his wife Queen Edith, eldest daughter of Godwin, to Wherwell Abbey. Edward gives Harold’s earldom of East Anglia to Aelfgar, son of Earl Leofric of Mercia.
Earl Sweyn Godwinson of Hereford leaves Flanders on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Earl Godwin Wulfnothson of Wessex invades England in May with his son Harold. They attack the Isle of Wight, Pevensey, Romney, Hythe, Folkestone, and Milton Regis before sailing up the Thames River. They force King Edward of England to reinstate them in positions of power. Queen Edith returns to court from Wherwell Abbey.
Archbishop Robert Champart of Canterbury flees to Normandy upon the return of the Godwinsons, taking with him as hostages, Godwin’s son Wulfnoth and Sweyn’s illegitimate son Haakon. Edward declares Robert Champart an outlaw. Bishop Stigand of Winchester becomes archbishop of Canterbury.
Earl Sweyn Godwinson of Hereford dies at Constantinople in September, after completing the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Earl Godwin Wulfnothson of Wessex dies at Winchester in April. Harold inherits Wessex and forfeits the earldom of East Anglia to Aelfgar, son of Earl Leofric of Mercia. Leofwine Godwinson becomes earl of Kent.
King Edward of England declares Earl Aelfgar of East Anglia an outlaw. Aelfgar goes to Ireland and then Wales. Earl Harold of Wessex helps in the defense of England, against him but later assists his reconciliation with Edward.
Earl Leofric of Mercia dies in October. His son Earl Aelfgar of East Anglia inherits Mercia. Gyrth Godwinson becomes earl of East Anglia in Aelfgar’s stead.
Earl Aelfgar of Mercia flees England, but soon returns in force with the help of Prince Gruffydd ap Llewellyn of Wales, who marries Aelfgar’s daughter, Ealdgyth.
King Edward of England appoints Earl Harold of Wessex to the earldom of Hereford.
Earl Aelfgar of Mercia dies. His son Edwin inherits the earldom.
Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex attacks Prince Gruffydd ap Llewellyn of Wales at Rhuddlan in January. Gruffydd’s men kill him in August, and Harold brings his head as a trophy to King Edward of England.
Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex leaves Bosham in Chichester and lands in Ponthieu. Comte Guy of Ponthieu captures him, before releasing him to Duke William of Normandy. Harold later returns to England.
The people of Northumbria overthrow Earl Tostig Godwinson and demand the appointment of Morcar, son of Earl Aelfgar of Mercia, to the earldom. At the behest of King Edward of England, Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex confirms the wishes of the Northumbrian people. Furious at Harold’s abandonment, Tostig and his wife Judith flee to her home in Flanders.
Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex marries Ealdgyth, daughter of Earl Aelfgar of Mercia and widow of Prince Gruffydd ap Llewellyn of Wales. King Edward of England dies in January. Harold becomes King Harold II of England.
Duke William of Normandy hears of Harold’s crowning, and plans an invasion of England, asserting that Harold made a vow supporting his claim to the English throne in 1064. William secures papal support from Pope Alexander II.
Harold prepares for William’s invasion in July. He disbands his army by September for the harvest season. Tostig Godwinson invades England in support of King Harald Hardrada of Norway. Earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria engage Tostig and Harald at the Battle of Fulford Gate, a mile south of York. Following the defeat of Edwin and Morcar, Harold’s army goes north and kills Tostig and Harald at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in September. William’s forces land at Pevensey and Romney. They plunder the towns in their path.
Harold returns to London before engaging William near Hastings. At the Battle of Hastings in October, Harold dies, along with his brothers, the earls Leofwine Godwinson of Kent and Gyrth Godwinson of East Anglia. The Norman army pillages the countryside, before reaching London. Edwin and Morcar surrender.
William becomes King William I of England in December.
In May, William’s wife, Matilda of Flanders officially becomes queen of England.
Godwin and Magnus, the sons of King Harold II of England, sail from Ireland and invade England. The Normans defeat them.
Rebellion against King William I of England flares in Northumbria. Earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria also oppose William, but soon submit to him. Morcar forfeits his earldom as punishment.
Godwin and Magnus, the sons of King Harold II of England, sail from Ireland and invade England again. The Normans defeat them again.
Rebellion against King William I of England begins in York. William destroys most of Yorkshire.
Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria revolt against King William I of England, making a stand at the Isle of Ely with Hereward the Wake. Edwin’s own men kill him. William imprisons Morcar.
King William I of England invades Scotland in June, where the remnants of the English royalty and the northern nobility have sheltered. King Malcolm III of Scotland surrenders to him and signs the Treaty of Abernathy.