England Invaded (3): The Anglo-Norman Team

By Nils Visser

Previously, in England Invaded: We discovered that King John was a nasty fellow, and explored various characters on the French side of the First Baron's War. This time around, we look at the Anglo-Norman team.

WILLIAM MARSHAL

According to Stephan Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, William Marshal was the “greatest knight that ever lived”.

Marshal started life in 1147, as son of John Marshal, a minor landholder. Being one of John’s younger sons William had to find his own wealth. He was brought up in Normandy where he received his training as a knight at a relative’s household. He found his life’s calling on the tournament fields, on which he excelled. These tournaments were more like mock battles than the later one-on-one jousts which we associate with tournaments today. By his own reckoning, William bested no less than 500 other knights in these encounters.

As chivalric example he came to the attention of the Angevin family, and in 1170 he was retained as the tutor-in-arms of Henry, son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry caught the tournament bug, and the two spent twelve years running an Anglo-Norman team that travelled to all the main tournaments. After young Henry´s death William served King Henry II directly, as well as King Richard I, King John I and King Henry III. The last he served as Regent of England, which meant he held a very powerful position.

His main source of wealth entered the picture in 1189, when 43-year-old William married 17-year-old Isabel de Clare, daughter of Richard de Clare, the Earl of Pembroke, also known as `the Strongbow´.

Although he fought for King John in Normandy, his relations with John were often strained, involving differences of opinions and occasional hostility. None-the-less, William remained loyal to King John, a member of the king´s party at Runnymede when the Magna Carta was signed, and consistently loyal during the First Baron´s War. King John may have been petty and recalcitrant at times, but on his deathbed entrusted William, by now 70 years old, with the care of his nine-year-old son Henry.

William Marshal took charge of the fight against Prince Louis in true Medieval fashion, at the Battle of Lincoln he charged in at the head of his army and led the royalists to victory.

From a dramatic perspective, the symbolism of a grizzly old lion being called out from retirement to save the country, as well as the sudden shift in the fortunes of war from the very moment he takes control, is almost too good to be believed.

William Hurt plays William Marshal in Robin Hood (2010)
William Hurt plays William Marshal in Robin Hood (2010)
William Marshal at a tournament.
William Marshal at a tournament.


NICOLA DE LA HAYE

Like Blanche de Castille, Nicola de la Haye can hardly be called a wallflower. She was born around 1150 as the daughter of Richard de la Haye. The family was a prominent aristocratic family in Lincolnshire. Nicola’s first husband was William fitz Erneis who died in 1178. She remarried Gerard de Camville around 1180.

Nicola inherited the title and duties of Castellan of Lincoln Castle from her father. If and when her husbands were around, they carried out those duties, but if they were not it was Nicola who assumed the responsibilities. In 1191 she defended the castle during a siege that lasted for a month, and in 1217 she was once again in charge of the castle’s defence when an army of Frenchmen and rebel barons took the city of Lincoln and laid siege to the castle. At that time she was 67 years old.

Nicola was a staunch supporter of King John and he visited Lincoln several times, even named her temporary High Sheriff of Lincolnshire. A recorded report of one of those visits reads as follows: "King John came to Lincoln and….Lady Nichola went out of the eastern gate of the castle carrying the keys of the castle in her hand and met the king and offered the keys to him as her lord and said she was a woman of great age and was unable to bear such fatigue any longer. And he besought her saying, 'My beloved Nichola, I will that you keep the castle…until I shall order otherwise.'"

De la Haye’s career as a leader of warriors and defender of castles is remarkable, and therefore eminently suitable for inclusion on this list.

Castle besieged
Castle besieged
Woman at war
Woman at war
Prince Louis and Savary de Mauléon at the Battle of Bouvines. Allies here, foes in the First Baron's War.
Prince Louis and Savary de Mauléon at the Battle of Bouvines. Allies here, foes in the First Baron's War.


SAVARY de MAULÉON

De Mauléon hailed from the Aquitaine, the lands belonging to Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II. As such de Mauléon’s allegiance was owed to the King of England, however, when Richard died de Mauléon supported the claim of Prince Arthur, son of John’s older deceased brother Geoffrey. In 1202, when Savary was about 27 years old, he was captured along with Arthur at the castle of Mirebeau. De Mauléon was initially put in prison at Corfe Castle, but released by John in 1204 at which stage he changed allegiance to John, who named him Seneschal of Poitou in 1205.

In 1211 de Mauléon helped Raymond of Toulouse fight the Crusaders who had invaded the Languedoc, assisting in the siege of Castelnaudary, defended by the Crusader Simon de Montfort. In 1212 de Mauléon briefly served Philip Augustus as commander of a French Fleet, after which de Mauléon returned to England to serve King John during the First Baron’s War. When John died in 1216 he named de Mauléon as a member of the Council of Regency which was to govern on behalf of young King Henry III.

De Mauléon is included because his wavering allegiance is the rule rather than the exception for many nobles who owned lands in both England, Aquitaine, Normandy and in France proper. Moreover, he is an old-fashioned type of knight, participant in tournaments and a troubadour, of whom was said: “Sweetly could he say and sing, of love that….vanquished”.

De Mauléon also had an important role to play at the siege of Rochester Castle. When the defenders of the castle surrendered at last, King John was furious about the time, money and soldiers the siege had cost him, therefore, his primary desire was to execute every single one of the defenders. It was de Mauléon who convinced John otherwise, warning that a similar fate might then befall any of John’s own soldiers. John relented, spared the nobles and men-at-arms and consoled himself by hanging all, some or one of the crossbowmen instead (depending on the source consulted).

PHILIP d’AUBIGNÉ

Philip d’Aubigné is sometimes also called “d’Aubigny” or “d’Albini”. To confuse matters even further, there are actually two Philips with variations of this surname wandering about at this time. Records show that a Philip d’Aubigné/d’Aubigny/d’Albini was Warden of the Isles on three occasions: 1207, 1212-1224 and 1232-1234. Historians suspect that both Philips served in this capacity, one in 1207, the other in 1232-1234 and either one of them in the middle period.

What is important is that one of the Philips, or both, played a significant role in the First Baron’s War. The name(s) appear in records of the Magna Carta negotiations, as the Constable of Bristol in 1215, as the leader of the royalist forces in Kent and Sussex in 1217, and as a participant in both the Battle of Lincoln and the Battle of Sandwich, where he commanded one of the king’s ships.

As such, we are likely to encounter his name in Kent and Sussex. In birth and character he is an old-fashioned knight, like Savary de Mauléon.

A knight
A knight

FALKES DE BREAUTÉ

Contrary to Savary de Mauléon and Philip d’Aubigné, respectively chivalric troubadour and pious knight of good noble stock, Falkes de Breauté has a more vague lineage, with some suggestions that he was the bastard of a Norman knight, possibly even a commoner whose first name was a nickname he earned by using a farm tool to murder someone.

By-the-by, a home Falkes obtained in London was called Falkes’ Hall, which changed into “Foxhall” which then eventually became “Vauxhall”. The Griffin that the Vauxhall car company uses as a badge is part of Falkes de Breauté’s coat of arms.

Documents don’t reveal a great deal about Falkes until 1206 when he is sent to Poitou by King John. When he returned in 1207 he was given wardenship of Glamorgan and Wenlock and in 1211 when he is appointed Sheriff of Glamorgan by King John. After that he continued to steadily rise in his master’s favour. When the First Baron’s War starts in 1215 John names Falkes as one of the leaders of the army that kept an eye on London and cut off the baron’s supply routes while John himself marched to the north.

De Breauté didn’t remain passive, the army roamed around the counties around London, laying waste to the properties of rebel barons, and raiding London suburbs. Falkes took the town of Hanslape from rebel Robert Mauduit and destroyed it, after which he captured the castle of Bedford which he retained as his own headquarters. Later in the war Falkes was to gain the castles of Plympton, Christchurch and Carisbrooke by conquest as well. Moreover, other castles and properties were given to him for safekeeping by King John. This gave de Breauté a significant base from which to raise troops and draw supplies.

De Breauté and Randulph de Blindevill, the Earl of Chester, besieged Worcester, which put up a stiff resistance. When the town fell de Breauté and de Blindevill had the abbey plundered and the citizens of the town tortured so that they would reveal the whereabouts of hidden treasure.

After that de Breauté joined the Earl of Salisbury and Savary de Mauléon to attack the island of Ely north of Cambridgeshire. They destroyed the churches, demanded a ransom to save the cathedral from the same fate and “depopulated” the countryside. That may sound like a clinical process, but would have involved brutal violence and terror on an unparalleled scale.

Such was warfare in the Middle Ages, if there weren’t enough troops to garrison conquered territories, and there seldom were, then it was a case of denying your opponent the source of income they would have had from their landholdings. Houses and barns can be rebuilt, crops can usually be sown again. The truly valuable commodity on land, be it farmland or woodlands or what have you, are those who work the land, the peasants. The trick was to reach this resource, and destroy it as thoroughly as possible, denying their owner the income he needed to pay, feed and equip soldiers.

The “army” which Falkes de Breauté gathered around him was a far cry from the regular retinue a noble of similar material status would have had, i.e. men-at-arms and squires from noble families. He would have attracted those hungry for adventure and loot, those incapable or unwilling to fit into the regular walks of life, and those unbound by any trace of a conscience: In short, a mercenary army. This is not to say that these troops were not effective, given the right amount of training and experience and usually facing an opposing force which would consist of small garrisons of professional soldiers at most, and otherwise mostly untrained peasants armed with farm tools, such a force could be extremely effective.

However, envisioning this ragtag military force marching up and down the Midlands, dishing out death, destruction and dishonour wherever they went, one wonders whether or not to still place doubts next to the wilder claims made by Roger of Wendover, some of which you may remember from chapter 4. He himself was from Buckinghamshire, a county oft visited by the likes of de Breauté, and his own monastery of St.Albans had been attacked by de Breauté.

In the spring of 1217 Falkes led his troops to Newark to join the army that William Marshal was gathering to march to the relief of Lincoln on behalf of the young king Henry III. It was at Lincoln that Falkes led a mission in which the crossbowmen in his private army were to decide a battle, and thereby the fate of the kingdom.

Vauxhall Griffin
Vauxhall Griffin

De Breauté´s inclusion on this list of “good” guys is partially due to his actions at Lincoln, and partially to illustrate what the concept of “war” could entail when the dogs of war such as Falkes were released onto a green and pleasant land.

To compensate for his behaviour somewhat, the English like to imply that he was one of John’s “alien” foreign mercenaries so hated by the populace, but this simply isn’t true. He was as “English” as the rest of the Norman nobility. It’s sometimes implied that a sense of “Englishness” was beginning to develop around the time of the First Baron’s War. Up to an extent this is true, especially when we examine the events in the Weald, one of the first places where the arrival and ambitions of Louis were quickly interpreted as a foreign invasion. However, in many other places Englishmen were content to butcher Englishman, torture his English son in order to get the English housewife to volunteer the location of the family’s meagre savings, after which she and her English daughter will be raped again and again by a whole company of grinning soldiers. All of this was done unquestioningly, the purpose was economic damage which served his master, the English family he destroyed had “picked” the wrong master and thus their bloody dissolution was an inevitable fact of life.

In mistaking chivalric propaganda, happily emulated by modern re-enactors, we sometimes forget that set-piece battles were extremely rare, and thus warfare was seldom about shiny armour and gaudy banners with noble hand-to-hand combat giving a man the chance to prove his bravery and be lauded with honours. Rather, it was about a band of heavily armed and armoured well-trained rogues, outnumbering and outmatching a farmer and his sons as the latter pick up farm tools in a doomed attempt to save their family from dishonour and death.


THE ARCUBALISTERS OF FALKES

Much of what these fellows do at Lincoln will be covered in a later chapter, which will cover the rising drama towards the climactic end of our examination of the First Baron’s War. 

Right now it is good to include them as a counter to the Arcubalisters of Rochester Castle, both sets pawns on the chessboard that we are setting up for a game that also includes, king, queen, bishop, knight and rook.

For the moment, suffice to say that these men, despicable criminals in modern eyes, will demonstrate another side to their character, one of incredible bravery as they partake in a suicide mission. They will win our admiration at last, and immediately trample upon it as we find out why the Second Battle of Lincoln is also called the Battle of Lincoln Fair.

What is also interesting, from our archers’ perspective, is another role for the crossbowmen. In the last chapter, upon looking at the mishap suffered by Ernaut the Sharpshooter at Dover Castle, we concluded that crossbowmen could be sent upon the field of battle as skirmishers, not just the battle line familiar to us from Crécy. At Lincoln we will see them in a whole new light, this time as shock-troops. That’s right, archers as shock-troops, not your shiny knights in resplendent expensive armour, but archers.

Hubert de Burgh
Hubert de Burgh
An empty canvas: Willikin of the Weald
An empty canvas: Willikin of the Weald

TWO LIKELY LADS

Hubert de Burgh and William of Cassingham are the heroes that our script needs to complete the story.

Sure, William Marshal is an imposing figure, but he´s the archetypal wise elder, and we all know that such a figure is unlikely to carry a motion picture. Similarly Nicola de le Haye is admirable, if only because she defends castle at an age most women tend not to do so but she cannot be more than a symbolic role as Lincoln is too remote from the action taking place in Kent, where much of the drama we seek is to be found.

Savary de Mauléon and Philip d’Aubigné are perfect fillers, they´ll be splendid familiar faces to have standing around a table peering at maps, making the odd remark, accompanying Marshal or others into battle, all a surprisingly accurate portrayal of their historical parts, but they are unlikely to rise above this. Even though their families are part of the English social establishment, their names are too French and their backgrounds too posh to be readily acceptable as English heroes. Not just for our movie, but also for our initial mission to find out more about the Matter of Britain vis-à-vis archery.

Falkes de Breauté poses a similar linguistic problem, albeit that his character would be much more recognizable to your average archer, I should think many of those would be happy to follow him on foreign expeditions. A leader who knows how to fight, and who knows how to reward his followers with riches and plunder would appeal to a Medieval archer. To a modern audience though, he is a necessary evil at best, much too nasty to fulfil the role of hero.

Hubert de Burgh and William of Cassingham however, are exactly what we need. They complement each other well. One an older experienced fighter, the other an inexperienced but determined young hero. Both active in Kent, where their activities differ significantly, but also form a curious symbiosis that just seems to makes sense. Think Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill facing an overwhelming space station made by Renault or Peugeot and you´ll understand.

HUBERT DE BURGH

Like Marshal, de Breauté and Cassingham, de Burgh comes from a humble background, in this case a minor landowning family. Nonetheless, he manages to become chamberlain in Prince John´s household, and later royal chamberlain when John is crowned. He performs many other tasks for John, including that of warden, castellan, sheriff and justiciar. During the Magna Carta issues in 1215 he, like Marshal, remains loyal to King John.

In the context of our story, we first encounter de Burgh during the captivity of Prince Arthur in Rouen. One of the stories about the disappearance of this prince was that de Burgh had received orders to blind and castrate the young boy, and was morally incapable of carrying out those orders. We decided to opt for that version so as to keep de Burgh´s record clean. When Louis invades some twelve years later, John appoints de Hubert de Burgh as Castellan of Dover Castle, an absolutely crucial stronghold in the campaign that follows. De Burgh manages to defend the castle during subsequent French sieges, even though the going gets very tough at times. De Burgh purportedly manages to utter some very Churchillian speeches of defiance when pressed to surrender.

After Marshal, de la Haye, de Mauléon and de Breauté deal Prince Louis a devastating blow in Lincoln, it is de Burgh, d’Aubigné and Cassingham who deliver the final killing stroke in Kent, thereby effectively ending the war. 

WILLIAM OF CASSINGHAM

Very little is known about William of Cassingham. We are told he was a young squire, hinting at someone from a humble landowning family from Cassingham, on the border between Kent and Sussex, in the Weald, the forested area between the North and South Downs.

We also know that he was firmly opposed to the notion of Frenchmen strolling around the countryside and organised opposition. He led men from the Weald, armed with bows and other gear, in ambushes and surprise attacks, making large parts of Kent and Sussex impassible for French troops. By the end of the war he leads a thousand troops and takes them beyond the ambush stage into far more ambitious attacks which form a serious hindrance to Prince Louis.

Our young hero remains mysterious, presumably well at ease within the Weald, but not really emerging into the spotlights beyond, quite happy to accept a royal pension and position as Warden of the Weald after the war and remain there until his death many years later. This is, of course, brilliant for storytelling purposes.

Cassingham is a blank canvas, to be filled in as we desire, and perhaps not, letting the audience fill in part of the enigma allows them ownership of this hero. Moreover, we know he got married at some point because he has offspring, and that allows for the introduction of a love interest. As we now have plenty of strong dames running around, we can treat ourselves to a proper `Medieval´ damsel in distress. I´m sure our hero will come running. Best of all, Cassingham had the wits to assume a stage name, one that positively brims with potential. For he was also known as Willikin of the Weald.

THE RUSTIC ARCHERS OF THE WEALD

Archers, at long last. However, most of what I have to say about them is better suited for the next chapter where we will be forced to make some educated guesses regarding these commoners from Kent and Sussex.

For the moment, let me reassure you that there are many of them, no less than one thousand to be more precise. They may not be armed with the war bows of Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt but wield formidable bows none-the-less. In achievement they do not lag far behind their descendants, the role they will play is a major one. In character and ability they are very recognizable as the ancestors of the sturdy Yeomen who would astonish all of Europe some hundred years later.

The scene is set, the stage awaits. Let´s rumble in the next part of England Invaded: Chess Board.


Your Opinion

My favourite goodie(s) on the list:

  • William Marshal
  • Nicola de la Haye
  • Savary de Mauléon
  • Philip d’Aubigné
  • Falkes de Breauté
  • The Arcubalisters of Falkes
  • Hubert de Burgh
  • William of Cassingham aka Willikin of the Weald
  • The `rustic´ archers of Kent and Sussex
See results without voting

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Comments 22 comments

klompy 5 years ago

keep 'm coming very enjoyabble reading this!


bob the warbow 5 years ago

Nice good guys Nils. Perhaps one time write a book out of all of this?


bob the warbow 5 years ago

Hmm Hubert the burgh looks remarkable similar to King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (graham chapman)


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Nils Visser 5 years ago from The Low Countries Author

Now that you mention it....


Frank of the Spoon 5 years ago

Lovely again, as expected. I'll start pacing again now, eagerly awaiting the next chapter.


marcelleken 5 years ago

nice to read about the background of these figures.... and also eager to read the next one!


Hubertsvoice 5 years ago

Very exciting story. Doesn't sound like a time to be financially challenged. A very difficult time for all who lived and died then.


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Nils Visser 5 years ago from The Low Countries Author

If there was peace then the Middle Ages could actually be a reasonable time to live in. The early Middle Ages saw serfdom which wasn't very pleasant, but in the later Middle Ages they had to work for the landlord #days a year, but per ratio we pay much higher taxes today. They also had a lot more holidays with all of the Saint's Days that really needed to be celebrated (Holidays - holy days). Plus the houses tended to be larger than we imagine them, at least in the countryside and they had quite a varied diet. They've even found traces of imported wine: so there you have it, the medieval 'peasant', with all the associations we have of dark nasty things, was drinking imported French wine.

Things got bad when there was war.


Hubertsvoice 5 years ago

There always seemed to be a war going on or being planned.


Nils Visser profile image

Nils Visser 5 years ago from The Low Countries Author

Much like these days, even as we speak Afghan villages are being bombed on behalf of our countries, and not long ago we were at it in Libya as well. War back (and now)then was gruesome if you were caught in the middle of it, often enough it was something that happened elsewhere to other people, and back then a couple of miles could make a world of difference.

What I find most scary was the Bubonic Plague, half the population gone in a matter of weeks, not knowing why it was happening, how it was happening, a random lottery.


Hubertsvoice 5 years ago

You are right, each generation of every nation and continent has had and will continue to have their wars over whatever the people in charge at the time want to throw a fit about and can afford to enforce. The Bubonic Plague, very scary. Can it or will it happen again? My chrystal ball is in the shop. Do you have the answer?


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Nils Visser 5 years ago from The Low Countries Author

Nope, can't make out whether or not recent pandemic scares were real or inflated by the media. On the other hand, 7,000,000,000 of us since a week or so. Overcrowding makes us much more vulnerable, though to be frank, that is a gut feeling more than anything else.


Hubertsvoice 5 years ago

Could be Mother Earth is due for an enema to clean her out.


Darryl Cassingham 4 years ago

Nice to see my old ancestor did his bit!!!!


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Nils Visser 4 years ago from The Low Countries Author

Willikin is pretty awesome, I've been working on him some more, but that is for magazines and the like. Have you really got him in your family tree?


Darryl Cassingham 2 years ago

Yes - my father completed the family tree back to him a few years ago. Until recently our family has always resided in Kent.


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Nils Visser 2 years ago from The Low Countries Author

Something to be very proud of then.


Darryl Cassingham 2 years ago

Is your book complete??? Or is it online only???


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Nils Visser 2 years ago from The Low Countries Author

This was just a dry run, practise as it were. I write for a history mag called Medieval Warfare. They did an issue on legends last summer, but somebody else took Cassingham, focusing on possible origins of Robin Hood. I did the intro for that one.


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Nils Visser 2 years ago from The Low Countries Author

I did use it as a basis for an article in Primitive Archer, exploring reasons why commoners were able to beat men at arms. Send me a mail if you want, vissernils@yahoo.co.uk and I can send you the text. Be awesome to share that with Cassingham descendents.


Geoff Boxell 16 months ago

My take on Willikin & his Boys: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/562324


zoetropo 10 months ago

William Marshal was trained and knighted by by an alleged relative, William de Tancarville, son of Tiphanie, daughter of Stephen of Treguier, whose elder brother was Alan Rufus, commander of William the Conqueror's household knights. Arthur was a grandson of Conan IV, Duke of Brittany, another of Stephen's grandsons and the heir to his titles.

It's debatable whether Richard really changed his mind and chose John over his earlier choice, Arthur.

Marshal decided for John because he found Arthur aloof. Poor judgment by Marshal, as one of his friends remarked at the time.

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