ANNA BELFRAGE

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Archive for the tag “A daring escape”

A head for my lady love – a most unusual gift

At the Battle of Evesham in 1265, Roger Mortimer, 1st Baron Mortimer, not only killed Simon de Montfort, he also had his head and genitals chopped off, decorated the head with said man-parts, and sent the entire package off to his wife with his warmest regards.

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Salome, cradling her gift, the head of John the Baptist. (Titian) I think Maud did little cradling…

One can but wonder as to what sort of woman his wife was, seeing as Baron Mortimer clearly expected the lady to be delighted by his delayed birthday gift. Was she some sort of evil monster? A new Salome, demanding a head in return for a dance? Nope, not so much. But she was a woman who had seen her home and lands devastated at the hands of Montfort’s followers, and this was her husband’s way of telling her that wouldn’t happen again. Not on his watch.

The baroness received the gift and had Montfort’s head displayed in her great hall for a while. Soon enough, the smell of rot would have banished the sad remains elsewhere, but it is said the skull remained with the Mortimers for quite some time.

So who was this fearsome lady? Well, Maud de Braose had ferocity in her genes. Her namesake and great-grandmother, Maud de Braose Sr, is the lady renowned for having openly accused King John of having had his nephew murdered (by her husband). John punished her brutally for this. Maud Sr and her son were locked up in the same dungeon without food. They died, of course, but the son predeceased the mother, seeing as she supposedly ate bits and pieces of him. Ugh.

Anyway: the de Braose family suffered through a sequence of tough years, but King John died, chaos enveloped the land, and somehow that gallant man William Marshal managed to guide the new boy-king Henry III and the very unsteady ship that was England through the resulting fog. Good news for the de Braose family, as one of William Marshal’s daughters went on to marry William de Braose, grandson of the formidable first Maud, son of the man she’d chewed on in her dungeon.

William de Braose and his wife Eva had four children, one of which was our Maud, born around 1224 or so. She never had the opportunity of developing any stronger relationship with her father, as William was hanged in 1230 for purportedly having had sex with Llewellyn the Great’s wife. Whatever one can say about the de Braose family—and in general they were not much liked, known for their ruthless pursuit of wealth and lands—they were never boring.

As William had no son, his daughters were considered quite the catch, all of them bringing substantial lands and wealth to their prospective grooms. In Maud’s case, she was betrothed already as a child to Roger Mortimer, this despite her being seven years older than him. This might have been a bit complicated emotionally, seeing as Roger was the grandson of Llewellyn, the man who’d had Maud’s father executed. Roger, however, does not seem to have been all that keen on his Welsh blood—in fact, he spent a sizeable part of his life fighting his own cousin Llewellyn ap Gryffudd, yet another grandson (and namesake) of Llewellyn the Great. Besides, Maud’s own sister was married to Llewellyn’s son, so I imagine family reunions had been pretty tense even prior to Maud marrying Roger.

Now, the reason I find Maud de Braose fascinating—beyond her delight at being presented with a head—is because she’s the grandmother of “my” Roger Mortimer, the man who would go on to woo a queen, depose a king and rule all England on behalf of the very young Edward III. It seems to me many of Maud’s qualities, such as determination, intelligence and courage, were passed on to her grandson together with far less endearing traits such as ruthlessness and acquisitiveness. I guess those Marcher lords (and ladies) bred true, all of them eager to feather their own nests at the expense of others.

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The arch of the former gatehouse at Wigmore, slowly sinking out of sight

Once married, Maud became the mistress of Wigmore, the principal residence of her husband, Roger Sr. For those of you who haven’t visited Wigmore, I recommend that you do, albeit that today all that remains of what must once have been an impregnable castle are ruins that are being slowly reclaimed by nature. Built on a lozenge shaped escarpment, Wigmore had but one main point of entry, and the steep sides of the hill on which it stood made it virtually impossible to breach the defences. Like the eerie of an eagle, the walls of Wigmore offered unimpeded views in most directions, making it difficult for the enemy to sneak up unnoticed.

Maud was about twenty-two when she was wed to her sixteen-year-old groom. The age gap does not seem to have been much of an impediment to this marriage of two people with a similar outlook on life, and soon enough there were baby Mortimers to take care off. We know of at least six children, but chances are there would have been more.

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Henry III vs Simon de Montfort

Like all noble ladies of the time, Maud managed most of her husband’s estate, supervised the raising of her children, and took an active part in defending what was hers (theirs) should such a need arise. Which it did, frequently, as England in the late 1250s and early 1260s was not exactly a place of peace and contentment. The barons of the land had split neatly down the middle, some of them siding with Simon de Montfort and his demand for reforms, some holding to their king, Henry III. From 1259 or so, Montfort was effectively in charge of England, albeit that he suffered severe setbacks at time.

Roger Mortimer was a bit of a weather-vane in all this: initially siding with Montfort, he then sidled over to join the king’s party, less than thrilled at how Prince Edward (at the time a warm admirer of Montfort) blamed him for the loss of Builth, a strategically important castle on the Welsh March. Plus, of course, Montfort allied himself with Llewellyn ap Gruffydd, whom Mortimer considered his hereditary enemy, no matter that they shared blood. In this, he had the full support of the other Marcher lords who had no intention of sitting on their hands while Montfort more or less handed back their hard-won lands to the Welsh prince.

Things came to a head when Mortimer despoiled three of Montfort’s manors. Enraged, Montfort sent his young sons to deal with the stubborn Marcher lords, and over a couple of months these youngsters reaped major success, even managing to take Wigmore, no matter how spirited the defence (And I imagine it was spirited, seeing as Maud comes across as being very, very spirited). Maud’s home was no longer hers, and I imagine her fleeing with her children while cursing Montfort and his allies to hell and back.

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A young Edward I

By now, Prince Edward had fallen out of love with Montfort. As always, those who grab power become enamoured with it, and I bet Montfort was no exception, causing Prince Edward some serious concerns as to the future of the kingdom. This young hawk had no intention of growing up to become a weak king like his father, and where before the prince had admired Montfort, now Edward came to the conclusion Montfort had to be stopped.

“Hear, hear,” I imagine Mortimer saying, by now safely back in control of his precious Wigmore. In the spring of 1264, Prince Edward took the field against Montfort. The first battle was a rousing victory for the royalist side, and Mortimer and his fellow Marchers sent a number of hostages back home. The Battle of Lewes did not go so well—mostly due to Prince Edward’s rash pursuit of fleeing Montfort supporters. Suddenly, both king Henry and Prince Edward were Montfort’s prisoners.

The Marcher lords, however, were allowed to return to the March so as to keep England safe from marauding Welsh. They were also requested to release their prisoners, but Mortimer and his fellow Marchers hemmed and hawed until Montfort lost patience. This time, Montfort joined forces with Llewellyn and set the entire March ablaze, thereby forcing the Marchers to negotiate. The terms were harsh: all Marcher lords were exiled to Ireland for a year and a day, but once again these gents dragged their feet, while further to the south Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, was building an army to defeat Montfort.

However, as long as Montfort held both the king and the prince, the opposition was hamstrung. This is when Maud stepped out of the wings of history to grab the limelight by coming up with an audacious escape plan.

Despite being a prisoner, Edward was allowed out to ride, always accompanied by his guards. Maud’s plan was simple: she smuggled messages to the prince, instructing him to challenge the guards to numerous races to ensure their mounts were blown and tired. And once all those horses were reduced to exhaustion, Maud’s men rode out of the forest, handed the prince a fresh horse and galloped off, making for Wigmore.

Maud took good care of the prince. He was fed, clothed, horsed and sent on his way to join Gilbert de Clare at Ludlow Castle. The royalist army had their general back, and while Edward might have been young, he was a competent leader. With him to lead them, the royalist party took heart. Due to luck Edward managed to intercept one of his Montfort cousins at Kenilworth, killing several of the men riding with him, chasing the rest into Kenilworth castle itself. With the captured Montfort banners held aloft, Edward then rode to join his men at Evesham there to destroy Simon Montfort.

It is said that the moment Montfort realised the men carrying his son’s banners were royalists, he knew the day was lost. Grimly, he and his companions prepared themselves to die. Among these companions was one Hugh Despenser, unfailingly loyal to Montfort. Together with his lord, Despenser took the field, and in desperation Montfort led his men in an uphill charge doomed to fail.

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The mutilation of Simon de Montfort’s body

Edward had no intention of taking Montfort prisoner. He wanted him dead, and a small group of men, including Roger Mortimer, were tasked with this somewhat dishonourable task. It was Roger who delivered the killing blow, thrusting his lance through Montfort’s throat. Once he was dead, Mortimer and his friends went on to mutilate his body—which was how Maud de Braose, Baroness Mortimer, became the recipient of one of the gorier birthday gifts in history.

As an aside, Hugh Despenser’s body was also mutilated, thereby spawning the unrelenting enmity between the Mortimers and the Despensers that would come to a head several decades later.

Maud would go on to live a life marked by her fair share of loss and pain. Her eldest son and precious heir, Ralph, died young. By all accounts Ralph was something of a paragon, showing an innate aptitude for the martial skills required of a Marcher lord. Fortunately, there were plenty of spares, including the well-educated Edmund Mortimer who was obliged to leave Oxford and return home. In time, Edmund’s son, “my” Roger, would inherit the extensive Mortimer lands.

In 1282 Roger Mortimer died, at the age of fifty or so. In comparison with future generations of Mortimer men who all had a tragic tendency to die relatively young, Roger Mortimer Sr had a nice long life but his wife was to survive him for a further twenty years or so before dying in 1301 or thereabouts. By then, she was well over seventy and most of her children were dead. But she must have been comforted by the fact that her eldest grandson Roger was already a vibrant young man, thereby ensuring the Mortimer star would continue to rise. Which, as we know, it did. Before it came crashing back down… (more here)

 

The road less travelled

Today, I’ve invited Cryssa Bazos to drop by for a visit. Cryssa has recently released her first book (CONGRATULATIONS!!!) and you can find more information about Traitor’s Knot at the end of this post, including my thoughts. Traitor’s Knot is set in 17th century England, which makes me a very happy camper seeing as I love that particular era. So does Cryssa, and her knowledge of the period is quite impressive – as can be seen in the following post!

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The award for best true-story adventure of a monarch goes to Charles II of England for the six weeks that evaded his enemies following the Battle of Worcester.

CB Battle_of_WorcesterThe final battle of the English Civil War unfolded at Worcester on September 3, 1651. Oliver Cromwell’s forces outnumbered the King’s Scottish army 2 to 1. By late afternoon, the King’s forces had been captured, killed or were in retreat.

Charles was one of the lucky ones to escape the city. He headed north and got as far as Shropshire before needing to find a place to rest. An officer in his party led them to White Ladies, a farmhouse owned by the Gifford family. But the Giffards weren’t in residence, and instead their servants, the Penderells, were on hand to attend the weary king.

Charles’s situation was desperate and his options limited. He could either head back to London to find a ship bound for France or make his way to Scotland. Charles rejected the latter idea and waffled on the former, but remained firm that wherever he would go, he’d do it alone. After his companions rode off, he finally resolved to cross into Wales.
With the Penderells help, Charles disguised himself as a commoner. They cut his hair, darkened his skin with a rubbing of walnut and exchanged his royal clothes for a coarse noggin shirt, a green suit and leather doublet. Then at dark, Charles and one of the Penderells, Richard, set out on foot to reach the closest ferry crossing into Wales.

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Boscobel House, By Oosoom at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

Around midnight, they stumbled upon a belligerent miller who chased them off like thieves in the night. They searched along the Severn for another crossing, but dragoons watched every route. Admitting defeat, Charles and Richard returned, this time to Boscobel House, a hunting lodge also owned by the Giffards.

The patrols were now scouring the area, and the lodge would be the next place for them to search. While Charles hid in an oak tree, dragoons passed right underneath him and not once did they look up. To this day, a descendent of the original Boscobel tree is known as the Royal Oak.

Next the Penderells spirited Charles away to Moseley Old Hall in Wolverhampton, the home of Sir Thomas Whitgreave, a former Royalist officer. It was there that Charles ran into one of his fugitive companions, Lord Wilmot.

The King's Room at Moseley Old Hall, Staffordshire.

The King’s bedroom, Moseley Old Hall;
Photo courtesy of Moseley Old Hall

Thomas settled Charles into a guest chamber with the additional amenity of a priest’s hole. The following afternoon, a company of soldiers rode up to the manor to arrest Thomas, not for harbouring Charles (they hadn’t a clue), but for breaking parole. Rumours had reached them that Thomas had broken his parole and fought with the King at Worcester (he didn’t). While Charles crouched in the priest’s hole, the dragoons questioned Thomas for hours. In the end, they left without once searching the manor.

Thomas wasted no time to arrange for the next safe house in case the dragoons should return. Charles travelled to Bentley Hall, the home of Colonel John Lane. The Colonel had recently secured a travel pass for his sister Jane and a servant to travel to Bristol where she was to visit a close friend. Originally, the travel pass was meant for Wilmot, but the King’s need was greater. The next morning, they dressed Charles in a grey coat with matching breeches and gave him the role of servant in charge of Jane’s horse, while Wilmot rode ahead on his own.

CB King_Charles_II_and_Jane_Lane_riding_to_Bristol_by_Isaac_FullerThe party had no trouble until they reached the village of Wootten Wawen, near Stratford and found five hundred dragoons blocking their way. Charles hesitated. He didn’t want them to see him turning away for that would stir their suspicions. There was nothing to do but go forward. Bold as brass, the most wanted man in England rode straight for his enemies. As the party approached, the dragoons inexplicably saddled up and pulled out.

When Charles’s party finally reached Bristol, they found their hosts with a house-full of guests. The butler was the only one who took notice of Jane’s ‘servant’. He didn’t immediately recognize Charles, but when he overheard talk about Worcester, he finally recognized Charles. Instead of giving him away, the man pledged to help him find a ship.

None could be found, and the party couldn’t risk staying longer in Bristol. The butler arranged for their next safe house—Trent House in Somerset, the home of Colonel Wyndham. At this point, Charles and Jane parted. Years later during the Restoration, he bestowed upon her a sum of £1000 with which to buy a jewel, this being the price of the reward for his capture.

While Charles hid at Trent House, Colonel Wyndham continued the search for a ship and found a willing master, Captain Limbry. Charles and his party arrived at Charmouth to wait for Limbry, but the captain never arrived. The man’s wife had become suspicious of his venture and locked her husband in the water closet.

Charles’s party arrived in Bridport and found the port town clogged with Parliamentarian troops. Instead of slinking away, he rode up to the Old George Inn, manoeuvred a stable yard full of dragoons, cutting a path straight through them. However, his luck soured when he reached the stables.

The ostler knew his face, but he had not yet placed him. Charles, being an astute observer of human nature, took the offensive. He questioned the ostler about where he had lived and soon had him convinced they were old friends. But before the ostler could rethink their acquaintance, Charles and his party slipped out of town.

Over the next couple of weeks, they went from one Royalist house to another until they learned of a small barque for hire near Brighton. They arranged to meet the master, a Captain Tattersell, in a private room of an inn. Tattersell recognized Charles immediately. Years ago, when Charles had been briefly in command of his father’s fleet in the Channel, he had seized Tattersell’s ship. But Charles had released the vessel, and now that he needed help, Tattersell remembered that kindness and agreed to help.

Charles wasn’t taking any chances. Ships were hard to come by, and captains willing to accept the risk even more rare. To keep Tattersell close, Charles plied him with drinks for the rest of the night.

On October 15th, the slightly hung-over party set out for Shoreham. They reached the Surprise without incident, and after weeks of hiding, Charles and Wilmot finally sailed for France.

Before we mark this as “The End”, there is an alternative story that was circulating in the days and months following the battle. As Cromwell beat the countryside looking for the King, rumours were spreading through London that a highwayman had helped Charles escape. Parliament was so convinced that the rumours were true, when they captured a Royalist highwayman named Captain Hind they tried and executed him for High Treason.

In my novel, Traitor’s Knot, I’ve chosen the road less travelled and explored the alternative version of Charles’s escape.

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CB Traitors_Knot_4Thank you, Cryssa, for that. Quite the exciting story , isn’t it? In Traitor’s Knot, Cryssa’s highwayman James Hart is very much involved in getting Charles to safety, and things are further complicated by the fact that James has an implacable enemy in a certain Puritan named Ezekiel Hammond. Plus, of course, there’s James’ wife who is very much at the mercy of said Hammond. All in all, Traitor’s Knot is a great read, breathing life into both the well-developed characters and the tumultuous events of the time. Warmly recommended!

Traitor’s Knot is available through Amazon.

CB fullsizeoutput_d9Cryssa Bazos is an awardwinning historical fiction writer and 17th century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. Her debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, is published by Endeavour Press and placed 3rd in 2016 Romance for the Ages (Ancient/Medieval/Renaissance). For more stories, visit her blog cryssabazos.com. Follow Cryssa on FB or Twitter

 

 

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