This book arrived yesterday from Pen & Sword, and I’m getting really into it. Henry II was a massive twat-bag. However, it’s the many mentions of his mother, Empress Maud/Mathilde that has me thinking. Maud was named for her mother, Edith/Mathilde, the daughter of the King of Scots, and the neice or great-neices of Edward the Confessor, making her an actual legitimate heir to the throne of Wessex and thus England.
Henry I had to buy England from his brother Robert of Normandy after William Rufus was ‘accidentally’ shot while out hunting. Robert didn’t want England anyway but he needed the cash so he gave up his claim as eldest son of William the Bastard to his younger brother. Legitimate claims being something even that theiving lot liked, he married a woman with an actual claim, and also linked his family to the Royal House of Scotland.
Henry wasn’t doing anything new. In the years immediately following the Conquest, English noble women were forced into marriages with Norman knights so that they could claim their lands. Some of the women were forced to marry a succession of men, usually brothers, after each died, in order to keep the land in the men’s families.
Some of those women were dragged from nunneries by force, and forced into marriages against their will.
Forced marriage went against the teachings of the Catholic Church and would have, under ordinary circumstances made the marriage illegal and any claims to land of inheritance null and void. It was not ordinary times.
[Meanwhile, Gytha of Wessex organised the defence of the West Country and tried, once pushed back, to organise an invasion force. Her male relatives in Denmark and Norway were all for it, except it was too much like hard work.]
The women could have just murdered the Normans in their sleep.
Stabby, Stabby while he’s sleeping.
Why didn’t they?
I’m pretty certain, given the Papal reaction to the invasion, that had a woman said, “I was dragged from a nunnery and forced into a marriage I didn’t consent to, against holy law.” even the most belligerent priest would have said, “Good point, here have a tiny penance for killing your rapist. Half a hail Mary and a full our father should just about do it. And that’s because you kicked him in the balls after.”
I wonder about the children of those marriages. Did they realise they were the product of rapes? Did they know their mother was probably forced to marry their father? That their mother might have hated their father? Did they care? How many resented the situation? How many became ‘their father’s sons’?
Reading about Empress Maud, Eleanor of Aquitaine, her daughters, it’s clear women were brood mares for dynastic marriages and clever alliances. Even the well educated and intelligent woman couldn’t escape. Eleanor of Aquitaine married twice. The first marriage was arranged, the second was her choice. Neither were a success. Louis of France was a monk in a King’s crown and Henry of Normandy and England was a bully who planned to steal her lands and lock her in a nunnery as soon as she reached menopause. In return, Eleanor mocked Louis and tolerated Henry for her own purposes.
Not really surprising that the middle ages was an utter mess when you have this lot for exemplars of behaviour. ‘It’s fine because the king does it’ is not a good argument.
If the wealthiest, most well-educated women could be kidnapped, bought and sold, what happened to the ones who had a couple of manors inheritance from their dad or brother killed defending England? If even a nunnery can’t protect them? If the antagonism and violence we saw between princes were the example, what does that say about the behaviour of the first Anglo-Norman children? Does it have any baring on the later violence of ‘The Anarchy’, the civil war between Maud and Stephen after Henry I’s death. The people who killed their neighbours then were the children and grandchildren of the Conquest. Were they acting on impulses imbibed from traumatised mothers or parents?
How did this one event go on to affect the psyches and thus actions of later generations? How long did the affects last?
Generally, English history is written about personalities and times, of social movements and changes in culture. We get the names of kings, tales of plagues and glory, but that’s not even half the story. I’ve yet to read anything about the psychological effects of living in the period or being the product of forced marriage. I know there probably isn’t an awful lot of written records left from the time, and even less that could be mined for this sort of information, but it does make me wonder how many of those people who set out on the early crusades were exorcising the ghosts of their traumatised mothers or expiating the sins of their fathers, as well as their own