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Historical Note – Her Castilian Heart

In 1284, the pope sent word to King Edward, suggesting he lead yet another crusade to the Holy Land. Edward was honoured, but fully aware of just how much such an endeavour would cost, he requested that the pope finance the venture. The pope agreed, and had it not been for the so called Aragonese Crusade—the French attempted invasion of Aragon in 1285—maybe King Edward and his wife would have set out for Jerusalem. Instead, the monies intended for King Edward’s crusade were diverted to help the French king finance his invasion. Why? Because the pope wanted to teach Aragon a lesson, punish their king for having claimed Sicily in the name of his wife.

Pedro of Aragon was wed to Constanza of Sicily, daughter of Manfred Hohenstaufen. Manfred was king of Sicily until Charles of Anjou, younger brother of St Louis of France, supported by the pope defeated him in battle and claimed Sicily for his own. He expanded his lands successively and founded what is known as the second Angevin dynasty.

Charles was not much loved by the Sicilians—he was a harsh taxman—and in 1282, the Sicilians rebelled and asked Pedro of Aragon to come to their aid.

Sicily now became part of the Aragonese kingdom. This did not please the pope. Or Charles of Anjou. Or Charles of Salerno, who was Charles of Anjou’s heir. Which is why the latter made a foolish attempt to best the Aragonese navy and ended up a captive.

Late in 1285 the French invasion of Aragon ended in a crushing defeat in Col de Panissars. Some weeks later, the victorious Pedro of Aragon died, bequeathing his kingdom to his eldest son, Alfonso. He also left something of a political mess, what with the very strained relationship between Aragon, France and the papacy.

Enter King Edward, who was also motivated to intercede by the fact that Charles of Salerno was his cousin. Plus, there was the matter of his daughter, Eleanor, who was contracted to wed Alfonso of Aragon, but at present the pope had forbidden the marriage due to Sicily.

As described in Her Castilian Heart, King Edward was to expend several years—and a lot of money—on negotiating a treaty. In 1288, the Treaty of Canfranc led to the release of Charles of Salerno (and yes, one hundred and fifty nine hostages were required to sort all this) but it did not lead to permanent peace. Alfonso would, like Robert said, have to give on the matter of Sicily, thereby causing a breach between him and his brother. Alfonso died young—he never married Princess Eleanor—Jaime became king instead and he too realised he’d have to give on the matter of Sicily, but by then the third brother, Federico, had become king in Sicily and he refused to back down, supported by the Sicilians. Only in 1302 was the matter permanently sorted—well, sort of.

Some of you may have raised your brows at the thought of a Dominican friar managing the king’s trebuchets. Friar Robert, however, did exist and is mentioned in the contemporary The Siege of Caerlaverock Castle as being the one in charge of the king’s siege engines.

Llewellyn ap Dafydd did die in 1287, but in March rather than November. I trust this unfortunate young man forgives me for having extended his difficult life another eight months. As to his brother, Owain, he would live until at least 1325. And no, he wasn’t spared the cage: in 1305 the king ordered the constable to construct a cage for him in which he was to be locked up at night. I hope Robert never found out. . .

I have also taken some liberties with where the queen was staying while her husband was in Oloron-Sainte-Marie. To judge from her accounts, she was somewhere south of the town—closer to the Aragon border—but I chose to have her north of it.

Sir Stephan de Lamont instructed Master Pauwels to purchase freehold land for him. At the time, land ownership was still evolving, and while freehold (i.e. unburdened from any duties towards an overlord, including the king) did appear as a concept during Edward I’s reign, I haven’t quite been able to nail down when.

Rhys ap Maredudd managed to evade the English king for a couple of more years, but was captured in 1291 and executed for treason in 1292. His son was imprisoned in Bristol Castle, then in Norwich, and was known to be alive as late as 1340. If Edward hoped handling Rhys would finally pacify Wales he thought wrong. The next rebellion was in 1294, but more of that in the next book in the series, Their Castilian Orphan.

Finally, some words about Queen Eleanor. What she died of is still open to debate. For most of her life, she was of robust health, but having survived the birth of 16 babies (and who knows the number of miscarriages she may also have suffered) I suppose at some point her body began to pay the price. The last childbed, followed so soon by the loss of her son, Alphonso, may well have been something of the straw that broke the camel’s back. The royal financial accounts indicate a spike in expenditures for medicines and physicians from 1286 and onwards, and there are some who believe she may have suffered from malaria, in itself not deadly, but it does leave the victim weak. By the time they returned to England in 1289, Queen Eleanor knew death was not far off, but I imagine her as being too forceful, too determined to live on with her Eduardo to really admit it to herself—or anyone else.

Whatever she died of, there can be no doubt as to her husband’s grief at her death. For three whole days, all royal business was suspended, and then we have all those crosses, marking where her remains rested on the way to Westminster.

Robert, Noor, their children, friends and household are my inventions, as are the de Lamont family. But Piers de Geneville and his wife did exist as did, of course, the larger than life Roger Mortimer.

Should you want more information about this fascinating period, check out the following posts: about the Sicilian situation (The Sicilian Affair), Friar Robert (The Mouse that squeaked) and King Edward’s peace-making efforts (A Softer Approach)

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