13th century

The Great Matter of a Medieval King

Say “the king’s great matter”, and everyone thinks “Aha! Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.” Okay, okay: not EVERYONE. After all, there are peeps out there who have no interest whatsoever in this Tudor king and his determination to rid himself of one wife to wed another. I know: somewhat incomprehensible to us history buffs, but …

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The Sicilian affair – a lesson in 13th century politics

In 1262, a very young princess named Constanza was wed to Pedro of Aragón. He was twenty-three, she was thirteen. He was a proven soldier and leader of men, having spent many of his formative years riding side by side with his father, Jaime I of Aragón, as the latter spearheaded the Reconquista. (The Reconquista …

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A field unploughed – the complicated story of a medieval land dispute

Admit it: one doesn’t really expect medieval ladies to have names like Felicia or Joyce. They sound way too modern, don’t they? And yet today we will spend some time with two ladies with these names. Joyce was the mother of Felicia, but due to events I think we can safely say that there was …

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He had it all – and lost it

Some weeks ago I wrote about the very tragic life of Elisabeth de Ferrers who lost husband and all her children in the aftermath of Edward I’s conquest of Wales. In passing, I mentioned that Elizabeth had a rather unsavoury brother, and today’s post is about him, the brother. Should one write a short epitaph …

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Elizabeth who? A reflection on the life of a medieval woman

Most of us are destined to pass through this life and be quickly forgotten, buried in the huge drifts of human life that border history. Only those that truly stick out—whether for good or bad—get a moment or two of air-time, and for obvious reasons most of these highlighted people tend to be rulers. And …

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From underage groom to powerful magnate

Today I thought we’d spend some time with a man named Richard. Okay, so very many men in medieval England were named Richard, including three Plantagenet kings, but nope, we won’t be talking about them today. Instead, we’re going to spend time with a baron so powerful, so wealthy, he probably could (and now and …

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Is she Violent? No, she's Violante

Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder what our dear ancestors might have been high on when naming their children. Take, for example, the royal custom in medieval Castile of naming their little princesses Urraca. Urraca is Spanish for magpie, and my main objection to the name is how harsh it sounds. Urraca is an onomatopoeic …

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The Welsh Princess and her elusive mother

In 1230, Ralph Mortimer of Wigmore took a certain Gwladus Ddu as his wife. Ralph was a Marcher Lord, always intent on expanding his domains into Wales. His new wife was as Welsh as they came, daughter of Prince Llewellyn the Great. While Gwladus’ paternity has never been up for discussion – she is Gwladus …

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Mother, queen, widow – meet the lady from Holstein

In one of Sweden’s oldest churches, the pride of place is held by a grave containing three bodies: that of Birger Jarl, the man who more or less hammered Sweden together, that of one of his sons, a.k.a. Erik Good-for-Nothing, and that of his second wife, Mechtild of Holstein. The tomb is decorated with a …

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The White Queen of France

In medieval times, the Castilian royals had a preference for naming their daughters Urraca or Berenguela, now and then adding a Sancha or a Leonor to the mix. Alfonso VIII was no different, which is why he named his eldest daughter Berenguela and his second Urraca. A third daughter was given the name Blanca after …

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