An ancestor with a sticky end…

The family name of de Braose isn’t exactly a household word these days, but in the times of the early kings of England, the de Braoses were movers and shakers. As a player in the Norman Conquest, William I de Braose was given lands in Sussex according to the Domesday Book. They became Marcher Lords, clashing frequently with the Welsh, and they married into the Marshal, Mortimer, and de Clare families–all power players in the high-stakes game of medieval politics. The de Braose family alone is worth a year’s set of entries, but the most interesting to me is Maud de Braose, a Frenchwoman born Matilda de Saint-Valery.

Records claim she was tall and beautiful–do the records ever say otherwise?–and she married William III de Braose, author of the Abergavenny Massacre, earning him the soubriquet, the Ogre of Abergavenny. William was with Richard I when he was slain at Chalus, but he soon clashed with the new king, John. John was not, according to strict application of male-preferential primogeniture, the obvious successor to his eldest brother. John was the youngest of the sons of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany was an elder son and he had left an heir, Arthur, and after raising a rebellion against his uncle, Arthur was imprisoned and later disappeared. (Interesting to note that Edward V and his brother were not the first adolescent heirs to go missing…)

Arthur had been under the care of William de Braose at the time of his disappearance. There’s a juicy story about King John getting lavishly drunk and stalking down to the dungeons to kill the boy with his own hands before dumping his weighted body in the Seine–a body that was recovered by a fisherman and secretly buried for fear of reprisals by the king. Was it true? Possibly. John certainly didn’t hesitate to use brutality when it served his purposes, as it did against Maud de Braose.

Having fallen out with the king over money, the de Braoses had their estates seized and received demands from the king to hand over their sons as hostages for their good behavior. Maud would have none of it. She declared that she would never surrender her sons to a man who had murdered his own nephew–not the most tactful of words under the circumstances, and the de Braoses were forced to flee. They divided up, with William scarpering to France disguised as a beggar. Maud was not so fortunate. She was captured, along with their eldest son–another William–in Ireland and hauled back to England in chains where popular tradition has it that they were flung into prison and starved to death. The grisly end was supposed to have taken place at Corfe Castle, and legend says that when the dungeon was thrown open, the marks of Maud’s teeth were visible on her son’s cheeks.

Somewhat more kindly, legend also says that she built Hay Castle–the de Braose stronghold–in a single night and without aid by carrying the stones in her skirts.(Impossible as we know that to be, it demonstrates the regard in which she was held that such a story would be fabricated at all.) The Welsh, often on the receiving end of de Braose brutality, claimed that she wore armor and sometimes led her husband’s troops against them. It’s also a tribute to her legacy that in the Magna Carta, signed after Maud’s unjust imprisonment and death without trial, there is a clause that states explicitly that it is unlawful for any man to be imprisoned or executed without the judgment of his peers. I like to think that John was thinking at least a little of Maud when he signed it. (Note: King John was also my 23rd-great-grandfather. Interesting that his blood mixed with hers just three generations after he had her hounded to death.)

9 thoughts on “An ancestor with a sticky end…”

  1. Betty Strohecker says:

    Really enjoyed this information. Have you read Sharon Kay Penman’s trilogy starting with Here Be Dragons? They are excellent and include a lot about the Marcher Lords and the treaties and fighting with the Welsh, so I am somewhat familiar with the de Braose, Mortimer, and Marshall names. Here Be Dragons is mainly a story about John when he ascends the throne and later weds his illegitimate daughter Joanna to the Welsh Prince Llewelyn. Great story as it switches back and forth between England and Wales.

    1. I haven’t, but I started WHEN CHRIST AND HIS SAINTS SLEPT about the Anarchy. Splendid stuff! Just got derailed with my own research and haven’t had a chance to finish. Will have to stockpile her other books as well!

      1. Betty Strohecker says:

        That’s a good one to begin with for the chronology. A librarian friend loaned me Here Be Dragons, then I bought my own copy and finished the trilogy. I was so hooked, both with the history and Penman’s writing style that I backtracked and read When Christ and His Saints Slept, then Time and Chance. I haven’t gotten to Devil’s Brood or Lionheart, but am pretty familiar with the story and lineage. I had always heard the bad side of King John, but took a slightly different point of view after reading Here Be Dragons. Imagine growing up as the last son and called John Lackland as well as being teased by the older brothers. Richard pretty much received all of the glory, and of course was Eleanor’s favorite. John did take care of his bastard children and lived in England, even though he still did a lot of despicable things. But in that time period most of the kings were ruthless, especially regarding access to the throne. I was intrigued with the Welsh story, which I was unfamiliar with. As the books continue, I thought Edward was a truly horrible soul – much cruelty revealed. Penman’s research is impeccable, which is one of the things I love about your books.

        So excited about the news in your newsletter. I know your July trip to England will be amazing and look forward to future news!

  2. Lynne says:

    Maud’s story is a reminder of how intriguing the medieval English families were. I remember reading about her years ago but am glad you retold it for us. She was truly a fascinating lady in an era when women were essentially property. Thanks for sharing, Deanna. A favorite of mine from that same time period is Isabel de Clare, William Marshall’s wife. Elizabeth Chadwick wrote a wonderful series about her, Marshal and their children. And not to put a damper on your hopes about John, but I suspect the only thing he was thinking as he signed Magna Charta was how to get his neck out of the noose into which he had just put it. Had he not died the next year, I suspect he would have torn it up and continued his despotic ways.

    1. Ha! Too true, Lynne. John was just an unfortunate soul…Isabel de Clare was another of my direct ancestors!

      1. Lynne says:

        That is so cool! My goal is to get to Tinturn Abbey someday where Isabel and her mother are supposed to be buried. And read Sharon Penman’s books if you get a chance. I would ditto Betty’s recommendations – Penman brings that period in history to life and makes everyone just jump off the page! (Just read my newsletter and am even more excited about the Lady Julia series!!!)

    2. SuzanneH says:

      Oh WOW!! How exciting. We are getting a series of documentaries on Friday nights about the middle ages at the moment. Last week was Neil Oliver’s In Search Of The Grave Of Alfred The Great, and last night it was one about William Marshall. I recorded it but I haven’t watched it yet.

      Deanna, I figured out from your blogs about your ancestors that we are loosely related by marriage. My lot, the Nevilles, married into the York side of the Plantagents several times but as far as I know they aren’t related by blood. Most of them were whipped out by the Tudors but my relatives managed to survive because they came from the daughter of a younger brother were considered obscure enough to not be a threat to Henry VII and Henry VIII.

      1. Oh, the Nevilles are a fascinating bunch–what fun for you! My obscure Plantagenet is Thomas of Brotherton, fifth son of Edward I. Within a few generations his descendants weren’t even titled anymore. Obscurity can have its perks. 😉

  3. Maud de Lyon says:

    Nice article and nice name 😉

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