Normans, Angevins and Britons - The History of the Honour of Richmond, Part 1
Richmond Castle, situated on a cliff above the river Swale in northern Yorkshire, is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture since it has not been altered in later centuries and displays the largest remains of 11th century architecture in England. It was part of the Honour of Richmond, a vast accumulation of lands which encompassed possessions in several counties in England. No wonder its history turned out to be rather convoluted. The castle itself played but a small role in comparison, but the photos serve as a nice illustration to the history posts.
Richmond Castle, the keep
William's conquest of nothern England did not go smoothly. Rebellions flared up in 1069/70, supported by Edgar Ætheling, last surviving member of House Wessex, who had found shelter with King Malcolm III Canmore
of Scotland, Edwin and Morcar of Mercia, Gospatric of Northumbria - whom William had installed as earl - and his cousin Waltheof of Northumbria. They made a pact with King Sveyn Estridson of Denmark, so there was a significant threat to William's rule.
But he acted fast and hard, and brought the rebellion down. Warfare at the time, and specifially as a strategy used by William, was often the large scale destruction of lands and settlements. In this case it came to be known as Harrying of the North. William bought the Danes off and distributed the lands of the rebels among his followers, though Waltheof was pardoned and even married William's niece Judith.
Richmond Castle, view towards Scollard's Hall and Gold Hole Tower, with Robin Hood Tower to the left
One of those to benefit from the redistribution of lands in northern England was Alan Rufus of Brittany. He was a son of Eudes Count of Penthièvre, second cousin of the Duke of Brittany, and related to William through his grandmother. He had led a contingent of knights and warriors from Brittany at Hastings and during the Conquest. He got a nice chunk of the lands in Yorkshire that had belonged to Edwin of Mercia. Alan also held lands in Lincolnshire, Hertforshire, Dorset, Essex and several other shires and counties. Those would later be known as Honour of Richmond (1).
It is not sure when exactly the grant was made, but Alan was in possession of the borough and 'castelry' of Hindrelag - the ancient name of Riche Mount - in 1086, witnessed by the Domesday Book. It is likely that he constructed the first castle. This would have included the stone curtain wall, the archway in what is now the ground floor of the keep, and Scolland's Hall.
After Alan's death in 1089, succession changed quickly between his younger brothers Alan of Penthièvre and Stephen of Tréguier. The next one to make an impact in history was Alan III of Richmond, Stephen's son. Stephen's other son Geoffrey inherited the Breton lands. Alan was a supporter of King Stephen (don't confuse the two Stephens) during the civil war, while Geoffrey supported the Empress Mathilda. Alan married Bertha of Brittany (Bertha of Cornouaille), the daughter of Duke Conan III of Brittany and Maude, an illegitimate daughter of King Henry I. King Stephen wanted to draw Brittany to his side by arranging the marriage.
Alan fought at Lincoln in 1141, escaped, but was later captured by Ranulf Earl of Chester during an ambush. It is said that he was tortured into submitting to Ranulf (2). When the latter wanted to ally himself with King Stephen in 1145 Alan of Richmond was among the leading nobles who counseled the king against it; Ranulf was arrested and upon release promptly returned his allegiance to Empress Mathilda.
Remains of the 12th century house
Alan died about 1146. His wife Bertha returned to Brittany where she married Eudo Viscount of Porhoët who became duke of Brittany by right of his wife (her father Conan III died that same year and renounced his son Hoël as heir; 1148).
(left: Conan's keep, with Alan's old gate integrated into the ground floor; one can distinguish the different stone work)
When Conan IV, who was born around 1135 (3), came of age some time in 1154, his stepfather Eudo denied him his heritage. Conan allied himself with his uncle Hoël who had received Nantes, but was defeated by Eudo (4) and had to flee to England where Henry II, who had just become king, installed him as Earl of Richmond.
It was likely during that time Conan started to build the large keep, though it may have been finished by King Henry II. It is 30 metres (100 ft.) high and erected over an already existing gate archway which is included in the ground floor of the keep. The barbican may also date to Henry's activities rather than Conan's who soon returned to Brittany. Richborough itself had been granted the status of borough in 1145, and in the late 1150ies was a prosperous town.
Conan returned to Brittany in 1156, assisted by troops and money from King Henry. He managed to capture Eudo at Rennes and claim the duchy, but the local nobles suspected his position as vassal of the King of England.
When Mathilda's husband Geoffrey of Anjou, who also was comte of Nantes, died in 1158; Conan snatched the county of Nantes which invoked the anger of King Henry who confiscated the earldom of Richmond and set sail for the continent. Conan submitted at Avranches, ceded Nantes and was confirmed as duke (5) and probably regained Richmond as well. He married Margaret of Huntingdon, sister of King Malcolm IV of Scotland and his more famous brother William the Lion, the future king, in 1160 (6).
Rebellions kept flaring up in Brittany, mostly aimed at King Henry II, but it seems that Duke Conan could not keep his vassals under control, either, and there were border quarrels with Normandy and Maine. Finally, Henry had enough. When Raoul II de Fougères, supported by Eudo of Porhoët and other nobles, led yet another revolt in 1166, he captured the castle and brought Raoul to heel. It seems that Henry held Conan responsible for the mess, because he forced the duke to abdicate and retire to his lands at Guigamp - though he kept Richmond as well - and betrothe his daughter Constance to Henry's fourth son, Geoffrey (he was eight, the girl five years old).
View from the cockpit garden to the domestic range
Conan died in 1171; his daughter Constance became the titular duchess of Brittany under the guardianship of King Henry, who took control of the Honour of Richmond as well. Constance and Geoffrey married in 1181, but Henry was loth to relinquish Richmond which he made a royal castle instead (though he eventually did part with the Honour in 1183).
Geoffrey of Anjou, Duke of Britanny and Earl of Richmond, died in 1186 during a tournament at Paris. His son Arthur was born after his death. Constance married Ranulph Earl of Chester, likely under pressure by King Henry. The marriage was not a happy one and she got a divorce in 1197. Constance then married Guy the Thouars. She died in 1201.
Another view of the domestic range with the Robin Hood Tower in the foreground
Little Arthur, Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond under the guardianship of his mother, was named as heir presumptive to his uncle Richard Lionheart, then King of England, in the Treaty of Messina 1190. I bet Richard's brother John was not happy about that.
Upon his return from crusade and captivity in 1194, King Richard started to sort out the messes in Normandy, Anjou and Brittany that had developed during his absence. One step was the attempt to take young Arthur into his custody as pawn agains the Breton nobility who was on the verge of a revolt yet again and swore an oath of fealty to Arthur. Richard invited Constance to meet him at court in 1196, but she was abducted by her own - estranged - husband (7). Arthur was spirited away to the court of Philippe Auguste King of France, the place where Richard would have wanted him least of all.
Constance was released from captivity a year later and got her divorce. Arthur was raised at the French court and betrothed to Philippe Auguste's infant daughter Marie. He still was officially Richard's heir since the latter never revoked the Treaty of Messina. Richard probably hoped for children of his own at that point.
The so-called Robin Hood Tower
Richard's unexpected death in April 1199 opened up the succession debate. Most of the Anglo-Norman barons and those from Aquitane would prefer the grown man - Richard's brother John - to the boy Arthur, while the Bretons and barons from Anjou insisted that the son of an older brother was the rightful heir. The formidable Eleanor of Aquitane, aged eighty, but still political astute and influential, supported her son John.
King Philippe Auguste of France supported Arthur, who did hommage to him for Brittany. An attempt was made to settle matters at the Treaty of Goulet: Philippe Auguste accepted John as heir of the Plantagenet lands, while Arthur would get Brittany, and his half-sister Alix de Thouars (from Constance's third marriage) the Honour of Richmond. That peace was short lived. Philippe Auguste soon confiscated some lands in Normandy, and when Arthur upon the death of his mother in 1201 became Duke of Brittany in his own right, he allied himself with the influential Lusignan family who was insulted by John's marriage to the fiancée of Hugh of Lusignan (Isabella of Angoulême), and made another attempt at the crown.
Arthur besieged his grandmother Eleanore in Mirabeau. When John rushed to her relief, his army managed to capture Arthur, several Lusignans, and a number of Breton nobles. Several Breton nobles were sent to Corfe Castle in England and starved to death, though John eventually made peace with the Lusignans.
View to domestic range with Gold Hole tower and foundations in the foreground
Arthur was first taken to Falaise Castle and later to Rouen. He obviously was treated badly, put in heavy chains and paraded around in a cart. Even the old William Marshal, one of John's stoutest supporters, commented on the injustice and ignominity of such a treatment (8). John lost some supporters over the issue, among them William de Briouze, who had captured Arthur, nor did the imprisonment of their duke stop the Bretons and Angevins from rebelling, and they were soon joined by some of John's Norman nobles.
Arthur was dead by mid-April 1203. What exactly happened will likely remains as obscure as the fate of the boys in the Tower. Morris considers the most likely scenario to have been a secret consultation of John and some of his trusted advisors who concluded that Arthur should be executed as traitor (he violated the terms of the Treaty of Goulet, after all). John's exact role cannot be determined, but rumours soon came up that he was present or even killed the youth in person. It did not help his reputation, nor his power as duke of Normandy. By the end of 1204 John had lost basically all lands in France except for Aquitaine.
Interior shot of the keep
Arthur's heir was his older sister Eleanor, but she too, was a prisoner of John (though obviously treated honourably). She would remain prisoner under Henry III and died as nun in 1241. The Bretons instead recognised Alix, daugher of Constance and Guy de Thouars as duchess. Since the girl was but three years old, her father became regent until 1206, when Philippe Auguste of France took over the guardianship. He married Alix to his own cousin Peter of Dreux. In 1218, they were installed as Earl and Countess of Richmond by William Marshal.
Their son John would become Duke of Brittany in 1221 (upon the death of Alix; he was still a minor then), and 2nd Earl of Richmond in 1268.
Outer curtain wall with buttresses
After Arthur's death, John had divided the Honour of Richmond, granting part of it to the Earl of Chester (Constance's ex), but kept the castle for himself. He installed one Roald as constable, but that was not a good choice - Roald joined the rebel barons in 1215. He was ousted from office, but back a few months later.
John obviously offered to restore the Honour of Richmond to Alix and her husband Peter if they supported him in the war against the barons and Prince Louis of France (9) - John desperately needed soldiers and knights. But when Peter landed in England in 1217, John was dead and William Marshal regent for the underage Henry III.
The Honour of Richmond would continue to play a role in the conflict between France and England. But that is for another post.
View from the battlements to the river Swale
1) The name 'Honour of Richmond' - alternately 'Honour of Brittany' - is first used in 1203; the Domesday Book refers to the 'lands of Count Alan'.
2) The story about the torture is in the guidebook (and Wikipedia), but not in King's biography about King Stephen. But then, it is a biography of the king, not about Earl Alan, so the story may have been omitted due to limits of what to cover and could be true. Whatever Alan might have sworn to Ranulf, he didn't keep the oaths.
3) Other sources have 1138 as his date of birth. I hate that. ;-)
4) Hoël at the time was busy fighting Geoffrey of Anjou, younger son of Empress Mathilda and Geoffrey V of Anjou, for the possession of Nantes, and could not aid his grandson.
5) Henry II at that time got along with King Louis VII of France who else might have used the discord between Henry and Conan to get his own foot into Brittany, a problem of which Henry was well aware.
6) The French Wikipedia says that King Henry II approved or even arranged the marriage while Warren thinks it likely that he was not happy about an alliance between Conan and the unruly Scottish House of Dunkeld. Considering the strained relationship between Henry and Malcolm, I assume Warren has the right interpretation here.
7) It proved impossible to figure out what exactly Ranulph of Chester was after; did he act on behalf of Richard, or did he on the contrary try to protect Constance (and his own role thereby) from the influence of her brother-in-law?
8) There is a story told by Ralph of Coggeshall that John ordered Arthur to be blinded and castrated and thus rendered unfit to rule, but that his jailer Hubert de Burgh had pity with the boy and refused to carry out the order. The veracity of that story can neither be proven or contradicted.
9) Louis, eldest son of King Philippe Auguste, was married to Blanche of Castile, a granddaughter of King Henry II, which he used as excuse to hold a claim to the English throne.
Frank Barlow: The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216. 5th edition, Edinburgh 1999
Robert Bartlett: England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225. 5th edition, Oxford University Press, 2003
David Bates: William the Conqueror. London, 1989
Dieter Berg: Richard Löwenherz. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft Darmstadt, 2007
John A.A. Goodall: Richmond Castle and St. Agatha's Abbey, Easby. English Heritage Guidebook, 2001
Edmund King: King Stephen. Yale English Monarchs, Yale University Press, 2010
Marc Morris: King John - Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta. London, 2015
W. L. Warren: Henry II. Yale English Monarchs, New Edition, Yale University Press, 2000