Sunday 24 March 2013

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Brother Who Never Was

I had long wanted to write the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine as I felt that despite numerous biographies and novels about her, there was still plenty to be said that had been overlooked. However, I had other projects to complete first and it wasn't until 2011 that I finally got the go ahead from my publisher to write three novels covering her story from her marriage at age 13, to her deathbed at the Abbey of Fontevraud in 1204 in her eightieth year.  The first one, THE SUMMER QUEEN, comes out in hardback and electronic formats this June.

As I began researching in depth, I came across the detail in two of her biographies and an academic paper that she had two half-brothers. I realised that if I was going to write her life story, I needed to know about these men, and how much of a part they had played in her life.  In particular, the half-brother named Joscelin, was mentioned frequently in the pipe rolls of King Henry II and owned extensive lands in the county of Sussex. It was obvious that he must have had some influence as a player. These are the references I found in secondary source biographical documents.

'Although William X had two illegitimate sons, William and Joscelin, he now had resolved to beget a male child to inherit his duchy.'  Marion Meade in Eleanor of Aquitaine, a biography.

'He was no ascetic and had two bastard sons.'  Professor Elizabeth Brown on Eleanor's father in her article Eleanor of Aquitaine Reconsidered in Eleanor of Aquitaine lord and lady edited by Bonnie Wheeler and John C. Parsons.

'The pipe rolls show that the Queen was supporting in her household her sister Petronella and their two bastard brothers William and Joscelin.'  Alison Weir in Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God Queen of England (The Petronella mention is problematic because one reliable chronicler tells us she was dead in 1151, before these pipe rolls were even written, but that's for another time).

Pipe rolls are basically the annual financial accounts for the business of the country, written down on sheets of stitched together parchment which are then rolled together so that they resemble a pipe. The exist from the 12th century and extend as far as the 19th (1833). Written in Latin, they are a mine of fascinating information for anyone equipped to trawl them.

To check what the pipe rolls actually said, I set out to track down the references.  I have a pipe roll copy in my own research library for the dates 1176-1177, and here is what I found in the entry for Sussex:
'Ioscelinus, frater regine debet.ccm. pro fine facto cum uxore Willelmi de Perci.
Now my Latin is terrible, but I think I understand that 'Josecelin, the brother of the queen owes 200 marks for a fine made with his wife to William de Percy.' Whether my execrable Latin is right or wrong, it does not alter the salient points of Joscelin's name, the county in which the fine was made, and the Percy connection.  These are important.
click to enlarge

According to Alison Weir, Eleanor's brother Joscelin was mentioned in the pipe rolls from 1154 to 1158, so they were my next port of call.  Sure enough there he was in Sussex, listed as 'Josc, fri Regine'  or 'Joscel fri Regine'.  There was also a later pipe roll reference (1180's) to his lands of Petworth in Sussex where he is referenced as  'Goscelini fratris Regine.'

So, the queen had a brother named Joscelin, and the references are proof beyond doubt.  He had an active power base in Sussex centred around Petworth and he married into the influential Percy family.  This was all very useful to know when it came to planning out my novel and his character arc.  But here's the kicker, which seems to have been overlooked along the way by historians and Eleanor's biographers.  The pipe rolls don't actually say which queen; they just say 'Regine' and up until now, no one appears to have bothered to check that detail.

Adeliza of Louvain was the second queen of king Henry I, married to him in January 1121 following the disaster of the White Ship when his only son and heir was drowned setting out to return form Normandy to England. After Henry's death in 1135, Adeliza retired briefly to the nunnery at Wilton, emerging in 1138 to marry royal steward William D'Albini who built Castle Rising in Norfolk to honour her and as a symbol of his  pride and new power. It was a royal palace in miniature.
Castle Rising Castle Norfolk.
Adeliza is known in the civil war following Henry I's death, for supporting the Empress Matilda (her stepdaughter) by permitting her to land at her Sussex castle in Arundel to begin her campaign to take back the crown usurped by her cousin, Stephen of Blois.

Adeliza possessed extensive lands in Sussex.  Some time during her second marriage, her young, illegitimate half-brother Joscelin arrived in England and came to her, seeking a position in her household. Adeliza and her husband appointed him constable of Arundel castle and Adeliza gave him a hoist up the rankings ladder by granting him lands and benefits including the honour of Petworth in Sussex. She also sorted him out a rather lucrative marriage with Agnes, heiress of Northumberland baron William de Percy.

Seeking further evidence, I poked among the books in my study and came across references that nail the point of Josecelin's identity to the mast. The Reading Abbey Cartularies, published by the Royal Historical Society in 1986 list several charters referring to him in connection with Petworth and the de Percy family.  Here's one of them in translation:

Notification by Jocelin (of Louvain), brother of Queen Adeliza to Hilary bishop of Chichester, that he gave to Reading Abbey the lands of Robert of Diddlesfold, Theodric and Edwin Hunte in the vill of Petworth with a piggery of 10 sows and 1 boar and free pannage and further that, when he was at Reading for the burial of his sister Queen Adeliza, he gave to the abbey the assarts which these three men had occupied on his demesne, whence they were doing no service to him or to the monks, and 1 virgate of land and the right to have 40 pigs with his own pigs in his parks and enclosures between the feasts of St Martin and St. Thomas (11Nov-21Dec).

 All of this is rock solid evidence that the Joscelin in question, far from being the half brother of Eleanor of Aquitaine as suggested by her biographers and sundry historians, is actually the half brother of Adeliza of Louvain.

Did Eleanor have another half-brother named William?  The jury is out on that one. I am still doing the detective work. I cannot tie him to Adeliza and I can find only one reference to him in the pipe rolls, but it is ambiguous and he does not appear anywhere but this single entry. Et fri Regine. Will de Pciters. (I assume Poitiers).  William was the name of Eleanor's father and grandfather (but a very popular name in general at that time. Eleanor's son Henry the Young King once held a banquet where only men named William were invited), so that and the mention of Poitiers is very wishy-washy circumstantial evidence when set beside the far more solid evidence for Joscelin's identity. Having been once bitten, I intend leaving him out of my trilogy, although I will continue to keep an eye on primary sources as a matter of general interest to see if he turns up.

It is definitely a lesson in never taking anything you read at face value, even in non fiction.  It is also interesting that the more you delve, the more you uncover and then the more choices you have when it comes to your writing.  Is that always a good thing?  In this case, without my digging and curiousity, I might have written Joscelin as a son of William X of Aquitaine and given him a whole comfortable existence in Sussex, living out  his days usurping another Joscelin's shoes!

Elizabeth Chadwick


Sue Bursztynski said...

Well she fr poking around on this! Those are some very well known and respectable historians there, and you picked up what they didn't. And if it were me, I would have read secondary sources, myself. Mind you, these days with so much online, it's a lot easier to get to read primary sources than it was - we don't all have access to pipe rolls at our local libraries! ;-)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Sorry, that was "well done for poking around on this".

Marg said...

Fascinating stuff as always!

And can I start saying "Is it June yet?" yet? *grins*

Jan Jones said...

You clever person, you! One of the many, many things I love about your books, Elizabeth, is the sense of rock-solid history behind every word.

Is it June yet?

Joanna Waugh said...

What a thrill this discovery must have given you. Well done and congratulations!

adele said...

This is fascinating Elizabeth and I will look forward to reading more about Eleaonor of Aquitaine. I've just written a short story for the History Girls anthology about her! A long way away from this exciting part of her life and for 8+ age range. Very interesting post!

jongleuse said...

Eleanor of Aquitaine was such a fascinating character-retelling her life must be a daunting task!
Loved the E.L. Konigsburg version, recounted from heaven where she is hanging out on a cloud with, among others, her mother-in-law Matilda. A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver it is called-delightful and very funny!

Anonymous said...

Hi Elizabeth,

Thanks for helping pare away the way too many characters in Eleanor's life. I am writing book 3 in my series where she is deep in the Second Crusade, which will be published this summer. My series begins in her childhood as she builds her court & staff. I am glad the E.A. Brown and others have concluded (though the evidence is only marginal from a letter in Limoges) that she was married at age 13.

Look forward to reading how your Eleanor lives.

Helen Hollick said...

Looking forward to this novel, Elizabeth - there seems quite a lot we did not know - or had been glossed over.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, I can't wait to read even more about my most favorite historical figure! I always think I would have liked to have had dinner with her, although the food, not so much!
Gaye Mack

Annis said...

A great story, EC. It's depressing how false information gets endlessly recycled and over time becomes received wisdom. Access to the internet has made it worse, too, as people get lazier about searching more thoroughly. I was startled to find stuff written by an 18th century "antiquarian" and exposed as fraud early in the 20th century still doing the rounds on the 'net and no doubt being regurgitated ad infinitum.

Love the "William party"! Why not a "Henry party", I wonder? I guess a Younger King has to stand out in the crowd and not get mixed up with any old Tom, Dick or Harry :)

Anonymous said...

One challenge of researching seems to be deciding when to stop. Some inkling must have prompted you to keep going on this one, although, perhaps by now it is more skill and experience! There is definitely an added burden to writing historical fiction when the characters are real and much has been written about them.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Yes, it is difficult to know when to stop because I also enjoy the research for its own sake. Indeed, I am still busy with William and John Marshal even though the novels about them are complete.
My discovery with Eleanor's brother was really a thing of coincidence, or perhaps of reaching a certain saturation level concerning the period. I had a pipe roll (bought in a library sale) among my reference books, and so it was easy to take a look out of interest and in the course of preliminary study. Having had to find out a little about Adeliza's brother for Lady of the English, I was struck by the coincidence of two queens having brothers called Joscelin with lands in Sussex. As much as research, it became a detective story and a need to know for me the person as well as me the novelist.
When it's just me the novelist needing to know a detail, I'll do a thorough search to find something out, but if I can't do so, I'll make a best guess based on what I do know. I guess doing one's best with integrity is what I aim for. Anything beyond that is my natural inquisitiveness!

Mark Burgess said...

Fascinating! Thank you.