Tag Archives: Women

The Medieval Sheriff of Lincoln: A very cunning, bad hearted and vigorous old woman

What is the connection between the unusual officer holder of a Plantagenet Local Goverment Position, the Second Battle of Lincoln and Utah Beach in Normandy?
Funerary effigy of King John, Worcester Cathedra
Funerary effigy of King John, Worcester Cathedra

The answer is a woman, Nicholaa de la Haye. Chatelaine of Lincoln Castle and Sherriff of Lincoln, described by the anonymous contemporary French Chronicler from Bethune as a “very cunning, bad hearted and vigorous old woman”  Nicholaa was a remarkable medieval woman who played a significant part in the Second Battle of Lincoln, 20 May 1217, the turning point of the First Barons War.

Nicholaa de la Haye is thought to have been born between 1150 and 1155 into a Lincolnshire family which claims to have owned the Barony of Brattlesby since pre Norman times. Nicholaa outlived two husbands, William FitzEmeis, who died in c. 1178, and Gerard de Camville, who died in c. 1215. The closing months of King John’s reign and the opening years of King Henry III’s minority not only saw her directing the royalist defence of Lincoln castle against the supporters of the French Prince Louis but also saw he created sheriff of the county of Lincoln. (1) The story of Robin Hood, and its villain the Sherrif of Nottingham gives an insight into the life of a Plantagenet local government official. Nicholaa was involved in seizing land from rebels and taking and moving hostages.   However she might be described in heroic terms by the Royal party as the manful defender”, she was King John’s servant and carrying out some of his dirty work.

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Nicholaa de-La-Haye was a benefactor of Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk.

The De La Haye Family took its name from La Haye-du-Puits in the Manche department on the Cotentin peninsular. Her second husband Gerard de Camville had commanded King Richard’s fleet and his family name was from an area near la Haye-du-Puits. Nicholaa’s family inheritance included land in Poupeville and Varreville in Normandy, on what would be the rear exits from Utah Beach. The lands in France were ultimately settled to Nicholaa’s sister Julia and her husband, which may have removed the potential for conflicting loyalties as King John had lost Normandy to the king of France in 1204.

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Lincoln Castle

20 May is the 797th anniversary of the second Battle of Lincoln. which was fought around Lincoln Castle on 20th May 1217. The battle was fought between the forces of the future Louis VIII of France and those of King Henry III of England, in what is known as the First Baron’s War. This conflict lasted from 1215-17 and arose in the aftermath of the signing of Magna Carta. King John repudiated the Carta and the Barons invited Prince Louis to England to depose King John. After the death of John ion October 1216, his faction fought in the name of the infant King Henry III. By May 1217 the French forces were as far North as Lincoln. Lincoln Castle itself was held for the Royalist party by Nicholaa de la Haye.

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Illustration of the Battle of Lincoln. thought to show the death of the Compte de Peche.

Louis’ forces were attacked by a relief force under the command of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke. One of the most famous soldiers of his day. The Comte du Perche, commanding the French troops, was killed and this heavy defeat led to Louis being expelled from his base in the southeast of England. This event is known as “Lincoln Fair” after the looting that took place afterwards. The citizens were loyal to Louis so Henry’s forces  sacked the city, which was regarded as being pro rebel.

Lincoln Castle is still preserved and as the site of one of the extant copies of Magna Carta.

Local tradition holds that this C13th funerary effigy is of Nicolaa de-la-Haye who died in 1230. The late C13th clothing suggests it might be a niece instead
Local tradition holds that this C13th funerary effigy is of Nicolaa de-la-Haye who died in 1230. The late C13th clothing suggests it might be a niece instead

There is a further Normandy battlefield connection. Nicholaa’s lands included Folkingham, the site of one of the airfields used by the US 82nd Airborne division in September 1944 for their airborne landings in the Netherlands

The sites of associated with Magna Carta and the are barons wars check the Magna Carta 800th Website

For more information on visiting the battlefield of Lincoln, and other sites from the Barons’ wars contact British Battlefields.

  1. PD D Thesis by Louise Jane Wilkinson Thirteenth Century Women in Lincolnshire.
  2. Anonymous of Bethune

1 May 1464 – the Royal wedding which re-ignited the wars of the Roses

1st May 1464 is regarded as the date of the wedding of Edward IVth the Yorkist claimant and defacto King  to Elizabeth Woodville,  the widow of   Sir John Grey of Groby; who  died at the Second Battle of St Albans, leaving Elizabeth a widowed mother of two sons.

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Elizabeth Woodville: “the most beautiful woman in the Island of Britain” with “heavy-lidded eyes like those of a dragon”

Edward’s marriage to this impoverished commoner was one of the reasons for the rift between Edward and his cousin  Richard Neville the Earl of Warwick, “The King maker.”  By marrying Elizabeth, Edward  had derailed Warwick’s plans to marry Edward  to a French princess and undermined Warwick’s position as Edward’s principle adviser.   The consequences of the rift would be the resumption of the Wars from the rebellions fermented by Warwick in the late 1460s and Warwick’s eventual ill fated alliance with Margaret of Anjou and adoption of the Lancastian cause.

It has been suggested that the reason that the young Edward agreed to marry Elizabeth was because he had been influenced by Elizabeth’s beauty and her insistence on marriage as a price for her remaining virtue. Or maybe, as suggested by popular fiction she had used some occult charms  on Edward.

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King Edward IV

However, the idea that Edward was head over heels in love with Elizabeth deems at odds with his  subsequent  behaviour throughout their marriage,  Edward was also an astute politician.  His marriage to Elizabeth, from a large, fecund and impoverished  family  was not without its advantages,  It gave Edward a clan of followers entirely reliant on him.  It may have been a  mere co-incidence that Elizabeth’s dowry included the services of talended in laws such as Earl Rivers was a very fine soldier, or perhaps an eye for an opportunity.   Marrying the widow of a Lanacastrian was a gesture of reconciliation to others who took up arms for Henry VI.  It is around this time that Edward had tried to effect a reconciliation with Somerset.

The winner of this war was Elizabeth Woodville, whose descendants still occupy the British throne.

Possible site of the hermitage at Grafton
Possible site of the hermitage at Grafton

Although there was a state wedding in 1465 the secret wedding is alledged toi have taken place at the Hermitage in the village of Grafton.   There has  some archaeological work to find the site of the hermitage, reported here

There is also a traditional site of where Edward met Elizabeth under an oak street and offered to marry her,  a historic site of a clash in the battle of the sexes.

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The Woodville Oak” was where, according to local tradition Edward first met Elizabeth. The original oak died in the 1990s . This is a replacement planted by Prince Charles.