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  • Emma Cavell

This article builds upon the work of the late Professor Sir Rees Davies and other scholars interested in the medieval March of Wales, and draws attention to the place, roles and experiences of the noblewomen in a region usually considered the preserve of the warrior lord. In focusing on the aristocratic widow, for whom records are relatively abundant, it examines the widows’ experience of dower assignment and of estate and castle management on a frontier district. It contends that, among other things, those who allocated dower to the widows of the region deliberately eschewed the frontier hotspots, and that the normative relationship between female lord and castle was at once improved and restricted by the warlike nature of the region. A final section examines the life and career of the often overlooked Isabel de Mortimer (daughter of Roger de Mortimer of Wigmore and sometime wife of John FitzAlan III), revealing her critical part in holding the Shropshire frontline on the eve of the final conquest of Wales (1282–3). The case is made that we cannot fully understand the aristocratic Marcher society without including women in our histories.

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1 Davies, R. R., Lordship and Society in the March of Wales, 1282–1400 (Oxford, 1978); idem, Conquest, Coexistence and Change: Wales 1063–1415 (Oxford, 1987); Brock Holden, ‘The Aristocracy of Western Herefordshire and the Middle March, 1166–1246’ (D.Phil. thesis, University of Oxford, 2000); Max Lieberman, ‘Shropshire and the March of Wales, ca. 1070–1283: The Creation of Separate Identities’ (D.Phil. thesis, University of Oxford, 2004). See also C. P. Lewis, ‘English and Norman Government and Lordship in the Welsh Borders, 1039–1087’ (D.Phil. thesis, University of Oxford, 1985).

2 Davies himself recognised the importance of approaching a society through an examination of ‘the status of women and the character and consequences of the marriage bond’ in his 1980 article ‘The Status of Women and the Practice of Marriage in Late-Medieval Wales’, in The Welsh Law of Women, ed. Dafydd Jenkins and Morfydd E. Owen (Cardiff, 1980), 93–114.

3 Margaret Howell, ‘Royal Women of England and France in the Mid-Thirteenth Century: A Gendered Perspective’, in England and Europe in the Reign of Henry III (1216–1272), ed. Björn K. U. Weiler with Ifor W. Rowlands (Aldershot, 2002), 163–81, at 165.

4 It is recorded that in Jan. 1250 Walter Clifford, lord of Clifford, Glasbury and Cantrefselyf, offended by the tone of a royal letter conveyed to him, forced the hapless messenger to eat the lot: Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, ed. H. R. Luard (7 vols., Rolls Series, 1872–83), v, 95.

5 Davies, Lordship and Society, 1; Chronicles of the Reigns of Stephen, Henry II and Richard I, ed. R. Howlett (4 vols., Rolls Series, 1884–9), iv, 184; Anglo-Norman Political Songs, ed. I. Aspley (1953), 16–19; F. M. Powicke, King Henry III and the Lord Edward (Oxford, 1947), 530.

6 Mitchell, Linda E., Portraits of Medieval Women: Family, Marriage and Politics in England, 1225–1350 (New York, 2003); idem, ‘Widowhood in Medieval England: Baronial Dowagers of the Thirteenth-Century Welsh Marches’ (Ph.D. thesis, Indiana University, 1991); idem, ‘Noble Widowhood in the Thirteenth Century: Three Generations of Mortimer Widows, 1246–1334’, in Upon my Husband's Death. Widows in the Literature and Histories of Medieval Europe, ed. Louise Mirrer (Ann Arbor, 1992), 169–90. Although very readable, Mitchell's work does not engage with the dynamic relationship between the women's careers and the locality in which they operated.

7 E.g. Janet Senderowitz Loengard, ‘“Of the Gift of her Husband”: English Dower and its Consequences in the Year 1200’, in Women of the Medieval World, ed. Julius Kirshner and Suzanne F. Wemple (Oxford, 1985), 215–55; idem, ‘Rationabilis Dos: Magna Carta and the Widow's “Fair Share” in the Earlier Thirteenth Century’, in Wife and Widow in Medieval England, ed. Sue Sheridan Walker (Ann Arbor, 1993), 33–80; Sue Sheridan Walker, ‘Litigation as Personal Quest: Suing for Dower in the Royal Courts, circa 1272–1350’, in Wife and Widow, ed. Walker, 81–108.

8 Loengard, ‘English Dower in the Year 1200’, 220; idem, ‘Rationabilis Dos’, 63.

9 The Cartulary of Haughmond Abbey, ed. Una Rees (Cardiff, 1985), no. 288.

10 Victoria History of the County of Shropshire, iv, ed. G. C. Baugh (1989), 26; Dorothy Sylvester, The Rural Landscapes of the Welsh Borderland: A Study in Historical Geography (1969), generally; Trevor Rowley, The Shropshire Landscape (1972), generally.

11 Bracton on the Laws and Customs of England, ed. and trans. Samuel E. Thorne (4 vols., Cambridge, MA, 1968–77), ii, 269.

12 Close Rolls of the Reign of Henry III (14 vols., HMSO, 1902–38) [hereafter CR Hen. III], 1237–42, 197–8; Calendar of Inquisitions post mortem (20 vols., HMSO, 1904–95) [hereafter Inq. p.m.], ii, no. 536.

13 Inq. p.m., ii, no. 536, iv, no. 90; Two Estate Surveys of the Fitzalan Earls of Arundel, ed. Marie Clough (Lewes, 1969), generally.

14 CR Hen. III, 1237–42, 183.

15 R. W. Eyton, The Antiquities of Shropshire (12 vols., 1854–60), x, 95.

16 Ibid., x, 97–8.

17 The Welsh Assize Roll, 1277–1284, ed. J. C. Davies (Cardiff, 1940), 352.

18 Calendar of Close Rolls (HMSO, 1900–8) [hereafter CCR], 1268–72, 511.

19 Inq. p.m., i, no. 812.

20 T. F. Tout, ‘Wales and the March during the Barons’ Wars, 1258–1267’, in The Collected Papers of Thomas Frederick Tout (3 vols., Manchester, 1932–4), ii, 77–136; Smith, J. B., ‘Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and the March of Wales’, Brycheiniog, 20 (1982–3), 922.

21 Calendar of Patent Rolls, of the Reigns of Henry III–Edward II (HMSO, 1893–1913) [ hereafter CPR], 1258–66, 453, 582; CR Hen. III, 1264–8, 237; CPR, 1292–1301, 46; The National Archives [ hereafter TNA], Court of Common Pleas: Plea Rolls [ hereafter CP40]/125, m. 226, CP40/150, m. 59d.

22 Select Cases in the Court of the King's Bench under Edward I. Vol. III (Selden Soc. lviii, 1939) [ hereafter Select Cases, Edward I ], 112; CPR, 1301–7, 353, 355; TNA, Special Collections: Ancient Correspondence of the Chancery and Exchequer [ hereafter SC1]/28/12.

23 Spurgeon, C. J., ‘Gwyddgrug Castle, Forden and the Gorddwr Dispute’, Montgomeryshire Collections, 57 (1963 for 1961–2), 125–37; Welsh Assize Roll, ed. Davies, 333, 340; Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous, 1219–1422 (HMSO, 7 vols., 1916–68) [ hereafter Inq. Misc.], i, no. 1088.

24 This was the year in which John Corbet, the son of Peter I and Alice, was born and in which the same Peter presented a certain Philip d'Orreby, probably his wife's kinsman, to the church of Worthen: Inq. p.m.,vi, no. 318; Register of Richard de Swinfield, Bishop of Hereford (A. D. 1283–1317), ed. William W. Capes (Hereford, 1909), Appendix.

25 Davies, Lordship and Society, 19–20, 23–4.

26 See Loengard, ‘English Dower in the Year 1200’, 232.

27 See, for example, Davies, R. R., ‘Kings, Lords and Liberties in the March of Wales, 1066–1272’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, fifth series, 29 (1979), 4161, and idem, Lordship and Society, generally.

28 Select Cases, Edward I, 112–13; CPR, 1301–7, 353, 355; TNA, SC1/28/12.

29 TNA, CP40/155, m. 99d, CP40/160, mm. 259, 270.

30 Excerpta e Rotulis Finium, ed. Charles Roberts (2 vols., Record Commission, 1835–6) [ hereafter Rot. Fin.], ii, 486.

31 Eyton, Antiquities, vii, 257.

32 Welsh Assize Roll, ed. Davies, 238.

33 Dafydd Jenkins, ‘Property Interests in the Classical Welsh Law of Women’, in Welsh Law of Women, ed. Jenkins and Owen, 69–92, at 85; T. P. Ellis, Welsh Tribal Law and Custom in the Middle Ages (2 vols., Oxford, 1926), i, 390. The situation changed under the Statute of Rhuddlan (1284).

34 Welsh Assize Roll, ed. Davies, 244–6.

35 Inq. Misc., no. 1095. A transcript of Gruffudd's charters, and the charter of confirmation issued by their sons, appears in Frederic Seebohm, The Tribal System in Wales, 2nd edn (London and New York, 1904), Appendix D, 101–5.

36 Cf. J. B. Smith, ‘Dower in Thirteenth-Century Wales: A Grant of the Commote of Anhuniog’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 30.3–4 (Nov. 1983), 348–55.

37 Inq. Misc., no. 1095; Seebohm, Tribal System, App. D, 103.

38 Welsh Assize Roll, ed. Davies, 245–6.

39 Ibid., 246–7.

40 Davies, Lordship and Society, 307.

41 Davies, ‘The Status of Women’, 98, 100–1.

42 Smith, ‘Dower in Thirteenth-Century Wales’, generally.

43 Above, p. 66; TNA, C146/9502; CPR, 1232–47, 487.

44 Calendar of Chancery Rolls, Various, 1277–1326 (HMSO, 1912), ‘Welsh Rolls’, 171–3, 179, 328–32.

45 Although Ceredigion was geographically remote from England and Angharad herself from the native princely dynasty of Cydewain, her father-in-law had associated with, and married into, a Marcher family of south-west Wales during the 1240s; and Angharad herself went on to marry into Shropshire society after her first husband's death: Smith, ‘Dower in Thirteenth-Century Wales’, 351, 353.

46 In late 1277 Edward I, determined to extend his influence in northern Powys, had already begun extinguishing and buying out opposing interests in the whole of Maelor: Davies, Lordship and Society, 4, 340.

47 Welsh Assize Roll, ed. Davies, 239.

48 Calendar of Chancery Warrants, 1244–1326 (HMSO, 1927), i, 4; CCR, 1272–9, 513; CPR, 1272–81, 282–3.

49 Davies, Lordship and Society, 105, 120–7.

50 Two Estate Surveys, ed. Clough, xxviii–ix; Davies, Lordship and Society, 151 (see also Davies, Conquest, Coexistence and Change, ch. 5 and esp. 118–19); Staffordshire Record Office, Stafford Papers, 1/2/240–4.

51 Eyton, Antiquities, iv, 122.

52 Inq. p.m., ii, no. 356; Eyton, Antiquities, vii, 310.

53 CPR, 1301–7, 355.

54 In 1305 Alice even challenged her own son, John Corbet, then only a child, for further dower in Shropshire: TNA, CP40/154, m. 235d.

55 Davies, Lordship and Society, 150.

56 Stafford, Pauline, Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women's Power in Eleventh-Century England (Oxford, 1997), 150, 181; Parsons, John Carmi, ‘The Intercessionary Patronage of Queens Margaret and Isabella of France’, in Thirteenth-Century England, vi, ed. Prestwich, Michael, Britnell, R. H. and Frame, Robin (Woodbridge, 1997), 145–56; idem, ‘The Queen's Intercession in Thirteenth-Century England’, in Power of the Weak: Studies on Medieval Women, ed. Jennifer Carpenter and Sally-Beth MacLean (Urbana, IL, 1995), 147–75

57 TNA, SC1/7, no. 166.

58 TNA, SC1/19, no. 185.

59 Davies, Lordship and Society, 151.

60 Davies, ‘Kings, Lords and Liberties’, 41.

61 See Two Estate Surveys, ed. Clough, xxx and generally.

62 Davies, Lordship and Society, 67.

63 Ibid., 71, 76.

64 Frederick C. Suppe, Military Institutions on the Welsh Marches: Shropshire, ad 1066–1300 (Woodbridge, 1994), 56, 156–7.

65 Pipe Rolls, 6 Henry II, 26, 7 Henry II, 40,8 Henry II, 6, 9 Henry II, 4.

66 King, D. J. C., Castellarium Anglicanum: An Index and Bibliography of the Castles in England, Wales and the Islands (2 vols., Millwood, NY, 1983), 45–6. At the end of the thirteenth century Shrawardine still had one of its two earlier ‘muntatores’ (mounted soldiers). Suppe, Military Institutions, 69.

67 Wilkinson, Louise J., Women in Thirteenth-Century Lincolnshire (Royal Historical Society Studies in History, new series, 2007), 1326.

68 CPR, 1324–7, 215; Calendar of Fine Rolls (22 vols., HMSO, 1911–62) [ hereafter CFR], 1319–27, 421.

69 See Saul, Nigel, ‘The Despensers and the Downfall of Edward II’, English Historical Review, 99 (1984), 133.

70 TNA, Chancery and Supreme Court of Judicature: Patent Rolls [ hereafter C66]/163, m. 5.

71 CPR, 1324–7, 215; CFR, 1319–27, 421.

72 CFR, 1319–27, 418.

73 Calendar of Liberate Rolls, 1226–1272 (6 vols., HMSO, 1917–64), v, 290, vi, 214; CPR, 1266–72, 204.

74 TNA, Chancery: Liberate Rolls [ hereafter C62]/43, m. 3; C62/48, m. 8.

75 A Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, prepared by R. E. Latham, D. R. Howlett et al. (1975–present), i, 456; Latham, R. E., The Revised Medieval Latin Wordlist from British and Irish Sources (Oxford, 1965; repr. 1999), 109.

76 The overlap between wardship and the duties inherent in royal constableships is discussed in Rickard, John, The Castle Community: The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272–1422 (Woodbridge, 2002), 45.

77 Examples do exist of English noblewomen in warfare, typically under urgent, defensive conditions. The issue is raised by Wilkinson, Women in Thirteenth-Century Lincolnshire, pp. 22–3.

78 Rot. Fin., ii, 574–51; CPR, 1266–72, 653; CR Hen. III, 1268–72, 499.

79 CR Hen. III, 1268–72, 505–15.

80 Ibid., 506–7, 508–9.

81 Ibid., 510–11.

82 Ibid., 514–15.

83 Ibid., 512.

84 CPR, 1266–72, 716; CCR, 1279–88, 227, 260–2.

85 The total annual value of this assignment was £10 17s 7d, in addition to biennial rents of 53s 4d: CCR, 1279–88, 262.

86 Sylvester, Welsh Borderland, 328–32.

87 CCR, 1279–88, 227. See also the inquisition of 1267 quoted in Eyton, Antiquities, x, 231 n. 3.

88 CCR, 1279–88, 227, 260–2.

89 Brut y Tywysogion or The Chronicle of the Princes. Peniarth MS. 20 Version, ed. T. Jones (Cardiff, 1952), 110, 112; R. Pauli, ‘Annales monasterii de Waverleia, a.d. 1–1291’, in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores 27, ed. F. Liebermann and R. Pauli (Hanover, 1885), 458–64, at 370; Tout, ‘Wales and the March’, 71, 86.

90 See Tout, ‘Wales and the March’, generally.

91 CFR, 1272–1307, 74, 7, 127; CPR, 1272–81, 372.

92 CPR, 1272–81, 372; CFR, 1272–1307, 127.

93 CPR, 1272–81, 311, 404

94 CCR, 1279–88, 373.

95 TNA, Special Collections: Ancient Petitions [ hereafter SC8]/62, no. 3077; CPR, 1272–1281, 404.

96 CPR, 1272–1281, 311, 404, 416; CCR, 1279–88, 93, 171.

97 Emma Cavell, ‘Noblewomen in Shropshire and the Adjacent March of Wales’ (D.Phil. thesis, University of Oxford, 2007), 265.

98 TNA, SC8/62, no. 3077.

99 C. Hopkinson and M. Speight, The Mortimers, Lords of the March (Almeley, 2002), 67.

100 Ibid., 69.

101 CFR, 1272–92, 163; CPR, 1281–92, 32.

102 CCR, 1279–88, 170.

* I owe a debt of thanks to those whose expertise and assistance contributed to the research contained in this essay, in particular to Professor Sir Rees Davies, who was my mentor and doctoral supervisor until his untimely passing in May 2005, and to Dr Benjamin Thompson and Mrs Henrietta Leyser who kindly agreed to step into the breach. Thanks must also go to Janet Burton for her tireless editorial assistance, and to my dear friend Frances Flanagan without whose suggestions at the outset this essay would not have been completed, let alone successful. This essay is dedicated to the memory of Rees Davies.

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