Ranulf de Blondeville

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Ranulf de Blondeville "The Good" (1181-1232)

Ranulf de Blondeville, Earl of Chester, became a central figure of the Angevin court during the reigns of Henry II, Richard I, John, and Henry III. Many of the important events of his times directly impacted his life. He lost significant lands and revenues following the crushing Loss of Normandy to Philip II of France (1202-1204). Ranulf was involved in the events surrounding the signing of the Magna Carta (1215). He loyally served King John during the conflict with the barons (1215-1217), and he played an important role during Henry III’s early reign (1216-17). His name was linked to Robin Hood in Piers Plowman, but today he is largely unknown to the public. The enigma of Ranulf is the extent to which he was motivated by self-interest as compared with chivalric loyalty to his feudal lord.

This article looks at the "Angevin Empire" from Ranulf's perspective. As usual, the object is not to play-up the role of things Cestrian, but to illustrate history with reference to the familiar.


Arms of Ranulf de Blondeville on the Suspension Bridge at Chester. The arms of the city itself are derived from those of Ranulf.

Ranulf de Blondeville, 4th Earl of Chester otherwise known as Ranulph IV de Meschines (1172-1232) was said to have been small in physical stature. He succeeded to the title of Vicomte d'Avranches [Normandy] and the earldom of Chester (like his father before him) as a minor in 1181 (aged 9) and attained his majority (at 16) in 1187. He was described by Stubb's the Victorian historian as

  • “almost the last relic of the great feudal aristocracy of the conquest”.

He is noted for his military prowess, amd throughout his long life Ranulf was essentially loyal to his four monarchs. Alexander, in his "Ranulph of Chester", notes that he "was for much of his adult life the most important and powerful magnate of England". But as will be seen his loyalty was contingent on the receipt of lucrative favours:

  • Somewhat strangely, Ranulf became stepfather to the heir to the English throne when (in 1191) Richard I declared Ranulf's stepson Arthur of Brittany as successor instead of Richard's own brother John. Ranulf would oppose John's attempted coup (of 1193), but also imprisoned his then estranged wife in 1196. His stepson Arthur was to die in mysterious circumstances after king Richard I died (in 1199) and John grasped the throne. The otherwise childless Ranulf's true feelings towards the stepson Arthur are difficult to fathom.
  • Towards the end of his life Ranulf was powerful enough to defy the Henry III's collection of taxes and begin (in 1225) the construction of Beeston Castle, unfinished at the time of his death (in 1232). Beeston can be seen as a political statement of his own authority.

After Ranulf's death the earldom passed to John Canmore - earl for five years (died 1237). Thereafter the earldom was taken by the crown. It is possible that Henry's acquisition of the earldom was a measure intended to prevent anyone else ever getting into as strong a position as Ranulf.

  • Parents: Hugh de Kevelioc, Earl of Chester and Bertrade de Montfort
  • Spouse: 1189, married to Constance of Brittany, the widow of Henry II’s son Geoffrey, and the mother of Arthur of Brittany, with whom King John contested the succession. They were divorced in 1199. 1200, married to Clemence of Fougères; daughter of William of Fougères, widow of Alan de Dinant, and sister of Geoffrey of Fougères.
  • Children: none - the earldom went to John Canmore. However according to some sources, Earl Ranulf & his [second] wife had one child: [MARGUERITE (-[1220] or before). "Europäische Stammtafeln" cites Ranulf as having a daughter name Marguerite by his first wife Constance, although the primary source on which this is based has not been identified. Assuming that Marguerite was the daughter of Earl Ranulf, it is more probable that she was his daughter by his second wife as no record has been found of her claiming the succession to Brittany, despite what would have been her superior claim to her younger half-sister Alix. The "Genealogia Comitum Richemundiæ" records the second marriage of "Constantia filia Conani" and "Ranulphus Comes Cestriæ" was childless. The primary source which confirms her marriage has not yet been identified. Marguerite is said to have married, as his first wife, GEOFFROY [I] Vicomte de Rohan, son of ALAIN [IV] Vicomte de Rohan & his wife Mabile de Fougères (-15 Sep 1221).

Historical Context: The Angevins and the French

The Kings of England are in green and the Earls of Chester in yellow. A succession crisis arose in 1120 with the loss of the "white ship" in 1120 and the death by drowning of both earl Richard of Avranches and William, the heir to the English throne. Leaving (on Henry I's death from a "surfeit of lampreys") a contested succession between Henry I's daughter Matilda and William I's maternal grandson Stephen (brother-in-law to Richard of Avranches).

William of Normandy became King of England in 1066. He died in Rouen in 1087, and was buried at Caen. He left four children: Robert, William Rufus, Henry and Adela. William had appointed Hugh of Avranches as effectively the first of the Norman Earls of Chester, both as a reward for Hugh's assistance during the Conquest and to establish a defence of his border with North Wales. Succession was seldom straightforward for the Anglo-Norman kings, William's eldest son Robert Curthose never ruled England and political manoeuvring meant that William was succeeded in England (in 1087) by his second son (William Rufus). The Earls of Chester, Hugh of Avranches and Richard of Avranches were closely involved with and intermarried into the ongoing dynastic soap. But, their's and almost everyone else's plans were thrown into confusion with the loss of the "white ship" in 1120 and the death by drowning of both earl Richard of Avranches and the heir to the English throne. Leaving (on Henry I's death from a "surfeit of lampreys") a contested succession between Henry I's daughter Matilda and William I's maternal grandson Stephen.

Before Henry I's death came the brief earldom of Ranulf de Meschines (1120-1129) who was a supporter of Henry against various revolting nobles. Henry wanted Matilda to succeed him, but England was not ready for a female monarch and civil war followed the death of Henry I. The then Earl of Chester (Ranulph De Gernon) took and changed sides until the coronation of Matilda's son, the first of the Plantagenet (Angevin) kings, Henry II, in 1154. Hugh de Kevelioc (born either 1141 or 1147), Earl of Chester succeeded to the titles of Vicomte d'Avranches and Earl of Chester on 16 December 1153 and would remain Earl until his death in 1181.

Henry II

Henry II (5 March 1133 – 6 July 1189) was King of England from 1154 until his death in 1189, when Ranulf was aged 19.

During his reign, Henry controlled England, substantial parts of Wales and Ireland, and much of France (including Normandy, Aquitaine and Anjou), an area that was much later (in Victorian times) named the "Angevin Empire" and also held power over Scotland and the Duchy of Brittany. The empire was established by Henry II of England, who succeeded his father Geoffrey as Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou (from which the term Angevins is derived). Henry married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, acquiring the Duchy of Aquitaine, and inherited his mother Empress Matilda's claim to the English throne, succeeding his rival Stephen in 1154.

Henry II "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and promoted in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born clerk!"

As Count of Anjou, Henry had attempted to obtain control of the Duchy of Brittany, which neighboured his lands and had traditionally been largely independent from the rest of France, with its own language and culture. The Breton dukes held little power across most of the duchy, which was mostly controlled by local lords. In 1148, Duke Conan III died and civil war broke out. Henry claimed to be the overlord of Brittany, on the basis that the duchy had owed loyalty to Henry I, and saw controlling the duchy both as a way of securing his other French territories and as a potential inheritance for one of his sons. Initially Henry's strategy was to rule indirectly through proxies, and accordingly Henry supported Conan IV's claims over most of the duchy, partly because Conan had strong English ties and could be easily influenced. Conan's uncle, Hoel, continued to control the county of Nantes in the east until he was deposed in 1156 by Henry's brother, Geoffrey, possibly with Henry's support.

On inheriting England's crown, the young Henry Plantagenet eagerly and with characteristic energy set about restoring law and order in his new kingdom. The period of civil war in England (1135-1153 CE) had enabled his barons to largely ignore royal authority and build castles, mint their own coinage, and generally deal with the peasantry how they wished without regard to the law. All illegal castles erected in King Stephen's anarchic reign were demolished. Henry II was an energetic and sometimes ruthless ruler, driven by a desire to restore the lands and privileges of his royal grandfather, Henry I. Henry was a tireless administrator and clarified and overhauled the entire English judicial system. To better ensure the law was equally applied everywhere in the country - a process begun by Henry I - the Assizes of Clarendon established in 1166 CE principles of Common Law, crown courts were set up, and trial by a jury of 12 men was established to punish those who broke it.

During the early years of the younger Henry's reign he restored the royal administration in England, re-established hegemony over Wales and gained full control over his lands in Anjou, Maine and Touraine. Henry negotiated the return of Cumbria and Northumbria from Malcolm IV of Scotland (1153-1165) but conferred on him the earldom of Huntingdon and allowed the Scottish king to keep the castle at Wark-upon-Tyne in 1157. Treaties eventually recognised Henry's overlordship over Wales (1163), Scotland (1174), and Ireland (1175). Henry was further boosted by the support of Pope Adrian IV (r. 1154-1159) who gave formal recognition of the English king's authority over all of Britain and Ireland.


Conflicts between the monarch and the church, especially when it came to appointments were commonplace in medieval times. One typical example is found in the instance where the monks of St Swithuns in Winchester, received this message from Henry II:

  • “I order you to hold a free election, nevertheless I forbid you to appoint anyone save Richard my clerk”

Henry's desire to reform the relationship with the Church led to conflict with his former friend Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. This controversy lasted for much of the 1160s and resulted in Becket's murder in 1170.

Becket and Henry II as depicted at Chester Cathedral. This Stained Glass is found in the West Walk of the cloister and is the work of Trena Cox. The light featuring Henry II is dedicated to Alexander John Perkins (died 4th Feb 1928).

Opinions have varied over whether Henry II actually intended the murder of Becket and at times this has cast a shadow over the entire reign of Henry. Becket was probably very influential during the early part of Henry's reign. He acted as ambassador and chief negotiator in Henry's early dealings with King Louis VII of France, and played a prominent role in the ill-fated expedition to Toulouse of 1159. He was therefore close to the king at the time when Henry was at his most strident and uncompromising. In 1162, Henry II appointed Thomas Becket to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket had worked with the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald, and had been on several visits to see the Pope in Rome. Becket and Henry had been close friends for many years and Henry had appointed Becket as his Chancellor. When Archbishop Theobald died, Becket was Henry’s preferred candidate to take up this key position, alongside his role as Chancellor. Henry was confident that Becket would do what he wanted him to and support him in running the country. The fatal rift appears to have begun when Henry wished to extend the scope of his legal system to govern clerics and the King and Archbishop argued over the division of power between the King and the Church. At the time "clerics" (who made up a significant part of the population) were governed by the ecclesiastical courts.

In June 1170, Roger de Pont L'Évêque, Archbishop of York, was at York with Gilbert Foliot, Bishop of London, and Josceline de Bohon, Bishop of Salisbury, to crown the heir apparent, Henry the Young King. This breached Canterbury's privilege of coronation and in November 1170 Becket excommunicated all three. On hearing reports of Becket's actions, Henry is said to have uttered words interpreted by his men as wishing Becket killed. The exact wording is in doubt and several versions were reported. The most commonly quoted, as invented in 1740 and handed down by oral tradition, is: "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?". Historians now believe that the words may have been:

  • "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"
The "Becket Boss" at Chester Cathedral has been much restored, but is a remarkable survival given that Henry VIII ordered that the cult of Thomas Becket should be dismantled wherever it was found.

Regardless of what Henry II said, it was interpreted as a royal command. Four knights, Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton, set out to confront the Archbishop of Canterbury. On 29 December 1170, they arrived at Canterbury. According to accounts by the monk Gervase of Canterbury and eyewitness Edward Grim, the knights placed their weapons under a tree outside the cathedral and hid their armour under cloaks before entering to challenge Becket. The knights told Becket he was to go to Winchester to give an account of his actions, but Becket refused. Not until he refused their demands to submit to the king's will did they retrieve their weapons and rush back inside for the killing.

Louis VII

Henry soon came into conflict with Louis VII and the two rulers fought what has been termed a "cold war" over several decades. The Capetian–Plantagenet rivalry covered a period of 100 years (1159–1259) during which the House of Capet, rulers of the Kingdom of France, fought the House of Plantagenet. Some historians refer to this series of events as the "First Hundred Years' War".

When Geoffrey of Anjou died in 1158, Conan attempted to reclaim Nantes but was opposed by Henry, now the English king who annexed it for himself. Louis took no action to intervene as Henry II steadily increased his power in Brittany. Conan's control of Nantes had the effect of reuniting Brittany. Henry II, responded by seizing the Earldom of Richmond, Conan's paternal inheritance, and demanded the return of Nantes. Conan and Henry made peace, and in 1160 Conan married Henry's cousin Margaret, sister of the Scottish king William the Lion. Conan and Margaret had at least one daughter, Constance. In order to gain complete control over the duchy, Henry II forced Conan IV into abdicating in Constance's favor (1166) and betrothing her to his fourth legitimate son Geoffrey. Five-year-old Constance succeeded him as Duchess of Brittany. Thus Henry expanded his empire, often at Louis' expense, taking Brittany and pushing east into central France and south into Toulouse; despite numerous peace conferences and treaties no lasting agreement was reached. By 1172, he controlled England, large parts of Wales, the eastern half of Ireland and the western half of France, an area that would later come to be called the Angevin Empire.

Louis VII of France and Henry II wave goodbye to Thomas Becket. Thought to be by Mathew Paris. Louis sided with Becket as much to damage Henry as out of piety—yet even he grew irritated with the stubbornness of the archbishop, asking when Becket refused Henry's conciliations, "Do you wish to be more than a Saint?". Louis also tried to weaken Henry by supporting his rebellious sons, and encouraged Plantagenet disunity by making Henry's sons, rather than Henry himself, the feudal overlords of the Angevin territories in France.

By 1173 Henry had four legitimate sons (from oldest to youngest): Henry, called the "Young King", Richard (later called "the Lionheart"), Geoffrey, and John ("Lackland"), all of whom stood to inherit some or all of Henry II's possessions. The problem was that his sons did not want to wait for power.

The Revolt of 1173–1174 was a rebellion against Henry II of England by three of his sons, his wife Eleanor, and their rebel supporters. The revolt ended in failure after eighteen months; thereafter Henry's rebellious family members had to resign themselves to his continuing rule and were reconciled to him. Hugh had joined the revolt against King Henry II, was captured and deprived of his Earldom, but was then restored in January 1177. He died in 1181, leaving a young heir (Ranulf de Blondeville) aged 9. In the seven years which followed the suppression of the barons’ revolt Henry II prospered. The rising in which all his enemies had united for his destruction had ended in leaving him seated more firmly than ever upon the most securely-established throne in Europe.

Within the four seas of Britain Henry was master as no king had ever been master before him. The English people had been with him from the first, and was learning year by year to identify its interests more closely with his; the Church, alienated for nearly ten years, was reconciled by his penance following the death of Thomas Becket (1170); feudalism was beaten at last, and for ever. The Welsh princes were his obedient and serviceable vassals; the Scot king had been humbled to accept a like position; a new subject-realm was growing up on the coast of Ireland. The great external peril which had dogged Henry’s footsteps through life, the hostility of France, was for a while paralyzed by his success. Other external foes he had none; the kings of Spain and of Sicily, the princes of the Western and even of the Eastern Empire, vied with each other in seeking the friendship, one might almost say the patronage, of the one sovereign in Europe who, safe on his sea-girt throne, could afford to be independent of them all. Within and without, on either side of the sea, all hindrances to the full and free developement of Henry’s policy for the government of his whole dominions were thus largely removed: except for the French, his wife and his sons.

Philip II of France

King Philip II of France (21 August 1165 – 14 July 1223), also known as Philip Augustus was the most famous and successful king of the Capetian dynasty. Unlike the Anglo-Norman and later English rulers the Capetians generally enjoyed a harmonious family relationship. By tradition, younger sons and brothers of the king of France were given appanages for them to maintain their rank and to dissuade them from claiming the French crown itself. When Capetian cadets did aspire for kingship, their ambitions were directed not at the French throne, but at foreign thrones.

Philip II was born at Gonesse, Val-d'Oise, in France on August 21, 1165. He was the son of the previous king, King Louis VII and his third wife. He was crowned king 1179, by his sickening father. They co-ruled France until his father passed away at September 18, 1180, when Philip was aged 16. On April 28, 1180 he had married Isabelle of Hainaut.

During his life he would greatly expand the borders of France by driving the "English" (actually the Norman French) out. After decades of conflicts with the House of Plantagenet, Philip succeeded in eventually putting an end to the Angevin Empire by defeating a coalition of his rivals at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214. This victory would have a lasting impact on western European politics: the authority of the French king became unchallenged, while the English King John was forced by his barons to assent to Magna Carta and deal with a rebellion against him aided by Philip's son Louis, the First Barons' War. The military actions surrounding the Albigensian Crusade helped prepare the expansion of France southward. Philip did not participate directly in these actions, but he allowed his vassals and knights to help carry them out. His conflict with the English would have a significant effect on the career of the five years older Ranulf de Blondeville.

Philip II of France and Henry II of England meet up in January 1188 according to this painting by Gerard Blot, now in the Château de Versailles. Within less than two years Henry II would be dead.

Philip II's relations with Richard I of England have led to some speculation, as Roger of Hoveden wrote:

  • "Ricardus dux Aquitaniae, filus regis Angliae, morum fecit cum Philipo rege Franciae, quem ipse in tantum honoravit per longum tempus quod singulis diebus in una mensa ad unum cantinum manducabant, et in noctibus non seperabat eos lectus. Et diliexit eum rex Franciae quasi animam suam; et in tantum se mutuo diligebant, quod propter vehmentem delictionem quae inter illos erat, dominus rex Angliae nimio stupore arreptus admirabatur quid hoc esset." (Richard, [then] duke of Aquitaine, the son of the king of England, remained with Philip, the King of France, who so honored him for so long that they ate every day at the same table and from the same dish, and at night their beds did not separate them. And the king of France loved him as his own soul; and they loved each other so much that the king of England was absolutely astonished and the passionate love between them and marveled at it.)"

That the two were "in bed together" may be nothing more than a metaphor - and at the time several of Henry II's sons were prepared to do almost anything to grab land from their father. However, Hoveden drops another (possible) hint about Richard in another passage:

  • "In the same year, there came a hermit to king Richard, and, preaching the words of eternal salvation to him, said: "Be thou mindful of the destruction of Sodom, and abstain from what is unlawful; for if thou dost not, a vengeance worthy of God shall overtake thee". The king, however, intent upon the things of this world, and not those that are of God, was not able so readily to withdraw his mind from what was unlawful, unless a revelation should come to him from above or he should behold a sign. For he despised the person of his advisor, not understanding that sometimes the Lord reveals to babes the things that are hidden from the wise; for the lepers announced the good tidings to Samaria [2 Kings 7], and the ass of Balaam recalled its master from the unlawful way. Wherefore, the hermit, leaving the king, went his way, and hid himself from before his face. In the process of time, however, although the before-named king despised the admonitions of the poor hermit, still, by inspiration of Divine grace, he retained some part of his warning in his memory, having faith in the Lord, that He who recalled the publicans and the Canaanitish woman to repentance, in his great mercy would give to him a penitent heart. Hence it was, that on the Lord's day in Easter when the Lord visited him with a rod of iron, not that he might bruise him, but that he might receive the scourging to his advantage. For on that day the Lord scourged him with a severe attack of illness, so that calling before him religious men, he was not ashamed to confess the guiltiness of his life, and after receiving absolution, took back his wife, whom for along time he had not known, and putting away all illicit intercourse, he remained constant to his wife and the two become one flesh and Lord gave him health of both body and soul…"
The Angevin Empire of Henry II. Within Ranulf's lifetime almost all the land in France would be lost.

Whatever type of "love" it was (and there has been much speculation - given that "lectus" could mean couch and "deligo" could mean esteem) it was not to last. In 1189, Philip II went on the Third Crusade with Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I "Barbarossa", and Richard. After Acre surrendered on July 12, 1191, Philip decided to return to France, because he was tired of crusading, and was ill with dysentery. King Richard was displeased with this decision and was said to have said:

  • "It is a shame and a disgrace on my lord if he goes away without having finished the business that brought him hither. But still, if he finds himself in bad health, or is afraid lest he should die here, his will be done."

This was not their first falling-out. In late March 1191, while in Sicily, Richard had rejected his long-term betrothal to Philip’s sister Alice and announced his decision to marry Berengaria of Navarre. Richard then went on to claim that Alice had been his father’s mistress and had borne him an illegitimate son. When King Philip returned to France, he used King Richard's absence to take back some of the French land which was under English rule. King Richard finally returned to England in 1194: there was a delay in his return due to Richard being captured by duke Leopold V of Austria and held for ransom by Henry VI, the new Holy Roman Emperor (Emperor Frederick had drowned in the Turkish Saleph river, and was sent home pickled in vinegar). Richard regained most of the land King Philip had taken, but Richard died in 1199, and was succeeded by somewhat unpopular King John. Under John, England was to lose Maine, Touraine, Anjou, Brittany, and all of Normandy to Philip and even have a French prince proclaimed King of England. John's death (1216), in the midst of a French invasion and a civil war left a very young Henry III (1 October 1207 – 16 November 1272) next in line.

In such times lived Ranulf de Blondeville, Earl of Chester. His support at key moments for Henry II, Richard, John and Henry III literally "made history".

Chester around 1200

Life in Chester around 1200 would not have been typical of the average inhabitant of England. The vast majority of the populace lived in the countryside. Infant mortallity was high, with perhaps 50% of births not surviving their first year. However those who survived to 25 could expect to live until they were 50. Cheshire was a rather poor county in terms of resources and shortage of labour appears to have been often a problem.

Chester itself was a major point of embarkation for Ireland, and in the 12th century a steady stream of visitors passed through en route for Dublin and elsewhere. Important travellers, such as the bishop of Louth, the abbot of Buildwas (Salop.), and Richard de Limesey, marshal in Ireland, usually stayed in the abbey rather than the castle, the residential buildings of which had yet to receive the lavish improvements provided by Henry III and his successors. Nevertheless, the castle was undoubtedly used as a base for armed expeditions bound for Ireland, apparently first contemplated by Henry II in 1164 and increasingly important thereafter. Ireland was not Chester's only international link. In the late 12th century, for example, ships from Aquitaine, Spain, and Germany brought cargoes of wine into the harbour. By the 1230s Chester was a prosperous trading centre with a market of regional importance, two fairs, and a port. One pillar of Chester's economy remained its dominance over an extensive, if relatively impoverished hinterland. Its twice-weekly market was without serious rival between north-east Wales and the Marches to the west, Derby to the east, Shrewsbury to the south, and Lancaster and perhaps beyond to the north. The main commodities were agricultural. The fish market served a wide area including the Welsh Marches. Salmon, lampreys, and eels were taken from the earl's fishery by the Dee Bridge, while sea fish such as herring, cod, flatfish, and sparling, and shellfish such as oysters, mussels, and whelks were caught locally or imported from Ireland and the Isle of Man. Herring from the Irish Sea was especially important.

The earliest surviving structure at the Cathedral is the north transept, constructed in a "Romanesque" style and datable to the 1090s. The surviving interior, plain and unenriched by sculpture, includes an eastern arch leading into a chapel, originally apsed, and an arcaded triforium opening on a passageway in the wall above. To the west, the wall was plain except for three blocked openings at triforium level which probably originally served another passage. Traces of a similar opening at the east end of the north wall indicate that the passageway was originally continuous round the transept. A blocked doorway in the monks' night stair in the north-east corner of the transept perhaps opened on to a wooden gallery. All the arches are plain and unmoulded and the capitals simple cushions. Some of these capitals, and possibly some of the columns, could well be re-used Roman masonry. It is recorded that in 1180 nearly the whole of Chester was burnt on a Sunday in Mid-Lent, which may account for the fact that Geoffrey, the seventh Abbot (a.d. 1194), complained that the church was in ruins, and that there was no money with which to rebuild it, but he succeeded in getting sufficient funds together to build the choir. In 1183 a colony of monks was sent from Chester to Ireland. John de Courcy gave ten carucates of land to the abbey in order that it should supply a prior and monks to replace the secular canons whom he had expelled from the church of St. Patrick in Downpatrick, Patrick's burial place. (this abbey was destroyed by an earthquake in 1245).

The Abbey, with perhaps 40 monks, may have been already noted for scholarship. Around 1150 the scholar Robert of Chester returned to England from Segovia in Spain. He translated Al-Khwārizmī's book about algebra (as Liber Algebrae et Almucabola).

The city's importance as a regional market was reinforced by its role as the capital of the earldom. The fact that Chester Castle was the seat of the justice of Chester or his representative, of the chamberlain and clerks of the exchequer, and of a county court which did not itinerate and which acknowledged no superior jurisdiction, entailed the permanent presence of important officials and later encouraged the attendance of the local gentry as doomsmen and suitors.

Gerald of Wales was in Chester at Easter 1188 as part of Archbishop Baldwin's tour of Wales.

Young Ranulf

Ranulf's mother Bertrade d'Evereux de Montfort is said (according to one source) to have been born in 1155 at Chester, although it is far more likely she was born in Normandy as the Earl of Chester at the time of her birth was a minor and Chester Castle was in royal hands from 1153–62. Bertrade was married (aged 14 and in Montfort, Normandy) in 1169, her husband being aged 22 at the time. She would live until 1221 according to the Annales Cestriensis. Ranulf's birthplace (1170) is something of a mystery. Some place his birth at Blanville (hence "deBlanville - one of the many spellings of his name) near Avranches in Normandy, others at Oswestry in Shropshire. Others even suggest Whitchurch, which became known as such with the building of a new white Grinshill stone church. It is supposed that the church was built by William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey (d. 1088). The former Westune ('west farmstead') thus became "Album Monasterium" of which Blondeville is said to be a version. One could apply similar arguments to Whittington in Shropshire.

In the same year that Ranulf was born, his father Earl of Chester Hugh de Kevelioc was reported in the Chester Annals to have built a mound at "Boughton" out of the heads of Welshmen killed at the 'bridge of Baldert', possibly Balderton (in Dodleston), south-west of Chester. Confusion between Boughton and Broughton has led some to wrongly place this mound to the east of Chester although it is far more likely to have been in the often contested area along the Roman route into north wales.

The Annals of Chester get the location of the mound of Welsh heads wrong, but record the birth of Ranulf and the death of Thomas Becket. The "Henry III" mentioned here is the eldest son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine to survive childhood. In 1170, he became titular King of England, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Maine. Henry the Young King was the only English king since the Norman Conquest to be crowned during his father's reign, but he was frustrated by his father's refusal to grant him any meaningful autonomous power. He died aged 28, six years before his father, which left his brother Richard to become the next king. The actual Henry III was the son of King John.

Hugh de Kevelioc, in 1173, (aged 26) stuck with family tradition and joined the baronial Revolt of 1173-1174 against Henry II when Ranulf was aged about 3. This was one of a series of revolts by the sons of Henry II against their father. Hugh was captured, deprived of his lands and had them partially restored in 1177, and then died (30 June 1181 - aged 34) at Leek, Staffordshire. It has been suggested that Hugh was poisoned, like his father (the "serial turncoat" Ranulph De Gernon) before him.

Thus, Ranulf de Blundeville, succeeded to the title of Vicomte d'Avranches [Normandy] in 1181. Ranulf (now 11) would spend the next few years at Henry II's court at Domfront in Normandy. He was not quite a prisoner. His early companions would have included Constance of Brittany, whom he was later to marry, and possibly also Otto of Brunswick (born 1175). Ranulf was almost the same age as the Welsh ruler Llywelyn the Great, who, in common with Ranulf succeeded as a minor.

Ranulf de Blondeville - as depicted in the stained glass on Chester's Town Hall staircase. In 1181 he was actually only nine years old.

During his minority Ranulf's inheritance was administered first by Gilbert Pipard and later by Bertram de Verdon. Gilbert Pipard served as sheriff of Gloucester and Hereford and guardian of Chester before travelling to Ireland with John, son of Henry II, in 1185 and receiving grants of Ardee in Louth and most of Monaghan. He went on crusade with Richard I and died at Brindisi in 1191. Bertram de Verdon (III) was sheriff of Leicestershire until 1183 and deeply religious man accompanying Henry II on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella in North of Spain. After Prince John's first expedition to Ireland, Bertram held the town of Dundalk and several castles in Louth. Following Henry II’s death Bertram III remained an influential figure with Richard I and became his castellan, went on the Third Crusade with Richard, was governor of Saint-John of Acre and died at Jaffa in 1191.

Both Pipard and de Verdon were probably instrumental in instilling in the young Ranulf the loyalty to the crown and strong sense of honour which was a characteristic of his long tenure as Earl. Another major influence would have been his tutor "Alexander son of Ralph", almost certainly a minor Norman steward who married Annabella de Savage, daughter of a Norman lord from Caen. In his teens he would have also received some "education" from Sir Ralph Mainwaring, who had served Ranulf's father and was his half-sister's husband. Whether the half-sister was legitimate was an argument that was to go on for centuries. In his 1673 "Historical Antiquities in two books; the first treating in general of Great Britain and Ireland; the second containing particular remarks concerning Cheshire, and chiefly of the Bucklow hundred. Whereunto is annexed a transcript of Domesday-Book, so far as it concerneth Cheshire"; (usually referred to with the shorter title of "Historical Antiquities"), Peter Leycester presented a discussion as to whether or not she was indeed the lawful daughter of Earl Hugh de Kevelioc. This led to a dispute with Sir Thomas Mainwaring of Peover (one of her descendants), who in 1673 published a Defence of Amicia. Leycester replied later that year with "An Answer to the Book of Sir Thomas Manwaringe". After this there followed a paper war of 15 pamphlets (sources can be found here). In 1675 the justices itinerant at Chester assizes declared in favour of Amicia's legitimacy. Whether there is a link between Ralph Mainwaring and Fulk FitzWarren (of which more below) has never been clearly decided.

Ranulf was invested as a Knight on 1 January 1187/88 at Caen, Normandy, France. Other titles were to follow as detailed below. He was styled as Duc de Bretagne between 1189 and 1199 and as Earl of Richmond between 1189 and 1199. A commander of the forces of King Richard I in 1194, he also fought in the Wars with the Welsh between 1209 and 1214. He held the office of Governor of Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1215, and also of Governor of the Peak Castle and Forest. He fought in the defeat of the rebels under the Count of Perche in April 1217, as a Commander of the Royal Army. He was created 1st Earl of Lincoln on 23 May 1217, and held the office of Steward of the Honour of Lancashire. He held the office of Sheriff of Lancashire, Sheriff of Staffordshire and Sheriff of Shropshire.

The city of Chester, in Ranulf’s time was a prosperous port described by Lucian the Monk (probably writing in around 1195-1200) as follows:

  • Chester has beneath its walls a beautiful river abundant in fish, with a harbour on its south side where ships from Aquitaine, Spain, Ireland and Germany unload their cargoes of wine and other merchandise. The daily tides provide a flourishing fish trade and its rising and falling makes a wide expanse of both water and sand.
The Chester silvermark uses elements of Ranulf de Blondeville's arms.

His coat of arms features in both the windows of the Town Hall and on the Queen's Park Suspension Bridge, and shows three "garbs" or sheaves of corn. These feature in the current arms of the city and in the arms of the "Chester Herald". The arms can be found on the Eastgate Clock. The arms of the city are made up in part of de Blundeville's three sheaves of corn, and the symbols are also used in the logo of the unitary authority of City of Chester and West Cheshire. The arms also features in the assay mark for the Chester Assay Office (closed 24th August 1962). More on local heraldry can be found on Cheshire heraldry

At this time Chester appears to have been a significant military port. The Annals for 1185 record that Prince John used it as a base for his failed invasion of Ireland:

  • mclxxxv Johannes sine terra filius Regis Henrici II. cum multa manu armatorum et navium multitudine apud Penbroch Wallie mare ingrediens Ebdomada pascali Hiberniam Rex coronandus petiit. Ceteri vero Anglie cc justicie et primores cum ejus (?) sociis apud Cestria iter navale arripiunt. Eodem anno interfectus Hugo de Lacy a quodam Hiberniense in Hibernia. Quo audito Henricus rex preparuit Johannem filium suum iterum mittere in Hibernia. Qui Johannes veniens Cestriam dum ventum ibi expectat, nuntiatur patri suo mors Galfridi fratris sui comitis de Britania. Qua audita Henricus rex revocare fecit Johannem filium suum et misit in Hiberniam Phillippum de Wigornia cum aliis quam paucis. (John Lackland, son of king Henry II., with a great band of armed men, and a multitude of ships, arrived by sea at Pembroke in Wales. On the Sunday after Easter he started for Ireland in order to be crowned king there. But two hundred other justices and nobles of England, with his [their ?] companions, commence their sea voyage to Ireland at Chester. The same year Hugh de Lacy was killed in Ireland by a certain Irishman. When king Henry heard of it, he prepared to send his son John again into Ireland. But when John had come to Chester, and was waiting for a [favourable] wind, the death of his brother Geoffrey, count of Brittany, is announced to his father; when Henry heard of this, he caused his son John to be recalled, and sent Philip of Worcester with a very few others to Ireland.)

Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany was the fourth of five sons of Henry II of England and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine. Geoffrey was fifteen years old when he joined the first revolt against his father. He later reconciled to Henry in 1174 when he participated in the truce at Gisors. Geoffrey prominently figured in the second revolt of 1183, fighting against Richard, on behalf of his oldest brother Henry the Young King. There are two alternative accounts of his death on 19 August 1186. The more common first version holds that he was trampled to death in a jousting tournament. At his funeral, a grief-stricken Philip II is said to have tried to jump into the coffin. In the second version, in the chronicle of the French royal clerk Rigord, Geoffrey died of sudden acute chest pain, which reportedly struck immediately after his speech to Philip, boasting his intention to lay Normandy to waste. The death of Geoffrey would have consequences for the young Ranulf, for Geoffrey's wife was pregnant at the time.

13th-century depiction of Henry and his legitimate children: (left to right) William (1153–1156), Young Henry (1155-1183), Richard (1157–1199), Matilda (1156-1189), Geoffrey (1158-1186), Eleanor (1161-1214), Joan (1165-1199), and John (1166-1216). As the fourth son John was never expected to become king.


In 1189, aged seventeen, Ranulf was married to Constance of Brittany (born 1161 Bretagne – died September 5, 1201 Nantes) at 29 already the widow of Henry II’s son Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany. This made Ranulf Duke of Brittany, and his wife's father-in-law was the king. The Chester annals records it as follows:

  • In the course of the same year Randle Blundeville, earl of Chester, was knighted by Henry, king of England, on the feast of the Circumcision of our Lord (January 1, 1189 N. S.) at Caen. To whom also Henry, king of England, gave as a wife the countess of Brittany, widow of his son Geoffry, and daughter of Alan (Conan), count of Brittany, Constance by name, with all the county of Richmond; the said Randle, earl of Chester, married her on the feast of S. Werburg the Virgin, that is, February 3.

Although he used, not inconsistently, the style Duke of Brittany on account of his marriage, he never had the control of the duchy, and is not known to have played an important role there. Constance was already the mother of Arthur of Brittany (born 1187) with whom King John would contest the succession (in 1199). Indeed even at his birth some thought that Arthur should eventually become king:

  • The son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, and Constance, Duchess of Brittany, was born at Nantes, on Easter Day, 1187, six months after the death of his father. He was the first grandson of Henry II., for the graceless young King Henry had died childless. Richard was still unmarried, and the elder child of Geoffrey was a daughter named Eleanor; his birth was therefore the subject of universal joy. There was a prophecy of Merlin, that King Arthur should re-appear from the realm of the fairy Morgana, who had borne him away in his death-like trance after the battle of Camelford, and returning in the form of a child, should conquer England from the Saxon race, and restore the splendours of the British Pendragons. The Bretons, resolved to see in their infant duke this champion of their glories, overlooked the hated Angevin and Norman blood that flowed in his veins, and insisted on his receiving their beloved name of Arthur. Thanksgivings were poured forth in all the churches in Brittany, and the altars and shrines at the sacred fountains were adorned with wreaths of flowers.

A rather unlikely embelishment is sometime added to this tale:

  • At the same time a Welsh bard directed King Henry to cause search to be made at Glastonbury, the true Avalon, for the ancient hero's corpse, which, as old traditions declared, had been buried between two-pyramids within the Abbey. There, in fact, at some distance beneath the surface, was found a leaden cross inscribed with the words, 'Here lies Arthur, Once and Future King'

It was a very convenient find - however the exact date seems to have been around 1191 (two years after the death of Henry II) and by finding these relics the monks of Glastonbury managed to boost the number of pilgrims visiting them. One chronicler who appears to have a rather low opinion of Ranulf of Chester puts the events which ensued as follows:

  • Henry entered Brittany, assembled the States at Nantes, and claimed the guardianship of his grandson's person and domains. They were at first intimidated by his threats, but Constance showed so much spirit that she obtained the keeping of her son, and the immediate government, though she was not to act without the advice and consent of the King of England, who received the oaths of the barons present. The widowed heiress suffered much persecution from the different suitors for her hand, among whom figured her brother-in-law, John Lackland; and Henry, fearing her marriage with some powerful prince, so tormented her by threats of removing her son from her charge, that he forced her into a marriage with Ranulf de Blondeville, Count of Chester, grandson to an illegitimate son of Henry I., a man of violent and ambitious temper, and of mean and ungraceful appearance. In a dispute which took place between him and the Count de Perche, in Lincoln Cathedral, the latter contemptuously called him a dwarf. ' Sayest thou so,' cried Ranulf, 'ere long I shall seem to thee as high as that steeple !' and his words were fulfilled when, as Duke of Brittany, he claimed the allegiance of the count. He made himself extremely hated in Brittany by his cruelty and injustice; and no sooner had the news arrived of the death of Henry II., than the people rose with one consent, drove him away, and restored the power to Constance. Richard I. did not interfere in his behalf, and appeared favourable to his nephew Arthur; acknowledging him as heir presumptive of England, and when at Messina, betrothing him to the daughter of Taucred, King of Sicily.

The young Ranulf had been drawn into a complex political mess. In 1182, Henry II's son's Young Henry, Richard and their brother Geoffrey all began fighting each other for their father's possessions on the continent. The situation was exacerbated by French rebels and the king of France, Philip Augustus. On 11 June 1183, Henry the "Young King" died causing things to settle down for a while. The final battle between Henry's Princes came in 1184. Geoffrey of Brittany and John of Ireland, the youngest brothers, had been promised Aquitaine, which belonged to elder brother Richard. Geoffrey and John invaded, but Richard had been controlling an army for almost 10 years was an accomplished military commander and was able to expell his fickle brothers. In 1186, with the death of Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany (trampled to death at a tournament) an unstable Brittany threatened the delicate balance of power between France and England. Matters became worse in 1187 when to strengthen his position, Richard allied himself with 22-year-old Philip II, who was the son of Eleanor of Aquitaine's ex-husband Louis VII by his third wife, Adele of Champagne. Roger of Hoveden wrote:

  • "The King of England was struck with great astonishment, and wondered what [this alliance] could mean, and, taking precautions for the future, frequently sent messengers into France for the purpose of recalling his son Richard; who, pretending that he was peaceably inclined and ready to come to his father, made his way to Chinon, and, in spite of the person who had the custody thereof, carried off the greater part of his father's treasures, and fortified his castles in Poitou with the same, refusing to go to his father."

Henry II's "trump card" was to marry Ranulf to the widow Constance. They were married on 3rd February 1189 (the feast of St Werburgh).

Weak, ill, and deserted by all but an illegitimate son, Geoffrey, Archbishop of York, Henry died at Chinon on 6 July 1189. Traditionally, Henry's dying words are supposed to have been, "Shame, shame on a conquered king," referring to his sons' insurrections. His legitimate children, chroniclers record him saying, were "the real bastards". When Richard I died (in 1199), John did not gain immediate universal recognition as king as some regarded his young nephew as the rightful heir. Already by 1189 the aging Henry II did not trust the Countess and wanted her married to a magnate he could trust. The marriage gave Ranulf control of the earldom of Richmond and the duchy of Brittany, but was not a success.

Richard I

Richard I (8 September 1157 – 6 April 1199) was King of England from 6 July 1189 until his death. He also ruled as Duke of Normandy (as Richard IV), Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Poitiers, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittany at various times during the same period. He was the third of five sons of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was known as Richard Cœur de Lion or Richard the Lionheart because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior.

Richard I : Hated England and avoided visiting - died of gangrene in France

Ranulf (now aged aged 19) was present at Richard's coronation on the 3rd September 1189. Mathhew Paris writes:

  • There then followed them six earls and counts, carrying a single cofer, on which were laid out the royal insignia and garments; following them was the Earl of Chester, holding up high the crown, which was of gold and wonderfully set with jewels.

An alternative version, from Roger of Hoveden, has:

  • William de Mandeville, earl of Aumarle and Earl of Essex, carrying a great and massive crown of gold, decorated on every side with precious stones

In 1190, St John's Hospital (Little St Johns) was founded by Earl Ranulph - its site is now the Blue Coat School. "St. John without the Northgate" was established by Ranulf to care for the poor, but seems to have had a limited parochial function - it was allowed to offer the sacrament to visiting strangers, and, by permission of St. Werburgh's and St. John's, to bury the poor who died there, the brethren themselves, and those in confraternity with them.

Richard Departs

A single reference (the Chronicle of Dieulacres) has Ranulf travelling with King Richard in Crusade in 1190, although the veracity of this is doubted (neither Ralph of Coggeshall nor Roger of Hoveden, who was with Richard, mention Ranulf). In September 1190 both King Richard and Philip the French King arrived in Sicily on their way to the Third Crusade. After the death of King William II of Sicily, his cousin Tancred seized power and was crowned early in 1190 as King Tancred I, although the legal heir was William's aunt Constance, wife of the new Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. Tancred had also imprisoned William's widow, Queen Joan, who was King Richard's sister. When Richard arrived, he demanded that his sister be released and given her inheritance. The people of Messina then revolted, demanding that the foreigners leave. Richard attacked Messina, capturing it on October 4, 1190 and looting and burning the city. Tancred finally agreed to sign a treaty on March 4, 1191. The treaty was signed by Richard, Philip and Tancred. Its main terms were:

  • Joan was to be released, receiving her inheritance and the dowry her father had given to her late husband.
  • Richard and Philip recognized Tancred as King of Sicily and vowed to keep the peace between all three of their kingdoms.
  • Richard officially proclaimed his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, as his heir, and Tancred promised to marry one of his daughters to Arthur when he came of age.
  • Richard and Tancred exchanged gifts; According to some (but not all) versions Richard gave Tancred a sword which he claimed was Excalibur, the legendary sword of King Arthur.
A young Arthur, meeting John. The Victorian version has John saying: "Come to my arms, my dear nephew. Right glad I am to hold your hand again. You have played a lively game with your loving uncle, and your uncle will reward you as you deserve."

In 1190 Arthur would not yet have been four years old, and his step-father, Ranulf of Chester, had just become step-father to the future king of England. He rapidly found himself dragged even further into the political in-fighting that started almost as soon as Richard had left the country. Richard had appointed William Longchamp (Lord Chancellor, Chief Justiciar, and Bishop of Ely) to govern England while he was away, but Longchamp's authority was challenged by John, who eventually succeeded in driving Longchamp from power. Throughout 1190, Longchamp's relations with John were difficult and this led to Longchamp besieging Lincoln Castle because the castellan would not surrender the castle and allow himself to be replaced by Longchamp's nominee. The castellan, Gerard de Camville, had sworn allegiance to John and stated he would no longer recognise the chancellor's authority. In response, John took the two castles of Tickhill and Northampton. News of the dispute reached Richard, who sent Walter de Coutances, the Archbishop of Rouen, to England in late spring 1191, with orders to negotiate a peace between John and Longchamp. Walter brokered a compromise between the two as a result of which Gerard was confirmed as castellan and John relinquished the castles. Longchamp also agreed to work to ensure John's succession to the throne in the event of Richard's death but the intense propaganda campaign led by John continued through 1191.

One of the leaders of the campaign against Longchamp was Hugh Nonant, Bishop of Chester, and he convened a trial on 5 October 1191. Longchamp did not attend, but he was deposed and excommunicated, and after trying to hold the Tower of London, was forced to surrender due to lack of support from the citizens of London. He attempted to leave England in various disguises, including a monk's habit and women's clothes (Hugh Nonant wrote that Longchamp attempted on one occasion to hide dressed as a prostitute, which led to him being assaulted by a fisherman who mistook him for a whore). Nonant had already come into conflict with Ranulf as he started to tax Ranulf's property. In July 1192 Ranulf, short of powerful allies, was forced to "donate" control of property to Nonant. Later the same year disaster struck when Richard I was captured while returning from Crusade and began over a year of captivity. John seized the opportunity and went to Paris, where he formed an alliance with Philip. John probably hoped to acquire Normandy, Anjou and the other lands in France held by Richard.

In 1193 Ranulf was appointed a judge in the kings court. This involved the sponsorship of Richard's new Justicar, Walter de Coutances and Ranulf would now for the first time serve alongside Willam Marshall, generally regarded as one of the major soldiers and statesmen of the age. At around the same time his sister, Alice of Chester, married William de Ferrers, 4th Earl of Derby. Now allied to a powerful faction, Ranulph opposed John's attempted coups of 1193-4, together with others (including William Marshal) besieging John's party at Windsor castle in 1193 until a truce was agreed and the castle surrendered to be delivered into the hands of Eleanor, the Queen Mother.

Nonant was soon to fall from power and the properties that Ranulf had been forced to hand over in 1192 were returned. Nonant died in 1198 - with a chronicle stating that on his deathbed, he confessed such a long record of sins, which deterred any priest from absolving him. While plotting at home John was in deep trouble in France - at the start of 1193, John had paid a visit to Philip II in Paris where he paid homage for Richard’s French lands. When word reached Philip that Richard had finished crusading and had been captured on his way back from Holy Land, Philip promptly invaded the Vexin. His first target was the fortress of Gisors, which surrendered without putting up a struggle. Philip then penetrated deep into Normandy, reaching as far as Dieppe. To keep the duplicitous John on side, Philip entrusted the defense of the town of Evreux over to him. Meanwhile, Philip was joined by Count Baldwin of Flanders, and together they laid siege to the ducal capital of Normandy, Rouen. Here, Philip’s advance was halted.

Richard Returns

Ranulf was one of the few who was aware that Richard was returning to England. In March 1194 in the company of his brother-in-law Earl David (Ceannmhor) of Huntingdon, Ranulf played a role in besieging and taking Nottingham Castle.

On 4th February 1194, Richard had been set free from Germany by the Emperor Henry VI and letters were despatched from the Emperor to Philip II and John requiring them to restore to Richard all that was his. Before the news may have reached England, John, who was in France, sent over a clerk, Adam of St Edmund, who carried secret letters ordering all castles held by John’s men to be defended against the king. Adam dined with Hubert Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury, and rashly disclosed certain plans and the thinking of his master. Hubert, alarmed, remained composed and allowed Adam to leave on his mission but he was arrested by the Mayor of London and all his papers were taken and given to the Archbishop. The following day these papers were shown to the bishops, earls and barons of the Council and by common assent they disseised John of all his lands and proceeded to reduce his castles.

To reduce Nottingham Castle were sent David, Earl of Huntingdon and brother of the King of Scots, Ranulph, Earl of Chester, and William de Ferrers, Earl of Derby. The sending of three earls to Nottingham may have been dictated by the knowledge that because of its position and reputed impregnability, a siege of Nottingham Castle could be difficult, absorbing time and money in its reduction. The Earl Ferrers, and to a certain extent the Earl of Chester, would have possessed invaluable local knowledge and could have called on the assistance of their tenants in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Earl Ferrers was married to Agnes De Kevelioch, sister of Ranulph de Blondeville, for 55 years. David was to be the father of John Canmore, Ranulf's heir. A further reason for sending along three major Earls that may have been well known in the area, was possibly to ensure that the the defenders actually believed that Richard had returned, and that the rumour of his return was not a ruse by John's enemies to take the Castle. However, it isn't clear whether the fact of Richard's imminent return was actually communicated to Nottingham Castle's defenders.

Nottingham Castle was located in a commanding position on a natural promontory known as "Castle Rock", with cliffs 130 feet (40 m) high to the south and west. In the Middle Ages it was a major royal fortress and occasional royal residence. It was largely demolished in 1649. The Duke of Newcastle later built a mansion on the site, which was burnt down by rioters in 1831 and left as a ruin. It was later rebuilt to house an art gallery and museum, which remain in use to this day. Little of the original castle survives.

On 13th March 1194 Richard had landed in England at Sandwich. Roger de Hoveden is silent on the king’s movements during the next twelve days until he arrived at Nottingham. The panegyric poem "Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal" states that Richard left Marlborough with a large army and retinue and made straight for Nottingham. Other chroniclers give an itinerary: Richard proceeded to London via Canterbury and Rochester, and left London arriving at Nottingham by way of Bury St Edmunds and Huntingdon, where he was met by William Marshall.

Roger de Hoveden thus describes the siege:

  • Earl David, brother of the King of Scotland, and Ranulph, Earl of Chester, and Earl de Ferrers besieged Nottingham Castle with a large army.

Ranulf and Huntingdon brought-up siege engines including (in its first potenial use in England) a revolutionary machine designed to throw "Greek-Fire". Also present at Nottingham was "Master Urric" one of the King Richard's "ingeniatores", who seems to have regularly accompanied the royal siege train and specialised in the construction of specialist engines. It is likely that Richard had obtained this technology - which would be lacking to John's garrison - from his experience on the Third Crusade, where the Turks had made extensive use of Greek fire, notably in the defence of Acre. Intriguingly, the Pipe Rolls not only reveal the expenses paid for crossbowmen sent to Nottingham, but also those of "quodam Saraceno et quodam Griffon". Greek engineers, some of whom Richard may have encountered in Sicily or Cyprus, were regarded as highly skilled siege technicians. There is however no firm evidence that Greek Fire was actually used. The castle, then under the control of William de Wendenal surrendered after just a few (one source says two, the other three) days. Even so, Richard had to hangs some of John's supporters outside the walls and do quite a bit of fighting before he got his castle back.

Following the siege Richard decided that some recreation was in order whilst the castle was tidied-up and before a Council, which he had summoned, began. So on 29th March:

  • “Richard, king of England, professed a desire to see Clipstone and Sherwood Forest which he had never seen before and it pleased him much. On the same day he returned to Nottingham”

So, while "Robin Hood" does not turn up in the story, the returning Richard does end up in Sherwood Forest.

Around this time Hugh Nonant's star was falling, as William of Newburgh writes:

  • Hugh de Nonant, bishop of Chester, a man unstable in all his ways, who, being pricked by his evil conscience, had fled from the face of the king of England into France, also appeased the king with no small sum of money; and having recovered his bishopric, he afterwards took care to make himself useful more in the affairs of the king than in the duties of his pastoral office.

When Richard was ceremonially "re-crowned" in September 1194 Matthew of Westminster tells us that Ranulf was one of the three "sword bearers":

  • William, king of Scotland, on the aforesaid day of the coronation of king Richard, carried before the king, as his proper service, one of the three swords which were brought forward out of the king's treasury ; and the two counts, Hamelin de Warenne on the right hand of the king of Scotland, and Ranulph, earl of Chester, on his left hand) carried the two other swords.

Trouble at Home

The earl was also busy sorting out problems at Chester:

  • mcxciiij Confirmatus est abbas Galfridus in abbatia de Cestra disceptans et litigans coram archiepiscopo Huberto Cantuariensi contra Robertum de Hastinges quondam abbatem Cestrie tandem patrocinante Sancta Werburga et glorioso Comite Cestrensi Rannulpho Galfridus optinuit dignitatem suam reddendo annuatim supradicto Roberto de Hastinges xx marcas duobus terminis et sic pacificati sunt. (1194 The abbot Geoffrey was confirmed in the abbey of Chester after much dispute and litigation with Robert de Hastings the former abbot, before Hubert, archbishop of Canterbury; at last, by the assistance of S. Werburg, and of the glorious earl Randle, of Chester, Geoffrey obtained his dignity on the terms of paying an annual pension to the above-mentioned Robert de Hastings of twenty marks by two half-yearly payments; and so peace was made between them.)
Richard I's Château-Gaillard (literally the "Cheeky Castle", at Petit Andelys overlooking the River Seine.

Ranulf was by now almost completely estranged from his wife Constance, and in 1195, together with Richard I, hatched a secret plot to weaken the power of Constance. An unstable Britanny was once again threatening the balance of power with France and Richard was less than happy that Constance had declared Arthur Duke of Brittany without his apparent consent. The plot was probably put together in March 1195 when Ranulf and Richard met at Ranulf's castle of St-James-de-Beuvron to sign a charter relating to St Marie de Maontmorel. Also present were Roger of Chester (Ranulf's half-brother), Roger de Lacy (Constable of Chester), Baldwin Wake and William de Verdun. The plan was to capture Constance and Arthur after luring them to discussions regarding Arthur's right to the English crown. Ranulph captured and imprisoned his wife in 1196, but Arthur escaped, an act that sparked a rebellion in Constance's native Brittany:

  • Arthur, who was now nine years Old, was in 1196 introduced by his mother to the assembly of the states of Brittany, and associated with her in the duchy. His uncle at the same time claimed the charge of him as his heir, and invited Constance to a conference at Pontorson. On her way, it is much to be feared with his connivance, she was seized by a body of troops under her husband, the Earl of Chester, and carried a prisoner to the castle of St.James de Beuvron.

In 1197 Ranulf and Richard led an army into eastern Brittany to subdue the revolt. By this time Arthur had fled to the French court of Philip II. Finally in 1198 Constance was released, and shortly thereafter had her marriage to Ranulf annulled, The grounds, according to "The Judges of England" (Edward Foss, 1848) are curious: "by reason that King John haunted her company" - John became King in 1199, and was, according to one chronicler well known for his pursuit of the wives of his barons.

Future historians would latch onto the story that Constance was unfaithful to Ranulf and this may in fact have arisen as a cover for her imprisonment. Others have suggested that she married her third husband, Guy of Thouars prior to her divorce from Ranulf. Constance's cause of death is debated. The Chronique de Tours indicated that she died of leprosy but this statement is doubtful. It is also believed that she died from complications of childbirth, shortly after delivering twin daughters. Her daughter Eleanor Fair Maid of Brittany would later pose a potential threat to John's claim to the throne and following his death in 1216, equally to her cousin, Henry III of England; thus, having been put in prison in 1202, she was never released.

Richard was unaware that he had already set in motion the chain of events that would lead to his own death. Back in 1196, Ranulf and others had been summoned to Château-Gaillard where Richard intended to build a castle, perched high above the River Seine, an important transport route. Under the terms of the Peace of Louviers (December 1195) between Richard and Phillip II neither was allowed to fortify the site; despite this, Richard intended to build a castle to fill a gap in the Norman defences left by the fall of Château de Gisors and to act as a base from which Richard could launch his campaign to take back the Vexin from French control. Richard tried to obtain the manor through negotiation but Walter de Coutances, Archibishop of Rouen, was reluctant to sell the manor as it was one of the diocese's most profitable, eventually Richard grew tired of waiting and seized the manor. Walter de Coutances left for Rome in November 1196 in an attempt to get Pope Celestine III to intercede. Richard sent a delegation to represent him in Rome. One of the party, Richard's Lord Chancellor William Longchamp (no longer dressed as a woman), died during the journey. Walter de Coutances meanwhile issued an interdict against the duchy of Normandy which prohibited church services from being performed in the region. Roger of Howden detailed "the unburied bodies of the dead lying in the streets and square of the cities of Normandy". Construction began with the interdict hanging over Normandy, but it was later repealed in April 1197 by Celestine III, after Richard made gifts of land to de Coutances. Work at Château-Gaillard cost an estimated £15,000 to £20,000 between 1196 and 1198. According to William of Newburgh, in May 1198 Richard and the labourers working on the castle were drenched in a "rain of blood". While some of his advisers thought the rain was an evil omen, Richard was undeterred.

  • the king was not moved by this to slacken one whit the pace of work, in which he took such keen pleasure that, unless I am mistaken, even if an angel had descended from heaven to urge its abandonment he would have been roundly cursed.

War between Phillip and Richard continued - by the fall of 1198, Richard had regained almost all that had been lost in 1193. The castle of Château-Gaillard became Richard's favourite residence, and writs and charters written there are signed "apud Bellum Castrum de Rupe" (at the Fair Castle of the Rock). Richard did not enjoy the benefits of the castle for long, however, as he died in Normandy on 6 April 1199, from an infected crossbow wound to his shoulder, sustained while besieging the Château de Châlus-Chabrol. The accepted account says that Achard who held the Château had discovered hidden loot, Roman perhaps, and had delivered it to their master. Protocol dictated that Achard send some of the wealth to the count of Limoges as well as to Richard, his supreme overlord. Achard left Richard out of the cut. When Richard found out that a vast hoard of wealth had been discovered and he had been deprived of his share, he launched an invasion. His death at Châlus — a small castle defended by no more than 40 men — was viewed by French chroniclers with glee.

John - ebrius et daemonio plenus

John: lost his crown jewels
John and Arthur of Brittany - would you trust your stepson with this guy...

King John of England was the youngest of the four surviving sons of King Henry II of England and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was nicknamed John Lackland because he was not expected to inherit significant lands. He became Henry's favourite child following the failed revolt of 1173–1174 by his brothers Henry the Young King, Richard, and Geoffrey against their father Henry II. Any apppraisal of John needs to take into account that the information about him is from chronicles which are distinctly biased against him, and that views of John have changed significantly over the years. Also there are few contemporary writers from John's time: William of Newburgh stopped writing in 1198 and Roger of Howden died in 1201. Gerald of Wales was writing, but only really his own memoirs.

King Richard died on Tuesday, 6 April 1199 and was succeeded by his brother John. John's succession was not uncontested as Arthur of Brittany also had a claim to the throne - his mother (Ranulf's ex-wife) the Duchess of Britany had already (in 1194) abdicated in his favour and had the young Arthur proclaimed duke of Brittany as a child of seven years.

While on his deathbed Richard I had (apparently) named John his heir, but the rules of inheritance were still fluid and there were genuine doubts about who was the rightful successor. On the death of Richard, Philip II of France recognized Arthur's right to Brittany, Anjou, Maine, and Poitou, Arthur having invaded the last-named. In return for this Arthur agreed to become the vassal of the king of France. Upon Richard's death Arthur led a force to Anjou and Maine. From 18 April, he styled himself as Duke of Brittany, Count of Anjou and Earl of Richmond. On 18 September, John persuaded the seneschal of Anjou, William des Roches, to defect, claiming Arthur would be a Capetian puppet. Four days later William took Arthur and Constance prisoners to Le Mans. Viscount Aimery, the seneschal appointed by John, took Arthur and Constance and fled the court to Angers, and later the court of Philip II. The Treaty of Le Goulet was signed by the kings John of England and Philip II of France in May 1200 and meant to settle once and for all the claims the Norman kings of England had as Norman dukes on French lands, including, at least for a time, Brittany. Under the terms of the treaty, Philip recognised John as King of England as heir of his brother Richard I and thus formally abandoned any support for Arthur. John, meanwhile, recognised Philip as the suzerain of continental possessions of the Angevin Empire.

Philip had previously recognised John as suzerain of Anjou and the Duchy of Brittany, but with this he extorted 20,000 marks sterling in payment for recognition of John's sovereignty of Brittany. After the signing of the Treaty of Le Goulet, and feeling offended by Philip, Arthur fled to John, his uncle, and was treated kindly, at least initially. However, he later became suspicious of John and fled back to Angers.

In 1200 Ranulf (now aged 28) improved his power-base in Normandy by marrying Clemence of Fougères (daughter of Ralph de Fougeres - his father's old ally in the revolt against Henry II). On September 5, 1201 his ex-wife Constance died at Nantes, but not before marrying Guy of Thouars and becoming the mother of twin daughters; Alix and Katherine of Thouars. As noted above, Constance's cause of death is debated - some historians believe she died of leprosy. Others believe she died from complications after giving birth to twin girls. Other cite a combination of both. She was buried at Villeneuve Abbey in Nantes.

Constance has several eloquent speeches concerning grief and death in Shakespeare's play King John - Ranulf does not feature at all. Clemence is cited in some sources as being the widow of Alain de Dinan and born in 1170. She died in 1252, at the age of 82. Curiously, Clemence has been put forward (as is Constance), by Dianna Messer, as the potential mother of Joan, Lady of Wales. However that would have required a carnal relationship with King John. It is often said that the only evidence for this is from Joan's obituary in the Tewkesbury Annals, where her mother is called "Regina Clementina" (Queen Clemence). However she is also mentioned in papal correspondence.

In 1201 Arthur (aged about 15) was surprised by forces of King John while besieging Mirabeau and his octagenarian grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine. John for once showing the boldness of his Angevin roots, covered the eighty miles from Le Mans in fouty-eight hours. After his capture by John's Barons, Arthur was imprisoned at Falaise in Normandy, guarded by Hubert de Burgh.

Ranulph spent most of 1199-1204 in France and his continued loyalty was bought by Richard by John with further patronage. One of Ranulf's charters from this period survives in Coventry. However trouble was brewing back at home in Chester. In 1194, with the aid of his cousins Gruffudd ap Cynan and Maredudd ap Cynan, Llyewlyn "the Great" defeated Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd at the Battle of Aberconwy. In 1197 Llywelyn captured Dafydd and imprisoned him. In 1199, Llywelyn laid siege to Mold and took the town on the 6th of January. The constable of Chester, together with the local baron (Ralph de Montalt) were killed. in 1201, John was able to broker a peace treaty with Llyewlyn. Llywelyn consolidated his position in 1205 by marrying Joan, the "natural daughter" of King John (her mother's name is unknown, but see: Joan, Lady of Wales). Peace was only to last until 1210.

Ranulf maintained contacts with supporters of his former stepson Arthur who vanished mysteriously in April 1202 (aged 16). Arthur's eventual fate is unclear, one account was that one of Arthur's jailers (Hubert de Burgh) feared to harm Arthur when ordered to blind and castrate him, and so he was murdered by John directly and his body dumped in the Seine. Other variants on the tale place the guilt with William de Braose who was put in charge of Arthur of Brittany in 1203 - William had personally captured Arthur the previous year at the Battle of Mirabeau. The Margam annals provide the following account of Arthur's death at the hands of John in a typical Angevin rage:

Prince Arthur and Hubert de Burgh, his jailer at Falaise. In the plot of Shakespeare’s ‘King John’, Hubert de Burgh had been ordered to kill the young prince, but was loath to harm an innocent child. This painting is by William Frederick Yeames (18 December 1835 – 3 May 1918).
  • After King John had captured Arthur and kept him alive in prison for some time, at length, in the castle of Rouen, after dinner on the Thursday before Easter, when he was inebriated and filled with the devil (ebrius et daemonio plenus), he slew him with his own hand, and tying a heavy stone to the body cast it into the Seine. It was discovered by a fisherman in his net, and being dragged to the bank and recognized, was taken for secret burial, in fear of the tyrant [John], to the priory of Bec called Notre Dame de Pres.

William de Braose rose high in John's favour after Arthur's disappearance. In 1206 King John gave William de Braose the three great neighbouring trilateral castles of Gwent (Skenfrith Castle, Grosmont Castle, and White Castle). These have been interpreted as bribes encouraging silence on the demise of Arthur, seen by many as a rightful heir to the throne. Some years later, after conflict with King John, William de Braose's wife Maud de Braose personally and directly accused the King of murdering Arthur, which resulted in Maud and her eldest son, also William, being imprisoned and starved to death probably in the dungeon of Corfe Castle (some chronicles say Windsor). The precise reasons for John's sudden emnity towards de Braose remain obscure. King John cited overdue monies that de Braose owed the Crown from his estates, but the king's actions went far beyond what would be necessary to recover the debt. He distrained (seized) de Braose's English estates in Sussex and Devon, and sent a force to invade Wales to seize the de Braose domains there. De Braose fled to Ireland, then returned to Wales as King John had him hunted in Ireland. In Wales, William allied himself to the Welsh Prince Llywelyn the Great, and helped him in his rebellion against King John.

In 1210 William de Braose escaped (in disguise as a beggar) to France, where he was supposed to have published a statement on what happened to Arthur, but no copy has been found. William Camden writes:

  • True it is indeede that for this cause the French called King John into question as Duke of Normandie. And notwithstanding he was absent, and not heard once to plead, neither confessing ought nor convicted, yet by a definitive sentence they condemned him and awarded from him Normandie and his possessions in France, albeit himselfe had promised, under safe conduct, to appeere in personally at Paris, there to make answere as touching the death of Arthur, who as a liege subject had bound himselfe by oath to bee true and loyall unto him, and yet started backe from his allegeance, raised a rebellion, and was taken prisoner in battaile. At which time this question was debated, whether the Peeres of France might give judgement of a King annointed, and therefore superiour, considering that a greater dignity drowneth the lesse, and now one and the same person was both King of England and Duke of Normandie. But whither do I digresse? After Arthur, there succeeded orderly in the Earldome of Richmond Guy Vicount of Thouars, unto whom the foresaid Constance was secondly married. Ranulph the third, Earle of Chester, the third husband of the said Constance.

Shakespeare's "King John" compresses history somewhat and has John's death follow quickly on that of Arthur (who dies falling from a wall while trying to escape from his prison). In reality, 14 years passed between the death of Arthur and that of John. Arthur is also the principal character of am alternative history novel by the eccentric English writer Frederick Rolfe ('Baron Corvo'), entitled "Hubert's Arthur", posthumously published by A. J. A. Symons in 1935. This is presented as the lengthy narrative of the aged Hubert de Burgh, who is supposed to have saved Arthur's life and accompanied him on crusade to the Holy Land, where he becomes King of Jerusalem and eventually returns to England, defeats King John and kills his son Henry Plantagenet (the historical Henry III) in single combat. The remainder of the book details the prosperous reign of King Arthur, his defeat of the Barons under Simon de Montfort, and his eventual miraculous death.

A modern map of Normandy shows the extent of Ranulf's holdings. At the start of the thirteenth century Ranulf (not yet thirty) held lands which included all of the Cotentin Peninsula and the rest of Manche and encompassed Bayeux, Vire and St Hilaire du Harcouet. At various time he held castles at Mont St Michel, St James de Beuvron, Avranches, St Pierre de Semilly, Briquessart and St Sauveur le-Vicomte.

Arthur's murder is the subject of a Breton folk song Arthur Plantagenest by the group Tri Yann.

To the Englysshe kynge yclept Lackelande
haþ Arþure yn to ambusshe yfallen.
Yslayn bye þe Englysshe kynges sworde
is Arþur yn to the Seyne ycasten.
Alas! Alas! Playe ye Mvsickers,
all Brettanie is mvrnynge hedaye
ffor here ydrouned Prynssë
Arþure, in hys six tenþe yere off lyffue.
Þe Seyne is redde wiþ hys blvde.
Soe maye Gvde damne warre.

Arthur of Brittany has been the subject of many "counter-factual" histories, including the Arthur Counter-factual which features in the Chester Mystery novels.

The Loss of Normandy

At the start of the thirteenth century Ranulph (not yet thirty) held lands in Normandy which included all of the Cotentin Peninsula and the rest of Manche and encompassed Bayeux, Vire and St Hilaire du Harcouet. At various time he held castles at Mont St Michel, St James de Beuvron, Avranches, St Pierre de Semilly, Briquessart and St Sauveur le-Vicomte. This provided around 50 knights and their support together with a force of around 250 men at arms. Within five years he would lose all his lands and castles in Normandy to the French.

The result of Arthur's death in 1202 was predictable - Normandy rose in revolt against John and threw in it's lot with Philip II of France. Many land-holders in Normandy defected to the French (losing their lands in England in the process). Philip took the offensive and, apart from a five month siege of Château Galliard, he swept all before him. On the fall of Andelys, John fled to England, and by the end of 1204, most of Normandy and the Angevin lands, including much of Aquitaine had fallen into Philip's hands. Château Galliard was defended by Roger de Lacy (Constable of Chester) who had been sent by the king with a hundred knights to defend Normandy against the men of Poitou. The results are described as follows:

  • "This fortress was the last which held out against the arms of Philip, and after enduring with great bravery a siege of six months, Roger deeming it more honourable to die by the sword than by famine, made a vigorous sally, and slew a great number of the besiegers; but, being overpowered by numbers, he was made prisoner. As a prisoner of war he was, however treated with great respect, temporarily allowed his liberty on parole in Paris, and ultimately liberated on payment of 6,000 marks as a ransom. After his return he was made sheriff of Yorkshire and Cumberland, which offices he filled for five years, having been, is 1203, favoured with a letter from the King, directing the tenants to receive him as their Lord. In the scutage, 2 John, he answered for 471 Knight's fees, and later in the reign, besides others which he held in wardship, he was charged for 471 for his own lands, and 20 for those of Laval, which, as we have already mentioned, he had been permitted to resume, and which were, in 1205, confirmed to him by Charter, of which an ancient transcript exists in the Record Office under the title of "Grant to Roger de Lacy, Constable of Chester, of the Manor of Snaith, in Yorkshire, a fair at Clitheroe, in Lancashire, and all the lands of Guy de la Valle in England."

During this time King John, beset on all sides, behaved in a predictable manner, turning on his friends and supporters and blaming them of treachery leading to the king's losses. John was determined to raise the money needed to recover his continental inheritance, and lauched a ruthless campaign of financial exploitation across England. Some of John’s measures hit ordinary people hard: he ordered sheriffs to raise more cash from their counties, cracked down on infringements of forest law in order to impose financial penalties, levied large taxes from the Jews (who were regarded as Crown property) and, in 1207, raised a tax on the general population of 13 per cent. The sums he raised were staggering. At around £49,000, his average annual income between 1207 and 1212 was double that of his brother and father even before the money he raised from taxation. Jealous of the power of his barons and suspicious of their intentions, he tried to force the loyalty he could not win. He took their sons as hostages for good behaviour, charged hefty sums for having his "goodwill" and pushed his feudal rights as far as they would stretch, naming exorbitant fees for heirs to enter their inheritance and extorting huge fines from widows claiming their property entitlements and pleading not to be forced to remarry.

In April 1203 Ranulph was charged with treason while at Vire, supposedly having conspired with one Fulk Pagnel and others to change sides in the war. There is some evidence that this could have been an opportunity for Ranulph - he was now married to Clemence and Pagnel had recently married Agatha de Humet, Clemence's mother. Consequently there were strong links between Ranulph and the families of the Norman-Breton border. Fulk and Ranulph were compelled to defend themselves. The details are unknown, but Ranulph was required to return his castle at Semilly to the king and several hostages were given, including Roger de Lacy, Constable of Chester who volunteered himself. So many powerful families were prepared to give hostages in support of Ranulph's case that after only a month King John relented (May 1203) and reversed his confiscation of Semilly. As a simple fiscal choice, Ranulph was better served to side with the Anglo-Norman King (soon to be just the English King) but their were few other knights who held the bulk of their lands in England and many of these defected to the side of France, retaining their Norman lands and losing those in England. In August 1203 Philip II brought his seige train to invest Château Galliard.

Shortages of military resources and his treatment of Norman, Breton and Anjou nobles resulted in the collapse of John's empire in northern France in 1204. Blue arrows indicate the movement of Philip II's forces and light blue Philip's Breton allies.

At this time Ranulph was in dire financial straights. In 1203 he was the heaviest tax-payer in Normandy, but had actually been unable to collect these taxes for some time. He owed £2600 tax from his dominions, £1150 in loans and other duties payable to King John, £700 to Gascony (another loan), £195 in scutage and £2250 unpaid taxes from previous years. On top of that, 240 quarters of wheat were owed as "crop tax". This massive debt of around £7000 can be compared with the annual income from the lands he was to lose in Normandy: Avranche (£60), St James-de-Beuvron (£100), Vau de Vire (£180) and Bessin (£140) - a total of less than £500.

In March 1204 (while Ranulph was back in England), news came from France that Château Galliard had fallen. Roger de Lacy (Constable of Chester) had held out for six months against the French but was now taken prisoner. Ranulph contributed a large part of de Lacy's ransom of £1000 (but had to borrow a further £200 from King John to make up his contribution). Mont St Michel fell to the Bretons who opened a second front in the West. Fulk Pagnel now finally changed sides as did Ranulphs followers in St James-de-Beuvron, Creully, Saye and Semilly. Normandy was lost. One positive thing about the loss of Norman lands was that his debts in Normandy were wiped out - there was no longer an Anglo-Norman treasury at Caen, Falaise, Rouen or Verneuil to owe money to.

In the autumn of 1204, Ranulph returned to Normandy. Philippe II had set a period of a year and a day within which the former Anglo-Normans could petition him for the return of their lands in return for their homage. Ranulph probably considered shifting his loyalty to France, but on 14th December 1204 John ordered the seizure and forfeit of all his lands in England (some sources suggest that John suspected Ranulph of colluding with the Welsh - particularly Gwenwynwyn ap Owain). There may well have been good grounds for the Kings suspicions, as Ranulph later made an alliance with Llywelyn the Great (effectively Prince of Wales), whose daughter Elen married de Blondeville's nephew and heir, John Canmore, in about 1222. Ranulph was given safe-conduct and required to appear before the King by the 6th January 1205. He had little time to lose: it took time for the news to arrive in Normandy and a captain would have to be found to attempt a treacherous winter crossing of the channel. Ranulph arrived in Dover before the 6th January, but it was the 16th when he stood before the King at Lambeth.

His professions of loyalty to John were not unrewarded and he either was awarded (or bought) Newton in Nottinghamshire for £100, property confiscated from those who chose to side with France. Had Ranulph (aged ~32) taken the other path and himself sided with France then, the course of history might have been quite different.

John Excommunicated

Innocent III from fresco at the cloister Sacro Speco, c. 1219.

When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Hubert Walter, died on 13 July 1205, John became involved in a dispute with Pope Innocent III that would lead to the King's excommunication. The Norman and Angevin kings had traditionally exercised a great deal of power over the church within their territories. King John wanted to appoint his own archbishop, the church wanted an election in which their views held sway. The decision was subject to delays and postponement as John tried to maneuver the bishops to his way of thinking. They appealed to Rome, John again asked all parties to postpone the decision but a group of churchmen took their own action and elected a sub prior Reginald and sent him to Rome. Such defiance in the face of the King meant those remaining at Canterbury had to face his wrath. They gave way and elected King John’s choice, John de Gray.

Pope Innocent III was intolerant of both positions and cleverly called both invalid and proposed his own candidate, Stephen Langton. King John did not bow his knee to Rome. He rejected Langton after his consecration by the Pope, refused him entry to England and confiscated the estate of Canterbury. The Pope imposed an interdict on England, it was to last six years from 1208 – 1214. Innocent went on to excommunicate John in 1209, in a dispute that led to the exile of many of the English clergy and John's imposition of heavy financial demands on the church in England; by 1209 de Gray and Peter des Roches, the Bishop of Winchester, were the only two living English bishops not in exile. But it was not until 1213, when Innocent began to support John's deposition, that the king became concerned and reached a settlement with the papacy.

Rescued by Minstrels

It seems that the rift with the king was soon healed as John granted Ranulf the right to hold a weekly Wednesday market and an annual seven-day fair in Leek in 1207.

In 1207 William Marshal, having "lost the king's love", left court and sailed to Ireland to try to secure his wife's Irish inheritance, the county of Leinster. This period is marked by William's war against his Irish vassals led by Meilyr fitz Henry, John's justiciar in Ireland, who refused to acknowledge William's lordship (at one point, William was recalled to England by John, leaving Isabel in Ireland; she ended up being besieged. King John went so far as to confiscate the lands of John of Early and William's other household knights who held in chief from him). In 1208 William's relations with John took still another turn for the worse, because of William's harboring in Ireland of the fugitive baron William de Braose, not only William's friend but also his overlord for some land in England. John couldn't prove that William was guilty of treason, but he still demanded further hostages, including his squire and best friend John of Early.

Buskers and beggars marching (thirty miles) to the aid of Ranulf de Blondeville against the Welsh. They were (according to legend) led by Roger de Lacy (1170–1211), 6th Baron of Pontefract, 7th Lord of Bowland, Lord of Blackburnshire, 7th Baron of Halton and Constable of Chester (formerly Roger le Constable) a notable English soldier, crusader and baron in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.

However Ranulph fought John’s Welsh wars 1210-12. While John led his campaign against de Braose and his allies in Ireland, an army led by Earl Ranulph of Chester and Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, invaded Gwynedd then ruled by Llywelyn the Great. The reason for the breakdown of relations between England and Wales may have been due to Llywelyn forming an alliance with William de Braose. Llywelyn destroyed his own castle at Deganwy and retreated west of the River Conwy. The Earl of Chester rebuilt Deganwy (the castle was later demolished by Edward I when Conwy Castle was built opposite), and Llywelyn retaliated by ravaging the earl's lands. It is from this time that a curious tale arises regarding Rhuddlan castle. In 1211, Roger de Lacy (Constable of Chester) rescued Ranulf from Llywelyn's siege at Rhuddlan by collecting a body of "players, fiddlers and other loose persons" from the midsummer fair. This led to the Dutton/Button family being granted the right to hold the "Minstrel Court,"

  • "...in exercise of a privilege and jurisdiction attached to the Button estate; which, from its curious incidents and long assertion, is worthy of notice. It consisted in a right to license all the minstrels and players of Cheshire, and none were to use minstrelsy within Cheshire or the city of Chester, but by order and licence of the proprietor of the Button estate."
  • "Hugh, the first Earl of Chester, in his charter of foundation of St. Werburgh's Abbey in that city, had granted to them, who should come to Chester fair, that they should not be then apprehended for theft or any other misdemeanour, except the crime were commited during the fair. The consequence of which privilege was, that multitudes of disorderly people resorted thither. Now it came to pass that Ranulph, last Earl of Chester, marching into Wales with a slender attendance, was constrained to retire to his Castle of Rhuddlan, where he was strictly besieged by the Welsh. Finding himself very hard pressed, he contrived to give notice of his danger to Roger Lacy, Constable of Chester, who taking advantage of the number of the minstrels and players attending the fair, collected a crowd and marched to Rhuddlan."
Coat of arms of Roger de Lacy, (recorded by Matthew Paris in Chronica Majora) - note the similarity to the arms of Ranulf.
  • "The minstrels, says an old account, "by their music and their songs, so allured and inspirited the multitudes of loose and lawless persons then brought together, that they resolutely marched against the Welsh. Hugh de Dutton, a gallant youth, who was steward to Lacy, put himself at their head. The Welsh, alarmed at the approach of this rabble, supposing them to be a regular body of armed and disciplined soldiers, instantly raised the siege and retired with precipitation."
  • "For this good service Ranulph granted to the Laeys, by charter, a peculiar patronage over men of their sort, who devolved the same again upon Dutton and his heirs. This Hugh de Dutton was the third in descent from the above mentioned Odard, and under him and his descendants, the minstrels who had been his assistants upon this occasion enjoyed for many ages peculiar honour and privileges, and even so late as the reign of Elizabeth, when this profession had fallen into such discredit, that it was considered in law as a nuisance, the minstrels, under the protection of the family of Dutton, are expressly excepted out of all acts of Parliament made for their suppression, and have continued to be excepted ever since." - from "The Patrician" (1848) edited by John Burke.

Indeed they were excepted: in the 1744 Vagrancy Act, (17 George II., c. 5.), the heirs and assigns of John Dutton, of Dutton, co. Chester, deceased, Esq., are "exempt from the pains and penalties of vagrancy". The march of minstrels to Rhuddlan Castle is depicted in the carvings at Chester Town Hall.

There is another curious twist to the story. Llywelyn was eventually facing defeat in which the invading army had swept into Gwynedd, capturing the Bishop of Bangor in his own cathedral, he then sent his wife Joan to negotiate:

  • "Llywelyn, being unable to suffer the King’s rage, sent his wife, the King’s daughter, to him by the counsel of his leading men to seek to make peace with the King on whatever terms he could." - Brut y Tywysogyn or The Chronicle of the Princes: Peniarth MS 20 Version

Joan managed to negotiate peace, but at a high price, including the loss of the Four Cantrefs (the land between the Conwy and the Dee rivers), a heavy tribute of cattle and horses and the surrender of hostages, including Llywelyn’s son, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. Following a deterioration of Anglo-Welsh relations, and as a precursor to invasion, twenty-eight of the Welsh hostages were hanged in 1212, though Gruffudd was not one of them (he would later die when attempting to escape from the Tower of London in 1244). The English attack was possibly called off when John received word from Joan that his barons were planning treason closer to home.

Another French War

As noted above, in November 1209 King John had managed to get himself excommunicated by the Pope, but now feared invasion by the French. John had allied himself with his nephew Otto IV who was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1209 until his death in 1218. In 1209, Otto marched to Italy to be crowned emperor by Pope Innocent III. In 1210, he sought to unite the Kingdom of Sicily with the Empire, breaking with Innocent, who excommunicated him on 18 November 1210.

In February 1213, Innocent III threatened stronger measures unless John submitted to Papal rulership. After repeated negotiations had failed, he passed a sentence of deposition against John, committing the execution of the sentence to Philip II of France. The papal terms for submission were accepted in the presence of the papal legate Pandulf Verraccio in May 1213 (according to Matthew Paris, at the Templar Church at Dover) in addition, John offered to surrender the Kingdom of England to God and the Saints Peter and Paul for a feudal service of 1,000 marks annually, 700 for England and 300 for Ireland. In effect, King John sold the entire country to the Pope in 1213. This tribute was paid, albeit irregularly, into the 1290s. However, kings Edward I and Edward II, John’s grandson and great-grandson, found themselves increasingly at odds with the papacy, partly over their rights to collect their own taxes from the English church and also over the pope’s partisan support for the kings of France. As a result, no tribute was paid in the 30 years before 1330. The last payment ever recorded was a token £1,000 from Edward III in 1333, in expectation of papal favours.

During 1212-13 the French had been building up an invasion fleet to strike at England. However 0n 30th May 1213, the French fleet of 1700 ships heavily laden with supplies and the personal goods of the French barons was surprised at Damme by 500 ships, 700 knights and their attendants, and a large force of mercenaries, under the command of William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury. Most of the French army was away besieging Ghent, and so the fleet was only lightly guarded. The English seized 300 ships which were anchored or beached outside the harbour, and pillaged and burned a hundred more. The next day they attacked the rest of the ships as well as the town itself. They returned to England with the seized ships and a large booty (the biographer of William Marshal claimed "never had so much treasure come into England since the days of King Arthur").

Emboldened by the French naval losses John decide to invade Poitou in February 1214 and Ranulf (now 44) was placed in command of one wing of the army. John was optimistic, as he had successfully built up alliances with the Emperor Otto IV, Count Renaud of Boulogne and Count Ferdinand of Flanders. John had arranged that the German Emperor Otto IV would attack simultaneously. However, few other English magnates joined the campaign due to the fact that John had become almost completely unpopular.

Ferdinand of Flanders imprisoned after the English defeat at the Battle of Bouvines (27 July 1214). This effectively brought to end the Angevin Empire that had been constructed by Henry II.

Ranulph helped secure the peace with Pope Innocent III in 1213-14. and was with the king in Poitou in 1214. The forces under Ranulf did well, besieging Vouvent and capturing Nantes. Unfortunately the northern wing of the invasion force, commanded by William Longespée and Otto IV suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Bouvines in July 1214. Bouvines was the most important battle for a century - 'the battle that made France'. If Philip II had lost, the Platagenêts could possibly have won back their lost Norman and Angevin territories, the counts of Flanders could have gained freedom from the French king, and the German emperor might have retained the Lotharingian territories. For England, Philip II's victory of Bouvines more than confirmed the end of Plantagenet claims to Angevin France and brought John "Lackland" ("Jean sans Terre" to the French) to his lowest ebb - he now had to return to England and explain to the Norman Magnates how he had finally lost their lands in France. King John was compelled to hand over Anjou, the ancient patrimony of the Angevin kings of England, to Philip in a peace settlement and Stephen Langton, came to England: since his consecration he had lived at Pontigny Abbey in Burgundy.

Stephen now became a leader in the struggle against King John. At a council of churchmen at Westminster on 25 August 1213, to which certain barons were invited, he read the text of the charter of Henry I and called for its renewal. Thus, the disaster at Bouvines forever altered the political situation in England, as John was so weakened that his discontented barons forced him to agree to the Magna Carta in 1215.

William Longespée would go on to have further adventures: after John's death and the departure of Louis, Salisbury, along with many other barons, joined the cause of John's young son, now Henry III of England. He held an influential place in the government during the king's minority and fought in Gascony to help secure the remaining part of the English continental possessions. He was appointed High Sheriff of Devon in 1217 and High Sheriff of Staffordshire and Shropshire in 1224. Salisbury's ship was nearly lost in a storm while returning to England in 1225, and he spent some months in refuge at a monastery on the French island of Ré. William Longespée would not long survive his return to England. Roger of Wendover alleged that he was poisoned by Hubert de Burgh. William Longespee was buried at Salisbury Cathedral and when his tomb was opened, in 1791, the well-preserved corpse of a rat which carried traces of arsenic was found inside his skull. The rat is now on display in a case at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, and seems to confirm the rumours of poison.

Dieulacres Abbey

In 1214 Ranulph founded the the Cistercian abbey of Dieulacres beside the Churnet a mile north of Leek, possibly on or near the site of a former hermitage. The abbey had originally been established at Poulton but was moved due to depredations of the Welsh.

The story is that after the dissolution of his first marriage followed by a second marriage - that is around the time that Arthur was captured - Ranulph had a vision, while in bed, of his grandfather, Ranulph De Gernon. The elder Ranulph told his grandson to go to 'Cholpesdale in the territory of Leek' and found a Cistercian abbey on the site of the former chapel of St. Mary the Virgin there, providing it with buildings and ample possessions. Ranulph went on to command that in the seventh year of the interdict that was to be laid on England his grandson was to transfer to this new site the Cistercians of Poulton (in Pulford, Ches.); this was a daughter-house of Combermere (Ches.) and had been founded in the elder Ranulph's name by Robert the Butler between 1146 and 1153. When Ranulph told his new wife Clemence about his vision and the proposed foundation she exclaimed in French: 'Deux encres' — 'May God grant it increase'. Ranulph thereupon fixed the name of the place as 'Deulencres' and gave it this name when he laid the foundation stone of the abbey.

The village of Abbey Green in the Staffordshire Moorlands now occupies the site of the abbey. There are some scanty remains of the abbey, which are Grade II listed. Much of the material was used for the building erected on the site.

A case has been made for connecting the 14th-century poem 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' with Dieulacres - while the authorship is unknown (the author is known as the "Pearl Poet") it may have been written by a monk at the Abbey. Several scholars have attempted to find a real-word correspondence for Gawain's journey to the Green Chapel. The Anglesey islands, for example, are mentioned in the poem. They exist today as a single island off the coast of Wales. In line 700, Gawain is said to pass the "Holy Head", believed by many scholars to be either Holywell or the Cistercian abbey of Poulton in Pulford. Holywell is associated with the beheading of Saint Winifred. As the story goes, Winifred was a virgin who was beheaded by a local leader after she refused his sexual advances. Her uncle, another saint, put her head back in place and healed the wound, leaving only a white scar. The parallels between this story and Gawain's make this area a likely candidate for the journey. Gawain's trek leads him directly into the centre of the "Pearl Poet's" dialect region, where the candidates for the locations of the Castle at Hautdesert and the Green Chapel stand. Hautdesert is thought to be in the area of Swythamley in northwest Midland, as it lies in the writer's dialect area and matches the topographical features described in the poem. The area is also known to have housed all of the animals hunted by Bertilak (deer, boar, fox) in the 14th century. The Green Chapel is thought by some to be in either Lud's Church or Wetton Mill, as these areas closely match the descriptions given by the author. However a case can be made out for The Green Chapel being near Frodsham (see: Cheshire Dialect).

Magna Carta and Civil War

On his return from Poitou Ranulf spent some time with the Knights Templar at their centre in London (the Temple) and while there made a vow to go on Crusade. In January 1215 William Marshall (who is buried in the nave next to his sons, under one of the nine marble effigies of medieval knights there) served as a negotiator during a meeting in the Temple between King John and the barons, who demanded that John uphold the rights enshrined in the Coronation Charters of previous kings. William swore on behalf of the king that the grievances of the barons would be addressed in the summer, leading to John's signing of Magna Carta in June 1215.

On Ash Wednesday (4th March, 1215) Ranulf had apparently "taken the sign of the cross", that is he made a vow to go on "crusade", although in Ranulf's time he would have been referred to it as a "journey" or an "armed pilgrimage" - "iter" or "peregrinatio" in Latin, "pelerinage" in French. Regardless of motivation, an individual underwent a specific ceremony before he could be considered a "crusader." The ceremony evolved somewhat over the centuries, but its general outlines remained the same. A would-be crusader sought out an ecclesiastical authority (a priest, bishop or higher cleric) and swore to carry out an armed pilgrimage in support of the Holy Places. He then usually received a cloth cross which he could place on his clothes to signify his new status. The taking of the cross is recorded by Roger of Wendover/Matthew Paris (who get the date wrong) but they have the cross also being taken by King John. The Crowland/Barnwell chronicle also mentions the same events:

  • "In capite Ieiunii rex Londoniis a Willelmo episcopo Londoniensi cruce signatus est, et cum eo vel post eum plures ex familiaribus suis, ipso ad hoc ut ferunt nonnullos instigante, et cruces albas qualis sua erat, sicut et fratris sui vel patris offerente." (The King was signed with the cross at London, on Ash Wednesday (4 March 1215) by William bishop of London, and with him, or after him, many of his associates, very much at his prompting, donning white crosses, like the King's, or like that of his brother or father.)

The Canterbury Annals confirms that Ranulf took the cross:

  • "Iohannes rex Anglie signatus est cruce ante discordiam inter ipsum et barones suos, iiii.to nonas Martii. Cruce quoque signati sunt venerabiles et illustres viri comes Cestrie, comes Ferires, comes Wintonie, constabularius Cestrie et plures tam nobiles quam plebei." (King John of England was signed with the cross before the discord between him and his barons, on 4 March (1215). Also signed with the cross were the worthy and illustrious men, the earl of Chester, the earl Ferrers, the earl of Winchester, the constable of Chester, and others both noblemen and commoners.)

At Runnymede, in June 1215, the King's crusading vows were specifically cited in clauses 52, 53 and 57 of Magna Carta.

Easter 1217 - less than two years after the Magna Carta. The French invaders and the "rebels" hold the shaded area to the East and the castles in green. Ranulf's lands are shown shaded and his castles in yellow. Some other important English castles are shown as well - Dover and Corfe are under seige.

Ranulf was one of the few magnates not to actually witness the initial version of Magna Carta of 1215, probably because clause 50 of the charter was directed against several individuals including Engelard de Cigogne who had fought with Ranulf in France:

  • We will utterly remove from their offices the relatives of Gérard d'Athée, Engelard de Cigogne, Peter and Guy and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogne, Geoffrey de Martigny and his brothers, Philip Marc and his brothers and his nephew Geoffrey, together with all their adherents, so that henceforth they shall have no office in England.

John de Lacy (married to Margaret de Quincy, daughter of Robert de Quincy and niece of Ranulph de Blondeville through her mother Hawise of Chester) was one of twenty-five barons charged with overseeing the observance of Magna Carta. Because he had signed under duress, however, John received approval from the Pope to break his word after signing (and because he had sold the country to the Pope in 1213, he needed the Pope's approval to sign anything), provoking the "First Barons War" and an invited French invasion by Prince Louis of France (whom the English barons had invited to replace John on the throne). Ranulf once again found himself on the minority side of politics: only Ranulf, William Marshal (Earl of Pembroke), William de Ferrers (Earl of Derby) and Henry de Beaumont (Earl of Warwick) stood with the King.

This turned out to be quite profitable to Ranulf. John now started to distribute his own royal castles to those few loyal magnates that could hold them. Ranulf gained Newcastle-under-Lyme and The Peak Castle in 1215 and in 1216 gained Lancaster. In addition he gained Bridgenorth, Richmond and Middleham. In 1215 John also gave to Ranulf all the rebel-held lands in Lincolnshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Northampton, Norfolk and Suffolk. At the same time Ranulf's friends were lining up on the side of the king or, mostly, against him. Some including Saer de Quincy (father-in-law to Ranulf's sister) were persuaded by the rebel cause, while others, like Ranulf, remained loyal to the Crown. Whilst the rebel barons quickly captured Rochester Castle, John was actually at an advantage at the start of the war. He had a pool of money to pay mercenaries with, and he still had the support of several powerful nobles with their own significant forces. The rebels, on the other hand, did not have enough siege equipment required to take John’s many royal castles. By January 1216, John was on the winning foot and numerous rebels had been captured. Desperate to prevail, the remaining barons turned to the French prince Louis for help. Louis was interested in the offer, as it could give him the very appealing throne of England, eventually uniting England and France into one powerful kingdom. Louis landed in Kent in May 1216 and joined up with the barons, whilst John retreated to gather his defences. With Louis’ help, the rebels took control of the south-east and parts of the north of England.

The First Barons War raged on, John travelled around the country to oppose the rebel forces, directing, among other operations, a two-month siege of the rebel-held Rochester Castle. From the patent and close rolls it is clear that John's energy was phenomenal (see: Archaeologia , Volume 60 , Issue 1 , 1906 ) as he travelled ceaslessly with fire and sword. Guala Bicchieri, the new Papal legate, arrived in England in the midst of the baronial rebellion, when the suspension and exile of archbishop Stephen Langton had left the English church without a leader. Bicchieri was a supporter of King John and as the Pope’s representative, played an important role in stabilizing the English church in the aftermath of this civil war and was instrumental in the reissuing of the Magna Carta.

On 17 July 1216 Ranulf and Falkes de Breauté sacked Worcester, which had allied itself with Louis (the sacking included plunder of Worcester Cathedral - John's favoured church). In September 1216 John launched a campaign to retake Suffolk and Norfolk, marching to Cambridge before heading north to relieve a rebel siege of the castle at Lincoln. As John headed back south to King’s Lynn to gather supplies more bad news reached him – Scottish King Alexander II had invaded the north of England and was now heading south to link up with the French. In a desperate hurry John decided to retrace his steps north from King’s Lynn, in order to confront Alexander on his march towards London.

Miniature from a verse chronicle of the kings of England, compiled late in the 13th century, depicts King John being offered a cup of poison.

Avoiding rebels who supported the French invasion, John took a safe route around the marshy area of the Wash to avoid the rebel held area of East Anglia. There are several versions of what happened next as disaster struck. According to one, his slow baggage train (often said to including the Crown Jewels), took a direct route across a creek now named the Wellstream and was lost to the unexpected incoming tide. Other versions differ in detail: as recounted by the chronicler Roger of Wendover:

  • “… in crossing the river Wellester, he lost all his carts, waggons, and baggage horses, together with his money, costly vessels, and everything which he had a particular regard for; for the land opened in the middle of the water and caused whirlpools which sucked in every thing, as well as men and horses, so that no one escaped to tell the king of the misfortune. He himself narrowly escaped with his army”

This loss is often said to have dealt John a terrible blow, which affected his health and state of mind. Succumbing to ever-worsening dysentery and moving from place to place, he stayed one night at Sleaford Castle before dying on 18 October (or possibly 19 October) 1216, at Newark Castle (then in Lincolnshire, now on Nottinghamshire's border with that county). It was a miserable end.

Numerous, possibly fictitious, accounts circulated soon after his death that he had been killed by poisoned ale, poisoned plums or a "surfeit of peaches". According to the chronicler Ralph of Coggeshall, John’s final illness was brought on by gluttony; but rumours soon started to circulate that he had been poisoned by a monk of Swineshead Abbey in Lincolnshire. A miniature is taken from a verse chronicle of the kings of England, compiled late in the 13th century, depicts John being offered a cup of poison: as the accompanying text relates, in Anglo-Norman French:

  • "e fuit enpoysone par une frere de la meson" (he was poisoned by a brother of the house).

John accepts the chalice with a look of suspicion, while the monk’s brethren watch eagerly to see whether the ruse will succeed.

His last wish was that he should be buried in Worcester Cathedral, so recently plundered by Ranulf.

Magna Carta of Chester

The Magna Carta is often described as a unique and early charter of human rights. However, nothing about Magna Carta was unique in either its content or form for 12th–13th century Europe and the Charter has often been misunderstood. Lawyers and historians at the end of the 16th century believed that there was an ancient English constitution, going back to the days of the Anglo-Saxons, that protected individual English freedoms. Research by Victorian historians showed clearly that the original 1215 charter had concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people, but the charter remained a powerful, iconic document, even after almost all of its content was repealed from the statute books in the 19th and 20th centuries. Magna Carta originated as an unsuccessful attempt to achieve peace between royalist and rebel factions in 1215, as part of the events leading to the outbreak of the First Barons' War. Although the kingdom had a robust administrative system, the nature of government under the Angevin monarchs was ill-defined and uncertain. John and his predecessors had ruled using the principle of vis et voluntas, or "force and will", taking executive and sometimes arbitrary decisions, often justified on the basis that a king was above the law. This interpretation of the Charter coloured views of King John as a tyrant and despot. Wiilliam Stubbs (21 June 1825 – 22 April 1901), English historian and Bishop of Chester (1884-1889) would write of John:

  • "...the very worst of all our kings...a faithless son, a treacherous brother...polluted with every crime...false to every obligation...not devoid of natural ability...in the whole view there is no redeeming trait."
No original of the Magna Carta of Cheshire is known to exist, although Randle Holme claimed to have two copies in front of him when he created a transcript: TNA C 66/120 m.22. The text is available from Ormerod and Hemingway and can be found online. The illustration is a copy, dating from the time of Edward I. There is also a later "Inspeximus" of Edward IV.

One problem was that John was prepared to do almost anything to fund his intended reconquest of his Continental losses, and would take any opportunity to extract fees and "taxes". What the Barons wanted was an agreement that these ruinous exactions would be limited. The Magna Carta was not the first document of its kind. The Coronation Charter of Henry I from 1100 has many similar provisions concerning the freedom of the Church, purchase of inheritance, forced marriage, the rights of widows and the rule of law. Whether these earlier Charters actually had any "teeth" has been a matter of debate.

The Runnymede Charter of Liberties did not apply to the shire of Chester, which at the time was a separate feudal domain. At the petitions of his barons, Earl Ranulf set out his own version of the Magna Carta. The similarities between many of the clauses in the Magna Carta of Chester and those in original Magna Carta indicates that it was written after King John issued the latter on 19 June 1215. It was probably written before John's death in October 1216. The Chester charter has only 13 clauses, in contrast to the 60 of Magna Carta and is perhaps best viewed as a negotiated agreement as to the relationship between Ranulf and his barons. Most notably, the Chester version include a provsion that "the Lyme" is a border beyond which Cheshire knights are not obliged to fight and the expectation that the garrisoning of Chester castle should fall primarily upon fees of the honour outside the county. Many phrases in the Cheshire charter are similar to those in Magna Carta and appear to have been adapted directly from it. Clause 1 in the Cheshire charter refers to "pleas of the sword" (exceptis placitis ad gladium meum pertinentibus), similar to Clause One of Magna Carta's "pleas of the Crown". This is consistent with the distinction made by Lucian the Monk in about 1195, who writes that:

  • "Both by royal permission and the virtues of its earls [Cheshire] is accustomed to answer in its assemblies more to the sword of its prince than the crown of the king"

In many ways the Cheshire Charter crystallises the enigma of Ranulf himself and the degree to which Chester was simply the domain of a very powerful Earl or had full independence as a Palatinate. The first real mention of the Palatinate only appears in the 1290's long after the Earldom had been taken over by the Crown.

Little is known about Chester's Magna Carta save for what can be read in the document itself and there is no reference to it in the Annals of the Abbey. It is mentioned in few other documents, especially from its own time. The Charter itself informs us that it was granted at a meeting of the county court in Chester Castle in response to petitions submitted by the Cheshire Barons, some of which the Earl turned down. We know nothing of how it was negotiated, whether it was given freely or Ranulf had to be pressed to grant it. It is possible it was simply a legal formality, or perhaps a clear statement by Ranulf that the Runnymede Charter was not effective in his domain. Ranulf notably did not "sign" the original Magna Carta and it may be he is making a statement that in Cheshire a different or independent Charter would apply. It is also possible that Ranulf could see that the Magna Carta would soon lead to Civil War and therefore wanted something local agreed, especially as regards the military support that he might need to call upon from his Barons.

The main points in the Cheshire Magna Carta are in places difficult to understand, but may be summarised as follows in terms of the legal system, military support of the Earl and management of resources:

  • The Barons may have their own courts to try their own men, free from interference, except for the most serious offences. The men of the Barons can defend themselves in the Barons' courts. The Baron's have the right to send a steward to the county court as a representative. The rights of widows and heirs are protected with limits on "inheritance fees" that the Earl can claim to that which is reasonable.
  • The Barons can choose which strangers even those who are fugitives who have committed offences elsewhere, they take in. These can be used for work or military service. The Earl cannot compell the serfs/fugitives of his Barons to fight, and while the free tennants need to provide for war, they can provide a stand-in. The Barons are required to turn up with their agreed complements, properly equipped. Knights do not have to fight for the Earl outside of Cheshire. In other words, the Earl cannot divert limited resources to his own military ends.
  • In times of peace the Earl will limit the number of his itinerant law enforcing sergeants (who appear to be able to requisition supplies). The Earl's sergeants will not demand a share of the Baron's crops, and a cap is placed on the fines etc. that the Earl's courts can impose. Limited development of the Earl's forest as farmland is permitted and while poaching will be punished collecting firewood is allowed. Baron's can reclaim serfs who move to Chester for up to a year. This again deals with the issue that resources are limited and the Earl should not waste them to the detriment of his Barons.

When Magna Carta was reconfirmed in 1300 by Edward I, the Earldom of Chester had already belonged to the king for 63 years, thus Magna Carta applied to Cheshire. However, the Cheshire charter was also separately confirmed on 30 March 1300.

Henry III

Henry III - obsessed with Edward the Confessor

After John's death in October 1216, the war went on between the forces of the future Louis VIII of France and those of King Henry III of England (John's son, who was then aged 10). Louis was proclaimed King in London in May 1216 at St Paul's cathedral in London. Since other English Kings such as Edward V and Edward VIII were not crowned but only proclaimed, and - more to the point - Louis occupied so much of England and was recognised as king by the barons as well as by the king of Scotland, there is a good case for including Louis VIII in the list of Kings of England. On the other hand, John was still alive at the time Louis was proclaimed king.

William Marshal was at Gloucester when the news of John's death reached him and the History of William Marshal says that he was deeply moved. Marshal rode with Gualo to meet the cortege on its way to Worcester. The funeral was carried out with some pomp, with John even dressed in the black cowl of a Benedictine. Henry's coronation (29th October) with John ten days dead was a simple affair, attended by only a handful of noblemen and three bishops. In the absence of a crown (apparently lost by his father) a simple golden band was placed on the young boy's head. One legend has it that the 'crown' was made in a hurry from a necklace, others that it was a simple circlet.

It was thought briefly that Ranulph (now aged 54) would contend for the regent's role with the 70 year old William Marshal - however Ranulph arrived the day after the coronation and soon stated that he did not want to be regent. There is some suggestion that Ranulf was proposed as a "coadjutor", but his real desire at this point seems to have been to depart on crusade, something which had been delayed by the baronial revolt. In April 1217 legate Gualo had to persuade Ranulf to delay his departure to the middle-east. The Waverley Annalist states that from this point Ranulf wore in public the surcoat of a crusader - a white cross upon a black background.

Now, with John dead, the Barons began to desert the rebel cause. It was time for the fight back. Louis controlled more than half of England, including London and the southeast. He also commande the allegiance of ninety-seven barons, including nineteen of the twenty-seven greatest barons of the realm. Of those who remained loyal to Henry, however, the two greatest magnates Marshal and Ranulf had the ability to turn events to the young king’s favor.

The Second Battle of Lincoln

In March 1217 Ranulf was sent by William Marshal to Mountsorrel to attack it. The castle covered the crossing of the River Soar by a major road and was held by Saher de Quincy.

A relief force was sent by the rebels but by the time it arrived Ranulf had retreated. The relief force headed for Lincoln where the royalists were besieged. Lincoln straddled the crossroads of two important Roman-built highways: Ermine Street and the Fosse Way. These trans-England routes were historic and major arteries for national trade and government, making Lincoln a strategic location. William the Conqueror had ordered the construction of Lincoln Castle on a hilltop over an old Roman fort 150 years earlier. Louis's forces had taken the city of Lincoln, but Lincoln Castle remained intact. Its garrison, commanded by the remarkable female castellan Nicola de la Haie, was loyal to King Henry and continued to defend the important fortification. It had already been under siege in both 1215 and 1216. In 1215, the northern rebels had been paid to go away, while the 1216 besiegers – including the King of Scotland – fled as John’s army advanced on the city.

A modern statue of the remarkable Nicola de la Haie (1150-1230) hereditary constable of Lincoln Castle. She continued to hold the castle until she retired on grounds of old age in 1226.

William Marshal called all nobles holding castles in England to a muster in Newark by the 17th May. Approximately 400 knights, 250 crossbowmen, and a larger auxiliary force of both mounted and foot soldiers were assembled. They were outnumbered by the rebels at Lincoln: half of Louis’ entire army was now outside the gates of Lincoln Castle. The commanders, of the English rebels in the city included Robert FitzWalter and Saer de Quincey, Earl of Winchester. They led over 600 knights and several thousand infantry.

While the young king, Henry III, waited at Nottingham, Marshal’s forces prepared for war. The papal legate, Guala, absolved the Royalist army of all their sins – of all the sins they had committed since their birth – and excommunicated the French forces, before riding to join the king at Nottingham. On the 19th May Marshal’s forces rode from Newark alongside the the River Trent and set up camp at Torksey, about 8 miles to the north of Lincoln, or Stow, depending on the source you read. The English commanders included William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, his son, Young William Marshal, and nephew, John Marshal, in addition to Ranulph, Earl of Chester, William Longspée, earl of Salisbury, Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, and Faulkes de Breauté. The prospects of this motley band of royalists were bleak: they would be heavily outnumbered by the enemy, perhaps by as much as two-to-one, and though Marshal was the finest warrior of the age, at 70 he was entering his dotage. However, Marshal was able to make an inspiring speech, pointing out that only half of the French army was opposing them and Louis was not present:

  • "Hear me, you noble, loyal knights, you who keep faith with the King. In God’s name hear me now, for your attention to what I say is most necessary. Now that we, in order to defend our name, for ourselves and for the sake of our loved ones, our wives and our children, and to defend our land and win for ourselves the highest honour, and to safeguard the peace of Holy Church which our enemies have broken and infringed, and to gain redemption and pardon for all our sins, now that we, for all that, have taken on the burden of armed combat, let us make sure there is no coward amongst us! Some of our enemies have got inside Lincoln, and I know for a fact that the reason they have gone inside is to lay siege to our castle. However, they are not all there. I believe that lord Louis has gone elsewhere. Those who have set out on this mission have been rash in making their assault. We shall be a lily-livered lot if we do not now take revenge on those who have come from France to take for themselves the lands of our men, thinking to inherit the same. They seek our total destruction; so, in God’s name, let us play for the highest stakes, for, if victory is ours, we must truly bear in mind that honour will accrue to us, and that that heritage will be defended, for us and our descendants, which they shamefully wish to deprive us of; we will truly hold on to that, since it is God’s wish that we defend ourselves. And, since their army is divided, we shall more easily overcome a part of their force than if they were all together."

At Lincoln was Thomas Châteaudun, the Count of Perche. He was 21 years old and considered inexperienced by some historians. The History of William the Marshal provides a detailed description of the run-up to the battle and mentions how Bishop Peter des Roches of Winchester - "a man well skilled in warfare" - actually went to reconnoiter the interior of the city accompanied by a single soldier.

The second Battle of Lincoln occurred around the besieged Lincoln Castle on 20 May 1217:

  • mccxvij Capta est Lincolnia a Comite Ranulpho Cestrie et Willelmo Marescallo et ceteris qui cum Rege Johanne [Henrico] tunc temporis tenuerunt in vigilia Sancte Trinitatis. (1217 On the eve of the Holy Trinity [May 20], Lincoln was captured by Randle, earl of Chester, and William Marshal [earl of Pembroke] and others who at this time held with king [Henry]).

The Second Battle of Lincoln was a critical turning point in the war. Many of Henry III's enemies, who had supported Louis with supplies, organisation and command were captured.

A perhaps legendary tale tells of a meeting between Earl Ranulph and the Count of Perche, shortly before the second Battle of Lincoln. Aware that an English force was approaching their position, the Count and a number of his peers had moved forward (near to a church) to watch the arrival of Henry’s vanguard. Spotting the rather short Ranulph, presumably in his black "crusader" robes, the Count of Perche shouted to his companions; “Have we stayed all this time for such a little man, such a dwarf?”

Louis King of England - was not at all happy about the rumours about Richard I and his father (Philip II shown here)..

It was the wrong thing to have said to the somewhat sensitive De Blondeville. Outraged Ranulph replied; “I vow to God and Our Lady whose church this is, that before tomorrow evening, I will seem to thee to be greater and stronger than that church steeple”. The Count of Perche was slain during the ensuing battle, having been stabbed through the eye by Sir Reginald Crocus. There are several variants on this story (see sources below for one) which have the words being exchanged at various places near Lincoln or in the cathedral.

The events of the day are recorded in the "History of William the Marshall":

  • ...and the next day, a Saturday, following mass, they took up their arms and put every effort into preparing themselves. When they were well and truly armed, they organised and duly drew up their squadrons, and formed their battalions. The earl of Chester rode out first, a brave and highly experienced knight, with the earl Marshal next, he and his son side by side, both of them having high expectations of advancing their cause to the best of their ability.

The Earl of Chester rode out first because he had said that of he could not lead the attack he would not be part of it (french text):

  • E quant li cuens de Cestre oï ces moz, point ne s'en esjoï, ainz lor dit pleinnement sanz faille, s'il n'a la premiere bataille, qu'il n'ireit ovec els en l'ost, ne de lui n'avreient acost. (..When the earl of Chester heard these words, he was not one bit pleased, and, indeed, he told them plainly, without mincing words, that, if he was not given the right to launch the first attack, he would not join them in the army)
The Count of Perche getting stabbed through his visor at the Battle of Lincoln (from Matthew Paris).

According to some historians the city of Lincoln was taken without too much effort as Ranulph together with others were let into the city by the inhabitants through a side gate, surprising Louis' supporters and leading to the taking of many prisioners. Various accounts of the battle differ in their details and some of the reported actions of the main players may or may not be true, with William Marshal being so eager to get into the fight that he at first forgot his helmet. Another account reports that in the midst of the melee, William Longespée took a blow from Robert of Roppesley, whose lance broke against the earl. The aged warrior William Marshal then dealt a counter-blow to Roppesley that the knight who, having crawled to a nearby house "out of fear, [he] went to hide in an upper room as quickly as he could".

Some traditions hold that Ranulf entered through the Newport Arch which is a Roman structure and still exists. According to other, more likely true versions, Marshal's main force secured the north gate, while Falkes de Breauté's crossbowmen took up high positions on the rooftops of houses. Volleys of bolts from this high ground rained death, damage and confusion on Perche's forces. Then, in the final blow, Marshal's knights and footsoldiers charged Perche's siege forces. Perche was offered a surrender, but fought to the death as the siege collapsed into a scattered rout. The few French survivors then fled south towards London, but most of the escaped French never made it to their goal, as they were ambushed and massacred by angry villagers along their way.

The city of Lincoln was pillaged by Marshal's victorious army, on the pretence that it was loyal to Louis. The pillage of the city following the battle became known as "Lincoln Fair". According to Roger of Wendover writing in Flores historiarum (Flowers of History):

  • After the battle was thus ended, the king's soldiers found in the city the wagons of the barons and the French, with the sumpter-horses, loaded with baggage, silver vessels, and various kinds of furniture and utensils, all which fell into their possession without opposition. Having then plundered the whole city to the last farthing, they next pillaged the churches throughout the city, and broke open the chests and storerooms with axes and hammers, seizing on the gold and silver in them, clothes of all colours, women's ornaments, gold rings, goblets, and jewels. Nor did the cathedral church escape this destruction, but underwent the same punishment as the rest, for the legate had given orders to the knights to treat all the clergy as excommunicated men, inasmuch as they had been enemies to the church of Rome and to the king of England from the commencement of the war; Geoffrey de Drepinges, precentor of this church, lost eleven thousand marks of silver. When they had thus seized on every kind of property, so that nothing remained in any corner of the houses, they each returned to their lords as rich men, and peace with king Henry having been declared by all throughout the city, they ate and drank amidst mirth and festivity.
Equestrian seal of Ranulph as Earl of Chester and Lincoln showing three garbs.

Having been defeated at Lincoln, and having lost half of his forces, Prince Louis raised his siege of Dover Castle and retired to London. Signalling his willingness to negotiate an end to the struggle, he agreed to meet at Brentford with adherents of the boy-king Henry III of England. The victor of Lincoln, William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke and Louis came close to an agreement. However, in order to pardon the bishops who had gone over to Louis' cause, Pope Honorius III's acquiescence was required. Since this was not possible without a long journey to Rome, the negotiations broke down. Meanwhile, French reinforcements, under the command of Eustace the Monk, were then sent across the English Channel to bolster Louis's forces. However, the barons increasingly switched their allegiance to the new king, and were preparing to besiege Louis in London when the war was terminated by the naval victory of Hubert de Burgh over Louis' supply fleet under Eustace the Monk in the straits of Dover at the Battle of Sandwich (24 August 1217). This defeat greatly reduced the French threat to the English crown.

Louis was forced to give up his claim and sign the Treaty of Lambeth in 1217. A few of Henry's supporters held out for unconditional surrender, but the Earl of Pembroke successfully argued for more moderate terms. In return for Henry III's pardon, the rebel barons who had joined Louis were made to pay the French prince 10,000 marks to expedite his withdrawal. Marshal was probably also worried that if Louis were captured and ransomed, his father King Philip would seize the Marshal lands in Normandy. Thus, Marshal’s concern for the inheritance of his many children led him to look after his own interests instead of Henry’s.

On 23rd May 1217, just a few days after the Battle of Lincoln, Ranulf was confirmed as Earl of Lincoln by the King's council. His first act was to have Mountsorrel "a nest of the Devil and den of thieves and robbers" razed to the ground. It was never rebuilt. Today Montsorrel is a rather forlorn granite crag topped by a 1926 WW1 memorial.


In 1218, de Blondeville (now aged 46) decided to honour the crusading vow he had taken three years previously, and journeyed eastwards as part of the Fifth Crusade. The Annales Cestrienses records that before his departure he made peace with the Welsh:

  • mccxviij Pacificati sunt dominus Ranulphus comes Cestrie et Lewelinus princeps Wallie, et in Septimana Pentecostes proxima profectus est dominus Rannulphus comes Cestrie Jerosolimam. (1218 Peace was made between the lord Randle, earl of Chester, and Llewelin, prince of Wales, and in the following Whit Week [June 3-9] the lord Randle, earl of Chester, set out for Jerusalem.)

Ranulph met up with the Counts of Nevers (Hervé IV of Donzy) and La Marche in Genoa, accompanied by the Earls of Derby, Arundel and Winchester. During preparations for the Crusade in 1217, it was decided that Damietta should be the focus of attack as control of Damietta meant control of the Nile, and from there the crusaders believed they would be able to conquer Egypt, attack Palestine and recapture Jerusalem. His journeys are detailed by the Elizabethan writer Richard Hakluyt in "The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation":

  • In the yeere 1218, Ranulph earle of Chester was sent into the Holy land by king Henry the third with a goodly company of souldiers and men of warre, to ayde the Christians there against the Infidels, which at the same time had besieged the city of Damiata in Egypt. In which enterprise the valiancy of the same earle after his comming thither was to his great praise most apparent There went with him in that iourney Saer de Quincy earle of Winchester, William de Albanie earle of Arundel, besides diuers barons, as the lord Robert fitz Walter, Iohn constable of Chester, William de Harecourt, and Oliuer fitz Roy sonne to the king of England, and diuers others.

As noted, also present at the Siege of Damietta was John de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln - the hereditary Constable of Chester and 8th Baron of Halton. He was the son of the Roger who had supposedly marched "vagrants" to Rhuddlan and rescued Ranulph, and he was later to be buried at Stanlow Abbey at the mouth of the Gowy. John had been a rebel during the recent Civil War and by some accounts had been one of the few who had not been captured at Lincoln. Soden suggests that Ranulf may personally have let him escape either due to their long association or as any financial penalty on John would also fall in part on Ranulf.

Matthew Paris illustration of the assault on Damietta.

Due to famine and disease after the Nile failed to flood, Melek al-Kamil could not defend Damietta. During September 1219, Sultan al-Kamil, offered the Crusaders peace on startling terms – Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem and central Palastine and Galilee, so long as the Crusaders gave up their war in Egypt. Earl Ranulph was one of the voices in support of taking the offer. However, Pelagio Galvani (the Papal legate), the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the military orders would have none of it. Surprisingly, Ranulf would have been in Egypt at the same time as Francis of Assisi, who actually played a part in the battle. Crossing the lines between the sultan and the Crusaders in Damietta, Francis was received by el-Kamel and challenged his Muslim scholars to a test of true religion by fire - Francis proposed to enter the fire first, under the condition that if he left it unharmed, the sultan would recognize Christ as the true God, the sultan was so impressed that he allowed Francis to preach to his subjects. Although Francis did not succeed in converting the sultan, the last words of the sultan to Francis were, according to Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre, in his book "Historia occidentalis, De Ordine et praedicatione Fratrum Minorum (1221)" : “Pray for me that God may deign to reveal to me that law and faith which is most pleasing to him.” Negotiations broke down completely when the crusaders finally refused all offers and on November 5 they found the walls of Damietta poorly manned, so they attacked and secured the city.

Earl Ranulf left Damietta in September of 1220, leaving behind an indecisive force under the command of Bishop Pelagius and the Military Orders. He returned to England to find, William Marshal dead and the Regency effectively in the hands of the same Hubert de Burgh who had been (for a time) the jailer of his long dead stepson Arthur. The formal regent was the Popes legate Pandulph Masca, but in effect, while Pandulph interfered in every department of the administration, Hubert de Burgh and the bishop Peter des Roches were in charge of the country. The two were enemies. After Marshal's death in 1219 Peter led the baronial opposition to Hubert de Burgh, with varying success.

Perhaps Ranulf had some difficulty with landing on his return from the crusades because in 1220 he is said to have had the "Everton Beacon" erected, it was used for many centuries as a navigational guide (and used as a gaol in its later years). Although the survival of the original beacon is disputed, it is possible that a beacon stood on the site for nearly six hundred years. What was probably a later beacon and an apparently flimdy structure was once located on the present site of St George Church, it fell in a storm of 1803. It is not the tower on the Everton football club's crest 'The Beacon', or 'The Tower', which has been inextricably linked with the Everton area since it's construction in 1787. Originally used as a bridewell to incarcerate criminals, that tower still stands today on Everton Brow in Netherfield Road.

Hakluyt (see his Volume 8) also suggests that Ranulf may have written at least one book:

  • Ranulphus Glanuile Cestriæ Comes, vir nobilissimi generis, et vtroque iure eruditus, in albo illustrium virorum à me meritò ponendus venit. Ita probè omnes adolescentiæ suæ annos legibus tum humanis tum diuinis consecrauit, vt non prius in hominem pet ætatem euaserit, quàm nomen decúsque ab insigni eruditione sibi comparauerit. Cum profecti essent Francorum Heroes Ptolemaidem, inito cum Ioanne Brenno Hierosolymorum rege concilio, Damiatam Ægypti vrbem obsidendam constituebant, anno salutis humanæ 1218. Misit illùc Henricus rex, ab Honorio 3 Rom. Pontifice rogatus, cum magna armatorum manu Ranulphum, ad rem Christianum iuuandam. Cuius virtus, Polydoro teste, in eo bello miris omnium laudibus celebrata fuit. Quo confecto negotio, Ranulphus in patriam reuersus, scripsit, De legibus Angliæ librum vnum. Fertur præterea, et alia quædam scripsisse, sed tempus edax rerum, ea nobis abstulit. Claruit anno à Seruatoris nostri natiuitate 1230 confectus senio, dum Henricus tertius sub Antichristi tyrannide in Anglia regnaret. (Ranulph Granuile earle of Chester, a man of a very noble house, and learned in both the Lawes, deserues of deutie to be here placed by me in the catalogue of woorthy and notable men. He applied so well all the yeeres of his youth to the study of humane and diuine Lawes, that he came not so soone to the age of a man, as he had purchased to himselfe by reason of his singular learning, renowme and honour. When the noble men of France went to Ptolomais, vpon the counsell of Iohn Brenne king of Ierusalem, they resolued to besiege Damiata a city of Egypt, in the yeere 1218. And then Henry the king vpon the motion of Honorius the third, bishop of Rome, sent thither this earle Ranulph with a great power of armed souldiers, to further the enterprise of the Christians: whose valure in that warre (by the testimonie of Polidor Virgil) was marueilously commended of all men. After the end of which businesse, he being returned into his countrey, wrote a booke of the lawes of England. It is also reported that he wrote other books, but time the destroyer of many memorials, hath taken them from vs. He flourished in the yeere after the natiuity of Christ 1230, being very aged, and in the reigne of K. Henry the third.)

Meanwhile the fifth crusade went badly wrong. By now Al-Kamil was able to ally with the other Ayyubids in Syria, who had defeated Keykavus I. In 1221 the crusader march to Cairo was disastrous; the river Nile flooded ahead of them, stopping the crusader advance. A dry canal that was previously crossed by the crusaders flooded, thus blocking the crusader army's retreat. With supplies dwindling, a forced retreat began, culminating in a night time attack by Al-Kamil which resulted in a great number of crusader losses and eventually in the surrender of the army under Pelagius.

Stephen de Segrave had estates in Seagrave (Leicestershire), Chilcotes (Derbyshire) and Alkmunbury. He was born in 1176, at Seagrave, and was a retainer of Ranulph de Blundeville, whom he accompanied on crusade to the Holy Land. On their return, Ranulph granted Stephen the castle of Caludon, at the grand rent of one Sparrowhawk per year.

Relations with the Welsh - and Beeston Castle

On a clear day, Beeston Castle can be seen from the City Walls of Chester (but is best photograped with a long lens).

After his return from the Crusade, Randulph was evidently enjoying good relations with the Welsh:

  • mccxx Rediit dominus Rannulphus comes Cestrie de Damata venitque Cestriam in crastino Assumpcionis receptus cum maxima veneratione tam cleri quam plebis. Lewelinus etiam princeps Wallie venit ad eum eodem die, cui dominus Rannulphus comes in . . . (1220 The lord Randle, earl of Chester, returned from Damietta, and came to Chester on the morrow of the Assumption [of the Blessed Virgin, August 16]. He was received with the greatest veneration as well by the clergy as the laity. Also Llewelin, prince of Wales, came to him the same day, to whom the lord Randle, earl . . .)

Curiously, this passage of the Annales Cestrienses is unfinished. While the space exists for more words they were never added. However a few lines further on in the Annales we see further evidence of good relations.

  • mccxxij Johannes filius comitis David duxit in uxorem filiam Lewelini pro finali concordia inter ipsum et comitem Cestrie. (1222 John, son of earl David [of Huntingdon], took to wife the daughter of Llewelin, for the purpose of effecting a lasting peace between himself and the earl of Chester.)

John, who was around 15 at the time, is Ranulf's nephew, being the son of Ranulf's sister Maud of Chester. On 26 August 1190, she married David of Scotland, 8th Earl of Huntingdon, a Scottish prince, son of Henry of Scotland, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, and a younger brother of Malcolm IV of Scotland and William I of Scotland. He was almost thirty years Matilda's senior. Their son John was born in c.1207. When David died in June 1219 leaving the young John as a minor Ranulf had just set out for the Crusade. During his minority the custody of the Eardom of Huntingdon was given to the king of Scotland (Alexander II of Scotland), who granted it to Ranulf, John's uncle, when Ranulf returned from Crusade in 1220. John probably came of age in 1227. He would succeed to the Earldom of Chester at the age of 25.

Ranulf may well have shown an interest in castles during his trip of the middle east upon his return he raised taxes and started a program of castle building. Bolingbroke Castle was constructed by Ranulf around 1220-30, the earliest written references to it being in 1232 and 1243. On Randulph's death the castle passed to his niece's husband, John de Lacy, who later also became Earl of Lincoln. On his death the castle became the property of his daughter Alice and her husband, Earl Thomas of Lancaster. Thomas was executed in 1322 and once Alice died in 1348, there was no immediate heir so Bolingbroke became the property of her first husband's brother Henry of Grosmont. Thomas and Henry were sons of Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster (1245–1296); the second son of King Henry III (ruled 1216–1272) and younger brother of King Edward I of England (ruled 1272–1307). Earl Henry's daughter Blanche married John of Gaunt in 1359, who thus joined the Lancastrian family, becoming 1st Duke of Lancaster. He and Blanche lived at the castle in the 1360s and 70s, although she sadly died there of the plague on 12 September 1369, age 24. John was a very wealthy and powerful figure and was loyal to his nephew Richard II. This secured many favours including permission to finally marry his beloved mistress Katherine Swinford, just three years before his death and giving legitimacy to their four children. Katherine's tomb is in Lincoln Cathedral.

John and Blanche's son Henry - later King Henry IV - was born at Bolingbroke Castle in 1366.

In 1220 Ranulph built a magnificent edifice of mortared stone with a circular keep defended by a curtain wall at Chartley Castle in Staffordshire whose outer work incorporates two massive half-towers which still stand in a ruinous, but impressive, state. Chartley may have been started by an earlier earl, but much later, in 1585, was one of the last places of imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots and may be a location for part of the so-called Babington plot. What came after Chartley was even more spectacular. In 1225 Ranulf had work started on Beeston Castle which still perches on a rocky crag 150 m above the Cheshire plain. Notably, none of these castles face Wales - indicating that Ranulph felt that he had little to fear from that direction. There is no clear military reason why Ranulf should have built a castle at Beeston. It has been suggested that the castle was a political statement showing the king how powerful Ranulf was - but it should be remembered that in 1225 Henry III was only 18 years old and the country was ruled by regents until 1227. While not formally regent, Hubert de Burgh - who may be considered an enemy of Ranulf - was effectively regent and would remain powerful until 1232 when the plots of de Burgh's enemies finally succeeded and he was removed from office (and, indeed, soon was in prison). Ranulf’s reputation following his successful leadership during the Crusade was at an all-time high, but his influence was at an all-time low and he was possibly considered a threat to royal authority.

Beeston featured many innovations. Instead of protecting an established location it was built in the best defensive position. It did not have a keep, but made use of a solid gatehouse instead. Towers are round and projecting to protect them against siege engines allow raking fire along the castle walls. Many of these improvements had been used in the crusader castles such as Krak and it is likely that Ranulf brought many of his idea's back from the fifth crusade. Neither Ranulf, nor his successor would complete the castle.

The Other Castles

Beeston Castle around 1950.

A full list of Ranulf's English castles includes:

- Inherited:

Chester Castle (1189-1232) - de Lacy hereditary garrison;
Coventry Castle (1189-1232);
Oversleyford - Masci hereditary garrison;
Pulford - Pulford hereditary garrison;;

- Obtained as "gifts" from King John:

Newcastle-under-Lyme Castle (1214-1224);
The Peak Castle (1215-1224);
Lancaster Castle (1216-1224);
Richmond Castle (1216-1218);
Bridgenorth Castle (1216-1224);
Shrewsbury Castle (1216-1224);
West Derby Castle (1216-1224);
Fotheringhay Castle (1220-1221);
Mountsorrel Castle (1217);
Wallingford Castle (1217-1224);

- Built or renewed ~1225:

Beeston Castle (1225-1232);
Chartley Castle (1189-(rebuilt 1225)-1232);
Bolingbroke Castle (1198-(rebuilt 1225)-1232);

The loss of castles in 1224 and the rash of castle building/renewal around 1225 is conspicuous. Henry's mother was unable to establish a role for herself in the regency government and she returned to France in 1217, marrying Hugh de Lusignan, a powerful Poitevin noble. By the end of 1217 many former rebels were routinely ignoring instructions from the centre, and even Henry's loyalist supporters jealously maintained their independent control over once royal castles dispersed by King John. William Marshal fell ill and died in April 1219. The replacement government was formed around a grouping of three senior ministers: Pandulf Masca, the replacement Papal legate; Bishop Peter des Roches; and Hubert de Burgh. Hubert and des Roches were political rivals, with Hubert supported by a network of English barons, and des Roches backed by nobles from the royal territories in Poitou and Touraine. In 1121, Ranulf had argued with his old enemy Hubert de Burgh at Winchester, and the Archbishop of Canterbury had threatened to excommunicate both. Hubert also moved decisively against des Roches in 1221, accusing him of treason and removing him as the King's guardian; the Bishop left England for the crusades. Pandulf was recalled by Rome the same year, leaving Hubert as the dominant force in Henry's government. There was civil unrest in 1222 with riots in London, and this was put down rather savagely by Falkes de Breauté and Philip de Albini. In April 1223 Pope Honorius III wrote a letter to selected English nobles (including Ranulf) stating that in his view Henry III was now, at 17, old enough to rule the country himself. Henry was not yet married (his future wife, Eleanor of Provence, was only born in 1223 and he wouldn't marry her until she was 12) - Henry's brother Richard was 15.


King John had distributed castles to his supporters at the outbreak of the Civil War during which he would die. Some of these were already in land occupied by the revolters which John undoubtedly saw as an encouragement for them to be recaptured. Following the death of William Marshal in 1219, Hubert de Burgh took over the reins of government, alongside the young king’s tutor, Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, and the papal legate, Pandulf. This central government, however, was weakened by the fact the castles, manors and sheriffdoms of the realm were held by those who had served King John in the Civil War, and who claimed they could not be removed from their positions until Henry III reached his majority. Many of these Lords, including Ranulf, had played important parts in the Baron's War These same lords were siphoning off revenue that should have gone to the treasury, further weakening the authority of the crown. It was only when the king reached his majority at the end of 1223 that de Burgh could dismiss many of the sheriffs and castellans. However, this resulted in a bitter power struggle that was to last for the next decade, and would eventually lead to Hubert de Burgh’s political downfall, arrest and imprisonment.

Illustration of the aftermath of the siege of Bedford Castle, from which the entire surviving garrison were hung. The coat of arms on the gallows, as depicted by Matthew Paris (died 1259) in his Chronica Majora (folio 64/68 verso), was Gules, a cinquefoil argent.

Between 1220 and 1223, Hubert de Burgh recovered some royal lands and offices, and Ranulf was also instructed to yield his castles to the crown. Ranulf, Gilbert of Gloucester and the Count of Aumale were all said to have "strongly and futilely objected, unable even to speak with the King". The building of Beeston Castle could well have arisen as part of a careful, but hasty, consolidation of property and lands, as well as a show of strength in reaction to these developing political events. This could be supported by the fact that the earl did not attest any royal charters between 23 October 1223 and 25 February 1224, and by his apparent withdrawal from national politics from January 1224 until the summer of 1227.

In 1223 Llywelyn invaded Shropshire and captured Whittington Castle. Ranulf acted as mediator between the Welsh and English rulers at Ludlow and managed to broker a peace cemented in part by the marriage of his heir, John Canmore to Elen ferch Llywelyn, daughter of Llywelyn.

Then Pope Honorius III's letter arrived, declaring that in his eyes Henry III had come of age and recalling Pandulf Verraccio (some sources have Pandulph being recalled earlier). Seizing the initiative, Hubert demanded that several royal castles were handed back to the King and, with strife breaking out once more, the disaffected Barons marched on London in November 1223, led by Ranulf. Among their number were the former French landowners who had lost out under John and who had been singled out in the Magna Carta. The rebels included Engelard de Cigogne, John de Lacy, Falkes de Breauté and Philip Marc - all close to Ranulf. Hubert and the young king fled London to Gloucester.

Ranulf could have sparked a full scale revolt. He was the most powerful baron in England and the forces at his disposal were enough to fight a civil war. However the king had a marginally larger force and Ranulf backed-down. He was also threatened with excommunication by Archbishop Langton. The price of surrender was high - Ranulf and his following did peacefully and loyally surrender their royal castles and custodies to the king, being careful not to annoy de Burgh, and after being assured that the royal policy would apply to all and respect everyone’s interests. Thus Ranulf lost Shrewbury, Bridgenorth and Lancaster.

Another man whose standing had lost a great deal due to the royal castles crisis was Falkes de Breaute (with whom Ranulf had sacked Worcester). Falkes had been a close ally of Hubert’s ever since the days of the Barons’ War, but was from a family with little land of their own. For this reason, it is understandable that Falkes was bitter after he lost nearly everything he had when he was forced to give back all the royal lands he held. This bitterness, combined with a string of judgments to his detriment in the royal courts, pushed Falkes to rebellion. By June 1224, he was declared an outlaw. This prompted Falkes’ brother, William, to kidnap a royal justice and hold him hostage at Bedford Castle. Hubert and the king promptly laid siege to the well-provisioned castle, a process which took upwards of two months. When the castle was finally taken, William de Breaute and 80 of his accomplices were duly executed. Soon after, Falkes surrendered himself and was exiled to the continent, where he died two years later, allegedly from a poisoned fish.

French Wars and Trouble in Wales

In 1223 Pope Honorius III allowed Henry III to be declared of age for certain limited purposes. By 1225 had recovered Gascony - the taxation which made this expedition possible was "a fifteenth" on movable property and raised some £40,000 - far more than the taxes of 1217 and 1220 (which show how royal power was weaker in those earlier years). The Gascons apparently welcomed the invasion - with Poitou still in French hands it gave the Gascons access to the lucrative English wine market with little competition. The Gascon wine trade would later become significant in Chester (see: Merchant Adventurers).

After the death of King John, some of the young Henry’s supporters had re-issued the Magna Carta in the king’s name (in 1216 and 1217). 1225 saw another re-issue of the Magna Carta. This became the definitive version of Magna Carta, and it was issued by Henry III in his own name.

In January 1227 Henry declared himself of full age and commenced to attempt to regain more of the overseas French possessions that had been lost. Henry planned to invade France in 1229 but it was discovered then that the army which gathered at Portsmouth was much smaller than had been anticipated. The country still lacked stomach for a resumption of the costly French wars. But meager though the army was, it was found that the vessels gathered to transport it were not numerous enough for the task. It was, in fact, a sorry fiasco. Henry was certain the miscalculation had been deliberate, particularly when it was reported to him that some of the casks which were supposed to contain funds for the campaign were filled instead with stones and sand. Henry blamed the failures due to corruption on the part of Hubert de Burgh and threatened to spill his blood on the spot. The Earl of Chester, who was one of the few leaders with something to gain if Normandy came back to the English Crown and who therefore favored intervention, was wise enough in spite of that to interfere. He placed himself between the two men and persuaded the King that Hubert was not to blame.

Later in 1227 the ageing Ranulf (he was now 55) was back in court politics as an arbitrator in a dispute between King Henry III and his younger brother Richard, the Duke of Cornwall. Richard had seized a Cornwall manor granted to a certain Waleran by King John and refused to return it, demanding that the matter should be resolved by the magnates, including Ranulph. Ranulph upheld Richard's claim, forcing the king to back down.

Henry III sails to invade France in 1230 as depicted by Mathew Paris. With Henry on the expedition were the c60 year old Ranulf and the young Simon de Montfort, then about 22.

By 1230 with the deficiencies restored Henry III was invading France and sailed for Saint-Malo with an invading force. He was accompanied by the earl of Chester (now approaching 60) and Willam Marshal (son of the regent of the same name). Also with them was the young Simon de Montfort, Ranulf's nephew John Canmore, the King's brother Richard of Cornwall the Earls Albermarle, Ferrers and Kent, and John de Lacy. The Annales Cestrienses gives the following details:

  • mccxxx Circa festum Sancti Hylarii Henricus rex Anglie et omnis exercitus anglie convenerunt apud Portesmue ut transfretarent. Sed habito consilio remanserunt ad festum apostolorum Philippi et Jacobi transfretavit Henricus rex Anglie cum exercitu suo ad partes transmarinas. Reddita est etiam Rannulpho Cestrie terra sua de Sancto Jacobo super Boverum. Rex autem circa festum Sancti Michael reversus est in Angliam relicto ibi Rannulpho comite Cestrie et Willelmo Marescallo cum paucis. Item Willelmus de Breaus inculpatus est a Lewelino principe Wallie de uxore sua, et suspenditur. Et mulier carcerata custodia diu. (1230 About the feast of S. Hilary [January 13] Henry [III.], king of England, and the whole army of England, assembled at Portsmouth in order to cross the Channel. But, having taken counsel, they remained until the feast of S. Philip and S. James the Apostles, [May 1], when Henry, king of England, with his army, crossed to the parts beyond the seas [to S. Malo]. There was restored to Randle, earl of Chester, his territory of S. James de Beuvron. But about Michaelmas the king returned into England, having left [in Brittany] Randle, earl of Chester, and William Marshal [earl of Pembroke], with a few [soldiers]. Also William de Braose was charged by Llewelin, prince of Wales, with adultery with his wife, and was hanged. And the woman was imprisoned for a long time.)

The English did not seek battle with the French, did not invade the Duchy of Normandy and marched south to the County of Poitou where Ranulf took the castle of Mirebeau and laid seige to Verdun. The campaign on the continent ended in a fiasco, Henry made a truce with Louis IX of France and returned to England, landing at Portsmouth on 27 October 1230, having left a small force under Peter de Dreux, Duke of Brittany and Ranulf de Blondeville. The failure of the campaign led to the dismissal of Hubert de Burgh, as Justiciar. Ranulf returned to England in July 1231, and at once sought out the king who was at Painscastle near Hay on Wye. The castle was being rebuilt in stone by King Henry III of England and Hubert de Burgh, as part of a campaign against Llywelyn the Great of Wales.

  • mccxxxj Obiit Willelmus Marescallus. Lewelinus princeps Wallye recepit uxorem suam filiam Johannis Regis quam antea incarceravit. Orta est werra inter Henricum Regem filium Johannis et Lewelinum in partes Suth Wallye. In qua werra dictus Henricus rex firmavit castellum payn ubi venit ad eum nobilis vir ille Rannulphus Comes Cestrie et Lyncolyn de sancto Jacobo de Boverum capta prius treuga trium annorum a Rege Gallie in transmarinis. Orta est quedam discordia inter regem Anglie et ipsum Rannulphum Comitem Cestrie apud predictum castellum pain quare a rege discessit iratus. Et sic apud Cestriam venit in vigilia Octavarum assumpcionis mandatus autem a domino Rege per Stephanum de Sagreve venit ad eum. Obiit Ricardus archiepiscopus Cantuarie in transmarinis. (1231 William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, died. Llewelin, prince of Wales took back his wife, the daughter of king John, whom he had formerly imprisoned. War arose between king Henry [III.], son of John, and Llewelin in the parts of South Wales. In the course of this war the said king Henry strengthened the castle of Pain, where there came to him that noble person Randle, earl of Chester and Lincoln from S. James de Beuvron, having before accepted a truce of three years from the king of France in the parts beyond seas. A certain quarrel arose between the king of England and this same Randle, earl of Chester, at the afore- said castle of Pain, wherefore he departed from the king in a rage. And thus he came to Chester on the eve of the octave of the Assumption [August 21]. But by the command of our lord the king, [given] through Stephen de Segrave, he returned to the king. Richard, archbishop of Canterbury, died beyond seas [at S. Gemma or Gemine, between Todi and Narni, in Italy].)

Just what the quarrel was is not clear. However it could have been:

  • Something to do with William de Braose who was married to Eva Marshal (the daughter of William Marshal), and who's daughter Isabella de Braose was married to Llywelyn's only legitimate son Dafydd ap Llywelyn. Well connected though he was, William found time (in 1230) to be caught in bed with Joan the wife of Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Wales and the illegitimate daughter of king John (hence king Henry's half sister) and the one mentioned in the Annales. William de Braose was excecuted by Llewellyn ap Iorwerth at Garth Celyn. William was the grandson of the William de Braose who had been the jailer of Ranulf's long dead step-son, Arthur of Brittany;
  • Something to do with Hubert de Burgh - he was with the King at Painscastle. After John captured Arthur of Brittany, niece Eleanor and their allies in 1202, de Burgh had been made another one of their jailors. After the death of William Marshal in 1219, Hubert de Burgh effectively became regent of England. When Henry III came of age in 1227 de Burgh was made lord of Montgomery Castle in the Welsh Marches and Earl of Kent. de Burgh had been involved in the transfer of some manors in Leicestershire and had failed to consult Ranulf. Also, Hubert de Burgh's nephew Richard de Burgh had arrested some of Ranulf's merchants in Ireland. Further Llywelyn was becoming concerned about the growing power of Hubert de Burgh. Some of his men had been taken prisoner by the garrison of Montgomery and beheaded, and Llywelyn responded by burning Montgomery, Powys, New Radnor, Hay and Brecon before turning west to capture the castles of Neath and Kidwelly. He completed the campaign by recapturing Cardigan castle. King Henry retaliated by launching an invasion and built the new castle at Painscastle, but was unable to penetrate far into Wales.
The relation between Ranulf and the de Montforts. Ranulf is the nephew of Simon IV and he married Amicia. In 1204, Robert, the earl of Leicester, died without issue, and Amicia and her sister Margaret stood to inherit his earldom. It was her son Simon (V), just returned from the Fourth Crusade, who went to England in 1206 to claim her half of it plus the title. King John granted it to him and Simon (V) de Montfort became the fifth earl of Leicester. However, John then turned around and confiscated it from him because of unpaid debts, presumably some outrageously high "inheritance tax" that Simon refused to pay for taking possession of the earldom. Within three years Simon (V) was in command of the Albigensian Crusade, and in 1215 Pope Innocent III urged his new vassal King John to return Leicester to Simon. John committed the earldom to the custody of Simon’s cousin Ranulf, the earl of Chester. Simon (V) was killed outside Toulouse in 1218. In 1220 the Council ruling England during the minority of Henry III had formally confirmed Ranulf in the possessions and earldom of Leicester. Simon's son Amaury (VII) petitioned Henry III for the earldom, but Amaury was a French peer and constable of France: too much conflict of interest. In 1230 Amaury’s younger brother Simon (VI) went to England and made the petition for himself. Henry’s reply was "talk to Ranulf". Ranulf had no children and he was already the earl of Chester and Lincoln, so he agreed. Simon agreed to give him £200 for his quitclaim. This was on top of the £500 he agreed to give Amaury as well as the other family lands in France.
  • Something to do with the de Montforts. As noted above, Ranulf was related to the de Montfort's of Leicester through his mother Bertrade de Montfort who was the sister of Simon (VI). The mother of Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester (father of the rather more famous Sixth earl), Amicia, was the eldest daughter of Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester. After the death of her brother Robert de Beaumont, 4th Earl of Leicester without children in 1204, Amicia inherited half of his estates, and a claim to the Earldom of Leicester. The division of the estates was effected early in 1207, by which the rights to the earldom were assigned to Amicia and Simon (V). However, King John took possession of the lands himself in February 1207, and confiscated its revenues. Later, in 1215, when John was desperate for support, the lands were passed into the hands of Ranulf who was Simon (IV)'s nephew. Simon's grandson (and Ranulf's cousin), the better known Simon de Montfort (1208-65), was much influenced by Ranulf after the elder Simon died in 1218: at the seige of Toulouse. In 1230 Simon petitioned Ranulf for the grant of the Honour of Leicester and this was duly granted to him. It has even been suggested that Ranulf's attitude towards the young Simon was that of an almost adoptive father with no children of his own.

The de Montfort angle is interesting because of what happened later in Simon's life. The reign of Henry III is most remembered for this period of civil strife which was provoked ostensibly by Henry III's demands for extra finances, but marked a more general dissatisfaction with Henry's methods of government on the part of the English barons, discontent which was exacerbated by widespread famine. The famine became worse when, somewhere in the tropics, a volcano exploded violently producing a massive stratospheric aerosol veil that eventually blanketed the globe (Arctic and Antarctic ice cores suggest that this was the world's largest volcanic eruption of the past millennium). According to contemporary chronicles, the stratospheric dry fog manifested itself in Europe as a persistently cloudy aspect of the sky and also through a total darkening of the eclipsed Moon. The frequent cold and rain that year led to severe crop damage and famine throughout much of Europe and pestilence repeatedly broke out in 1258.

Simon de Montfort became leader of those who wanted to reassert Magna Carta and force the Henry III to surrender more power to the baronial council. In mid 1258, seven leading barons forced Henry to agree to the Provisions of Oxford, which effectively abolished the absolutist Anglo-Norman monarchy, giving power to a council of fifteen barons to deal with the business of government and providing for a thrice-yearly meeting of parliament to monitor their performance. This eventually led to the Second Baron's War in which the charismatic de Montfort and his forces had captured most of southeastern England by 1263, and at the Battle of Lewes on 14 May 1264, defeated Henry and reduced him to a figurehead king. In 1264, de Montfort became Earl of Chester - given that the King and his son (later Edward I) were in captivity at the time it would appear that the earldom was not given freely. The Annals of Chester record it as follows:

Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, was briefly Earl of Chester
  • Post festum Omnium Sanctorum Henricus rex Anglie et Edwardus primogenitus ejus concesserunt Simoni de Monteforti, Comiti Leycestric et heredibus suis Cestriam cum toto comitatu et castellum. Novum castellum-sub-lima. Et castellum de Peck cum omnibus honoribus et pertinentiis Jure perpetuo possidenda pro aliis terris quas Simon comes in diversis Anglie locis predicto Edwardo in excambium dedit. (After the feast of All Saints [November 1], Henry, king of England, and Edward, his eldest son, granted to Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, and his heirs, Chester, with the whole county and the castle, Newcastle-under-Lyme, and the Peak castle [in Derbyshire] with all their honours and appurtenances, to be held in perpetuity for other lands in different parts of England, which the aforesaid earl Simon gave in exchange to the aforesaid Edward.)

Simon's success did not last. A royalist comeback led by the future Edward I defeated de Montfort in 1265 at Evesham. Simon's body was mutilated; with his head, hands, feet and testicles being cut off. Legend has it that the fatal blow came from Roger Mortimer. It is said that after the battle Mortimer was awarded Montfort's severed head and "other parts of his anatomy", which he sent home to Wigmore Castle as a gift for his wife, Maud de Braose, Lady Mortimer (daughter of William de Braose).

Perhaps Ranulf could already sense rebellion in the young Simon, for a condition of the transfer of Leicester was that Simon would pay homage to Henry III when Simon and Ranulf returned from France. Simon did homage to Henry III in 1231, though he was not formally styled earl of Leicester until April 1239.

Death and Taxes

"Edward Price of Wales Receiving Homage: First Royal Earl Of Chester AD 1254" - Edward is standing in the middle and would not actually be born for another 30 years. In 1254 his father only married his mother Eleanor of Castile and did not become Edward I until 19 August 1274

At their peak a large part of Ranulf's lands were roughly co-incident with the extent of the core of Mercia. Ranulf is therefore in many ways the inheritor of Leofric and the Anglo-Saxon earls. Interestingly, at the time of the rebellion of large parts of England at the end of the reign of John, those parts of the country that favoured France were largely co-terminous with the area occupied by the Danes during the time of Alfred, with the "loyal" area in the South-west roughly corresponding to Wessex.

Ranulph strenuously resisted the imposition of a tax by Pope Gregory IX of a tenth of the revenues of the clergy and "one tenth part of the movables of England". This had been imposed in order to fund a war against the Holy Roman Emperor Frederic II, who had been excommunicated for not fulfilling his part in the crusades (in particular the sixth). The Earl's lands were the only part of England which did not pay this tax. Tax "avoidance" was something that Ranulf did quite well at - in 1220 some of his estates avoided payment of "carucage"; in 1225 "Aid" was not levied in Cheshire; and in 1229 he successfully resisted the ecclesiastical tax collector. In 1230 Ranulf granted a charter to Salford making it a free borough. His only major failure, in old age, was not avoiding the 1232 windfall tax of "one fortieth" on his lands.

Ranulf's sister Hawise became 1st Countess of Lincoln in April 1231, when her brother resigned the title in her favour. He granted her the title by a formal charter under his seal which was confirmed by King Henry III. Royal consent was needed for this because the Earldom would otherwise have reverted to the crown in the absence of a legitimate male heir. She would be formally invested as suo jure 1st Countess of Lincoln by King Henry III on 27 October 1232 the day after her brother's death. Less than a month later she likewise made an inter vivos gift, after receiving dispensation from the crown, of the Earldom of Lincoln to her daughter Margaret de Quincy who then became 2nd Countess of Lincoln suo jure and her son-in-law John de Lacy (c. 1192-1240), 8th Baron of Halton, 8th Hereditary Constable of Chester and feudal Baron of Pontefract who then became the 2nd Earl of Lincoln by right of his wife. In 1240 John de Lacy was made Governor of Chester and Beeston Castles.

On 6th May 1232 Ranulf made his will. He was already ill at the time, as history records that a royal tournament had to be postponed due to his state of health. Ranulf died on 27th October 1232, aged 62, at Wallingford Castle in Oxfordshire. Fulk Fitz Warin was present and Henry II was either present or hurrying to be there. His viscera was buried at Wallingford Priory, his heart was buried at Dieulacres Abbey (which he had founded), and the rest of his body is said to have been buried under the floor of the Chapter House at St Werburgh's, Chester's Cathedral. The Chapter House was rebuilt between 1250 and 1260.

Ranulf's second sister Mabel and his eldest sister Matilda (Maud), the mother of John Canmore, shared the estates with their other sisters. Ranulf's third sister Agnes (Alice) inherited, along with a share in other estates with her sisters, lands between the Ribble and the Mersey rivers, Powis Castle near Welshpool in Wales, Chartley Castle, Staffordshire, and land at Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire. Ranulf's youngest sister Hawise inherited the honour and castle of Bolingbroke, other large estates such as Lindsey and Halland in Lincolnshire, and a share of other estates with her sisters.

Hubert de Burgh's downfall came in 1232 when the plots of his enemies finally succeeded and he was removed from office. He was soon imprisoned at Devizes Castle. When Richard Marshal, 3rd Earl of Pembroke (and the second son of William Marshal) rebelled against the king in 1233, the men holding Hubert de Burgh captive released him and he subsequently joined the rebellion. Following the "Marshal War", Henry ruled England personally, rather than governing through senior ministers. He travelled less than previous monarchs, investing heavily in a handful of his favourite palaces and castles. He married Eleanor of Provence, with whom he had five children. Henry was known for his piety, holding lavish religious ceremonies and giving generously to charities; the King was particularly devoted to the figure of Edward the Confessor, whom he adopted as his patron saint.

By the end of his life Ranulf had managed to get his heir, John Canmore into a very strong dynastic position. John was the son of David of Scotland by his wife Maud of Chester, daughter of Hugh of Cyfeiliog (a previous Earl of Chester). John married Elen ferch Llywelyn, daughter of Llywelyn the Great.

Ranulf had also done much to strengthen the position of Simon de Montfort (1208-1265). Who, in January 1238 would marry Eleanor of England, the youngest daughter of King John and Isabella of Angouleme and sister of King Henry III (as well as widow of the younger William Marshall). John the Scot would be dead five years later but de Montfort would live long enough to become the last non-royal Earl of Chester. Llewelyn the Great and John de Lacy would die in 1240, and Clemence in 1251.

Conclusions: The "Last Relic" of the Conquest

The "Agricola Tower" at Chester Castle possibly dates from the time of Ranulf.

As noted above, the historian Stubbs described Ranulf as "almost the last relic of the great feudal aristocracy of the Conquest". Left fatherless at an early age (1181) he was thrust into the complex feudal/political intrigues of Henry II and his son, and found himself (in 1190) step-father to Arthur, then heir to the throne of England yet he became estranged from Arthur's mother. Danna R Messer raises the question as to whether one or other of Ranulf's wives was the mother of Joan of Wales (born 1191/92), the daughter of the later King John who herself married Llywelyn the Great of Wales.

While he remained loyal to Richard I during John's coup (1193), he was one of the few who would remain loyal to John when the baron's revolted (1215), despite the strong rumours that John, or John's man Hubert de Burgh had been the murderer of his stepson. Ranulf refused to sign the Magna Carta, presumably because of the specific provisions it contained against the French, and possibly because he knew the charter would lead to war. Again, but for Ranulf, Henry III would probably never have become king or held the Crown for long. With Henry III's assumption of majority in 1223, Ranulf possibly came very close to the point of rebellion but backed down, and saw a shift in the centre of power from the barons back to the king.

But for Ranulf it is likely that Simon de Montfort would not have regained his family lands in England. Ranulf's male heir, John Canmore held an envious position by marriage (into the Welsh royalty) and descent (from Scots royalty), but died young. There would be further strife in the 1250, when Ranulf's cousin de Montfort would briefly seize control of the country (and the Earldom of Chester), but after that royal authority would be restored by Henry III, who would take the Earldom of Chester for himself, and his line.

The enigma perhaps remains as to Ranulf's motivation being self-interest, loyalty to his current feudal lord or some combination of both.


Ranulf may have lent his name to the eponymous character in the Gothic novel Gaston de Blondeville by noted English author Ann Radcliffe, published posthumously in 1826, three years after Radcliffe's death. Set in the 13th-century court of England's King Henry III, the novel centers around the wedding of the title character. The wedding is interrupted by a merchant who claims to have been wronged by Gaston, in that Gaston murdered his kinsman. Henry is forced to hold a trial to determine the validity of the claims. The plot is further complicated by the machinations of an abbot who tries to suppress the truth, and by ghosts who want to expose the truth. Apart from the name and the setting there is no connection between the plot and Ranulf.

Ranulph and Fulk Fitzwarrene

The Waryn who turned up in the story of Miletta Peveril had a son who became the outlaw Fulk FitzWarin. Waryn (died 1156AD) had married Miletta Peverel and their son Fulk Fitz Waryn (Fulk Fitzwarrene) took over the barony and castle of Whittington, Shropshire (which can also be translated as "Blondeville"). In 1200 he lost his possessions to a rival claimant (whom in some versions he murdered) was outlawed by King John and for the next three years he engaved in war against King John in the marches. Fulk's rebellion is not detailed by chroniclers but it must have been considerable because in the spring of 1201, while John went into Normandy and Poitou to suppress a revolt of the Lusignans, he ordered Hubert de Burgh with 100 knights to counter the rebellion of Fulk and William Marsh (Marsh was a Somersetshire knight who was raiding off the coast of Devon). He was pardoned in 1203AD at the request of two of the king’s supporters, one of whom is suggested to have been Ranulph, earl of Chester and on being pardoned he recovered his possessions. The "Warin" family (who derived their name from the River Guarenne or Varenne and the small town of that name near Arques in Normandy) are also connected to Ranulph through a "Master Warin" who later worked on Beeston Castle.

One interesting part of the tale puts Ranulph in Ireland fighting a giant:

  • Fouke took leave of the Earl Marshal and went to see Earl Randolph of Chester, who was assembling an army to go to Ireland to defend his rights there. When they got there a great troop of their enemies was waiting for them. The earl commanded his men to take up their arms. Fouke himself set off with three young brothers whom the earl had brought with him. The three young men were of great valor and strength, well armed and mounted on fine horses. Among the enemies facing them stood a hideous giant. He was well armed, black and horrible, twelve feet taller than any other. The giant stepped forward and shouted out: "Earl of Chester, send me the most valiant knight whom you have, to defend your rights." The three youths heard the shout and rushed to engage the giant. He killed them swiftly, one after the other, with the hatchet which he was wielding. Then Fouke charged forward on his steed and tried to pierce him with his lance; but the giant dodged the blow, striking Fouke instead, such that he almost disabled him. Fearful now, Fouke became very cautious, until he was finally able to smite his opponent through the body with his lance. As he was falling down, the giant struck Fouke's horse, severing its two legs. Fouke himself fell to the ground, but quickly leaped up again. He drew his sword and cut off his enemy's head. After the battle, Fouke was later to take this giant's hatchet to his castle at Whittington. For now he helped the Earl of Chester in his conquest of all these lands and castles in Ireland. Sir Randolph stayed long enough in that country to restore his lands, after which he returned to England.

There is actually no evidence that Ranulf even ever set foot in Ireland.

Ranulph and Robin Hood

Ranulf on the lodge in Grosvenor Park.

Ranulph de Blondeville is probably the earl of Chester referred to in "William Langland"'s "The Vision of Piers Plowman" (written ca. 1360–1387) which contains the line:

  • "I kan nought parfitly my Paternoster as the preest it singeth, but I kan rhymes of Robyn hood and Randolf Earl of Chestre".

Another theory holds that "Randolf" here is Ranulph De Gernon an earlier earl of Chester and de Blundeville's grandfather.

Both the Earl of Chester and Robin Hood also turn up in the works of the playwright Anthony Munday (1560-1633) - although the earl is not named in those plays as Ranulph, the presence of prince John (born 24 December 1166, king from 6 April 1199, died 19 October 1216) would indicate that the Earl of Chester in the plays was indeed Ranulph (Earl: 1181-1232). He appears alongside Robin Hood in "John a Kent and John a Cumber" (Munday, 1590), "The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntingdon" (Munday, 1601), and, "Look About You" (Munday, 1600).

The actual connection between the relevant Robin Hood candidate and Ranulph appears quite tenuous:

  • Hugh of Cyfeiliog's daughter (Maud of Chester) married (26th Aug 1190) one David of Huntingdon (born 1144 died 17th June 1219).
  • David supported King Richard against King John (most stories put Robin Hood in that era).
  • The tentative connection is that David had a son - Robert Fitzodo (Fitzooth) (de Huntingdon) born in Loxley, Warwickshire (where legend says Robin was).
  • Robert was Earl of Huntingdon (as legend says Robin was) and declared an outlaw (as legend says Robin was) and his confiscated lands were given to Ranulph, Earl of Chester.

The theory put forward by some is that this Robert of Huntingdon is the basis for the legend of Robin Hood. This Robin Hood's grandfather would be Hugh de Kevelioc Earl of Chester and "Ranulf Erle of Chestre" would be his uncle.

However, according to Stringer (see sources), David of Huntingdon only had three legitimate sons, two of which, Henry and David, died in infancy, and the surviving son was John 'de Scotia' (John Canmore), Earl of Huntingdon and later of Chester. John married Elen ferch Llywelyn, daughter of Llywelyn the Great, Prince of north Wales, but died without issue. Earl David also had two illegitimate sons, Henry of Brechin and Henry of Stirling, both older than John, being born before his marriage to Maud of Chester (so they could not become Earls). There are two other sons mentioned, Philip, who only occurs in Gervaise of Canterbury's Historical Works, and an actual Robert, who occurs only in Fordun's Chronicles, who Fordun says also died in infancy. The timing also presents some problems - Prince John's attempted coup would have been during King Richard I's absence (on the Third Crusade from 1190 to 1194) - given that Maud of Chester (David's wife) was only born in 1171, it would be impossible for "Robin" to have been born in time for the coup. Worse still for the theory, David Earl of Huntingdon lived until 17 June 1219, which means that any "Robin Hood" son of his would only have become Earl three years after the death of King John.

As for Robert Fitzodo, he was indeed associated with Loxley - but not at the same time. The tradition that Loxley was the birth-place of "Robin Hood" appears to have originated with J. R. Planché, who, in a paper read in 1864, followed up Stukeley's derivation of his name from Fitzooth and connected the outlaw with Robert FitzOdo, lord of the manor of Loxley in the later 12th century. The transfer of lands to Ranulph seems completely fabricated.

Another theory connecting Ranulf and Robin Hood is that concerning Roger de Lacy who was the 7th Baron of Halton and Constable of Chester (de Lacy is the one who famously relieved the besieged Ranulf with a crowd of minstrels - as depicted in carvings at the Town Hall). Roger is a possible candidate for the Sheriff of Nottingham. He is reputed to have become "the terror and scourge of the Welsh" because of his cruelty during his part in their subjugation. For his ferocious temper and the pitiless way he executed his prisoners he was nicknamed "Yclept" or "Helle" by the Welsh. De Lacy was buried in the abbey founded by his father at Stanlow (now almost unreachable between the Mersey and the Ship-canal - see: Gowy). It has been suggested that the place-name "Helsby" is a contraction of "Helle's Bay" (although the village was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 under the Norman name of Hellesbe) - "Helsby" is almost certainly derived from "Hjallr" which in Old Scandinavian languages apparently means "ledge on the side of a hill" (or "a rack for drying fish") and "byr" (settlement) - which can possibly be traced back to the proto-Germanic "buana" (dwell, reside).

A recent find places Robin Hood in Edward I's reign, thus supporting the belief that his legend is of 13th Century origin. A translation of the short inscription, which contains only 23 words in Latin, reads:

  • "Around this time, according to popular opinion, a certain outlaw named Robin Hood, with his accomplices, infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies."

Curiously, the inscription was found as a marginal note in a copy of Higdon's "Polychronicon" (originally written in Chester).

Exploring Ranulph

Beeston Castle is a well-known landmark on the rail route between Crewe and Chester.

There are a few places to visit in and around Chester and things to see that are associated with Ranulph de Blondeville and his times:

  • Beeston Castle is just a few miles from Chester and is visible from some spots on the City Walls. It also has associations with the Royal Treasure of Richard II and the Civil War. The real gem here is the view from its elevated location, so a good clear day is advised. Link to panoramic view.
  • The Town Hall in Chester contains some bas-relief work which depicts the rescue of Ranulf in the event which led to the establishment of the Minstrel Court. The court is sometimes recreated at St Johns. There is also some Stained Glass on the main stairs which depicts the Earl's of Chester, including Ranulf.
  • Ranulf is said to be buried under the floor of the Chapter House at the Cathedral. Just outside the Chapter House Henry II turns up in some stained glass in the cloister. A surviving and restored boss of Thomas Becket can be seen in the roof of the Lady Chapel. It has been suggested that Henry has red hair in the cloister glass as a not to his violent temper, but Gerald of Wales makes it clear this was his natural colour: "Henry II was a man of reddish, freckled complexion, with a large round head, grey eyes that glowed fiercely and grew bloodshot in anger, a fiery countenance and a harsh, cracked voice. His neck was thrust forward slightly from his shoulders, his chest was broad and square, his arms strong and powerful. His body was stocky, with a pronounced tendency towards fatness, due to nature rather than self-indulgence, which he tempered with exercise. For in eating and drinking he was moderate and sparing."
  • The much-restored Agricola Tower at Chester Castle may date from around the time of Ranulf. It is visible from outside the Castle and sometimes open to the public.
  • The Arms of Chester are seen all over the city and feature the three wheat-sheaves of Ranulf's arms, either alone or combined with the royal arms.
  • A lodge in Grosvenor Park features stylised Victorian carvings of the Earls of Chester, including Ranulf.
  • Halton Castle was the seat of the Barons of Halton from the 11th century until the 14th century. The interior of the castle is occasionally opened to the public. In the 18th century a new courthouse was built on the site of the previous gatehouse. The castle lies in ruins apart from the courthouse which has been converted into a public house.

Sources and links


Related Pages


Soden’s Ranulf de Blondeville is an engaging read that appeals to both a popular and scholarly audience - provided they have an interest in Ranulph. While both groups can take something away from this study, both will also have their respective gripes, whether stylistic or methodological. The work is a very useful reference but can at times be confusing and sometimes relates more to the events of Ranulf’s life than the complex socio-political world in which he operated. Soden is also conspicuously less critical of Ranulf than the other historical individuals that appear in his study, as evidenced by his rather dramatic subtitle, “The First English Hero”. The result is an almost romantic image of a man who at times barely emerges from the deluge of historical figures and place-names which saturate the narrative. For a fair view of Ranulf it should be read alongside "Ranulf of Chester: A Relic of the Conquest" by James W. Alexander and "The Magna Carta of Cheshire" by Graeme J. White.

Henry II

Richard I


  • F. M. Powicke, "King John and Arthur of Brittany", The English Historical Review, volume 24 (October 1909), pp. 659-674
  • Jones, T., ed. 1941. Brut y Tywysogion: Peniarth MS. 20. University of Wales Press;
  • Pryce, H., ed. 2005. The Acts of Welsh rulers 1120–1283. University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1897-5;
  • "King John, the Braoses, and the Celtic Fringe, 1207-1216", Albion: Journal of British Studies v.33 (2001);
  • Anlgo-Norman Castles, The Braose Rebellion of 1207 to 1210;


  • Arms, vassals and more at "early blazon"
  • Some Robin Hood theories
  • Hoare, R.C., ed. 1908. Giraldus Cambrensis: The Itinerary through Wales; Description of Wales. Translated by R.C. Hoare. Everyman's Library. ISBN 0-460-00272-4
  • Ranulf and Fitz Waryn
  • Gateways to Power: The Castles of Ranulf III of Chester and Llywelyn the Great of Gwynedd;
"The Magna Carta of Cheshire" by Graeme J. White opens another lens on Ranulf.