IN ENGLAND (1204 - 1244)

The historical background and the 'Lands of the Normans'

England and Normandy before 1202

In 1202, the kingdom of England and the duchy of Normandy had formed part of a single 'Anglo-Norman realm' ever since the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. For most of the intervening period the two countries had the same ruler, drawn from amongst the descendants of William of Conqueror, and their political destinies were inextricably intertwined.

After 1066 William of Normandy rewarded many of his warriors with property in England. The majority of his followers came from Normandy itself, but there were also significant groups from neighbouring parts of the kingdom of France, especially Brittany, Ponthieu (around the mouth of the River Somme), and Flanders (modern western Belgium and the northernmost corner of France). Later kings of England continued to reward their continental followers with lands in England: for instance, William the Conqueror's son Henry I (king of England 1100-35, duke of Normandy 1106-35) granted English estates to many of the Bretons and men from western Normandy who had supported him before he became king. The 'Anglo-Norman' aristocracy became accustomed to a lifestyle spent on both sides of the English Channel.

By 1204, a great many aristocratic families had acknowledged the difficulties of trying to manage estates on both sides of the Channel by establishing one son on their English lands and another on their Norman estates: very soon, these families divided into an 'English' and a 'Norman' branch. Other families continued to hold property in both countries, but were usually much wealthier in one country than the other. When the king of France seized Normandy, for most landowners it must have been clear whether it was in their material interests to remain in England or in Normandy. However, the attitudes of landowners to holding estates overseas cannot be assessed simply in terms of a balance sheet between French and English lands. Northern France was in many respects the cultural centre of twelfth-century western Europe and exercised a strong allure to the French-speaking landowners of England. Many of the Anglo-Norman families that were based primarily in England probably continued to prize their more modest ancestral possessions in Normandy out of pride in their lineages. The Bigod and Warenne families, respectively earls of Norfolk and Surrey, are good examples. Conversely, English manors were regarded as a source of easily extractable cash, and so powerful French lords were often very keen to hold on to their English estates.

By 1204, the broader political context for Anglo-Norman landholding had changed. From 1154, Normandy and England formed part of a still larger dynastic inheritance. In that year, Henry, duke of Normandy and count of Anjou, great-grandson of William I, became king of England as Henry II (1154-89). Henry was already also duke of Aquitaine in right of his famous wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine; as a consequence he was not only king of England - with claims to lordship over the whole British Isles - but also the most powerful man in France, in many ways overshadowing the French king Louis VII (1137-80). So vast were Henry's territories, stretching from northern England to southwest France, that historians have dubbed them the 'Angevin Empire'. The Capetian dynasty that ruled as kings of France was in no doubt that the Angevin Empire represented a serious threat to royal authority in France. From the mid-1180s the vigorous king of France Philip II Augustus (1180-1223) worked hard to undermine the power of the Angevin dynasty in France. Between 1202 and 1204 he succeeded in overthrowing the power of the kings of England in Normandy, Maine, Anjou, Brittany and most of Poitou. Anglo-Norman landowners were confronted with a potentially disastrous situation: how could they retain their valued lands in both countries without offending one or other king?

The conquest of Normandy 1202-1204

When a new war between the kings of England and France broke out in the spring of 1202, it is debatable whether most of the Anglo-Norman landowners realised that the whole of Normandy might fall into French hands. Philip Augustus had been chipping away at the duchy's frontier defences for over a decade, but all he had to show for years of war was a handful of castles in the southeast of the duchy, notably Gisors, Vernon, Pacy and Nonancourt, and he had recently suffered several humiliating defeats at the hands of Richard I (the Lionheart). Philip had exploited Richard's death in 1199 to seize the important city of Évreux but had failed to prevent Richard's brother John from succeeding to virtually all of Richard's French lands, at the expense of Richard's nephew Arthur of Brittany, whose cause Philip had favoured. Repeated French incursions had shaken the confidence of the Normans and had demonstrated Normandy's vulnerability to external attack, but the duchy had robust defences and could draw upon ample English resources for its defence. In April 1202 Philip secured the judgment of his court that John and the Angevin dynasty were contumacious rebels who had long failed to perform the services that they owed to their lords, the kings of France, and he declared all John's French territories forfeit. Yet to put into effect this confiscation he would have to conquer John's lands by arms.

The initial French campaigns of 1202 inflicted serious damage to the defences of Normandy; in less than three months Philip Augustus subdued the duchy's entire northeastern march: aided by the rebel count of Eu, he captured the important fortresses of Aumale, Eu, Drincourt (Neufchâtel-en-Bray), Lyons-la-Forêt and Gournay-sur-Epte, and by the end of July 1202 he was besieging the great castle of Arques near Dieppe. He also knighted Arthur of Brittany and sent him to disrupt King John's lordship in the provinces around the Loire valley, aided by rebels in Poitou and Maine. While Philip's army was capturing Norman castles, Arthur and the Poitevin rebels trapped John's mother Eleanor of Aquitaine - Arthur's own grandmother - in the castle of Mirebeau in Northern Poitou. However, on 1 August, after a lightning march across Maine and Anjou, John rescued his mother and captured Arthur and many of the chief rebels, including the leading Poitevin magnates Hugh and Geoffrey de Lusignan. At a single stroke, John had neutralised the rebellion in Poitou and laid hands on his chief dynastic rival. Philip felt compelled to retreat from Normandy; the duchy appeared to have been saved.

Despite this position of strength, King John managed to lose most of his French lands within two years. Almost immediately, his harsh imprisonment of Arthur alienated many of his supporters in the Loire regions. By the autumn of 1202 the king of England faced widespread rebellion across Anjou and Maine; when he released the Lusignans from captivity they soon revolted again. John's power in the heart of the Angevin empire quickly came to rely upon a small number of well-defended castles. Worse was to follow. In January 1203 the important fortified town of Alençon in southern Normandy was surrendered to the French by the local count, virtually cutting communications between Normandy and the rest of the Angevin Empire. John's bands of mercenaries allegedly plundered his subjects as much as defending them. Encouraged by renewed and widespread disaffection in John's territories, Philip Augustus returned to the attack in Spring 1203. A number of important Norman defences, including Beaumont-le-Roger and Le Vaudreuil, fell without resistance and allowed French military power into the heart of Normandy. In August John failed to recapture Alençon and the following month the king of France began to reduce the main fortresses that blocked his route to the Norman capital, Rouen. After the fall of Radepont in September, the French began the siege of the great Château-Gaillard, Richard I's 'Cheeky Castle' that many contemporaries took to symbolise the power and resistance of the Norman dukes. A memorable siege followed through the winter, until Château-Gaillard fell by assault in March 1204.

By then, John had fled the duchy, having failed to relieve the besieged garrison of Chæteau-Gaillard in October 1203, and the Anglo-Norman aristocracy was confronted with the real possibility that Normandy would come under the rule of the king of France. That possibility became a certainty in May 1204 when Philip Augustus marched around central Normandy, taking Argentan, Falaise, Caen, and Lisieux, and besieging Rouen. John remained ineffectively in England, hoping in vain for a truce, or perhaps that the Pope would intervene to forbid Philip from taking the ancestral inheritance from John as one of his subjects. On 1 June, the garrison of Rouen came to terms with the king of France, promising to surrender if no help from John was forthcoming. It was not. The surrender of Rouen and the fortresses of Verneuil and Arques on 24 June 1204 marked the effective end of ducal rule in Normandy.

The confiscation of properties in 1204

The fall of Rouen did not mark the end of the war. Major hostilities continued until 1206 and recurred in 1213-14, 1224, 1230-4, and 1242. In between these conflicts there were truces, but only in 1259 was a formal peace made between King John's son Henry III and Philip Augustus's grandson Louis IX (St Louis). John and Henry III made their intention to recover their lost French possessions patently clear, and launched four major expeditions (1206, 1214, 1230, 1242) in a vain attempt to do so. Consequently, families with lands in both England and Northern France before 1204 were in an uncomfortable position. To retain lands in Normandy, they would have to do homage to the king of France; but if they did so, they risked the wrath of the king of England. As long as there was no formal peace, they could not hope to be the subjects of both monarchs.

Many landowners may not have appreciated that the fall of the duchy to the French king would lead to the confiscation of their own lands. A well-known passage in the History of the Dukes of Normandy, written in Flanders a couple of decades after the fall of Rouen, describes how the Anglo-Norman barons begged King John to allow them to do homage to King Philip for their continental lands. They promised that even if their 'bodies' were with the king of France, their 'hearts' would be with John1. The king of England treated such promises as worthless: no subject of his who did homage to the king of France could be expected to aid him in his attempts to recover his lost lands. One very favoured magnate, William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, did manage to square this circle, retaining his lordships of Longueville and Orbec in Normandy by doing homage to Philip Augustus without forfeiting his vast estates in England, Wales and Ireland; but his refusal to serve in King John's French campaigns after 1204 showed how such compromises, if allowed generally, would scupper John's hopes of recovering his lost domains in France. For the vast majority of Anglo-Norman landowners, who did not enjoy the favour of the kings of England and France in the way William Marshal did, the fall of Rouen spelled the doom of their cross-Channel lordship.

King Philip had already begun redistributing the property of men loyal to King John at the beginning of the war in spring 1202, and was particularly generous in giving away other people's lands as he subdued Lower Normandy in May 1204. However, it is likely that he was selective in his choice of property, for he invited all those who wished to retain their Norman lands to come to do homage to him by Easter 1205. The History of William the Marshal, a poem celebrating the deeds of the wily earl of Pembroke, stated that:

'The king of France announced that all those who came to do him homage by a certain date would retain their lands. Then many a tear was shed, for a great many failed to come in time, and could hold no land from him thereafter.' 2.

At Easter 1205, King Philip issued an act declaring that he had confiscated the domains of several leading English magnates who had not come to him. The French bailiffs were assiduous in seizing the lands of those who had remained in England. Either these properties were reddistributed amongst the French king's loyal supporters, or annexed to the royal domains, swelling the coffers and powers of patronage of the Capetian monarchy.

The terre Normannorum in England 1204-44

From the summer of 1204 the records of English royal government contain references to the 'Lands of the Normans ' (terre Normannorum). In royal records 'Norman' therefore came to mean specifically someone who had opted to remain in France and forfeited their English lands. Inquests into royal rights were careful to specify which estates fell into this category; it was also important for litigants to know if any property that they claimed was one of the terre Normannorum, as this would affect their legal claim to it. As a result, royal records abound with references to the 'lands of the Normans' throughout the thirteenth century; even in the reign of Edward I (1272-1307), several generations after the end of ducal Normandy, the assize rolls and Hundred Rolls contain numerous references to this class of property.

The wars of 1202-4 had cost King John much of his continental dominions but they also brought him a vast windfall of English estates. The English Crown was quick to exploit this new wealth. The 'lands of the Normans' provided John and his son Henry III with a welcome extra resource for raising money and for rewarding their loyal followers, not least the families who had forfeited their French property for the sake of their loyalty to King John. For instance, Earl William de Warenne received the town of Stamford, which had been forfeited by the constable of Normandy, William du Hommet; Hugh Paynel received some of the lands of his Norman cousin Fulk Paynel.

King Philip of France regarded his annexation of Normandy as irreversible, and so the French lands that he confiscated from English landowners were annexed to his domains, or distributed amongst his supporters. In England, however, the situation was more complex, for the terre Normannorum could not simply be merged permanently into the royal domain or be given away in perpetuity to the king of England's loyal subjects. John and Henry III nurtured the hope that their defeats in France would be reversed and Normandy and Anjou recovered. If England and Normandy came under a single ruler again, there would be good political and legal reasons to restore the confiscated lands to their erstwhile Norman owners. Indeed, the prospect of recovering their lost English property might also serve as a bait to win over disaffected Norman landowners. Even if the two countries remained under separate rulers, there was always the chance that a Norman might decide to abandon the duchy and seek to recover his or her property in England instead, and if they were prepared to return to the king's allegiance then they would have a strong legal claim to what they had lost. Numerous men and women decided to do precisely that, turning up in England or Normandy after decades living overseas in the other country (although it should be noted that women, especially widows, were more likely to be allowed to hold lands in England and Normandy simultaneously, since they posed less political threat than their male counterparts).

Only at the Treaty of Paris in 1259 did Henry III renounce his claim to be duke of Normandy and count of Anjou. Until then, the terre Normannorum existed in theory in a legal limbo and the Crown could always reclaim them as its own. Such a situation created uncertainty but it also offered the king ways of conserving his wealth and resources. His subjects aspired to hold any royal gifts of land in full hereditary right, but if the king acceded to the wishes of his subjects, he risked alienating his property and eroding the royal domain and revenues. By rewarding his subjects with the 'lands of the Normans', the king could justify making only conditional grants of property. This gave him the wherewithal to resume these grants from any subject who fell out of royal favour. The conditional nature of the grants of 'Norman' land was reinforced by the minority of Henry III (1216-27). For the first time since Anglo-Saxon times, England had a child ruler, and his ministers had no authority to make any permanent grants of royal rights: all had to wait for Henry to reach adulthood.

The significance of the terre Normannorum was heightened during the long periods of truce between the kings of England and France, which many dispossessed landowners regarded as a propitious time to recover their lost possessions across the Channel. During these times of relative peace, the two monarchies periodically permitted landowners to hold lands on both sides of the Channel; some, notably the Marshal earls of Pembroke, did so for long periods. Each time that war broke out again, these landowners usually forfeited their properties on one or other side of the Channel, but when the truce was renewed, some managed to negotiate the recovery of what they had lost.

Scenes from Anglo-French history, 1204-59

However, with major conflicts in 1213-14, 1224-7, 1230-4, and 1241-2, such cross-Channel landowning was always going to prove difficult. Combined with the passing of the generation that remembered the Anglo-Norman realm before 1204, these problems gradually reduced the number of landowners who were attempting to maintain their interests in both countries. In the 1230s and 1240s, some still strove to do so, and when Louis IX formally prohibited any of his subjects from holding lands in England and Henry responded in kind, they provoked howls of protests from their subjects. Neverthless, by 1244, Henry's régime was increasingly making grants from the terre Normannorum in hereditary right, sensing that the French monarchy's annexation of Normandy was not going to be reversed. Although Henry III continued to plot ways by which he might recover his father's lost lands in France into the 1250s, by the end of that decade he had formally renounced his claims to Normandy and Anjou. The Treaty of Paris (1259) marked the official end of the war begun in 1202 and brought to an end any hope that England and Normandy might be reunited. Even then some families such as the Étoutevilles continued holding lands in both countries, while others tried their luck before the French courts in vain attempts to reclaim the lands that their predecessors had once held in France: examples include Lucy, wife of Richard de Grey of Codnor (Derbys) and daughter of John du Hommet of Cléville and Sheringham, in 1260, and Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, in 1279.

The Historical Significance of the "Lands of the Normans"

The terre Normannorum have been called 'the single greatest influx of land to the crown between 1066 and the dissolution of the monasteries', and 'the great bank on which the thirteenth-century kings drew for patronage3." They provided the kings of England with a very valuable extra resource at a time when the royal domains had been badly eroded, and the Angevin régime acquired a new means of rewarding its servants and of keeping their loyalty, since the king's continuing claims to Normandy often allowed him to grant out Norman lands in England on a conditional basis only. At the same time, the special status of the 'lands of the Normans' was a constant reminder, at the very heart of English politics, that many members of the English ruling class had been deprived of their prized ancestral possessions lands in Northern France in 1204. For several decades after King John's disastrous defeats in France, it remained the formal policy of the kings of England that England and Normandy would be reunited again, at which point the Norman lands might be restored to their previous owners. This principle was stated many times in the royal law courts during land disputes. Across the Channel, meanwhile, the Norman aristocracy nurtured memories of its lost estates in England, and the kings of France had to take note of these enduring sentiments. Yet the Lands of the Normans were significant for less material reasons, too. The emphasis upon the 'Norman' identity of their former owners contributed to the development of English identity and the idea of the 'alien': to be accepted as a landowner in England, it was now more or less obligatory not to have any allegiance to the king of France. While a number of men and women succeeded in holding lands in both countries between 1204 and 1244 - most famously William Marshal, earl of Pembroke and lord of Longueville and Orbec in Normandy - many more failed to do so. We can pity Matilda de Courtenay, a granddaughter of King Henry I, whose opponents accused her of having no right to plead for lands in Devon and Somerset in 1220 because she lived in Normandy. "I am as English as William Marshal!" she protested in exasperation. Although in this instance the king's court allowed the case to continue, Matilda de Courtenay, like so many others before and after her, failed to recover her lost lands in England because she was a landowner in France.4

So for half a century, the terre Normannorum had a profound and distorting influence upon the English monarchy and the politics of the English court, upon English law and aristocratic inheritance customs, and upon local lordship and power. They form an important and intriguing part of the history of thirteenth-century England.


1. Histoire des ducs de Normandie et rois d'Angleterre, ed. F. Michel (SHF, Paris, 1840), 99-100.
2. Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, ed. P. Meyer (3 vols, SHF, Paris, 1891-1901), lines 12869-74 (trans. D.J. Power). A verse translation is provided in History of William Marshal, ed. A.J. Holden, trans. S. Gregory, notes by D. Crouch (3 vols, ANTS, London, 2002-6), ii, lines 12869-74.
3. N.C. Vincent, Peter des Roches: an alien in English politics, 1205-38 (Cambridge, 1996), 30; D.A. Carpenter, 'Roger Mortimer in the period of baronial reform', Nobles and nobility in Medieval Europe, ed. A.J. Duggan (Woodbridge, 2000), 188
4. Curia Regis Rolls, ix, 36-7. Matilda was lady of Meulles and Le Sap and by marriage lady of Ferrières-St-Hilaire, three lordships that neighboured William Marshal's lordship of Orbec. Her statement technically refers to William Marshal the younger, who succeeded to his father's English lands in 1219, but a few weeks later he ceded his Norman lands to his younger brother Richard.

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