The Real Wives of Medieval Ireland

Opening lines of the poem 'Flann for Érinn' from the Leabhar Mór Leachain (Wikimedia Commons)

The following article attempts to glean a picture of what life was like in Medieval Ireland by looking at the lives of real women who lived during this time. 

Avelina, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Matilda de Burgh’s lives as noblewomen in the mid thirteenth to mid fourteenth centuries precisely illustrate the position noblewomen held in the later Middle Ages, while the existing information of their lives and times shows how demanding the role of a widowed noblewoman could be in relation to securing her dower and holding on to the land she possessed in her own right.  It is quite fortunate that an ample amount of records exist in relation to these women in the Chancery Rolls from the early fourteenth century, which not only provide specific information on how they were able to maintain their interests on their land and in their various estates (if they held any in their own right), but also provides an example from which common practices of the time may be highlighted.  It is intrinsic to the study of women in the later Medieval period that all sources available be utilised to graft a picture of the way women were able to lead their lives within the proscribed bounds of a dominantly paternalistic society, and many woman of the upper nobility such as the aforementioned women were able to manoeuvre independently, and while never completely free of influence from male family members, household members, or other leading members of the upper nobility if not royalty (1),  such women were able to adequately govern their own property in their own right, make their own decisions both concerning their households and from where they would be run (if they had a large amount of land scattered over a great area), and sufficiently determine how best to extract the largest amount of profit from their holdings.  
Avelina, the daughter of John FitzGeoffrey and Isabel, the daughter of Hugh Bigod, married Walter de Burgh circa 1257 (2). Walter was granted the title of earl of Ulster in 1264 and kept this title until 1271 when he died in Galway Castle. (3) Most of the information that exists about his wife Avelina pertains to the dower she received after the death of her husband, particularly because she was endowed with certain properties and homages perhaps not best suited to be included in a dower.  The problem arose because the justiciary of Ireland, James de Audley, and the escheator of Ireland, William de Bakepuz, had given to Avelina as a part of her dower all the castles in Ulster belonging to her late husband, save Carrickfergus, which meant a total of five castles, and nearly all of the homages of the Irish, which were described as hostile at that time.(4)  The seneschal of Ulster, William FitzWarin believed that she had received an abundance of lands not fit to be part of her dower, so he seized some lands into the king’s hands, at which point Avelina complained to the king’s men that she had been turned out of her dower lands.  In 1273 the king decided that Avelina was to be granted different lands for her dower which would not include castles or homages, and appointed some men in Ireland to look into the matter and render a decision fair to all involved. (5)  This case is interesting not only because of the fact that Avelina fought back to save her lands which she had been unjustly deprived of, but also because of the sentiment that castles and homages were not considered proper aspects of a woman’s dower at this time.  The excerpt pertaining to this case in the Calendar of the Patent Rolls states concerning her dower: 
“...inasmuch as this kind of assignment of dower is not reasonable, especially as castles of defence or even homages or services for any persons of defence ought not and are not wont to be assigned in dower to women of this kind...”(6)

Carrickfergus Castle, Wikimedia Commons

While the reasons explaining why the justiciary and escheator saw it fit to endow Avelina with these lands in the first place may be elusive, it is quite evident that in the last quarter of the thirteenth century the crown would not hesitate in excluding certain lands from a woman’s dower if they were thought to be unsuitable for her to hold or administer.  Another source conferring information on Avelina is the Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem. After the death of her brother Richard in 1299, Avelina is named as one of the three heirs to his land in Thomond, specifically a cantred said to be worth 20 marks.(7)

Following Avelina, Margaret de Burgh, who is perhaps the daughter of Sir John de Burgh (although there is some question surrounding this theory) (8) married Richard de Burgh, the son of Avelina and Walter de Burgh, circa 1281 (9), and is the only woman among the four scrutinised who predeceased her husband.  Richard de Burgh, known as the Red Earl of Ulster,  was made earl in 1280 and held this title until his death in 1326, and the title was eventually passed on to his grandson, William, since he had outlived his elder sons, including John, William's father.   Due to the fact that she was not endowed with land, and therefore was not solely responsible for the administration of a sizeable amount of land, there is a substantial lack of records which name Margaret in comparison to those women who were widowed once or many times and became substantial landholders through successful administration of their dower lands.  There is, however, a significant amount of information on her which proves that she held a great amount of influence with the king and played an active role in contributing to her husband’s prosperity.

The Calendar of Documents Ireland and the Calendar of the Close Rolls both tell how Margaret was instrumental in having her husband cleared of a 500 mark debt that he owed to the king, with the entry in the Close Rolls plainly stating in its order to the officials of Ireland in 1281:
“To the treasurer and barons of the exchequer, Dublin. Order to cause Richard de Burgo to have quittance or allowance for 500 marks due to the king, as the king has pardoned him this sum, at the request of Margaret, Richard’s wife.” (10)

In addition to helping her husband, Margaret also played a major role in getting a certain John, Bishop of Connor, bestowed with a grace from the king, showing that she was active in influencing matters arising in the religious sphere as well.(11)  Margaret is also frequently listed, along with her husband, as the recipient of land granted to her and Richard, specifically the grant made to them by Queen Eleanor concerning a manor in Ulster.(12)  Unlike the other women highlighted in this essay, Margaret is also mentioned in the most famous annals of Ireland, possibly due to the fact that she died in Ireland while Elizabeth and Matilda de Burgh did not, although this argument is less than satisfactory as Avelina died in Ireland, indeed was buried at Dunmow priory(13), although these annals remain silent on her account as well.  Entries in The Annals of Clonmacnoise, The Annals of Connaught, The Annals of Loch Ce, The Annals of the Four Masters, and Miscellaneous Irish Annals all list the death of the countess of Ulster in 1304, along with that of her first son, Walter.(14)  Aside from these few scattered fragments in varying primary sources, there is little information concerning Margaret de Burgh, although there is a veritable wealth of information concerning her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth de Burgh.  

15th c carving of a mermaid, Clonfert Cathedral (Andreas F. Borchert) Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth de Burgh, née de Clare, born ca. 1295, was the daughter of Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, and Joan of Acre, and became a noblewoman who through inheritance and marriage eventually held a considerable amount of land in England, Wales, and Ireland.  Elizabeth’s father, the earl of Gloucester, made brilliant matches for his children, which serves as an excellent example of the way a family might try to strengthen their own positions in wealth and rank through marital ties. In 1306 the earl married his daughter Eleanor to Hugh le Despenser the younger, in 1308 Gilbert, the heir to the earldom, married Matilda de Burgh, and that same year Margaret de Clare was given in marriage to Piers Gaveston, and subsequently to Hugh Ardley in 1317. Elizabeth herself married Matilda de Burgh’s brother and heir to the earldom of Ulster, John de Burgh, in September of 1308, and supposedly this match was arranged by Elizabeth’s brother Gilbert.(15)

Concerning her marital practices, Elizabeth de Burgh exemplifies the different marital patterns that a woman in the upper nobility in the later Middle Ages might encounter, and provides an adequate example of not only what was deemed socially acceptable for a woman of her position under Anglo-Norman law, but how theory deviated from actual practice.  Elizabeth also provides a good example of the influence the crown could have in the marriages of the nobility, not only did the king sufficiently influence her third marriage, but  at one point in time after said marriage she was pressured into twice stating to the crown that she would not marry without royal permission.(16) As stated before, her first marriage to John de Burgh illustrates the successful attempts of Elizabeth’s family to marry her to a well-propertied, Anglo-Irish family in the aristocracy, a marriage that would only ideally benefit the position of the de Clare’s.  John de Burgh died in 1313, leaving one heir, William, and like many other widows(17), Elizabeth married again three years later.  Her second marriage to Theobald de Verdun precisely shows how marriages among the upper aristocracy could depart from the accepted norms set down by crown and church with his supposed abduction of her in 1316, although he later stated that she acted with full consent in going away with him and that they had agreed to marry in Ireland.(18)

Abduction was not favoured by the church as the mutual consent of both parties was mandatory for a marriage to be legal in the eyes of the church, and the crown favoured personally sanctioning marriage as this gave the king a position of influence and control over the possible bonds that would be created amongst the members of his nobility.  Indeed, by analysing the Calendar of Patent Rolls and the Calendar of Close Rolls it is evident that although the marriage only lasted for a matter of months, the fact that Theobald and Elizabeth didn’t bother to consult the king bothered him for years,  occasionally resulting in the king taking lands into his own hands as he did with Stoke-upon-Tyren, co. Salop, the reason for which is given is “...his [the king’s] rancour of mind towards the said Theobald for marrying Elizabeth de Burgo without his licence.”(19)

Unlike her second marriage, her third and final marriage to Roger Damory is a classic example of the king’s ability to exert his influence in the social spheres of the nobility, and Ward asserts in English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages  that it was a direct result of the pressure placed on Elizabeth by her uncle (the king) that she married Damory soon after the death of de Verdun and the birth of her child by him.(20)  Although the marriage was arranged by the king, in an ironic turn of events Damory was involved in rebellion against the king in 1322, and it was Elizabeth’s relation to Damory as his wife that threatened the possession of her lands.  Fortunately her relationship with the king was sound enough so that she was able to emerge from the aftermath of the rebellion virtually unscathed, as is evident in the many letters existing that demand land to be returned to her as the rightful owner, regardless whether they were confiscated for Damory’s participation in the rebellion.(21)  Elizabeth had to actively work for this outcome, however, and some of her petitions to the king survive to this day.(22)  Another entry found in the Calendar of Patent Rolls dated years after the rebellion exemplifies just how favoured Elizabeth was by the king, and states: 
“Respite, for life, to the king’s kinswoman, Elizabeth de Burgo, late the wife of Roger Damory, of all debts, wherein the latter was bound to the king on the day of his death; and all debts which might be required by summons of the Exchequer in lands acquired by them jointly, so that these shall not be levied until after her death.”(23)

Damory died in 1322, and so around the age of twenty-seven Elizabeth had been widowed three times, with a child from each marriage, and various lands spread throughout England, Wales and Ireland as a direct result of the inheritance, jointure, dower, and grants she had received. Through her first marriage to John de Burgh, Elizabeth acquired diverse lands in Munster, Ulster, and Connaught, which had been given to her and John jointly by John’s father(24), Richard de Burgo, the Red Earl of Ulster.  After Theobald de Verdun died in 1316, the dower that was settled on Elizabeth amounted to one-third of the land de Verdun held, centring in and around the counties of Meath and Louth, while the remaining two-thirds of the de Verdun lands were eventually divided amongst his four daughters.(25)  When her brother Gilbert died she and her two other sisters were named as heirs to the de Clare inheritance as Gilbert had no heirs, and thus in 1317 Elizabeth acquired diverse lands in England and Wales, where the de Clare power was based, but also a portion of the liberty of Kilkenny.(26)  She received more of the de Clare inheritance as Gilbert’s wife Matilda died in 1320.  Through her marriage to Roger Damory Elizabeth gained lands located in England through many grants to the couple from the king.(27)  As previously stated, Elizabeth was able to maintain control of the majority of her land even after Damory was accused of treason and died.(28)  Not only did Elizabeth not marry following the death of her third husband, but we know she had taken a vow of chastity before 1343.(29)

While it has been suggested that Elizabeth stayed in Ireland after the death of her first husband until she was recalled by the king prior to her marriage to de Verdun(30), and while she resided in Ireland during the few short months of their marriage, after de Verdun’s death in 1316 she remained a landlord of Ireland in absentia, spending the remainder of her life staying in her estates in Wales and England.  As an absentee landlord Elizabeth had to ensure that her Irish holdings were being run capably and responsibly.  Just because she did not return to Ireland after 1316 does not mean that she did not value her lands there.  The frequency with which her proposed appointments for her lawyers in Ireland shows up in the Calendar of the Patent Rolls proves that she was consistently concerned with the situation of her Irish holdings, and Robin Frame has even stated in his book English Lordship in Ireland 1318-1361, that:
“The fact that English lords and ladies rarely or never included Ireland in their itineraries should not be taken to mean that their Irish lands were worthless or that they were careless of their interests in them.”(31)

Furthermore, Altschul states in his book which focuses on the de Clare family that unlike the other descendants of Gilbert, earl of Gloucester, she and her grandson-in-law maintained an interest in the liberty of Kilkenny while it appears that the others did not.(32)

Aside from the many entries concerning Elizabeth and her request for lawyers to be appointed to act on her behalf in Ireland, since she was permanently residing in England and Wales(33), there is also an ample amount of entries in the Calendar of the Patent Rolls and the Calendar of the Close Rolls which state that Elizabeth is to be excused of the debts she has accrued both on her Irish lands and elsewhere.  One such entry from the Calendar of the Patent Rolls dated July 20, 1340 states that Elizabeth is to be exempt from all “...debts, accounts, arrears, fines, amercement, issues forfeit, reliefs, scutages comprised in 14 Edward III...”(34) and in addition to illustrating the good relationship that Elizabeth had with the king, in that he was not opposed to granting her many respites for her debts, this also shows that Elizabeth was a capable administrator, exploiting her relationships with others when it best suited her purposes.  Throughout the Calendar of the Close Rolls in the second quarter of the fourteenth century, there are many similar entries that state Elizabeth is to be exempt from the debts she owes on her Irish lands for a specified period of time.  Although  consecutive letters to the Dublin Exchequer were issued from 1335(35) declaring said respite from debts, this did not stop the officials in Ireland from taking her lands into the king’s hands.  From one such letter dated September 8, 1338, it is apparent that Elizabeth has brought it to the king’s attention that her lands have been unjustly taken from her because of outstanding yet pardoned debts, as the letter states:
“To the same as above [The treasurer and barons of the exchequer, Dublin?]. Order to amove the king’s hands from the ferms and rents of Elizabeth de Burgo in Ireland, and to permit her to dispose freely thereof, informing the king without delay if there is any cause why they should be retained in his hands, as on 25 April last the king gave her respite until Easter next for all the debts and reliefs that she owes at the exchequer, and she has besought the king to cause his hand to be amoved as aforesaid, because the treasurer and barons have caused those ferms and reliefs to be taken into the king’s hands, by reason of the debts which they pretend that she owes to him.”(36)

Further entries prove that these exemptions from debt were given to her up at least until 1350, with specific entries relating to the money she owes in Kilkenny due to her previous stewards’ debts occurring as late as 1358, two years before her death.(37)  Up until the time of her death Elizabeth seemed entirely capable of administering her lands both on the British mainland and in Ireland.  Her close relationship with the king only served to better her situation and occasionally got her the respite from debts that other landowners weren’t as fortunate to obtain.  

Although Elizabeth’s relationship to the king often benefited her position as the king’s kinswoman and a member of the upper aristocracy, she was also made to feel her subordinate and subservient position to the king.  After the death of Roger Damory, the king ordered in 1322 that the abbess of Berkyngg, in England, not only keep Elizabeth safe within the abbey, but to refuse to let her beyond the abbey walls, and also forbade Elizabeth to marry without the king’s permission.(38)  In the 1320s Elizabeth was required to supply two-hundred men for the kings service(39), and twice in the year of 1332 Elizabeth was required to actively show her support of the king by being ordered to send men-at-arms on an unspecified date at an unspecified time, for the purpose of embarking with the king on an expedition.(40)  Likewise in 1338/9 the king ordered Elizabeth to provide her Welsh lands with supplies in case of attack.(41)  Elizabeth heeded the order, but found it hard to comply with the king’s instructions due to the intervention of various men originally appointed by the king to help her with this cause, and so she petitioned the king to let him know of the situation which led to the king sending an order stating that those men are: 
“...not to intermeddle further with the custody of the island of Portlond, as the king hearing that his enemies proposed to invade the island, ordered Elizabeth de Burgo, lady thereof to cause it to be provided with men at arms, archers and other armed men, and also with victuals...”(42)

Warfare also affected Elizabeth when it occurred on the lands she held insofar that it could interrupt the peaceful management of her land and the profits extracted therefrom.  The conflict in Connaught from 1357-1358 disabled Elizabeth from reaping the profits from her land there, although this is the only instance of her land in Ireland being rendered completely unprofitable.(43)

In addition to actively participating in the administration of her estates during her widowhood, which lasted for thirty-eight years until her death at the age of sixty, and aside from the necessary actions she was required to perform for the crown, there is evidence of Elizabeth extending her influence into the religious sphere.  A combination of ample means through the competent running of her estates and a generous nature provided the makeup that contributed to the donations she made to religious houses, the licence she received to start a religious house, and her requests that certain advowsons be granted to those at the University of Cambridge.  

The donations or grants that Elizabeth made to religious houses consisted both of life interest grants such as that made in March of 1327 to a prior in England for the use of lands including fifteen messuages, rents, and a fishery in Wyndelse Mere(44), and of licenses granted for the alienations of mortmain, and the alienations in frank almoin to such priories she favoured such as those of Anglesey and Westderham, and those to the prior of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, as well as to the abbess and Sisters Minoresses of Deneye.(45)  Her desire to have the priory of Anglesey unmolested by outside influence resulted in the procurement of a letter from the king that assured her that neither he nor his heirs would attempt to make any claim to the custody of that priory.(46)  On March 12, 1336 Elizabeth received a license from the king that enabled the alienation in mortmain by her concerning the advowson of the church of Lytlington in county Cambridge, to the “...master and scholars of the hall of the university of Cambridge...”(47), three years later she gave oak trees to the scholars at Cambridge from her park of Hundun to help repair their houses(48), in 1346 a license was granted to those at Clare College, Cambridge, concerning the advowson of the church of Dokesworth as a result of the request of Elizabeth(49), and in 1348 she received papal approval to “ and found a chapel in the house called ‘Clare Hall’ Cambridge, endowed by her for a master and fifteen scholars.”(50)  Around this same period of time (in 1347), Elizabeth received licence to establish a house of the Friar Minors in Walsyngham.  Almost exactly one year later this licence was expanded to state precisely how much land she would be entitled to, specifically the land in Walsyngham consisting of “...four acres, one rood, of land, whereof four acres are said to be held in chief.”(51)  Elizabeth is also described in the Calendar of Fine Rolls as the patron of the priory of Stok by Clare. (52)

As alluded to above, it was the stablity of Elizabeth’s finances that allowed her to pursue other interests.  Jennifer Ward writes that “...from the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries, it appears that noblewomen’s lands were as well run as in the time of their husbands and fathers”(53), and it would appear from the profit Elizabeth extracted from her diverse lands that this was indeed the case.  It has been previously stated that the only situation that affected any profits she might receive from her Irish lands was the conflict that arose in 1357-1358, in Connaught, which prevented her from acquiring the profits she was accustomed to.  Her annual income amounted to approximately £ 2,750(54), while she received anywhere from £134 to £462 annually from her lands in Ireland over the twenty-four year period from 1333-1357.(55)  Elizabeth’s ability to keep her profit margin high was partly related to the fact that she was open-minded to new agricultural advances that would increase the profits she might yield, and also was involved in how to best market those items produced on her lands.(56)  While Elizabeth was able to yield a high profit from her lands to maintain herself and her household, her daughter-in-law, Matilda de Burgh, was not so fortunate as to acquire the many lands needed that would potentially enhance her state of affairs, as will be discussed shortly.  

Matilda de Burgh was the daughter of Henry, the earl of Lancaster, and his first wife Matilda.(57) In 1327 she married William de Burgh (58) after he had received a papal dispensation dated 1327 and which states: 
“To William, Earl of Ulster.  Dispensation to intermarry with a noble lady of England related to him in the fourth degree; such marriage tending to consolidate the peace between the English and Irish.”(59)

The marriage, however, ended on anything but peaceful terms.   William was murdered in 1333, supposedly as a result of Jill, Richard de Mandeville’s wife, who Friar Clyn claimed was to blame for the earl’s death at the hands of his barons, Richard and Robert de Mandeville, and John de Logan.(60)  After his murder Matilda was back in England by August of 1333 when a petition on her behalf is recorded nominating two men as her attorneys in Ireland.(61)
Part of the reason as to why Matilda left Ireland so quickly was that she feared for her own well-being and that of her young daughter, the sole heir of William.  In August of 1334 the Calendar of the Close Rolls contains an entry which records how Matilda wanted her dower lands to be comprised of the lands the earl had in England, because she so feared for her own life. The entry states that lands in England are to be turned over to her as part of her dower:
 “ Matilda has besought the king that whereas she is laid in wait for and threatened by certain of her rivals as in Ireland who killed the said earl, and who will destroy the countess if they can take her, wherefore she cannot dwell in those parts without great danger of her person...”(62)

Five years later she still professed fear in returning to Ireland, which also contributed to her supposed inability to collect any profit from the lands she was endowered with in Ulster.  The Calendar of the Patent Rolls records that in March of 1338 a letter was written:
“At the supplication of Matilda, countess of Ulster, showing that she does not receive any profits from the lands assigned to her in dower by the king in Ireland as she dare not go to that land for fear of the felons who lately murdered William, earl of Ulster, her husband, and praying him to take these lands to himself and order them to his own profit and to assign to her lands of equal value within the realm...”(63)

Just one year before a proclamation was issued that anyone who could capture Richard de Mandeville and his wife were entitled to 100 marks that Matilda had herself put up in an attempt to bring the murderers to justice.(64)

The removal of her household to England immediately following the death of her husband would have been no easy task, especially if it was done in haste induced by fear, along with the fact that the local authorities had seized the earl’s goods and chattels.  The Dowdall Deeds contain a letter itemizing goods being sent to England around the year of 1334, in which Matilda may be attributed as the recipient.  The dating of the document fits, and the content of the letter itself lends credibility to the theory that Matilda was the lady mentioned in the epistle.  Various items including six cushions of green velvet with the arms of Gloucester and Damory and a bedspread with the arms of Gloucester and Damory(65) suggest that the owner of these was Elizabeth de Burgh, heir to Gilbert, earl of Gloucester, and the widow of Roger Damory.  It is not inconceivable that these items may have come into the hands of Matilda, especially since Damory’s death occurred in 1322.  Further evidence supporting Matilda as the lady to whom the chaplain writes is that he mentions one John Gernon in this letter as travelling with the goods listed, and in November of 1333 Matilda had nominated as her attorneys in Ireland “...William de Wolly and John Gernown...”(66)  In addition to these factors, the Calendar of the Close Rolls contains an entry in August of 1333 that Matilda is to receive various contents of her chamber that were taken into the king’s hand after Willam’s death.(67)  The goods which were transported themselves give insight to those items the lady might have held most dear, including a gold covered cup, various books on surgery and physics alongside a Psalter and romances, and foodstuffs including “...spices, rotten almonds, rice, ginger, cinamon, galingale, to a total of thirteen pounds.”(68)  Although the goods mentioned suggest a wealthy noble person as their owner, Matilda certainly had a harder time than Elizabeth procuring enough money for her household and daughter.  In the same year that Matilda came back to England, she also received a grant from the king of one-hundred marks per annum,  specifically: 
“...for the sustenance of Elizabeth, daughter and heir of William, earl of Ulster, tenant in chief, to commence from the death of the earl, and to continue for such time as she shall stay in the custody of her said mother.”(69)

This was not the first time that Matilda would receive such a grant.  Over the next few years the king increased Matilda’s allowance so that by 1338 she is recorded as receiving £300 every year from the king.(70)  In addition to money she also received at this time grants of land, including those religious lands that the king had confiscated during the war with France due to the fact that the abbess or person in charge of the religious house was French.(71)
One of the reasons why Matilda petitioned the king for grants of money, at least initially, is that she had a hard time securing her dower after the death of her husband.  It has been alluded to above that the authorities in Ireland seized the earl’s property and goods after his demise.  Not only did Matilda have a difficult time obtaining those items that were part of her own chamber, but she also experienced difficulty in being endowed with a fair amount of lands.  In July of 1333 a letter was sent from the king to the justiciary, chancellor, and treasurer of Ireland, informing that although they took the earl’s property and goods into the king’s hand to ensure that the debts the earl had at the time of his death would be paid, all of William’s goods are to be placed in the hands of Matilda, the prior of the hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, and John Moriz, all executors of the earl’s will.(72)
On the same day that the king ordered an  escheator in England to turn over to Matilda land in divers English counties (August 26, 1334), there are two other entries in which the king assigned lands in dower to Matilda, in Ireland, including land in Ulster, Leinster, and Connaught.(73)  One day later there is an entry in the Calendar of the Close Rolls recording how Matilda is still determined to have her dower lands centred in and around England, and in exchange for the king granting English lands to her, he, the king, will have use of various lands that belonged to the earl in Ireland, and use them as he sees fit, holding them for the heir of the earldom, Elizabeth, until she come of age.(74)  The result of Matilda not being assigned with her dower until over a year after her husband’s death further impeded her economic situation from being successful, and as such the king had mercy on her in September of 1334 when he pardoned Matilda of 36£. 2s. 41/4d. precisely because she was unable to receive her dower, of which lands were in the king’s hands, “ reason of war in those parts [of Ireland].”(75)

Simply because Matilda’s dower had been assigned and the particular officials ordered to deliver her lands to her does not mean she received her lands when she was supposed to.  Like Elizabeth de Burgh, Matilda had to petition the king and fight for what was hers if she was to receive justice.  An entry from the chancery in 1335 demonstrates this point because it clearly illustrates the inability of certain authorities to execute the king’s orders when it suited their purposes.  This entry is important insofar as it acknowledges how difficult it may be for a woman to possess her rightful lands, even with the king’s consent and backing, and states:
“To the treasurer, or him who supplies his place, and the barons of the exchequer, Dublin.  Order to deliver to Matilda, late the wife of William de Burgo, earl of Ulster, tenant in chief, or to her attorney, a third part of the issues of the lands which belonged to the earl in Ireland from the time of the earl’s death until 26 August last, on which day the king caused dower to be assigned to her from the said lands as appears by inspection of the chancery rolls...which order the treasurer and barons have not hitherto cared to execute.”(76)

Even when Matilda finally received her dower things weren’t necessarily running smoothly for her in the financial department.  In 1346 the king ordered two of his officials in Ireland to take Matilda’s property from her dower lands in Ireland into the king’s hand, in an exchange for the many grants she obtained from him in the previous years.(77)

After the death of William Matilda married Ralph de Ufford(78), although little is known of the marriage or if indeed Matilda was assigned with a dower after his death in 1346.(79)  After being widowed twice Matilda chose to take up the religious life, and in 1347 was living as a Augustine canoness at Campsey Ash,(80) and accordingly it is around this time that she virtually drops out of the various primary records, the Calendar of Papal Registers being the one exception.   These records give relatively little insight to Matilda’s religious life except to provide witness and state how in 1364 she petitioned the pope to be allowed to move from Campsey Ash to become a Minoress.  She received papal permission within the same year and in this letter it states that not only did Matilda seek a transfer of religious houses because there was too much traffic from the nobility in Campsey Ash, but because she had intended to enter the order of St. Clare before she married Ralph de Ufford.(81)  She died, supposedly as a Minoress, in 1377.

The lives of  Avelina, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Matilda de Burgh all serve to illustrate how a woman in the Anglo-Irish aristocracy faired from the middle of the thirteenth through the middle of the fourteenth century.  The accounts recorded about their public lives show that they were every bit as capable as men of successfully holding on to and administering property.  The many differences between their lives pertaining to marriage, widowhood, inheritance and religious life also elucidates the possibilities open to women at this time in regards to how they were able (or unable) to act on their own behalf, independent from influence from their birth family or marriage family.  The existence of divers entries in the chancery roles pertaining to widowed women at this time proves that they were every bit as able as men in petitioning for and winning the cases they put to the king, while the fact that they were predominately widowed implies that they (widows) were treated with greater freedom and independence because there was no husband to speak up for them or keep them restrained from public life.   

Map of Ireland, 1513 (note HyBrazil off the coast) Wikimedia Commons


1Jennifer C. Ward, English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages  (London & New York, 1992), p. 48.
2The Complete Peerage, vol. XII, part II, eds. R. S. Lea & G. H. White  (London, 1959), p. 173.
3The Complete Peerage, vol. XII, part II, eds. R. S. Lea & G. H. White (London, 1959), p. 173; G. H. Orpen, Ireland Under the Normans, vol. IV (Oxford, 1920), p. 159.
4Calendar of the Patent Rolls [hereafter referred to as C. Pat. R. ], Edward I, 1272-1281, Stationery Office (London, 1901), p.7.
5Calendar of Documents Ireland [hereafter referred to as C. D. I. ], 1252-1284, Longman & Co., (London, 1877), 950; C. Pat. R. ,  Edward I, 1272-1281, Stationery Office (London, 1901), p.7.
6C. Pat. R. ,  Edward I, 1272-1281, Stationery Office,(London, 1901), p.7.
7Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem and Other Analagous Documents, Edward I, vol. III, Stationery Office (London, 1912),  507.
8The Complete Peerage, vol. XII, part II, eds.  R. S. Lea and G. H. White (London, 1959), p. 176.
9ibid., p. 176.
10Calendar of the Close Rolls [hereafter referred to as C. C. R. ],  Edward I, 1279-1288, Stationery Office (London, 1902), p. 77; see also C. D. I. , 1252-1284, Longman & Co. (London, 1877), 1794.
11The Complete Peerage, vol. XII, part II, eds. R. S. Lea and G. H. White  (London, 1959), p. 176; C. D. I. , 1293-1301, Longman & Co. (London, 1881),  14, 15.
12Calendar of the Charter Rolls,[hereafter referred to as C. Char. R.], Henry III- Edward I, 1257-1300,  Stationery Office (London, 1906), p. 267; C. D. I.,  1252-1284. Longman & Co. (London, 1877),  2102, 2099, 2100.
13The Complete Peerage, vol. XII, part II, eds. R. S. Lea and G. H. White  (London, 1959), p. 176.
14A. Cl., p. 260; A. C., p. 207; A. L. C.,  p. 531; A. F. M..,  p.481; Miscellaneous Irish Annals.  ed. Seamus O hInnse (Dublin, 1947), p. 131. Elizabeth de Burgh and Matilda de Burgh are both mentioned by Friar Clynn in his annal, but this is the only Irish annal found that lists them at all.  see ?
15Michael Altschul, A Baronial Family in Medieval England: The Clares 1217-1314  (Baltimore, 1965), p. 41.
16Jennifer C. Ward, English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages  (London & New York, 1992), p. 47.
17ibid., p. 48.
18ibid., p.41; Michael Altschul, A Baronial Family in Medieval England: The Clares 1217-1314 (Baltimore, 1965), p.169.
19C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1327-1330,  Stationary Office (London, 1891), p.481; see also C. C. R., Edward III, 1330-1333, Stationery Office (London, 1898), p. 53.
20Jennifer C. Ward, English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages  (London & New York), 1992, p. 42.
21C. C. R. , Edward II, 1318-1323, Stationery Office (London, 1895 ), pp.. 587, 603; C. C. R.,  Edward II, 1323-1327, Stationery Office (London, 1898), pp.. 65,145.
22Calendar of Fine Rolls[hereafter referred to as  C. F. R. ],Edward III, 1327-1337, Stationery Office (London, 1913), pp. 438 & 450.?
23C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1334-1338, Stationery Office (London, ????), p. 475.
24 Jennifer C. Ward, English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages  (London & New York), 1992, p. 62.
25A. J. Otway-Ruthven, ‘The Partition of the de Verdun Lands in Ireland in 1332’, inProceedings of the Royal Irish Acadeny, vol. 66, Section C, No. 5, (Dublin, 1968), p. 401.
26Robin Frame, English Lordship in Ireland 1318- 1361  (Oxford, 1982), p. 62.
27C. Pat. R., Edward II, 1313-1317,  Stationery Office (London, 1898), pp. 644, 660?, 666, 677; C. Pat. R., Edward II, 1317-1321, Stationery Office (London, 1903), pp.  26, 48, 248, 388.
28 G.O. Sayles recounts in the article “Formal Judgements on the Traitors of 1322” in his book Scripta Diversa that the king “...had postponed the execution of the judgement which condemned him to be drawn and hanged” not only because of Damory’s good service in his pre-rebel days, but also because the king had given to Damory his niece, Elizabeth, in marriage. (London, 1982, p. 82).
29Jennifer C. Ward, English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages  (London & New York, 1992), p. 62.
30Michael Altschul, A Baronial Family in Medieval England: The Clares 1217-1314  (Baltimore, 1965), p. 169.
31Robin Frame, English Lordship in Ireland 1318- 1361  (Oxford, 1982), p. 62.
32Michael Altschul, A Baronial Family in Medieval England: The Clares 1217-1314  (Baltimore, 1965), p. 293-294.
33There are twenty-seven entries of this kind in the Calendar of Patent Rolls  from 1322-1360.  Typically Elizabeth appointed new lawyers in Ireland every two years, with the exception of the period from 1342-1349, where entries were more likely to appear every year.  In 1352 there is an entry which states that Elizabeth has actually removed one of her lawyers in Ireland (reason not stated) and replaced him with another.  
34C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1340-1343,  Stationery Office (London, 1900), p.13.
35C. C. R., Edward III, 1333-1337, Stationery Office, (London, 1898), p.501, 666, 700.
36C. C. R.  Edward III, 1337-1339, Stationery Office (London, 1900), p. 528.
37C. C. R., Edward III, 1349-1354, Stationery Office (London, 1906), p. 197; C. C. R., Edward III, 1354-1360, Stationery Office (London, 1908), pp. 60, 312, 435. 
38C. C. R., Edward II, 1318-1323, Stationery Office (London, 1895), p.428. 
39C. Pat. R., Edward II, 1321-1324. Stationery Office (London, 1904), p. 275.
40C. C. R., Edward III, 1330-1333.  Stationery Office (London, 1898), pp. 532, 586. 
41C. C. R., Edward III, 1337-1339.  Stationery Office (London, 1900), p. 543.
42C. C. R., Edward III, 1339-1341, Stationery Office (London, 1901), p. 12.
43Robin Frame, English Lordship in Ireland 1318- 1361  (Oxford, 1982), p. 63.
44C. Pat. R.,Edward III, 1327-1330, Stationery Office (London, 1891), p. 61.
45C. Pat. R.,Edward III, 1330-1334. Stationery Office (London, 1893), pp. 39, 159, 477; C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1334-1338, Stationery Office (London, 1895), pps. 252, 552; C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1343-1345, Stationery Office (London, 1902), p. 3.
46C. Pat. R.,Edward III, 1334-1338, Stationery Office (London, 1895), p.245-246.
47ibid., p.237.
48C. C. R., Edward III, 1339-1341, Stationery Office (London, 1901), p. 82.
49C. C. R., Edward III, 1345-1348, Stationery Office (London, 1903), p.135.
50C. P. R., 1342-1362, vol. 3, eds. W. H. Bliss & J. A. Twemlow, (London, 1897), p. 269.
51C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1348-1350, Stationery Office (London, 1905), p. 7.
52C. F. R., Edward III, 1337-1347, Stationery Office (London, 1915), p. 33.
53Jennifer C. Ward, English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages  (London & New York, 1992), p. 115.
54ibid., p.126.
55Robin Frame, English Lordship in Ireland 1318- 1361  (Oxford, 1982), p. 64.
56Jennifer C. Ward, English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages  (London & New York, 1992), p. 116, 118.
57The Complete Peerage, vol. XII, part II, eds. R. S. Lea and G. H. White (London, 1959), p. 179.
58William had been recently made earl of Ulster after the death of his grandfather Richard de Burgh in 1326, see Jennifer C. Ward, English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages  (London & New York, 1992), p. 99.
59C. P. R., 1305-1342,  vol. 2, ed. W. H. Bliss (London, 1895), p. 257.
60Friar Clyn suggests the motive behind the murder being the fact that Jill’s brother Walter died imprisoned by the earl in 1332, this is further elaborated upon in  Robin Frame, English Lordship in Ireland 1318- 1361  (Oxford, 1982), p. 145; T. E. McNeill, Anglo-Norman Ulster(Edinburgh, 1980), pp. 32-33. 
61C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1330-1334, Stationery Office (London, 1893), p.463.
62C. C. R. Edward III, 1333-1337, Stationery Office (London, 1898), p. 248.
63C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1338-1340, Stationery Office (London, 1895), p. 21.
64C. C. R., Edward III, 1337-1339, Stationery Office (London, 1900), p. 170.
65Dowdall Deeds, eds. Charles McNeill & A. J. Othway-Ruthven (Dublin, 1960), 119.
66ibid., 119; C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1330-1334, Stationery Office (London, 1893), p. 484.
67C. C. R., Edward III, 1333-1337, Stationery Office (London, 1898), p.70.
68Dowdall Deeds, eds. Charles McNeill & A. J. Othway-Ruthven (Dublin, 1960), 119.
69C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1330-1334, Stationery Office (London, 1893), p. 490.
70C. C. R., Edward III, 1337-1339, Stationery Office (London, 1900), p. 466. See also C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1334-1338, Stationery Office (London, 1895), pp.. 31, 247; C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1338-1340, Stationery Office (London, 1895), p. 21.
71C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1338-1340, Stationery Office (London, 1895), pp. 95, 99, 117, 206, 240, 305, 368, 458, 467; C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1340-1343, Stationery Office (London, 1900), pp. 184, 189; C. F. R., Edward III, 1337-1347, Stationery Office (London, 1915), p. 146; C. C. R., Edward III, 1339-1341, Stationery Office (London, 1901), pp. 175, 192, 469.
72C. C. R., Edward III, 1333-1337, Stationery Office (London, 1898), p. 63.
73ibid., pp. 249, 250.
74ibid., p. 249; see also ibid., p. 248.
75ibid., p. 256.
76ibid., p. 376.
77C. F. R., Edward III, 1337-1347, Stationery Office,(London, 1915), p. 485; see also C. Pat. R., Edward III, 1343-1345, Stationery Office, (London, 1902), p.246. 
78By which she had one daughter, Matilda, see T. E. McNeil, Anglo-Norman Ulster (Edinburgh, 1980), p. 131.
79Robin Frame, English Lordship in Ireland 1318- 1361  (Oxford, 1982), p. 341;
80Jennifer C. Ward, English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages (London and New York, 1992), p. 144; C.P.R., vol. 
81C. P. R., Petitions, ed. W. H. Bliss, (London, 1896), p. 488; C. P. R., 1362-1404, vol. 4, eds. W. H. Bliss & J. A. Twemlow (London, 1902), p. 37.  The original petition from Matilda states that she wants to enter the Minoresses since she had originally wanted to enter the order when she was a child.


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