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Maud de Braose

Apparently every aristocratic family in Europe can trace Maud de Braose as an ancestor. I can’t verify that, but looking at Medieval genealogies, the Norman family trees are hopelessly interconnected. It certainly seems a strong possibility.

Medieval women tend to be shadowy figures, unless they are Queens, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine or Margaret of Anjou. The value of daughters was purely to manage strategic marriages for their families, and produce heirs for their husbands. Other women rarely stand out, but Maud (Matilda is the anglicized version) is an exception.

Maud de Saint-Valery-en-Caux was probably born in 1155, near Dieppe. She married William de Braose, 4th Lord of Bramber, around 1166 – 69. In addition to his Sussex inheritance from his father, William also inherited significant estates in the Welsh Marches from his mother. William and Maud travelled around his extensive holdings. William accompanied both Richard I and King John on their campaigns in France. In her husband’s absence, Maud, like many ladies of the period, would have been left in charge of managing and defending these estates.

Lady Maud was described as a formidable woman and she and William may have had as many as 16 children, so she must have been a physically robust individual. She was apparently tall and it was said the she had her own armour, which she wore into battles. A ruthless couple, William was known as the ‘Ogre of Abergavenny’ following an incident in 1175. Three Welsh Princes and other Welsh leaders were lured to Abergavenny Castle for a Christmas Feast, under a pretence of peace and a new era. They were all massacred. William also tracked down the seven year old son of one of the princes and murdered him as well.

By 1200, Maud was based at Hay Castle, managing and defending the area as her husband became a close companion and supporter of King John. As a Royal favourite he prospered for a while. He was put in charge of Arthur of Brittany, John’s nephew and potential rival for the throne of England. What happened to Arthur following his capture is unknown. Suffice it to say, he was never seen again. He may have suffered the same fate as the Welsh Princes. There were even rumours that John killed Arthur himself. Either way, William was involved.

The King gave William the three Castles of Gwent: Skenfrith, White and Grosmont. This has sometimes been interpreted as a reward or bribery to keep him quiet. Soon after this, there was a spectacular fall from grace. John frequently took hostages to ensure loyalty, usually the eldest son and heir. He claimed that William owed him a great deal of money. Maud refused to give her son into John’s custody. She would not hand her son over a man who had murdered his own nephew.

We do not know her precise words but John turned on the de Braoses, confiscating their estates and declaring them outlaw. They fled, separately, to Ireland, where John pursued them. Maud and her eldest son were eventually captured, whilst her husband fled to France, via Wales, disguised as a beggar. He died in exile the following year. Meanwhile John took his prisoners to Windsor Castle.

The precise details are unknown, but it seems that they were moved to Corfe Castle where they starved to death in the dungeons in 1210. John’s cruelty enraged the Barons and Magna Carta included Clause 39: No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.

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