Monday, September 14, 2009

The DE FERRERS Sisters

Thirteenth-century English inheritance law was based on primogeniture: the eldest son was the sole heir of his parents. There was an exception to this; when parents produced no surviving male offspring, Common Law stated that all their female children should inherit equal portions of the estate. In theory, the inheritance of property by women should not have caused any change within the feudal structure, since unmarried heiresses were governed by male guardians and married heiresses surrendered virtually all control over their property to their husbands. Here again, there was an exception; Common Law protected free widows, including widowed heiresses, from forced remarriage, thus providing noble heiresses in the thirteenth century with the opportunity to exercise direct control over their inherited property.

An heiress could be a baron, even a countess, in her own right. When the property was divided between several co-heiresses, blood family relationships, which might have been relegated to a secondary role by the marriages of these daughters, tended to become more significant, both politically and socially. This is the world that the daughters of William de Ferrers and Sibyl Marshal were born.

William de Ferrers was the eldest son and heir of William, earl of Derby. Sibyl Marshal, daughter of William Marshal and Isabel de Clare, was his first wife and they had seven daughters: Agnes, Isabel, Maud(also known as Mahaut), Sibyl, Eleanor, Joan, and Agatha. They had no surviving male children. This meant that as long as Sibyl lived, there was a probability that William would have no one to pass the earldom on to. In that case, the earldom of Derby would be divided among his seven daughters. When this happened, an earldom was referred to as extinct in the male line. Even though there were female heiresses, no one heiress would have enough land to sustain the title.

Sibyl Marshal was born into a large family. She was one of ten children--five boys and five girls. William Marshal, her father was one of the richest and most powerful men in England, due to his marriage to her mother Isabel De Clare, who was the heiress to the Earl of Pembroke. When William de Ferrers married Sibyl, sometime in 1218 or early 1219, she stood no chance to inherit any of her father's and mother's estates. She had five brothers, which appeared to be healthy and would inherit before she did. However, even though William de Ferrers did not benefit monetarily by marrying Sibyl, he would have benefited by making an alliance to the most powerful nobleman of the early thirteenth century. Sibyl's sisters made similar marriages to prominent nobles. William Marshal was politically very close to the young King Henry III.

William and Sibyl de Ferrers' seven daughters were born between 1220 and 1237, when she died. William's father did not die until ten years later. William remarried soon after her death, to Margaret de Quency. She was the daughter and coheir to Roger de Quency and Helen of Galway, the earl and countess of Winchester. Margaret produced a son, Robert who inherited the earldom of Derby upon his father's death, which prevented William's estate from being divided.

Even though daughters usually did not inherit their father's estate, it was still the duty of their father to provide for them by arranging marriages for them. William managed to arrange advantageous marriages for his four eldest daughters sometime before 1245. As his own father was still living, and he had not inherited yet. This would have made it necessary for him to make politically advantageous marriages for his daughters. The marriages he made for them all helped to consolidate political connections he had made to the families of their spouses. During this time period, families frequently gave the younger daughters to convents to become nuns, but William's daughters all married.

In 1245, Anselm and Walter Marshal, the last of their mother's brothers, died. Despite the odds, all five of their maternal uncles had died without male heirs. The result was that the vast estates of the earldom of Pembroke and Striguil in England and Wales and the lordship of Leinster in Ireland was divided among the Marshal's five daughters. Their mother, Sybil de Ferrers was the fourth. This meant that Sibyl's seven daughters became heirs to one-fifth of the largest and richest inheritance in the British Isles. Their share included the town and manor of Sturminster Marshal in Dorset, manors in Kent, Wiltshire, Bedford, and Norfolk, and the castle, town, and country of Kildare in Ireland, with the rents, issues, income, advowsons, knight's fee, and services that belonged to those properties.

It is doubtful that the daughters and grandchildren of William and Isabella Marshal had expected This unexpected inheritance while fortuitous, would also complicated their lives due to the continual negotiation over how the Marshal estates were to be divided. This inheritance stood to leave them in better financial positions than their father, who himself, had not yet inherited from his father.

The daughters of Sybil Marshal de Ferrers are an example of women during the Middle Ages not always having their destinies decided by men. They were able to work together and accomplish great things.

Six of the sisters survived their first husbands; of these, two never remarried, two of them married twice, and two of them married three times. The seventh sister died during her marriage. but the other five were widows at the time of their deaths, three of them lived as independent widows for many years.

The Ferrers not only had to deal with each other when it came to their joint share of the inheritance, they had their first cousins to contend with. The Ferrers sisters inherited only one-fifth of their maternal grandparent's estates. Their cousins inherited the other four-fifths.

Linda Elizabeth Mitchell, in her book Portraits of Medieval Women says, “By using the records of the central courts and the rolls of the royal chancery it is possible to discover what benefits the Ferrers sisters received from their inheritance, how they managed and maintained their property, and how they interacted with each other and with others outside their immediate family. Their actions reveal the sisters to have been intelligent and effective landholders, who protected their interests and their property even when they bickered among themselves for greater shares of the inheritance. Both the spirit of cooperation among them and the antagonisms directed against some of the family members continued to be played out in subsequent generations, especially among the first cousins.”

At the time that they inherited, three of the Ferrers sisters were married, one was widowed and about to be married again, and the three youngest were still under age.

The unmarried Ferrers sisters became wards of the king. This gave him control of the large and valuable inheritance, because he had control of who they married. As previously stated, providing advantageous marriages for their children was one of the most significant duties of a Medieval parent. William and Sibyl Marshal de Ferrers seem to have carefully chosen these marriages before she died.


Agnes, Isabel , Maud and Sibyl were all married to important barons of middle to high rank, even though they had not yet inherited from their grandparents and were still unlikely to. Agnes married William de Vescey, a lord from Yorkshire and connected to the Lacy family; Isabel marred Gilbert Basset, a close friend and ally of Earl Richard Marshal, the girl's uncle; Maud married Simon de Kyme, who was an important Lincolnshire landholder and also connected to the Lacy family; Sibyl married Franco de Bohun, who was lord of Midhurst, Sussex. His cousin was Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex. Franco's marriage to a daughter of the prestigious house of Pembroke raised his status.

Linda Elizabeth Mitchell, says that the marriages of William and Sibyl's daughters reflect his elevated status. all of the connections either directly or tangentially moved toward or into the Marshal orbit of political and marital alliances, or into the Marshal--Chester circle that was cemented by William's and Sibyl's own marriage.” She says that these marriages were a deliberate strategy and shows as proof the gift that Isabel de Ferrers received on her marriage to Gilbert Bassett. Her uncle Richard Marshal, gave her a manor in Hampshire, which included the town of Greywell. This is an indication that as a reward for marrying a Marshal ally, her uncle bolstered her dowry from his own possessions.

Part of the Ferrers families strategy was forming alliances through marriage. When they became widows, and gained control of who they married, they continued to make political alliances through marriage. Between 1245 and about 1270 the Ferrers sisters married collectively thirteen times. Agnes, the eldest, and Agatha, the youngest, each married once; Isabel second sister, and Joan next to youngest, each married twice; and Maud, third eldest, and Eleanor, third youngest, each married twice; and Maud, third eldest, and Eleanor, third youngest, each married three times.

Sibyl de Ferrers died before her husband Franco de Bohun
, and before she received her part of the inherited estate. Her inheritance went to her son John de Bohun.

The marriages and remarriages made by the sisters after they inherited, were made with men who were connected to the Marshal family. These husbands were from Cheshire and the Welsh March, places in which the Marshals held authority, such as Dorset, or they were to men who were brothers or cousins of men who had married into the Marshals.

The sisters used their ties to their mother's family, rather than their father's the Earl of Derby's, which was not as powerful as the Marshal line. In this case, a family's political and social position did not come from the father's familial and social connections. When you read about families in the Middle Ages, the authors tend to indicate that the father's family or the husband's family were the only ones of significance to women. The case of the Ferrers sisters contradicts this idea. There are other examples of the wife's family being more politically important, such as the family of Anne Boleyn. Her mother's family was far more politically powerful than her father's, and the family in effect took orders from her maternal uncle. In both of these families, the husband's status was elevated by marriage, not the wife's.


The Ferrers sisters status was raised significantly by the inheritance they received as heirs to their mother. Their inheritance allowed them to advance politically and socially in a way that would not have been possible if they could only depend on the status of their father's or husbands' families.

The sisters all seem to have had good health. Of all the surviving sisters, Joan was the only one who predeceased her last husband. Agnes, Maud, Isabel, Eleanor and Agatha all lived as widows for long periods of time. Agnes was a widow for thirty seven years. Maud survived her husband for ten years. Agatha outlived her husband by more than thirty years. Some of the sisters lived to great ages. Agatha was about 79; Matilda was about 78; Agnes was about 80; Eleanor was about 48 at death; Isabel was about 41; Joan was about 47; Isabel died young. Surviving to adulthood was miraculous during the Middle Ages.

During the Middle Ages, becoming a widow could be to a woman's advantage. A widow was entitled to one-third of her husband's property and they could hold this property even if they remarried. A woman who was widowed several times, could amass a large amount of property. A widow was not placed under guardianship, which meant an unmarried woman was under the control of either a relative (usually male), the king or someone appointed by the king. As a widow, a woman could act as executor to another person's will as was legally entitled to write her own will. She could own, buy, sell and rent property, all things which a married woman could only do with the permission of her husband. A widow was able to act as a guardian for her children and make marriage arrangements for them. Many widows were patrons for priests and monasteries. A widow who owned property could hire, men to manage their estates, attorneys, and litigate in court, which married women had to do through her husband. Widows were not able to hold office, like judge, although I do know of a case where a woman was a sheriff.

Widows also had responsibilities. They had to pay taxes and supply soldiers to the king. They were not allowed to lead men into battle, but sometimes they had to defend castles owned by their family.

1.Eleanor married a series of times, and when she died, she was a countess in the West Country.

Her first marriage as a result of her elopement , while she was still the king's ward was to William de Vaux, who died in 1252. Arthur Collins's supplement to the Peerage says that William de Vaux had to pay a fine to the king of 26 marks per annum until 80 marks was paid for this transgression. He was apparently one of her father's household knights. Her second marriage was to Roger de Quency, earl of Winchester, again without licence from the king. This marriage made for some interesting familial connections. Roger's second wife was Maud, widow of Anselm Marshal and therefore, Eleanor's aunt by marriage. In addition to this, Roger's first marriage to Helen of Galoway produced a daughter Margaret, who married Eleanor's father William Ferrer's as his second wife, making her husband Roger's daughter her stepmother. So when Eleanor married Roger, she became the stepmother of her stepmother. After Roger de Quency died in 1264, she married Roger de Leyburn, with royal permission in 1267. Her third marriage gave her entry into the royal court, through a Poitevan noble, who was of high social status. Portraits of Medieval Women says he was landless, but the Dictionary of National Biography says he was granted the manor of Elham in Kent, by Edward I. The Dictionary of National Biography says that Roger de Leyburn accompanied Henry III to Gascony in 1253 and was intimate with his son Edward I, serving as his steward and keeping his purse. At a later point, he allied himself with barons rebelling against the king and as a result had his manor taken back from him, he resorted to marauding and eventually joined Roger de Clifford and Simon de Montfort, against the king. He was along with some other lords, won back over to the king and he was reinstated as steward to the king and queens households and appointed warden of the Cinque ports. The same source says that he was given 13 manors and that he was sheriff of Kent and warden of the forests beyond Trent. So, despite falling in and out with the royal family, he apparently held a place of favor with them. Roger de Leyburn died in 1271 and Eleanor died three years later in 1274.


2.Agatha gained power in the West Marches, when she married, Hugh de Mortimer, younger brother of Roger de Mortimer. Roger's wife, Maud de Braose, was also the Ferrers sisters' first cousin. Agatha must have been in the guardianship of her sister Agnes for a time. I found in a book called the Antiquities of Shropshire, that July 24, 1253, the king ordered Agnes to give give up her sister Agatha to Hugh, son of Ralph de Mortimer. Hugh held the manor of Chelmarsh and another called Cleybury. He was the sheriff of Shropshire and Staffordshire. He died in 1273 and she lived until 1306. Antiquities of Shropshire shows Agatha being required to send her service for the Muster against Lewelin in 1277 and in 1284 as owing money to the crown because of her share of the Marshal inheritance. She held lands in Dorsetshire and Somersetshire. She was also included in the military summons of 1300 against the Scots. July 12, 1306 the king's writ of Diem clausit extremum issued on her death showed that she owned estates in Bedfordshire, Dorsetshire, and Ireland.

3.Agnes was the most successful of the sisters. She became lady Kildare. She had political and economic control over much of Yorkshire and Northumberland. Her eldest son married into the royal family twice. When her husband William de Vesci of Kildare, died, she received as dowry the manor of Malton. The barony of Alnwick and the Scottish lordship of Sprouston, must have been part of her inheritance, because it passed to their son John. William de Vesci was Lord Justice of Ireland. Agnes' arms were depicted on her seal on a charter after her husband died, as follows: she appears in a gown embroidered with the arms, the cross patonce, of her husband. She is standing under a canopy. She is holding in her right hand a shield bearing the Vesci arms: gules, a cross patonce argent. On her left side is her own family's arms: vairy, or and gules. Her mantle is lined with the Ferrers vair. The combination of arms shows the union of two families. Although her husband's family is given precedence by the cross patonce bing nearer to her body, her pride in her own family is shown on the reverse side. It shows a tree with three shields hanging from it. There was originally a fourth shield which was dmaged. One is her husband's cross patonce. One is from her mother's family: party or and vert, a lion rampant. A third shows her paternal grandmother's family. This grandmother was one of the heiressesthe earl of Chester: azure, three garbs or. The missing shield may have shown her father's Ferrers line. On this seal, she showed not only her ties to her male relatives, but also to her female relatives, through the male medium of heraldry.

4. Isabel married Gilbert Basset, baron of Wycombe, who died c.1241. The Dictionary of National Biography says that Gilbert Basset died 1241 and was the eldest son of Alan Basset, both being barons of Wycombe. About 1231, Gilbert negotiated a truce with Llewellyn of Wales for Henry III. Alan Basset died in about 1232, when Gilbert succeeded him in the barony. Dugdale says that he was made governor of St. Briavels Castle and the Forest of Dean and that he had close relationships with the Earls Marshal. Gilbert joined the barons led by Richard Marshal (Isabel's uncle) When the barons refused to come to a summons by the king in June 1233, and also refused to meet the king's foreign relations, as a result, Matthew Paris says that Henry III was especially angry with Gilbert for being such a prominent part of this baronial rebellion. Gilbert forfeited a manor given to him by king John, and when he tried to regain it, Henry III declared him a traitor and threatened to hang him if he did not leave the court. One of Gilbert's nephews, a Richard Suard was taken hostage to assure Gilbert's good behavior.

The king summoned the rebellious nobles to meet him at Gloucester in August 1233, and they again refused, and were outlawed as a result. The king also ordered that the towns, castles and parks which belonged to these nobles were to be destroyed. After the death of the earl Marshall, Henry III received Gilbert back into favor and his estates were restored to him.

The occasion of Gilbert's death occurred in 1241. While he was out on a hunt, his horse tripped over a root and threw him and he was paralyzed as a result. He never recovered. Before the end of August, the same year, his only son Gilbert also died.

Isabel and Gilbert benefitted from their association and relationship to the Marshal family. When they married, Richard Marshal gave her a manor in Hampshire, including the town of Greywell as part of her dowry.

Gilbert was a knight of the king's household as well as his connections to the Marshals. Gilbert's father Alan and his brother Thomas had been knights under Isabel's uncle William Marshal II.

After Gilbert's death, Isabel married Reginald de Mohun, lord of Dunster, He was the chief Justice of all the forest of Trent under Henry III, and governor of Saubeye Castle in Leicester. He had land and knights fees in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. He owned the manors of Ottery, Stoke-Fleming, Monkton, and Galmeton, and the Maanor of Mildenhall, in Wiltshire and Greylkell in Southampton, which were given as giftsto his and Isabel's son William. He was obviously well off, enough so that he established a Cistercian abbey at Axeminster in Devon, in 1246. Reginald died in 1256.


5.Matilda/Maud married Simon de Kyme. He held a knights fee of her father in Fresken', Weynfeld, Bytoft, Skegnes and Wynethorp. Simon died in 1248 and some sources seem to think that they had a son named William who inherited the de Kyme property from him. Other sources state that William was Simon's brother. Within the same year after Simon died Matilda received permission to remarry to William “le Fortibus” de Vivonne. The Vivonnes were seneschals of Poitiers, Aquitaine, and Gascony. The History and Antiquities of Somersetshire says tha she had an assignment in dower of the manor of Shepton-Malet. It also says that Simon was her first husband and lists their four daughters, Joan, Cecily, Mabel, and Sybilla. William was also Lord of Chewton in Somerset. William must have inherited a considerable portion of land. The Battle Abbey roll says that he was given leave by Henry III to go to Poitou and recover “such lands and tenements as ought to descend to him by inheritance for the death of Americ de Vivonia, his uncle.” William died in 1259. When he died, he left considerable property to his four daughters. He held land in Poitou, and in England from his father, and land from his mother's Malet estates in England. She remarried Emery, viscount of Rouchechoard, who died about 1284. She lived fifteen ears after his death.

6.Sibyl Ferrers married Franco De Bohun September 21, 1247, without licence. Franco was the lord of Midhurst and he also inherited his mother's land in Ireland. He was sealer or Writs to King Henry III. When Franco died he left to their son John, Midhurst, Forde and Rustyntone as per extant taken at Franco's death.

7.Joan Ferrers married John De Mohun and they owned Sturminster-Marshall and one-third of the hundred of Loosebarrow in Dorset. She is mentioned in the chronicles of Tinturn abbey as John de Mohun's wife. He died before 1257. They had two sons, John and Robert. John was the son of Reginald de Mohun who had married her sister Isabel. She remarried about 1259 Robert de Aguillon. The plea rolls of 51 Henry III show that she was dead in 1277. Robert de Aguillon held her estates in curtesy until he died, and so her sisters gave patronage to her son James, apparently until he could inherit.

During their lifetimes, Agnes and her sisters had to work within and through the family to achieve many of their political and economic aims. Linda Elizabeth Mitchell, says “What detailed searching through the records reveals was a situation not unlike those that occur even today among members of a family: the sisters cooperated with each other, but also bickered among themselves. They helped each other when it was advantageous to do so, but individual sisters were not unwilling to antagonize their siblings when their own profit was at stake.”

In her book Linda Elizabeth Mitchell, says that the Ferrers sisters worked together when it was to their benefit. Sometimes they were co-plaintiffs with the other Marshall heirs at times in order to secure property or to sue tenants for trespass, debt or others proprietary actions.

They sisters acted as coheirs when the property they had inherited directly was threatened or when they felt they were not receiving the privileges due to them. Ms. Mitchell also says that The Ferrers sisters contributed to the well being of each other's children.

Inevitably, problems occur when six people share the ownership of property. If you compound the situation by factoring successive generations, deaths and marriages, the possible problems would boggle the mind.

Each of the sisters had some land from the property they held jointly, it was impossible to divide it equally. Each sister received jurisdiction over specific local courts, advowsons, and profits and rents from specific manors to make their shares more equal. Whoever decided how things were originally divided attempted to make the seven separate shares. This was not possible for all ot the inheritance, so the sisters had to cooperate with each other and control some of the lands cooperatively. It was also necessary to grant dower properties or cash settlements to the four surviving widows of the Marshal men. Eleanor Plantagenet, was the widow of William Marshal II the younger and wife of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester (and she was also sister of King Henry III) and Margaret de Quency, suo jure countess of Lincoln and dower countess of Pembroke, posed unusual problems.

Eleanor de Montfort was still a child when her first husband, William Marshal II, died. Given her young age, their marriage may not have yet been consummated before he died. Her dowry included the lands in England that were the Ferrers sisters inheritance. These included Luton, Bedfordshire, the family caput in that county. Instead of dividing the Irish lands that formed the lordship of Leinster, Eleanor was given an annuity of L400 taken from the profits of the lordship. When both Walter and Anselm Marshall died in 1245, King Henry III made the decision to pay Eleanor--his sister--her annuity from his own coffers in order to temporarily aleviate some of the problems of dividing the estates among the thirteen coheirs. He was counting on the other heirs to reimburse him later. However the Marshal heirs almost never paid the yearly amount allotted to each of them, and they accumulated huge debts to the Crown over the years. Henry III faithfully paid L400 a year to his sister according to the records of the Liberate Rolls. The rolls of the King's Remembrancer record the large debts owed by the heirs. For example, in 1255-56 five of the seven 'Ferrers heiresses each owed L217 2s 10 1/2d.

The dower owed to Margaret de Quency's Marshal was more problematic to the heirs. Because her husband, Walter, had been the last male heir invested with the earldom, she was entitled to a full one-third of the property. The Ferrers sisters, were compelled to give up the most prestigious portion of their inheritance, the Irish county of Kildare, for the duration of Margaret's life. King Henry III ordered the other heirs to compensate the Ferrers sisters from their shares of the inheritance, but they never received payments that equally anything near the value of these estates. The other heirs probably felt that the sisters should be content because they would eventually inherit them after Margaret de Quency died. They also may have felt that the sisters were not entitled to them in the first place.

An example of the heirs fighting amongst themselves can be shown in the case of Agnes de Vescy. She took a case to the Exchequer of Pleas in order to gain the partitioning of debt owed to her by all her coheirs, over thirty years after the Marshal estates had been divided. The case still appeared in the court records ten years later. Agnes sued her sisters, cousins, nephews, and nieces and several of the defendants sued each other for debts that had not been paid to them. These suits were for petty amounts,which amounted to a mere 125 marks among all thirteen coheirs.

Ms. Mitchell says that the sisters had other cases which can be found in court records. They sued for dower when their husbands died and litigated against tenants, bailifffs, and the like over debts, detinues, and trespasses committed by them. They were also sued for similar things themselves.

Tenants occasionally sued one of the heirs for novel disseisin or for entry into property she held. This means they were sued by litigants claiming that the sisters had dispossessed them of lands that were rightfully theirs. Having multiple co-heirs worked to their advantage in cases such as these. By law, all of the heirs had to be listed in the writ and all had to appear before the case could be heard in court. It would be nearly impossible to win a case when you had thirteen co-defendants.

As previously stated, part of the privileges that the sisters inherited was the right to have their own courts in the lands they inherited. In 1293, they demanded that the abbot of St. Thomas near Dublin appear before their liberty court of Kildare to answer the charge of darrein presentment, which was was an action brought to enquire who was in fact the last patron to present a benefice to a church then vacant, of which the plaintiff complained that he was deforced or unlawfully deprived by the defendant. The abbot insisted that he did not have to appear at their court, and the heirs insisted that he did. He said that the heirs were impinging upon the privileges given to his priory by William Marshal. The case appeared in the court of the King's Bench at every session for two years, but no final judgement is stated in the record. However, an inquisition did discover that the heirs were not entitled to summon the abbot to their court, and it was the abbot's own default that delayed the rendering of justice.

The sisters had a number of disagreements with other Marshal coheirs. In 1273, Humphrey de Bohun (coheir by right of his late wife, Eleanor de Braose, and the father-in-law of Robert de Ferrers, their half-brother) sued the Ferrers sisters for trespass. He also engaged in a lengthy contest with them over the wardship of a tenant's lands. This is another example of the strange familial relationships. Humphrey de Bohum married Eleanor de Braose, daughter of Eve Marshal and William de Braose. Eve was one of the daughters of William Marshal and therefore the aunt of the Ferrers sisters. Robert de Ferrers was their half-brother by their father's second marriage.

Joan and William de Valence were among the coheirs who had to reimburse the Ferrers sisters for the lands Margaret de Quency held in dower (Joan had inherited a full one-fifth portion of estate) and this caused conflict between the Valences and Agatha de Ferrers. But she managed to compel her more powerful cousins to release property they owed her after four years.

The Ferrers sisters sometimes exchanged property with the heirs outside their immediate family. This could be helpful in one party owned land adjoining or in the middle of another party's holdings, and vice versa. They could trade a piece of property for another piece of property in order to consolidate their holdings. For example, a three-way exchange apparently occured between Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford, Maud de Ferrers, and Agatha de Ferrers because they were involved in suits of warranty of charter with each other in the 1270's and 1280's.

The sisters also made transfers of property amongst themselves. When Sibyl de Ferrer's son, John de Bohun of Midhurst, decided to sell a part of his inheritance to Maud de Ferrers and other heirs. However, Agnes tried to impinge on the sale by suing John for entry as of her right. Isabel (de Ferrers) Basset de Mohun was forced to sue her sister, Joan, and her brother-in-law, Robert Aguillon, for dower after Reginald de Mohun's death in 1258.

The sisters had disputes because of the complicated arrangements of their Irish inheritance. In 1257, Agnes made an agreement with her sister Joan and Joan's husband, Robert Aguillon, concerning the profits from a mill in Kildare, which was supposed to be a part of Joan's inheritance, but was still controlled by Margaret de Quency in dower. In 1266 Margaret de Quency and Agnes' sister Joan died. In addition to all of the other problems that came from redistributing Margaret's dower lands and Joan's portion, it gave Agnes an opportunity to gain part of her sister's share. Robert Aguillon would have been entitled to the mill in right of his wife, but Agnes would not give it to him. Robert sued Agnes and forced her into making a settlement.

In 1277, Agatha was a widow and she sued her sisters for withholding lands worth L12 6s 4d, which were part of her share in the vill of Newton-near-Jerpoint. The sisters did not answer the summons and Agatha was awarded the land by default.

Another conflic arose from the death of Margaret de Quency in 1266. The county of Kildare had been held by her in dower and it was now released. At this time there were only four sisters still living. Agnes received the castle and capital manor, which then became the lordship of Kildare, while the other sisters received scattered manors and vills in the county. Agnes, Maud, Eleanor, and Agatha--were to receive approximately equal shares of the issues from the pleas and perquisites of the county and its court and to appoint jointly a seneschal, chancellor, and treasurer who would administer the county and divide the proceeds among the coheirs. Agnes subverted this process by appointing her own administrators and keeping all of the profits for herself. Maud and her third husband Emery, Eleanor, and Agatha sued Agnes for their shares. The Irish common pleas court found in their favor and demanded that Agnes give up the county profits to her sisters, She refused, claiming that she had been ejected from seisin without having been summoned to defend herself. The case was adjourned to the court of King's Bench in 1272 and continued to be delayed until Hilary term, 1275, when judgement was supposed to be made. Agnes attempted to forestall judgement by pleading that Eleanor's death nullified the writ. The result was that the court decided that Eleanor left no heirs and her share was to be redistributed among the other three sisters. The court also found that Agatha owed Maud and Agatha shares of the disputed profits and ordered that new officials had to be appointed and that Agnes had to pay back the profits that she had previously owed to them.


In addition to the sisters disputing over their shares, their heirs also became involved. They were continually petitioning the king to intervene in these disputes. The situation worsened when King Edward I removed Agnes's heir, William de Vescy (her second son), from his position as justiciar or Ireland and forced him to concede all his lands to the Crown as payment of his outstanding debts. Just when Agatha and Maud had recovered their shares of the pleas and perquisites of the county, their property was again taken from them because the escheator never determined which parts of the Irish property belonged to William de Vescy and which belonged to his aunts. Eventually, the sisters and their heirs received yearly cash settlements for their shares in the county of Kildare.

All of these suits would have been expensive and frustrating. But the sisters would have felt it was a worthwhile fight. The profits from an entire county such as Kildare would have been immense. But it could not have helped the sisters to retain their emotional ties to one another. They all lived in different places and these distances would have drawn them apart even without the financial disputes. But they had to maintain some sort of relationship in order to work together for their inheritance. Ms. Mitchell says that the younger sisters allied against Agnes, who was antagonistic toward them, her tenants and her own children as well as the religious communities she was patron to.

“Obviously, the economic relationship that Agnes and her sisters shared out of necessity must have had an effect on their personal relationships with each other. Although all of these activities and responsibilities might be defined as "domestic" in character, domesticity does not preclude political effects as well as personal. As mentioned before, land ownership (to the extent that people other than the king "owned" land) carried political responsibilities. One of the reasons why the Ferrers sisters seem to have taken their conflicts into the public arena of the king's court, instead of thrashing them out among themselves, is because the question of what belonged to whom carried consequences beyond their familial, domestic, private interests. Having an official record of the resolution of a conflict had become an important issue by the thirteenth century in England and the Ferrers sisters were clearly aware of the need to maintain their archives. If the county court of Kildare was administered en famille, then it behooved the sisters to establish clear boundaries regarding who was responsible, should they be called to account for poor administration of justice, for example. If all the sisters were subject to supplying the feudal levy, then it was vital for each one to know exactly how many soldiers she needed to supply. If a rebellion occurred--and several did occur during the lifetimes of the Ferrers sisters--then it was necessary, even imperative, that the family ranks whenever possible, in order to protect their property from undue confiscation. This, in fact, occurred among the Marshal heirs during the Barons' War and the rebellion of Simon de Montfort: those who inherited land (including Agnes and her sisters) remained, for the most part, loyal to the Crown while many of those who had not yet inherited or whose family associations lay more outside the Marshal family circle turned against the Crown and supported the earl of Leicester--for example, Agnes's sons John and William, and the sisters' half-brother, Robert de Ferrers, earl of Derby. Indeed, Agnes was rewarded for her support of the Crown, while her son, John, was fined a substantial amount before being forgiven his disloyalty.”

Despite all of the disputes, there was still familial loyalty. The Ferrers sisters and their heirs acted as patrons to the cousins who were not as well off.

Agnes had sons, but they all died without legitimate heirs. Isabel's children all apparently died without producing heirs. Maud, Sibyl, Joan and Agatha all had successful lineages that continued into the fourteenth century; Maud's heirs were four daughters by William "le Fort" de Vivonia, and who shared Maud's one thirty-fifth of the Marshal estates and who each gained one-fourth of the Vivonia patrimony. As you can see, the estate had been divided into thirty five parts, some of which were shared by more than one person.

Since Maud's heirs were all female, they had some of the same problems their mother and aunts had had. Maud's second husband, William "le Fort", was the son of Hugh de Vivonia, a Poitevan nobleman, and Mabel Malet, an heiress in the West Country. Maud's marriage to William was politically and economically advantageous for both adults, since it connected the Vivonia family to the Marshals. Their daughters--Joan, Cecily, Sibyl, and Mabel--were connected, in much the same way as Maud's marriages connected her, to Marshal family alliances along the Welsh March and to the Poitevan alliances established by the Vivonia family. These marriages were arranged in a way that prevented the king from gaining control of the young women and also prevented him from using them as profitable marriage "properties". Maud received royal threats to her security and position, but she refused to turn her daughters over to the king to be married to his choices and seems never to have been punished for her behavior, although the Close Rolls reveal a great deal of irritation on the part of Henry III when he was unable to gain control of the four girls.

The king, in 1259, had granted the girls' wardships and marriages to four members of his household--Ingram de Percy, Peter de Chauvent, Imbet de Munferant, and Laurence de Sancto Mauro--with the stipulation that if none of the knights to whom he granted the marriages actually married the girls, then Maud could purchase their marriages. (“Maud de Kyme, their mother, shall have preference over others if she shall wish to buy the said marriages, provided always that she give as much for them as others would”. CPR Henry III, vol. 5, p. 36) In fact, Maud resisted giving up her daughters to their guardians for two years and then sent her two younger daughters, Mabel and Sybil, to live overseas with their Vivonia relatives. The king finally granted Maud custody of her two elder daughters, Joan and Cecily, but retained their marriages.

Maud's daughters married as follows:
Joan married Reginald fitzPeter; Cecily married John de Beauchamp; Mabel married Fulk de Archiaco; and Sybil married Guy de Rouchechouard. It is highly probable that Maud arranged and negotiated for these marriages, probably by purchase.

I am sometimes overcome by gladness that as a woman, I did not live in an earlier era, because of all of the hardship and inequality that my female ancestors endured. But it is nice to find some of them who managed to take control of their own destiny.


CPR Henry III, vol. 5, p. 36

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