If you consider that in the medieval period, the eldest son was the main heir to his father's estate, then you can't help but feel very sorry for poor Robert Curthose. As the eldest son of William, Duke of Normandy and Matilda of Flanders, he was already due to inherit Normandy in the future. In 1066 his father became King of England, and the teenage Robert would have been able to think of himself as the future King Robert I of England.
Born in the early 1050s (1051 to 1053 tend to be quote most frequently) Robert was named after his paternal grandfather, and King Robert of France who was his mother's grandfather. His nickname “Curthose” seems to have come from his father and was a reference to his short height. Given that his mother Matilda has been rumoured to be relatively small it may be that Robert inherited his height from her. But while he seems to be quite distant from his father, no one could doubt Matilda's devotion to her eldest son.
Conflict would become a big problem between Robert and his father as the young man got older. Any time William was absent from Normandy he left Matilda in charge, in Robert's name. As he grew in to an adult Robert demanded more responsibility, but William refused. This led to Robert leading a rebellion against his father, during which William was actually unseated from his horse and wounded. Robert had been supported by his mother, which infuriated William, but in the end Matilda managed to arrange a reconciliation between father and son. It appears to have fallen apart on Matilda's death in 1083 as Robert spent several years travelling around Europe and avoiding his father's court. Back in England William the Conqueror was considering disinheriting Robert entirely. Although one son, Richard, was already dead William still had two more sons – William Rufus and Henry.
Instead on William's death he divided his lands between his two eldest sons. Robert became the Duke of Normandy, but his younger brother William Rufus became King William II of England. Their youngest brother Henry was left some money but not much else. As a result of this division, William and Robert viewed each other with hostility; both wanted to be King of England and Duke of Normandy simultaneously as their father had been. However both of them were also childless, Robert had several illegitimate children but no legitimate heirs, and the two men recognised each other as heir to their respective lands. Robert still held a loose alliance with rebels against William in England, but his attentions were held elsewhere.
In 1096 Robert joined the First Crusade and travelled to the Holy Land, having mortgaged Normandy to William in return for funds to pay for his trip. He was away for four years, and was still making his way home when news arrived that William had been killed in a hunting accident. Robert was William's acknowledged heir, and as the eldest son he would now surely become King Robert I of England and Duke of Normandy.
No, the distance between him and home gave his younger brother Henry ample time to seize the English throne and get settled in. Robert botched an invasion, and had to renounce his claim to the throne in the Treaty of Alton. Five years later Henry returned the favour by invading Normandy. Robert was defeated and captured at the Battle of Tinchebray in 1106.
For the next twenty eight years Robert was imprisoned in a variety of castles around England and Wales. He died at Cardiff Castle on 3 February 1134, having lived to his late seventies or possibly early eighties, an impressive age for anyone let alone a prisoner. Henry, the younger brother who had stolen his Duchy and his throne, died a year later in 1135. With no surviving legitimate sons from either brother the country descended in to the period known as The Anarchy.
Marie Louise d'Orleans really drew the short straw when it came to a Royal marriage. This poor French princess was sacrificed on the altar of political necessity, and married off to the last Habsburg king of Spain – King Carlos II.
Born on 26 March 1662 Marie Louise was the daughter of Philippe, Duke of Orleans, and Henrietta Anne of England. Her father was the younger brother of King Louis XIV “the Sun King” while her mother was a younger sister of King Charles II of England and the future King James II. She grew up in the ostentatious luxury of the French court, travelling with her family between various palaces and staying with her grandmothers – the Dowgar Queen of France Anne of Austria, and Dowager Queen of England Henrietta Maria.
When Marie was eight her mother died. Poison was suspected by some, but it was probably an infection from a perforated ulcer. Philippe remarried a year later to Elizabeth Charlotte “Liselotte” of the Palatinate, and again Marie Louise fell on her feet. Liselotte was not a stepmother out to cause trouble between her husband and his elder children, and she developed a close relationship with both Marie and her sister Anne.
But when it came to marriage Marie Louise was less lucky. Although a marriage with her cousin the Dauphin was considered to be the best match a girl could want, it was France’s on-going battles with Spain that won out. Carlos had become king at the tender age of three on the death of his father King Philip IV. Such an inheritance at such a young age was difficult enough, but it was made worse by Carlos’ severe mental and physical disabilities. Generations of inbreeding between the two sides of the House of Habsburg meant that Carlos’ parents were uncle and niece. Philip IV’s parents had also been first cousins, in total eight of Carlos’ great-grandparents were descended from Philip Habsburg and Juana of Castile.
Carlos’ health problems were well known around Europe. Unable to speak until he was four and unable to walk until he was eight, his deformed jaw and overly large tongue meant that he could barely chew his food. He had a minimal education, his doctors feared that mental exertion would lead to his early death. Marie Louise would not have been ignorant of these issues, and reportedly spent most of her time after the proxy marriage ceremony in floods of tears. Liselotte travelled with her for part of the journey to Spain, and kept up an active correspondence once she left France.
Life in Spain was about as bad if not worse than Marie Louise may have imagined. Carlos was fascinated by his beautiful wife and fell in love with her, and she developed a good relationship with her mother-in-law Mariana. But in all other aspects it was a miserable existence. A young woman used to the beautiful opulence of the French court, Marie was now trapped in the austere residences of the Spanish court. She was expected to follow Spanish etiquette, highly formal and with strict rules about what Queens must not do. She wasn't even allowed to look out the window, lest a common citizen catch a glimpse of her. Spanish Catholicism was very different from French Catholicism, as Queen Marie was expected to witness the burning of heretics by the Inquisition. The courtiers and the Spanish people hated their French-born Queen and both Marie and her attendants from France were accused of plotting against the King.
Marie Louise never fell pregnant, and this was also blamed squarely on her. Infertility was inevitably blamed on the woman, even when the husband was as clearly ill as Carlos was. Marie even confided to the French ambassador that she was sure she would never have a child, indicating that she was well aware it was Carlos' health problems that were the root cause.
After a day out riding in February 1689 Marie Louise complained of a pain in her stomach. After two days of agonising stomach pains she was dead. Like her mother's untimely death, poison was suspected and her mother-in-law was accused of having her killed off so a more fertile woman could marry Carlos. Modern belief is that she died from appendicitis or food poisoning. She was only 26 years old, she had never seen France since leaving it for her wedding.
At the time of his birth in 1365 little Edward of Angouleme was the prospective King Edward V of England. Son of Edward the Black Prince, grandson of King Edward III, the little boy would have been expected to follow in his forefather's military footsteps – batter the French and help reclaim the lands of the Plantagenets.
Born when his parents were residing in the Duchy of Aquitaine, Edward was the first legitimate son of the Black Prince. His mother on the other hand, Joan of Kent, had already been married before and had four children from her first marriage. Her match with Prince Edward had caused a bit of a scandal, but that hadn't stopped King Edward from celebrating the birth of this new grandson and future heir to the throne. In Aquitaine the celebrations including a tournament of forty knights competing in honour of Joan, and a further 700 knights showing up to join in the celebrations.
Edward was christened by the Bishop of Limoges with a host of lords in attendance, as well as the King of Cyprus. It's difficult to tell where his household was set up, but Joan appears to have spent a lot of her time in Angouleme when she wasn't travelling with her husband. It's quite possible that Edward's home was set up in his place of birth, and Joan stayed near him when she could. Two years later Edward became a big brother when another son, Richard, was born.
The little prince's life was cut short around the end of 1370 (some chronicles state September 1370, others say January 1371). It was a short and sudden illness, possibly bubonic plague. Joan's whereabouts aren't known but she was probably near her son's household while he was ill. If it wasn't plague then she may even have nursed him through his final illness.
Sadly Edward's sudden passing coincided with his father, already a sick man, suffering a severe decline in his health. The Black Prince was encouraged to return to England for the sake of his health, and he and Joan quickly packed up and took a ship back to England with little Richard in tow. It was left to John of Gaunt, another of King Edward's sons, to arrange the funeral and burial of his infant nephew in Bordeaux.
It wouldn't be his final resting place, sometime in 1389 Richard had his brother's remains exhumed and returned to England to be buried at King's Langley. They were then re-interred again in the 17th century after the church became a ruin. Given that Richard proved to be extremely unpopular, it's interesting to speculate whether Edward of Angouleme would have been any better.
On 27 November 1252 the Regent of the French throne died. Not an uncle or brother or other male relative of King Louis IX but his mother, Blanche of Castile. With her son on Crusade she had proved to be an able regent, but this surprised no one. It wasn't the first time Blanche had been required to take care of France for her son, and she came from a line of highly capable women.
Granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Blanche was born in 1188, the daughter of King Alfonso VIII of Castile. Her mother was an illustrious princess, Eleanor of England, the daughter of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine. She was the sixth of eleven children, although her three older brothers had all predeceased her.
In her mother Blanche had an excellent example of a highly educated woman, able to wield the kind of control often denied to women at the time. The Queen had been gifted control of her dower, specific towns, ports and villages whose rents went towards the upkeep of her court. King Alfonso trusted his wife's judgement and named her in his will as Regent should his eventual heir, Prince Henry, be too young to rule in his own right. Queen Eleanor also supported several monastic houses in Castile and maintained a shrine to St Thomas Becket, providing Blanche with an example of the religious influence a Queen could wield.
When Blanche was twelve the court of Castile received a visit from her grandmother, the dowager Queen of England – Eleanor of Aquitaine. Another strong woman, Eleanor had been sent to assist in the negotiations for the hand of a Castilian Princess for the heir to the French throne. In theory the honour was to go to Blanche's older sister Urraca, but Eleanor chose Blanche (Urraca had to settle for the King of Portugal instead). As spring came Eleanor and Blanche crossed back in to Gascony, where a sick Eleanor handed the custody of her granddaughter to the Archbishop of Bordeaux and then retired to the convent of Fontevrault.
Queen in Waiting
Blanche and the crown prince Louis were married in May 1200 in Port-Mort. Louis' father, King Philip II of France, had had his Kingdom placed under an interdict due to his treatment of Ingeborg of Denmark. The terms of an interdict meant that no religious services, including baptisms, marriages and burials, could be carried out. Port-Mort was owned by King John of England, Blanche's maternal uncle, and was therefore not under any religious interdict.
Blanche had her first child, a daughter also named Blanche, in 1205. The baby didn't live long, but a boy followed in 1209. Blanche gave birth to a total of thirteen children, including four sons who all lived past infancy.
There wasn't much scope for Blanche to wield any kind of influence. With King Philip firmly in charge there was little for the heir to the throne and his wife to do. King John's own problems with his barons in 1215 led to Louis being offered the English throne in right of his wife. Blanche was his only supporter in this endeavour, along with raising money from her father in law she also organised a fleet of ships to assist her husband. The French were eventually paid to leave England, Blanche's fleet had already been destroyed by the English off the coast at Sandwich, but it showed Louis that his wife could take charge when needed.
King Philip eventually died in 1223. After two decades of waiting Blanche was finally Queen of France alongside her husband, King Louis VIII. But it was to be a brief reign for the King. In 1226 Louis rode south to fight Count Raymond of Toulouse, leaving a pregnant Blanche behind. The King succeeded in taking Avignon, but on the journey home he contracted dysentery and died before he could reach home. France was suddenly left with a twelve year old King and his pregnant mother in charge. Almost immediately a group of French nobles began to consider a revolt, a pregnant woman was no match for them.
The best thing the dead king could have done for his son was leave his mother as ruler of France in her own right until their son came of age. Despite her condition Blanche moved quickly to have Louis crowned at Rheims, which would show her who was loyal and who was not. Sure enough in the following years, those barons who avoided the coronation led several rebellions against the new King. But they were unsuccessful, and by the time he came of age Blanche was able to hand a secure kingdom on to her son.
The unpleasant mother-in-law
Strong, determined, and clever, Blanche was no match for any disobedient noble. But the qualities that made her a good regent didn't do quite so well in the personal sphere. She arranged for Louis to marry a young woman from the county of Provence, Marguerite the daughter of Count Raymond and his wife Beatrice of Savoy. But Marguerite's presence at court led to a reduction in interest in Blanche. Marguerite's beauty and gentle nature were praised, Blanche was sidelined. More importantly Louis quickly grew close to his wife, and this was a lapse in influence that Blanche could not allow to happen.
Her treatment of Marguerite was reportedly couched in terms of concern. The new Queen failed to become pregnant quickly enough, so Blanche dispatched her on a public pilgrimage to a variety of shrines. She did everything possible to stop Marguerite and Louis meeting privately during the day, even assigning servants to watch the young woman. Louis was a King and Kings were busy ruling the kingdom, surely the new Queen could understand that she couldn't be bothering her husband during the day? Marguerite was reportedly deeply unhappy at her treatment at the hands of her mother-in-law, but Blanche was still too powerful at court for anyone to go against her, including Louis himself. He still needed her advice on matters of state, and was dependent on her for assistance. It was only when Marguerite gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Blanche in 1240, that the King's mother finally move to her own household and gave her son and daughter-in-law some peace. Albeit with Louis still needing her advice on matters of policy.
The unwilling Regent
In 1244 Louis fell seriously ill, he had contracted dysentery two years before and this may have been a relapse. Blanche and Marguerite spent days praying at his sickbed, and at one point he was close to death. When he recovered Louis demanded he be given the cross, a sign that he would take up a Crusade in the name of God.
Blanche spent months trying to persuade him to not go, even getting the Bishop of Paris to intervene. But Louis was determined, and Marguerite decided to go with him too. Blanche would be both Regent of France and the guardian of three infants (baby Blanche had died, as had a son named John, but by the time they were ready Isabella, Louis, and Philip were all in the French royal nursery). It was probably the first time that the King had openly defied his mother.
Blanche was now sixty years old and dreading the responsibility her son was placing on her. After celebrating the start of his crusade with a Mass in Notre Dame the court travelled to Blanche's home in Corbeil. There the King said his farewells to his mother, who reportedly said to him “Alas, my fine son, I will never see you again in this mortal life.”
During her second period as Regent, Blanche faced problems on multiple fronts. Raymond VII of Toulouse died just as the crusade left. As her son Alphonse was due to be the new Count of Toulouse (he had married Raymond's only child, a daughter), and was also on the Crusade, Blanche had to arrange for the smooth transition of power to the French crown. In Gascony English influence was leading to problems on the border. Blanche appealed to the Pope for aid, and got an extension on a truce already agreed with England, but English soldiers in Gascony could cause all manner of problems.
Then Blanche received the worst news possible. The crusade had started well with the capture of Damietta. But after an attack on Egypt had gone badly wrong the French forces had been slaughtered, King Louis had been captured, and his brother Robert of Artois had been killed. Blanche suddenly found herself mourning the loss of a child and having to find an enormous sum of money for Louis' ransom. While trying to raise the money she wrote to Louis, begging him to return to France. Louis refused her request, sending back his two remaining brothers in his place. They both wanted to return and commanding them to go allowed Louis to save face. He wasn't being abandoned by his brothers, he was sending them to help their mother.
The sum of money needed to free Louis was so large that Blanche refused to divulge the total, in case it led to a rebellion. After raising the money from the church and increasing the taxes on the towns she had it shipped to Acre. But it was all for nothing, the ship carrying the treasure sank in a storm and Blanche had to raise the money all over again. Louis was even writing to her asking her to raise a new load of troops for another crusade, but no one was willing to sign up.
As she predicted Blanche never saw Louis again. In November 1252 she was taken ill while visiting Melun. After taking the veil and receiving the last rites from the Bishop of Paris, she died on 27 November 1252. She had requested to be buried in her crown, with her ermine robes, and her nun's veil over the top. Her two sons Charles and Alphonse carried her funeral bier back to Paris and had her interred in Maubuisson abbey, one of the Cistertian monasteries she had founded in 1236.
Even his mother's death couldn't stop the King's desire to remain in the Holy Land. Louis finally arrived back in France in July 1254.
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On 13 September 1944, four women were executed at Dachau Concentration Camp. All four of them; Yolande Beekman, Elaine Plewman, Madeleine Damerment, and Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan, were agents from Special Operations Executive. A Dutch prisoner at the camp reported that Noor in particular had been singled out and beaten badly before being shot. It was a sorry end for a short life that had started out with wealth and privilege, whose course had been significantly changed by the outbreak of the second world war.
The quiet child
Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan was born in Moscow on 2 January 1914 as the eldest child of Hazrat Inayat Khan and Pirani Ameena Begum. Hazrat came from a noble Indian family related to Tipu Sultan, Pirani was an American who changed her name from Ora Ray Baker after her marriage to Hazrat. Noor's family moved around Europe, her father taught music and Sufism while her mother was a prolific writer of poetry.
Noor was only a few months old when the family left Russia for England, where they spent the First World War living in London. In 1920 the family, now expanded by two sons and a second daughter, moved to France where they lived in Suresnes in Paris. The family had a talent for music, Hazrat would sing to his children, especially when they couldn't sleep. Noor learned to play the harp and piano, her brother Hidayat played the violin and eventually became a Professor of Music, and her sister Khair-un-nisa learned the piano.
Noor's father died in 1927 shortly after choosing the site of his tomb in India. Noor was just thirteen years old. In the following years the family would travel to India to see the creation of Hazrat's tomb, and travel around Switzerland. Noor also spent time in the Hague as guest of two of her father's disciples. After this visit Noor also travelled to Italy, and spent time travelling around Spain with one of her brothers. She had excelled in languages in school, fluent in English and French and also studying German and Spanish. She also studied Child Psychology at the Sorbonne, which led to her writing a variety of books for children, and working with Radio Paris on a series of children's programmes. The financial support from her father's disciples meant that Noor had received an excellent education and the opportunity to travel. She had been raised to believe that lying was one of the worst sins one could commit, and she was described as being a bit of a "dreamer".
At the outbreak of the Second World War Noor and her sister Khair trained as Red Cross nurses. The hospital they were stationed at was evacuated as the Germans advanced, in the end the two women hurried back to Paris to join their mother and brothers. Together the family fled to the south of France, where they eventually managed to get a spot on a Belgian cargo ship that took them to England.
For the first time the Khan family found themselves poverty-stricken. Their supporters were mainly based in Europe and were unable to send money across to England to support them. After some discussion with her brother Vilayat, the pair decided that although their father had always preached for pacifism, the threat that Nazism posed meant that they should both join the fight. Vilayat joined the RAF while Noor signed up for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in November 1940. She spent several years in the WAAF as a wireless operator, reportedly earning the nickname "Bang Away Lulu" due to the noise she made during Morse key tapping.
In October 1943 Noor had her first SOE interview. The danger of such work was highlighted repeatedly to her during the interview, but she still volunteered to undertake SOE training. She was considered to be an ideal candidate, she was calm, unflappable and appeared to have thought deeply about the potential consequences of the work. She had even discussed the work with her mother and had come to the conclusion that her family would adapt to the worry of her being abroad. They would also benefit from the pay she would received as an SOE agent, her family were struggling financially and the wages for SOE were better than in the WAAF.
She entered in to the training programme but the reports about her progress suggest that a few problems were identified quite early on. She was a fast runner, always a useful skill to evade capture, but she was clumsy. Training with weapons was essential but they scared her, and in some cases she preferred to give in rather than confront a problem and deal with it. She also disliked the idea of becoming friends with a person purely to gain information from them, and repeatedly stated that she couldn't tell a lie (which was doubted by people higher up who seemed to think that would change once she realised the danger she was in).
Noor's "defects" were eventually raised by other agents, but were mostly dismissed by command. In some cases she had earned a few fans through her quiet, generous nature, she was keen to get along well with everyone and showed an interest in the people she worked with. In other cases it was felt that her faults were not that big a problem. By June 1943 she was considered ready to be sent out to France. She was given the codename "Madeleine" and her cover civilian identity was "Jeanne Marie Renier", who had trained in Child Psychology and worked as a nanny in Bordeaux during the first half of the war. She landed in France on 16 June 1943 and was in Paris the next day.
Within a week of Noor's arrival one of SOE's biggest networks in northern France, the PROSPER network, saw mass arrests with over 170 agents caught by the Germans. She was able to prevent one arrest by warning the agent in advance that other PROSPER agents had been arrested, but it put other networks in danger. Several of the earliest people that Noor had met in her earliest days in Paris were also arrested. Noor's own network, CINEMA, continued to operate and Noor herself sent and received messages about drop-off points and circuit orders. She appears to have assisted in the evacuation of airmen shot down in France and also co-ordinated messages about agents arriving.
However some of the earlier weaknesses about Noor were already starting to show. She was scolded in her early days in Paris for leaving her codes in the reception area of a building she was staying at. But she managed to evade the Gestapo several times, once by directly confronting them when they questioned her about a briefcase she was carrying (it contained her wireless equipment but she told them it was a projector and crossly asked if they'd never seen one before). The danger meant that Noor had to constantly change location when sending and receiving messages, but this made it more difficult for the Gestapo to catch her. Now that PROSPER had fallen she was the only SOE wireless operator in Paris, a vital lifeline between London and the remaining networks in the area.
Arrest and imprisonment
By early 1943 Noor's life was considered to be in serious danger. Later in the year she was ordered to return to Britain but instead argued that she should remain in Paris and simply lie low for a month. The Gestapo knew where she was operating from and kept a close eye in order to catch her, but she was ultimately betrayed by a Frenchwoman whose flat she had been staying in. She was arrested in October 1943, and here the earlier problems with her training came back out. In her room at the flat the Gestapo found a notebook she had kept detailing exactly that information. Although agents had to refer to previous messages, they were expected to hide such information properly, or give it to another agent. With no other agents nearby Noor had to keep hers herself, rather than hide it she had simply kept it in her bedside cabinet. It has also been suggested that Noor may not have been given full training on SOE security procedures, she was used to operating under WAAF guidelines and therefore didn't realise the significance of keeping detailed written records.
The capture of her codes meant that the Gestapo could pick up her work, pretending to be her and communicating with London. Although it was reported to SOE that she had been captured, the Gestapo did such a good job impersonating her that SOE dismissed the report until 1944. She was recommended for both a George Cross and an MBE in early 1944, with the reports stating she had evaded capture several times, the people who nominated her were unaware that she was now a prisoner. Sadly this also meant that several agents, including Madeleine Damerment, were dropped in to France straight in to the hands of the Germans in February 1944. All of them were executed in the following months.
Noor was originally interred in a cell at a building on Avenue Foch. She made her first escape attempt shortly after arriving by climbing out of a bathroom window on the fifth floor, but was quickly recaptured. She then made a further escape attempt with two other prisoners, Bob Starr and Colonel Faye. The three loosened the bars in the windows and escaped one night. Unfortunately Noor's weren't as loose as she had thought and it took her a further two hours to remove them. Shortly after she escaped an air raid siren went off and the subsequent check by guards meant the alarm was raised and all three were recaptured before they'd left the neighbouring buildings they were hiding in. Throughout her imprisonment she had refused to answer questions about her work or about SOE, although she did give away details of her childhood which were used by the Gestapo to convince SOE she was still free.
Due to the two escape attempts Noor was dispatched to Pforzheim prison in Germany. She was kept in solitary confinement with the smallest possible rations, with her hands and feet chained. After the war a neighbouring prisoner reported that he heard her being beaten by the guards, and that during her imprisonment there she was never allowed out of her cell.
There was some confusion over Noor's death. It was originally believed that she was taken to Natzweiler concentration camp in July 1944 with several other women SOE agents and executed there. In 1947 it was finally revealed that Noor was transferred to Dachau on 12 September 1944. On the morning of 13 September the women were dragged out of their cells, shot in the head, and cremated. One of the prisoners from Dachau reported that Noor was beaten shortly before her execution.
In the following year Noor received several posthumous awards, the Croix de Guerre with Gold Star in 1946, and the George Cross in 1949, and a memorial bust was unveiled in 2012 in Gordon Square Gardens in London.
The citation for her George Cross commended her for her "conspicuous courage".