Aaaaaaaaaand we’re back in Medieval England with another character whose brief mention caught my ear during my History of England podcast.
By the way and importantly, I think you’ll all be impressed to know that I am writing to you from a pub where I am enjoying a nice cold glass of… DIET COKE.*
Anyway, we left off last time with poor hungry Matilda who just couldn’t refrain from insulting the lovely King John and ended up meeting a grim demise in Corfe Castle. Today I’m here to tell you about a lady named Nicolaa (every time I type her name I simultaneously sing it in my head ‘Ni-co-laaaaaaaa!’ like the Ricola commercial) de la Haye who managed to somehow find favour with this same King John whilst very successfully (if resignedly) performing (traditionally) ‘manly’ duties. She sort of reminds me of this old GoT bird in that she was still knocking around at an old age, semi in control of her own shit in a man’s world.
So Nicolaa (Ni-co-laaaaaaaa!) was born around 1150 to a Lincolnshire lord named Richard de la Haye. When Richard died, Nicolaa inherited the position of castellan of Lincoln Castle. Nicolaa’s first hubby, William fitz Erneis, died in 1178 and was most likely a bit of a dolt (an opinion derived by me entirely from his name and inability to live long and prosper). When fitz Erneis kicked the bucket, Nicolaa remarried, and this time the lucky recipient of her affection was a bloke called Gerard de Camville. I suppose that Gerard was also of little consequence except that he was often leaving Nicolaa alone in the castle while he went off on crusades and stuff or hunting or lolly-gagging with the king or whatever the men were doing at the time.
Consequently, Nicolaa was required to step up and lead the defence of her castle on several occasions. Like the time in 1191 when Gerard was vacaying with Prince John (pre-kingship) and Nicolaa held Lincoln Castle by herself during a month long siege! And another time in 1217 when Gerard went AWOL (well, actually he was dead as of 1215 so…) and she had to direct the defense of Lincoln against the rebel barons in the battle of Lincoln all by her lonesome.
John also appointed her SHERIFF of Lincoln at one point!
But by the time Nicolaa was approximately 347 in medieval years (aka mid-60s in contemporary human years) and she was tired and seemed to find little joy in taking the wheel and probably just wanted to be left alone and shirk her duties and not get out of bed.
Unfortunately, despite her keenness for retirement, Nicolaa was already well entrenched as John’s henchman and found that she couldn’t get out it. This is clear in a description of Nicolaa’s interaction with John written down 60 years after her death:
And once it happened that after the war King John came to Lincoln and the said Lady Nichola went out of the eastern gate of the castle carrying the keys of the castle in her hand and met the king and offered the keys to him as her lord and said she was a woman of great age and was unable to bear such fatigue any longer. And he besought her saying, “My beloved Nichola, I will that you keep the castle as hitherto until I shall order otherwise.” And she retained it as long as King John lived and after his decease she still kept it under King Henry, father of the king that now is.
Sigh. Alright. Fine. I’ll fucking do it, John.
Shedding a slightly different light on Nicolaa’s character, she was described by her French enemies as ‘a very cunning, bad-hearted and vigorous old woman’. Meow!
But I suspect Nicolaa’s true nature lies somewhere between the resigned castellan and villainous harpy. Regardless, she seems pretty impressive to me and worth us remembering her historical contributions. So let’s raise a glass (of Diet Coke) to Nicolaa de la HEY!
*Full disclosure: I have slightly broken Dry January a couple of times. It’s sort of more like a Damp January. But I’m only human. Plus I can always use Alternative Facts and say that I have not touched a drop of the good stuff all month.
Here’s a flouncy Weekes Word for ya! I think this one also came from Golden Hill... which I finished and can report was pretty good! I’m currently double-teaming The Grapes of Wrath and The Nether World, both which seem fairly appropriate for the current climate.
Flotilla:first used in the early 18th century and derived from the Spanish ‘flota’ (fleet) and meaning an indefinite large number. Ex: Wielding her broadsword with a yawn of ennui, Nicolaa de la Haye kept the flotilla of troops at bay.
xWG // #dazeandweekes