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Katherine/Catharine/Alys de Montacute (Katherine de Grandison), ?-~1350


Countess of Salisbury. One of the two women apparently involved in the naming of the Order of the Garter, the oldest and most prestigious English order of chivalry.

Katharine/Catharine, daughter of William de Grandison, was Countess of Salisbury and the wife of William de Montacute, 1301-1344 . The conditions of her marriage to William, and her role in the naming of the Order of the Garter, are of historical interest. The index of Ker's 1903 translation of The Chronicle of Froissart notes Froissart called Katherine "Alice", which is usually spelled Alys ( was this a nickname?). Alys's arranged marriage is mentioned in the Amiens chronical of Froissart (recorded around 1337):

"To reward him (William, ed.) for his services, the King gave him the young Countess of Salisbury, Madame Alys, whose estate he held in wardship. She was one of the most beautiful young ladies in the land." (Froissart Chronicles).

A wardship was the legal right, and responsibility, to decide who someone else will marry. A wardship could be transferred or sold to another person and was a possession of great value. Anglo-Norman feudalism of this time encompassed much more than just military service. Feudal obligation controlled access to land and could control marriage. To understand the preceding paragraph from the Chronicle, Waugh provides some insight:

"... it is worth looking in greater detail at a few of the marriages arranged by Eleanor of Castile early in Edward I's reign. They provide a striking demonstration of how wardship and marriage could advance the interests of both wards and guardians and cement relations between curial families. ... Alan Basset used the wardship of Drew de Montagu, from another courtier family, to provide a husband for Aline. After Philip Basset acquired the wardship of Simon de Montagu in 1270, he granted it to yet another household figure, Amaury de St. Amando, who married the boy to his daughter. The process drawing curial families together went ... further in subsequent generations in the hands of the queen, a consummate matchmaker. ... Eleanor similarly provided a partner for ... William de Montagu, through a convoluted transaction. In 1280 Peter de Montfort sold Eleanor the marriage of his eldest son, John, so that Eleanor could arrange a marriage for him. Simon de Montagu likewise gave Eleanor the power to arrange his son William's marriage. Eleanor married John de Montfort to her relative, Alice de la Plaunche, before 1287, and then in 1292 granted William de Montagu's marriage to John so that he could marry William to his sister Elizabeth de Montfort. Eleanor's activities continued and reinforced interrelations that curial families like the Montagus, Bassets, and St. Amandos had practiced before.

By placing their lands and families in the hands of the king and queen, Montfort and Montagu demonstrated a remarkable degree of trust in royal lordship and of confidence in their judgment. Indeed, families often favored attachments to the royal family and looked with pride on such marriages. ..." (Waugh).

Waugh finds the above relations contorted enough to provide a diagram. Life in the middle ages could be short, and there was no security. Especially for the military class, a wardship provided a means to attempt to insure that a child's best interests were somewhat secured if the parents were dead. It also implied that a child's mate would likely be well-off and successful, as the king (or other ward-holder) would likely use the wardship to reward his most successful lieutenants. Presumably, the ward-holder also was quite aware that the execution of the wardship would be observed with great interest as an indication of power, wisdom, and judgement.

It should also be noted that the king had the automatic right and obligation to arrange the marriage of all widows.

Katherine was guardian and ward of Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent .


Katherine and her brother-in-law Edward de Montacute, defended the castle of Wark for some months against the Scots in 1341. The siege was raised by Edward III, who apparently fell in love with her. The story of her "attempted rape" by Edward at this time was probably used for a number of political purposes. The Order of the Garter is purported named for an incident in which she dropped her garter at a court ball, and Edward picked it up and wore it on his own knee. This story also was probably politically embellished to contribute to the public relations regarding the chivalry of the Order. For all the details, see the story of the founding of the Order of the Garter .


In Warfare under the Anglo-Norman kings, 1066-1135, Morrilo notes:

"Wives were not uncommon as the leaders in the defense of castles. While this would have been essentially a political role involving representing the bonds of lordship that held the garrison together and negotiating with the besiegers, the ability of the women of the warrior class to defend themselves in time of need should not be underestimated. See Chibnall, `Women in Orderic Vitalis ' [1] ... she cites ... Isabel, wife of Ralph of Conches, who `in war rode armed as a knight among the knights, and she showed no less courage among the knights in hauberks and sergeants-at-arms that did the maid Camilla among the troops of Taurus'."(Morrilo).


Sir John Froissart is considered the chief first-hand historian of the Hundred Years War.

Katherine, Joan (the Fair Maid) of Kent , Queen Philippa, and "Alys" seem to be somewhat historically confused; and perhaps even confused by their contemporaries, such as Froissart.


Sources:
The DNB.
[DMKC].
[AIMW].
Froissart Chronicles, trans Geoffrey Brereton.
Lordship of England, Waugh.
[WUANK].

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