Isabel de Vermandois
Isabel de Vermandois (Elizabeth) is an historical figure who has always captivated me. From her descend many of the nobility of England and Scotland. She was the daughter of Hugh, Count of Vermandois, making her the granddaughter of Henri I of France. At a young age, her father married her to the much older Robert de Beaumont, count of Meulan (and later first earl of Leicester.) The pope objected to the marriage, but her father secured her marriage and then went on Crusade.
Her husband was a powerful magnate and especially close to the king. One of the men in the hunting party the day that William Rufus met his tragic death. Robert supported Henry I in his bid for the throne against Robert Curthose. He became Henry’s most trusted councillor, and, as such, received several land grants, and eventually a grant of the earldom of Leicester.
Not much is known of Isabel during these years, other than she had several children. Twin boys, Waleran and Robert, another son, Hugh, and several daughters. One of her daughters, also named Isabel, became the mistress of the king before being married to Gilbert de Clare.
Following Robert’s death, Isabel married William de Warenne II. Henry of Huntingdon has William abducting Isabel prior to Robert’s death, but this is probably not the case. More likely, Henry chose this marriage for her.
William de Warenne was also a powerful magnate. He had tried for a royal marriage through Matilda of Scotland (who would eventually marry Henry I), so he was probably pleased by a marriage to Isabel. After initially supporting Robert Curthose, William eventually became an ardent supporter of Henry.
One of the properties that William and Isabel owned was Castle Acre. William’s parents had founded a priory there and William furthered enlarged the grant, allowing for the building of the priory, whose extensive ruins can still be seen today.
The castle at Castle Acre was a motte-and-bailey castle, of which limited ruins are all that is left. It is worth a visit, though. On my first visit it was a cold, cloudy day. I got out of the car and made my way to the motte. Standing there, with the wind whipping about me, I had a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.
Isabel had five children with William, including Gundreda, who married the earl of Warwick, and Ada, who married Prince Henry of Scotland. Through Ada, Isabel was the grandmother of two Scottish kings, Malcolm IV and William the Lion.