12 Mystery Marie - Who Was She?


Excerpt 9
from Writing Women on the Devon Land

      In one of her texts we hear the mysterious medieval poet Marie de Meulan voice her identity. She says, 'Marie ai num, si sui de France,'[iii] which translates as 'My name is Marie, and I am from France.' However, her statement of self-identity may be misleading as scholars tend to agree that though she was probably born in France, the poet probably spent some of her adult life in England. The researchers tend to agree the following: Marie lived and wrote in England, she was a woman of noble birth, and she was a native of France-which meant in her day the Ile-de-France, the French Vexin, and possibly the French Gatinais.[iv]

      During the C12, just as most of the aristocracy, the Meulan/Beaumont family played prominent roles both sides of the channel, holding vast estates in and splitting their lives between Normandy and England.[i] According to Wikipedia Waleran de Meulan was renowned as a cultured man, known for his patronage of art and literature, so it would be fitting if he were found to be father of the mysterious poet Marie de Meulan.

     When I first became interested in this baffling C12 writer and began to investigate the kinship groups of the Meulant/Beaumonts, I was struck by an apparent coincidence; several of the family's close relatives married into or became in-laws of important local Devon families of the time.[ii] During the C12, a cluster of Norman people were embedding multi-branched roots lock stock and barrel into various important lands in Devon. Many of them were either directly related to, or within a genetic stone's throw of the royal family. One or two of the names which have been provisionally attached to Marie the poet feature on the extended genealogical charts of these families. Initially, I thought the chance connections were simply coincidence. The C12 families who featured in research were related to the extended networks branching out from the same cluster of families whose names, frequently associated with recent researchers' assessments of Marie's identity, centred in and spiralled out from round the mid Devon parish of North Tawton. The families included the Valletorts and Courtenays, whose ancient home was Court Green
North Tawton churchyard with yew looking toward Court Green

      One day, as I began to google-browse, I hit on an annotation in an online book linking to a note about the ancient estate of North Wyke, in South Tawton, a twin parish of North Tawton, which, I was astonished to find, pointed to a direct connection with the family of Meulan. You could hardly get much closer to the heart of the Devon topography. Could it be that this important medieval woman poet's links with the South West were even closer than I had imagined? But I told myself, this is just wishful thinking. It is highly unlikely that the poet really had any close lived-in connection with Devon and more realistic to presume that Marie de France spent her adult life in another area of England, or indeed, Wales. And surely, if she did have any genetic connections with the South West, with Devon, then these threads must have been tenuous.

      Nowadays, with the multiplicity of ancestral resources available via google searches, it’s possible to delve into the archives and attempt to fathom out even the most obtuse genealogical tree. But it is still an exacting task. I don't think I can be the only one who has ended up exhausted with the mind-boggling intricacies of it all. Not divorces no, but illegitimate births, to various kings, by the score; inter-marriages between branches of the same or near related family; second and third marriages; ever larger numbers of children within a single family. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to dig deep and delve into the intricacies of some of the relevant families, to attempt a break-through in the case of Marie of France. I'm not declaring the following ancestral analysis to be the factual genealogical tree; there are too many different account flying around on the web to be sure. However, I am making tentative enquiries and welcome anyone to challenge my theories! …
      How did the Meulans come to have links with this mid Devon estate? It seems the family interest in Devon lands had begun in a previous generation, as Waleran’s father Robert de Meulan Beaumont had been granted lands in South Tawton in Devon, by William the Conqueror.

North Wyke
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Simon Mortimer - geograph.org.uk/p/431431

      North Wyke, in the parish of South Tawton, was a once royal demesne lying just south of the river Taw and of its twin parish, North Tawton.[v] It is said that in 1100, on the death of his brother William Rufus, the estate came into the hands of Henry I, whose many concubines included Isabel (or Elizabeth) Beaumont, who was sister of Waleran de Meulan, (the father of one of the main contenders for Marie).[vi] By Elizabeth, Henry had a daughter (niece of Waleran and cousin of Marie), called Constance, 'to whom', we are told, 'he [Henry I] gave the whole of the manor of South Tawton, upon her marriage with Rosceline, Viscount de Bellomonte'.[vii] In some accounts Isabel/Elizabeth is also named as mother of Reginald Earl of Cornwall – one of Henry I’s 22 illegitimate offspring[viii] and it is at this point that the already complex genetic jungle becomes fraught with well-nigh impenetrable tangles. 

     Reginald Earl of Cornwall’s daughter Mahaut, or Mabel, apparently married one of Robert Earl of Meulan of Waleran’s other children, who was also Robert Earl of Meulan. (Meanwhile, Mabel’s sister Joan de Dunstanville, another of Reginald's daughters, married Ralph Valletort, father of Joel, of North Tawton). Robert Earl of Meulan, who died circa 1207[ix] probably spent some of his life in England. If you accept the conclusions made in historical account about The Ancient Family of North Wyke, written by Rev. Wytes-Finch, it was most likely this Robert de Meulan's son (perhaps grandson - according to which sources you consult), William de Wigornia, (alias Chamberlain), who obtained the local manors of South Tawton and then, in 1227, as William de Wykes or Weeks, became owner occupant of North Wyke.[x] Wykes-Finch concludes that William probably came to an arrangement to obtain the estate with his cousin Richard Bellomonte, who’d succeeded his mother Constance (but didn’t have any male issue) because of the family’s connection with royalty. (Elizabeth Beaumont was both his grand – or great – grand-mother and great-aunt).

      So, what may all this tangled familial maze tell us about Marie of France, the poet whose identity is as yet unestablished? 

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One source comments, 'members of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy, large and small, commonly held estates on both sides of the channel'.' See Was Marie of France the daughter of Walter II Count of Meulan?' Author(s): Peter R. Grillo Source: Medium Ævum, Vol. 57, No. 2 (1988), 269-274 Published by: Society for the Study of Medieval Languages.
Another commentator tells us that Galeran's father, Robert de Meulant:
and [his wife] Isabel (or Elizabeth) had two twin sons WALERON and ROBERT ... On his death in 1118, Robert left his sons, then under age, to the guardianship of Henry I. They received the highest education of the day and visited Normandy with their guardian. Waleron was the most powerful of the Norman chieftans and was knighted at 16. In his youth he is said to have had a reckless boldness and throughout life was fiery, warlike and indomitable. He succeeded to the Norman estates and the Earldom of Melent at 19 on the death of his father.

The passage continues:
 He rebelled against Henry I and was brought to England as a prisoner and confined from 1124-29 when he was pardoned and his estates restored. He and his brother were present at the death of Henry I. He declined to hold his fiefs under Empress Matilda and went to England and supported Stephen who made him joint Lieutenant of Normandy in 1138 and Commander of the army in 1141. He was made Comes de Wigornia in 1149. He became a Crusader to Jerusalem in 1145, but soon after (in 1150) entered into a pact with Empress Matilda and rebelled against Henry II. He founded the Abbey of Bordesley in Worcestershire and entered the Abbey of Preaux 21 days before his death on April 9th, 1166. WALLERON married AGNES DE MONTFORT - heiress of Journey sur Marne, daughter of AMAURI, COUNT OF EVREUX. (See Family Tree http://www.genealogy.com/ftm/f/i/s/Gordon-Mccrea-Fisher/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0104.html).
For example, Marie de Meulan's aunt, Adeline de Beaumont, sister of Waleran, married, as her second husband, Richard de Grenville, son of the founder and ancestor of the prominent Westcountry Grenville family, of  Stowe in Cornwall and of Bideford in Devon.
See Introduction in The Fables of Marie de France.
'New Thoughts on Marie de France', U. T. Holmes Source: Studies in Philology, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Jan., 1932), 1-10.

 ‘Itton, Ash, Wyke (or Week), Gooseford, Addiscott, Cocktree, Black Hall and others [I now find that all these places] existed at, or just after, the time of the Domesday Book, as sub-manors of the royal manor of Tauetona (or later, Suthanthune). What is certain, is that South Tawton is an ancient demesne (royal manor), going back at least to the time of the Saxons, if not to the Romans, who named the river Taw, the Tavus’. (See South Tawton & its Dartmoor Environment, http://www.south-zeal.eu/page062.html).
The parents of Waleran and Isabel were Robert de Beaumont 1st Earl of Leicester Count of Meulan and Elizabeth de Vernandois.
See The Wykes of North Wyke, http://www.wykes.org/devonwil.html).
Although this differs from the consensus, which assumes that his mother was Sybil Corbet. Reginald's full sister Rohesia married Henry de Pomeroy, Baron of Berry Pomeroy
A genealogy website informs that:
Robert was a cousin of John, King of England and the King of France (Philip Augusta) but he had a rather inglorious and chequered career. He lost the lordships and land in Normandy when France conquered them in 1204 and took refuge in England where he was treated uncertainly by King John.
During the 13th century the name Wigornia was often written in its abbreviated form of Wig' or de Wig'. With several indiscriminate variations it became Wik or Wyk and then to Wyke(s) or Weekes. William also had extensive lands in the area including Wyke in Chawleigh, Wray in Moretonhampstead, and Cheverston in Kenton. There is some doubt as to whether William was the son of Robert and Mabel, or their grandson. If he was the grandson, then he would have been the son of Henry de Ponte Audermar, Robert and Mabel's third son. One commentator comments, 'there is every reason to assume that "William de Wigornia", William of Worcester, gave his name to North and West Wyke, and to Wiggaton, in the parish of South Tawton' (See The Wykes of NorthWyke.


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