In the reign of Edward I, when asked Quo Warranto – by what warrant he held his lands – John de Warenne, the sixth Earl of Surrey, is said to have drawn a rusty sword, claiming: “My ancestors came with William the Bastard, and conquered their lands with the sword, and I will defend them with the sword against anyone wishing to seize them.”
John’s ancestor, William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He was rewarded with enough land to make him one of the richest men of all time.
In his search for a royal bride, the second earl kidnapped the wife of a fellow baron. The third earl died on crusade, fighting for his royal cousin, Louis VII of France.
For three centuries, the Warennes were at the heart of English politics at the highest level, until one unhappy marriage brought an end to the dynasty. The family moved in the highest circles, married into royalty and were not immune to scandal.
Defenders of the Norman Crown tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.
Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey by Sharon Bennett Connolly is published on 30 May, 2021.