|6. The Sheaf of Corn: the Distaff Descent|
Aoife, daughter of Mor O'Toole and Dermot, King of Leinster, was, at fourteen, a beautiful girl. Though she had an older sister, it was the pretty blond child who was taken with her parents to meet Henry II in Aquataine in 1167.
Dermot McMurrough was looking for help from Henry, then King of England, Duke of Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine, whose realm stretched from the Pyrenees to the borders of Scotland. The Angevin King gave permission to his vassal, Richard Fitzgilbert de Clare to assist Dermot in his struggle in Leinster. Part of the deal was that the widower Richard (Strongbow) should not only have the Irish King's daughter Aoife in marriage, but the kingship of Leinster on Dermot's death.
Though there was much that was dubious about this arrangement, so it came to pass. Aoife was married to the fifty-year old Strongbow in Waterford in 1170, thus starting a dynasty which ran mainly on the distaff side for several generations. Aoife bore two children before the death of her husband, Gilbert - who died as a baby, and Isabel who became the heiress of her parent's large estates. She was made a ward of the Crown at four and a half years old and lived, heavily protected, in the Tower of London, where she grew up at court. She was very rich, - all the de Clare property now restored - came to her, as did the province of Leinster through her grandfather. Through the ancient Gifford family she inherited extensive holdings in the north of France.
The illustrious William Marshal won her as his wife when she was eighteen. Through her, he became Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leinster. What her feelings were about being married off to a middle aged warrior, however famous, are not known. However, they became a most loving couple and she bore him at least ten children, five sons and five daughters.
William's life in the service of the Angevin Kings, Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, John Lackland and Henry III continued until his death in 1219. He must have felt that his line through his five sons was well assured, but astonishingly, despite several marriages, all of them died without issue and the ownership of Leinster fell to his daughters. Though girls in those days had limited power in how their properties were handled, their husbands, could, through their wives inherit both titles and land.
In this panel, the five great granddaughters of Dermot McMurrough, Mathilda, Aoife, Sibyl, Joan and Maud, sit with their parents in a garden, singing and playing music, which their father, no doubt, had taught them. He had a fine voice and the songs would have been troubadour love songs, first heard by him in the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Given the different traits and accomplishments inherited by the girls, theirs would be a civilising influence on their tough Norman husbands.
On the other side of the panel, Aoife sits alone, in the shelter of the MacMurrough emblem the sheaf of corn. Hers must have been a strange life, but to this day, her blood flows in nearly every influential family of Norman descent in England.
The upper border
shows the MacMurrough charter horn, now in the National Museum of Ireland,
and then the five daughters of William having their complicated dowries
drawn up by a legal scribe. The lower border shows vignettes, news worthy
at the time, of the atrocity of the day, which was the annihilation of
the Cathars, the deeds of Eleanor of Aquitaine while on crusade, and the
enlightening influence of her court in Poitiers.