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King John's Right Hand Lady (Hardback)

The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye

Colour Books P&S History > British History P&S History > By Century > 12th Century P&S History > By Century > 13th Century P&S History > Medieval World > Medieval History Women of History

By Sharon Bennett Connolly
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 224
ISBN: 9781526756060
Published: 3rd May 2023

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In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. Not once, but three times, earning herself the ironic praise that she acted ‘manfully’.

Nicholaa gained prominence in the First Baron’s War, the civil war that followed the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215. Although recently widowed, and in her 60s, in 1217 Nicholaa endured a siege that lasted over three months, resisting the English rebel barons and their French allies. The siege ended in the battle known as the Lincoln Fair, when 70-year-old William Marshal, the Greatest Knight in Christendom, spurred on by the chivalrous need to rescue a lady in distress, came to Nicholaa’s aid.

Nicholaa de la Haye was a staunch supporter of King John, remaining loyal to the very end, even after most of his knights and barons had deserted him.

A truly remarkable lady, Nicholaa was the first woman to be appointed sheriff in her own right.

Her strength and tenacity saved England at one of the lowest points in its history.

Nicholaa de la Haye is one woman in English history whose story needs to be told…

Review as featured in

Lincolnshire Life, September 2023

With the publication of "King John's Right Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye", academician and historian Sharon Bennett Connolly eloquently and with great attention to historical detail, demonstrates that the Lady Nicholaa de la Haye is one woman in English history whose story needs to be told. Featuring a section of full color photos, three Appendices (The 1215 Magna Carta; Enforcers of Manga Cart - The Twenty-Five; The Charter of the Forest 1217), eighteen pages of Notes, a ten page Bibliography, and a four page Index, "King John's Right Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye" is readily available for personal reading lists in a digital book format and will prove an enduringly valued and highly prized addition to community, college, and university library Women's History/Biography collections and supplemental curriculum British Royal Biography studies lists.

Read the full review here

Midwest Book Review

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In Sharon Bennett Connolly's new book, ‘King John's Right Hand Lady: the Story of Nicholaa de la Haye,’ a remarkable 12-13th century woman is brought to life. In a world dominated by men, not only was Nicholaa able to hold her own, but she even had her abilities publicly acknowledged by the husbands she married and the king's she served.

This book first piqued my interest because it brought to mind a woman whose name I had first read in passing many years ago, in one of Sharon Kay Penman’s novels. A woman serving as constable and sheriff in medieval England? Of course I had to read more! And I am so glad that I did.

Whilst I have read many wonderful new releases so far this year, and I look forward to reading and reviewing many more, I have to say this has been my favourite so far. Not only is Nicholaa’s story fascinating, the way Sharon presents her impeccable scholarship is second-to-none.

I hold this book up as the gold standard for how history should be written. Sharon does not just tell the narrative history, but actually presents the primary sources, showing not just what we know of Nicholaa's life, but how we know it. It is wonderful to be able to read the sources and see how Sharon pieced together Nicholaa’s life and family. Where sources raise more questions than they answer, Sharon does not just run with a chosen narrative version, but admits to the ambiguities and gaps in the historical record, and where relevant, offers multiple theories as to what really happened.

I must thank Sharon Bennett Connolly of History the Interesting Bits for bringing this fascinating woman out of the shadows, and for doing so in such an illuminating way.

NetGalley, Jessica Carey-Bunning

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In King John’s Right Hand Lady, Sharon Bennett Connolly explores the life of Nicholaa de la Haye, a powerful noblewoman in her own right that was central to John I’s maintenance of power in central England. Connolly traces the lineage of the de la Haye family from Normandy to Lincoln and the circumstances that led to Nicholaa becoming her family’s heir. Connolly then tracks Nicholaa’s marriage to Gerard de Camville and her appointment as constable of Lincoln, a critical seat of King John’s power in the early thirteenth century, as well as the lives of her descendants who married into powerful families such as the Earls of Salisbury. Connolly’s devotion to uncovering Nicholaa de la Haye’s life and her time in power as the constable of Lincoln in her own right is reflected throughout the book, and Connolly’s clear familiarity with the time period and the de la Haye family makes this book an incredibly fascinating read. Her prose and detail provides the reader with a complete understanding of the complicated late twelfth and early thirteenth century politics in London and the power struggles between various nobles and the sons of Henry II, and Connolly explains this wonderfully.

NetGalley, Lily Amidon

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

An engrossing account of a little-known historical figure and the pivotal role she played in late 12th/early 13th century history and politics. This is one of those rare books that is scrupulously researched and scholarly but also grips like a novel. Setting the character of Nicolaa de la Haye in her historical context, "King John's Right Hand Lady" casts light on the remarkable story of the woman who was England's first female sheriff, and in doing so casts a fascinating light on the character of Nicolaa herself as well as the age she lived in. highly recommended.

NetGalley, Nicola Cornick

'A most able adversary for some of the greatest military minds of the time, and a loyal supporter of King John, Nicholaa de la Haye was unique among her peers.' Indeed an annalist praised her 'manfully' actions but history has not adequately recorded this remarkable woman born in the 12th Century.

Sharon Bennett Connolly has sought to redress this glaring gap utlising both primary and secondary sources to weave together a well-researched and qualified biography; from Nicholaa's ancestors, through to marriages, children, and allegiance. To have ultimately become a trusted leader of King John, 'England's worst King', should be a testament to Nicholaa's strong character. To successfully hold off a siege that lasted months shows downright tenacity. But to be appointed sheriff of Lincolnshire before King John's death shows true regard for her leadership.

Bennett Connolly has put a lot of time and heart into this biography. Although relying on rummaging through scattered medieval recordings to learn more about Nicolaa, it is clear that hard facts can be scant. However, Bennett Connolly is very careful to qualify and cross-reference any surmising on her part in order to be as accurate as possible, yet still tell a story. History lovers will enjoy learning about this unique lady whom history nearly forgot. History academics will relish the depth of research, end notes, appendices, and comprehensive biography.

'Heiress, widow, castellan, sheriff, and war leader - Lady Nicholaa de la Haye.'

NetGalley, Christy Howl

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The year is 1217, and Lincoln Castle is being attacked. King John is dead, and his son Henry III is now king, but chaos still reigns. Noblemen are fighting against each other, and amid this conflict is a woman in her sixties. She is used to the instability of England as she is not only the constable of the castle being besieged, but she has earned the right to be named the first female sheriff of England. She was a daughter, a wife, a mother, a widow, and someone the Plantagenets could depend on. The name of this remarkable woman is Nicholaa de la Haye, and her unbelievable story is told in Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest book, “King John’s Right Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I remember first hearing the name Nicholaa de la Haye from one of Sharon Bennett Connolly’s other books, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England.” I wanted to learn more about this woman, how she gained the trust of King John, and why she was not only a constable of Lincoln Castle but a sheriff for Lincolnshire.

To understand how Nicholaa de la Haye became the constable of Lincoln Castle, we have to explore the origins of the Haye family and their connection to the Plantagenets. Connolly tracks the family back to the Norman Conquest, but the main focus is on the direct family of Richard de la Haye and Matilda de Verdun, Nicholaa’s parents. The Haye family has a legacy and a deep sense of duty to protect the English royal family from invaders or rebels, which passed on to Nicholaa and her sisters as they were their father’s heiresses. With Richard de la Haye’s death, Nicholaa inherited his role as constable of Lincoln Castle.

Nicholaa de la Haye was married twice to William Fitz Erneis and Gerard de Camville, and she had several children. When her husbands were away or had died, Nicholaa could uphold her birthright as a constable. It was not an easy road, but she did have the backing of King John during the First Baron’s War. Connolly takes the time to explore how John became king, his connection with Nicholaa de la Haye, the Magna Carta crisis, and the First Baron’s War. Before his death, King John named Nicholaa the first female sheriff of England in charge of Lincolnshire. Finally, she had to deal with the siege of Lincoln Castle for three months in 1217, which was just a cherry on top of her whole life experience.

A strong, independent woman who lived a thrilling life and was willing to defend her home of Lincoln Castle even at the age of sixty, Nicholaa de la Haye was an unsung heroine of the thirteenth century. Connolly’s passion for telling Nicholaa’s tale of trials and tribulations exudes on every page. “King John’s Right Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye” by Sharon Bennett Connolly is the perfect book for anyone who wants a story about the Plantagenets, King John, and the first female sheriff of England. A true triumph in exploring the life of a more hidden figure from the thirteenth century.

NetGalley, Heidi Malagisi

About Sharon Bennett Connolly

Sharon Bennett Connolly, has been fascinated by history her whole life. She has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle. For Christmas 2014, her husband gave her a blog as a gift – www.historytheinterestingbits.com – and Sharon started researching and writing about the stories that have always fascinated. Ladies of Magna Carta is her third non-fiction book. Her first book, Heroines of the Medieval World, was published in September 2017 and the second, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, was released in 2018. Sharon gives talks on women's history and her TV work includes Australian television's Who Do You Think You Are?

Perfect Partner

Ladies of Magna Carta Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England (Hardback)

Magna Carta clause 39: No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land. This clause in Magna Carta was in response to the appalling imprisonment and starvation of Matilda de Braose, the wife of one of King John’s barons. Matilda was not the only woman who influenced, or was influenced by, the 1215 Charter of Liberties, now known as Magna Carta. Women from many of the great families of England were affected by the far-reaching legacy of Magna Carta,…

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