Saturday, July 19, 2014

The woman constable of a medieval castle: Annota Walsh of Carrickmacgriffin

The woman constable of a medieval castle:
Annota Walsh of Carrickmacgriffin

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

In the spring and summer of 1429 a woman lead the armies of France to victory. Joan of Arc had come from humble origins to bring vision and high military qualities to a demoralised nation. But the king (Charles VII) who had gained so much from her exploits abandoned her when she needed help. Charles VII couldn’t stand the idea of a woman being better than he as he who did so little fighting called himself Charles the Victorious.[1] The irony of Joan’s situation was that if she was the sole daughter of a French king she could not be Queen of France yet she was better than any man to lead the armies of France when they most needed leadership.

Far from the shores of France, James Butler, 4th Earl of Ormond, had no fear of women in command. On 13th December 1434 granted to Annota Walsh and Robert Walsh, her son, the custody of Carrickmacgriffin [now known as Carrick-on-Suir] castle. Annota Walsh and Robert Walsh were “to do all and sundry that belong to the offices of constable and ‘vector’” of the castle. They were to “faithfully guard the castle … and do all things which constables were anciently wont to do”. Annota Walsh and Robert Walsh were to hold the office of constable for the term of “their lives or the longer liver of them, receiving in same office the accustomed wages and rewards”.[2]

The previous constables of Carrickmacgriffin castle included Maurice Aveneis, who was appointed in 1427 for life. Maurice Aveneis was to receive all the fees, rewards and profits of the office along with four silver marks per year as a pension for good and faithful service rendered. In addition Maurice Aveneis had the lease of forty acres of arable land in the Earl of Ormond’s demesne land around Carrickmacgriffin.[3]

Presumingly Maurice Aveneis died sometime within the following year as in August 1428 Richard Vale was made constable of the castle for life. Richard Vale also had the rights to the ferry for which he was to provide sufficient fuel for the Earl’s household within the castle. Richard Vale also received ten silver marks out of the lands and tenements of the Earl of Ormond in Carrickmacgriffin.[4]

Medieval Carrickmacgriffin (now Carrick-on-Suir) 
with the castle to the right on the east end of town

As well as having the custody of Carrickmacgriffin castle, Annota Walsh and Robert Walsh had the ferry attached to the castle, like Richard Vale and for which they, like the previous constable, were to render for the ferry “sufficient fuel to the household of the Earl and his heirs within the castle”. The rent of the ferry was worth 3 shillings 4 pence in 1412 and so the income which Annota Walsh could gain would be more than this. The mother and son team also received to farm the “vill of Carrick with all its profits, for as long as” the Earl of Ormond wished them to have it. The rent to the lord was thirty shillings per year.[5] 

By the same grant of 1434 Annota Walsh and Robert Walsh also received the job of guarding the fishery rights along the River Suir, adjunct to Carrickmacgriffin. For guarding the fish; renting the town and ferry; and acting as constable of Carrickmacgriffin castle the mother and son were made free, for their lives, from any burdens of coygne, kerne, tallage, subsidy and all other burdens within the liberty of Tipperary.[6]

It is difficult to determine who Annota Walsh and Robert Walsh were. The region of south Tipperary, Kilkenny and Wexford had numerous families of Walsh. The name of Walsh is a corruption of Welsh as the ancestors of the later Walsh’s came from Wales at the time of the Norman Conquest and the decades after. There is a few references from the late fourteenth century of Philip Walsh of Carrick who was a bailiff of the then Earl of Ormond in the area.[7] In 1415 Richard MacGriffin Walsh held the land of Francis-town within the manor of Carrickmacgriffin.[8] 

It is not clear if Annota Walsh and Robert Walsh had any connection with these people. Annot Walsh and Robert Walsh could just be what we would called “blow-ins” to Carrickmacgriffin and they could have come from some other place in the vast estates of the Earl of Ormond. It is noted that Robert Walsh rented the farm of Monybrytayne in the manor of Carrickmacgriffin for 16 shillings 8 pence in 1434 but as this was the same time as the appointment of the constable the renting of this farm does not confirm the mother and son as native to Carrickmacgriffin.[9]  

To rent a farm Robert Walsh had to be of legal age and thus he was of age to be the usual choice for constable of a castle. Yet his mother, Annota Walsh got the job of constable along with her son Robert Walsh. Therefore Annota Walsh was seen and acknowledged as constable just as her son was. Did the recent history of Joan of Arc give James Butler the confidence and inspiration for his own female warrior? A chancery document from around 1000 said “there is one thing in a man, which makes him as a man strong enough to rule, another in a woman, which makes her as a woman ruled”.[10] Perhaps the Earl of Ormond included her son as constable so that the people who would be shocked and angry about a woman constable would have no target for the anger.

Carrickmacgriffin castle with the two tower houses 

The castle of Carrickmacgriffin, where Annota Walsh, a woman, was now constable was an important building within the Earldom of Ormond. Not only did it control the east-west traffic on the River Suir, it also controlled the north-south trade route into and out of north-east County Waterford. For the town of Carrickmacgriffin and the neighbouring area the castle acted as a police station and local tax office. The prison facilities in the castle not only held lawbreakers from the town and area of Carrickmacgriffin but also received prisoners from a much wider area. In 1482, Walter de Burgo, a burgess of Cashel, was threatened with incarceration in the prison at Carrickmacgriffin unless he made charters of lands in favour of his illegitimate son, Richard de Burgo.[11]

A constable of a castle could make a nice bit of money keeping prisoners but they could also lose money if the prisoner escaped. In the 1290s Thomas Capprich, constable of Deruagh castle in Kilkenny had the custody of Thomas son of Adam, a felon, in the castle prison. But Thomas son of Adam escaped and Thomas Capprich was fined 100 shillings for allowing his prisoner to escape.[12]

On the national scene although Carrickmacgriffin was well within the English area of influence, the job of constable of the castle was not all about providing fuel and food for the Earl’s household. The castle was very much a military building and the threat of war was nearly always in the air. In May 1421 the army of James Butler, Earl of Ormond and then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, was defeated by O’Moore of Laois. The Earl returned a month later with a larger army and forced O’Moore to sue for peace. A year after the appointment of Annota Walsh (1435) a report was sent to the English Privy Council which made grim reading. It said that only the four counties of Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Louth were not Irish control of some kind; in Carlow there were only two castles of note whereas in about 1360 there were 148 castles in the county; the counties of Munster were off limits to any royal official except accompanied by a large military force and in Connacht and Ulster most of the land was held by Irish or rebel English except for two strong points in each province (Galway, Athenry, Carrickfergus and Ardglass).[13]     

By 1443 it would seem that Annota Walsh was deceased and Robert Walsh was exempted from 12 shillings 6 pence on the rent of Carrickmacgriffin.[14] In 1444 Robert Walsh had given up the lease on Monybratayne farm (then held by Thomas O’Neill) and instead rented the manor mill of Carrickmacgriffin for 15 pence.[15] In 1427 another woman of Carrickmacgriffin, Agnes Hervey, rented the old manorial mill at Carrickmacgriffin and had licence to build a new mill near the castle.[16] In 1431 Annota Lynch held the mill of Carrickmacgriffin.[17]

The presence of these women renting and operating the mill at Carrickmacgriffin makes the idea of a woman as constable of Carrickmacgriffin castle a fact that is not totally out of character of life in south Tipperary in the early decades of the fifteenth century. Perhaps even the idea of a woman as constable of a medieval castle is not so unusual – may be it is just that we historians didn't think of such a situation to seek it out.


End of post


[1] John Fines, Who’s who in the Middle Ages (Anthony Blond, London, 1970), pp. 139-141
[2] Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds (6 vols. Stationery Office, Dublin, 1935), vol. 3, pp. 112
[3] Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, vol. 3, p. 53
[4] Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, vol. 3, p. 54
[5] Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds (Stationery Office, Dublin, 1934), vol. 2, p. 309; Ibid, vol. 3, p. 113
[6] Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, vol. 3, p. 113
[7] Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, vol. 2, pp. 234, 237
[8] Newport B. White (ed.), The Red Book of Ormond (Stationery Office, Dublin, 1932), p. 120
[9] Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, vol. 3, p. 111
[10] Pauline Stafford, ‘Powerful women in the early middle ages: Queens and Abbesses’, in The Medieval World, edited by Peter Linehan & Janet L. Nelson (Routledge, London, 2001), p. 408
[11] Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, vol. 3, pp. 246, 247
[12] The Thirty-Eighth report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland (Stationery Office, Dublin, 1906), p. 62
[13] A.J. Otway-Ruthven, A history of Medieval Ireland (Ernest Benn, London, 1980), pp. 361, 369, 370
[14] Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, vol. 3, p. 133
[15] Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, vol. 3, p. 157
[16] Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, vol. 3, p. 49
[17] Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, vol. 3, p. 75

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