Margery de la Beche: A Forgotten Woman of the Fourteenth Century

Margery de la Beche was the wife of a Medieval knight, and I bet you've never even heard of her. But her story is woven with ambition and royal favour and tinged with violence and tragedy.

Margery was the wife of Sir Nicholas de la Beche, a Berkshire knight and courtier of Edward II and Edward III. One of the de la Beches of Aldworth, a village between Compton and Goring, Nicholas' family had a history of service to the crown since the days of William the Conqueror. 

Head of a woman, French, 14th century. The Met Museum, public domain. 

They lived in Aldworth, a small rural village in Berkshire, and would have prayed in the church of St Mary's. Between the years 1300 and 1350, craftsmen would memorialise members of Nicholas' family in nine stone effigies surrounding the inside of the church, which would come to be known as the Giants of Aldworth

Back in the 1330s though, Nicholas was responsible for ensuring Edward III had enough supplies for a French military campaign. He seems to have slipped in his duties, an angry Edward imprisoning him in the Tower on his return. Luckily, he was quickly released and welcomed into royal favour, serving in Brittany, appointed Seneschal of Gascony and dealt in negotiations with the King of Castile on Edward's behalf. 

Margery's church, Aldworth. (my own)

Nicholas' wife Margery isn't remembered with an effigy like other de la Beche women such as Isabella de la Beche or Joan de la Beche. It is interesting to speculate on her duties while her husband was away in Brittany, France or Castile on the king's business. From what we know of Medieval women, Margery would have taken over the running of the de la Beche estates, which included properties in Bradfield, Basildon, Ashampstead and Yattendon. Further away, they also owned land in Wiltshire and Sussex, and more locally, a home in Aldworth. They would also have visited and known the de la Beche castle of Beaumys, near Reading, now sadly lost. Margery would have been involved in overseeing the expenditure and maintenance of these properties and estates as well as the work of the family servants. 

There may also have been a certain amount of worry. Evidence for this part of Margery's life is scarce, but with her husband imprisoned in the Tower on the orders of the king, it's likely this would have given her anxiety as she waited patiently and hoped for Nicholas' safe return. 

Nicholas died in around 1347, an archaeological journal of 1844 stating that he left no living heirs. He had recently been fighting on a campaign in France, and died soon after his return to England. His next descendants were the daughters of his brother, John. Margery's sister-in-law, the silver seal of John's wife Isabella was discovered in the nineteenth century turfed up in a field in Aldworth, on the site of their former home. 

Nicholas was Margery's second husband, she having been previously married to Edmund Bacon, who was said to have owned property in Essex. While she left no children with Nicholas, she did bear a child with Bacon, a daughter named Margery, possibly after herself or perhaps her or Edmund's mother. Although we do not know the names of Margery's mother and father it was common for children, especially first-borns, to take the names of grandparents or parents. 

Nicholas de la Beche, Margery's second husband (photo: my own)

Now widowed twice, Margery settled down at Beaumys. However on Good Friday 1347 her home was the dramatic scene of a violent murder and abduction. The author of the 1844 archaeological journal states that it was probably Margery's wealth that motivated the attack, when a group of men broke down the doors of her home in the early hours of the morning while it was still dark. They bustled her onto a horse and took her, along with her valuables, to be forcibly married to Sir John de Dalton, on the way injuring a number of her servants and killing two men. It later transpired that a number of people were involved in the conspiracy and abduction, one of them Thomas de Litherland, a Prior of Burscough in Lancashire. It was certainly in Margery's interests to remain a widow. In Medieval England, a widow could retain her husband's lands on his death and enjoy them freely. But once she remarried, these lands and estates were automatically transferred to the control of her new husband. Margery then, was vulnerable to an attack such as this from someone with an acquisitive eye on her lands. In the end it would be down to her word against theirs that she had married with consent.

Margery lived only two more years, dying in October 1349. 

Margery's life, through Nicholas, was close to the action of Edward III's court but most of her days were spent nestled away at their home in leafy Berkshire. With a husband in public service and regularly overseas on royal command she would have adapted to daily life without him, keeping estates and properties properly administered and acting as a local figurehead for the family in his absence. As she settled down to what she must have considered a comfortable widowhood, she was suddenly jostled into a forced marriage and her belongings stolen. There is no more on Margery, and we do not even know the site of her burial. She also lived through the Black Death which took hold in England from around 1346 and continued into the 1350s, after her death. Margery is not remembered at Aldworth Church along with the other Aldworth Giants - perhaps another indication that she was not buried at Aldworth - but she was a member of the prominent de la Beche family of Berkshire and we should not forget her and her devastating final years, a result of an unprovoked and violent attack motivated by greed. 

Liked this? You might also like The Aldworth Giants at Aldworth Church, Ladies of Magna Carta and other Forgotten Women of History Here

In the century after Margery's death, there was a conflict that involved women from all levels of society. I explore these in my book Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses, published by Pen and Sword. Order your copy here. 

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Notes and Sources: 

British Archaeological Association, The Archaeological Journal (Longman, 1844)