Isabella de Forz, Countess of Devon
Isabella de Forz (Latinized to de Fortibus) (July 1237 – 10 November 1293) was the eldest daughter of Baldwin de Redvers, 6th Earl of Devon (1217-1245) and feudal baron of Plympton in Devon. After the early death of her husband and her brother before she was thirty years old, she inherited their estates and became one of the richest women in England, living mainly in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, which she held from the king as tenant-in-chief.
She had six children, all of whom died before her. On her death bed she was persuaded to sell the Isle of Wight to King Edward I, in a transaction that has ever since been considered questionable. Her heir to the feudal barony of Plympton was her cousin Hugh II Courtenay (1276-1340), feudal baron of Okehampton, Devon, who in 1335 was declared Earl of Devon.
A weir on the River Exe is named after her, and she is the subject of at least two legends.
In 1262 her brother Baldwin de Redvers, 7th Earl of Devon (1236–1262) died and left her his lands in Devon, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, and Harewood in Yorkshire. She was in her mid-twenties, had been widowed two years before having been left with a rich dower, and therefore became one of the richest heiresses in England, and a much sought after wife for several powerful and ambitious men. She subsequently called herself "Countess of Aumale and of Devon and Lady of the Isle" (of Wight).
Marriages & progeny
At the age of 11 or 12 she became the second wife of William de Forz, 4th Earl of Albemarle (d.1260), who held land in Yorkshire and Cumberland and was Count of Aumale in Normandy. When he died in 1260, part of his estates were granted to her as her dower lands. Isabella outlived all six of her children by William de Forz.
- Simon de Montfort. Despite the younger Simon de Montfort (second son of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester) having acquired the very valuable rights to her re-marriage in 1264, (female tenants-in-chief or widows of such requiring royal licence to re-marry) she refused to marry him and hid away in Breamore Priory in Hampshire and later in Wales.
- Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster. In 1268 her marriage was granted to Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster, son of King Henry III, but she refused to marry him either. Instead however her daughter Aveline de Forz (1258-1273) did marry Edmund in 1269, but died four years later, aged 15.
Her early life was apparently spent at Tidcombe near Tiverton. From 1262 she lived mainly on the Isle of Wight, which she owned, at Carisbrooke Castle. Many of her estate accounts have survived and have been subjected to much study. Her net income in the 1260s is known to have risen from £1,500 to £2,500. She apparently owned her own copy of the statutes of the realm and was very litigious and with her advisers she prosecuted dozens of cases, both civil and criminal, through the judiciary.
Lands sold to King Edward I
It is known that King Edward I (1272-1307) had long wanted to acquire Isabella's estates. In 1276 he proposed that she should sell her southern lands to him, but the conveyance was not completed. Following the death of her daughter and last surviving heir Aveline de Forz (1258-1273), a certain John de Eston was found (against expectations) by a jury at her inquisition post mortem to be Isabella's next heir. In 1278 this John de Eston quitclaimed her lands in the north and the County of Aumale and its associated lands to the Crown. In 1293 the king reopened negotiations to acquire Isabella's southern lands. While travelling from Canterbury, Isabella was taken ill and stopped near Lambeth. One of Edward's favourite servants, Walter Langton, rushed to her and wrote a charter to confirm the sale of the Isle of Wight to the king. It was read to the dying Isabella, who ordered her lady of the bedchamber to seal it.
Death & burial
After her death in 1293 aged 56 the feudal barony of Plympton and eventually the earldom of Devon passed to her 17 year-old second cousin once removed Hugh II de Courtenay (1276-1340), feudal baron of Okehampton, Devon, who in 1335 was declared Earl of Devon. He was the great-grandson of Mary de Vernon (daughter of William de Redvers, 5th Earl of Devon (died 1217)) and her husband Robert de Courtenay (d.1242), feudal baron of Okehampton. In 1314/15 he petitioned parliament, unsuccessfully, claiming his right to the lordship of the Isle of Wight and to the adjacent manor of Christchurch, Hampshire, as heir of Isabella.
Countess Weir, Exeter
Countess Weir, a fish weir on the River Exe about two miles below Exeter in Devon takes its name from Isabella de Forz, Countess of Devon. The details of the weir's construction are uncertain: a source of 1290 states that Isabella had it built in 1284 and thereby damaged the salmon fishing and prevented boats from reaching Exeter, but a later source of 1378 claims that she had had the weir built in 1272, leaving a thirty-foot gap in the centre through which boats could pass, until it was blocked between 1307 and 1327 by Isabella's cousin Hugh Courtenay.
Two legends exist which feature Isabella de Forz:
- One, that of the Seven Crosses, of which there are many variations, relates that she came across a poor man carrying a basket containing what he said were puppies, but which were in fact seven of his children whom he was going to drown because he could not afford to keep them. After severely upbraiding him for his lack of morality, Isabella adopted the children and ensured that they were looked after and well educated until their adulthood when she found employment for all of them.
- The other legend concerns the disputed boundary of four parishes in East Devon which she, as Countess, was called upon to settle. She is said to have done this by arranging to meet the disputants on top of a marshy hill near the site whereupon she took off a ring from her finger and threw it into the middle of the bog declaring "that shall be the boundary". The place where these four parishes meet is called "Ring in the Mire".
- Sanders, I.J. English Baronies: A Study of their Origin and Descent 1086-1327, Oxford, 1960, p.138, Plympton
- Sanders, p.138
- Sanders, p.70
- Arms of Guillaume de Forz, Comte d'Aumale: Gules a cross patonce vair (per the following rolls of arms: Charles' Roll, 15; Glover's Roll, B13; Walford's Roll, C60; The Camden Roll, D142 & St George's Roll, E28) 
- Barbara English, Forz , Isabella de, suo jure countess of Devon, and countess of Aumale (1237–1293), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edition, Jan 2008 (subscription required). Accessed: 2011-01-05.
- as seen for example in the arms of William Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon (1475–1511) sculpted on south porch of St Peter's Church, Tiverton, Devon, impaling the arms of King Edward IV, the father of his wife Princess Katherine
- Sanders, p.138
- Both shared common ancestry from William de Redvers, 5th Earl of Devon (d.1217), Isabel's great-grandfather and Courtenay's great-great-grandfather
- Sanders, p.138
- Sanders, p.70
- Cokayne 1916, pp. 323–4
- GEC The Complete Peerage, vol.IV, p.317, pedigree chart "The Heirs of Richard FitzBaldwin"
- Sanders, p.112: The manor of Christchurch, sometimes called a barony, was part of the barony of Plympton, granted by King Henry I to Richard de Redvers (d.1107), but was sold together with the Isle of Wight to the crown by Isabella
- Charter XXII, published in Appendix to Worsley, Sir Richard, History of the Isle of Wight, London, 1781
- Cokayne 1916, pp. 322–3
- Clark, E. A. G (1960). The Ports of the Exe Estuary 1660 - 1860. A Study in Historical Geography. The University of Exeter. pp. 21–22.
- One version of the story appears in: White, William (1879). History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Devon. Sheffield: William White. p. 219.
- Hone, William (1832). The year book, of daily recreation & information. W. Tegg.
- Cokayne, George Edward (1916). The Complete Peerage, edited by H.A. Doubleday IV. London: St. Catherine Press.
- Mrs Rose-Troup (1905). "The Lady of the Isle: Isabella de Fortibus, Countess of Albemarle and Devon". Report & Transactions of the Devonshire Association 37: 206–45.
|Peerage of England|
Baldwin de Redvers
|Earl of Devon
1262 – 1293