24 August, 2016

Edward II, Edward III, the Three Kings, and the Six Kings

In around 1330 or a little before, a prophecy was made and written down in England and later became known as the Prophecy of the Six Kings. The six kings of England after King John (died 1216) were characterised as beasts: Henry III was a lamb, Edward I a dragon, Edward II a goat, and Edward III a boar. The next two kings, whose identity was of course not known in c. 1330, would be Richard II, another lamb, and Henry IV, a mole. The prophecy said of Edward III that he would "whet his teeth on the gates of Paris" and conquer France and the Holy Land, and ultimately would be buried at the shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral, Germany.

The Three Kings and their connection to Edward II and III, and their shrines, are the topic of the post. They are the Wise Men or Magi of the Gospels, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus Christ. Edward III certainly knew of the prophecy that he would be buried at their shrine in Cologne Cathedral; he stayed in the city on 23 and 24 August 1338 (exactly 678 years ago today) on his way to meet the Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig or Louis of Bavaria in Koblenz, visited the shrine and made a very generous donation, and promised that one day he would be buried in the cathedral church (though in fact he was buried at Westminster Abbey in July 1377). The prophecy of the Six Kings only began circulating in c. 1330, after the official death of Edward II in September 1327, but the Fieschi Letter of c. 1336/38 claims that Edward II, having escaped from Berkeley Castle before he was killed, "went to Paris, and from Paris to Brabant, from Brabant to Cologne so that out of devotion he might see The Three Kings, and leaving Cologne he crossed over Germany, that is to say, he headed for Milan in Lombardy." It therefore seems possible that a non-dead Edward II had heard of this prophecy of the Six Kings of England and that his son would one day be buried in Cologne, and desired to see the shrine, as the Fieschi Letter states. Even if Edward II was unaware of the prophecy, he certainly knew of the shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne, one of the most famous pilgrim sites in medieval Europe. His father Edward I had sent an offering to the shrine in 1305/06, near the end of his life. And although Edward II couldn't possibly have known it, his great-grandson Richard II would be born on the feast of the Three Kings, 6 January 1367, and his baptism in Bordeaux would supposedly be attended by three kings.

The remains of the Three Kings, before they were taken to Cologne, had lain in Milan, so it is perhaps significant that the Fieschi Letter states that Edward went to Milan after he had visited the shrine in Cologne. In Milan, to this day, stands a church dedicated to Sant'Eustorgio containing the empty shrine where the relics of the Three Kings were once located, which I was lucky enough to visit in May this year in the company of my lovely friend Margherita (and I spent the rest of that day in Milan with another lovely friend, Ivan Fowler of the Auramala Project, whose site is linked above). In the fourteenth century this church was a Dominican church, and Edward II was a massive supporter of the Dominicans and vice versa, which perhaps increases the likelihood that he went there. Sant'Eustorgio, or Saint Eustorgius in English, was bishop of Milan in the 300s, and got permission from the emperor Constantine the Great to take the remains of the Three Kings, which the emperor's mother Saint Helena had brought to Italy as she did countless other Christian relics, from Rome to Milan. They were housed in the church of Sant'Eustorgio until 1162, when the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa attacked Milan. Barbarossa looted the church and took the remains of the Three Kings back to Germany through the Gotthard pass over the Alps and up the River Rhine to the city of Cologne and into the keeping of its then archbishop Rainald von Dassel. In 1191, a spectacular golden shrine was made to house the relics, depicting the three men presenting their gifts to the infant Jesus, and in 1322 - just nine or ten years before the Fieschi Letter alleges that the officially then dead Edward II saw it - the shrine was moved to the choir of Cologne Cathedral by Archbishop Heinrich von Virneburg. Here it still stands. I visited it with my friend Rachel last Saturday.
Cologne Cathedral.
Golden shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne.
Shrine in Cologne Cathedral.

Shrine in Cologne Cathedral.

Church of Sant'Eustorgio, Milan.

Empty reliquary that once contained the remains of the Three Kings in Sant'Eustorgio.


14 August, 2016

Lincoln Cathedral And Its Chapter-House

I wrote a post a while ago about the eventful parliament of January/February 1316: Hugh Despenser the Younger punched John Ros in the face, in Lincoln Cathedral, in front of Edward II; the king heard of the abduction and forced marriage of his wealthy niece Elizabeth de Clare; he fixed the price of various foodstuffs during the Great Famine; and his cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster, turned up late for parliament (realllllllly late) and was officially appointed Edward's 'chief counsellor'.

Here is where that parliament took place, in Lincoln Cathedral, and specifically in the chapter-house. The cathedral was consecrated in 1092 and from 1311 to 1549 was supposedly the tallest building in the world; in 1549, its central tower collapsed and has never been rebuilt. The chapter-house was built between 1220 and 1235 and is still used as a venue; when I was there just over a month ago, a small concert was taking place there. I love that it's still being used after eight centuries. I love being able to sit in and wander around a room where Edward II sat and held parliament and discussed the price of 'fat shorn sheep' and told Hugh Despenser with a straight face that of course the countess of Gloucester was pregnant by her husband sixteen months after his death and sent filthy looks in the direction of his cousin Thomas of Lancaster (probably).








07 August, 2016

Somerton Castle, Lincolnshire

I recently visited Lincolnshire for the first time in my life, though it felt pleasantly like going back to my roots as one of my great-great-great-grandmothers came from Gainsborough, and her grandfather, my five greats grandfather George Marsh, was high constable of Lincolnshire (whatever that means). We also popped over the border into Nottinghamshire and visited Newark Castle, which stands on the River Trent. Another family connection for me: one of my six greats grandfathers, John Winks, drowned in the Trent in Nottinghamshire on 23 December 1760. And more importantly for history, Edward II's great-grandfather King John died at Newark Castle on the night of 18/19 October 1216.

Anyway, I was happy to be visiting Lincoln as I had an idea, from reading it somewhere, that Edward II sometimes stayed at a place called Somerton Castle when he was in the area. I knew nothing about it at all except the name and vaguely that it was somewhere in the vicinity of Lincoln. For all I knew, the castle had vanished centuries ago. Amazingly, Somerton turns out to be about three miles from my dad's house, and is still there, though has been much altered: the medieval castle was incorporated into an Elizabethan house.

Somerton Castle, also much to my surprise, was not merely a place where Edward II stayed on occasion; he was the owner of it. It was given to him in 1309 by Anthony Bek (died 1311), bishop of Durham and the only Englishman in history to be patriarch of Jerusalem, who also gave Edward Eltham palace in Kent in 1305. (Generous!) Bek built Somerton Castle in the 1280s. It now stands isolated down the road from the village of Boothby Graffoe, and is also just a couple of miles away from the village of Coleby, where there's a church called All Saints. One of the rectors of Coleby was Thomas Cantilupe, who later became bishop of Hereford on the other side of the country, died in 1282, and was canonised as a saint in 1320. This was not least because of Edward II's efforts; he wrote often to the pope and cardinals about it. Maybe Edward knew of Coleby church and the Cantilupe connection. There's also the church of St Andrew in Boothby Graffoe near Somerton, where Edward may have worshipped, though the original church was destroyed by a hurricane (??) in 1666.

Here's a pic of Somerton Castle now, and here and here and here, and an aerial pic. It makes me happy that a former residence of Edward II is still lived in 700 years later.

31 July, 2016

Edward II's Murder...Or Not...?

I'm wading into the fray! My next book, provisionally titled Long Live The King? The Mysterious Fate Of Edward II, will be published in about May 2017. It's a detailed exploration of the evidence for a) Edward's murder at Berkeley Castle in September 1327 and b) his survival for years after that date. I want to try to present both sides as neutrally as possible and allow readers to make up their own minds. It's a very current debate; the latest edition of Fourteenth Century England contains an article by Dr Andy King called 'The Death of Edward II Revisited', an edition of BBC History Magazine earlier this year contained a debate on the topic by Ian Mortimer and Nicholas Vincent, and in November 2015 an entire TV programme was devoted to it. (A mostly horrible TV programme, but still.) There's so much information and so much to discuss that I decided to write an entire book about it; of course Edward's murder or possible survival is discussed in my two previous books, but I only had very limited space, and have been desperate to write a book dedicated to the topic for years. Yay! I hope you're excited :-)

22 July, 2016

Article And New Books

An article of mine about Isabella of France has just been published on the BBC History Magazine website. Enjoy! :-)

My book Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen got a great review in the weekly Catholic magazine The Tablet recently. You have to register on the site to read the full review, but it's free and very easy. I particularly enjoyed the part "she is very cross indeed with soi-disant [so-called] historians who bend known facts to fit their theories." That's very true; I am. :-)

Nick Gribit, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds recently, has written a book about Henry of Grosmont, then earl of Derby and later first duke of Lancaster, and his expedition to Aquitaine in 1345/6. Yay! As you probably know, I madly love Henry.

The latest edition of the fab series Fourteenth Century England, number nine, is out now, with an essay by Paul Dryburgh about Edward II's younger son John of Eltham (yippee!) and one by Andy King about Edward II's death (double yippee!). I have it on order; hope it comes soon as I'm dying (pun intended) to read both.

Martin White has written a novel, To Catch the Conscience of the King, about Edward II's downfall and his escape from Berkeley Castle. It came out as an e-book on 18 June this year, and the author tells me it will also be available in paperback soon. He's kindly sending me a copy. I'm looking forward to reading it; more here about it soon.

Finally, my good friend Ivan Fowler's novel about Edward II's survival in Italy has been entirely reworked and has been published in Italian, Edward; Il mistero del Re di Auramalawith a fab cover which I love. Can't wait to read the forthcoming English version!

14 July, 2016

St Andrew's Church, Heckington, Lincs, and my Edward II talk there

At Andrew's Church, Heckington.
One of Edward II's chaplains was Richard de Potesgrave, who was parson of Byfleet, Surrey when the king was there in November 1308, and whom Edward shortly afterwards made parson of Heckington, Lincolnshire as well. Richard was close enough to Edward for the rest of his reign to be able to present petitions to him on behalf of other people on occasion. Richard founded the church of Saint Andrew in Heckington sometime after March 1309, when Edward made him parson of the village, and his tomb can be seen there to this day (pic below). Edward II himself never visited Heckington, to my knowledge, but his son Edward III was here in August 1330, just a few weeks before he overthrew his mother Isabella and Roger Mortimer. The church of St Andrew, Heckington, still stands there magnificently, and is most unusual in that almost all of it dates to Richard de Potesgrave's time; as many of you will know, this is not often the case with medieval English churches, when you tend to move six feet to your left and thereby move out of a bit built in, for example, 1120 to a bit built in 1240 with fourteenth-century additions, then you move over there and stand in a fifteenth-century bit with a Victorian reconstruction.

On Friday 8 July 2016, I was kindly invited to give a talk about Edward II by the vicar, Chris Harrington, and some of his lovely parishioners, who all made me and my family feel incredibly welcome. Thank you especially to Mary, Lesley and Pete! We had the opportunity to look around the gorgeous fourteenth-century church, then I talked for an hour about Edward and his reign and the controversy surrounding his death and/or survival, in front of around a hundred people, some of whom had come from Leicester and Doncaster. (And sold quite a lot of books as well. :)

That moment when you walk round a place you've never been to before and see your own name...heh.

Outside the church.

The tomb and effigy of Richard de Potesgrave (died c. 1345), with missing head

Inside the church

Inside the church
St Andrew's is well known for its many fourteenth-century gargoyles and grotesques. Here are a few.

Wonderful fourteenth-century tracery

Is this an image of Edward II? With the crown, bushy beard and long flowing locks, it certainly looks like other contemporary depictions of him.

Me sitting in the sedilia (canopied stone seats on the south side of the altar)
If you're ever in the vicinity of Heckington (near Sleaford in the North Kesteven district of Lincolnshire, just off the A17, about twenty-five miles south-east of Lincoln), I definitely recommend visiting St Andrew's church. I hope to go back myself sometime soon!

The Reverend Chris Harrington introducing me

During my talk

Selling and signing my books about Edward II and Queen Isabella

With one of the posters - will treasure it always!

09 July, 2016

International Medieval Congress 2016, Session 828: The Troublesome Twenties

On Tuesday 5 July 2016, from 4.30 to 6pm, I took part in the above session about the 1320s with Professor Mark Ormrod of the university of York, the moderator, and Dr Paul Dryburgh of the National Archives, who wrote his doctoral thesis on Roger Mortimer, first earl of March. Paul talked for thirty-five minutes, a general overview of the 1320s, about the 1322 Statute of York, and much else which I'm afraid I rather missed as I was thinking about my own impending talk! I then spoke for half an hour about Edward II's last chamber account of 1325/26, now held in the library of the Society of Antiquaries in London. I talked about Edward's relationships with his niece Eleanor Despenser and her husband Hugh, the king's powerful chamberlain and favourite: there is much in the account to imply a considerable amount of affection and familiarity between Edward and Eleanor, such as frequent letters, gifts and visits, private dining, and Edward's offering of thirty shillings to give thanks to God for granting Eleanor a prompt and safe delivery of her child in December 1325. (Not named or even given a gender, but probably the Despensers' youngest, Elizabeth.) Hugh Despenser was away from Edward far more than we might expect in 1325/26, given that he had persuaded Edward to send his son to France in September 1325 rather than go himself on the grounds that his life would be in danger if the king left him alone in England. He spent much time in Wales that year, and in November 1325 Edward II heard news that Despenser had been killed. He hastily sent three men there to ascertain what was happening, and gave the large sum of ten marks each to the men for telling him that Despenser was, 'by God's mercy', perfectly well. Despenser received a manuscript of the story of Tristan and Isolde from the king in 1326.

One thing I love about the last account of Edward II's chamber is the way it confirms that the stories the chroniclers tell about him, that he enjoyed the company of his common subjects and that he took part in 'rustic pursuits', are accurate. At Leeds, I gave a good few examples of this: the king giving out money to Thames fishermen and carpenters for spending time with him (one of them was called Colle Herron, Colle being a pet name for Nicholas), inviting shipwrights to come and visit him at Kenilworth Castle, joining in when a group of workmen dug ditches and made fences at the royal manor of Clarendon in Wiltshire. I throughly enjoyed the talk and would happily have stood there for hours, talking all about Edward II and his character and hobbies!

07 July, 2016

7 July 1307/1317

King Edward I died on 7 July 1307 at Burgh-by-Sands near Carlisle at the age of sixty-eight, 709 years ago today. Exactly ten years to the day later, on 7 July 1317 (whether by accident or design), Edward II founded the King's Hall at the University of Cambridge. When his descendant Henry VIII founded Trinity College in 1546, King's Hall was subsumed into it, as was Michaelhouse, founded in 1324 by Edward's ally Hervey Staunton of the King's Bench.

More posts coming soon - I visited Lincoln today so have lots of pics of the cathedral and especially the chapter-house, where Edward held parliament in early 1316, to post!

03 July, 2016

My Talks: IMC and Heckington

On Tuesday 5 July, from 4.30 to 6pm, I'll be taking part in a session at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds with Professor Mark Ormrod of the University of York (Edward III's biographer) and Dr Paul Dryburgh of the National Archives. Our session is called The Troublesome Twenties, i.e. the 1320s, and my talk is about Edward II's last chamber account of 1325/26 and what it reveals about him.

And on Friday 8 July at 7.30pm, I'll be giving an hour-long talk about Edward II in the village of Heckington, near Sleaford in Lincolnshire. I've been invited by the good people at St Andrew's church, which was founded by Edward's chaplain Richard Potesgrave; Richard was also one of the men who guarded Edward's body (or was it Edward's body...?) in Gloucester during the two months it lay in state there before his funeral on 20 December 1327. If you're anywhere in the vicinity, please do come along!

24 June, 2016

24 June

So apparently something important happened in Scotland involving Edward II on this day 702 years ago, on 24 June 1314, but I'm afraid I don't have the faintest idea what it was. ;-)

24 June is the feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, one of Edward II's favourite saints. On this day in 1317, 699 years ago, Edward paid a man named Peter de Foresta two pounds for making him "a crown of wax of various colours and of various devices" to celebrate the feast. In 1326, Edward celebrated the day by playing dice with his chamber knight Giles Beauchamp in the Tower of London. At some point, not sure when, the king bought a painting of John the Baptist from John the Painter of Lincoln, which he kept in his chamber, and he also owned relics of the saint (among numerous others). 24 June 1312 was one of Edward's last happy days before he heard of the murder of Piers Gaveston two days later, and in 1313 he and Isabella were staying at Pontoise around the Nativity; it was at about this time that Edward saved Isabella's life from a fire.

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the death of Edward's kinsman Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, who died on his way to Paris on 23 June 1324. Aymer was the son of Henry III's half-brother William de Valence, hence was Edward's half first cousin once removed. Aymer was, according to his mother's Inquisition Post Mortem of 1307, born sometime between 1270 and 1283. So that's helpful.

25 June is the anniversary of the battle of Vega de Granada in 1319, when two of Edward's many Castilian cousins were killed.

Finally, here's one nice fact about something that happened at Dunbar, where Edward had fled after the completely unknown and obscure Scottish thing which happened on 24 June 1314: Edward later granted one William Fraunceys or Franceis an income of fifty marks annually in gratitude for the unspecified "kind service he lately performed for the king in his presence at Dunbar," also called his "great service in the king's presence at Dunbar." William's name means 'Frenchman'. [CPR 1313-7, 273; CPR 1317-21, 111; CCR 1313-8, 298, 497.]