26 May, 2017

Happy Wedding Anniversary to Hugh and Eleanor Despenser

711 years ago today on 26 May 1306, Edward I's eldest granddaughter Eleanor de Clare married Hugh Despenser the Younger in the royal chapel at Westminster Palace, in the presence of her grandfather the king, who had arranged the match and paid Hugh Despenser the Elder £2000 for the marriage of his son and heir. Eleanor was thirteen and a half, Hugh probably about seventeen or eighteen, and their first child Hugh or Huchon was born around 1309. They were to have at least ten children together that I know of, perhaps more, of whom nine survived childhood: Huchon, Edward, Gilbert, John, Isabella, Joan, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth Despenser. By the time of Hugh's execution on 24 November 1326, the couple had been married just over twenty years, and as far as I can make out their marriage was a solid and happy one.

I'm currently writing a biography of Hugh Despenser the Younger, to be published next year. He was a bad. bad boy, but also a highly intelligent one, and he's massively fun to write about!

20 May, 2017

My Books

In case anyone is keeping score :), here are my existing and future books! (Note: the titles of all books after number 3 are subject to change!) Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II will be out in the UK in twelve days.

1) Edward II: The Unconventional King (published October 2014)

2) Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen (pub. March 2016)

3) Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II (to be pub. 1 June 2017)

4) A True King’s Fall: The Life of Richard II, King of England 1377-1399 (to be pub. 15 October 2017)

5) Valour and Vainglory: The Life of Hugh Despenser the Younger (to be pub. probably September 2018)

6) Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York 1245-1415 (to be pub. late 2018 maybe)

7) Affluence and Abduction: The Lives of the de Clare Sisters, 1292-1360 (to be pub. probably September 2019)

8) Philippa of Hainault: Queen of Edward III, Mother of the English Nation (to be pub. around October 2019)

9) Time-Honour’d Lancaster: John of Gaunt, Grandfather of Europe (to be pub. around October 2020)

Phew! That's a lot of writing! I'd better go and get on with it :-)

11 May, 2017

John of Eltham Was Not 'Removed' From His Mother In 1324

I've dealt previously with the absurd notion that Edward II and his chamberlain and favourite Hugh Despenser the Younger cruelly removed the three younger royal children, John, Eleanor and Joan, from Queen Isabella's custody in September 1324, and gave them to the care of Edward's niece/Hugh's wife Eleanor and Hugh's sister Isabella Hastings. This was an invention of one extremely unreliable and inaccurate historian in the late 1970s, and frankly I'm astonished that better historians have chosen to repeat it without checking, especially as the document he cites for his claim does not date to September 1324 at all but to the period July 1322 to July 1323.

Browsing the Calendar of Memoranda Rolls recently, I discovered that Eleanor Despenser's care of John of Eltham dates back to at least 3 July 1322: she was paid a hundred pounds for his expenses from 3 July 1322 to 16 April 1324. As I note below, Eleanor spent quite a bit of time attending Queen Isabella for most of Edward's reign and until well into the 1320s, and at least on occasion she also took charge of John of Eltham and his household, though perhaps only irregularly. As Edward II's eldest niece and John of Eltham's first cousin, Eleanor Despenser was a perfectly suitable person to have the occasional care of the king and queen's second son, and she had a large brood of her own children. Growing up among his Despenser cousins might have proved a happy experience for John. John, aged not yet ten, was at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire from 22 May to 20 July 1326, and Eleanor was there with him for at least part of that time, as Edward's chamber account shows. Isabella was then in France, by her own choice.

From my own research I know that Queen Isabella and Eleanor Despenser née de Clare spent a considerable amount of time together, even after Eleanor's husband Hugh began to get seriously on Isabella's nerves, to put it mildly. For all Isabella's loathing and even fear of Hugh, she doesn't appear to have held Eleanor even vaguely responsible for her husband's actions or to have allowed his behaviour to damage her affection for Eleanor, and Eleanor was attending the queen for at least part of February/March 1323, months after Isabella blamed Hugh Despenser for leaving her - and indeed Eleanor as well - in danger at Tynemouth Priory the previous autumn. The two women continued to get on well and spend time together. The notion that Edward II and Hugh Despenser imposed Eleanor on an unwilling Isabella in and after 1324 as a kind of jailer and spy is nonsense. Eleanor had been attending Isabella on a semi-regular basis since at least November 1310 and most probably since Isabella first arrived in England in February 1308.

And as Eleanor had received money for looking after John as early as 3 July 1322, and three months later was with Queen Isabella at Tynemouth Priory and in February/March 1323 was with her in London, I think it's safe to say that Isabella was perfectly happy with her niece-in-law and her lady attendant having the occasional care of her second son. I really do hope that the whole absurd nonsense of Edward II and Hugh Despenser cruelly removing Isabella's children from her can be laid to rest one day.

05 May, 2017

Dates of Birth and Death of the de Clare Siblings (1291-1360)

Edward of Caernarfon's second eldest sister Joan of Acre married Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford, on 30 April 1290 when he was forty-six and she eighteen or almost. Their first child, only son and heir Gilbert, earl of Gloucester and Hertford, was born a year later, sometime between 23 April and 11 May 1291, according to the evidence of his parents' Inquisitions Post Mortem taken in January 1296 and May 1307. [CIPM 1291-1300, pp. 234-51; CIPM 1300-07, pp. 311-31] Gilbert was the eldest grandchild of Edward I and only seven years younger than his uncle Edward II. He married Maud de Burgh, one of the many daughters of the earl of Ulster, on 29 or 30 September 1308 when he was seventeen, and was killed at the battle of Bannockburn on 24 June 1314, aged twenty-three.

Eleanor, Lady Despenser and lady of Glamorgan, eldest of the three daughters of Gilbert the Red and Joan of Acre, was born in October or November 1292. This is according to several books and articles, but I don't know what the source is and can't confirm the date. Eleanor was certainly the eldest of the three de Clare sisters, and the date of birth appears to be plausible. She married Hugh Despenser the Younger at Westminster on 26 May 1306 when she was probably thirteen and a half. Eleanor died, according to her (incomplete) IPM, on 30 June 1337 at the age of forty-four, leaving her eldest son Hugh or Huchon Despenser as her heir; he was then said to be between twenty-six and twenty-nine years old. [CIPM 1336-46, pp. 78-9]

The date of birth of the second sister Margaret de Clare, countess of Cornwall and Gloucester, is not known. Her Wikipedia page gives 12 October 1293 as the date, but I haven't the faintest idea where that comes from. Who knows where Wikipedia contributors find stuff? That date strikes me as a little too close to the date of birth of Margaret's sister Eleanor in October/November 1292 to be plausible, and a little too far away from her younger sister Elizabeth's birth in September 1295. Gilbert 'the Red' and Joan of Acre were in Ireland from June 1293 to April 1294, so Margaret may have been born there, or not long after they returned to England. A date of birth in the spring or early summer of 1294 would give a more regular spacing between Margaret and her siblings and would make her about thirteen and a half when she married Piers Gaveston on 1 November 1307; her sisters were also both thirteen when they married. She married her second husband Hugh Audley on 28 April 1317.

Wiki gives 9 April 1342 as the date of Margaret's death, as do many other websites. Her Inquisition Post Mortem in fact says that she died on ‘Tuesday the morrow of the Close of Easter last’ in Edward III's sixteenth regnal year, which ran from 25 January 1342 to 24 January 1343. Easter Sunday in 1342 fell on 31 March, so Margaret therefore would seem to have died on 2 April 1342, not 9 April. [CIPM 1336-46, pp. 253-5] Her heir was her only surviving daughter, Margaret Stafford née Audley, from her second marriage to Hugh Audley. Margaret Stafford was said to be either eighteen or twenty years old at the time of her mother's death, which places her date of birth around 1320 or 1322.

The youngest de Clare sibling, Elizabeth, was supposedly born on 16 September 1295, just a few weeks before their father Gilbert 'the Red' died in early December 1295. I'm not sure what the source for her date of birth is; I'm not saying it's incorrect, just that I haven't, yet, seen the document which gives it. Elizabeth married 1) John de Burgh, son and heir of the earl of Ulster, on 30 September 1308; 2) Theobald de Verdon, around early February 1316; and 3) Roger Damory, shortly before 3 May 1317. She had one child from each marriage. Elizabeth died on 4 November 1360, aged sixty-five, leaving her granddaughter Elizabeth de Burgh, countess of Ulster, as her heir. The younger Elizabeth was born in 1332 as the only child of the elder Elizabeth's son William Donn de Burgh, earl of Ulster (1312-33), and married Edward III's second son Lionel (b. 1338). [CIPM 1352-60, 507-13]

30 April, 2017

Top Ten Myths About Edward II and Isabella of France

In no particular order, here are the top ten fake stories still often repeated about Edward II and Isabella of France. Thanks to my good friend Sami Parkkonen for the suggestion!

1) Edward II gave Isabella's wedding gifts and/or jewels to Piers Gaveston in 1308

I'm bored to tears with this stupid fake story, which I see repeated everywhere. This particular piece of unhistorical idiocy was invented by Agnes Strickland in the mid-nineteenth century and is based on a misreading of one line in the Annales Paulini, which says that King Philip IV of France gave some gifts (war-horses, a bed, rings) to his new son-in-law Edward II at the time of the royal wedding in early 1308 and that Edward sent them to Piers Gaveston in England. Firstly, the gifts were given to Edward, not to Isabella, not even to Edward and Isabella jointly (unless we think that Isabella's father gave her war-horses for, y'know, all the wars she was personally going to fight in. Doesn't seem terribly likely, does it?). Secondly, there is no indication at all that Piers was meant to keep the gifts permanently; he was Edward II's regent of England during the king's absence in France, and was the person Edward trusted most. He was sent the items so that he could store them safely, not keep them. Isabella is not even mentioned in the Annales Paulini at this point. See here and here for my posts about this spectacularly annoying fake story, and for the line in the Annales which has (deliberately?) so often been misinterpreted. There's also an even sillier continuation of this fake story, wherein it is said that poor Isabella had to watch Piers Gaveston parading round in her own jewels and was helpless to do anything about it. For the record, there's no hint of any animosity on Isabella's part towards Gaveston; the notion that she and Piers were somehow rivals for Edward II's affections and that as Piers 'won' Isabella somehow 'lost' is merely an assumption.

2) Edward cruelly removed Isabella's children from her in 1324

Invented by Paul Doherty in his doctoral thesis about Isabella in 1977. Look at any book or article or thesis or even novel about Edward II and Isabella written before the late 1970s, and search for any notion or even a hint that 'Edward removed Isabella's children from her custody in 1324'. I assure you that you won't find it. Since then, however, it's been repeated everywhere, even by usually careful and excellent historians who should know better and yet seem, bizarrely, to believe that Paul Doherty is a reliable source. Bear in mind, this is the man who doesn't even know which of Isabella's brothers was king of France in 1320 or what year their mother the queen of Navarre died, who calls Edward II's niece Margaret de Clare 'Joan of Gloucester', who can't even figure out that a woman he says was born in 1296 cannot have been nine in 1303 and twenty-three in 1321, who makes up irrational nonsense that the queen of England was asked to take an oath of loyalty to a nobleman, and who cheerfully misquotes primary sources so that they say what he wants them to say. For his claim that Edward II inflicted even more hardship on his wife in September 1324 by cruelly removing her children from her custody, Doherty cites a document which actually dates to Edward II's regnal year from July 1322 to July 1323. Awesome. See here for a rebuttal of the whole absurd notion. And frankly, if Paul Doherty tells you that the pope is Catholic and that the Atlantic Ocean is wet, double check.

3) Edward abandoned Isabella when she was pregnant in 1312 to save Gaveston instead

Another main plank in the trendy Victim!Isabella school of history, which says that Edward II was so horrid to his poor young newly pregnant teenage wife that he abandoned her weeping at Tynemouth in early May 1312 in order to take Piers Gaveston to safety in Scarborough instead. The story is based solely on a misunderstanding by the St Albans chronicler, writing decades later and nearly 300 miles away, who mixed up events of 1312 with those of the autumn of 1322 when Isabella really did get trapped at Tynemouth with Robert Bruce's army nearby. See here. No doubt, if Edward had taken Isabella on a boat on the bleak, rough and cold North Sea for five days in the first trimester of pregnancy, his modern 'Edward II could never do anything right' detractors would be wailing about that too. No real historian takes the idea that Edward 'abandoned' his pregnant wife in May 1312 remotely seriously, because it's so obvious that the St Albans chronicler was mixing up events which took place ten years apart; the story only appears in books written with a preconceived and wildly inaccurate notion that Isabella was the tragic neglected victim of her nasty cruel gay perverted husband for many years.

4) Edward II was not the father of Edward III

We mostly have Braveheart to thank for this one. Thanks, Mel Gibson! It was the above-mentioned Paul Doherty who first invented the notion, however, in a 1985 novel in which he changed Edward III's date of birth by eight months in order to accommodate the fiction that his real father was Roger Mortimer. Yes, that would be the Roger Mortimer who was in Ireland at the time that Edward III and all of Isabella's three younger children were conceived. There is no doubt whatsoever that Edward II and Isabella were together at the right times to conceive all their children, and the idea that Edward II was not the father of Isabella's offspring is based solely on the notion that human sexuality only ever exists as a binary and that because Edward loved men, he must necessarily have been incapable of intercourse with women. Daft. He fathered an illegitimate son as well as his children with Isabella. The 'Edward II hurted poor ickle twagic Issy howwibly, de howwid meanie' crowd also get a lot of mileage out of the fact that Edward and Isabella only conceived their first child in February 1312 when they'd been married for just over four years, apparently because they think that a man in his twenties should have been having lots of enthusiastic sex with a pre-pubescent or barely pubescent twelve-year-old. Because yes, that would be just great, wouldn't it? See here.

5) Edward II was weak and feeble

Because he loved men, and men who love men are automatically girly and camp and pathetic and feeble, as opposed to strong manly virile heterosexual men who only love women and are thus terribly strong and manly, dontcha know? That's not homophobic at all. For the absolute nadir of this school of thought, check out the novel about Piers Gaveston by Brandy Purdy, if you can stomach it (I can't), and if the idea of a gay man stamping his ickle foot and screeching and shaking his ickle fists impotently and throwing girly tantrums and wailing appeals to you. As for the real Edward II, as opposed to the feeble girly caricature so beloved of some modern writers who cannot write actual people but only offensive stereotypes, he was "one of the strongest men of his realm." "Fair of body and great of strength." "Tall and strong, a fine figure of a handsome man." "A handsome man, strong in body and limb." "Elegant, of outstanding strength." And so on and so on and so on.

6) Hugh Despenser the Younger raped Isabella with Edward's connivance

An invention of Paul Doherty and Alison Weir in the early twenty-first century in the service of their Victim!Isabella agenda, and a particularly nasty one based on no evidence whatsoever except a pile of silly rhetorical questions. I think it's appalling to accuse a person of a serious and devastating crime with evidence that's not merely absurdly flimsy but actually non-existent. See here.

7) Edward was trying to annul his marriage to Isabella in c. 1324/25

A rumour reported by two chroniclers, disproved by actual evidence from the chancery rolls and the Vatican archives, which shows that Edward II sent Friar Thomas Dunheved to John XXII to complain about the archbishop of Dublin, not to try to annul his marriage. He would have had to be spectacularly stupid to try to annul his marriage to Isabella at the same time that he was sending her as a peace envoy to her brother Charles IV, and of course he had no grounds whatsoever for an annulment and knew it. But who cares about evidence and logic when your main aim is to portray Isabella as the helpless tragic victim of her cruel husband? See here.

8) Isabella was aiding Roger Mortimer in and before 1323; Isabella and Roger fell passionately in love in late 1325

The idea that Isabella was helping Roger in the Tower during his imprisonment there in 1322/23 is based entirely on hindsight and knowledge of their later association, and has not a single shred of evidence to support it. It wasn't even suggested until the 1590s, by the playwright Christopher Marlowe. The idea that they fell madly in love and had a passionately and blatantly sexual affair is also an assumption based on little or no evidence.

9) Isabella hated Edward II

No, she didn't. This is based firstly on the idea that because their marriage ended with Isabella rebelling against her husband and playing a huge role in his downfall, their relationship must always have been an unhappy disaster, which doesn't follow at all. I think we've all been in relationships that didn't work out, right? Sometimes relationships that have ended with a great deal of animosity and emotional pain. That doesn't mean that we hated our partner for years or that the relationship was doomed from the start and always unhappy, does it? Yet somehow, some people seem to forget that human beings and human relationships are complex and change and evolve over time, and act as though Edward and Isabella could only ever have felt one thing for each other in nearly twenty years. (Him for her: indifference. Her for him: loathing.) It's based secondly on the assumption that Isabella fell madly in love with Roger Mortimer in late 1325, and that he was very different to Edward II and his antithesis, therefore if she loved Roger she must have hated Edward. And been happy to have a 'real man' in her life after so many years of the inadequate and inadequately heterosexual Edward, blah blah blah, you've read all this crap before. It's my strong belief that in fact Edward and Isabella loved each other for many years and had a mutually supportive and affectionate partnership, and that when it all started to go wrong in and after 1322, Isabella was devastated. Far from hating Edward and wanting to destroy him, she wanted her old happy marriage back. And only when that didn't work, and Edward refused to send Hugh Despenser away from him, did Isabella decide to remove Despenser herself.

10) Edward II was a coward

This one comes from the fact that Edward had to flee the field of Bannockburn on 24 June 1314 in order to evade capture, though proponents of this idea never seem to stop and wonder why a physical coward would have been fighting right in the thick of the battle in the first place (and one chronicler pointed out that Edward fought "like a lioness deprived of her cubs"). Edward wasn't much of a commander, and having lost the battle, there was really little else he could do but ensure that he wasn't killed or captured by the Scots - and it seems that he was dragged protesting from the field by his kinsman the earl of Pembroke, and certainly didn't turn tail and run the minute things got difficult. Being killed in June 1314 would have brought Edward's nineteen-month-old son to the throne, with all the perils of a regency of many years standing that would have entailed - and who would have ruled England for all those years anyway? Who was more competent than Edward II? His cousin Lancaster? His queen Isabella? Yeah, no. Edward being captured would have meant a ransom massive almost beyond imagining being imposed on the English for his release. Neither situation was much of an improvement on what actually did happen; quite the opposite. 

23 April, 2017

But They Were In A Chamber Together!

Edward III, not quite eighteen years old, arrested his mother's 'favourite' Roger Mortimer, earl of March and lord of Wigmore, at Nottingham Castle on 19 October 1330. The story is well known: the young king and about twenty of his loyal household knights entered the castle via a secret tunnel and burst into the queen's chamber. Isabella herself supposedly shouted out to her son "Fair son, fair son, have pity on gentle Mortimer," according to the later chronicler Geoffrey le Baker (who tends to be massively unreliable); in the French original, Beal filz, beal filz, eiez pitie de gentil Mortymer. 'Gentle' 700 years ago did not of course mean the same thing it means today, but rather meant someone of noble birth, as in 'gentleman'.

As Isabella and Roger Mortimer were in a chamber in Nottingham Castle at the time of their arrest late at night, it's often assumed nowadays that they were, if not necessarily in the act of making love, sharing a bed when the young king burst in, or at the very least alone, private and in an intimate space. This is emphatically not the case. Isabella and Roger were by no means alone: their remaining close allies were present in the chamber with them, including the bishop of Lincoln Henry Burghersh, Roger's son Geoffrey Mortimer, Sir Oliver Ingham, Sir Simon Bereford, Hugh Turplington, who was the steward of the king's household but loyal to Roger Mortimer, a household squire called Richard de Munimuth, an usher called Richard de Crombek, and probably others. The pair were having a meeting with the few men who were still loyal to them after almost four years of their unpopular misrule, not in bed together. When Edward III and his knights suddenly, shockingly, burst in, the bishop of Lincoln tried to escape down a latrine shaft and had to be rescued. Oh dear, how humiliating. During the ensuing scuffle, Hugh Turplington was killed by Sir John Neville of Hornby while trying to protect Roger Mortimer and shouting "You shall all die an evil death here!", and Richard de Monmouth was also killed, though at whose hands is unclear. Monmouth had been an attendant of Mortimer during the latter's imprisonment in the Tower of London, and fled to the continent with him.

Next year, I have a long article coming out in an academic journal, which includes the words 'Edward II and his Chamber' in its title. Much more information on this at a later date, but I assure you that the article only very briefly deals with Edward II's sex life, and not in relation to his chamber, which was a department of his household with the chamberlain, Hugh Despenser the Younger, at its head. The word 'chamber' in the Middle Ages really does not have the intimate meaning we tend to assign to it nowadays.

17 April, 2017

Edward II And His Stepmother

I so often see it stated that Edward II and his stepmother Marguerite of France had a close, loving relationship, and I just want to examine that idea here. My primary aim with this blog has long been to examine stories about Edward II, both negative and positive, and see if they stand up to scrutiny.  They frequently don't. It's fascinating and frankly alarming how much we think we know about Edward is not based on any contemporary evidence whatsoever, or at the very least is exaggerated. Because of the paucity of evidence for inter-personal relationships in the early fourteenth century, what little information we do have tends to be exaggerated by modern writers and made into something far more than it actually is. After all, no-one kept diaries and vanishingly few private letters are extant, so modern writers tend to take whatever they can find. This is fair enough, of course, but we should always bear in mind how little we can really know about people's personal relationships, and try not to make more of scanty evidence than we should. And it's also often stated that Marguerite had a close relationship with her husband Edward I and that after his death she stated 'When he died, all men died for me', but I'm also not really convinced that their marriage was a particularly happy one. Edward I never had Marguerite crowned as queen of England, which is probably quite revealing. And it's understandable that she never wanted to remarry after Edward I's death, because of course he was a king, and marrying any other man would have been a real comedown. Isabella of France never remarried in all the years of her widowhood either, and no-one has ever taken that to mean that she adored and had been madly happy to be married to Edward II. Anyway, just putting it out there as a possibility.

Edward of Caernarfon's mother Eleanor of Castile, queen of England, died on 28 November 1290 when she was in her late forties and Edward, her youngest child, was only six. Edward I, after nine years as a widower, married Philip IV's half-sister Marguerite of France on 8 September 1299, when he was sixty and she twenty (she was born sometime between September 1278 and September 1279).  Edward of Caernarfon was fifteen at the time of his father's wedding, only about five years younger than his new stepmother. Marguerite was younger than some of her other stepchildren, such as Joan of Acre, countess of Gloucester (born 1272) and Margaret, duchess of Brabant (born 1275). Edward II was the first king of England since before the Norman Conquest to have a stepmother, and of course after Edward II married Isabella of France in January 1308, Marguerite was also the new queen's aunt, as half-sister of Isabella's father Philip IV.

Fifteen-year-old Edward of Caernarfon spent time with his new stepmother  - who was already pregnant with his half-brother Thomas of Brotherton, born on 1 June 1300 a little under nine months after the royal wedding, whether she knew it or not - at Langley in Hertfordshire from 2 to 20 November 1299.  Edward's twenty-year-old sister Mary, the reluctant nun, was also present. The three were entertained by Henry, a fool sent by the count of Savoy. Edward of Caernarfon as was his wont, played dice, and they ate nuts, apples, pears and other fruit. Edward and Marguerite were also together from Christmas until February 1300, and as her New Year gift, Edward gave his stepmother a gold ring with a ruby. [Seymour Phillips, Edward II, pp. 81-82 and note 26, citing The National Archives E 101/355/17, E 101/355/30; Hilda Johnstone, Edward of Carnarvon 1284-1307, pp. 44-46]

This is just one example of Edward of Caernarfon spending a considerable amount of time in the company of his stepmother in his father's lifetime. The last four words are, in my opinion, key here. Edward was still only fifteen in early 1300, and not operating under his own agency but following his father's orders. There were other times when he was in Marguerite's company, or in touch with her. In the summer of 1305, Edward quarrelled badly with his father, who sent his household away and cut off his income. The prince of Wales thanked Marguerite for intervening for him with his father so that Piers Gaveston and Gilbert de Clare of Thomond would be restored to him, yet it was his sisters who really came to his rescue; Joan for example sent him her seal so that he could order goods, and Mary the nun invited her to stay with him. The tone of Edward of Caernarfon's letter to Marguerite is almost obsequious. He wrote to her on seven further occasions in 1304/05, a year his correspondence happens to survive, and we may fairly assume that this was not unusual and that Edward sent letters to his stepmother in other years as well. Jeffrey Hamilton believes that Edward's asking his stepmother to intercede with his father on his behalf shows the 'tangible sense of the deep trust and faith' he had in Marguerite. ['The Character of Edward II', in Reign of Edward II: New Perspectives, ed. Dodd and Musson, pp. 16-17] It might well mean that, of course, or it might just be that Edward assumed Marguerite was the obvious person to ask her husband for a favour. Isabella of France often interceded with Edward II on behalf of petitioners, and I'm not sure anyone would take that as evidence of 'deep trust and faith' between them. I sometimes think historians see what they expect to see, and interpret evidence in a way that fits something they already believe, whether correctly or not.

Official documents of the era almost inevitably refer to Marguerite of France as Edward II's 'mother', but as there was no word for 'stepmother', this means very little. Edward II and his father-in-law Philip IV of France (Marguerite's older half-brother) always addressed each other as 'very beloved father' and 'very beloved son' in their correspondence; such forms were purely conventional and say nothing at all about their personal relationship. Edward and Philip quite probably disliked each other, but courtesy and addressing fellow royals in the correct ways were more important than personal feelings. Alice Leygrave, Edward's wet-nurse who much later joined the household of Queen Isabella, was in 1312 referred to as "the king's mother, who suckled him in his youth." I've also seen people claiming that Edward II's great-grandson Henry IV (reigned 1399 to 1413) was also very fond of his stepmother Katherine Swynford on the grounds that after he became king, he referred to her as his 'mother.' But of course he did; she was his father John of Gaunt's widow. There was no other way for him to refer to her. It says nothing about their personal relationship and does not necessarily mean that he was fond of her, let alone that he saw her as his mother (his own mother Blanche of Lancaster died when he was under eighteen months old). Henry might well have been enormously fond of Katherine, of course; I'm not saying that he wasn't, merely that conventionally addressing her as his mother means nothing much one way or the other. In an extant letter of 1305, twenty-one-year-old Edward of Caernarfon addressed his much older kinswoman Agnes de Valence (daughter and sister of earls of Pembroke) as his 'good mother' and promised to do whatever he could for her as a loving son should do, which doesn't suggest that he'd found a maternal figure in Marguerite and was in need of one. This is probably not terribly surprising as she was only about five years his senior. I find this letter poignant.

One of Edward II's possessions in 1312 was a brooch specifically said to have been a gift to him from madame la Roine la miere, 'my lady the queen, the mother.' Whether this means Eleanor of Castile or Marguerite of France is not clear. It might even mean Edward II's grandmother Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III and mother of Edward I, who lived until Edward II was seven and did give him other gifts. Again, even if Marguerite did give her stepson a brooch, this is not necessarily evidence that she was hugely fond of him, but was merely expected and normal behaviour. Marguerite of France married a king, but with the knowledge that her sons would never succeed to the throne because her husband already had an heir. Her sons would only ever be the half-brothers and later the half-uncles of kings, but could not expect to be kings themselves unless something happened to Edward of Caernarfon. I wouldn't be surprised if that caused some resentment in Marguerite. I don't mean for a second that she ever wished him harm, but it might have been a barrier between them.

Even if we think that Edward of Caernarfon was close to and fond of his stepmother up to 1307, in early 1308 she opposed his beloved Piers Gaveston and, according to a contemporary newsletter, gave financial support to the English barons trying to force his exile. The newsletter gives the sum of forty thousand pounds, which is obviously an absurd exaggeration and Marguerite cannot possibly have given them anything like as much (or even had a fraction of that sum available to her), but it seems clear that she was hostile to Piers and helping his enemies. If Marguerite and Edward had been so close as is often surmised, I find it hard to see why she would have opposed Piers Gaveston in 1308 and even actively funded the baronial opposition which was determined to banish him abroad. However politically sensible it might have been to detach Piers from the king, there is nothing Marguerite could have done which would hurt Edward II more, or which he would find harder to forgive. She surely knew that.

I'm not saying for certain that Edward II and Marguerite did not have a good relationship, only that the available evidence has, in my opinion, been stretched too far. They may well have enjoyed each other's company enormously and been extremely fond of each other, but what evidence we have doesn't automatically point to such a conclusion. At any rate, however they might have felt about each other before Edward became king, Marguerite's supporting the baronial opposition to Piers Gaveston in 1308 put an abrupt end to any closeness and affection there might have been, and for the remaining ten years of her life, there is little if any evidence of visits or letters or gifts. Edward mostly ignored his stepmother. He attended her funeral in 1318, as did his sister Mary the nun, but again this was most likely simply what convention demanded. If Edward kept the anniversary of Marguerite's death every year with prayers, as he did for his own mother, I'm not aware of it.

13 April, 2017

Contrariant Miracles 1322/23

In March and April 1322, Edward II had between nineteen and twenty-two knights and noblemen executed for taking part in the Contrariant rebellion, including his own first cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster. Here's a reliable list of the names of the executed men; the numbers have often been inflated in modern literature, generally by including the names of men killed at Boroughbridge, and also by talking about a 'bloodbath' and a 'reign of terror' and 'horror piled upon horror' and other such absurdly over-emotional comments which tip over into the hysterical.

This post is about a rather interesting phenomenon which occurred in the aftermath of the executions: many of Edward II's subjects claimed that miracles had taken place at the execution sites of several of the Contrariants. This was, for the most part, a political protest against Edward II, the Despensers and their greedy and tyrannical regime after their victory over the Contrariants in 1322.

Miracles were being reported at the execution site of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, beheaded just outside his Yorkshire castle of Pontefract on 22 March 1322, within weeks of the earl's death. [1] A campaign to canonise Lancaster – surely one of the unlikeliest saints of all time, nearly as unlikely as Edward II himself – began in 1327, and his cult grew in popularity; as late as the Reformation, his hat and belt preserved at Pontefract were used as remedies in childbirth and for headaches. [2] A Latin song written at the end of Edward II's reign or at the beginning of his son Edward III's laments "the blessed martyr" and "flower of knights" (my response to this can be basically be summed up as: ROFL), and says "the pouring out of prayers to Thomas restores the sick to health; the pious earl comes immediately to the aid of those who are feeble." [3]

In 1323, miracles continued to be reported at the site of Lancaster's execution. 2000 people, some from as far away as Kent, gathered to pray and make oblations at his tomb in Pontefract. [4] The archbishop of York, Edward II's friend and ally William Melton, twice had to remind his archdeacon that Lancaster was not a canonised saint and order him to disperse the throng gathering at the earl's tomb, some of whom were crushed to death. [5] Edward sent his clerk Richard Moseley to investigate, the king's attitude to the situation apparent from his description of the crowd as "malefactors and apostates" and his comment that they were praying "not to God but rather to idols." The crowd made their feelings clear, too: Moseley was assaulted, and two of his servants killed. [6] The very pro-Lancastrian Brut chronicle includes a bizarrely disgusting story in which Hugh Despenser the Younger, troubled and angered by the "great heresy" of the alleged miracles, sent a messenger to Edward to inform him about them. As the messenger passed through Pontefract, he "made his ordure" at the place where Lancaster had been beheaded – and later suffered punishment for this sacrilegious act when he "shed all his bowels at his fundament." [7]

Miracles were also said to have taken place at the execution site of the Contrariants Sir Henry Montfort and Sir Henry Wilington in Bristol: the mayor of the city told the king that Montfort’s brother bribed a poor child with two shillings "to pronounce to the people that he received healing of his sight." Edward II ordered an inquisition into the alleged miracles in October 1323. [8] On 28 June 1323, Edward had ordered Stephen Gravesend, bishop of London, to prevent people praying and making offerings at a tablet in St Paul's "whereon are depicted statues, sculpture or images of diverse persons, and amongst others the effigy of Thomas, late earl of Lancaster...as the king learns with displeasure that many of the people go to the said tablet and worship it as a holy thing without the authority of the church of Rome, asserting that miracles are done there." [9] The French Chronicle of London describes this object instead as a tablet which the earl of Lancaster had had made to celebrate Edward's granting of the Ordinances in 1311. [10]

This whole thing is, I think, most revealing of the contemporary mindset. Edward II was disturbed at the political implications of these alleged miracles performed by his executed enemies, but also, being a very pious man, seems to have been genuinely angry at what he saw as 'apostasy', the worship of false images, and people disobeying the Church.

Sources

1) Anonimalle Chronicle, 108: The Brut, 228; J. R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, 329.
2) Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 329.
3) Thomas Wright, The Political Songs of England, pp. 268-72.
4) Foedera 1307-27, 536-7? 
5) Natalie Fryde, The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II, 153.
6) Cal Inq Misc 1308-48, 528-9.
7) Brut, 230.
8) Cal Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, 543.
9) Cal Close Rolls 1318-23, 723; Flores Historiarum, 213.
10) Croniques de London, 46; Anonimalle, 114.

02 April, 2017

Seville!

Apologies for not updating the blog more regularly; I've been really busy lately, had visitors, and am still going through the long and painful bereavement process.

Just to let you know, I was commissioned to write another piece for BBC History Magazine, this time for their 'historical holiday' series. I chose the fabulous Spanish city of Seville, an ancient, beautiful and fascinating place with strong links to Edward II: his maternal grandfather Fernando III of Castile and Leon is the patron saint of the city. The piece will appear in the May edition of the magazine, and will be out later this month. Here's a short preview!

19 March, 2017

The Death of Sir John Eure in 1322

I've previously written posts about Edward II's 1321/22 campaign against the Contrariants, the baronial rebels who had forced the exile of the two Hugh Despensers in August 1321: see here, herehere, here and here. In March/April 1322, twenty or so Contrariants were executed; they were all noblemen or knights. See here for an accurate list based on a variety of primary sources. The number of Contrariants executed in 1322 has been grossly inflated in modern literature, notably by Natalie Fryde in her 1979 work The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326, usually by including the names of men killed at the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322. Accounts of Edward II's executions of the twenty or twenty-two thuggish knights and noblemen who had committed serious crimes (such as homicide, assault, false imprisonment, blackmail, theft and plunder, and much else) often reach a fever-pitch of bizarre hysteria in modern writing: a 'bloodbath', 'atrocities', 'slaughter' and so on.

Four fourteenth-century chronicles - the amusingly anti-Edward II Westminster chronicle Flores Historiarum, the Lanercost chronicle, the Livere de Reis and the fragment called the 'Chronicle of the Civil Wars' - give the Lancastrian knight Sir John Eure as one of the executed Contrariants in March/April 1322. Sir John Eure was a supporter of Edward II's cousin and enemy Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and was suspected in 1317 of complicity in Sir Gilbert Middleton's attack on the cardinals Luca Fieschi and Gaucelin Duèse; Edward ordered the sheriff of Northumberland the mayor of Newcastle to arrest Eure on these grounds on 30 September 1317 (CPR 1317-21, p. 88). Earlier, in 1313/14, Eure had been the king's escheator beyond Trent.

John Eure in fact was killed by fourteen men who all were seemingly Edward II's supporters (though I don't recognise any of their names), though without Edward's prior knowledge. Eure's chaplain Richard Uttyng was also killed. One of Eure's killers, interestingly enough, was named as an adherent of Bartholomew Badlesmere, a Contrariant executed in April 1322. Edward II complained that 'malefactors', asserting that Eure was "the king's enemy, which he was not," killed him while he was "in the king's faith and peace." It seems that fourteen men got carried away when pursuing the Contrariants who had fought at Boroughbridge, or even just those they thought had fought there. Edward told his kinsman Louis Beaumont, bishop of Durham, on 26 March 1322 (four days after his cousin Thomas of Lancaster's execution and ten after Boroughbridge) not to 'molest' the fourteen men for "beheading John de Evre when pursuing him as the king's enemy, until the king shall issue further orders after he has been certified of this matter." On 28 May 1322, Edward II pardoned Eure's killers. This is just a little reminder that we can't always take contemporary chronicles at face value; even when they positively assert that Edward II had a man executed, other extant records prove that he did not (though admittedly he did not punish the men responsible for killing a knight and a chaplain without the slightest authority).

CCR 1318-23, 430, 474; CPR 1321-4, 127-8; Livere de Reis, ed. Glover, 345; Lanercost, ed. Maxwell, 236; Flores, ed. Luard, 208; Haskins, ‘Chronicle of the Civil Wars’, 79-80. The men who killed John Eure are named as: John Hert, Robert Stanford (Badlesmere's adherent), William Stapelton, Geoffrey Yelemund or Ikemund, Richard Heddeleye, Richard Thorp, Thomas Witton, Thomas Fox, William Those, Robert Corbrigge, John Conyngham, William Hortheworth, William Masham and Thomas Raynton. A Richard Skynner is added in one chancery roll entry, which probably means Richard Thorp.