21 January, 2018

The Montacutes: William, William and William (and another William)

I wrote two posts a while ago about Edward II's friend Sir William Montacute of Somerset, who was one of the 266 young men knighted with Edward on 22 May 1306, and who was highly influential at court between 1315 and 1318. He was one of the three men, with Sir Roger Damory and Sir Hugh Audley, who were said by a chronicler to be "worse than Gaveston" and whom Edward II's cousin and enemy Thomas, earl of Lancaster, hated and feared. William Montacute was steward of Edward's household between 1316 and 1318, and was 'kicked upstairs' in 1318 when he was appointed steward of Gascony. He died there in the autumn of 1319, sometime before 6 November when news of his death reached England. (CFR 1319-27, 7)

William Montacute's date of birth is hard to determine, but was probably about the early 1280s, maybe late 1270s (I've seen it estimated as around 1265, but that's far too early). His father Simon was born around 1250 and died in September 1316, and his mother was Hawise St Amand. William became a father in or before 1299, and was old enough to act as his father's attorney in October 1302. (CPR 1301-7, p. 67) He married Elizabeth de Montfort, daughter of Sir Peter de Montfort of Beaudesert in Warwickshire - a man only distantly related to the much more famous Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester (d. 1265) - sometime after 20 June 1292. (CPR 1281-92, p. 496) William and Elizabeth had lots of children: four sons and seven daughters including two abbesses of Barking. Elizabeth Montfort outlived her husband by three and a half decades, and died in August 1354.

William and Elizabeth's eldest son John Montacute was born in 1299, and married Joan Verdon in Edward II's presence at Windsor Castle on 28 April 1317. Joan was a niece of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, later the first earl of March, and was the eldest of the four daughters and co-heirs of Theobald Verdon (d. 1316). Their marriage did not last long: John Montacute died aged eighteen in August 1317, and Edward II had him buried with great ceremony at Lincoln Cathedral. William and Elizabeth's second son William, probably born in 1301 (he was said to be seventeen or eighteen when his father died in 1319), was therefore his father's heir, and Edward III, his great friend, made William earl of Salisbury in 1337. The third son of William the elder and Elizabeth Montfort was Simon, who became bishop of Worcester and then of Ely, and their fourth and youngest was Edward, named after the king, who married Edward II's niece Alice of Norfolk (and, horribly, is alleged to have beaten her to death in 1352). Simon Montacute was old enough to have joined the Church and to act as his brother William's attorney in September 1329. (CPR 1327-30, 444) Edward Montacute certainly accompanied his father to southern France when William the elder was appointed steward of Gascony in 1318 - he was only a child at the time, or perhaps an adolescent - as there is a mention in one of Edward II's accounts of the boy's boat there, La Peronele. Presumably all the Montacute children went abroad with their father, and returned to England when he died in 1319. The younger William Montacute, born in 1301, spent Christmas 1324 with Edward II at Nottingham, played dice with the king and three of his chamber squires on Christmas Eve, and received a gift of forty marks from him.

At some point in or before 1327, the year of Edward II's deposition and reported death, the younger William Montacute married Katherine Grandison, daughter of the Savoyard baron William Grandison. I don't know how and by whom it was arranged, but they were married by 28 December 1327. (CPR 1327-30, 199) Actually they must have been married by September 1327, as their eldest son William was born on Sunday 19 June 1328, in Donyatt, Somerset. His father William the elder went to a 'grand feast' in Castle Cary 25 miles away on Tuesday 21 June, and told everyone there about his son and heir's birth. He also gave a 'black horse' to one John de Reyngny at his son's baptism so that he would "have the said birth more in remembrance." William born in 1328 proved that he had come of age, twenty-one, on 26 June 1349. (CIPM 1347-52, no. 244) That same year, his marriage to Edward II's niece Joan of Kent was annulled on the grounds that she had already been married to Sir Thomas Holland. (Joan much later became the mother of King Richard II from her third marriage.) William (b. 1328) instead married Elizabeth Mohun, who must have been a lot younger than he, and their only son William (agh!!!) was tragically killed jousting in August 1382, by his own father. William Montacute, earl of Salisbury, born 1301, was also killed jousting, in January 1344 when his son and heir was fifteen and a half.

William Montacute (b. 1301) and Katherine Grandison had a younger son John Montacute, who died in 1390. His son John the younger, born c. 1350, succeeded his uncle William Montacute (b. 1328) as earl of Salisbury when William died in June 1397 a couple of weeks before his sixty-ninth birthday. William (b. 1301) and Katherine Grandison also had at least three daughters. Elizabeth Montacute was probably the eldest, as she was named after her paternal grandmother Elizabeth Montfort (d. 1354), widow of the William Montacute who died in Gascony in 1319. In or before 1341 Elizabeth Montacute married Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser, eldest son and heir of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare, and the eldest great-grandchild of Edward I. Huchon was born in 1308 or 1309, so was many years his wife's senior (she must have been born around the late 1320s). William and Katherine Grandison's second daughter was probably Sybil, named after her maternal grandmother Sybil Tregoz, who married Huchon Despenser's nephew Edmund Fitzalan (b. 1326/27), grandson of the earl of Arundel executed by Roger Mortimer in 1326 and also grandson of Hugh Despenser the Younger. Another Montacute daughter was Philippa, who married Roger Mortimer's namesake grandson and heir the second earl of March (1328-1360) and was the mother of Edmund Mortimer, third earl of March (1352-81). Dinner table conversations in the Montacute family household in the 1340s must have been quite interesting.

14 January, 2018

Edward II And Isabella Of France's Children: Rough Dates Of Conception, And The Couple's Itineraries

I've been doing some more research in an attempt to ascertain, as far as possible, the exact whereabouts of Edward II and his queen Isabella of France when all their children were conceived. A full-term pregnancy is forty weeks from the first day of the last menstrual period, and about thirty-eight weeks from the actual date of conception. Here, therefore, are the locations of the king and queen approximately thirty-eight weeks before the births of their children.

1) Edward III (Edward of Windsor) was born on 13 November 1312. Thirty-eight weeks before takes us to 21 February 1312. On that date, Edward II was in York, and the day before had celebrated the purification ceremony of his niece Margaret Gaveston née de Clare, who had given birth to her and Piers' daughter Joan some weeks (probably forty days) before. Queen Isabella was in Bishopthorpe three miles south of York on 21 February, and arrived in the city to join her husband on or before 24 February. Most likely they conceived their son either on 24 or 25 February, as on the 26th the king left York for five days, returning on 2 March (1312 was a leap year) - unless Edward III was born somewhat prematurely and thus was conceived on or a little after 2 March. Conception on 2 March 1312 would mean that Edward III was born about eleven days prematurely, hardly a big issue. Edward II was at Windsor Castle with Isabella from 17 September 1312 until 9 November, when he left for his palace of Sheen about fifteen miles away. He returned on the 12th, presumably because Isabella or one of her attendants sent him a message from Windsor that she'd gone into labour. The king's departure just four days before his son was born might imply he didn't think the birth was imminent, and therefore that Edward III was indeed a little premature.

Conclusion: Edward II and Isabella were together at the right time to conceive Edward III. Easter Sunday fell on 26 March in 1312, so Edward and Isabella must have had intercourse during Lent. Tsk! Unless of course we want to come up with some daft conspiracy theory that Isabella took a lover just before she arrived in York to join her husband, or while he was away from the city between 26 February and 1 March. Without, of course, her 180 servants and all the other hundreds of courtiers and everyone else who constantly surrounded the king and queen noticing. Yeah riiiiight. Maybe it was the ghost of William Wallace.

2) John of Eltham was born on 15 August 1316. Thirty-eight weeks before takes us to 22 October 1315. On that date, Isabella was in Stamford, Lincolnshire. Edward II was thirteen/fifteen miles away in Chesterton and then in Alwalton, both just outside Peterborough, though his wardrobe (a department of his household) was with the queen in Stamford. Isabella's itinerary from 23 to 25 October isn't known, but she and Edward were together in Nottingham on 26 and 27 October, in Newstead together on the 28th and 29th, and in Clipstone together on the 30th and 31st, and into November.

Conclusion: Edward II and Isabella were together at the right time to conceive John of Eltham.

3) Eleanor of Woodstock was born on 18 June 1318. Thirty-eight weeks takes us back to 25 September 1317. Edward II was in York on that date. Queen Isabella's itinerary in 1317 is not particularly easy to establish, but the royal couple left Nottingham together and began the journey to York on 7 August 1317, so the strong likelihood is that Isabella was with her husband in York for most or all of September 1317, and still with him in early October 1317 when he began the journey south to London. The couple had both been at the royal manor of Clarendon in Wiltshire together in February and March 1317 and were together at Westminster in late May and early June, and in my opinion it is highly probable that Isabella spent most or all of that year with the king. Edward II paid a massive 500 marks for Isabella's purification ceremony after she gave birth to Eleanor of Woodstock, and is hardly likely to have done so if he had entertained the slightest suspicion that Eleanor was not his daughter.

Conclusion: There is every reason to suppose that Edward and Isabella were together at the right time to conceive Eleanor of Woodstock.

4) Joan of the Tower was born on 5 July 1321. Thirty-eight weeks takes us back to 12 October 1320. Edward II was at Westminster, where parliament had opened on 6 October. As in 1317, Isabella's itinerary this year is rather difficult to establish. On 14 October 1320, Edward gave a commission of oyer et terminer to three men to investigate a breach of security at one of Isabella's parks. This implies that she was in his company at that time and had informed him of it. Isabella and Edward were together at Clarendon on 5 September 1320, had been at Windsor together in mid-August, and had travelled together to France between 19 June and 22 July. There are various entries in the chancery rolls throughout 1320 - as indeed there are throughout 1317 - where Edward granted favours and appointments 'on the information/at the request/at the instance of Queen Isabella', meaning that she was with the king, had access to him and was able to intercede with him on others' behalf. Again, this all suggests that the couple spent most of the year together.

Conclusion: As with her elder sister, it is hard to prove conclusively that Joan's parents were together at the exact time of her conception, but there is no reason whatsoever to assume that they were not, and the overwhelming likelihood is that they were.

*

It is important to bear in mind that no-one at all so much as hinted that Edward II was not the father of his wife's children until the late twentieth century. It says far more about modern notions of sexuality - Edward loved men therefore he must automatically have been incapable of intercourse with women - than it does about Edward and Isabella. Let's not forget either that Edward fathered an illegitimate son called Adam, born around 1305/10, so obviously was capable of having sex with women.

It is also important to bear in mind that for the entirety of Edward III's life, and the lives of his successors, not even their deadliest enemies claimed they had no right to the English throne because of doubts over Edward III's paternity. Edward III began the Hundred Years War when he claimed the throne of France in the 1330s. Wouldn't it have been easy for Philip VI to say "You want my throne? You don't even have a right to your own throne! Your mother, my cousin, is suspected of taking a lover around the time you were conceived." Reynald II of Guelders would not have married Eleanor of Woodstock in 1332 if he had thought she was the child of Queen Isabella and a lover, and Robert Bruce would not have married his son David to Joan of the Tower in 1328 if he had believed likewise. 

04 January, 2018

The Marriage of Eleanor de Clare and Hugh Despenser Took Place in 1306

I recently saw a book published in 2017 which claimed that Edward II arranged the marriage of his eldest niece Eleanor de Clare and Hugh Despenser the Younger after Hugh became his favourite. Frankly, I cannot understand why this annoying notion keeps being perpetuated. Well, actually, I can; it's because Edward II arranged the marriages of Eleanor's two younger sisters Margaret and Elizabeth to three of his 'favourites', Piers Gaveston, Hugh Audley and Roger Damory, in 1307 and 1317, and it therefore seems obvious to writers who fail to do sufficient research that he must have arranged Eleanor and Hugh's marriage too. Obvious, but wrong, and lazy.

Eleanor de Clare and Hugh Despenser the Younger married on 26 May 1306 in the royal chapel of Westminster Palace, in the presence of Eleanor's grandfather Edward I, who had arranged it. This is over a year before Eleanor's uncle succeeded his father as king and a good dozen years before Hugh became Edward II's chamberlain and 'favourite'. This is the evidence for the 1306 date:

- A payment to two harpers called Richard Whiteacre and Richard Leyland who performed at the wedding celebrations and gifts of cash to Eleanor and her attendants on her wedding day, recorded with the exact date of the nuptials by John Drokensford (or Droxford), keeper of Edward I's wardrobe. [TNA E 101/369/11, folio 96v; this document dates to Edward I's thirty-fourth regnal year, November 1305 to November 1306]

- The rhyming chronicle of Pierre or Piers de Langtoft, who wrote that at the time of the mass knighting of Edward of Caernarfon and 266 other men on 22 May 1306 "Sir Hugh son of Hugh, called Despenser,/ Took there the maiden of noble kindred,/ Whom Gilbert de Clare had begotten/ On Joan the countess surnamed of Acres." [Langtoft, vol. 2, p. 369]

- An entry on the Patent Roll dated 14 June 1306, by Edward I: "Grant to Hugh le Despenser, son of Hugh le Despenser, between whom and Eleanor daughter of Gilbert, sometime earl of Gloucester and Hertford, the king's niece [sic], a marriage is contracted, with the king's and the said Hugh's assent, the said Hugh [the Elder] having promised before the king to give them 200/. a year in land, for life, of 2,000/. sterling out of the issues of the escheatry this side Trent." [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1301-7, p. 443]

- Another acknowledgement by Edward I, dated 3 June 1307: "Grant to Hugh le Despenser [the Elder], in recompense of 300/. in part payment of 2,000/. granted to him for the marriage of Hugh his son, of the custody during the minority of John the heir, of the lands late of Philip Paynel, tenant in chief, with knights' fees and dowers, and with the marriage of the heirs." [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1301-7, pp. 526-7, and see also Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-13, p. 5]

- And another, dated 28 June 1307, nine days before Edward I died: "Assignment to Hugh le Despenser [the Elder] of the above 50 marks, wherein William de Valoynes made fine, in part payment of 2000/. granted to Hugh for the marriage of his eldest son." [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1301-7, p. 536]

- There's also Edward II calling his niece Eleanor 'Alianore la Despensere' in March 1309, long before he's supposed to have married her off to Hugh, more than three years before the death of Piers Gaveston and therefore years before Hugh could possibly have become his favourite. [Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 283]

There is ample evidence, therefore, that it was Edward I who arranged the marriage of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare and attended it, and who promised Hugh Despenser the Elder £2000 for his elder son and heir's marriage. Edward I believed Hugh the Younger to be a worthy husband for his eldest granddaughter, and thought that paying the whopping sum of £2000 to secure this eligible young man for Eleanor was well worth it. So no more nonsense about Edward II arranging the marriage, or Hugh Despenser the Younger being nothing but a humble knight, please.

24 December, 2017

Merry Christmas!

A very Merry Christmas to all my readers, all 35,000 to 45,000 of you every month and over two million in total! May the festive season of 2017 bring you happiness and peace. (And lots of great presents.) 700 years ago, at Christmas 1317, Edward II was at Westminster with Queen Isabella, who was pregnant with their third child and first daughter. Edward spent one pound, thirteen shillings and six pence on a "great wooden table" to be placed in the palace hall, and also paid thirty pounds to Thomas de Hebenhith, mercer of London, for "a great hanging of wool, woven with figures of the king and earls on it, for the king’s service in his hall, on solemn festivals."

I'll be posting again in the New Year. Until then, take care!

16 December, 2017

Edward II And Dice Games

For the record, in a piece of news unrelated to the current post, this blog had a whopping 6,434 visitors yesterday! Thank you all for visiting and reading. :-)

It was Edward II's custom for many years to play at dice on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas night with members of his retinue. At Nottingham on 25 December 1316, for example, the king spent the large sum of five pounds to play (whether he won or not, I don't know). Edward didn't only play dice at Christmas: on 7 January 1323, he played while at the royal manor of Cowick in Yorkshire, and spent two pence at Langdon Abbey playing dice in late August 1325 and celebrated the Nativity of St John the Baptist at the Tower of London on 24 June 1326 playing dice with Sir Giles Beauchamp. On the Langdon occasion, Edward sent his chamber servant Piers Pulford to buy new dice at a cost of two pence. Christmas does seem, though, to have been Edward's favourite time to play at dice. Again at Nottingham on Christmas night 1324, he played a game called rafle or raefle with three members of his chamber staff and with William Montacute (b. 1301), future earl of Salisbury and the son of one of Edward's greatest friends, the elder William Montacute, who died in Gascony in 1319.

Edward also enjoyed a game called cross and pile, the medieval equivalent of heads or tails. On 5 May 1326, he borrowed five shillings from his barber Henry to play with him, and spent another twenty shillings playing again a few days later (these were large sums of money!). Edward II attended the wedding of Hugh Despenser the Younger's household retainer Sir Robert Wateville and Hugh's niece Margaret Hastings on 19 May 1326, and three days later lost eight shillings to the newly-married Wateville playing cross and pile with him. On 13 July 1326 the king lost another two shillings playing against his chamber usher Peter Bernard, so apparently wasn't very good at it, or was very unlucky.

The king did not only enjoy indoor games, he loved outdoor physical activity as well; I've previously written posts about his love of swimming and rowing, ball games, digging ditches and so on. But, sadly, the British climate and long hours of darkness for part of the year does not always permit outdoor activities - though Edward did go swimming in the Thames in February one year, brrrrrrr - and so Edward stayed inside and took part in games of chance to while away the long winter evenings.

09 December, 2017

The 'Portours' Of Edward II's Chamber, And Their Wives

I've written before (and here and here) about the men who served in Edward II's chamber, who are referred to in his chamber accounts as his vadletz or portours. There were around thirty of them at any one time, plus half a dozen pages, who are either called 'pages' or 'boys', garsons. Then there were the squires of the chamber, a higher rank, of whom I've been able to find about nine at any given time. Oh, and there were knights of the chamber, and clerks, and other categories of men whose wages were paid out of the chamber: Edward's archers, carpenters, whelers, the men who bought and looked after the carthorses, etc.

I make no apologies for another post about Edward's servants, because history is not only about royalty, and I find it endlessly fascinating to discover details about the men and women who knew the king well and to gain insights into the lives of ordinary people in England in the 1320s.

Edward II's Household Ordinance of December 1318 states that no member of the royal household may have his wife at court or following along behind. Edward, however, did not vigorously enforce this rule: as I've said before, he hired two of the wives of his chamber vadletz/portours to the same job as their husbands, at the same wages. They were Johane (i.e. Joan) Traghs and Anneis (i.e. Agnes) de May. Johane and her husband Robyn Traghs had a daughter born in London shortly before 15 September 1325, and in early 1326 Johane joined the royal household as a portour and was still with Edward at the end of October 1326 when his accounts ceased to be kept, a couple of weeks before his capture. Someone, therefore, was looking after Robyn and Johane's daughter while they both travelled all over the country with the king. On 16 May 1325, Roger de May was given half a mark (six shillings and eight pence) for his expenses going home for a while, and some months before, his wife Anneis de May had been paid for sewing shirts for the king and Hugh Despenser the Younger and for making smocks for the chamber servants. This was a few months before she was hired as a chamber portour, and her making clothes for the king and his attendants seems to mean she was living somewhere close to the royal household, at least for a while. On 14 December 1325 shortly before she was hired as a portour, Anneis was given ten shillings to cover her expenses visiting the royal household, and "for what she did at the gate of the Tower [of London]" to mark the feast of St Katherine on 25 November. Anneis's name sometimes appears in the account as Annote, an affectionate diminutive of her name, while her husband Roger's name often appears as Hogge.

On 16 May 1325, Beatrice the wife of the chamber portour John Gos received six shillings and eight pence/half a mark for her expenses coming to the royal household, and another twelve pence for four nights' accommodation in London (Edward II was then staying in Chertsey). We see here how the wives of royal servants were allowed to visit their husbands at court but not to stay overnight with them there, and the king paid for their accommodation somewhere nearby. Though not too near; Chertsey is a good twenty miles from London, so maybe John Gos was given four days' leave to go and stay with his wife.

On 8 July 1325, Edward II gave a gift of ten shillings - and to put that in perspective, it was a few months' wages - to Anneis Lawe, wife of his chamber portour Henry Lawe. This implies Anneis was then visiting her husband. Henry was given permission to go home on 22 May 1325, with twenty shillings for his expenses. Henry's brother Syme Lawe was also a chamber portour, and also married to a woman called Anneis. This Anneis Lawe received twenty shillings in early July 1326 when she "came from her home to visit and talk to the said Syme, her baron [husband], for her expenses in returning to her home." The Lawe brothers' sister Alis Coleman sometimes brewed ale for Edward, their brother Willecok Lawe once helped with the ropes on a royal boat, and the king sent their father Roger Lawe a gift of money once when he was ill.

On 5 September 1325 at Dover, when Edward II was still debating whether or not to sail to France to pay homage to Charles IV or to send his son instead: "Paid to Nanne, wife of John Pecteman, one of the king's portours, who came to talk to her baron [husband] before he crossed the sea, of the king's gift, for her expenses towards the household, five shillings."

15 September 1325: "Paid to Robyn Traghs, one of the portours of the king's chamber, who went to London to talk to Johane his wife, who was delivered of a daughter, for his expenses, five shillings." This was a few months before Johane was admitted to wages as a fellow portour of the chamber.

16 October 1325: "Item, paid to Will Shene, one of the portours of the king's chamber, who will marry his wife at Henley next Sunday, five shillings. Item, paid to Isode, whom the said Will will marry, for their expenses on the said Sunday when they marry, twenty shillings."

29 April 1326: "To Hick Mereworth, vadlet of the king's chamber, who had permission to go to Henley to his house with his wife, who came to Kenilworth great with child, for his travel expenses and for what he did at Kenilworth before the king left there, twenty shillings. Item, to Johane wife of the said Hick, who came to her baron at the said Kenilworth great with child as is said above, because she had heard that her said baron was ill there, forty shillings." 

10 May 1326: "Paid to Johane wife of Robyn Traghs, one of the portours of the king, assigned to wages of three pence a day by the king as one of his portours from Saturday 8 March, on which day the king was at Sibson [near Leicester], and when he left the parts of Leicester the said Johane left court for the parts of Norfolk and the house of Lady Haward, where she stayed at the king's order because she was ill, and now on this day is being paid her wages, from 8 March until this day, sixty-four days, sixteen shillings."

Sick pay in the early fourteenth century! Awesomeness! And for two whole months as well. Who'd have thought it? Edward II offered equal pay for women, and gave sick pay to a woman he'd just hired who was unable to work for him for two months.

Edward spent Christmas Eve 1324 at Nottingham, playing dice with three of his chamber squires: they were called Giles of Spain (who later took part in the earl of Kent's plot to free the supposedly dead Edward in 1329/30), Burgeys de Till, and Garsy de Pomit. Garsy at least must have been an older man, as he had a son who was rewarded financially in 1326 for bringing the king news from Gascony. Another chamber squire was John Pymmok, who also had a son who was an adult in the 1320s. The chamber portours seem to have been of different ages: Will Shene, Robyn Traghs and Hick Mereworth and their wives evidently were pretty young in c. 1325 as they were getting married and having children - probably they were in their late teens or twenties - but Hick Hustret must have been older, as his son Henry Hustret was also a chamber portour. The pages of the king's chamber are often called garsons or boys, implying they were teenagers (or perhaps even younger), and sometimes are referred to by nicknames which reveal their youth and small stature: Litel Wille Fisher, Litel Colle, Litel Robyn. By contrast, one of the chamber portours was called Grete Hobbe, 'Great Hob', or in modern English Big Rob, implying that he was either tall or well-built, or both.
So we see that Edward II allowed the wives of his portours to come and visit them, and paid all the women's expenses. Servants were often given permission to go home to visit their families as well, with generous expenses that surely also counted as a kind of holiday pay. The permission to go home appears in the accounts as conge de aler en son pais, "leave to go to his country." The frequent use of nicknames in Edward's chamber accounts reveals the mutual affection and camaraderie among the chamber staff, and Edward took good care of his staff and was hugely generous to them. These were the men, and occasionally women, with whom Edward II spent the most time, and who knew him best. Six of the chamber portours slept in the king's bedchamber with him every night or most nights and thus knew Edward II intimately (I don't mean that in the sense of 'sexually'). This also strongly implies Edward's ability to speak fluent English, as men bearing names like Will Shene and Henry Lawe who worked as servants on pay of three pence a day were never going to speak French, though we can see from the names of some of the chamber squires like Burgeys and Garsy, above, that they were Gascon and thus French-speaking.

01 December, 2017

Edward II's Sense of Humour

I've posted here before, and written in my biography of Edward II, some lovely details which reveal that the king's sense of humour ran very much towards the slapstick. In the summer of 1326, he gave a pound to his cook Moris for falling off his horse and making him laugh, and the same year gave two and a half pounds to his painter Jack of St Albans for dancing on a table and also making him laugh (the money was said to be to help Jack support his wife and children). In early 1325, two of Edward's chamber squires, Giles of Spain and Burgeys Till, accidentally burned themselves quite badly while performing some kind of show with fire for the king's entertainment at his Westminster cottage of Burgundy, and around the same time Edward paid a man for putting on a performance for him inside the Tower of London, outdoors, in what his account calls "the area in front of the long stable." In the summer of 1312, an Italian minstrel was paid for "making his minstrelsy with snakes before the king," and Edward also enjoyed watching conjurors.

I've just found another lovely entry in one of Edward II's chamber accounts - all of the details in this post are from his chamber accounts - revealing that just before Easter 1325, the king played some kind of prank or practical joke on Hugh Despenser the Younger while they were just outside Southampton on the way to Beaulieu Abbey. Edward's clerk wrote that "the king frightened Sir Hugh." Sadly there are no more details, but Edward was a very playful person who loved to laugh and have fun (though I'm not entirely sure if Hugh Despenser appreciated it!). In May 1326 at the wedding of Hugh Despenser's niece Margaret Hastings, Edward gave a pound to a servant of Hugh's sister Lady Hastings who spent time with him "and made him laugh very greatly." I've also found numerous entries revealing how the king played dice and cross and pile with members of his retinue; on Christmas Eve 1324 at Nottingham, he spent the evening playing dice with his chamber squires Burgeys Till, Giles of Spain and Garsy de Pomit. He also played unspecified ball games in the parks of various castles with some of his household knights. One of Edward II's friends, or at least an acquaintance, was a Thames fisherman called Colle Herron, and the king often chatted to fishermen while sailing up and down the Thames and invited a group of shipwrights to come and stay with him in April 1326. In October 1315 he went on a swimming and rowing holiday with "a great company of common people." What strikes me very strongly from the evidence of Edward II's chamber accounts is that he comes across as a boon companion, a person you can imagine meeting and having a good laugh with, a man who didn't stand on his royal dignity but could get on well with absolutely anyone. There aren't many medieval kings you can say that about.

24 November, 2017

24 November 1326: Execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger

691 years ago on 24 November 1326, Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan, was executed in Hereford on the orders of Edward II's queen Isabella of France and her ally Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore. It was an atrocious death by hanging, drawing and quartering, and Hugh was also castrated. When it was finally over, Hugh's head was placed on London Bridge (on 4 December) and the four quarters of his body were sent for public display in York, Carlisle, Bristol and Dover. On 15 December 1330 after he had overthrown his mother and Mortimer, Edward III gave permission for Hugh's remains to be collected and buried, and his tomb at Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire exists to this day. His wife Eleanor was also buried in the abbey in 1337, as were several of their descendants including their eldest son Hugh or Huchon (d. 1349), grandson Edward (d. 1375), great-grandson Thomas, briefly earl of Gloucester (d. 1400), and great-great-granddaughter Isabella, countess of Warwick (d. 1439).

My biography of Hugh will be published in about September/October 2018, by Pen and Sword. Its current working title is Downfall of a King's Favourite: Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger. I guarantee there's plenty of stuff about him in it that you've never seen before!

Here's a post about Hugh's execution I wrote eleven years ago today (yowza, time flies!).

And here is my translation of the long list of charges against him at his show trial, from 2009.

My examination of the most devastating charge against Hugh, that he had someone called 'Lady Baret' tortured into insanity (which I very much doubt he did). This is one of the central planks in the popular modern notion that he was basically a psychopath, but there's no evidence for the tale whatsoever beyond the charge against him at his trial, and the list of charges is basically a tissue of fact and fiction, mostly the latter. The unpleasant idea that Hugh raped Queen Isabella is an invention of two writers of the twenty-first century entirely without evidence (see my 2012 post about it here), and even the notion that he had the Welsh lord and rebel Llywelyn Bren hanged, drawn and quartered in Cardiff in 1318 isn't nearly as certain a fact as you might think.

I also wrote here about some of the common modern misconceptions about Hugh Despenser the Younger, including the ever-popular but entirely false idea that Edward II arranged Hugh's marriage to Edward's niece Eleanor de Clare after Hugh became the royal favourite. Hugh and Eleanor married on 26 May 1306 in the presence of her grandfather Edward I, who had arranged it. I stated in that post, wrongly, that Hugh Despenser the Elder did not give his son and daughter-in-law an income of £200 a year as he had promised Edward I. I've since found out that actually he did. Two historians of the twentieth century state that in 1309 Edward II gave Hugh the Younger the former Templar manor of Sutton in Norfolk. I have never been able to find a source for this.

20 November, 2017

Following in the Footsteps of Edward II

One of my many current writing projects - I have so much work I'm reluctantly having to turn some down - is a book for Pen and Sword titled Following in the Footsteps of Edward II, a travel guide to places in the UK associated with Edward. You can easily guess what some of the places are: Berkeley Castle, Gloucester Cathedral, Caernarfon Castle, etc. What I'm really having fun with at the moment is writing about Edward's Oxbridge foundations. He was the first of only two people in history to found colleges at both Oxford and Cambridge, an accomplishment not often noted (and not by a certain popular Twitter historian who wrote not long ago that Edward II succeeded his father on the throne in July 1307, and "never succeeded at anything ever again." Hahaha! Bless, isn't that so funny and clever?)

Edward II celebrated the tenth anniversary of his accession to the throne on 7 July 1317 by establishing the Aula Regis or King's Hall at the University of Cambridge. In 1546, his descendant Henry VIII founded Trinity College by merging King's Hall and Michaelhouse, which was founded in 1324 by Edward's friend and ally Hervey Staunton, chief justice of the King's Bench. On 21 January 1326, Edward and his almoner Adam Brome founded Oriel College, Oxford, or as they called it, the Hall of the Blessed Mary. It became known as Oriel in Edward III's reign, and still exists, and its long official full name is "The Provost and Scholars of the House of the Blessed Mary the Virgin in Oxford, commonly called Oriel College, of the foundation of Edward the Second of famous memory, sometime king of England." Oriel is the fifth oldest college foundation at Oxford; the fourth oldest is Exeter, founded in 1314 by Walter Stapeldon, bishop of Exeter and Edward II's treasurer of England. Stalpeldon was murdered by a London mob in October 1326 after the queen's invasion.

17 November, 2017

A Letter from the Archbishop of York to 'Your Royal Majesty' Edward II

A little while ago, I was looking through a very useful book called Recueil de lettres anglo-françaises 1264-1399, edited by F. J. Tanqueray (an historian who wrote an excellent article called 'The Conspiracy of Thomas Dunheved, 1327' in the English Historical Review in 1916, which I have read and used more times than I can count). Anyway, I found a letter in the book sent by William Melton, archbishop of York, to Edward II (on pp. 123-4). The letter is dated 8 January although the year is not given, but as far as I can tell it must be 1326, as Melton calls himself Edward's treasurer, and he held that position from July 1325 to November 1326. I loved the letter and have translated a bit of it here, to give a flavour of how Archbishop Melton addressed Edward II in writing. Melton was a staunch ally and supporter of the king without ever being a yes-man, and wasn't afraid to stand up to him when necessary (e.g., he protected Adam Orleton, bishop of Hereford, when Edward was persecuting him in 1323/24). He was one of the few men who spoke out on Edward's behalf at the parliament of January 1327 which deposed him, refused to attend Edward III's coronation out of respect for Edward's father, and was heavily involved in plots to free the supposedly dead Edward in 1329/30. Edward III also trusted William Melton and made him treasurer of England shortly after he overthrew his mother and Mortimer in October 1330, and Edward II was a far better judge of character than his father, so if he trusted Melton then we know Melton was trustworthy.

The letter of 8 January [1326], in Anglo-Norman in the original - which kind of goes without saying - begins:

"To the very high, very noble and very powerful prince, his very dear and beloved lord, if it please him, by his liege chaplain and servant, his treasurer, with all the honour, reverence and service he can, with the blessing of God."

It goes on:

"My very dear and beloved lord, because several people have told me that your wish is that your Tower of London be provisioned with various things, and I do not dare nor must not install such things from your treasury without your express command, my lord..."

And goes on to ask Edward if he wishes Melton and the barons of the Exchequer to make an estimate of the cost for the provisioning of the Tower. One sentence begins Prie ge a vostre reale mageste, "I beg your royal majesty," which surprised me as I hadn't realised such language was in use as early as Edward II's reign. Calling him "very high, very noble and powerful prince" at the start of the letter is something I've often seen; Edward himself addressed his father-in-law Philip IV of France the same way. But "I beg your royal majesty"? Interesting.

Archbishop Melton's letter ends:

"My very dear and beloved lord, may God in his grace keep you in joy, honour and health. Written at our lodgings [hostiel] near Westminster, the eighth day of January."

Ah, people certainly knew how to write letters 700 years ago, didn't they? Fab stuff.