24 July, 2015

Edward II's Mood, As Revealed By His Correspondence

Although I have to exercise caution when using Edward II's extant correspondence to gauge his personality and feelings - Edward couldn't possibly have seen more than a fraction of all the letters, writs and so on sent out in his name, and the vast majority of them are purely conventional - there are occasions when he emerges abruptly in his correspondence and it's clear that Edward himself must have dictated a letter, or part of it.  Here are some examples.

- Edward sent a letter to Isabella in France on 1 December 1325, after he had heard that she was refusing to return to him.  The letter (in French) opens abruptly with Dame, 'Lady'.  That's Edward's own voice, at the beginning of a very personal missive in which Edward seeks above all else to defend Hugh Despenser the Younger to his wife, having heard that Isabella was refusing to come back to him because she was afraid of Hugh and angry that he had come between her and Edward, which must have irritated her profoundly.  His clerks wouldn't have dared address the queen like that.  The letter starts "Lady, often we have summoned you to us, both before the homage and after..."  [Close Rolls 1323-7, pp. 580-81; Foedera 1307-27, p. 615; the translation of the French on the Close Roll is not particularly good.]  Edward also addresses Isabella as 'Lady' elsewhere in the letter, as in "And, Lady, we have heard that...".  It comes across as angry, bitter and somewhat sarcastic.  This would be the last letter he ever sent his wife.

- A letter from Edward to Pope John XXII on 10 June 1326 refers to Isabella as "the queen of England, our wife."  When Edward was happy and content with her in 1313, he called her "our very dear consort, our dear lady, Lady Isabella queen of England."  Spot the difference.  [Foedera 1307-1327, p. 629]

- On a similar note, Edward wrote a letter on 3 October 1326 after Isabella's invasion, pointedly referring to her simply as "the king's wife," not even acknowledging her as queen, not using her name.  And obviously not with the conventional "our very dear consort" before her name either.  In his chamber account of this period, however, she is still called ma dame la roine, "my lady the queen."  [Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 582]  And it is not the case, as the French Chronicle of London claims, that Edward had it publicly proclaimed in 1326 that "the queen of England might not be called queen."  For all Edward's anger with Isabella, he certainly never took it that far.

- Edward II's letters to his father-in-law and second cousin Philip IV of France always began with the same style of address: "To the very excellent and very puissant prince, his very dear and beloved father, Philip, by the grace of God noble king of France, greetings and very dear affection."  On 3 August 1309, however, Edward was deeply annoyed with Philip, having learnt that the French king had smuggled letters to Scotland hidden in the breeches of his messenger which acknowledged Robert Bruce as king.  In his letters to Edward and in a letter which Philip sent openly to Scotland, not hidden away, Philip talked of Bruce only as earl of Carrick and thus pretended that he had not addressed him as king.  Furious at his father-in-law's two-faced, deceptive behaviour, Edward's letter opened with "To the king of France, greetings."  Again, spot the difference.  That's clearly Edward's own order to his clerks, who wouldn't have dared address the king of France in such terms without his say-so.

- Unwilling to take responsibility for his own failures in Scotland, Edward II sent a bitterly sarcastic letter on 10 February 1323 to his second cousin Louis Beaumont, bishop of Durham.  In 1316, Edward had abandoned the support of his own candidate for the bishopric and supported Louis instead on being told by Louis's brother Henry that Louis, if appointed, would be "a defence like a stone wall" against the Scots in the north of England, in stark contrast to the negligence of Louis's predecessor Richard Kellaw.  Edward reminded Louis of all this, and fumed "the king knows actually that greater damage is done in the bishopric by the bishop's default, negligence and laziness than in the time of his predecessor, neither the bishop, nor his friends or relations giving counsel or aid according to their promises."  [Close Rolls 1318-23, p. 697; Foedera, p. 506]  Yes, that's Edward II accusing someone else of laziness and negligence.  "Dear Kettle, you are black.  Much love, Pot."

- In 1305, twenty-one-year-old Edward of Caernarfon sent this delightful letter to Philip IV's half-brother Louis. count of Evreux, his frequent correspondent: "We are sending you a big trotting palfrey which can hardly carry its own weight and stands still when it is laden, and some of our misshapen greyhounds from Wales, which can well catch a hare if they find it asleep, and some of our running dogs which can follow at an amble, for well we know how you take delight in lazy dogs. And, dear cousin, if you want anything else from our land of Wales, we can send you plenty of wild men, if you wish, who will well know how to teach breeding to the young sons and daughters of the nobility."  This letter clearly demonstrates Edward's sense of humour, and has often been misunderstood.

- And finally for today, a memorandum on the Close Roll of 20 January 1312 also reveals much about Edward. It was appended to the order to return the earldom of Cornwall to the newly-returned Piers Gaveston, and says "These writs were made in the king's presence by his order under threat of grievous forfeiture."  The writ restoring Gaveston's earldom is in French, not the usual Latin, which almost certainly means that Edward II himself had drafted it.  The memorandum indicates that Edward's chancery clerks were reluctant to write out the writs (presumably because they knew how Edward's magnates would react), and he stayed in the room to make sure they did it, then lost his temper and threatened them. It's so easy for me to imagine Edward stomping around, dictating the writ, noticing that his clerks were unwilling to write it down and yelling "Oi, do it right now or I'll confiscate every single damn thing that you own!"

19 July, 2015

The Confession Of Piers Gaveston by Brandy Purdy: Review

The Confession of Piers Gaveston, Brandy Purdy's first novel, was self-published with iUniverse in 2007 and is 181 pages long.  The original cover was unfortunately cartoonish, though it was later improved somewhat.

My copy of the novel, with the original cover.
The novel is narrated in the first person by Piers himself, in modern English with the occasional word like 'mayhap' thrown in, and reminds me in countless ways of Chris Hunt's 1992 novel Gaveston, a much longer, insightful and, for all its excessively purple prose, a far more accomplished work.  I knew I wasn't going to get on well with Confession when in the very first scene we see Piers Gaveston's mother Claramonde de Marsan being burned alive as a witch - this story is an invention of John Stow in the late sixteenth century, and Claramonde in fact died a perfectly natural death - and shortly afterwards are introduced to a Piers who is lowborn and destitute and has an uncle who's an innkeeper.  Let us remember at this point that a) Piers Gaveston's father and grandfathers historically were among the leading barons of Béarn, and b) Edward I himself placed Piers in his son's, the future king of England's, household as one of his nobly-born companions, along with the earl of Gloucester's nephew, two of the earl of Warwick's grandchildren, the earl of Ulster's eldest daughter and so on.  Are we supposed to imagine that the king would place someone whose mother was burned alive as a witch and whose uncle is an innkeeper in his son's household as his companion?  Good grief.  I also groaned out loud on page 2 when Edward II is addressed as 'Nedikins', a nickname to which the unfortunate reader is subjected throughout, and called His Most Christian Majesty, as though Edward was a king of France.  Piers is, tediously and improbably, depicted as a Goddess-worshipper, a frequent cliché found in novels featuring him (e.g. the Chris Hunt one and Sandra Wilson's Alice) based on the entirely false story invented a few centuries later that his mother was burned as a witch, and presumably on the statements of various contemporaries that he had bewitched the king and "was accounted a sorcerer."  Although he died excommunicate because he had returned to England in 1312 after being perpetually banished, there is no reason to think that Piers wasn't as much of a devout Christian as anyone else in England and France at the time.

Early in the novel, when he is only nine years old, Piers' body is sold to a lodger by his "unscrupulous innkeeper" uncle - a nobleman of the late thirteenth century has an 'innkeeper uncle', just LOL - and he thereafter chooses to become a "boy-harlot."  This may be triggering for some readers, as it certainly was for me.  Child sex abuse, rape and child prostitution are not topics that I personally want to read about, and frankly I didn't expect to find them in a novel about Piers Gaveston.  "My rapist had opened my eyes to my allure, and my value.  The Goddess gifted me with great beauty, the kind that inspires awe and takes the beholder's breath away...".  The novel is pretty well just about Piers' sex life, and his life as a prostitute, and how he has sex with lots of men and women, then has more sex, then some more sex, and just when you think he might actually do something interesting or different, he meets someone else and has lots more sex.  As a few readers will know, this is par for the course in a Purdy novel; there are people who'll never look at Tudor history the same way again after reading her scene involving Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and a jar of honey.  Edward II and Piers also have lots of sex, including in a carriage on the way from Dover to London after Edward arrives back in the country with his new wife, Isabella.  There is a scene where Piers leaves his new wife Margaret's bed on their wedding night to sleep with Edward, which scene also appears in Chris Hunt's novel about Piers.  Piers is so seductive in Confession that even men who normally only fancy women find themselves lusting after him, including Edward's cousin the earl of Richmond, which is also - like so much else in the novel - reminiscent of Chris Hunt's Gaveston (pretty well all the men in that one fancy Piers too, including Edward's cousin the earl of Lancaster).  Piers insists on telling the reader frequently and at length how cold and empty all the paid-for sex makes him, a "practised tart" as we are told over and over, feel.  Diddums.  No doubt this makes some readers feel sympathy and empathy with him, but it just made me feel impatient and bored.  "Practised tart," indeed, a man who in reality was lord lieutenant of Ireland, regent of England, a jousting champion, an excellent soldier and so on.  Although the fact that Piers did have a life outside the bedchamber is occasionally mentioned, we see nothing at all of his abilities and experiences as a soldier, jouster, military and political leader, earl, estate manager, regent.  It's all just about his sex life and how about beautiful and seductive he is and how horrible it is that no-one, including Edward, loves him for himself and not his physical attributes (Edward "was too blinded by my beauty to actually see me" is a typical refrain).

The characterisation of Edward II in Confession, a "feckless, addle-pated king" and a "buttercup blonde" (pp. 5, 14), appears to have been taken straight from the Big Book Of Horrible Dated Gay Caricatures.  He sobs constantly, he pouts, he sighs, he yelps, he wails, he stamps his foot and throws silly tantrums, he swoons, he shrieks, he behaves like a teenage girl with a crush.  I find it offensive.  Edward in general is deeply selfish, extraordinarily shallow and unpleasant throughout, and a wholly unlikeable character who doesn't change or develop at all.  Piers claims to genuinely love him, though it's hard to see why; there is nothing remotely loveable or likeable about this character.  Piers himself also comes across as a stereotype, the bisexual man willing to have sex with anything that has a pulse, who preens, flirts and simpers.  I may be in a minority here, as there are quite a few positive reviews of the novel online, but I don't see any depth to Purdy's creation of Piers Gaveston, don't find Piers' relationship with Edward plausible or interesting, don't feel any sympathy or liking for any of the characters, don't see Piers' famous wit, don't see anything at all that makes me think this is in any way a realistic retelling of Piers' and Edward's story.

An Amazon review of the novel states: "Some of the scenes in the novel seem almost unbelievably melodramatic - such as Edward abandoning his bride on their wedding day for his male lover's company and actually giving him the jewelry that had been a wedding gift from the queen's father - but these are all documented historical events! Brandy Purdy's depiction of them is insightful and accurate, outrageous though it may seem that a king would behave that way."  It is emphatically not 'accurate'; Edward and Piers didn't meet again until almost two weeks after Edward's wedding to Isabella so he couldn't have 'abandoned' her on their wedding day, and Edward did not give Isabella's jewels to Piers, an invention of Agnes Strickland five and a half centuries later (I am more sick than I can adequately express of that wretched myth).  Purdy has Eleanor de Clare marrying Hugh Despenser in 1318 after he has become her uncle's favourite, a dozen years after she actually did.  Edward, naturally, abandons Isabella when she's pregnant in 1312 to save Piers, even though he didn't really.  In short, it's yet another of those novels which repeat the same tired old myths and clichés about Edward II.

I asked myself if I'd like the novel more if it weren't about Piers Gaveston and Edward II, but about an invented king and his invented promiscuous lover.  In all honesty I probably wouldn't dislike it quite as much as I do, but I'm afraid I'm really not a fan of Purdy's overly melodramatic writing style, with breathless italics and countless exclamation marks!!! on just about every page.  On page 52, for example, twenty-two words are written in italics and there are twenty exclamation marks.  Page 61 has sixteen exclamation marks and fifteen words in italics; page 147 has twenty-one exclamation marks and no fewer than thirty-four words in italics.  On one page.  I find it tiring and tiresome to read.  There are some things I do like in the novel: Piers' attempts to be kind and affectionate towards his innocent young wife Margaret de Clare - even though he does abandon her on their wedding night to sleep with her uncle - and his love for his daughters Joan (with Margaret) and Amy (with a woman named Sarah).  A lot of the description is very well and vividly done, and Piers as 'unreliable narrator' is at times skilfully done and Purdy makes good use of her choice to write in first person.  But it's a shame to see a fascinating man like Piers Gaveston written simply as a prostitute, and a shame to see a novel perpetuating unpleasant stereotypes about gay and bi men.  OK if you want a quick salacious read, but Confession has precious little to do with history.

14 July, 2015

Insomnia, A Human Knife And Equal Pay For Women: Edward II And His Chamber Staff, 1325/26

There are some rather fascinating details in Edward II's last chamber account, which covers the period from late May 1325 until 31 October 1326 and is now held at the library of the Society of Antiquaries in London, and is the most gorgeous thing ever, in my admittedly biased opinion.  Edward had a large staff in his chamber, which was headed by the chamberlain, i.e. Hugh Despenser the Younger from late 1318 onwards, and was the department with responsibility for household management and subdivided into numerous departments such as the napery (table linen), pantry (bread and other dry goods), buttery (drinks), spicery, laundry, larder (meat and fish), chandlery (wax and candles), saucery, scullery, and ewery (water and vessels for washing).  The chamberlain was in charge of the knights, squires, ushers, porters, sergeants-at-arms, valets and pages of the chamber, and held responsibility for Edward's personal service and private apartments, and for public events and ceremonies.  In his chamber, Edward II had over thirty 'valets' (valletz in French), thirty sergeants-at-arms, and two dozen archers as his personal bodyguard, as well as a number of knights, pages, ushers, clerks and at least a dozen squires.  The valets and archers were paid three pence a day, as were the king's sailors and carpenters, and the pages two pence; the wages of the other staff, though they were members of the chamber, were paid out of the king's wardrobe, not his chamber.  The squires and ushers earned seven and a half pence a day and the sergeants-at-arms twelve pence (one shilling).  All food and drink, accommodation, clothes and shoes were provided to royal household staff for free, and they were given permission by the king to go home to visit their families on occasion (as the families were not allowed to stay at court or follow behind).

One of the squires of Edward II's chamber was Oliver of Bordeaux.  On 7 February 1326 at Harpley in Norfolk, a wonderful entry in the chamber account (my discovery, my transcription and my translation!) records an extremely large payment of twenty marks to Oliver "when the king sat beside his bed a little before midnight" (q'nt le Roi sist enp's son lit vn poi deuant la mynoet).  What on earth was going on there?  Was Edward, sleepless, spilling out his thoughts and worries to the attentive Oliver?  It's interesting to see - and I didn't notice this when I wrote this lovely anecdote about Oliver in my book Edward II: The Unconventional King - that the very next day, 8 February 1326, Edward II issued a proclamation that his queen Isabella of France was 'adopting the counsel' of Roger Mortimer, his deadliest enemy, at her brother Charles IV's court in Paris.  Had the king just heard this news on the night of 7 February, and that's why he sat beside Oliver's bed, late at night, perhaps anguished?  And why was he sitting by Oliver's bed, and not Oliver by his?  Curious, most curious.

The payment to Oliver, 7 February 1326, in SAL MS 122.

Another of Edward II's chamber squires was John Pymock, whose son's name was also Edward; this Edward was called le petit Pymock, 'the little Pymock', and the king's confrere, brother or companion, in Edward II's chamber account.  A curious nickname for one of the king's chamber staff, which one I've been unable to identify, was le petit Cotel le Roi, 'the king's little Knife'.  That this was the nickname of a person is apparent from an entry in the chamber account of 24 August 1325, when a payment was made to Jack Pyk, a valet of the chamber, "on the information of the king's little Knife."  This formulation, 'on the information of', is used over and over in the royal accounts, and always referred to a person.  Other chamber squires of Edward II included Eustace Boson, Robert de Micheldever (executed with the earl of Arundel on 17 November 1326), John Harsik, who joined the earl of Kent's plot to free Edward in 1330, and Garsy de Pomit.

In the year 1325/26, Edward II had between twenty-eight and thirty-three valets attending him in his chamber at any given time (sometimes they were sent out of court to buy fish or fishing nets, for example).  What's interesting is that two of the valets were women; royal and noble households of the Middle Ages usually consisted almost exclusively of men, and Edward's Household Ordinance of 6 December 1318 mentions only a handful of washerwomen, the rest of his staff of several hundred being men.  (Queen Isabella of course had female attendants, but had her own household.)  The female valets' names were Joan Traghs, who was the wife of another chamber valet Robert 'Robin' Traghs, and Anneis de May, wife of the chamber valet Roger 'Hogge' de May.  The women were hired in early May 1326 and at the end of 1325 respectively, and received the same wages, three pence a day, as the men.  (Edward II, fourteenth-century champion of equal pay for women!  Wooo!)  On 15 June 1325, Edward paid for cloth to make tunics for Joan Traghs and three other wives of his chamber valets, and two months later gave her husband Robin a gift of five shillings on hearing that Joan had given birth to their daughter.  He even paid Joan's usual wages when she was away from court, ill, for forty-four days, and recuperating somewhere in Norfolk.  Joan Traghs and Anneis de May and their husbands Robin and Roger were among the twenty-four chamber valets still with the king in South Wales on 31 October 1326, over a month after the queen's invasion and the last day the account was kept.  As well as the two married couples, there was a father-son pair and two brothers among the chamber valets: Richard 'Hick' Hustret and his son Henry Hustret, and Simon 'Syme' Lawe and his brother Henry Lawe.  Another Lawe brother, the excellently-named Willecok, is also mentioned in the chamber account, sailing in Edward's boat along the Thames with the king in late May 1326, and their sister Alis Coleman was paid on several occasions for brewing ale for Edward.  A Thames fisherman named Jak Coleman, mentioned a couple of times sending gifts of fish to the king, may have been Alis's husband.  Then there was the fab father-son pair Edmund 'Monde' Fisher, a valet of the chamber, and William 'Little Will' Fisher, a page of the chamber.  I love Little Will Fisher.

Edward's Household Ordinance of 6 December 1318 stated that he should nominate six of his thirty sergeants-at-arms to sleep outside his bedchamber every night, with the remainder to stay close by in the hall should he need them.  He also had an usher to guard the door, and judging by an entry in SAL MS 122, six of his chamber valets also slept inside the room with him, one of whom was Roger de May.  In early July 1326, the six men received a gift of twenty shillings to be shared out among them in recognition of their hard work in waking up and attending the king whenever he himself awoke during the night (more anxiety and insomnia, perhaps?).

In the third week of 1326, Edward II was sailing along the Thames from 'Bustleham', i.e. Bisham, to his palace of Sheen, when he hired one 'Ambrose son of Will de la Wyk' as another chamber valet.  (Because apparently nearly three dozen just wasn't enough.)  On 7 June, Ambrose received his first wages of four shillings and nine pence, at three pence a day.  Unfortunately, the chamber account doesn't specify how Ambrose came to join the royal household.  I also sometimes wonder how it happened that the many of Edward's sergeants-at-arms who came from abroad joined his household.  You can tell from the names that some of them were German, French, Italian, Spanish: Oto le Alemaund ('Otto the German'), Giles de Tholosa (Toulouse), Rodrigo de Medyne, Nicholas le Lombard, Poncius de Fossato, Pouncettus de Monte Martini, William Beaukaire (the town of Beaucaire not far from Avignon).  Were these men hired abroad, or were they already living in England?  I'd love to know.

12 July, 2015

An Evil Spirit In 1294

It's amazing what gems you find in medieval chronicles sometimes.  Recently I was looking through the Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346 (ed. Herbert Maxwell, 1913), and found this gem in its narrative of April 1294, just before Edward of Caernarfon's tenth birthday, which is given exactly as cited here without further explanation:

"Verily, on that day [10 April 1294], when crowds in the town of Haddington [in Lothian, Scotland] from various districts to attend the market, a young fellow with an equally young wife came thither with his neighbours from a distance of six miles to buy some necessaries.  But there occurred such a dense fog and driving snow as struck with dismay the countenances of all who beheld it.  Having done their business, the couple were returning home about midday, and the wife, who was a hale and hearty young woman, riding on the horse behind her husband's saddle.  On arriving at a rivulet about half a mile from their house in the town of Lazenby, she persuaded her husband to let her alight from the horse and follow on foot, while he went forward to the house and ordered a fire to be kindled against the cold.  He consented, out of love for his wife; and no sooner was she left alone than suddenly she encountered by the side of the stream an evil spirit; of a pale countenance, but presenting the appearance of a girl scarce seven years old.  This creature, seizing the woman by the left hand with a hand like a horse's hood, tore the flesh off her arm and flung her, terrified, into the water; then, as she struggled to rise, dealt her such a gash between the shoulders that a man's fist might easily be thrust into the wound, and as it cruelly handled the woman, who resisted with all her might, it made some parts of her body black and blue, and other parts deadly pale, tearing off the flesh, as was said, and as those who saw and touched her have testified to me.

The husband, wondering why she tarried, galloped back to her, and finding his wife almost in a swoon, placed her on his horse and took her home.  Strengthened through confession and by extreme unction, she showed to all who visited her the humour and extravasated blood, and departed this life on the second week day following."

What the heck is that all about?!

07 July, 2015

7 July 1307: Death of King Edward I

708 years ago today, Edward I, king of England and lord of Ireland, died at Burgh-by-Sands near Carlisle (or as the official memorandum recording his death puts it, apud Burgum super Sabulones extra Karliolum) on his way to yet another military campaign in Scotland.  He was sixty-eight years old and in the thirty-fifth year of his reign, having succeeded his father Henry III in November 1272.  Of the numerous children Edward I fathered - at least seventeen and probably more - only seven outlived him: his and Eleanor of Castile's daughters Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth, and Eleanor's only surviving son Edward of Caernarfon; and his three children with his second queen Marguerite of France, Thomas, Edmund and Eleanor (who died as a child in 1311).  The chronicler of Lanercost Priory seventeen miles away, recording his death, called him "this illustrious and excellent king, my lord Edward...Throughout his time he had been fearless and warlike, in all things strenuous and illustrious; he left not his like among Christian princes for sagacity and courage."

Edward of Caernarfon, prince of Wales, duke of Aquitaine, earl of Chester and count of Ponthieu, was about 315 miles away either in London or Lambeth at the time, and heard the news that he had succeeded to the throne on 11 July.  Although Edward I on his deathbed had ordered his son not to recall Piers Gaveston, whom he had sent into exile on the Continent some months before, almost certainly Edward II's very first act as king was to do exactly that.

There is no real reason to suppose that Edward I had found his son and heir particularly disappointing or unpromising, as is usually stated nowadays; this is simply hindsight based on the knowledge of Edward II's disastrous reign and of his unregal love of rustic pursuits and so on.  The two had clashed on occasion, most notably when Edward I apparently tore out handfuls of his son's hair, called him an ill-born son of a whore - Eleanor of Castile must have turned in her grave - and banished him from court for a while, but as Edward II's academic biographer Professor Seymour Phillips has pointed out, clashes between the king and his heir were common in the Middle Ages.  Henry II's sons went to war against him in the 1170s and 1180s, and Edward I himself had fallen out with his father Henry III in his youth.  We shouldn't read too much into their occasional rows.  The author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi, one of Edward II's clerks who knew him well, says that before his accession he raised his subjects' hopes (though dashed them when he became king).  The Vita also says that God had endowed Edward II with every gift, and that he was "equal to or indeed more excellent than other kings.  If anyone cared to describe those qualities which ennoble our king, they would not find his like in the land."  Edward II frustrated his contemporaries beyond measure, not because he was lacking in abilities, but because, in stark contrast to his father, he so rarely bothered to exercise them.

05 July, 2015

5 July 1324: Wedding of Charles IV of France and Joan of Evreux

A post about the wedding of Edward II's brother-in-law Charles IV of France and Navarre and his third wife Joan of Evreux.  (5 July is also the anniversary of the birth of Edward II's and Isabella of France's youngest child Joan of the Tower, later the queen of Robert Bruce and Elizabeth de Burgh's son David II of Scotland, in 1321.)

Charles was born on 18 June 1294 as the third son of Philip IV, king of France, and Joan I, queen of Navarre and countess of Champagne, Bigorre and Brie, and was about eighteen months or so older than his sister Isabella, queen of England.  He succeeded his brother Philip V as king of France and Navarre when Philip died on 2 January 1322 at the age of about thirty.  Later that year, Charles' marriage to his first wife Blanche of Burgundy, who had been in prison for adultery since 1314, was finally annulled.  On 21 September 1322, Charles married Marie of Luxembourg, daughter of Henry of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor, and Margaret, sister of Edward II's brother-in-law Duke John II of Brabant.  Queen Marie died on 26 March 1324, shortly after miscarrying the baby boy who would have been king of France if he had lived.  Charles IV's two older brothers Louis X and Philip V had died without surviving male issue; Louis's posthumous son John I of France died when he was five days old in November 1316, and Philip left four daughters, Joan, Marguerite, Isabella and Blanche, his and Joan of Burgundy's two sons having died in childhood.  Charles had a son with Blanche of Burgundy, who died as a child, as well as his stillborn son with Marie of Luxembourg.

Charles IV turned thirty in June 1324, and was desperate for a son to succeed him.  He therefore married his first cousin Jeanne d'Evreux or Joan of Evreux; she was one of the daughters of his father Philip IV's half-brother Louis, count of Evreux (d. 1319).  Joan, born c. 1310, was only about fourteen at the time of her marriage.  Her eldest sister Marie was married to Edward II's nephew Duke John III of Brabant, and her brother Philip was married to their cousin, Louis X's daughter, who became Queen Joan II of Navarre on the death of her uncle Charles IV in 1328.  (Yes, Philip of Evreux married his brother-in-law's niece.)

For some reason there is considerable confusion among historians as to the date of Charles IV and Joan of Evreux's wedding, and many of them wrongly place it in July 1325, even Elizabeth A. R. Brown, an expert on Philip IV and his sons.  It is most unlikely, however, that Charles would have waited for as long as sixteen months to marry again after the death of Marie of Luxembourg in March 1324, and in fact, the exact date of the wedding is known from a letter sent to Edward II by his envoys to France on 10 July 1324: "we found him [Charles IV] at Annet [-sur-Marne] on the Thursday next before the feast of the Translation of St Thomas, where he had married on the same day the sister of the present count of Dreux [sic]." (lui trovasmes a Annet' le joedy prochein devant la feste de la Translacion de Seint Thomas, ou il avoit espouses mesmes le jour le soer le conte de Drews qore est.)  The Translation of St Thomas Becket is 7 July, which fell on a Saturday in 1324.  The letter to Edward is printed in The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, ed. Pierre Chaplais, pp. 189-190, and cannot date to July 1325, as its contents - relating to Edward's failure to travel to Amiens to pay homage for his French possessions and Charles's confiscation of them - would make no sense if they'd been written a year later, by which time Charles and Edward had signed a peace treaty.

Queen Joan seems to have given birth to their first child in around late 1325, a girl who died about a year later and whose name is uncertain, either Joan or Isabella.  Their second daughter, Marie, was born around late 1326, and outlived her father but died unmarried in 1341.  The third daughter, Blanche, was born posthumously on 1 April 1328, exactly two months after Charles IV died at the age of thirty-five.  Blanche of France, Charles IV's only child who lived into adulthood, married Philip, duke of Orleans, the second son of Charles IV's first cousin and successor Philip VI of France and the brother of John II.  He was eight years younger than she, and the couple had no children.  Philip VI had endured an anxious two-month wait after the death of Charles IV; had Queen Joan given birth to a boy, he would have become king of France immediately on birth.

Joan of Evreux, dowager queen of France, lived as a widow for forty-three years, and died on 4 March 1371 in her early sixties.  Her daughter Blanche, duchess of Orleans, died on 8 February 1382 and was the second last survivor of the Capetian dynasty; her cousin Marguerite, countess of Flanders and the second daughter of Philip V, outlived her by three months.

28 June, 2015

The Siege of Carlisle – 22nd July to 1st August 1315 (guest post)

My thanks to Jerry Bennett for writing and providing this excellent account of Robert Bruce's siege of Carlisle in 1315!

*
On 22nd July 1315, Robert Bruce attacked the English city of Carlisle, with an army reputed to be 10,000 strong. Henry Summerson, in his excellent book on mediaeval Carlisle, claims the siege actually started on the 14th July, but the first attack was not launched until the 22nd, the date stated in the Lanercost Chronicle. Given the size of the attacking Scottish army, there were probably Scots sitting outside Carlisle’s walls well before the 22nd July but whether Robert Bruce himself was present is open to conjecture.

Whatever the start date of the siege, the English commander, Andrew Harclay, had plenty of time to prepare for it and had around 100 men at arms, 46 hobelars and 340 archers to defend the city (the figures vary slightly with different historians, but not by much). The full circuit of Carlisle walls is nearly two miles if you include the castle, so the defenders would be stretched quite thinly. Robert Bruce probably thought he could take the city fairly easily, which may explain the lack of siege machines that the Scots bought with them. But ten days later he had to retreat back over the border, frustrated but certainly not defeated.

The best near-contemporary account of the siege comes from the Lanercost chronicler – not surprising seeing as Lanercost Priory was situated only ten miles east of Carlisle. Even so, that account is fairly brief, with just enough detail to gain some idea of what actually happened. Almost inevitably some of the comments are open to different interpretations, which shows through with variations in history textbooks or papers. The siege took place just 13 months after the Scottish victory at Bannockburn, with Scottish morale running high while the government of England seemed paralysed by the disputes between king Edward II and the earl of Lancaster. Earlier that year, James Douglas had led a raid deep into County Durham and attacked the town of Hartlepool, forcing the inhabitants to flee onto their ships. To quote Lanercost:  

The Scots, then, seeing that affairs were going everywhere in their favour, invaded the bishopric of Durham about the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and plundered the town of Hartle-pool, whence the people took to the sea in ships; but they did not burn it. On their return they carried away very much booty from the bishopric.

The feast day in question is 29th June, only 15 days before Summerson’s date for the start of the siege, which inclines me to believe that the Scottish leaders would not have arrived at Carlisle much before the 22nd July. If they could ignore the English garrisons, both royal and private, at cities like Newcastle and Durham, or major castles like Alnwick and Berwick (still in English hands at that time), they must have been very confident about what they could achieve anywhere in the North of England. Hartlepool is just short of a hundred miles south of the border at either Berwick or Norham, so Carlisle, only ten miles from the border, must have been a near-certain target for the Scots at some point.

Also, a little later in the same year, on the feast of S. Mary Magdalene, the King of Scotland, having mustered all his forces, came to Carlisle, invested the city and besieged it for ten days, trampling down all the crops, wasting the suburbs and all within the bounds, burning the whole of that district, and driving in a very great store of cattle for his army from Allerdale, Copland, and Westmorland.

The feast day of St Mary Magdalene is the 22nd July. I have no idea whether Bruce summoned his army to gather at Carlisle, or to meet somewhere in Scotland (probably Lochmaben) and then advance on Carlisle.

There were some strong historical reasons why Carlisle could have been a tempting target for Robert Bruce. Carlisle and the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland (both now part of modern-day Cumbria) are isolated from the rest of England, and were only incorporated into England mainly in the reign of king Henry I. The Lake District Fells and the Howgill Fells cut those counties off from the rest of England to the south, while the Pennines block easy access from the east. The only easy route into the counties was the road from Newcastle, which ran just south of Hadrian’s Wall and at the time was known as Stanegate. The main road that connected Carlisle to most of England ran south to Penrith, then southeast via the Eden valley and Robert Clifford’s castle and town of Appleby, over the summit of Stainmore and then to eventually reach York – roughly the modern-day A66. An even more difficult route ran south from Penrith to Kendal through the Shap fells, while an old Roman road followed the top of the broad ridge now called High Street, reaching 2,500 feet above sea level at its highest point. Finally it was also possible to reach Lancashire via the long road down the West coast through Cockermouth, Egremont and Millom before fording the sands of the Duddon, Leven and Kent estuaries to reach Lancaster.

Not an easy place to reach, and had Carlisle fallen in 1315, not an easy place to retake either. Given the inability of Edward II to recapture Berwick in 1319, if Carlisle had fallen it would have remained in Scottish hands for many years, and from a Scottish viewpoint, justifiably so. Not only did the Scottish kings have a historic claim on Carlisle, Cumberland and the northern half of Westmorland, but the Scottish diocese of Glasgow also claimed religious jurisdiction over Carlisle and Cumbria “as far as the Redecross of Stainmore”. King Henry I had partially headed off this claim by elevating St Mary’s Priory in Carlisle to the status of a cathedral in 1132, but the old beliefs almost certainly still remained.

In 1135, king David I of Scotland occupied Carlisle, and it became one of his main administrative centres, certainly on a par with Edinburgh and Stirling. It remained part of Scotland for the next 22 years before being returned to the England of Henry II. Henry the young king (son of Henry II) offered Carlisle and “Cumbria” to the Scots as part of a reward for their support in his rebellion against his father, and the Scots unsuccessfully attacked Carlisle in 1173 as a consequence of that agreement. The Scots again occupied Carlisle for over a year in 1216, just after the death of king John, but surrendered it one year later. The line of the England-Scotland border was finally settled at the treaty of York in 1237, but the turbulent history of claim and counterclaim must have had some bearing on the minds of both Scots and Northern English. I wonder just how much it might have affected Andrew Harclay’s decision to try and broker a peace with Robert Bruce on his own initiative after the English military disasters of 1322?

When war broke out again in 1296, Carlisle was attacked by those Scots who supported king John Balliol, led by the Comyn earl of Buchan. One year later, William Wallace also considered trying to capture Carlisle, but the defenders were better prepared by then and Wallace turned away from the city. Such were the conflicting alliances of the time that one of the leading defenders of the city then was Robert Bruce, father of the victor of Bannockburn. Robert Bruce the son would have known Carlisle, and to judge by the fact that he initially attacked it only by escalade, probably thought it would be relatively easy to take. He had surprised and almost captured it in 1311, when the city had to pay a large amount of tribute to save itself. As Bruce still had to recapture Perth, Stirling, Edinburgh and Dumfries (amongst other places in Scotland) he may not have been too concerned about occupying Carlisle at that time. Post-Bannockburn, that had changed. He may even have thought he could persuade the city to surrender without a fight, but that would have to be wishful thinking on his part. If there was one man anywhere in the North of England prepared to fight back, it was Andrew Harclay who had been appointed constable of the city and sheriff of Cumberland after the debacle of 1311.

What manner of problems would Bruce have faced when he attacked Carlisle? The accompanying map shows that the city was roughly triangular in shape, with the castle in the Northwest corner and three gates through the city walls. The one facing North was known as the Scots Gate, or Rickert’s Gate, while that facing west was the Irish or Caldew Gate. At the south end of the city, shown here with a double tower, was the English gate, or Botcher’s Gate, although this part of the city defences was heavily rebuilt in the Tudor period. Although this is a copy of John Speed’s map of 1610, the walls were still intact at that time and it gives a reasonable impression of what the city must have been like three hundred years before. I can but apologise for the lack of clarity, but the castle, the cathedral and the three gates stand out fairly well. The layout of the streets behind the East wall and the market square has barely changed and can be easily recognised today.




The city stood on a low ridge of sandstone, surrounded by rivers on three sides. The largest was the Eden, flowing east to west some 300 yards north of the Scots gate, with the bridge over it carrying the main road to Scotland. The Caldew flowed below the west wall of the city, with the road to Cockermouth and West Cumberland crossing it just west the Irish gate, either by a bridge or a ford (the accounts are contradictory here). Finally the smallest of the three, the Petteril, flowed past the east side of Carlisle, but some half a mile from the East wall. It is difficult to envisage what the land was really like immediately outside Carlisle’s walls, but there was almost certainly a fair amount of low-lying, waterlogged land, particularly alongside the rivers Eden and the Petteril. When the Scots eventually built a siege tower or “berefrai” to overtop the height of the city’s gates, it became stuck in mud when they tried to move it. The suburbs that the Scots “wasted” were either outside the English gate or just across the Caldew on the west bank in what is now Shaddongate, Denton Holme and Caldcotes. There was even a church somewhere there, the church of the Holy Trinity. There was also a community of fishermen living outside the walls and close to the Eden, according to Henry Summerson, although given the propensity of that river to flood, one has to wonder where it was located. Possibly alongside the road to the Eden bridge, as shown on the map above.

Speed’s map resorts to wishful thinking once he goes outside the walls. The impression given is that the Caldew gate is roughly level with the river Caldew, when in fact the ground there was quite steep. Mediaeval Carlisle stood on its ridge between 50 and 70 feet above the Caldew, with a fairly steep slope dropping towards the river. Any modern day visitor to Carlisle can get en excellent impression of this height if they choose to park on the West Walls car park. (Just follow the road past the front of the railway station, under Victoria Viaduct, and suddenly you are in the car park directly below the cathedral. The climb up the old sandstone steps to the top of the walls, then through the arch into the cathedral close, is one of the most atmospheric ways to enter old Carlisle.) Images of the city from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries show this land as being quite steep, with a few trees and a lot of bushes, probably gorse, hawthorn or bramble, and it is how I imagine it at the time of the siege. It is still like that below the castle walls at the extreme Northern tip of the old city. But all trace of that hillside was wiped out in Victorian times. This became railway country. Seven different companies ran into Carlisle, and although they co-operated by sharing just one passenger station, they all had their own goods depots and engine sheds, and a network of avoiding lines running either side of the Caldew to prevent any congestion in the station caused by the huge number of goods trains. The Caldew was diverted between high retaining walls and bridged in several places as a result.

The north wall, running from the castle to the Scots gate, would also have been well above the level of the river Eden. Any visitor today can get a good impression by standing at the Northern end of Scotch Street, just where it intersects with West Tower Street which is almost certainly the site of the former Scots gate. The road drops down a short hill and past the front door of Debenhams before leveling out as it runs past the offices of the city council and on towards the giant modern roundabout called Hardwick Circle lying immediately south of the Eden Bridge. You get the same impression as you look towards the castle along West Tower Street, or across Bitts Park just below the castle walls; steep ground at first then leveling out closer to the river. Not particularly easy ground across which to launch an escalade.

John Speed allowed his imagination to really get the better of him by showing hills south of the Eden and east of the bridge. The land here is as flat as a pancake, and was for many years the site favoured for horse racing. Some 250 years after the siege, the famous rescue of “Kinmont Willie” Armstrong from Carlisle castle was almost certainly plotted at one of these horse races. Today it is given over largely to sports fields. The slope of the land below the east wall and running south from the English gate is pretty gentle, so it is almost imperceptible, but it is there. Possibly the best indication of the lie of the land can be gained from the map of the 2005 Carlisle floods, showing the streets closest to the Eden and the Petteril submerged under flood water while it remained dry closer to the old city walls. The problem for the Scots would be that this dryer land was almost certainly within easy arrowshot of the defenders.

On every day of the siege they assaulted one of the three gates of the city, sometimes all three at once; but never without loss, because there were discharged upon them from the walls such dense volleys of darts and arrows, likewise stones, that they asked one another whether stones bred and multiplied within the walls.

Andrew Harclay must have been preparing his defences well. I suspect he had every blacksmith, fletcher and wood-turner in the city preparing arrows and javelins by the thousand in the weeks before the Scots arrived, while piles of rocks must have been stacked every few yards around the parapet behind those walls. Recent excavations suggest that the city walls were about 20 feet high, not too difficult to escalade either side of the one of the gates, and once the Scots reached the foot of the walls the defenders would have to rely more on stones and javelins to repel them. I also suspect that there were reserve piles of rocks stacked against the inside of the walls at ground level, ready to replenish those on the parapet. Given his relatively small number of defenders, Harclay would have wanted to move men swiftly around the walls to reinforce any particular crisis point and huge piles of rocks on the parapet itself would have slowed that movement.

Now on the fifth day of the siege they set up a machine for casting stones next the church of Holy Trinity, where their king stationed himself, and they cast great stones
continually against the Caldew gate and against the wall, but they did little or no injury to those within, except that they killed one man. But there were seven or eight similar machines within the city, besides other engines of war, which are called springalds, for discharging long darts, and staves with sockets for casting stones, which caused great fear and damage to those out-side.

The fact that it took the Scots five days before they set up any siege machines suggests to me that they expected to take the city by escalade. (The same was true of the English attempt to recapture Berwick in 1319). Perhaps Bruce had a trebuchet prepared, and it just took time to carry it all the way from Lochmaben and assemble it, but it also suggests that the Scots were forced to improvise after the initial round of escalades had failed. The church of the Holy Trinity is thought to have been just west of the Caldew crossing in the old manor of Caldcotes. Excavations in 1959 found a number of burials with the bodies laid neatly on an east-west axis, suggesting church burial. There is a Holy Trinity church a few hundred yards further west, but it is Victorian in age. One of the historical manuscripts also suggests that there was a tannery alongside the Caldew, which may have provided some useful shelter for the Scots, both from bad weather and English archers.

But the positioning of the trebuchet beside the Caldew makes good sense in one way. Although the steep ground below the west wall would have made the Caldew gate the most difficult to attack by escalade, the riverbed supplied a huge amount of ammunition. The Eden at Carlisle has eroded its way down to near sea level – it is tidal almost all the way up to Carlisle – but the Caldew is still cutting its way between the heights of Carlisle’s ridge and Denton Holme, and its bed and banks are far more rock-strewn than the meadow-fringed Eden.

I think the weather was most likely to have been typical of a Northern summer, with some dry days interspersed with wet ones. Although 1315 was the first of the famine years, when bad weather wreaked the harvest right across England, I get the impression from Lanercost that the really heavy, continuous rain that ruined what little harvest remained after the Scots had left, did not arrive until September. Regular downpours would still mean that the ground around the city was pretty swampy. But if it had been heavy, continuous rain would the Scots have been able to conduct any sort of effective siege? The arrow-storms from both sides described by Lanercost would have been near impossible in continuous heavy rain, so I suspect there were some intervals of dryer weather. One other factor which suggests the existence of a lot of wet weather is that the Scots appear to have made no effort to burn any of the gates, something they had successfully done elsewhere. Or perhaps they tried but Lanercost never mentioned it.

Meanwhile, however, the Scots set up a certain great berefrai like a kind of tower, which was considerably higher than the city walls. On perceiving this, the carpenters of the city erected upon a tower of the wall against which that engine must come if it had ever reached the wall, a wooden tower loftier than the other; but neither that engine nor any other ever did reach the wall, because, when it was being drawn on wheels over the wet and swampy ground, having stuck there through its own weight, it could neither be taken any further nor do any harm.

Moreover the Scots had made many long ladders, which they brought with them for scaling the wall in different places simultaneously; also a sow for mining the town wall, had they been able; but neither sow nor ladders availed them aught. Also they made great numbers of fascines of corn and herbage to fill the moat outside the wall on the east side, so as they might pass over dry-shod. Also they made long bridges of logs running upon wheels, such as being strongly and swiftly drawn with ropes might reach across the width of the moat. But during all the time the Scots were on the ground neither fascines sufficed to fill the moat, nor those wooden bridges to cross the ditch, but sank to the depths by their own weight.

The “berefrai” must have been built somewhere to the east of the city, as it could never have been moved up the slope to attack the west wall. It was probably built close to the Petteril but had to be in wetter ground in order to remain beyond arrow range. I suspect the sow would have been built in the same place, possibly with the intention of undermining part of the east wall through the side of the moat. Lanercost does not state on which tower the defenders extended their own defences, and it could have been either the English or the Scots gate. I think the Scots gate was smaller, and so a more tempting target, but the English gate might have been closer. I also suspect that the moat would have been more of a dry ditch in any period of sunny weather, as it would not have been easy to divert a river to fill it. It was too high above either the Eden or the Petteril, and the wrong side of the ridge for the Caldew.

Howbeit on the ninth day of the siege, when all the engines were ready, they delivered a general assault upon all the city gates and upon the whole circuit of the wall, attacking manfully, while the citizens defended themselves just as manfully, and they did the same next day. The Scots also resorted to the same kind of stratagem whereby they had taken Edinburgh Castle; for they employed the greater part of their army in delivering an assault upon the eastern side of the city, against the place of the Minorite Friars, in order to draw thither the people who were inside. But Sir James of Douglas, a bold and cautious knight, stationed himself, with some others of the army who were most daring and nimble, on the west side opposite the place of the Canons and Preaching Friars, where no attack was expected because of the height [of the wall] and the difficulty of access. There they set up long ladders which they climbed, and the bowmen, whereof they had a great number, shot their arrows thickly to prevent anyone showing his head above the wall. But, blessed be God! They met with such resistance there as threw them to the ground with their ladders, so that there and elsewhere round the wall some were killed, others taken prisoners and others wounded; yet throughout the whole siege no Englishman was killed, save one man only who was struck by an arrow (and except the man above mentioned), and few were wounded.

The holdings of the different orders of friars lay just inside the English gate, set against the east and west walls respectively. The Scottish archers down somewhere near the Caldew would not have found it easy to aim directly at the defenders, as they would have been shooting quite steeply uphill, probably with arrow-flight affected by crosswinds. I suspect they were loosing arrows over the wall to fall on defenders from above. Accurate shooting at English defenders would also have been too close to Douglas’s “daring and nimble” escaladers on their ladders.

Here we have some variation in accounts. Lanercost infers that Douglas was already waiting somewhere below the west wall, possibly hidden in trees and bushes, waiting for a key moment to attack. Henry Summerson suggests his men left the main attack and ran round the south end of the city, while yet another account has them running round the north end of the city, and the alarm being raised by the men manning the higher castle walls. They certainly did try to take the west wall, and succeeded for a while before the defenders managed to regain control.

Lanercost’s account suggests growing frustration within Scottish ranks. Their “berefrai” was stuck in mud, their trebuchet had made little or no impression on the Caldew gate, and their sow might take a long time to undermine the walls. After Douglas’s failure to capture the west wall, they made their minds up fairly quickly, to cut their losses and return to Scotland.

Wherefore on the eleventh day, to wit, the feast of S. Peter ad Vincula, whether because they had heard that the English were approaching to relieve the besieged or whether they despaired of success, the Scots marched off in confusion to their own country, leaving behind them all their engines of war aforesaid. Some Englishmen pursuing them captured John de Moray, who in the aforesaid battle near Stirling had for his share twenty-three English knights, besides esquires and others of meaner rank, and had taken very heavy ransom for them. Also they captured with the aforesaid John, Sir Robert Bardolf, a man specially ill-disposed to the English, and brought them both to Carlisle Castle; but they were ransomed later for no small sum of money.

Carlisle had survived, but I suspect only narrowly. The west wall was almost over-run on the final day, and had the Scots taken the city they may well have gone on to take the castle as well. There was an English relieving force, marching from Newcastle, but how large it was is unknown, at least to me. Given that the Scots had ridden unhindered past Newcastle only a month before to launch their raid on Hartlepool, I doubt it would have discomforted them too much. Had they launched two or three more general assaults against the walls, they may have won through at some point by sheer weight of numbers. Although the English defenders had lost hardly any men, by the end of day ten they would have been out on their feet with exhaustion. They must have spent the whole of the siege sleeping by their posts, constantly on alert for a night attack, and surviving largely on cold rations. The weather almost certainly played some part in the Scots’ decision to abandon the siege, but I suspect the main reason for that decision could really be summed up in two words.

Andrew Harclay!

Harclay fascinates me. He was a minor knight from Hartley, near the Westmorland town of Kirkby Stephen, which must have been one of the poorest and smallest manors in England. His father had been sheriff of Cumberland for a number of years, but the family was not notable. A better description might even be notorious. His brother Michael had been accused as an accessory to murder in 1292, but was acquitted. On the other hand Robert, another of Andrew’s brothers, became a Dominican friar and Chancellor of Oxford University, so they weren’t all bad.

Historians tend to be divided about him, with some condemning him as nothing more than a thug who got lucky by being in the right place at the right time. Others consider him to be gallant, honourable and brave, but ultimately mis-guided because of his attempt to broker a treaty between himself and Robert Bruce. I’m inclined towards the second opinion because what he achieved would have been beyond the capabilities of a mere, lucky thug, and eventually England benefited from it. I think of him as being similar to William Wallace and Bertrand du Guesclin in coming from a comparatively lowly background and rising to high honour on the basis of his ability as a leader. Fair enough, they both had their thuggish tendencies as well, but all three could inspire soldiers in ways utterly alien and probably largely incomprehensible to most of their supposed superiors.

Much of what I know of him comes from papers published by the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (CWAAS). He was born sometime in the 1270s, and he and his younger brother John are recorded as serving in Scotland in the 1290s, probably as squires. He was supposedly knighted by the earl of Lancaster in1307, not long after the death of king Edward I, so his early experience of war was most likely to be in leading small patrols in the hostile country of southwest Scotland. He would probably have served under Robert Clifford, and the two men would know each other well. He was promoted in 1311, to become constable of Carlisle city, probably in the wake of Bruce’s raid. Clifford would have needed a reliable man in command of Carlisle and promoted Andrew on the basis of his ability. That would almost certainly have angered many other knights who considered themselves more senior to this little known Westmorlander. By 1313 he was also constable of Carlisle castle.

His unorthodox military education made him the ideal man to have defending Carlisle. He almost certainly oversaw every detail of Carlisle’s defences, but probably discussed them with other knights and his senior sergeants and most experienced soldiers or archers. His early experience in Scotland would have taught him to trust the men under his command – if he hadn’t he probably would never have survived. I can envisage him at the siege, fighting alongside his men on the walls, walking around them when the fighting eased, encouraging them and praising them. By the end of the siege he probably knew every single one of them by name. There was no chance of Bruce finding the Carlisle equivalent of Peter of Spalding (who supposedly betrayed Berwick in 1318) guarding any part of Carlisle’s walls.

This might sound like a very twenty-first century model of leadership, but the basics of trust, upwards from soldiers to their commander and downwards from the commander to sergeants, section leaders or even individual soldiers, is as old as the history of organised warfare. Any army in which it broke down was usually defeated. With Andrew it showed up again in the speed with which he marched to Boroughbridge to confront Lancaster. It certainly took Lancaster by surprise, while the tactics he used to defeat Lancaster caught the whole of England by surprise to judge by the reactions of the chroniclers. They were also widely misunderstood. He dismounted his men to fight on foot “in the Scottish manner” according to one writer (the Bridlington chronicler I think). But with the benefit of 680 years of hindsight one has to ask if Robert Bruce would have defended the ford at Boroughbridge primarily with archers? My impression is that Andrew fought Boroughbridge in his own way, adopting some Scottish tactics because they seemed appropriate at the time. There were other innovations that can be attributed to him, including far more extensive use of hobelars for border warfare, and almost certainly developing the idea of archers mounted for speed of travel to better intercept Scottish raiding parties. Some historians have suggested Boroughbridge as being a sort of “prototype” for Crecy and Agincourt, and there were a lot of similarities between them. But it took a younger generation of English commanders under king Edward III, to truly appreciate what he had done.

Can I make one final, personal comment on the siege of Carlisle? My over-riding impression is that the strength of the city’s resistance took the Scots completely by surprise, and contributed to their comparatively early abandonment of the siege. That strength almost certainly reflected the character and example of Andrew Harclay.

Jerry Bennett
June 2015

21 June, 2015

Isabella of France was not asked to take an oath to the Despensers

One very curious claim in Paul Doherty's Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II (2003), p. 79, is that in the 1320s Isabella of France was asked to take an oath of loyalty to Edward II's chamberlain and 'favourite' Hugh Despenser the Younger and his father Hugh the Elder, earl of Winchester.  Doherty claims:

"De Spencer [sic], meanwhile, was strengthening his control over the King.  Nobles like Henry Beaumont were being forced to take great oaths on the Gospels, 'to live and die with the de Spencers'.  [Queen] Isabella was offered such an oath but refused to take it."

For the astonishing statement that the queen of England was asked to take an oath to two noblemen, her social inferiors - which really made me think 'Heh??' when I first saw it - Doherty cites the Livere de Reis de Britannie e Le Livere de Reis de Engletere, ed. John Glover, p. 354.  This is a continuation of the annals of Sempringham Priory; p. 354 is the original French text, with an English translation on p. 355, and what it actually says is (I've read it in French and the translation is correct):

"The same year [1326], in the month of February, Sir Henry de Beaumont was arrested by the king, and sent under guard to Kenilworth Castle, because he would not swear to the king and Sir Hugh de Spencer to be of their part to live and die.  Wherefore the king caused possession to be taken of all his lands and possessions, which he had previously given to his sister, the lady Isabel de Beaumont."  (Usually called nowadays by her married name, Isabella Vescy.)  

Hmmmm.  As we see, Isabella of France is nowhere mentioned in this passage, and in February 1326 she was in France anyway and had been since March 1325, and therefore could not possibly have been asked to take an oath to Hugh Despenser the Younger (and notice the passage says that Beaumont was asked to take an oath to Edward II and the younger Despenser; his father the elder Despenser is not mentioned, so it's not an oath to 'the de Spencers' as Doherty claims).  I really don't understand how Doherty got Queen Isabella being asked to take an oath out of that passage.  Assuming that he's not deliberately lying to his readers, and genuinely thinks it says that the queen refused to take an oath - even though she wasn't even in England at the time - it has to be the most careless and sloppy misreading of a chronicle ever.  And the Livere is translated into English so there's not even the excuse of misunderstanding the French.  Maybe he saw the name of Isabella Beaumont/Vescy, didn't read it properly, and assumed it meant Queen Isabella, even though it doesn't say that Isabella Beaumont was asked to take an oath but that she was given her brother's lands and goods temporarily.

Henry Beaumont accompanied Edward II and Queen Isabella's son Edward of Windsor to France on 12 September 1325, and was present when the boy performed homage for Gascony and Ponthieu to his uncle Charles IV at Vincennes on 24 September.  A few weeks later Isabella refused to return to England, but Beaumont did, and had been imprisoned at Warwick Castle (not Kenilworth as the Livere de Reis says) sometime before early August 1326 when he was moved from there to Wallingford Castle, according to various entries in the chancery rolls.  On 30 September of that year he was still imprisoned at Wallingford.  [Close Rolls 1323-7, p. 593; Fine Rolls 1319-27, p. 418]  I assume he was released shortly afterwards, as Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer's invasion force had already arrived in England by then.

The French Chronicle of London says that Henry Beaumont and other magnates, not named, were imprisoned "because they would not agree to do the bidding of Hugh Despenser [the Younger]."  [Croniques de London depuis l’an 44 Hen III jusqu'à l'an 17 Edw. III, ed. G. J. Aungier, p.  49]  One of the charges against Despenser the Younger at his trial in Hereford on 24 November 1326 states "By your royal power you had them ["great and small people"] put in arduous prison, such as Sir Henry Beaumont, who did not want to swear that they would assent to your wickedness."  So the idea that Beaumont and unnamed others were imprisoned for refusing to swear some kind of oath to Hugh Despenser in 1326 seems to have been fairly widely known, and Beaumont certainly was in prison that year, though the reason for his imprisonment is not stated in the chancery rolls.

I'm still baffled how this bizarre claim of the queen of England refusing to swear an oath to the Despensers appeared in print, and how any historian could have misread and misinterpreted a chronicle as much as Doherty did.  I simply cannot make sense of it at all.  Doherty provides an endnote citing a primary source, and his readers have absolutely no reason to doubt that the source says what he claims he does.  Even though it doesn't in any way whatsoever.  Hmph.  But this is far from being the only time when Doherty misrepresents a primary source or just plain makes something up.  Particularly egregious examples include his claims that (p. 109) Isabella prompted her counsellors to call for her husband's execution at the meeting in Wallingford at Christmas 1326 which met to discuss Edward II's fate (the queen of England calling for her husband's death in front of half the bishops and magnates of England?  What the hell?), and that Pope John XXII was unhappy about Edward II's executions of twenty or twenty-two Contrariants in 1322, which Doherty emotively describes as 'a reign of terror,' 'blood-letting,' 'these horrors' and 'dreadful events,' and "begged the King to show some restraint." Actually John XXII advised Edward to ascribe his victory to God, and, far from showing any sympathy to those whom Edward had executed and imprisoned, excommunicated "those nobles and magnates who attack the king and his realm."  [Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-41, p. 448; The National Archives SC 7/25/14]  Making stuff up might be fun, but it sure as heck ain't history.

17 June, 2015

Blanche of Brittany (c. 1270-1327)

Blanche of Brittany somehow seems to keep popping up in the book I'm writing about Queen Isabella, and is a prime example of how hopelessly, horrendously confusingly the European nobility of the early fourteenth century was inter-married and inter-related.  Blanche was Edward II's first cousin and Isabella's second cousin, she was the mother-in-law of Isabella's uncle Louis, count of Evreux, her son Robert of Artois was the son-in-law of Isabella's other uncle Charles, count of Valois, she was the grandmother of Joan and Marie of Evreux who were, respectively, Isabella's sister-in-law and Edward's niece-in-law, her niece Mahaut of St Pol, countess of Valois, was Isabella's aunt-in-law, and her sister-in-law Mahaut, countess of Artois was the mother-in-law of two of Isabella's brothers.  She was also the grandmother of a king and two queens.  Confused??  Yep, me too.  If your brain hasn't raised a white flag of surrender, or exploded, read on :-)

Blanche of Brittany's mother Beatrice of England (1242-1275) was the second daughter of King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, and her father was John II, duke of Brittany (1239-1305).  Blanche was thus a niece of Edward I and of Margaret of England, queen of Scotland (1240-1275), and a first cousin of Edward II.  Her brothers included Arthur II, duke of Brittany (1262-1312) and John of Brittany, earl of Richmond (1266-1334), who spent most of his life in England.  Blanche also had two sisters: Eleanor, abbess of Fontevrault, and Marie of Brittany, who married Guy de Châtillon, count of St Pol (d. 1317).  Marie and Guy's children, Blanche's nephews and nieces, included Marie, countess of Pembroke (d. 1377), and Mahaut (d. 1358), who married Queen Isabella's uncle Charles, count of Valois, as his third wife and was the mother of Blanche of Valois, Holy Roman Empress and the grandmother of Joan I, queen of Naples.  Blanche of Brittany's paternal grandmother Blanche of Navarre/Champagne, duchess of Brittany, after whom she was presumably named, was the daughter of Thibaut or Theobald I 'the Troubadour', king of Navarre and count of Champagne: Thibaut was the great-grandfather of both Blanche of Brittany and Isabella of France, making them second cousins.

In 1280/81, Blanche of Brittany married Philip of Artois, who was about the same age as she, born in 1269 as the only son of Robert, count of Artois (born 1250), the posthumous son and heir of Louis IX's younger brother Robert, count of Artois (1216-1250, killed during a reckless attack on Mansourah in Egypt during Louis's first crusade).  Philip of Artois was thus a great-grandson of Louis VIII of France and his queen Blanche of Castile, and was the nephew of Blanche of Artois, queen of Navarre and countess of Lancaster (who was Isabella of France's maternal grandmother and Edward II's aunt by marriage).  Philip of Artois died in 1298 in his late twenties from wounds sustained at the battle of Furnes, predeceasing his father Robert, who was killed at the battle of Courtrai or the Battle of the Golden Spurs in July 1302.  The county of Artois passed to Philip's sister Mahaut (c. 1268-1329), Blanche of Brittany's sister-in-law, who married Othon IV, count of Burgundy and was the mother of Joan and Blanche of Burgundy, the wives of Isabella of France's brothers Philip, count of Poitiers and later King Philip V, and Charles, count of La Marche and later King Charles IV.  Blanche of Brittany's son Robert of Artois (1287-1342) is famous as one of the main characters of Maurice Druon's The Accursed Kings series of novels, and for the unsuccessful battles he waged against his aunt Mahaut for control of Artois, which he felt should have passed to him.

Robert of Artois, Blanche's only son (or only surviving son anyway), moved to England and supported Edward III in the early years of the Hundred Years War.  He died there in 1342 and was buried at St Paul's Cathedral.  Robert married the much younger Joan of Valois (b. c. 1304), the second daughter of Queen Isabella's uncle Charles, count of Valois and his second wife Catherine Courtenay, titular empress of Constantinople.  Joan's elder full sister Catherine of Valois inherited the title of empress.  Her elder half-brother was King Philip VI of France, and one of her elder half-sisters was another Joan of Valois, who married William III, count of Hainault and Holland and was the mother of Philippa of Hainault, Edward III's queen.

Blanche of Brittany and Philip of Artois's eldest child was Marguerite of Artois, born in about 1285 when Blanche was only about fifteen, who married Louis, count of Evreux (b. 1276), Queen Isabella's uncle, half-brother of Philip IV of France and of Charles of Valois.  Marguerite and Louis's eldest child Marie of Evreux, who married Edward II's nephew Duke John III of Brabant, was probably born in 1303, so that Blanche of Brittany became a grandmother when she was still in her early thirties.  Another daughter of Marguerite of Artois and Louis of Evreux, Joan or Jeanne of Evreux, married her widowed first cousin Charles IV of France in 1324 and became queen-consort of France and Queen Isabella's sister-in-law, and Louis and Marguerite's elder son and heir Philip of Evreux married his cousin Queen Joan II of Navarre (daughter of Louis X, and Queen Isabella's niece).  Marguerite of Artois, countess of Evreux, died in 1311 at the age of about twenty-six.

Blanche of Brittany's second daughter was Joan of Artois, who married Gaston I, count of Foix, a nobleman of Gascony and thus a vassal of Edward II, and her third was Marie of Artois, who married John, marquis of Namur.  It was probably on account of Marie that Edward II borrowed one thousand pounds from Queen Isabella in 1310 to give to Blanche of Brittany "in aid of marrying a certain daughter of hers."  Marie of Artois and John of Namur were the parents of Blanche of Namur, who married Magnus IV, king of Sweden and Norway (as Magnus VII).  Blanche of Brittany was thus the grandmother of a queen-consort of France, a queen-consort of Sweden and Norway, and a king-consort of Navarre.  Another of her granddaughters, Joan of Foix, married James II of Aragon's son Peter, count of Ribagorza, and was the mother of Eleanor of Aragon, queen of Cyprus and titular queen of Jerusalem.  Blanche of Brittany's fourth daughter was Catherine, who married John of Ponthieu, count of Aumale; his father, also John of Ponthieu, count of Aumale, was Edward II's first cousin, son of Eleanor of Castile's brother Fernando of Castile, and who was killed at the battle of Courtrai in 1302.  Finally, Blanche's fifth daughter Isabella became a nun at Poissy.  Her daughter Joan, countess of Foix, was imprisoned for many years by her son Gaston II, count of Foix on the grounds of her scandalous conduct and bad governance.