21 September, 2014

Was There A Far-Reaching Plot To Deprive Edward II Of His Throne In The 1320s?

There is a great conspiracy theory sometimes advanced in modern times about Edward II's downfall, that it was planned as much as four years in advance by a large group of people across several countries, comprising Queen Isabella, several English bishops and magnates, Roger Mortimer and other English enemies of Edward and the Despensers in exile on the continent, Isabella's brother King Charles IV of France, Count William III of Hainault, and even Pope John XXII.

An important first step in this plot against the king, so the tale goes, was the escape of Roger Mortimer from the Tower of London on 1 August 1323, which was, supposedly, aided by Queen Isabella and (according to the Meaux chronicle of the 1390s) her uncle Charles de Valois in France.  In this reading of events, this was far more than an intelligent and resourceful man engineering his own escape with the help of a small group of sympathisers, but was devised and organised by royalty in two countries with the ultimate aim of using Roger to bring down the king of England.  A second vital step in the plot was persuading Edward II to send Isabella to France in March 1325: the idea goes that the queen was desperate to leave England and her husband's influence so that she could work against him in cahoots with her brother the king of France and Edward's enemies there and in the Low Countries, and to this end, manipulated him so that he let her go, under the illusion that it was his own idea.  Next, Edward also had to be persuaded to send his son the future Edward III to France six months later to pay homage to Charles IV for the lands held there by the English crown, so that Isabella, Roger Mortimer and their other allies could gain control of the boy and use him as a weapon to bring down his father with the knowledge and connivance of Charles IV, much of the French nobility, William III of Hainault and goodness knows who else.  It is assumed that Edward II (as well as everybody not involved in it) was totally oblivious to this conspiracy against him across much of Northern Europe, and that Queen Isabella was betraying her husband and secretly working against him as early as 1322/23 but that he was too blind or stupid to notice.  It also requires a belief that at every point - sending Isabella to France, sending his son there later, refusing to concede to Isabella's demand in late 1325 that he send Hugh Despenser the Younger away from him because if he did, she'd have no excuse to remain in France and work against him - Edward fell into the cunning traps set for him by his wife and her secret allies and unknowingly did exactly what they wanted him to do.  This notion of a vast plot against him makes Edward II a puppet, dancing to the tune of his wife and the others; it makes his enemies look terribly clever and cunning, as absolutely everything fell the way they had wanted and planned for years.  Gosh, how fortunate.

There is no evidence for any of this, and although it's a marvellous story, highly imaginative, to my mind that's all it is.  It's looking at what happened to Edward II in 1327 with centuries of hindsight and assuming that his deposition must have been carefully planned by many people conspiring together for a long time, despite the lack of proof for this assertion.  It's assuming that Isabella hated her husband and had been in love with Roger Mortimer, or at the very least sympathetic to him, for many years, despite the lack of proof.  This whole Grand Conspiracy Against Edward II notion reminds me of the popular recent idea that Henry VII's mother Margaret Beaufort schemed for many years to make her son king, which in my opinion is also based on nothing more than hindsight and looking at events backwards.  It takes the fact that Henry became king in 1485 - which seems, and must have seemed at the time, so unlikely when so many people had been ahead of him in the succession and he was merely an impoverished exile abroad - and assuming that this had always been intended, that because an improbable event happened, it must have been planned for a long time, rather than being something which developed organically and hadn't necessarily been plotted and schemed for.  The postulated grand conspiracy against Edward II requires us to believe that numerous people plotted together in at least three different countries for years, were treasonably scheming against the king of England but managed to keep it all entirely secret from him and everyone else, and that no evidence of any of it has survived except the fact that Edward actually was deposed and did have enemies.  Hmmmm.  I don't think most people are that Machiavellian.  Grand conspiracy theories are usually invented long after the events in question, with bucket-loads of hindsight.  It's so attractive to think that Isabella, Roger Mortimer and their allies in 1325/27 weren't just bumbling along and reacting to events, taking spontaneous advantage of situations which arose, making decisions which seemed correct to them at the time, sometimes changing their minds, and so on, but were being terribly clever, showing amazing foresight, amazing skill at manipulating people, and cunningly moving chess pieces across a board which Edward II didn't even know existed.  It's a human trait to want to impose order on chaos, to discern patterns where really there are none, and I think that's the case here.  Edward II's deposition was the first in English history and an incredibly important event, and I do understand the temptation to see it and the events leading up to it as something planned and inevitable, not random and even haphazard, decided late in the game and something which could have happened in many other ways.  I understand it, but I don't think it's true.

Isabella and her alleged allies gaining control of her and Edward II's twelve/thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor (the future Edward III) in 1325 was absolutely essential to this presumed long-standing plot against Edward II.  Without the future king of England in their grasp, they could never hope to bring down his father.  I've written before at length about Edward II's decision to send his son to France in September 1325, and how he had backed himself into a corner where every option available to him was fraught with terrible risk and how he took the option which clearly seemed the least worst to him at the time, after much soul-searching and changing his mind.  Edward II came very close to sailing to France himself in September 1325; he granted safe-conducts to the retinue going with him, selected the ship in which he would travel (La Jonete of Winchelsea), had arrangements made for his arrival in Le Crotoy, appointed his son regent of England in his absence, informed Pope John XXII and the English magnates and bishops of his impending departure, and so on.  As late as 4 September 1325, eight days before Edward of Windsor sailed from Dover and two days after the king had made his son count of Ponthieu, Edward II was still issuing letters of safe-conduct for his own retinue accompanying him to France, and evidently was still anguishing over the correct and least dangerous course of action.  Without Edward of Windsor under the control of the queen and her supposed allies, the whole plan would have collapsed.  All of it, all this clever and highly secret conspiring and plotting against Edward II for years, hinged on them being able to separate the king and his heir and take the latter hostage while he was in France.  There is no possible way, however, that either Isabella or the king's enemies on the continent could have known whether Edward II or Edward of Windsor would travel to France when the king didn't even know this himself until almost the last moment.  Edward II's travelling to France rather than sending his son would have thwarted their plans, and of course the king's deposition and the accession of Edward III would have played out very differently in that scenario, though I suppose in that case we'd hear nowadays that Edward II's going to France himself was exactly what the conspirators had always wanted and that he was cleverly manipulated into this decision, because they had always planned to seize control of his son in England while Edward was abroad and/or take Edward II himself prisoner at the French court or while travelling to or from it.  Whatever happened in 1325/26 would surely be made to fit into some conspiracy theory.

Sometime in the late autumn or early winter of 1325, Isabella, at the French court, declared "I feel that marriage is a joining together of man and woman, maintaining the undivided habit of life, and that someone has come between my husband and myself trying to break this bond; I protest that I will not return until this intruder is removed, but discarding my marriage garment, shall assume the robes of widowhood and mourning until I am avenged of this Pharisee."  (Vita Edwardi Secundi).  This has generally been interpreted as Isabella defying and rebelling against her husband, hoping that he actually won't send Hugh away from him so that she has a continued excuse for rebellion.  But we could also take Isabella's words at face value and assume she meant what she said: that she was genuinely mourning the breakdown of her marriage, that she wanted her husband back and Hugh Despenser out of their lives, and that she would return to Edward if this happened.  Edward refused to send Hugh away from him and demonstrated, by defending Hugh before parliament and by sending long letters to the king of France and others, that Hugh, rather than Isabella, was his first priority.  This left the queen with no choice but to stay in France feeling like a widow and to act on her threat, as she duly did.  I'm not quite sure really why Isabella's speech is usually taken to mean the opposite of what it actually says (Isabella: "I won't go back to my husband until he gets rid of the third person in our marriage"; modern writers: "Obviously this means that Isabella hated Edward and was rebelling against him, and hoping that he wouldn't send Hugh away").  It's probably because of the popular but unsupported assumptions that really she loathed her husband (and perhaps always had) and had secretly been in love with Roger Mortimer for years and conspired with him against Edward, ensuring that Roger escaped from the Tower and was safely received at her brother's court, and that she wanted nothing more than the downfall of her husband so that she and Roger could triumphantly rule England in her son's name instead.  And that ever since at least 1322 or 1323 and perhaps even earlier, she had connived and schemed for this, and with the help of others tricked Edward into sending both her and their son to France beyond his reach.

My own feeling is that when Isabella left England for France in March 1325 she may well have intended to impose a condition on her husband for her return, as she stated a few months later: that he must send Hugh Despenser, who she felt had insulted her and her position and was a physical threat to her, away from him.  I simply cannot imagine, however, that Isabella knew or suspected as early as March 1325 that she would ultimately return from her journey at the head of an invasion force with her husband's deposition in mind.  Her own speech in late 1325 indicates her distress at the breakdown of her marriage and that she wished things to go back to the way they had been before Hugh Despenser's intrusion.  It may even be that in the summer and autumn of 1325 she was hoping that her husband rather than her son would come to France to pay homage to her brother for Gascony and Ponthieu, so that she could meet him without the constant irritation of Hugh Despenser's presence, and talk him round to her point of view and thus try to save her marriage.  We don't know that she'd been conspiring against Edward for years, which is pure speculation based on hindsight.  Perhaps Isabella, and even some of her allies - and here I mean the people who joined her in France in 1325/26 and in England after the invasion, not the Super Sekrit allies who managed to conduct a vast conspiracy of treason without leaving a trace of evidence in the records - did not wish for or intend Edward II to lose his throne until very late in the game.  No-one, not even the invaders themselves, could have predicted that Edward's downfall would be so swift and overwhelming, and that hardly anyone would be willing to fight for him against a party comprising his elder son and heir and his wife.  What happened in 1326/27 seems inevitable to us, as though it couldn't possibly have happened in any other way, but of course no-one living through it could have known for sure what was going to happen.  They didn't know that the king's support would collapse almost entirely and that parliament would demand that he give up his throne to his elder son.  No king had ever been deposed before in England and there is no way that his enemies could have been sure beforehand that it would work, or how exactly it would work.

There is nothing whatsoever to confirm that Isabella, before her speech to the French court announcing that she would not return to England unless Edward removed Hugh Despenser from his side, had ever been in touch with Roger Mortimer, other English exiles on the continent, or disaffected bishops and magnates in England.  There is nothing whatsoever to confirm that Isabella and Roger Mortimer had had any kind of relationship - beyond the usual one of a magnate and his queen - before their alliance began at the French court in late 1325 or early 1326.  There is nothing to confirm that Isabella hated her husband or wished him physical harm, though for sure she must have been exasperated beyond endurance by his ineptitude and deeply concerned for her son's inheritance (though she did plenty herself to harm it during the regency of 1327/30, but that's another story), as well as deeply hurt at her husband's favouring Hugh Despenser over her and allowing him to treat her with disrespect.  It can't be proved conclusively, of course, that Isabella had nothing to do with Roger Mortimer's escape in 1323, but there's no real reason to think that she did except hindsight knowledge that they later had a relationship.  The first people to suggest that Isabella was involved in the escape, or even had prior knowledge of it, were the dramatists Christopher Marlowe and Michael Drayton in the 1590s.

It has been stated that Charles IV would not have received Roger Mortimer at his court after his escape from the Tower without Isabella's asking him to, which supposedly demonstrates that she knew about the escape beforehand and approved of it or even actively took part.  However, noblemen and experienced soldiers and administrators like Roger were welcome anywhere, and besides, Roger was not the only English exile at the French court - other 'Contrariants' such as John Maltravers and William Trussell also fled there after the battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322.  So if Isabella asked her brother to welcome Roger, presumably she also asked him to receive her husband's other enemies as well.  This doesn't seem terribly likely.

The idea that two English bishops - Adam Orleton of Hereford and Henry Burghersh of Lincoln, who were both persecuted by Edward II in the 1320s and who entirely understandably formed an important part of the opposition to him in 1326/27 - worked on Queen Isabella and persuaded her in and before 1325 to bring down her husband was invented by the chronicler Geoffrey le Baker around 1350.  It was also he who invented the false notion that Edward of Caernarfon was tortured and tormented at Berkeley Castle, and helped promulgate the false notion of the red-hot poker murder.  Geoffrey, though a vivid and fluent writer, is really not a reliable source for Edward II's reign, and was writing hagiography, not history.  The rest of the conspiracy theory is a modern invention.

Charles IV of France was at war with Edward II in 1324/25 and again at the end of Edward's reign in 1326, but there is no reason to suppose that he was particularly interested in depriving Edward of his throne; Charles was a king too, and for one king to conspire at the fall of another set a dangerous precedent.  No doubt Charles was willing to benefit in any way he could from events in England, in his own and his kingdom's self-interest, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he desired to play an active role in his brother-in-law's downfall.  Exactly how his and Isabella's uncle Charles, count of Valois (father of the first Valois king of France, Philip VI) was meant to have aided Roger Mortimer in his escape from the Tower in August 1323 as claimed by the Meaux chronicle, or why Valois would have wanted to when he was seeking marriage alliances between his children and Edward II's, is unclear, and this is probably a misunderstanding in light of the alliance between Roger and Valois's son-in-law the count of Hainault.  As for Edward being manipulated into sending Isabella to France, it had been suggested as early as April 1324 that she might intercede with her brother on Edward's behalf.  Charles IV's counsellors also suggested at the beginning of 1325 that Isabella and her elder son Edward of Windsor should travel to France, the queen to negotiate for peace and the boy to pay homage for Gascony and Ponthieu on his father's behalf.  Although happy enough for Isabella to travel to her homeland, Edward II's own counsellors "with one voice" refused to allow young Edward to go, understandably unwilling to send the twelve-year-old heir to the throne to an enemy country until peace had been established.  The suggestion to send the young Edward of Windsor to France has sometimes been seen as evidence that Charles IV was planning a trap for Edward at the instigation of Isabella and Roger Mortimer, who were hoping to get her son out of the country to use him as a hostage.  Again, this is an imaginative reading unsupported by any evidence.  Pope John XXII, who called Isabella an "angel of peace," wrote to her several times between April 1324 and January 1325 begging her to use her influence with her husband and her brother to bring about their reconciliation and declared that the hope of peace would be "greatly promoted" if she went to France, is in fact by far the most likely person to have suggested her journey.  Edward II wrote in May 1325 that he had sent Isabella to France at the pope's urging, and as this was six months before she refused to return to him, he was almost certainly telling the truth.  There is simply no reason to think that John XXII was favouring Isabella over Edward (as one modern writer has claimed) or that he promoted or desired her rebellion, and in letters to Isabella in 1326/27 he urged her to reconcile with her husband and also wrote to Charles IV asking him to use his influence to bring the couple back together.  Isabella had visited her father Philip IV a few months before his death in 1314 to present petitions to him on Edward II's behalf, so her travelling to France alone and mediating between her husband and her natal family was not without precedent.  By the early or mid-1320s, she had gained a reputation as a peacemaker in the endless quarrels between Edward and his magnates, and was an obvious person to send to negotiate a peace settlement between her native country and her adopted one.

It will be clear that I don't believe the theory that there was some over-arching plot against Edward II stretching across northern Europe for a few years before his enforced abdication.  I don't believe, despite the difficulties in their marriage in and after 1322, that Isabella was her husband's enemy until he forced her to be by choosing his 'favourite' Hugh Despenser over her in late 1325.  I don't believe that Roger Mortimer could have known as early as 1323 that one day he would play a vital role in the downfall of the king.  I don't believe that he just happened to fall genuinely in love with Isabella, any more than I believe that Hugh Despenser just happened to fall genuinely in love with Edward II.  I believe that Roger was a very intelligent and capable man who made the best of the opportunities which fell his way, but not that he conspired with the queen of England, the king of France and others to create those opportunities.  I think Edward II's turbulent reign is fascinating and dramatic enough without inventing stories that half of Europe was trying to bring him down.

12 September, 2014

'Being promiscuous with low-born men': erm no

I've mentioned this in a previous post, but have decided to write an entire post about it.

Alison Weir's Isabella, She-Wolf of France, Queen of England (2005), p. 150, contains the following passage:

"Was Isabella also angry because she had learned that her husband was being promiscuous with low-born men?  In one of Edward's chamber books of 1322, there is a record of substantial payments made by the King to Robin and Simon Hod, Wat Cowherd, Robin Dyer and others for spending fourteen days in his company.  Of course, they may have joined him in innocent pastimes such as digging ditches, but this is not mentioned, and the words 'in his company' sound euphemistic, while the substantial sums paid to these men was perhaps hush money.  And as they stayed for two weeks, the Queen would surely have got to hear of it."

Oh dear.  The men she names were in fact members of Edward II's household throughout the 1320s and perhaps before (none of the king's chamber accounts before 1322 survive, then exist only in fragments until the last one of July 1325 to October 1326) and are named as such dozens of times.  They were portours, also called valletz, of Edward's chamber, words perhaps best translated as 'grooms', and there were around thirty of them at any given time, hired to make beds, carry torches and generally look after the king in his chamber.  (See T. F. Tout, The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History (2nd ed., 1936), p. 253, which cites the entirety of Edward II's Household Ordinance of December 1318 in the original French, including the chamber staff's duties.)

Weir claims twice in the above passage that the money paid to the men by the king was 'substantial' without saying how much it was.  Edward II's thirty or so chamber grooms - who in 1326 included two women named Joan Traghs and Anneis May, wives of other chamber grooms - were paid three pence a day, and received backdated wages two or three times monthly.  On 16 August 1325, for example, thirty-one men received a total of 108 shillings and six pence in wages for the last ten days, and on 21 June 1326 thirty-three portours received a total of 115 shillings and six pence in wages for the previous thirteen days.  Here's a typical entry from Edward's chamber account, from September 1325, transcribed and translated by myself:

Item illoeqes paie a [...] p' lour gages de ses xxx vadletz auantzditz p' chescun iijd le iour del viijme iour de sept' tantq' samadi le xxj iour de mesme le mois p' xiiij iours Cvs

"Item, paid there [the location mentioned in a previous entry] to [list of names], for the wages of his thirty grooms named above, three pence a day to each, from the 8th day of September until Saturday the 21st day of the same month, for fourteen days, 105 shillings."

That's all it meant in 1322, this 'being paid lots of money for spending fourteen days in the king's company' stuff.  Wages given to some of Edward II's chamber staff.  Not 'hush money'.  Would three pence a day per person really suffice as 'hush money', one wonders?  It was a decent salary at the time for men of their rank, especially as all food, drink, clothes and shoes were provided for free in the royal household on top of that, but wouldn't seem enough to bribe a large group of men not to tell anyone that they'd had sex with the king, and three pence a day hardly counts as 'substantial payments' either, surely.  The phrase "remaining in the the king's company," demoerant en la compaignie le Roi, is used over and over in Edward's chamber accounts and merely refers to people who - gosh, you'll never guess! - accompanied him as he travelled around the country.  It most certainly is not 'euphemistic', unless we assume that Edward was having sex with dozens of people daily and bribing them to keep quiet.  Maybe it sounds 'euphemistic', though, if you're determined to make the most salacious and critical interpretation of Edward II's actions possible.  It illustrates the perils of doing some research but not enough, so that you find one piece of evidence but don't realise that it occurs frequently in Edward's chamber accounts, think you've found something out of the ordinary, put two and two together to make 6427, and thus take something entirely everyday and normal absurdly out of context.  It also illustrates the perils of writing history with an agenda, looking for something, anything, you can use to blacken Edward II's name and to turn Isabella into even more of a victim than you've already made her.  Who wouldn't feel sympathy for a woman in such a situation, being humiliated by the knowledge that her royal husband is having sex with a large crowd of low-born men and paying them off?

Many of Edward II's staff remained loyal to him until the end: the last entry in his last chamber account, on 31 October 1326 when he was in South Wales desperately trying and failing to raise an army and to save his kingship, is a payment to twenty-four grooms of the chamber as their wages for the twenty days since 12 October.  One of them is Walter 'Wat' Cowherd.  Another is Simon Hod.  Another is Robin Dyer.  Three of the men whom Edward II had supposedly brought to court for two weeks in 1322 and paid hush money to because he'd been 'promiscuous' with them to the great distress of his wife.  Wat Cowherd was one of the men named at Caerphilly Castle in March 1327, granted a pardon for holding the castle against the queen for the last few months.  (Calendar of Patent Rolls 1327-30, pp. 37-8.)  Among the Caerphilly garrison was Hugh Despenser the Younger's eldest son, seventeen- or eighteen-year-old Hugh or Huchon, and also among them were men who joined the Dunheved brothers in their attempt to free Edward of Caernarfon from Berkeley Castle in 1327 and men who joined the earl of Kent's attempt to free him from Corfe Castle in 1330.  The men at Caerphilly Castle, including Wat Cowherd, were some of the most devoted and loyal supporters of Edward II there ever was.  Wat certainly wasn't some random nobody the king brought to court to have sex with.

Here's 'Symond Hod' and 'Waut Couh[ier]de', i.e. Wat Cowherd, receiving their wages with the other chamber grooms on 4 August 1325 (Society of Antiquaries of London MS 122, p. 18):


And here's Wat Cowherd, 'Watte Couh'de', accompanying Edward II on a boat trip along the Thames on 2 December 1325, with other chamber grooms named Syme Laweman, Will Shene, the brothers Richard and Henry Hustret, Robin Curre, Jack Edriche and Richard Gobet (Ibid., p. 40, and see the names of some of these men pardoned at Caerphilly, linked above):


And finally, Wat Cowherd, Simon Hod and Robin Dyer receiving their wages with nineteen other men and two women on 31 October 1326, the last-ever payment made out of Edward II's chamber (Ibid., p. 90):


 We know pretty well nothing about Edward II's sex life, except that he must have had intercourse with Isabella four times which resulted in their children, and intercourse with an unknown woman which resulted in his illegitimate son Adam.  Obviously I can't prove that he didn't have sex with some of his chamber staff on occasion, or with the carpenters, fishermen, carters and so on with whom he sometimes spent time, but there's no reason at all to think that he did.  Whatever went wrong between Edward and Isabella in 1322, and it certainly seems that something did, Edward's 'being promiscuous with low-born men' was sure as heck not the cause.

04 September, 2014

"Our very sweet heart": two letters of Queen Isabella

On 9 March 1325, Queen Isabella departed from England for France to negotiate between her husband Edward II and her brother Charles IV, then at war with each other in the little-known War of Saint-Sardos, which I really must write a post about sometime.  Isabella sailed from Dover with a large retinue and of course the full knowledge and permission of Edward II, and also with the blessing of Pope John XXII, who called her an "angel of peace" and had urged her to go to France to bring about an end to the conflict between her husband and her brother.  The later chronicler Jean Froissart, born in about 1337, invented a tale where Isabella and her son fled from England in secret from Winchelsea after pretending to go to Canterbury on pilgrimage, a very silly and inaccurate story followed rather too slavishly by some other writers.  There's a theory that Charles IV was conspiring against Edward II, possibly with Roger Mortimer (who escaped from the Tower of London on 1 August 1323 and made his way to the continent), and deliberately engineered Isabella's 'escape' from England with the knowledge that she was going to act against her husband in cahoots with Roger.  This would need another blog post to sort out, so let me just say at this point that I think this story is extremely unlikely and based on nothing more than hindsight and imposing an order and pre-conceived pattern which never existed on the chaos at the end of Edward II's reign.

Isabella's itinerary in France still exists: she passed through Boulogne, where she and Edward had married seventeen years previously; Montreuil, part of Edward's inheritance from his mother which he gave to her in 1308; Crécy, where her and Edward's son Edward III would win a famous victory against the French twenty-one years later; Beauvais and Pontoise, where on 20 March she dined with her sister-in-law and first cousin Jeanne d'Evreux, queen of France and Charles IV's third wife, and other members of her family.  On 21 March, she met her brother Charles IV at Poissy, and began the difficult negotiations which resulted in a peace treaty between England and France on 30 May.

Isabella sent Edward II a letter on 31 March 1325, admitting she was finding her brother very harsh to deal with (lui trovoi deur).  She was, presumably, very angry with Edward at this time: he had confiscated her lands six months previously and, because of the war with France, removed her French servants from her household (he didn't remove her children from her, however; this is a modern myth with no foundation).  Or at the very least, she was angry with Hugh Despenser the Younger for persuading Edward to do these things, and, one imagines, also deeply annoyed with Edward for allowing Hugh to do so and to treat her so disrespectfully.  There is no sign in her letter of any anger, however, which is long and affectionate and addresses Edward five times as "my very sweet heart," mon tresdoutz coer.

Edward and Isabella never met again after 9 March 1325, or at least, there's no evidence that they did. I've written a post, and see also this one, about their complex and fascinating relationship. Sometime in the late autumn or early winter of 1325, Isabella made the momentous decision to stay in France and not return to Edward, and made a long and dramatic speech to the French court (recorded by the Vita Edwardi Secundi) declaring that she would wear widow's clothes until she was "avenged of this Pharisee," i.e. Hugh Despenser the Younger, who had destroyed her marriage. She stated on several later occasions that she felt herself unable to return to her husband because of the physical danger to herself from Hugh, whom she utterly loathed and on whom she avenged herself by having him grotesquely executed on 24 November 1326. At some point before 8 February 1326, when their names were linked together in a proclamation by Edward II complaining that his wife was consorting with "the king's notorious enemy and rebel," she began a relationship with Roger Mortimer, though we really don't know the true nature of their relationship, whatever may be claimed nowadays.

As late as 5 February 1326, after her refusal to return to England and her husband, Isabella referred to Edward II in a letter to Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, as "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend," nostre treschier et tresdouche seignur et amy. This is a very unconventional way of talking about your husband - 'our very dear lord' would be conventional - and hints at some deep feeling she held for him. Another intriguing aspect of an intriguing relationship; take no notice whatsoever of modern writers who claim that the pair loathed and despised each other. They didn't. There is also absolutely no reason to suppose, as one modern writer has claimed, that Isabella felt "profound revulsion" for Edward in 1325/26 or at any point ever. Isabella also stated in her letter "...we desire, above all else, after God and the salvation of our soul, to be in the company of our said lord [Edward] and to live and die there" and that no-one must think that she had left her husband "without very great and justifiable cause," i.e. feeling threatened by Hugh Despenser, who, as she pointed out, had full control of the king and his realm. This may, of course, be the queen's attempt to keep up appearances, but it may well be true. We don't know when she decided that her husband should be removed from power, and it may even have been well after her invasion force landed in England on 24 September 1326. I'll discuss this point in a future post, and will just say here that the assumption that Isabella had been planning Edward's downfall for years is just that, an assumption.

Sources: Isabella's letter of March 1325 is printed in full (in the original French) in Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, Camden third series, lxxxvii (London, 1954), pp. 199-200, and the letter of February 1326 is cited in Seymour Phillips' Edward II (London and New Haven, 2010), p. 491.

21 August, 2014

Blog Break

I'm on holiday as of this afternoon, so this will be the last post until early September.  And you're going to have to wait till 28 October for my biography of Edward II, too.  :-)

In the meantime, here are some nice pics to look at.  :) Take care and see you in a little while!

One of my favourite churches ever: All Saints at Old Byland, North Yorkshire, which originally dates to Anglo-Saxon times.

Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire.

Sutton Bank, North Yorkshire, site of the battle of Byland on 14 October 1322.

Rievaulx Abbey.


Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall, York, built in the 1360s.
Lower Brockhampton, Worcestershire, built in the 1390s.

One of my favourite place names in the UK: Giggleswick, in North Yorkshire.


Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, founded around 1100.

Knaresborough, railway bridge over the River Nidd, with the castle ruins out of sight behind it.

Knaresborough Castle.
Weobley, Herefordshire.
Weobley, Herefordshire.
Pembridge, Herefordshire.
Pembridge, Herefordshire.
Hereford Cathedral.
Hereford Cathedral.
Stokesay Castle, Shropshire.
Ludlow Castle, Shropshire.

Knaresborough Castle.





15 August, 2014

John of Eltham, Edward II's Son

Happy Birthday today to Edward II and Isabella of France's second son John of Eltham, who was born on 15 August 1316 at the palace of Eltham in Kent (hence his name).  Roughly nine months before his birth, the king and queen had been staying together at the royal hunting-lodge of Clipstone in Nottinghamshire.

It seems likely that Edward II knew of Isabella's pregnancy by 22 February 1316, about twenty-five weeks before the birth, on which date he asked the dean and chapter of the church of St Mary in Lincoln to pray for himself, the queen and "Edward their first-born son."  The reference to 'first-born son' seems to indicate that Edward knew there would be a second child.  On 27 March, Edward gave twenty pounds to John Fleg, horse dealer of London, for a bay horse "to carry the litter of the lady the queen" during her pregnancy.  He also paid the Lucca banking firm the Ballardi almost four pounds for pieces of silk and gold tissue, and flame-coloured silk, to make cushions for Isabella's carriage so that she could travel in greater comfort.

John of Eltham was the only one of Edward II and Isabella's children whose birth Edward missed by not being nearby.  In November 1312, the king was at Windsor Castle when Edward III was born there; he was at the palace of Woodstock in June 1318 when their elder daughter Eleanor was born; he was in London in July 1321 when Joan of the Tower was born.  Edward, and probably Isabella as well, spent most of June and July 1316 at Westminster.  On the 23rd, they travelled to Eltham, which had been given to Edward by his late friend Anthony Bek, bishop of Durham and patriarch of Jerusalem, and which he gave to Isabella in 1311.  On the 26th, Edward left the queen there and began to travel north towards York, intending to take part in a campaign in Scotland which he (entirely unsurprisingly) later cancelled.  In York, he stayed at the Franciscan convent with his niece Margaret Gaveston, née de Clare, and met and had a furious row with his cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster.

Isabella, meanwhile, gave birth to their son on 15 August.  It would have been conventional to name him after her father, Philip IV of France, but instead she called him John, most probably in my opinion in honour of the new pope, John XXII.  John was elected in Lyon on 7 August, and the news reached Edward II in York on 17 August, when he gave a messenger a pound for informing him.  Isabella, 230 miles south in Kent, must have heard the news a few days previously.

The queen sent her steward Eubolo Montibus north to inform her husband, and Montibus reached Edward on or just before 24 August, on which date the king asked the Dominicans of York to say prayers for himself, Isabella, their son Edward of Windsor, "and John of Eltham our youngest son, especially on account of John."  Edward had a piece of Turkey cloth and a piece of cloth-of-gold delivered to Eltham to cover the font in the chapel during John’s baptism, and ordered Isabella's tailor Stephen of Falaise to make her a robe from five pieces of white velvet for her churching ceremony.

John of Eltham was cared for by his nurse, Matilda Pyrie or Perie, later also the nurse of his sister Joan of the Tower (born 1321). In March 1319, Edward II granted to his son "all lands and tenements" north of the river Trent "which have fallen into the king’s hands by reason of the hostility of the Scots and others who have adhered to them, or which shall henceforth fall in," and in October that year ordered that John and his sister Eleanor of Woodstock (born June 1318) were to remain "in the company" of their older brother Edward of Windsor, earl of Chester, "at his expenses." This implies that the two children lived at Wallingford Castle with the young earl and his household, and that Edward II and Queen Isabella visited them there occasionally. The king granted Queen Isabella the castle and honour of High Peak in Derbyshire and other manors, castles and rents "to hold in aid of the expenses of John, the king’s son, and Eleanor his sister, the king's daughter" on 1 May 1320, which perhaps suggests that the household of the younger royal children was then formally attached to the queen's. It is difficult to be sure where and with whom the younger royal children lived, and it may have varied: sometimes with their parents at court, sometimes with their elder brother the future king, sometimes perhaps in their own independent household.

At some point, John's much older first cousin Eleanor Despenser, née de Clare - twenty-four years his senior - looked after him. Contrary to what is usually asserted nowadays, there is no reason to suppose that this must have happened in September 1324 or that Eleanor's care of the boy was intended by Edward II and Hugh Despenser to hurt and punish Queen Isabella.  The only evidence that Eleanor had the care of John is 1) a roll of expenses now held in The National Archives in Kew (see here) which is undated and might belong to any time between John's birth in August 1316 and Edward II's downfall in October 1326, and 2) an entry I myself found in Edward's last chamber account.  This is a payment of twelve pounds to Eleanor Despenser on 8 June 1326, reimbursing the expenses of herself and John (then aged not quite ten) for travelling together from the palace of Sheen to Kenilworth Castle and staying at Kenilworth for eighteen days. These two pieces of evidence are a remarkably thin basis for declaring that Edward II cruelly and nastily removed John from Isabella's custody in September 1324, but then, not a few writers have been willing to put two and two together to make 97 in the interests of finding fault with everything Edward did and turning Isabella into a victim.  Yet again, I remind these people that Isabella of France was a royal of the fourteenth century, not a modern person whose familial and cultural norms were the same as ours and not a person who expected to be the full-time primary carer of her children.

Entry in Edward II's chamber account of June 1326, stating that John of Eltham and Eleanor Despenser had travelled from Sheen to Kenilworth together.
I am unaware of any negotiations carried out by Edward II for John's marriage, or rather his potential future marriage, though Edward did arrange betrothals for his other children. John's brother Edward III in later years attempted to find him a bride, but John was destined to die unmarried. He died at the age of only twenty on 13 September 1336, at Perth in Scotland, and was buried at Westminster Abbey, where his tomb still exists. There is no reason whatsoever to believe the tall tale of a Scottish chronicler that Edward III had his brother killed, and indeed it is on record that the king suffered from bad dreams as a result of John's sudden death. As John died young and had no children (that we know of), and therefore has no descendants alive today, his existence has often been overlooked. In fact, the existence of all Edward II and Isabella of France's three younger children is often overlooked!

08 August, 2014

Isabella, the She-Wo...no, I refuse to use that damn word again

I was watching Helen Castor's BBC4 documentary She-Wolves on Youtube recently (again), the episode about Isabella of France and Henry VI's queen Margaret of Anjou.  The title of the documentary and book irritates me.  This absurd nickname was first given to Margaret of Anjou by Shakespeare, and first applied to Isabella in a poem by Thomas Gray in 1757, almost exactly 400 years after her death.  Why do writers (or publishers) keep perpetuating it?  That's three books I can think of published in the twenty-first century about or partly about Isabella with 'she-wolf' in the title, the others by Alison Weir and Elizabeth Norton.

I'm not a big fan of Castor's Isabella episode and the chapters about Isabella in her book, which present the queen, in usual modern fashion, as a victim who miraculously becomes strong and empowered with the help of a properly manly man and Twu Wuv 4Ever, but then is attacked as a SHE-WOLF!!11!!!1 because people, or rather men, just can't deal with strong empowered women, apparently. Here are a few statements she made, and my reactions.

- Isabella was "little more than a pawn in the power-play between England and France."  I am sick of seeing royal women of the Middle Ages, but not men, described as 'pawns' because their marriages were arranged.  It's such a tired cliché.  Edward II had no more choice in the marriage than Isabella did, and before he was betrothed to her had been betrothed to three other girls (Margaret of Norway, queen of Scotland; Blanche of France; Philippa of Flanders) in furtherance of his father's foreign policy and according to what best suited England at the time.  He was first betrothed when he was five.  If Isabella was a 'pawn', how was Edward not as well?  And besides, Isabella was royal to her fingertips, the proud daughter of two crowned monarchs in their own right, the king of France and the queen of Navarre.  Of course she would only have wanted to marry and have children with a man as royal as she herself was.  Edward of Caernarfon, future king of England, son of a king, grandson of two more kings, fitted the bill perfectly.  Given the choice, do people really think Isabella would have said to her father "Oh no, I don't want to marry the king of England, but there's this yummy latrine-cleaner I've got my eye on"?  Who on earth else was she going to marry, seriously?  It makes me shake my head, this turning Isabella into some kind of helpless victim of uncaring male machinations when in reality there was no-one else in Europe, except perhaps a king of another powerful country, she would have wanted to marry and sleep with.  Everyone else in the world was beneath her as a potential husband.  Why impose our attitudes on her, as though she was a time traveller to the fourteenth century with our modern western ideas of choosing your own spouse and marrying for love?  Why pity Isabella for something which was entirely normal in her world and something which she herself would certainly have wanted?

- At the coronation of 25 February 1308, "Isabella should have taken centre stage, but her place was taken by a handsome young man," i.e. Piers Gaveston, and "her rightful place had already been taken," and again, after Piers' murder in 1312: "Isabella thought that Gaveston's removal would allow her to take her rightful place at her husband's side."  That makes it sound to me as though Piers was actually crowned as Edward's consort while Isabella was shoved aside and forgotten.  I've looked at Edward's discourteous behaviour at the coronation banquet (not, let it be noted, at the coronation itself) before, but let's not get too carried away; Isabella was, indeed, crowned as queen of England at Edward's side, and was still centre stage, with her husband, as one half of the royal couple.  Edward talked to Piers more at the banquet afterwards than he did to her, yes, but I hardly see how that can be described as Piers 'taking Isabella's place'.  Her place was queen of England as Edward's wife, and no-one, certainly not a man, could take that from her.  It wasn't part of the arrangement that Edward wasn't allowed to talk to other people in public or to be in love with someone else, and Isabella was a very long way from being the only queen or noblewoman in history whose husband had a lover or lovers - yet she does seem to be one of a vanishingly small number on whose behalf great offence is taken 700 years later on this account.  This argument about her 'rightful place' seems to be mere indignation that Isabella wasn't, at least at this point in 1308, the most important person in Edward II's emotional life.  She did have her rightful place as his wife and queen, but it's not the place her modern fans think she should have had, Number One Person in Edward's heart.  I pick up this kind of aggrieved tone quite often in modern writing about Isabella, as though Edward is to be condemned for not recognising Isabella's amazing specialness, even when she was twelve, and dropping all contact with Piers immediately.  As though the presence of a pre-pubescent, even as one as bright and attractive as Isabella, generally causes adults to fall out of love with their partner.  You could argue rather more convincingly that Philippa of Hainault, for the first two years and nine months that she was married to Edward III, had her 'rightful place' as queen taken by her mother-in-law, Isabella, but I've yet to see anyone moan about that.

- Piers was "Isabella's rival."  Ah yes, the usual statement that somehow Piers and Isabella were rivals for the king's affections.  Not sure I see that, actually.  In fact, no, I don't see it at all.  I've written about this before: Edward II's heart was not a cake that he portioned out, and Piers' large slice meant that Isabella therefore only had the crumbs which fell from Piers' table.  This is not how human beings and human relationships work.  Edward adored Piers, this is beyond all doubt, but in many ways Piers could not possibly rival Isabella: her royal birth, her status as Edward's wife and queen, and future mother of his royal children and his heir.  There's really nothing to suggest beyond a letter faked many decades later by Thomas Walsingham that Isabella ever disliked Piers or thought of him as her 'rival' or believed that he had deprived her of her 'rightful place'.  The notion that she did is merely an assumption, stated frequently in novels and lately, sadly, increasingly also in non-fiction.  I find it a rather simplistic notion, one which doesn't allow for the complexity of love and human emotion.  And I am truly convinced that Edward loved Isabella.  Less than he loved Piers?  Perhaps.  In a different way, certainly.  But that doesn't mean he didn't love her or care about her, as though it was a black and white case of he either loved and cared about Piers or he loved and cared about her, but it couldn't possibly be both.  I suppose to some writers, Isabella hating Piers and being determined to see him dead just makes a better and more melodramatic story, however feeble the foundation of this idea is, than the notion that she might not have disliked him even a tiny little bit and might even - le gasp! - have been fond of him. It's really nothing more than imposing our own feelings (or what we think we might feel in the situation) on people of the remote past and declaring that they must have felt this way.

- Isabella's uncles the counts of Valois and Evreux "went home in a rage, insulted that Edward had given some of their wedding presents to Gaveston."  Siiiigh, that old chestnut yet again.  Actually the Annales Paulini say (about a quarter of a century later) that Valois and Evreux went back to France and complained to Philip IV that Edward frequented Piers' couch more than the queen's.  Although it is likely that Valois and Evreux did give wedding gifts to Edward and Isabella, no record of them survives, let alone that Edward gave any of them to Piers, so I assume this is a reference to the aforementioned old chestnut which writers who haven't actually looked at the Annales Paulini repeat over and over.

- (from the book, p. 237) "Concern for her youth might well have kept Edward away from her bed for some time after their wedding, whatever the circumstances, but his attentions were so ostentatiously engaged elsewhere that he could claim little credit for such consideration."  Oh, absolutely.  Edward II must never be given credit for anything.  My goodness, a lot of modern writers really are terribly determined to find fault with Edward II whatever he did or didn't do, aren't they?  Other kings don't get the same criticism.  The future Edward I seems to have consummated his 1254 marriage to Eleanor of Castile immediately, so that she miscarried a child at seven months' gestation when she was still only thirteen.  Does that somehow make Edward I a better husband than his son, because he didn't delay consummation?  Is making a girl pregnant at twelve or thirteen considered better now than waiting until she's fifteen or sixteen?  Do people complain that Henry III was a neglectful husband because Eleanor of Provence only gave birth for the first time three and a half years after their wedding?  Is there some kind of 'correct' amount of time which should have passed between marriage and consummation which would make Isabella not a victim of Edward's marital neglect or cruelty?   Then again, the existence of the child born to Edward I and Eleanor of Castile in 1255 is not entirely certain, and their first child whose existence is undisputed wasn't born until at least 1261, perhaps 1264.  That's at least seven years and perhaps even an entire decade after their wedding.  Gosh!  Let's all join hands to condemn Edward I for neglecting his young wife so horribly for so long.

- In 1312, when the queen became pregnant: "Isabella had clearly spent at least one night with her husband."  An important part of the modern Victim!Isabella narrative is to make out in any way you can that she and Edward had an unsatisfactory and sporadic sex life, and that Isabella suffered as a result of this because she was, according to Alison Weir, "highly sexed."  Good grief, I still boggle that anyone could write a sentence like that about a person nearly 700 years dead who never wrote or spoke a single word in public about her sexuality or her desires.  Weir's biography of Isabella includes this kind of stuff too, including the astonishing rhetorical question asking if Edward II had "at last played the man" when he consummated the marriage.  Jaw-dropping.  We know nothing at all about Edward and Isabella's sex life, of course, except that they obviously had intercourse on four occasions which resulted in their children, or five times if Isabella had a miscarriage in or just before November 1313 (when pennyroyal was bought for her).  For all we know, they thoroughly enjoyed having sex together and did it regularly.  I don't see writers making these kind of judgemental remarks about other men, not even, say, John of Gaunt, who had only one child with his second wife Constanza of Castile but produced four with his mistress Katherine Swynford during the marriage.  No-one seems to care how many nights John spent with Constanza or that he was merrily producing children with another woman.

- When Edward and Isabella were visiting Paris in 1313, the rhyming chronicler Geoffrey of Paris says that they overslept one morning, and smilingly relates that their, ahem, night-time activities were the likely cause.  But according to Castor (p. 254), "Isabella's failure to wake her notoriously tardy husband may, in fact, have been the result of circumspection rather than the previous night's excesses," with reference to her and Edward's vow to go on crusade, which apparently she didn't really want to do.  So, on this reading, Isabella deliberately didn't wake Edward up or get out of bed so as to avoid having to take a pledge to go on crusade.  Even though she took it only a day or two later anyway.  Huh.  We know Edward and Isabella were having sex in the 1310s and early 1320s because children resulted from it.  Why is it so strange to think that they might have been having sex in Paris, and contradict a primary source who saw them during the visit?  (Though Geoffrey didn't actually see the couple having sex, obviously.)  I wonder if this had been any other couple, whether a writer would still feel the need to jump in and say, oh no no, they can't really have been tired because they'd been awake half the night making love, we simply must find another explanation.

Castor doesn't mention that at Pontoise soon afterwards, Edward and Isabella were 'totally naked' - toute nue, says Geoffrey - in bed together when a fire broke out in their pavilion and Edward saved Isabella's life by scooping her up in his arms and rushing outside with her.  No doubt being naked in bed together had nothing whatsoever to do with intimate marital relations, though.  Nooooo, of course not.  This is all another part of the 'Edward was rubbish at fulfilling Isabella's sexual needs' notion, which as far as I can tell is based on setting up Isabella's sex life to be hopelessly unsatisfactory as possible to make it all the more fabulous and amazing and dramatic later when she begins her passionately sexual love affair with Roger Mortimer.  And never mind that there isn't a shred of evidence that she and Roger ever had a passionately sexual love affair.  Maybe Isabella enjoyed sex with Edward II more than she did with Roger.  Now there's a thought to conjure with.  We sure as heck can't prove that she didn't.

Edward and Isabella had four children together. OK, not a terribly high number in comparison with Edward I and Eleanor of Castile or Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.  Maybe Isabella had more miscarriages (she may have had one in November 1313), or maybe one or both of them wasn't particularly fertile.  Edward II's grandparents Henry III and Eleanor of Provence had five children too, the first born three and a half years after their wedding, but you don't see writers making sneery comments about Henry 'at last playing the man' or speculating that they'd only spent one night together.  Using the number of children to gauge the success or otherwise of a marriage strikes me as rather odd, anyway.  Edward II's niece Eleanor de Clare and his chamberlain and favourite Hugh Despenser had at least ten children together, but for seven or eight years of their marriage he was her uncle's 'favourite' and may have had a sexual relationship with him.

- Talking of Hugh Despenser, it's claimed that he "doesn't seem to have been the king's lover."  This has been stated before: see Jonathan Sumption claiming that "Edward's relationship with his next favourite, Hugh Despenser the Younger, was certainly not sexual, and on a personal level may not even have been particularly close."  Clearly, Sumption has full 24/7 video footage of the entire eight years or so of Edward and Hugh's relationship to be able to make this statement with such confidence.  The annals of Newnham Abbey wrote in 1326 of "the king and his husband" (rex et maritus eius), and Hugh was later said to have been a "sodomite, even with the king," so I wouldn't be too sure that their relationship wasn't sexual.  Certainly Edward seems to have been infatuated with Hugh, their relationship lasted a long time, and Edward refused to send Hugh away from him even when the future of his kingdom depended on it.  I can't say for sure that they were lovers, of course, but I think it's astonishing to claim as a certain fact that they weren't.

In 1312, "Isabella was dragged around the country as Edward tried to keep his lover safe."  There's no reason to suppose that Isabella travelled to the north of England against her will in February 1312, when she left Westminster to be reunited Edward - who had gone north to meet the newly-returned Piers Gaveston - in York.  In early May 1312, Edward, Isabella and Piers left Tynemouth and travelled to York, then the royal couple went on to the royal manor of Burstwick, where they were staying on the day Piers was killed, then went back to York.  Edward left her there when he travelled south at the end of June 1312, to keep her out of the way of danger.  I'm not seeing a lot of 'dragging' here.  Even Paul Doherty, who normally goes out of his way to find fault with Edward II, points out that in 1312 "Isabella adhered to her husband."  I suppose a far more accurate account such as "Isabella met her husband in York, stayed there with him and conceived their child, then travelled with him to a couple of other places, mostly the royal manor of Burstwick," doesn't make such a melodramatic story as being 'dragged around', or make her look like such a pitiable victim.

"As a young bride, she'd been little more than a decorative accessory to a diplomatic alliance."  Hmmm yes, Isabella and just about every other royal and noble bride, and of course groom, who ever lived.  This is the kind of thing that I get impatient about in discussions of Isabella; as though somehow she was different from every other royal of the Middle Ages (the 'Isabella Exception', as I've been known to call it).  Modern writers applaud her courage and cleverness when arranging her son's marriage to Philippa of Hainault in 1326 and never seem to dream of calling the young Edward III or his fiancée a 'pawn' of Isabella's need to find an ally in order to invade England, but when her own marriage was arranged, somehow Isabella is a victim, an 'accessory'.  I've never seen anyone call Eleanor of Castile a 'pawn' or a mere 'decorative accessory' either.  Eleanor, who may not yet have reached her thirteenth birthday at the time of her 1254 marriage, had never previously set eyes on Lord Edward (the future Edward I), and her marriage was arranged between her brother Alfonso X and Edward's father Henry III to settle the dispute between England and Castile over Gascony, which was ruled by Henry III and to which Alfonso was laying claim.  Eleanor had no choice but to marry Edward.  Edward had no choice but to marry Eleanor.  The young Marguerite of France had no choice but to marry a widower three times her age (Edward I) in 1299, in the same treaty that arranged the future marriage of Edward and Isabella.  Philippa of Hainault was only about twelve in August 1326 when Isabella negotiated with her father about a marriage to Edward of Windsor.  But you never see anyone complaining that Marguerite or Eleanor or Philippa were 'pawns' or 'decorative accessories' in political alliances beyond their control.  What makes Isabella so different?  I simply don't understand why people who profess to like and admire her are so determined to make her into a victim when she herself would never have thought in such a way.

- Isabella was a peace-making queen, but "almost immediately her husband undermined her efforts" by losing at Bannockburn.  Yeah, obviously he totally did that on purpose, just to annoy her.

- "Edward and Isabella [were] alone for once" in York in May 1312 when Piers was left at Scarborough Castle.  Actually the royal couple were together almost all of the time.  For example, they spent the entire winter of 1310/11 at Berwick, while Piers Gaveston was in and around Roxburgh, Perth and Dundee.  The idea that Piers was permanently with them, or that Edward was always with Piers and ignoring Isabella, is simply a myth.

- About Isabella and Roger Mortimer (p. 288): "Isabella and Mortimer had begun not only a political partnership but a passionate affair...Physical attraction there clearly was...it is clear that this was no idle dalliance but an all-consuming personal bond."  Hmmmmm.  There's no evidence at all for any of this, and it should be stated as the speculation and assumption that it is.  The "emotional logic" of the relationship is said to have been "instantly recognisable."  Perhaps, but that doesn't make it necessarily true.  You could say exactly the same thing about Edward II's relationships with Piers Gaveston or Hugh Despenser if you wanted to romanticise them as much as Isabella and Roger's affair has been exaggerated and romanticised, but this isn't a novel, it's non-fiction.  It made me laugh out loud, much as Eleanor Herman's breathless scene in Sex with the Queen depicting Marie Antoinette and Fersen in bed together did, and is about as accurate.  The fact that Mortimer was married is barely mentioned, but as I've commented here plenty of times before, apparently some men's adultery is far more acceptable than others'.  No comment is made on Isabella usurping Joan Geneville's 'rightful place' at her husband's side.

Needless to say, it's stated as fact that Edward and Hugh Despenser "separated Isabella from her children" in 1324.  This is an invention of Paul Doherty in his 1977 thesis about Isabella.  Read any book at all about or even partly about Edward II and Isabella written before the late 1970s; it won't mention this tall tale.  If Castor or any other modern writer had researched it before they repeat it as 'fact', they'd have seen that Doherty bases the idea on an issue roll of Edward II's household dating from July 1322 to July 1323.  Castor doesn't repeat the red-hot poker story as though it's certain fact, but doesn't mention any other explanation of what may have happened to Edward in 1327.

To me, this kind of narrative is only looking at how Edward II and Isabella of France's marriage ended and what happened in 1326/27, and extrapolating backwards that their relationship must always have been a tragic unhappy disaster.  It's interpreting everything that happened between them, everything that Edward did or didn't do, in the most negative and critical way possible.  Let's remember: in 1308 Edward and Isabella didn't have the slightest notion what would happen to them nearly twenty years in the future.  As far as they knew, they would be married for decades and it was in their own interests to make their relationship work as best they could.  You'd think Edward II was the only king in history not madly in love with his wife at first glance, the only king or nobleman who ever had an outside love interest.  And yes, maybe in 1308 Edward wasn't exactly doing all he could to make his marriage successful.  But his wife was twelve, for heaven's sake.  I really can't believe that modern writers would prefer if it if Edward had made Isabella pregnant when she was twelve or thirteen.  This popular view of events ignores all the quieter points of Edward and Isabella's marriage, that they spent most of their time together, that they became parents together four times, that they sent each other letters and gifts on the rare occasions that they were apart, that Isabella addressed Edward even in 1325 and 1326 as her "very sweet heart" and her "very dear and very sweet lord and friend."  I'm not entirely sensing her hatred and "profound revulsion" (Weir) for him there, to be honest.  And I'm pretty sick of reading the same old, same old stuff about their relationship.  Even when an eyewitness says Edward and Isabella were getting on really well during their visit to France in 1313, this is dismissed, oh no, they weren't being intimate and enjoying each other's company, no no, that can't be.  When Isabella talks of Edward in extremely affectionate terms, somehow people just 'know' that she didn't really mean it, she was only pretending, she hated him really.  They were never happy, not once, not ever, not even when they were enjoying a seemingly rather relaxing and pleasant trip and had recently become parents together.  They only ever felt contempt, hatred and disgust for each other for nearly twenty years.  Yup.  Isabella is only ever a tragic victim, Edward only a cruel oppressor, until Isabella finds a Real Man and takes her revenge.

I'll end this post by linking to my Rules For Writing A Novel About Edward II And Isabella, which I wrote on 31 March 2010, before Castor's She-Wolves was published on 7 October 2010 and nine months before I read the book that Christmas.  Time and time again as I wrote this post, I was reminded of this one.  It's rather sad to see a non-fiction book following the rules.

03 August, 2014

Other European Rulers (2)

A continuation of this post, taking a look at rulers in Europe and a little farther afield in Edward II's era.  Today, I'm writing about Davit VIII, king of Georgia; Haakon V, king of Norway; Alexios II, emperor of Trebizond; Sancho, king of Majorca.

Davit VIII, king of Georgia (born 1273/1278; succeeded 1293; died 1311)

Edward II sent Davit a letter in May 1313, asking him to protect a friar passing through Davit's kingdom.  Unfortunately, Davit had died two years previously, sometime in 1311 (I've been unable to find the exact date).  This gives you a good idea of the speed and urgency with which news travelled from Georgia to England 700 years ago.

Davit came from the Bagrationi dynasty which ruled Georgia for many centuries.  His father was Demetre or Demetrius II 'the Self-Sacrificing' - what a great name! - and his mother, name unknown, was a daughter of Manuel I, emperor of Trebizond (for more info, see below).  Demetre was beheaded by the Mongols in 1289, but despite this, Davit married a Mongol woman: Oljath, daughter of Abaqa Khan (see also below).  Oljath was a great-niece of Kublai Khan and a great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan.  Davit's only child, however, was born to his second wife, a Georgian noblewoman of the Surameli family.  When he died in 1311, he was succeeded by his son, still only a child, the aptly-named Giorgi VI the Little.  Giorgi died in 1313 and was succeeded by his uncle, Davit's brother Giorgi the Brilliant.

Haakon V, king of Norway (born c. 1270; succeeded 15 July 1299; died 8 May 1319)

Another king to whom Edward II unknowingly sent a letter after his death, though in this case barely a month.  Haakon would have been Edward's uncle-in-law if Margaret the 'Maid of Norway', the young queen of Scotland, had lived long enough to marry Edward.  Haakon was a younger son of Magnus VI of Norway and Ingeborg, daughter of Eric IV of Denmark.  His elder brother Erik II, known as the 'Priesthater', succeeded their father in 1280, and in 1281, still only thirteen, married twenty-year-old Margaret of Scotland, eldest child of Alexander III and his first queen Margaret of England, Edward I's sister.  Erik and Margaret's daughter Margaret (born 1283), Alexander III's only surviving heir, was proclaimed queen of Scotland and betrothed to her slightly younger cousin Edward of Caernarfon in 1289, but died suddenly aged seven in the autumn of 1290.  Her father King Erik II married secondly Isabel, one of the sisters of the Robert Bruce who became king of Scotland in 1306.  With Isabel Bruce, Erik had a daughter, Ingeborg - half-sister of Margaret 'the Maid of Norway' - who married Valdemar Magnusson of Sweden, duke of Finland.  Erik died in July 1299 at the beginning of his thirties, and as his daughter could not inherit the throne, he was succeeded by his brother, Haakon V.

Not long before his accession, Haakon married a German lady: Eufemia of Rügen, daughter of Günther, count of Arnstein in Bavaria and granddaughter of Witzlaw II, prince of Rügen.  Eufemia's maternal grandmother Agnes was the daughter of Otto I, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, nephew of Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor (grandson of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine).  Haakon and Eufemia had one child, Ingeborg, the same name as her first cousin, the daughter of Erik II and Isabel Bruce.  Confusingly, the two cousins Ingeborg married brothers: Ingeborg daughter of Haakon married Erik Magnusson of Sweden, brother of Duke Valdemar, above.  Haakon V died on 8 May 1319, probably in his late forties; Edward II, unaware of this, sent him letters on 2 and 12 June regarding debts Haakon owed to several English merchants.  Haakon was succeeded by his toddler grandson Magnus VII, born in 1316 as the son of Ingeborg and Erik Magnusson.  Magnus also succeeded his uncle Birger, the eldest brother of Valdemar and Erik Magnusson, as Magnus IV, king of Sweden, in 1321.

Alexios II Megas Komnenos, emperor of Trebizond (born 1282; succeeded 1297; died 3 May 1330)

The empire of Trebizond was a successor state of the Byzantine empire between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, and was located on the shores of the Black Sea in modern-day Turkey.  It bordered the Mongol Ilkhanate mentioned in my previous post, and was one of three states thrown up in the aftermath of the capture of Constantinople in 1204, the others being the empire of Nicaea and the despotate of Epirus.  (Edward II's second cousin Philip of Taranto, king of Albania, was one of the despots of Epirus.)  Edward wrote to the Emperor Alexios II in 1313 asking him to protect the same far-travelling friar on whose behalf he also wrote to Davit VIII of Georgia, the difference being on this occasion that Alexios was actually still alive.

Alexios II Megas Komnenos's mother Eudokia Palaiologina was the sister of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos from my previous post.  Maria Palaiologina, sister of Eudokia and Andronikus, and Alexios II's aunt, married Abaqa Khan, one of the predecessors of Oljeitu (also from my previous post, and see above) as ruler of the Ilkhanate; Abaqa was Oljeitu's great-uncle and the nephew of Kublai Khan.  Another of Alexios's maternal aunts was the empress of Bulgaria, and he was a cousin of Davit VIII of Georgia, above.  His father was John II Megas Komnenos, emperor of Trebizond, and his grandfather was the Emperor Manuel I.  Alexios married a Georgian woman with the excellent name of Jiajak or Djiadjak or Jigda Jaqeli, half-sister of Davit VIII, and they had at least six children, including Andronikus III and Basil, emperors of Trebizond.  Andronikus III had two other brothers murdered.

Sancho, king of Majorca (born 1274; succeeded 29 May 1311; died 4 September 1324)

Edward II wrote to Sancho in early June 1323 on behalf of some sun-worshipping English tourists who had had too much to drink on their package holiday and robbed some of Sancho's subjects on the beach.  (OK, I made up all of that sentence except for 'Edward II wrote to Sancho in early June 1323 on behalf of some English people' and 'robbed some of Sancho's subjects'. They really did do that and Edward really did send Sancho a letter.)  Sancho was the son of Jaime or James II, king of Majorca, and Esclaramunda, daughter of Roger IV, count of Foix (a vassal of the kings of England).  Jaime II of Majorca was the second son of Jaime I of Aragon and Violante of Hungary, and brother of Pedro III of Aragon.  This makes Sancho of Majorca the first cousin of Jaime II of Aragon from my last post.  He married Maria of Anjou-Naples, one of the many sisters of Philip of Taranto, king of Albania and despot of Epirus, which meant that he was related by marriage to absolutely anybody who was anybody in the European royalty of the early fourteenth century.  Sancho's sister Sancha married Maria of Anjou-Naples and Philip of Taranto's brother Robert the Wise, king of Naples and titular king of Jerusalem, and was the grandmother of the famous and much-married Queen Joan (or Joanna) I of Naples.  Sancho died childless and was succeeded by his brother Fernando's son Jaime III.

31 July, 2014

The Year Of...Edward II! :-)

I'd like to thank my good friend Anerje for writing this really amazing blog post about me. Wow! I'm so honoured and flattered!

Not only is my biography of Edward II coming out this year, but so is a new biog of his mother, Eleanor of Castile!  Fantastic news.  It's also with Amberley Publishing, same as mine, and it's by Sara Cockerill.  Here are links to it on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

And, just because I can, here's the cover of my forthcoming book again :)



27 July, 2014

Other European Rulers (1)

In this post and at least one other to follow, I'm taking a look at some of the men who ruled in Europe and further afield at the time of Edward II. Today, Jaime II, king of Aragon; Andronikos II Palaiologos or Palaeologus, emperor of Byzantium; Oljeitu, ruler of the Ilkhanate; Henri de Lusignan, king of Cyprus.

- Jaime II, king of Aragon (born 10 April 1267; acceded 18 June 1291; died 5 November 1327)

Second son of Pedro III of Aragon and Constanza of Sicily, who was the eldest child of Manfred, king of Sicily (the illegitimate son of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and his nobly-born Italian mistress Bianca Lancia).  Jaime was also the great-grandson of Andras or Andrew II of Hungary.  Jaime's elder brother Alfonso III (born November 1265) succeeded their father as king of Aragon in 1285, but, although betrothed for many years to Edward of Caernarfon's eldest sister Eleanor, died suddenly in June 1291 before their marriage could take place, and Jaime thus succeeded to the throne at the age of twenty-four.  Alfonso and Jaime's sister Elisabeth (1271-1336) married King Diniz of Portugal and is a saint of the Catholic Church.  Jaime and Edward II were third cousins via common descent from Thomas, count of Savoy and Beatrice of Geneva (maternal grandparents of Edward's grandmother Eleanor of Provence), and Jaime was a first cousin once removed of Edward's queen Isabella: Isabella's paternal grandmother Isabel of Aragon, queen of France, was the sister of Jaime's father Pedro III.

Jaime was married firstly, a few months after his succession in December 1291, to Isabel of Castile, the eldest child of Sancho IV, king of Castile (grandson of Fernando III and thus Edward of Caernarfon's first cousin). She was only eight at the time. In April 1295 Isabel's father died suddenly, her nine-year-old brother became Fernando IV, and Castile was plunged into civil war and chaos, no longer a useful ally.  Jaime had the marriage annulled, and married instead Blanche of Anjou-Naples, Edward of Caernarfon's second cousin, one of the many children of Charles, king of Naples and Marie of Hungary.  With Blanche, Jaime had his successor Alfonso IV, whose son the future Pedro IV was betrothed to Edward II's daughter Joan of the Tower in 1325, and nine other children.  Alfonso IV was their second son; their eldest Jaime renounced his right to the throne and became a monk in 1319, shortly after marrying Alfonso XI of Castile's sister Leonor. Jaime II at various proposed his daughter Maria as a bride for Edward II's half-brother Thomas of Brotherton, earl of Norfolk, and his youngest daughter Violante (born 1310) as a bride for Edward's son the future Edward III, but neither of these proposals worked out.  When negotiating with Aragon in 1325 about the marriage of Pedro and Joan, Edward II communicated with Alfonso, Jaime II's son and Pedro IV's father, on the rather brutal grounds that Jaime was "old and decrepit and it is not certain that he is not dead."  Edward also communicated at other times with Jaime's fourth son Pedro, count of Ribagorza. Jaime's third son Juan was archbishop of Tarragona and patriarch of Alexandria.  One of his daughters, Isabel, was betrothed to Oshin, king of Armenia, but married Frederick, duke of Austria, and his daughter Violante, proposed as a bride for the future Edward III, married her cousin Philip, despot of Romania.

Queen Blanche died in October 1310, and Jaime married twice more: his third wife, in 1315, was Marie de Lusignan, daughter of Hugh III, king of Cyprus and sister of Henri, king of Cyprus (below), with whom he had no children, and finally to the Spanish noblewoman Elisenda de Moncada, with whom he also had no children.  Marie de Lusignan was already in her forties at the time of the wedding, and had never previously been married.  Jaime, known as el Justo or the Just, died in early November 1327, aged sixty, just a few weeks after the supposed death of Edward II.  His son Alfonso IV was then in his late twenties.

Andronikos II Palaiologos or Palaeologus, emperor of Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire) (born 25 March 1259; succeeded as sole emperor 11 December 1282; died 13 February 1332)

Andronikus was the son of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologus and Theodora Doukaina Vatatzaina, great-niece of the emperor John Doukas Vatatzes.  Michael VIII was the first of the Palaiologan Byzantine emperors, who ruled until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Andronikus married firstly, in 1273, Anna of Hungary, great-granddaughter of Andras II and thus Jaime II of Aragon's second cousin.  Anna was the daughter of King Istvan or Stephen V of Hungary and Elizabeth the Cuman, who converted to Christianity prior to her marriage (Elizabeth was the great-great-grandmother of Edward III's queen Philippa of Hainault).  From his marriage to Anna, Andronikus was the brother-in-law of two kings of Serbia and of Charles of Anjou, king of Naples, whose daughter Blanche married Jaime II of Aragon.  Andronikus and Anna were the parents of Michael IX Palaiologos, co-emperor with his father until his death in 1320 and father of the emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos and of Theodora, empress of Bulgaria.  Empress Anna died at the beginning of the 1280s, barely into her twenties, and some years later Andronikus married his second wife Yolande of Montferrat.  Yolande was a close cousin of Edward II, being the daughter of Beatriz of Castile and William VII, marquess of Montferrat and titular king of Thessalonika, who had previously been married to Isabella, sister of Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester.  Yolande took the name Eirene on marriage.  Edward II wrote to Andronikus and Eirene in 1313 asking them to use their influence to help release the English knight Sir Giles Argentein, a prisoner in Thessalonika (it worked).  Andronikus died in February 1332 in his early seventies, and was succeeded by his namesake grandson.

Oljeitu, ruler of the Ilkhanate ('king of the Tartars') (born 1278/1280; succeeded May 1304; died 16 December 1316)

The Mongol Empire, the second largest empire the world has ever seen (after the British empire, and not smaller by much) was divided into four parts, and Oljeitu ruled the Ilkhanate, the division covering much of modern-day Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey. Oljeitu was baptised as a Christian but later converted to Buddhism, then to Sunni Islam, then to Shia Islam, and chose as his alternative name Muhammad Khodabandeh.  He was the great-grandson of Hulagu Khan, founder of the Ilkhanate and brother of Kublai Khan ("In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree..."), and great-great-great-grandson of Genghis Khan. After he succeeded his brother Ghazan in 1304, Oljeitu reached out to the western powers, the pope, Philip IV of France and Edward I of England, when he wrote offering an alliance between themselves and the Mongols against the Mamluks of Egypt.  Edward II sent him a very tactless letter in 1307 declaring that he was glad to hear of Oljeitu's intention to destroy the 'abominable sect of Muhammad'. Unfortunately, neither Edward nor any of his advisors knew that Oljeitu was Muslim. [Peter Jackson, The Mongols and the West, p. 177.]  Edward wrote again to Oljeitu in 1313 asking him to protect a friar travelling to his lands to preach to the 'infidels', as he called them.  Oljeitu died in Soltaniyeh in modern-day Iran in 1316, and was succeeded by his son Abu Said, then only eleven.

Henri de Lusignan, king of Cyprus and titular king of Jerusalem (born June 1270/1271; succeeded 20 May 1285; died 31 March 1324)

A distant cousin of Edward II, Henri was the third son of Hugues or Hugh de Lusignan, king of Cyprus, and succeeded his childless brother Jean or John in 1285.  Henri's mother was Isabelle Ibelin, great-granddaughter of the famous Balian Ibelin; her grandfather, Balian's son John, was the half-brother of Isabella, queen of Jerusalem.  Henri's sister Marie married Jaime II of Aragon, above, as his third wife; three other sisters, Marguerite, Helvis and Isabelle, married kings of Armenia.  Henri married the much younger Constanza of Sicily in 1317 but died childless, and his successor was his brother Guy's son Hugh IV.  He was descended from Raymond of Poitiers, prince of Antioch, uncle of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and from Eleanor's grandson Henri, count of Champagne (d. 1197) and his wife Isabella, queen of Jerusalem.  Somewhat confusingly, Henri's great-great-grandfather Amaury, king of Cyprus (d. 1205) was also married to Queen Isabella.  Henri's father Hugh took the name Lusignan from his mother, and they were only fairly distantly related to the Lusignan counts of La Marche.