26 August, 2015

The Ghost of Edward II: Political use of sexual allegations in the downfall of Richard II (Guest Post)

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Gareth Russell to the blog, as part of his tour for his book A History of the English Monarchy: From Boadicea to Elizabeth I! Gareth has a great post for us about Edward II's great-grandson Richard II, who was very similar to him in some ways and who suffered the same fate, deposition, in 1399. There's also a chance to win a copy of Gareth's book!


Richard II, who reigned from 1377 until 1399, had very little in common with his great-grandfather, Edward II, except their eventual fate – to be deposed. In most other ways, the men were complete opposites. In contrast to the virile and earthy Edward II, with his easygoing repartee with ordinary people and passion for manual labour, Richard II was a slender aesthete with an obsessive passion for the niceties of palace etiquette.

King Richard II.

At Richard’s court, ceremonial was turned into an art form, an elaborate and complicated political dance with the King and his queen, Anne of Bohemia, in the starring roles. Deportment was compulsory, manners strict and pageantry, even when surrounding seemingly trivial everyday moments such as the royal family’s mealtimes, was constant. Bejewelled cutlery was introduced alongside gastronomic delights boasting the latest spices and recipes, as silent courtiers, decked out in ruinously expensive finery, watched their masters eat. Fashion at Richard II’s court was dedicated to showing off the male physique – tights accentuated muscles well-toned from hunting or jousting, high-necked robes complemented broad shoulders, while the arrival of the codpiece obviously drew attention to the most prized attribute. Queen Anne and her European entourage also pioneered riding side-saddle for ladies, as well as modish continental conceits like shoes for men that were so long and pointed they required golden chains buckled to the knees to hold their curls upright. Anne, shimmering from head to toe, was doted upon by her husband, who built her a bathhouse, a painted audience chamber and a new ballroom in her favourite home, along with a private lavatory decorated with two thousand painted tiles. Richard II, fair-haired and softly handsome, and Anne of Bohemia, by no means a great beauty but with a regal presence and a ‘gentle and pretty’ face, gazed down at their courtiers from the remote plinths on which they had installed themselves as icons of absolutism, the venerated custodians of the Plantagenet legacy.

However, as Richard’s feud with his cousin Henry, Duke of Hertford, and other members of the nobility accelerated, he found it difficult to escape the legacy of his great-grandfather. Edward II’s deposition had struck at the sacral notion of kingship and the political legacy of Isabella of France’s quarrel with her husband was to bedevil their descendants for the rest of the Middle Ages. The notion that a king could be deposed rather than simply challenged and openly opposed, as had been the case with King John and King Henry III in the thirteenth century, was one that Richard II seemed to disregard as an aberration rather than a living threat. His push towards absolutism, faintly reminiscent of Edward’s own alleged tyranny in the last years of his reign, helped unite the aristocracy against him, culminating in mass revulsion when he tried to disinherit his cousin Henry after the death of his father John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, in 1399. As the political accusations of similarities with Edward II mounted, so did aspersions about Richard’s sexual activities. Richard’s detested cabal of favourites were likened to Piers Gaveston and allegations that he had gone to bed with some of them, including Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, helped damage the King’s prestige.

Anne of Bohemia (d. 1394). Richard II's first queen.

I can remember first hearing suggestions that Suffolk was Richard II’s lover at a postgraduate lecture in Belfast, in a tone that depressingly suggested that homosexual activity was somehow still a cause for slight mirth. Unlike Edward II with Piers Gaveston, however, there is in fact very little to support the idea that Richard II had sex with Michael de la Pole, who was thirty-seven years his senior and a trusted adviser whose prominence in Richard’s government helped fuel almost certainly inaccurate rumours that he seduced the King. As with many of the rumours surrounding Edward II, it seems the theory of Suffolk’s affair with Richard is the product of the fertile speculations of subsequent generations.

There is admittedly more contemporary whispers about de Vere than de la Pole, particularly in Thomas Walsingham’s chronicle of Richard’s reign, though it is of course difficult for an historian to known how reliable Walsingham’s sources were – or how active his imagination. De Vere was about five years older than the King and custodian of one of the oldest aristocratic titles in England as 9th Earl of Oxford following his father’s death in 1371. He married and then divorced the King’s cousin Philippa and for his second wife married one of Anne of Bohemia’s ladies-in-waiting. Richard’s affection for de Vere resulted in him being made England’s first marquis as Marquess of Dublin in 1385. The introduction of the rank of marquess, from the French marquis, was problematic. It helped upset the apple cart of the English nobility’s rankings, since the ancient title of ‘earl’ had always been the highest and only eclipsed recently by the rank of duke, usually given to a member of the royal house and introduced by Richard’s predecessor, Edward III. Importing a new title that outranked the earls was bound to play badly and after Richard’s deposition, Henry IV discontinued the practice on the grounds that the title was an alien one to the English nobility. The half-French King Henry VI restored its use in 1442 and Henry VIII’s French-educated wife, Anne Boleyn, enjoyed the rank in her own right after a ceremony at Windsor Castle in September 1532. A year after his marquisate, de Vere was given the royal-sounding title of Duke of Ireland. This not only tied him to a country rather than a county, but it should be borne in mind that before 1542 the English kings were ‘Lords of Ireland’, rather than kings, which meant that de Vere’s Hibernian title potentially suggested a parity of esteem with his monarch.

As aristocratic opposition to de Vere’s prominence and rapid promotion solidified, comparisons to Piers Gaveston proliferated. De Vere lacked Piers’s spirited and ultimately suicidal optimism – when he was forced to flee abroad, he stayed there. He died of natural causes in Louvain at the age of thirty in 1392. When his embalmed body was brought back to England for burial, many nobles stayed away from the funeral because they could not yet hide their hatred for him. King Richard kissed the corpse’s hand and gazed lovingly on the duke-marquess-earl’s face. Whether their relationship was an intense friendship, an unconsummated passion or a sexual affair is something which, I think, is likely to remain unknown. It is difficult to comment on it with the same confidence as one can discuss Edward II’s relationship with Piers Gaveston that, to my mind at least, has most of the evidence supporting the fact that it was romantic.

What is perhaps more revealing is the timing of comparisons between de Vere and Gaveston, and Richard and Edward, in gauging how much “revulsion” towards the King’s sexuality had helped bring down Edward II in 1327. Robert de Vere fled Richard’s court and died seven years before Richard II was overthrown by Henry IV. Insinuations linking him to Piers Gaveston and Richard II to his great-grandfather may have been brought up in the more hostile chronicles after or just before Richard was dragged off his throne, but they were not the immediate cause of it. Richard survived for seven years after his alleged lover’s death in exile, in much the same way as Edward II recovered from Gaveston’s horrible death to rule for fifteen more years, and it was his feud with his cousin Henry and Edward’s favour towards the Despensers that ultimately brought the two men down. If anything, the politico-sexual allegations flung at the Plantagenet kings in the 1310s and 1390s reflect the flexibility of medieval attitudes towards same-sex activity – on the one hand, it could be used as an insult to undermine a king or his favourite, but on the other the revulsion that modern writers seem to imagine it provoked clearly was not strong enough to wrest a crown from God’s anointed. In that way at least, medieval people continue to have more subtleties and nuances than we are often prepared to allow them.

Gareth Russell is an historian and writer from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He studied Modern History at the University of Oxford and completed a postgraduate in medieval history at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is the author of two novels and three non-fiction books, including his most recent book, A History of the English Monarchy: From Boadicea to Elizabeth I. He is currently writing a biography of Queen Catherine Howard.


Thank you for the fascinating post, Gareth! I've linked to The History of the English Monarchy's Amazon page at the top of the post, and I also have a free copy to give away to one lucky reader! To enter, just leave a comment here with your email address (so I know how to get in touch with you) or if you prefer, email me at: edwardofcaernarfon@yahoo.com. The deadline is Wednesday 2 September.  I'll email you back with a quick reply to let you know that you've been successfully entered into the draw. Good luck! :-)

22 August, 2015

22 August 1358: Death of Isabella of France, Dowager Queen of England

Today is the 657th anniversary of the death of Isabella of France, dowager queen of England, widow of Edward II and mother of Edward III, at Hertford Castle on 22 August 1358.

Isabella was probably sixty-two years old at the time of her death, born in late 1295 or thereabouts.  There are a few silly myths told about the last twenty-eight years of her life following her son Edward III's coup d'état on 19 October 1330.  She did not go mad after Roger Mortimer's execution and thereafter suffer periodic episodes of insanity, she was not immured in a nunnery, and she certainly was not imprisoned at Castle Rising, as demonstrated by the fact that she died at Hertford Castle.  The myth of her incarceration at Castle Rising and her madness turns out, like so many other historical tall tales often repeated to this day, to have been invented by Agnes Strickland in the nineteenth century.  Following a period of two years or less spent under comfortable house arrest at Windsor Castle after October 1330, Isabella lived a purely conventional life as a dowager queen, travelling round her estates, entertaining guests and spending vast amounts of money on clothes and jewels.  Her lands were restored to her in November 1331.

Isabella's household accounts fortuitously survive for the last few months of her life, and record her visitors and letters and the gifts she made to others.  Her son the king and her eldest grandson Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales, visited her a few times, as did her second grandson Lionel of Antwerp (b. 1338), earl of Ulster and later duke of Clarence.  Other visitors included her first cousin Henry of Grosmont (c. 1310-1361), first duke of Lancaster, son of her uncle Henry, earl of Lancaster, and the countess of Pembroke and the comes de la March, who as I pointed out recently were not Roger Mortimer's daughter Agnes and grandson Roger Mortimer as often romantically assumed but Marie de St Pol and Isabella's second cousin Jacques de Bourbon, the French count of La Marche.  Isabella spent just under 1400 pounds, a truly staggering sum, on clothes and jewels, but also - she tended to be bookish - plenty of money on having new books made and illustrated for herself.  She left her large book collection to her two surviving children, Edward III, king of England, and Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland, who lived with her mother for the last few months of her life and received a gift of a black palfrey horse with saddle and embroidered gold fittings (spiffy!) from her mother.  Sadly, Isabella outlived two of her four children: John of Eltham, earl of Cornwall, died in 1336, and Eleanor of Woodstock, duchess of Guelders, in 1355.

Isabella seems to have been ill for some months before she died: she sent a man to London three times in February 1358 to buy medicines for her and also paid her physician Master Laurence for attending her and her daughter Queen Joan for a month, though she was well and fit enough in June that year to travel to Canterbury on her last pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket, whom both she and Edward II venerated for many years.  Isabella generally was fit and healthy: she outlived all her siblings by many years (the last of them, Charles IV, had died in 1328, three decades earlier) and also lived much longer than her parents had (Philip IV of France died at forty-six, Joan I of Navarre in her early thirties).

The dowager queen's body remained in the chapel of Hertford Castle for three months until 23 November 1358; a long delay between death and burial was entirely usual in the royal family.  Isabella was buried, not next to her husband Edward II in St Peter's Abbey, Gloucester, not in Westminster Abbey with her parents-in-law Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, but in the church of the Greyfriars or Franciscans. her favourite order, in London.  I don't know if this was her own choice or her son Edward III's.  Her aunt and her husband's stepmother Marguerite of France, queen of England, had been buried there in 1318, and the heart of her husband's grandmother Eleanor of Provence, queen of Henry III, also lay in the Greyfriars' church in London.  Isabella's daughter Joan of the Tower would also be buried there four years later.

Isabella was not buried next to Roger Mortimer, as numerous novels and even works of non-fiction continue to state.  He was buried at the Greyfriars church a hundred miles away in Coventry, and his body may have been moved to Wigmore to lie among his ancestors, according to two petitions from his widow Joan Geneville to Edward III.  Isabella was buried with Edward II's heart in a casket on her chest, and with the clothes she had worn to their wedding fifty years before.  Sadly, her tomb was lost during the Reformation, and the Greyfriars church was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666, rebuilt and then destroyed again during the Blitz.

11 August, 2015

Isabella Of France Was Not Visited By Any Of Roger Mortimer's Family In 1357/58

After Edward III's palace revolution of 19 October 1330, which removed his mother Isabella of France and her ally Roger Mortimer, earl of March, from power, Isabella lived a conventional and mostly rather obscure life as a queen dowager until her death twenty-eight years later.  Her household account for the last few months of her life in late 1357 and 1358 fortuitously survives, and shows her travelling between her estates, spending lots of money on jewels, clothes and minstrels, and receiving many visitors including her son the king, daughter-in-law Queen Philippa and grandsons Edward of Woodstock and Lionel of Antwerp, the prince of Wales and the earl of Ulster.  Isabella died at Hertford Castle on Wednesday 22 August 1358 probably at the age of sixty-two, and was buried just over three months later at the church of the Greyfriars, the Franciscans or Friars Minor, in London.

Other visitors to Isabella in the last months of her life included the countess of Pembroke and the comes [earl or count] de la March.  It is usually assumed that these two people were members of the family of the late Roger Mortimer, first earl of March (1287-1330): his daughter Agnes (d. 1368), widow of Laurence Hastings, earl of Pembroke (1320-1348), and his namesake grandson and heir Roger Mortimer, second earl of March (1328-1360).  It has thus been stated by one modern historian that Isabella and her dead lover's daughter "became close friends and hardly ever separated," which is a heck of an assertion to make on the strength of one visit and a couple of letters recorded in Isabella's account, and is unfortunately all too typical of the excessive romanticising which bedevils much modern writing about Isabella and Roger Mortimer.

The countess of Pembroke who visited Isabella in the last months of her life was almost certainly not, in fact, Agnes Hastings née Mortimer, but Marie de Châtillon, also known as Marie de St Pol, widow of Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke (d. 1324) and founder of Pembroke College at Cambridge University in 1347.  Countess Marie and Queen Isabella formed half of a group of four highly born ladies who were good friends and kept in touch for many years, the other two being Edward II's nieces Elizabeth de Clare and Joan of Bar, countess of Surrey (Marie herself was a great-granddaughter of Henry III and thus Edward II's first cousin once removed).  All of them were much of an age: Isabella was probably born in late 1295, Elizabeth in September 1295, Joan in 1295 or 1296, and Marie probably in the early 1300s and the youngest, who lived until 1377.  There seems to me no particular reason why Agnes Hastings née Mortimer of all people would be a 'close friend' of the dowager queen, and in fact she wasn't.

The comes de la March dined with Isabella three times in 1357/58, on one occasion with her son Edward III and her eldest grandson the prince of Wales also present.  This man has almost always been assumed to be Roger Mortimer, second earl of March, born in 1328 as the only son of Roger Mortimer's eldest son Edmund (d. 1331) and his grandfather's heir.  Again with the romanticising, we get "He was the grandson of her lover and was specially favoured by the old Queen."  How do we know he was 'specially favoured'?  Because he dined with Isabella three times?  When Isabella was in France in 1325, she dined no fewer than four times in the space of a few weeks with Othon de Grandisson, an elderly lord of Savoy who had been a close friend of her husband's father Edward I.  Isabella also dined four times in 1325 with the dowager countess of Foix, Jeanne d'Artois, daughter of Edward II's first cousin Blanche of Brittany.  Does anyone ever say that Othon was 'specially favoured' by Isabella?  Or that the countess of Foix and the queen 'became close friends and hardly ever separated'?  Well, no, because Othon and Jeanne were not members of Roger Mortimer's family.

Neither, in fact, was the comes de la March.  The man referred to in the account who visited Isabella was not the English earl of March, Roger Mortimer the younger, but the French comte de La Marche, who was taken prisoner by Isabella's grandson Edward of Woodstock at the battle of Poitiers in 1356 and who lived in England for some years as part of the entourage of King John II of France, also captured at Poitiers.  In 1357/58, Isabella dined with several members of King John's retinue, including the counts of La Marche and Tancarville and the lords of Audrehem and d'Aubigny.  The comte de La Marche in 1357/58 was Jacques de Bourbon (1319-1361), Isabella's second cousin: he was the son of Louis, first duke of Bourbon, and grandson of Robert, count of Clermont, the youngest son of Saint Louis IX of France and Marguerite of Provence, who were Isabella's great-grandparents as well as Jacques'.  The title of comte de La Marche had formerly been held by her brother Charles IV.  (Jacques de Bourbon is a direct patrilineal ancestor of Henri de Bourbon, born in 1553, who succeeded to the throne of France in 1589 as King Henri IV, first of the house of Bourbon.)  For more info, see Michael Bennett, 'Isabelle of France, Anglo-French Diplomacy and Cultural Exchange in the Late 1350s', in The Age of Edward III, ed. J. S. Bothwell (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2001), pp. 219-22.

And so, Queen Isabella, for all the statements to the contrary, was not visited by or otherwise in touch with any of Roger Mortimer's family in 1357/58.  She did not mark the anniversary of his death on 29 November.  He is not mentioned at all in her last household account.  This wouldn't necessarily matter very much except for the statements by the historian cited elsewhere in this post, who claims that records relating to Isabella's life after her 1330 downfall are "silent on any memory of or regret for" her husband Edward II, except for her donation of food to the poor on the anniversary of his (supposed) death, 21 September.  If you're going to infer evidence of absence from absence of evidence (it's not as though we have a full record or anything like one of Isabella's post-1330 life), and use household accounts as a source for people's private sentiments towards their families and loved ones, at least be consistent.  Isabella's last account doesn't mention Roger Mortimer in any way, and also does not mention any of his family, so why romanticise so much about their relationship and talk endlessly about Isabella loving him "with great passion" and becoming unhinged with grief after his death and all the rest?  This is merely confirmation bias: if you think that Isabella hated her husband, wanted him to die and was 'delighted' when he did, you'll see the lack of many references to Edward in her last account as evidence of this, and if you think she adored and was passionately in lust with Roger Mortimer, you'll ignore the lack of any mention of him in the account and grossly exaggerate the occasional references to people you think were his family members, even though they weren't.

I wonder where, and what exactly, this historian thinks all these missing references to Edward II in Isabella's household account would be anyway?  It's a record of her financial outgoings more than thirty years after Edward's official death written by a clerk, the queen's expenditure on food, gifts, minstrels, charity donations and so on, not a diary where Isabella herself noted down her most intimate feelings and scrawled 'Izzy hearts Rog 4ever' in the margins.  Isabella made charitable donations on the anniversary of the death of her second son John of Eltham, earl of Cornwall (d. 1336), but did not, apparently, mark the anniversary of the death of her elder daughter Eleanor of Woodstock, duchess of Guelders (d. 1355).  Would anyone take this to mean that Isabella never thought about her daughter, never mourned for her, didn't regret her early death, didn't give her a second thought?  Of course not.  Yet somehow, Edward II not being referred to on every page on her account simply must mean that she never thought about him.  Some people see what they want and expect to see when it comes to Isabella of France's relationships with Edward II (despised him!) and Roger Mortimer (adored him!).  This romanticising of her association with Roger is not new.  When her household account was first published in Archaeologia in 1854, the author wrote of the visits by the comes de la March, wrongly assumed to be the younger Roger Mortimer: "And thus, we have an indication that time has scarcely weakened Isabella's fidelity to a criminal attachment; although [Mortimer] had been torn from her, she still cherished his memory and sought her friends among those most nearly allied to him."  The visit of the countess of Pembroke, i.e. Marie de Châtillon and not Agnes Hastings née Mortimer, on 15 December 1357 is said to have been "a clinging on [Isabella's] part to the memory of Mortimer...".  Nope!  Afraid not.

Another myth often repeated about Isabella of France is that she chose to be buried next to Roger Mortimer at the Greyfriars church in London.  In fact he had been buried over a hundred miles away at the Greyfriars in Coventry.  To be fair, there is some contemporary evidence that Roger was buried at the Greyfriars in London: the usually well-informed royal clerk and chronicler Adam Murimuth says he was.  This is actually untrue, though it may be that the London Greyfriars took temporary possession of Roger's body after he was hanged at Tyburn on 29 November 1330 until their brethren of Coventry came for it or the body was otherwise moved to Coventry, hence Murimuth's confusion on this point.  Roger's widow Joan Geneville petitioned Edward III in 1331 and again in 1332 for permission to move his remains from the Greyfriars in Coventry to his home at Wigmore in Herefordshire so that he might lie among his ancestors, and it seems highly unlikely that Joan wouldn't have known where her husband's body lay.  [Calendar of Close Rolls 1330-33, p. 403, dated 7 November 1331; The National Archives SC 8/61/3027, dated sometime in 1332, which states that the Greyfriars of Coventry had refused to comply with her earlier request and the king's order for Roger's body to be re-interred].  It is not clear if Roger's body was ever moved from Coventry to Wigmore (Adam Murimuth says it was), but in any case, it is apparent that he was not buried at the Greyfriars church in London when Isabella was interred there in 1358.  Isabella was laid to rest with the clothes she had worn to her wedding to Edward fifty years previously on 25 January 1308, at her own request -  I think it's lovely that she'd kept them all that time - and apparently also with his heart lying in a casket on her chest.  Edward II's heart, not Roger Mortimer's, as some people nowadays seem to think.  Isabella did decide not to be buried next to her husband at St Peter's Abbey, now Gloucester Cathedral, though I'm not sure in fact if her burial place was her own choice or her son Edward III's, who might have thought it was inappropriate for his mother to lie next to his father given the events of 1326/27 and thus chose instead the fashionable Greyfriars, where his great-aunt and step-grandmother Marguerite of France, queen of England had been buried in 1318 and where the heart of his great-grandmother Eleanor of Provence, queen of England, also rested.  Four years later, Isabella of France's youngest child Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland, was also buried at the London Greyfriars.

If we wanted to, we could 'prove' that Isabella of France never gave Roger Mortimer another thought after his 1330 execution.  I'm certainly not arguing that this is the case, of course, merely pointing out in this post that it would make more sense than stating that Isabella never gave her husband a second thought, given that she founded a chantry for Edward in 1342 (perhaps because she knew that he was dead by then), marked the anniversary of his (official) death on 21 September 1327 and was buried with his heart and the clothes she had worn to their wedding fifty years before, and given that neither Roger Mortimer nor, contrary to popular belief, any of his family are mentioned in Isabella's last household account.  It would be really nice if historians could allow the evidence to speak rather than imposing their pre-existing views and opinions on it and making the evidence say what they want it to.  This, unfortunately, happens often in narratives about Isabella's association with Roger Mortimer.

07 August, 2015

Edward II, Duke Henryk and 14th-Century Murals at Siedlęcin (Guest Post)

Today, I'm delighted to welcome the lovely Kasia Ogrodnik, who runs a fab site about Edward II's great-great-uncle Henry the Young King, to the blog!  Today she's not talking about Henry, but about some fantastic fourteenth-century wall paintings which fortuitously exist to this day in Poland.


The first had the makings of a good ruler in him, but instead of the tedious business of kingship, he preferred doing the things that made him happy and fullfilled. The second was always busy safeguarding the borders of his small duchy in the heart of Europe, but with the makings of an artist in him. The first is one of the most maligned kings in English history, the second is the unsung hero standing alone against the foreign domination. To the first we owe two Oxbridge colleges: King's Hall at Cambridge University and Oriel College at Oxford University, to the second we owe the beautiful wall paintings depicting the legend of Sir Lancelot of the Lake preserved in his tower at Siedlęcin, at present the only ones in the world that can be seen in situ. The first probably never heard of the second, for Silesia was one of the most divided and fragmentated regions of the 14th-century Europe and, with the notable exception of the Bohemian kings, nobody even tried to remember the names of its dukes, but even if so, the second must have heard of the first, if not of his turbulent reign then certainly of his forced abdication and alleged death. Today I am going to take a closer look at King Edward II of England and his contemporary, Duke Henryk I Jaworski [Henry I of Jawor]. 

Tomb effigy in the town hall of Lwówek Śląski, depicting with all probability Duke Henryk and his wife Anežka (photo: Ludwig Schneider)

When the twenty-three-year-old Edward of Caernarfon, prince of Wales, duke of Aquitaine, earl of Chester and count of Ponthieu, ascended the throne of England after the death of his father in July 1307, duke Henryk (b. 1292-1296) was staying under care of his lady mother Beatrix, daughter of Otto V the Long, Margrave of Brandenburg-Salzwedel, till December. Henryk's father, Duke Bolko I the Strict, died six years previously, on 9 November 1301, when his three surviving sons were all minors. In December 1307, however, more less at the same time when Edward's beloved Piers Gaveston was holding a splendid tournament at Wallingford during which he managed to offend half of the realm, Henryk's elder brother Bernard came of age and oficially took care of his younger siblings. Henryk remained under his protection till 1312.

In February 1312, Edward was staying at York where on the 20th he took part in the churching ceremony of his niece, the wife of his beloved Piers Gaveston, Margaret de Clare, who forty days earlier gave birth to a daughter Joan, and where his queen, Isabella, joined him. Celebration that followed was paid for by the king. Piers had just been recalled by Edward from his third exile. It was in York where Edward and Isabella's son, the future King Edward III (b. 13 November 1312) was conceived. At the same time, in a far away Silesia, Henryk, now in his late teens, oficially began his independent rule. The duchy was to flourish under his rule (next to his brother Bernard's Duchy of Świdnica it was one of the richest regions in Central Europe).Whereas 1312 proved fatal for both Piers Gaveston and Edward - the former was murdered on 19 June on the orders of the nobles, the latter went into deep mourning for his dead friend - it must have been full of promise for the young Henryk, for he got vigorously to work. One of the first things he did was launching an ambitious building project in the village of Siedlęcin [the then Rudgersdorf], north-west of Jelenia Góra. At present the tower that was put up there is not only a rare surviving example of the medieval residences of this type, but also one of the best-preserved in Central Europe. It stands 22 metres high, in a lovely spot of fresh green and the Bóbr River lazily winding its way through the surrounding meadows. Initially it was a standard representative-defensive keep with its top crenelated. Thanks to dendrochronological research the archeologists were able to determine that the trees used for ceiling construction had been cut down in 1313 and 1314, so 700 years ago! The roof that can be seen today is a later addition - dendrochronological research proved that the trees for its ceilings were cut down in 1575.

Ducal tower of Siedlęcin (source: Internet)

In the years to come, when Edward was still mourning for Piers, Henryk joined forces with the anti-Luxembourg coalition formed by the nobles of Bohemia disgruntled with their new king John [later know as the Blind] and married Anežka Přemyslovna [Agnes of Bohemia], the daughter of the late Valclav II, king of Bohemia and Poland, and granddaughter of Przemysł II, king of Poland. At the time of the wedding, in 1316, Anežka was eleven years old and stayed with her mother, Queen Dowager Ryksa Elżbieta, till 1319 when she arrived in her husband's duchy and the marriage was consummated. Nine years later, on 24 August 1325, when in England Edward had a payment made to Jack Pyk, a valet of the chmaber "on the information of the king's little Knife" (the nickname for one of the king's chamber staff), Henryk and Anežka, who were within fourth degrees of consanguinity, finally obtained dispensation from Pope John XXII. As for the hostilities that broke out in 1316, they marked the beginning of over twenty years of Henryk-John conflicts, with the latter attempting to assert feudal supremacy over the lands of the former.

The unique Lancelot paintings preserved in the former Great Hall of the Tower (courtesy of the ducal tower of Siedlęcin)

In the 1320s Edward alienated most of the nobles of the realm, wreaked vengeance on those who participated in the Contrariant Rebellion and got himself involved in a number of pointless feuds with his bishops, all this with Hugh Despenser the Younger on his side. The latter was so high in Edward's favour, so powerful and so hated that he provoked the Marcher lords into a series of attacks on his lands, known today as the Despenser War. When he was captured with the king in 1326, his fate was sealed. So was Edward's. The king was deposed and allegedly murdured in 1327. The echoes of those events must have reached Silesia. Unfortunately, we will never learn what Henryk thought about it. It seems that at the time he was busy planning his major undertaking. Preserved monuments and names of the Arthurian characters given to the sons of the Silesian noblility indicate that the Arthurian legends were known at the courts of medieval Poland and Silesia, but Henryk was the first Piast ruler to comission Arthurian paintings in one of his seats. It seems, however, that whereas the Plantagenets were interested in using the Arthurian material for political purposes, just as Edward's father in his fight against Llywelyn ap Gruffyd, Henryk seemed to have had the walls of his great hall painted chiefly for esthetic purpose and his own pleasure. Perhaps it was also a matter of prestige. Anyway, his financial problems might have stemmed from his grand projects, the building of the tower and comissioning of the murals. One of the theories holds that whoever he was, the author of the beautiful Lancelot paintings came to Świdnica and Jawor in the 1340s, with the wife of Duke Henryk's nephew, Agnes von Habsburg (1315-1392). Agnes was the daughter of Duke of Austria, Leopold I from the House of Habsburg, and Catherine of Savoy, which meant close ties with Switzerland. Historians point out that there were close analogies between the Siedlęcin paintings and the ones existing around Zurich and Konstanz at the time. Of course the Swiss connections might have been established earlier which would mean that the murals were painted long before 1338. Needless to say, today they truly are one of a kind.

Duel between Lancelot and Tarquin (courtesy of Hannibal Smoke: Emplarium)
By 1335 John the Blind of Bohemia made all the Silesian dukes pay homage to him, all except Henryk and his young nephew, Bolko II the Small of Świdnica [Schweidnitz]. Henryk and John eventually came to terms, but Henryk never bowed his neck under the yoke of the king of Bohemia. He remained independent ruler until his death in the spring of 1346. Ironically, King John, Henryk's greatest opponent, died only a few months later, fighting bravely at the Battle of Crécy . It is fascinating to speculate whether Edward might have heard about the battle, after all his son won a great victory over the French that day. If he still lived, he must have been in his sixties, leading a peaceful life of a hermit in Italy.

Lancelot sleeping underneath the apple tree (courtesy of Hannibal Smoke:Emplarium)


Thank you so much, Kasia, for that fascinating post! Here is the link to the medieval Ducal Tower in Siedlecin: http://www.wiezasiedlecin.pl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=97&Itemid=101

31 July, 2015

A Royal Adultery Scandal In 1314

Edward II's queen Isabella of France, then eighteen years old, visited her homeland in March/April 1314 to petition her father Philip IV on some matters concerning her husband's duchy of Gascony. Isabella arrived in Paris on 16 March 1314, the day after her father had Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, and his deputy Geoffrey de Charnay burned alive on an island in the middle of the River Seine.  The queen returned to England in late April 1314, just after Edward II's thirtieth birthday.

It is probable that while she was in France, Isabella discovered that Marguerite and Blanche of Burgundy, respectively the wives of her eldest brother Louis, king of Navarre (then aged twenty-four) and third brother Charles, count of La Marche (nineteen going on twenty), had been conducting extramarital affairs with the d’Aulnay brothers, Philip and Gautier, and informed her father. It is not certain that she did, but several fourteenth-century chroniclers thought that she had, and it would perhaps be a little too much of a coincidence that she just happened to be in Paris at the time that the scandal broke. On 6 April 1314, a payment was made to several boys carrying torches who escorted Isabella after dark to her father’s palace on various occasions, which, although it may of course have been entirely innocent, certainly sounds rather cloak-and-dagger. Whether Isabella did tell her father or the news came out in some other way, it transpired that Queen Marguerite and Countess Blanche had been meeting their lovers at the Tour de Nesle, a tower in Paris, where they had dined with the d’Aulnay brothers and afterwards committed adultery with them. Joan of Burgundy, older sister of Blanche* and wife of Isabella’s second brother Philip of Poitiers, was not accused of having a sexual affair with anyone, though did apparently know what was going on and ineffectually begged the women to stop, but did not tell anyone. Joan was temporarily imprisoned in 1314 but released after her father-in-law’s death later that year. She remained married to Philip for the rest of his life, and was queen-consort of France between 1316 and 1322. On the death of her mother Mahaut, she inherited the county of Artois, and had already inherited the county of Burgundy from her father.

* Joan (b. 1287/88) and Blanche (b. 1295/96) of Burgundy were the daughters of Othon IV, count of Burgundy, and Mahaut, countess of Artois in her own right.  The county of Burgundy was also known as the Franche-Comté.  Marguerite of Burgundy (b. 1290) was the daughter of Robert II, duke of Burgundy, and Agnes of France, youngest daughter of Saint Louis IX.  Marguerite was thus a first cousin of her husband's father Philip IV.  Her younger sister Joan, b. c. 1293, married Isabella of France's first cousin Philip of Valois and became queen-consort of France in 1328. (Which means that there was Philip V of France and his wife Joan of Burgundy, and his cousin Philip VI of France and his wife Joan of Burgundy. Nope, not confusing at all!)

If Isabella did break this scandal, as a few chroniclers claim she did, her motives were almost certainly not vindictive. She was the daughter of two sovereigns and had been raised with a sacred sense of royalty, and therefore, would have been profoundly disturbed at the notion that her sisters-in-law might foist a child not of the royal bloodline onto the French throne.  In my opinion, though some historians have questioned the truth of the story, there is little doubt that Marguerite and Blanche of Burgundy were indeed sleeping with the d’Aulnay brothers. The severe punishment meted out to the two women (perpetual imprisonment) and the d’Aulnays (grotesque execution) suggests that the evidence against them was undeniable. Philip IV would not have imprisoned his first cousin Marguerite of Burgundy, whose royal mother and Philip’s own aunt Agnes of France was still alive, and proclaimed two of his sons as cuckolds before the whole of Europe, had he not been certain of Marguerite and Blanche’s guilt. A rather later and mostly unreliable French chronicler claims that Isabella spotted what was going on when she gave her sisters-in-law a gift of purses during her and Edward’s visit to Paris in the summer of 1313, and on her second visit in 1314 saw the d’Aulnay brothers wearing them. The story may (or may not) have some truth in it, but Philip IV would have required far more compelling evidence than this to imprison a woman who was Saint Louis IX’s granddaughter, the crowned and anointed queen of Navarre and the duke of Burgundy's sister.

Marguerite and Blanche of Burgundy, weeping, their heads shaved, were sentenced to life imprisonment in Château Gaillard, the grim and forbidding fortress in Normandy built in the 1190s by King Richard Lionheart of England. Their lovers suffered a far worse fate: they were castrated and their genitals thrown to dogs, flayed, and broken on the wheel, before decapitation mercifully put an end to their dreadful torment. The later English chronicle Scalacronica claims that one of the brothers escaped to England, but was captured in York and sent back to France, though the story is unconfirmed by any other evidence. Blanche of Burgundy was only about eighteen or nineteen in 1314, and had given birth to her son Philip – who died as a child a few years later – mere weeks before her arrest. The marriages of Louis and Marguerite and Charles and Blanche were not annulled; Louis had to wait until Marguerite’s death in August 1315 before he could marry again, and Charles remained married to the captive Blanche until September 1322, after he succeeded to the French throne and finally managed to persuade Pope John XXII to annul their marriage. Even then, annulment was granted on the grounds of spiritual affinity, as Blanche’s mother Countess Mahaut of Artois was Charles’ godmother, and not because of Blanche’s adultery. Blanche of Burgundy was finally released from prison in 1325 and died, her health broken, sometime in late 1325 or early 1326, still aged only thirty. Marguerite of Burgundy became queen-consort of France, at least in name, on the death of her father-in-law Philip IV in November 1314, but was never crowned or acknowledged as such. She died on 15 August 1315 at the age of twenty-five, either murdered or as the result of harsh treatment during her incarceration.  Her only child succeeded as Queen Joan II of Navarre at the age of sixteen in 1328, married her cousin Philip of Evreux, and was the mother of Charles 'the Bad', king of Navarre and count of Evreux.  Herr widower Louis X of France and Navarre married his second wife Clemence of Hungary four days after her death.

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?!