22 September, 2018

Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger

For me, one of the great fascinations of Edward II's reign is his relationship with Hugh Despenser the Younger. Considering this was a relationship which was a major factor in bringing down a king, very little is known about it.

What is often missed in accounts of Edward II's reign is that Edward and Hugh the Younger must have known each other for most of their lives, not necessarily particularly well, but it's hardly as though Hugh was a stranger to Edward when he was appointed his chamberlain in or before October 1318. Hugh's father Hugh the Elder was a consummate courtier whom Edward I often sent on important diplomatic missions abroad, to, for example, the pope, the king of Germany and the archbishop of Cologne, beginning in 1286 when Hugh the Elder was twenty-five and for the rest of his reign. Hugh the Younger's maternal grandfather was William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, who was almost exactly Edward I's own age, and Warwick's younger brother Sir Walter Beauchamp, Hugh's great-uncle, was steward of Edward I's household from 1289 to 1303. Hugh's older half-sister Maud Chaworth (b. 1282) was one of the young Edward of Caernarfon's noble companions in 1290 and perhaps in other years, and so was their second cousin Eleanor de Burgh, one of the many daughters of the earl of Ulster.

Hugh Despenser the Younger himself was probably born in 1288 or 1289 so was about four or five years younger than Edward II, a little too young to be his companion in childhood, but he and his close family were part of the court, which I feel is a point too often missed. There seems to be an assumption on occasion that the Despensers were little more than nobodies and an unimportant or even non-baronial family, or that Hugh and his father were merely humble country knights. Hugh the Elder was in fact the stepson of the earl of Norfolk and the son-in-law of the earl of Warwick, and as I've pointed out before, it was Edward I who arranged Hugh the Younger's marriage to his eldest granddaughter Eleanor de Clare in 1306, the year before his death. Edward I was not a man to marry his granddaughter off to a mere nobody. Edward of Caernarfon attended Hugh and Eleanor's wedding on 26 May 1306 - Eleanor, his eldest niece, was thirteen at the time and Hugh about seventeen - but he certainly didn't arrange it after Hugh became his favourite many years later, as often assumed.

Growing up in the 1290s and early 1300s, Edward of Caernarfon would have known exactly who Hugh Despenser the Younger was. The later chronicler Geoffrey le Baker claims that Edward II hated Hugh before he was made his chamberlain 1318. This may well be an exaggeration, but it seems to me that Edward, at the very least, did not like or trust Hugh at all before Hugh inherited his wife Eleanor's third of the de Clare lands in late 1317 and before Hugh was made his chamberlain a few months later, and he was forced to work with him. It's remarkable, given Hugh's dominance of the government and foreign policy and of Edward himself, especially after his return to England from piracy in 1322, how little Hugh appears on record in the first ten years of Edward II's reign. His father Hugh the Elder was often at court and was one of the godfathers of Edward's son Edward of Windsor in 1312; his wife Eleanor née de Clare was Edward's oldest niece and often visited the king and received generous gifts from him; Hugh, by contrast, was almost entirely ignored by the king for many years. A large part of that was because Hugh had no lands of his own and no political influence whatsoever - he was only summoned to parliament for the first time after the death of his brother-in-law the earl of Gloucester in 1314 - but some of it was surely personal. For example, when Edward II gave Hugh's wife Eleanor gifts of money in 1313 and 1314, he had to give the money to Hugh as he was Eleanor's husband and that was how it worked, but he pointedly declared that the money was a gift to Eleanor only. The Lords Ordainer complained in late 1311 that two knights and unnamed others of the royal household had left court with the specific intention of assaulting Hugh Despenser the Younger, and while it's not clear whether Edward told them to do it or not, he certainly knew about it.

Hugh the Younger was chosen as Edward II's chamberlain in or before October 1318, "at the request of the magnates," as the records of the parliament held that month indicate. The chamberlain was the man responsible for controlling access to the king, and after Hugh and Edward began spending a lot of time together, Edward's feelings changed dramatically. How this happened, I don't know; it's not visible in the extant records. It is clear, though, that by the following year, 1319, Hugh had worked his way into the king's favour, and from then until the end of the reign was to remain there. Having written this post, I'm still not entirely sure what my point is or how to end the post, except to emphasise that Edward II and Hugh Despenser had known each other for a realllllly long time before Hugh became Edward's chamberlain in 1318, that Edward might well have disliked Hugh before the two men began spending lots of time together (or at the very least was indifferent to him), and that however Hugh managed to work his way into Edward's favour, he did it so brilliantly that Edward refused to give him up in 1325/6 even when faced with an invasion of his kingdom.

15 September, 2018


I haven't done a photo post for absolutely ages, so here are some pics from my recent holiday to Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. (For the benefit of non-British readers, these places are pronounced: herrafudshuh; wustershuh; glostershuh. Tewkesbury is pronounced chooksburee or chooksbree. Ledbury is - hurrah! - pronounced as spelt.) Also, a couple from my recent visit to Nottinghamshire. Click on the pics to enlarge them.

Gloucester Cathedral, formerly St Peter's Abbey (until the Dissolution). Burial place of Edward II...or is it? :-)

Edward II's gorgeous tomb and effigy (two pics).

The effigy of Edward II's great-grandfather King John (d. 1216) in Worcester Cathedral. Not a great photo, but there were a few people walking around looking at it and I snapped a couple of pics hastily before they wandered into shot.

Several pics of the wonderful effigy of Blanche née Mortimer, Lady Grandison (d. 1347), one of the eight daughters of Roger Mortimer, first earl of March (1287-1330) and Joan Geneville (1286-1356), in St Bartholomew's Church, Much Marcle, Herefordshire. She's so stunningly beautiful. She's wearing a head-dress and wimple, a cloak tied across the front and long buttoned sleeves, she's clutching a rosary, her head rests on a cushion, and her feet rest on a dog whose head has broken off. Words cannot express how much I love this effigy and how absolutely thrilled I was to see it at last.

Malvern Priory, Great Malvern, Worcestershire, in the sunshine. A Benedictine monastery, it was founded c. 1075 and dissolved in 1540/41.

View from Great Malvern, in the Malvern Hills - the town is on a remarkably steep hill - with the priory in the foreground. This area was a hunting chase in the Middle Ages, and passed from the de Clares to the Despensers via Eleanor de Clare's marriage to Hugh Despenser the Younger. Probably in 1324, Hugh the Younger imprisoned a man for taking venison from his chase at Malvern.

Another view from a village near Great Malvern.

The Olde Trip to Jerusalem pub in Nottingham, supposedly the oldest inn in England (though this claim is disputed).

Mortimer's Hole, Nottingham Castle, supposedly used by Edward III and his band of young knights to arrest Roger Mortimer on 19 October 1330.

Hereford Cathedral, originally founded c. 670s; rebuilt in the late 1070s onwards; home of the Mappa Mundi.

View of Hereford Cathedral and the bishop's palace from the River Wye.

The site of Hereford's vanished castle, probably either the location of Hugh Despenser the Younger's trial on 24 November 1326, or his execution.

Church Lane, Ledbury, Herefordshire, a little street of Tudor buildings, with the church at the end.

The Painted Room, Ledbury, with wall paintings and Biblical quotations dating to very early in Elizabeth I's reign (1558-1603).

Building on Church Lane, Ledbury, dating to c. 1490.

The Olde Black Bear pub in Tewkesbury, the oldest pub in Gloucestershire, dating back to 1308, i.e. the beginning of Edward II's reign (it's currently closed for business). I had a drink here a few years ago; it still amazes me that I sat in a pub that Edward II might have known when he visited Tewkesbury.

Tewkesbury Abbey, founded 1092 as a Benedictine house, mausoleum of the de Clares and Despensers. Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester (d. 1295) is buried here, as are his son Gilbert, killed at Bannockburn in 1314, his father Richard (d. 1262), his grandfather Gilbert (d. 1230) and his daughter Eleanor Despenser (d. 1337). Both of Eleanor's husbands, Hugh Despenser the Younger (d. 1326) and William la Zouche (d. 1337) are here, as are her eldest son Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser (d. 1349), his wife Elizabeth Montacute (d. 1359) and her third husband Guy Bryan (d. 1390), Eleanor and Hugh the Younger's grandson Edward Despenser (1336-75), great-grandson Thomas Despenser (1373-1400) and great-great-granddaughter Isabelle, countess of Worcester and Warwick (1400-39) and Isabelle's elder brother Richard Despenser (1396-1413). Henry VI and Marguerite of Anjou's son Edward of Lancaster, prince of Wales was buried here after the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, and in 1478 so was Edward IV's brother George, duke of Clarence.

On the far right of the pic you can just see the effigy of Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser (1308/9-1349), lord of Glamorgan, eldest great-grandchild of Edward I. The chantry on the left is Isabelle Despenser, countess of Worcester and Warwick (1400-39), the Despenser heir, grandmother of Richard III's queen Anne Neville. Isabelle was the great-granddaughter of Huchon's younger brother Edward (c. 1310-1342).

The tomb of Hugh Despenser the Younger. Edward III gave Hugh's 'friends' and widow Eleanor permission to collect his remains from London, Dover, Bristol, York and Carlisle and bury him on 15 December 1330, just over four years after his execution in Hereford. For a condemned traitor who suffered the appalling fate of death by hanging, drawing and quartering, Hugh did pretty well to end up with a final resting place that still exists nearly 700 years later. (The fire extinguisher that used to sit right next to Hugh's tomb has now been moved.)

Worcester Cathedral again: the magnificent chantry of Arthur, prince of Wales (1486-1502), son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, elder brother of Henry VIII.

Inside Arthur's chantry.

09 September, 2018

The Victimisation of Isabella of France

I've been baffled for years at the way some modern writers seem determined to turn Isabella of France into a long-suffering tragic victim, and to invent misery and humiliation Isabella supposedly endured at the hands of her husband Edward II and his male 'favourites'. The narrative begins with Edward and Isabella's arrival in Dover in early 1308 a few days after their wedding in Boulogne, when Edward supposedly 'ignores' his new wife and humiliates her by kissing Gaveston in front of her. Then he fails to give her any income for an inordinately long time until he's forced to. He doesn't give her the attention which is her due. He gives her jewels or wedding gifts to Gaveston and allows his lover to parade himself in front of the queen wearing her own jewellery. He ignores her again at their coronation banquet, leaving her to 'fend for herself' (an actual quotation, as though the banquet was a deeply dangerous event). As the years go on, he fails to show her the slightest respect and affection and prefers his male favourites to her. He only makes love with her reluctantly in order to produce children. He treats her like a 'brood mare'. He abandons her weeping and pregnant to save Gaveston. He abandons her at Tynemouth again a few years later and permits his lover to conspire with the Scots to seize her and take her captive. He cruelly removes her children from her. He allows his lover to rape her. He allows his lover into their marital bed and demeans Isabella by talking of the 'stink of French mare' within earshot. He takes her lands from her and gives her an income that's only a 'fraction' of her previous income. (The confiscation of her lands is certainly true, but Isabella received an income that was almost half of what she had received before. This whole thing was unpleasant and deeply unfair on Edward's part, but I don't think almost fifty percent is a 'fraction' which instantly reduced her to rag-wearing penury.) There's even a series of novels, published some years ago, by the same writer who's invented much of the above in his non-fiction, that depict Isabella as the victim of sexual assault and rape at the hands of her father and three older brothers in childhood.

Almost all of this is absolute nonsense. The tale about Edward giving Isabella's jewels to Gaveston was invented by Agnes Strickland in the nineteenth century. The idea that Isabella was forced to endure an excessively long wait for any income is not borne out by comparison with other grants of dower in the early fourteenth century (it took about three months, and the situation was complicated by the fact that Edward II's stepmother Marguerite, Isabella's aunt, was alive. Compare this to the more than two years Isabella forced her daughter-in-law Philippa of Hainault to wait for her own rightful lands). The tale that Edward abandoned Isabella weeping in May 1312 was based on one chronicler's confusion of events of 1312 and those of 1322, and is disproved by their own household accounts of that year which show that the royal couple left Tynemouth at the same time and that Isabella travelled by land to meet her husband a few days later, being in the first trimester of pregnancy and therefore deciding to avoid the North Sea. The most egregious invention is the idea that Edward deliberately and cruelly removed Isabella's children from her, and since the late 1970s when this daft notion was first dreamed up, we've had novels where Isabella's young children are ripped, screaming, from their mother's arms, after Isabella has spent much of the novel telegraphing this cruelty by stating over and over how dreadful it would be if she lost her children. For pity's sake. The whole absurd melodrama of it all; it's less subtle than a sledgehammer.

A lot of the modern inventions about Edward II and Isabella of France's marriage make me deeply uncomfortable. According to several writers, Isabella did not only endure the Worst Marriage Ever, she was raped, sexually assaulted, demeaned and humiliated. I posted about a French comic last week, published as recently as 2012, which has Edward bringing Hugh Despenser into Isabella's bed to, ahem, get him ready to make love with his wife (this results in their son John of Eltham). After a dejected Isabella climbs out of bed afterwards, Edward and Hugh prepare to have some proper fun now that the horrible chore is over, and Edward says loudly that he has to give himself a good wash to get rid of "the stink of French mare." This is not only grossly homophobic, it's grossly sexist. Piling utter humiliation on a woman, turning her husband into a nasty gay caricature who loathes women and who gets a kick out of demeaning his royal wife and queen in the coarsest, crudest way possible, is simply revolting.

Two books published as non-fiction in the twenty-first century enthusiastically push the notion that Isabella was a victim of rape and sexual assault at the hands of Hugh Despenser the Younger, based on nothing more than rhetorical questions and, so it seems to me, perhaps based on a belief that to be considered 'strong' to a modern audience, a woman has to be the survivor of sexual assault. And not only are we told that Isabella's husband permitted his own lover to assault her sexually or even to rape her, her own father and three older brothers do too in a series of popular recent novels, before Isabella marries Edward and when she is still only a child. Seriously, what the hell is this? Why does this happen? Why do people do this? Why do Isabella's fans feel this need to pile ever more abuse and humiliation on her? And why do people complain on the one hand about the 'sexual prejudices' suffered by Isabella but think it's a mighty fine idea to pile homophobic abuse on Edward II? Why is it OK to accuse people of deeply serious, violent crimes without the slightest evidence? Why is it seen as a good idea to rescue Isabella from the opprobrium heaped on her for so long by heaping it on her husband instead? The whole thing is so childishly simplistic, no nuance, no depth, just idiotically one-dimensional Good People and Bad People. Even stuff like Isabella being forced to endure the company of Eleanor Despenser née de Clare, supposedly foisted on her by Edward and Hugh against her wishes, paints the queen as a helpless, passive victim who couldn't even choose who she wanted to spend time with. I just don't get why people do this. The absolute last thing Isabella of France was, was a helpless, passive victim.

After suffering so so so so so so so much at the hands of her nasty cruel perverted gay husband, the story goes, Isabella finally finds love and fulfilment and great sex in the arms of a strong manly virile heterosexual lover who is, conveniently enough, the exact opposite of Horrid Gay Edward. This is a narrative that's been created in fairly recent times and has had the names of real people added to it. It's not true. There's not one part of it that's even remotely close to being historically accurate. Actually it's about as accurate as Braveheart.

Basically, Edward and Isabella's relationship was a royal marriage that was actually, all things considered, pretty successful for a number of years, until Hugh Despenser the Younger returned from exile in March 1322, began to dominate Edward and the government, and decided to sideline Isabella. That Edward let him do it, when Isabella had always been such a supportive and affectionate partner, is one of the fascinations of the reign. Relationships are complex, and the reality is far more interesting than the usual 'horrid gay man torments his tragic neglected wife for years on end' narrative. What did happen between Isabella, Edward II and Hugh Despenser - and even, for that matter, with Hugh's wife Eleanor, who seems to have been more than usually close to her uncle Edward - in and after 1322? I don't know, but I do know that an awful lot of what has been written about them has been sheer nonsense.

Isabella's two daughters Eleanor of Woodstock, duchess of Guelders, and Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland, both did endure unhappy marriages. Eleanor's husband rejected her and pretended she had leprosy, Joan's husband took a parade of mistresses, one of whom was killed by David II's disgruntled barons as a result of her excessive influence over the king (shades of Piers Gaveston). In stark contrast to Isabella, I don't think I've ever seen a single person complaining about what Eleanor and Joan endured, and I'm afraid I find it hard to accept that homophobia doesn't play a part in the endless weeping and wailing over Isabella's supposed suffering at the hands of her husband. Compare the usual treatment of Edward II's extra-marital liaisons to the endless romanticising of the relationship between the very married Roger Mortimer and Isabella, and the endless romanticising of the long-term adulterous relationship between Edward and Isabella's grandson John of Gaunt and his mistress, later his third wife, Katherine Swynford. I don't recall ever seeing anyone taking the slightest interest in the feelings of Gaunt's second wife Constanza of Castile, or Roger Mortimer's wife Joan Geneville. Oh, but John of Gaunt and Roger Mortimer took female lovers, so that's all right then.

Isabella of France would not recognise herself in the popular modern narrative of her life. She was a royal autocrat, a fourteenth-century woman, not a modern woman plonked down 700 years ago with modern ideas of equality or finding fulfilment in the arms of a manly lover. She wouldn't recognise her immensely physical powerful husband - remember, Edward II was called 'one of the strongest men in his realm' - in the absurdly caricatured modern depictions of him as a weak, feeble, camp court fop, which say far more than about the people who write them than they do about Edward II. 

30 August, 2018

A French Cartoon about Edward II and Isabella of France

A friend of mine on Facebook recently drew my attention to a series of French comics about Edward II's queen Isabella, which are, inevitably, called Isabelle, La Louve de France or 'Isabella, The She-Wolf of France'. (This nickname, incidentally, was first applied to Isabella in 1757, in English, and has no historical basis whatsoever. La Louve is simply the French translation of the name and also has no historical basis whatsoever.) In particular, my friend commented on a bizarre sex scene with Edward, Isabella and Hugh Despenser the Younger she had read in the comic. See here for the comic; the sex scene is available via the Amazon 'look inside' function. I have no idea what the rest of the comic is like, but I have some serious problems with this bit. Here are the images; my translation into English is below.

First image:

Isabella: I am not your pet!

Edward: Right! You're nothing but a belly. I need heirs. It's your duty as queen! You should be grateful to my dear Despenser that he knows how to get me in the mood instead of whining. On all fours and turn over!

Second image:

Despenser: Now that the chore is over, my Edward, we'll finally be able to entertain ourselves!

Edward: Give me time to cleanse myself first. I can't stand the stink of French mare any more!

Isabella: *sad face*


Yowza. This is very reminiscent of Maurice Druon's Les Rois Maudits or The Accursed Kings series of novels, which feature a scene where Isabella states that she wrote to the pope to complain that Edward brought Hugh Despenser into their bed to, errrm, help him conceive his and Isabella's children. Given that Edward and Hugh's relationship began in late 1318 or 1319, before the conception and birth of all but one of Edward and Isabella's children, this seems incredibly unlikely. I know it's fiction, but the whole idea strikes me as blatantly homophobic. Edward II loved Isabella and their relationship worked perfectly well for many years until it all went horribly wrong in and after 1322. The idea that he would have treated her like this, insulted her to her face, brought another man into their bed, would be laughable if it wasn't so horrible, misogynistic and homophobic.

In the comic Hugh is called Edward's mignon, which in modern French means 'cute' but historically refers to the male 'favourites' or 'minions' of kings, whereas - of course! - Roger Mortimer is called Isabella's amant, 'lover'. This almost always happens in modern accounts of Edward II and Isabella, even now near the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century when we're supposed to live in a tolerant and progressive era. Heterosexual people have 'lovers'. Homosexual or bisexual people have 'minions' or 'favourites' or 'friends'. 'Friends' they love for most of their lives and bring their kingdoms to the brink of civil war over on several occasions, but yeah, they're just friends.

Edward himself is said to be a homosexuel notoire, 'notorious homosexual'. I wonder why only gay people are 'notorious' for their sexuality? Have you ever seen the words 'notorious heterosexual'?

And yes, I know it's fiction. I've had the 'but it's FICTION!!!' crowd bellowing that at me for over a decade. Braveheart is 'just fiction' but a gay man gets thrown out of a window for cheap laughs and another is cuckolded by the manly virile straight hero. A romance novel I reviewed a few years ago is 'just fiction' but refers to a gay man as a disgusting perverted worm. Funny how this 'but it's just fiction' argument so often seems to be used to defend and perpetuate offensive stereotypes and prejudices. 

24 August, 2018

Sir John Somery (d. 1322) And His Sisters Margaret Sutton And Joan Botetourt

Sir John Somery, lord of Dudley, Sedgley, Rowley Somery and other places in the Midlands, was born around 1280 as the son and heir of Roger Somery (1255-October 1291) and a woman called Agnes (I'm not sure of her background). When Agnes Somery died in November 1308, her son John was said to be twenty-eight years old. [CIPM 1307-17, no. 128] In May 1311, John Somery sued the chief justice of the court of common pleas, William Bereford, for defamation after Bereford and unnamed others stated that John "has obtained such mastery in the county of Stafford that no one can obtain law or justice therein; that he has made himself more than a king there; that no one can dwell there unless he buys protection from him, either by money or by assisting him in building his castles; and that he attacks people in their own houses with the intention of killing them, unless they make fine for his protection." [Patent Rolls 1307-13, p. 369]

Sir John Somery, a loyal royal knight who took part in Edward II's campaign against the Contrariants in 1321/22, married a woman called Lucy - I'm not sure of her background either - and died childless shortly before 24 August 1322 in his early forties. [CIPM 1317-27, no. 428] The heirs to Somery's sizeable inheritance in several Midlands counties were his two younger sisters Margaret Sutton, aged "thirty-two at the feast of Easter last" (i.e. born around 11 April 1290) and Joan Botetourt, "aged thirty at the feast of John the Baptist last" (i.e. born around 24 June 1292, and if this date is correct, she was Roger Somery's posthumous daughter and born more than eight months after his death). Margaret was married to Sir John Sutton, and Joan was the widow of Sir Thomas Botetourt, the eldest son of John, Lord Botetourt and his wife Maud née FitzThomas. Thomas Botetourt died shortly before 28 July 1322, just weeks before his brother-in-law John Somery. [CIPM 1317-27, no. 412] Thomas's heir was his and Joan née Somery's son John, said to be four years old in August 1322 in his father's IPM and seven in his grandfather John, Lord Botetourt's IPM of December 1324. John was actually born, according to his mother Joan née Somery's IPM, on 14 September 1318. [CIPM 1336-46, no. 181] John, Lord Botetourt the elder died on 25 November 1324 in his sixties, and his widow Maud née FitzThomas outlived him by some years. [CIPM 1317-27, no. 587] John Botetourt the younger, born 1318, nephew of Sir John Somery and the Botetourt heir and Somery co-heir, married Joyce la Zouche, younger half-sister of Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and stepdaughter of Edward II's niece Eleanor Despenser from her second marriage to William la Zouche of Ashby in Leicestershire.

I'm not entirely sure what, if any, children Sir John and Margaret Sutton, the other sister and brother-in-law of John Somery, had; Sutton was a common name, John and Margaret were incredibly common names, and it's hard to distinguish them from other people of the same name. It is sure, however, that this couple and specifically John became victims of Hugh Despenser the Younger in 1325. Hugh forced John to hand over eight of the manors he and Margaret had inherited from her brother John Somery to him after supposedly imprisoning him at Westminster for three weeks. Which does, let's face it, sound like exactly the sort of thing Hugh was capable of. Hugh, however, left the widowed Joan Botetourt, the other Somery sister, alone, though he did go after her parents-in-law John and Maud Botetourt in 1323 when he forced them to hand over a manor to him. More details in my forthcoming biography of Hugh the Younger, including a fascinating letter Hugh sent to John Botetourt senior in 1323 regarding his manor!

19 August, 2018

An Interview And An Article

I'm quoted in an article in the Washington Post! See here. As - apparently, I know nothing about it - a Mountbatten cousin of the royal family is marrying his husband this year, the journalist Kayla Epstein decided to write an article about gay British royals in history, and we talked on the phone some weeks ago about Edward II and his relationships with Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser.

My talk in the village of East Leake on 9 August, on the 700th anniversary of Edward II meeting his cousin Thomas of Lancaster in the village, went great. Around 125 people attended. After the talk, the lovely Paul Bradshaw interviewed me for his excellent Youtube channel Viral History (see also the Viral History website, here). The next morning, Paul was able to arrange for me to join a tour of Nottingham Castle grounds, currently closed for excavation, and I got to see Mortimer's Hole.

And here is Paul's interview with me on Youtube! It's just under ten minutes, and please do watch!  For any of you who are on Facebook, here is the Viral History page, and the interview with me is also here.

14 August, 2018

Hugh Despenser the Younger's Mares: A Journey, July 1325

In July 1325, Edward II gave his beloved chamberlain Hugh Despenser the Younger a hugely generous gift: eighty-four mares. The horses were perhaps intended to replace the even larger number of horses which Hugh claimed the Marcher lords had stolen from him during the Despenser War in May 1321. Edward charged five men with the task of leading the seven dozen horses from 'La Neyte' (somewhere in London, I'm never sure where) to Hugh's castle of Chepstow in South Wales (which Hugh had 'persuaded' the king's own half-brother Thomas, earl of Norfolk and earl marshal, to give to him in 1323 in return for a rather measly payment). Presumably Hugh kept a stud-farm there. London to Chepstow is a distance of 125 miles or so. The journey of the five men and eighty-four horses took ten days, and each stop was carefully recorded by Edward II's clerks in his chamber account (SAL MS 122).

The men charged with leading Hugh's horses the 125 miles to Chepstow were: Richard 'Hick' Mereworth, a valet of the king's chamber who came from Henley-on-Thames, and whose wife Johane became pregnant some weeks after his return; Litel Wille Fisher, a page of the king's chamber and one of his huntsmen, and the son of his valet Edmund 'Monde' Fisher; Henry of Morton; Watte Coleman; and Robyn atte Mulne. I'm unfamiliar with these last three men; perhaps they served in Hugh's own household. Leading the royal favourite's horses, a gift to him from the king himself, was one heck of a responsibility, especially as Hugh Despenser the Younger has never struck me as the kind of man who'd cheerily wave it off if the men made any kind of error or fault whatsoever when it came to his horses.

The journey began on 6 July 1325, which Edward's clerk recorded as "the eve of the Translation of St Thomas [Becket], the sixth day of July." On this night, the men and horses travelled to Brentford and spent the night there, and accommodation for all cost two shillings and eight pence. The 7th of July was spent at Maidenhead ('Maydenhuthe'), and accommodation cost three shillings and two pence. Monday 8 July was spent at Henley-on-Thames, where Hick Mereworth came from, and the lodgings there cost two shillings and eleven pence. The 9th of July was spent at Wallingford and the night there cost two shillings and seven pence, and 10 July at Abingdon, which cost two shillings and ten pence. The 11th of July was spent at Faringdon and the night's lodgings cost three shillings and four pence, and the 12th at somewhere called Borewardcotes - no idea where that is - which cost two shillings and seven pence. The 13th of July was spent at Cirencester and the night cost three shillings and three pence, and 14 July was spent at Gloucester, where it cost exactly the same. The 15th of July was spent at 'Wyttele', and the night cost two shillings and seven pence, and at some point on 16 July, the last day, the men availed themselves of "a meadow which belongs to Sir Gilbert Talbot by the road between Wyttele and Strigoil," i.e. Chepstow.

Coming back without the horses must have taken the five men only four days, as two of them were paid for fourteen days in total, and were back at court on 19 July 1325 (Edward II was at the Tower of London that day). Hick, leader of the five, received four pence a day for the full fourteen days; Watte Coleman was paid two pence a day for fourteen days and Henry of Morton two pence a day for ten days; and Litel Wille Fisher and Robyn atte Mulne received one and a half pence each for ten days. Litel Wille and Robyn were almost certainly just boys or very young men, which explains the discrepancy in pay. Interesting to note that Hick Mereworth and Watte Coleman were paid for the return journey but the others weren't; presumably, then, Henry, Litel Wille and Robyn didn't go back to court afterwards, at least not right away. In total, the journey of eighty-four mares and five men cost the king forty shillings and two pence, and all the costs were recorded in Edward's accounts a few weeks later on 27 August. Either Hick Mereworth and his associates had made notes of how much everything cost and where, implying that at least one of them was literate, or they had extremely good memories.

06 August, 2018

Treaty of Leake Talk; Hugh Despenser the Younger Bio

This coming Thursday, 9 August, I'm giving a talk about Edward II in the village of East Leake between Nottingham and Loughborough to mark the 700th anniversary of Edward signing the treaty of Leake with his cousin and enemy Thomas of Lancaster in the village on 9 August 1318. The talk begins at 7.30pm in the library, and I'm sharing it with local historian Keith Hodgkinson. Entrance is free, and if you're anywhere in the vicinity, do come along!

In other news, my biography of Hugh Despenser the Younger, out on 30 October, is now available for pre-order: Amazon; Waterstones; W H Smith; Book Depository (US). Blood Roses is also out in October.

01 August, 2018

The Dates of Birth of Edward Burnell, Giles Badlesmere, John Mowbray and Laurence Hastings

Edward Burnell, son and heir of Philip Burnell (d. 1294), great-nephew and heir of Robert Burnell, bishop of Bath and Wells and chancellor of England (d. 1292), nephew of Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (1267-1302), was born on 22 July 1287, not 1286 as some writers including myself have stated. His father Philip's Inquisition Post Mortem states that Edward was "aged seven on the feast of St Mary Magdalene last" in early August 1294; aged "seven years entering the eighth year" on 10 August 1294; and "six at the feast of St Mary Magdalene last" on the eve of St Mary Magdalene in 1294. [CIPM 1291-1300, no. 194] Edward Burnell married Alina Despenser, eldest child of Hugh Despenser the Elder, in or soon after early May 1302 when he was fourteen going on fifteen and she about the same age. They had no children and Edward died on 23 August 1315 at the age of twenty-eight, leaving his younger sister Maud Lovel as his heir.

Giles Badlesmere, son and heir of Bartholomew Badlesmere, was born on 8 October 1314 in Hambleton, Rutland. [CIPM 1327-36, no. 691] This was a manor belonging to Giles' mother Margaret née de Clare from her first marriage to Gilbert Umfraville. One of Giles' godfathers was Sir Robert Wateville, and he had four sisters: Margery, Lady Ros, Elizabeth, countess of Northampton (and the mother of the earls of March and Hereford), Maud, countess of Oxford, and Margaret, Lady Tiptoft. Margery was certainly older than Giles and Margaret was certainly younger, while Elizabeth and Maud were most probably older. Giles' mother Margaret was pregnant with him at the time of the battle of Bannockburn on 23 and 24 June 1314. His father Bartholomew was later accused, in a rather spiteful Latin poem, of abandoning his lord the earl of Gloucester to die on the battlefield.

Giles was in prison at the Tower of London when Roger Mortimer of Wigmore escaped from there on 1 August 1323. He must have been there since late 1321/early 1322 or thereabouts: his father Bartholomew joined the Contrariants in June 1321, and his mother Margaret was sent to the Tower after Edward II besieged Leeds Castle in October 1321 because she had refused to allow Queen Isabella inside. John Mowbray, son of John Mowbray, born November 1310 (below) was also a prisoner there. Edward II imprisoned young children. Awesomeness! [/sarcasm] I don't know when Giles was released from the Tower; his mother Margaret was freed in November 1322 but he wasn't. John Mowbray, below, was also a prisoner in the Tower in August 1323, but had certainly been released by late February or early March 1326 when he and some allies attacked Tickhill Castle in Yorkshire. Giles married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of William Montacute, earl of Salisbury (1301-44) and Katherine Grandisson, and died childless in 1338; Elizabeth was almost certainly too young for the marriage ever to have been consummated. The Badlesmere inheritance therefore passed to Giles' four sisters.

John Mowbray, son and heir of John Mowbray (1286-1322) and Aline Braose, was born at Hovingham, Yorkshire on 29 November 1310. [CIPM 1327-36, no. 250] Thomas, earl of Lancaster gave twenty shillings to the messenger who brought him news of Mowbray's birth, and John Mowbray's father John was ill at the time; because of the worry over her husband's condition, Aline née Braose went into labour a few days early. The younger John Mowbray married Joan of Lancaster, fourth daughter of Thomas of Lancaster's brother and heir Henry, in 1328, and they had a son John born in 1340 and two daughters, Blanche and Eleanor.

I've often said myself here on the blog and elsewhere that Laurence Hastings, earl of Pembroke, son and heir of John, Lord Hastings (1286-1325) and Juliana Leyburne (1303/4-1367), was born in March 1320. In fact, now that I've finally got round to checking his proof of age, I see that he was actually born on 20 March 1321, "the feast of St Cuthbert, 14 Edward II." Edward II's fourteenth regnal year ran from 8 July 1320 to 7 July 1321, so the correct date of birth is March 1321, not March 1320. [CIPM 1336-46, no. 337] Laurence was born in Allesley, Warwickshire, and his mother Juliana née Leyburne was sixteen or seventeen at the time. Betrothed to Hugh Despenser the Younger's third daughter Eleanor in 1325 when he was four - she was the same age or a little older - Laurence ultimately married Roger Mortimer's daughter Agnes after his fiancée Eleanor was forced into a convent by Queen Isabella a few weeks after her father Hugh the Younger's execution. Laurence and Agnes' only son John was not born until 29 August 1347, and one year and one day later, at the age of twenty-seven, Laurence Hastings, earl of Pembroke, died. His mother outlived him by almost twenty years.

27 July, 2018

My Forthcoming Books

I've updated my publications page, and here are all my forthcoming books:

My next, and fifth, book is Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York Before the Wars of the Roses. This is due to be published in early October 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon. It opens in 1245 with the birth of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence's second son Edmund, first earl of Lancaster, and tells the story of the houses of Lancaster and York until 1415.

Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger: Downfall of a King's Favourite. This is due out on 30 October 2018. It's the first-ever biography of Hugh; oddly enough, there's never even been an academic thesis devoted to him, let alone an entire book, even though he was the most powerful man in Wales and England for much of the 1320s. I enjoyed researching and writing this one so much, I can't even tell you! Hugh was a bad boy. Not nearly as bad as he's painted - he wasn't a torturer or a rapist - but bad enough.

Following in the Footsteps of Edward II, a travel guide to locations in Britain associated with Edward, to be published c. spring/summer 2019. Very different from my other books, and intended to encourage people to visit historical sites in Wales, England and Scotland.

The Lives of the Clare Sisters, Nieces of Edward IIc. summer/autumn 2019. This is a joint bio of Edward II's nieces Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth de Clare from the 1290s to 1360; the final title is yet to be determined. The drama of the three sisters' lives can hardly be overstated. All married at age thirteen, all imprisoned during the reign of their uncle and its aftermath, all deprived of their lands and income at some point, all married to men who might have been their uncle's lovers.

Philippa of Hainault, Mother of the English Nationc. late 2019/early 2020. A bio of Edward III's beloved queen and companion, who was born in c. 1314 and died in 1369; the title is not yet fixed.

1326: A Year in the Life of England, c. spring 2020. I'm really excited about this one. It's a chronological narrative of the year 1326, very much focused on the ordinary, common people. It was the year when Queen Isabella invaded her husband's kingdom with an army, but it was also the year of the great drought, the year when Henry of Cambridge was appointed chief blacksmith at the Tower of London, the year Robert Clavering of Newcastle-upon-Tyne was born, the year Edward the parker of Kennington rebuilt his house, the year John Toly fell out of the window of his London house and died, the year Johane Mereworth of Henley-on-Thames gave birth to a child...

John of Gaunt: Time-Honour'd Lancasterc. late 2020. A bio of Edward III and Queen Philippa's third son, Richard II's uncle and Henry IV's father. John was born in 1340 and died in 1399.

The Despensers: The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family 1261-1439, c. late 2020/early 2021. An account of the fascinating family whose fortunes rose and fell, from Hugh the justiciar (d. 1439) to Isabelle, countess of Worcester and Warwick (d. 1439).

The Daughters of Edward Ic. summer 2021. Title not yet fixed; a joint bio of Edward II's five sisters Eleanor, Joan of Acre, Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth.