07 February, 2016

Constanza of Castile, Queen of Castile and Leon, Duchess of Lancaster (1)

In this post I'm going somewhat outside my usual blog parameters to write about a Spanish woman who was (to link her to the subject of the blog) Edward II's granddaughter-in-law, the second wife of his grandson John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. I'm writing about Constanza basically because I get sick of the way she's so often ignored in favour of the long-term extra-marital relationship between her husband and Katherine Swynford, and because she's a fascinating person who led a fascinating life. Constanza appears in Anya Seton's wildly popular 1950s novel Katherine as a smelly religious fanatic who makes John of Gaunt's skin crawl because she prays to her dead father and rarely washes. Yuck. Surely she deserves a lot better than that. Constanza was, after all, a person and a very important one, a heck of a lot more than the barely even one-dimensional cardboard cut-out who brought Gaunt a claim to a kingdom and who eventually did the decent thing by conveniently dying so that Gaunt and Swynford could fulfil their fabulously romantic destiny and get married, as she so often appears.

Constanza of Castile was probably born in 1354, and was the elder surviving daughter of Pedro 'the Cruel' (also known as 'the Just'), then the reigning king of Castile, and was the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Edward II's grandfather Fernando III. The Castilian royal family of her era had connections to the English one: Constanza's father Pedro would have married Edward III's second daughter Joan in 1348 had she not died of the plague in the south of France on her way to Castile, and Pedro's father Alfonso XI was betrothed to Edward II's daughter Eleanor of Woodstock in 1324, a marriage which failed to go ahead after Edward's forced abdication in early 1327 changed the political situation. In addition, Edward of Windsor, the future Edward III, was betrothed to Alfonso XI's sister Leonor at the same time.

Pedro 'the Cruel' was born on 30 August 1334 as the only son of Alfonso XI, then twenty-three, and his queen Maria of Portugal. Alfonso and Maria were first cousins on both sides - his father Fernando IV of Castile and her mother Beatriz of Castile were siblings, his mother Constanca of Portugal and her father Afonso IV of Portugal were siblings - which means that they had all four grandparents in common and that their son Pedro had only four great-grandparents instead of the usual eight. Alfonso and Maria's marriage was not a success, and he had a mistress Leonor Guzman, with whom he had ten children. Alfonso XI died in March 1350 at the age of only thirty-eight, and was succeeded by his only legitimate son Pedro. One of the fifteen-year-old new king of Castile's first acts was to have his father's mistress Leonor Guzman killed, an act which a few years later was to have profound implications for Pedro himself and for his daughter Constanza.

Joan of England having died on her way to marry him, Pedro of Castile instead married the French noblewoman Blanche de Bourbon, whose mother was a half-sister of Philip VI of France and whose sister Jeanne de Bourbon married Charles V of France and was the mother of Charles VI. Blanche, however, was not Constanza of Castile's mother: her new husband Pedro imprisoned her days after their wedding, and kept her in prison for eight years until 1361, when she died, either by murder or of natural causes is not certain. (The people who love to moan endlessly about what a horribly bad and neglectful husband Edward II was to Isabella of France might like to think about what this other royal woman had to suffer in marriage in comparison.) Pedro went off with his mistress Maria de Padilla, the mother of Constanza and her younger sister Isabel (born c. 1355). The two girls were declared legitimate by the Cortes of Castile in 1362, after the unfortunate Queen Blanche's death, on the grounds that Pedro had secretly married Maria before he went through a wedding ceremony with Blanche. Constanza and Isabel had a younger brother Alfonso, who would have been Pedro's heir but died in infancy. Constanza as the elder daughter was thus their father's heir. Quite honestly, given how inter-bred Pedro's family was, bringing in the blood of a woman entirely unrelated as their mother surely wasn't a bad thing for his daughters.

The eldest surviving son of King Pedro's ten illegitimate half-siblings, his father's children with the murdered Leonor Guzman, was Enrique of Trastamara, also sometimes known as the Bastard of Trastamara or the Bastard of Castile. Enrique was only seven months older than his legitimate half-brother, born in January 1334. Understandably furious at Pedro's murder of his mother, Enrique fled to France, and to cut a very long story short, with the aid of Charles V of France and Pedro's enemy Pedro IV of Aragon, defeated Pedro at the battle of Montiel in March 1369. A few days later Enrique of Trastamara personally stabbed his half-brother to death. Two years before, Pedro had defeated Enrique at the battle of Najera with the help of Edward III's sons Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales and Aquitaine, and John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. In September 1371 near Mont-de-Marsan in the south of France, John of Gaunt married Pedro's seventeen-year-old elder daughter and heir Constanza, and at some point not long afterwards, his younger brother Edmund of Langley married Constanza's sister Isabel. Gaunt proclaimed himself king of Castile and Leon, though his title was in name only: he never managed to shift Enrique of Trastamara, now King Enrique II of Castile, from the throne.

Constanza and Isabel had been raised at the court of Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales and Aquitaine, since 1366, though had spent their early years in their father's kingdom, probably mostly in Seville, where Pedro built a great palace (the Alcazar). Their mother Maria de Padilla died in Seville in July 1361; she was a noblewoman, and was described in a contemporary chronicle as very beautiful and intelligent, small and slender. King Pedro himself was described as about six feet tall and muscular, with very light blond hair, pale skin and blue eyes. This gives us some idea of what his daughter Constanza might have looked like. (Not six feet tall and muscular, obviously.)

Constanza arrived in England with her new husband John of Gaunt in November 1371. It is easy to imagine that damp chilly England in early winter came as something of a shock to a teenage girl used to the climate of Spain and the south of France. The royal couple sent Constanza's father-in-law Edward III valuable Christmas gifts (W. Mark Ormrod, Edward III, p. 532) and at some point Constanza must have met her stepchildren, John's children with the late Blanche of Lancaster: Philippa, future queen of Portugal, born in 1360; Elizabeth, future countess of Pembroke and duchess of Exeter, born in 1364; and Henry, future king of England, born in 1367.

Constanza and John's only surviving child, Katherine or Catalina of Lancaster, was born sometime before 31 March 1373, when the girl's grandfather Edward III paid twenty marks to the person who had brought him news of her birth, Interestingly, this person was none other than Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt's long-term mistress, whose eldest son with Gaunt, John Beaufort, was born in roughly the same time period as his half-sister Catalina. It's also very interesting that Catalina may even have been named after Katherine Swynford, unless Constanza revered Saint Katherine, or her daughter was born on or around Saint Katherine's feast day, 25 November. Katherine was an unusual name in the English royal family, and had previously only been used for Henry III and Eleanor of Provence's youngest child, who was born on 25 November (i.e. St Katherine's day) in 1253, and her niece, the eldest daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. Both these girls died young, so the name was hardly propitious. At any rate, Constanza sending her husband's mistress to the king with news of her child's birth, knowing that the king would generously reward Katherine for it, hardly hints at any conflict between the two women; quite the opposite. On the other hand, Katherine Swynford continued to bear John's children, the Beauforts, throughout the 1370s, whereas Constanza had no more surviving children.

31 January, 2016

Telling the Time and Writing Dates in Edward II's Reign

In the nineteenth century, Agnes Strickland in her Lives of the Queens of England made up a story that Edward II and Isabella of France's eldest child the future Edward III was born at exactly 5.40am on Monday 13 November 1312. For this curiously precise time, she cites a memorandum in Foedera 1307-1327. I have this document, and the memo, in Latin, says nothing whatsoever about the time of Edward III's birth, never mind that he was born at exactly 5.40am. This is hardly surprising, as no-one in England in November 1312 would have known (or cared) that it was 5.40am, for all that this fabricated 'fact' has made its way into numerous books since. Goodness knows what Strickland thought she had read.

The memorandum of Edward III's birth from Foedera.
(Translation: "Memorandum that Isabella, queen of England, consort of King Edward son of King Edward, bore the king his first-born son in the king's castle of Windsor, on the Monday next after the feast of St Martin in winter, in the year of grace one thousand three hundred and twelve, and in the sixth year of the king's reign." It then goes on to say that the boy was baptised by the cardinal-priest of Santa Prisca in the chapel of St Edward in the castle the following Thursday, and names his seven godfathers. Nothing at all about the time of birth.)

People in England in 1312, and, specifically in the context of this post, Edward II's household, told the time using the canonical hours: Prime or about 6am; Terce or the third hour or about 9am; Sext or the sixth hour or about midday; None or the ninth hour or mid-afternoon; or Vespers, i.e. sunset. The other canonical hours are Matins (roughly midnight), Lauds (roughly 3am) and Compline (about 9pm, which in summer in England would be earlier than Vespers/sunset), though I've never seen these used in Edward II's accounts, because the king and most of his household were asleep or relaxing at those times. His clerks did use the word 'midnight' on occasion, for example in Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 569 and SAL MS 122, p. 50, and the Sempringham annalist talked of a violent thunderstorm which took place on 17 April 1320 at 'around midnight' (entour la mye noet). Evidently, to them this meant 'an indeterminate time in the middle of the night when most people are in bed, but probably not as late as the early hours of the morning', or 'gosh, the king is still up and awake and issuing orders long after dark' rather than a precise clock time - and of course the fourteenth-century French word la my(e) noet (modern French minuit) and the English word midnight originally just meant 'in the middle of the night'. If Edward III's time of birth had been recorded, it would have been 'around Prime'. People told the time in three-hour chunks, the sixth hour, the ninth hour and so on, not in ten-minute slots.

An entry in Edward II's chamber account of February 1326, SAL MS 122, talking about la my noet, 'midnight'

On Wednesday 7 February 1308, Edward II and his new queen Isabella of France arrived in England after marrying in Boulogne, and an entry on the Fine Roll states that they landed at Dover 'on Wednesday after the Purification...about the ninth hour', or roughly in the middle of the afternoon. [Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-19, p. 14] Edward and Isabella returned to England from their long visit to France in the summer of 1313 on 'Monday before St Margaret the Virgin, at vespers, in the seventh year of his reign,' which means around sunset or simply just 'late evening' on Monday 16 July 1313 (a time of year when the hours of daylight in northern Europe are very long). [Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-18, p. 66] This was as detailed as telling the time got in England in the early fourteenth century. Edward I was said by a chronicler to have died on 7 July 1307 'at the ninth hour', or around 3pm, or simply just in the middle of the afternoon. In this context, to talk of someone being born at precisely '5.40am' is nonsense.

In Edward II's household accounts, the date was normally written as e.g. 'the thirtieth day of January', in French or Latin, with Roman numerals used (le xxx iour de janv').  More usually, in letters and in the chancery rolls and in e.g. the memorandum recording Edward III's birth, saints' feast days were used: 'the Tuesday before the Translation of St Thomas Becket' or 'the morrow of St Hilary' or, as we see above, 'the Wednesday after the Purification' and 'the Monday before St Margaret the Virgin'. Edward III was born on the feast day of St Brice, 13 November, but Brice is an obscure saint and many chroniclers in 1312 didn't know that it was his feast day, so instead wrote that the future king was born on 'the Monday after St Martin' (St Martin is 11 November). Edward II himself was born on the feast day of St Mark the Evangelist (25 April), which is how he would have thought of the date. Sometimes religious days were also used in Edward's accounts, such as his hiring a boy-bishop in 1316 from 'the feast of St Nicholas until the Feast of the Holy Innocents', that is, 6 to 28 December. His clerks often recorded 1 January as the Feast of the Circumcision. 25 December was le iour de noel, Christmas Day.

To figure out any given date in a fourteenth-century English document, as well as having to know saints' days, you have to know the date on which the present king became king and the year he succeeded to the throne, because almost invariably English clerks recorded dates using kings' regnal years. Edward I died on 7 July 1307, Edward II's reign began on 8 July 1307, and thus his regnal year ran from 8 July to 7 July every year. His father Edward I's regnal year ran from 20 November to 19 November (because Henry III died on 19 November 1272), and his son Edward III's from 25 January to 24 January. 8 July 1307 to 7 July 1308 was Edward II's first regnal year, 8 July 1323 to 7 July 1324 his seventeenth, and so on. Edward III was born on 13 November 1312 in his father's sixth regnal year (which ran from 8 July 1312 to 7 July 1313), and died on 21 June 1377 in his own fifty-first regnal year, which had begun on 25 January 1377. Edward II was born on the feast day of St Mark the Evangelist in the twelfth year of his father's reign, 25 April 1284, Edward I died on 7 July 1307 in his thirty-fifth regnal year, and Edward II was forced to abdicate his throne to his son in his twentieth regnal year, January 1327. Occasionally, but only very occasionally, English clerks would write 'the year of grace one thousand three hundred and twelve' (as in the memorandum above recording Edward III's birth), but also invariably added the king's regnal year.

To give a couple of examples: Edward II lost the battle of Bannockburn on the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist near the end of his seventh regnal year, 24 June 1314, a fact of which Edward must have been painfully aware, as John the Baptist was one of his favourite saints. 27 August 1321 would be written as 'the Friday before the Beheading of St John the Baptist in the fifteenth year of the reign of our lord King Edward.' Often, in order to clarify which king was meant, clerks would write 'King Edward son of King Edward'. The whole formula doesn't exactly have the virtue of conciseness. Edward II was almost never called 'Edward II' in documents of his era, only 'King Edward son of King Edward', sometimes 'King Edward son of King Edward son of King Henry'. On occasion, however, you see a document referring to 'King Edward the second of this name after the [Norman] Conquest'. Somewhere, I can't remember now where I've seen it, there's a document in which the new king Edward III in 1327 is called 'King Edward son of King Edward son of King Edward son of King Henry.' His clerks evidently realising that this would be a most inefficient way to refer to their fourteen-year-old king on every occasion for the rest of his life, he began to be called Edward III, often with the cautious addition of 'after the Conquest' (there were three kings of England before 1066 with this name: Edward the Elder, Edward the Martyr and Edward the Confessor, so really Edward II should be Edward V).

28 January, 2016

28 January 1271: Death of Isabel of Aragon, Queen of France

Isabel of Aragon was the paternal grandmother of Edward II's queen Isabella of France, who was presumably named after her. Today is the 745th anniversary of her death.

The years 1270/71 took a heavy toll on the French royal family. While taking part in an unsuccessful crusade in Tunis, King Louis IX died on 25 August 1270, at the age of fifty-six. His twenty-year-old fourth (but second surviving) son Jean Tristan had died three weeks earlier, also in Tunis; it is likely that both men died of dysentery. (Jean Tristan had been born in Damietta, Egypt in 1250 during Louis's first crusade.) Louis's eldest daughter Isabelle, queen of Navarre, died on 27 April 1271, not quite thirty. His third daughter Marguerite, duchess of Brabant, died shortly after childbirth sometime in July 1271, aged only sixteen. His brother Alphonse of Poitiers died on 21 August 1271, and Alphonse's wife Jeanne of Toulouse four days after her husband, on the first anniversary of Louis's death.

Yet another casualty of these tragic years for the French royal family was Louis IX's daughter-in-law Isabel of Aragon, who had married his second (but eldest surviving) son Philip, the future Philip III, in 1262 when she was about fifteen and he seventeen. Isabel was one of the daughters of King Jaime I el Conquistador of Aragon and his second wife Violante or Yolande of Hungary, daughter of Andrew II, king of Hungary and Croatia. Isabel's eldest sister Violante of Aragon married Edward II's uncle Alfonso X of Castile and was the mother of Sancho IV. Her eldest brother Pedro III succeeded their father as king of Aragon and was the father of Alfonso III (betrothed for many years to Edward II's sister Eleanor) and Jaime II, and her second brother Jaime became king of Majorca.

Isabel bore four children, of whom two survived: Philip IV, king of France, father of three kings of France and the queen of England, born sometime in 1268, and Charles, count of Valois, born on 12 March 1270 and father of Philip VI of France. In January 1271, barely even in her mid-twenties, Isabel of Aragon was thrown from her horse in the town of Cosenza in southern Italy, on the royal family's way back from Tunis to France. She was pregnant with her fifth child. Sadly, she died a few days after her accident, on 28 January, and her unborn child with her. She had been queen of France for a mere five months.

Isabel of Aragon was the grandmother of four kings of France (Louis X, Philip V, Charles IV and Philip VI) and the great-grandmother of Edward III, king of England and of Joan II, queen of Navarre. Via her son Charles of Valois, she was the ancestor of the Valois dynasty of French kings, and via Edward III, of all the kings and queens of England since 1327. Queen Isabel was also a descendant of Harold Godwinson, the king of England killed at the battle of Hastings in 1066, and Harold's daughter Gytha of Wessex and her husband Vladimir Monomakh, grand prince of Kiev. (Harold Godwinson - Gytha of Wessex - Mstislav the Great, grand prince of Kiev - Euphrosyne of Kiev - Bela III, king of Hungary - Andrew III, king of Hungary - Violante of Hungary - Isabel of Aragon). The blood of Harold Godwinson thus returned to the English royal family when Isabel of Aragon's great-grandson Edward III came to the throne in 1327.

21 January, 2016

The Two Joans of Burgundy, Queens of France

So there's Philip V, king of France, and his wife Joan of Burgundy, and his first cousin Philip VI, king of France, and his wife Joan of Burgundy. Another Joan of Burgundy. So no, that's not confusing at all. There was a county of Burgundy, also known as the Franche-Comté, and a duchy of Burgundy, which shared a border but were not the same place. Also not at all confusing.

Joan of Burgundy, queen of Philip V (the second of the three brothers of Edward II's queen Isabella) was the elder of the two daughters of Othon IV, count of Burgundy, and Mahaut, countess of Artois in her own right. Joan was born in about 1287 or 1288, according to historian Elizabeth A. R. Brown, an expert on the French royal family of this period (Joan's Wiki page gives her date of birth as 15 January 1292, but I have no idea where that comes from). Mahaut, a major character in Maurice Druon's series of novels The Accursed Kings, was born in 1268 or 1269, and inherited her father Robert's county of Artois in preference to her brother Philip's son Robert of Artois (born 1287). Mahaut was the niece of Blanche of Artois, queen of Navarre and countess of Lancaster, the maternal grandmother of Philip V, which makes Philip and Joan of Burgundy second cousins. The couple married in 1307. Joan had a younger sister Blanche, born in 1295 or 1296, who married Philip V's younger brother Charles in January 1308, the week before their sister Isabella married Edward II. Joan and Blanche also had a brother, Robert of Burgundy, who died unmarried and childless in 1317 (his future marriage to Edward I's youngest child Eleanor had been proposed shortly after her birth in May 1306). As the elder sister, Joan inherited Burgundy from Robert and ultimately from their father Othon (died 1302), and inherited Artois as well when Mahaut died in 1329. Blanche of Burgundy was imprisoned for adultery in 1314, her marriage was annulled in 1322, and she died in late 1325 or early 1326, still only thirty.

Philip V's elder brother Louis X was born on 4 October 1289 and his younger brother Charles IV on 18 June 1294, but his own date of birth is not known. He was said to be thirty when he died at the beginning of 1322, which would place it sometime in 1291. Philip was thus some years younger than his wife Joan. Their eldest child, another Joan, was born in 1308 when Philip was still only a teenager. Joan of France later inherited the counties of Burgundy and Artois from her mother, and was also duchess of Burgundy by marriage to Odo IV (see also below). Philip V and Joan of Burgundy's other daughters were Marguerite, countess of Flanders, Isabella, dauphine of Vienne, and Blanche, a nun; their two sons Philip and Louis died young. Philip V was thus succeeded by his brother Charles IV when he died at the age of only thirty, having been king of France for only five years. His widow Joan of Burgundy also died at a fairly young age, in January 1330, only a few weeks after her mother Mahaut.

The other Joan of Burgundy married Philip of Valois, the future Philip VI of France (who succeeded his first cousin Charles IV in 1328 when Charles also died without sons) in July 1313. Joan and Philip were first cousins once removed: she was the granddaughter of Saint Louis IX of France and Marguerite of Provence, Philip their great-grandson. Joan was the third daughter of Louis IX's youngest child Agnes of France (c. 1260-1327) and Duke Robert II of Burgundy, and was born in about 1293, the same year as her husband; her siblings included Duke Hugh V, Duke Odo IV (who married Philip V and the other Joan of Burgundy's eldest daughter, as above), and Marguerite, who married Louis X of France as his first wife and was imprisoned for adultery in 1314. Marguerite was the mother of Queen Joan II of Navarre.

This Joan of Burgundy was apparently lame, and grossly unpopular: she was known as la male royne boiteuse, 'the evil lame queen'. She was the mother of King John II of France, born in 1319, and Philip, duke of Orleans, who married Charles IV's posthumous daughter Blanche of France, his only child who lived into adulthood. Joan died in 1348, and her widower Philip VI married the forty years younger Blanche of Navarre, also sometimes known as Blanche of Evreux, who was the daughter of Queen Joan II of Navarre and who, like Joan of Burgundy, was Philip's first cousin once removed. Blanche of Navarre/Evreux's parents Joan II of Navarre and Philip of Evreux were first cousins once removed. The parents of Blanche of France, duchess of Orleans - Charles IV and Joan of Evreux - were first cousins. Joan of Evreux was the sister of Philip of Evreux, who married Joan II of Navarre and was the father-in-law of Philip VI. Charles IV's daughter Blanche of France and her husband Philip, duke of Orleans were second cousins. Louis X of France and his wife Marguerite of Burgundy were first cousins once removed, and Philip VI and his wife Joan of Burgundy, Marguerite's sister, were also first cousins once removed. Philip IV of France and his wife Joan I of Navarre, parents of Louis X, Philip V, Charles IV and Edward II's queen Isabella, were second cousins. Charles II 'the Bad', king of Navarre, son of Joan II of Navarre and Philip of Evreux, married Joan of France, daughter of King John II and granddaughter of Philip VI and Joan of Burgundy: they were second cousins. These people were so interrelated, it makes my brain explode.

All three sons of Philip IV of France, and his nephew Philip VI, married women of Burgundy. Saint Louis IX of France's youngest son, Robert, count of Clermont, Agnes of France's brother and thus the uncle of Philip VI's wife Joan of Burgundy (and the great-uncle of Louis X and his brothers and Philip VI), also married a woman of Burgundy. She was Beatrice of Burgundy, the heiress of Bourbon, a first cousin of Joan of Burgundy who married Philip VI and of Marguerite of Burgundy who married Louis X: all of them were grandchildren of Duke Hugh IV of Burgundy. My brain actually exploded at that point.

12 January, 2016

Naked Edward II Saves Isabella: 'Love Made Him Do It'

This is a post about a dramatic incident which took place in the summer of 1313, during Edward II and Queen Isabella's long visit to her homeland of France, which isn't well-known at all and thoroughly deserves to be.

Between 10 and 30 June 1313, Edward and Isabella stayed at Pontoise, twenty miles from Paris where they had been staying since the beginning of June, before travelling on to Poissy where Isabella's great-grandfather Saint Louis IX had been born, exactly seventy years to the day before Edward II as it happens, on 25 April 1214. They then returned to England, having spent a couple of days at Hesdin with Mahaut, countess of Artois and Burgundy, mother-in-law of Isabella's brothers Philip and Charles, on the way. The royal couple landed at Dover on (says a memorandum on the Close Roll) "Monday before St Margaret the Virgin, at vespers, in the seventh year of his [Edward II's] reign," which sounds like sunset on 16 July 1313 to me. It was during the stay at Pontoise that Edward famously paid Bernard the Fool and fifty-four naked dancers for performing for him on the first anniversary of Piers Gaveston's murder on 19 June 1312. (And I can never mention that delightful fact often enough.) The English royal couple, new parents - their first child the future Edward III had been born the previous November - seem to have had a whale of a time during their visit, eating, drinking and generally making merry.

It was also during the stay at Pontoise that the dramatic incident took place. Edward and Isabella appear to have been sleeping in a silken pavilion - it may have been pretty warm in mid or late June, I can imagine, and this was probably more comfortable than sleeping inside a building. The chronicler Geoffrey or Godefroy of Paris, who was an eyewitness to the couple's French visit, describes what happened. A fire somehow broke out in their sleeping quarters the middle of the night, and Edward and Isabella had to leave behind their rich possessions, which were lost to the fire. Fortunately they woke up in time, and Isabella tried to rescue some of her things from the fire. In doing so, she suffered bad burns to her arms for which she was still being treated months later. Edward had the presence of mind to scoop Isabella up in his arms and rush outside with her, and managed to get them both to safety and mostly unharmed. He may well have saved her life. Geoffrey of Paris comments that even though the king of England was 'completely naked' (toute nue) at the time, he saved members of his entourage from the fire as well, which presumably means that as soon as he had taken Isabella outside and ensured his wife's safety, he ran back inside the burning pavilion (or wherever their retinues were sleeping), and rescued other people too. Apparently while still naked.

This incident is almost entirely unknown to modern readers, though it appears (briefly) in my biography of Edward and (at greater length) in my forthcoming Isabella book, so I'm doing my best to make an event which shows Edward II in a much better light than usual as well-known as it deserves to be. Geoffrey of Paris was extremely impressed with the English king's actions, and in his rhyming chronicle wrote that Edward "was brave against the fire" and "well proved himself bold by his actions." He also commented that Edward "saved her [Isabella] with his bravery, and many more people" (la sauva por proesce, et plusors), and that he was keen to rescue her above all else car cele amoit-il d'amor fine, "because he loved her with amor fine," i.e. 'fine love' or 'courtly love'. Finally, Geoffrey comments Mes amor le fesoit ouvrer, "But love made him do it."

But of course, certain modern writers just know that Edward hated Isabella really. Totally loathed every fibre of her being, neglected her and didn't give a damn about her. She suffered terribly from his lack of care and concern. Yeah.

Incidentally, the bit about Edward sleeping naked presumably in the same bed as Isabella, coupled with the fact that on 5 June he'd missed a meeting with her father Philip IV because he and Isabella had overslept - which an amused Geoffrey of Paris put down to their night-time dalliances and Edward being unable to keep his hands off his beautiful desirable wife - gives a very pleasant insight into Edward and Isabella's marriage and sex life. There's also the fact that on the same day they overslept, they watched a parade together in Paris from a tower in their quarters in Saint-Germain surrounded by a large group of ladies and damsels, which also sounds pleasantly intimate and jolly. I get the strong impression that they were really enjoying each other's company in France, and there's no reason to think that this was the only time they did. These comments by a French writer who observed them at close quarters give us some fascinating glimpses into the marriage of Edward II and Isabella of France, and it sure as heck wasn't the hateful, unhappy disaster other writers would have you believe.

Source: Chronique métrique de Godefroy de Paris, ed. J.-A. Buchon (Paris: Verdière, 1827), pp. 196-7 (in fourteenth-century Parisian French, my translations).

07 January, 2016

The Parliament of January 1327

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful festive season.

Today, 7 January, marks the anniversary of the start of the parliament held in London in 1327 which deposed Edward II. I've never written a proper post about this parliament or about Edward's deposition/forced abdication, because to be honest the subject bores me. (There, I said it.) Edward himself was in comfortable captivity at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire at this time, in the care of his first cousin Henry of Lancaster. Edward was deposed in, or by, the January 1327 parliament, though publicly it was presented as the king carefully considering his options, then deciding to abdicate his throne to his fourteen-year-old son Edward III, which decision was subsequently accepted by his subjects. There was nothing in English law which provided any procedure for the subjects of an unsatisfactory king to rid themselves of him, but 1327 set a precedent which would followed again, most notably by the deposition of Edward II's great-grandson Richard II in 1399. Some sources claim that a delegation was sent to Kenilworth to ask Edward to attend, but he refused, which refusal was reported to parliament when the delegates returned to London on 12 January. I'm not sure whether this is true; appearing at parliament might have allowed the king to arouse sympathy and to remind his subjects of the oath of loyalty they had sworn to him. It was probably only when Edward's refusal to attend parliament – whether real or pretended – was reported to the participants that the possibility of replacing him with his son began to be seriously considered. 

All the contemporary chroniclers who wrote about the deposition record Edward II's reaction to it in much the same way: he was contrite, humble, pious and acquiescent, dressed all in black and half swooning, begging his subjects' forgiveness for his many trespasses against them. This is, of course, only the official story which was allowed to come out; Edward's real reaction cannot be known. The Westminster chronicle Flores Historiarum has the former king saying "I greatly lament that I have so utterly failed my people, but I could not be other than I am," which. whether Edward really said it or not, I can't help but find moving. The reign of his son Edward III officially began on 25 January 1327 (coincidentally, the nineteenth wedding anniversary of Edward II and Isabella of France).

20 December, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015!

A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all my readers! The blog will be on a break until 6 January 2016 or shortly afterwards.

14 December, 2015

Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen

I'm delighted to announce that my second book Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen is now available for pre-order! It will be published on 15 March 2016 in Europe, 19 May in the US.

Here are the links:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Book Depository

If you're on Goodreads, it's listed there now too.

I'm also pleased to announce that the two winners of a signed copy of my book Edward II: The Unconventional King in paperback are: Jo Welsh and Lisa Johnson! Congratulations to both, and thank you to all of you who entered the competition!

10 December, 2015

The Fieschi Letter, Edward II's Movements in 1326, and Manuele Fieschi

Probably in the late 1330s, a papal notary named Manuele Fieschi, who was appointed bishop of Vercelli in 1343, wrote a letter to Edward III explaining how his father Edward II had escaped from Berkeley Castle in September 1327.  Edward, the letter explains, went to Corfe Castle in Dorset until he heard that his half-brother the earl of Kent had been executed (on 19 March 1330) for attempting to free him from there.  The former king subsequently went to Ireland until the execution of Roger Mortimer (on 29 November 1330), then travelled through France to Avignon to spend time with Pope John XXII and ultimately, after passing through Paris, Brabant, Cologne and Milan, ended up at the hermitage of Sant'Alberto di Butrio in Lombardy, northern Italy.  He met Manuele Fieschi and told him his story (to what purpose, and why he trusted him enough to reveal his real identity, is one of the many questions raised by the letter).  You can see the Latin original text of the letter and the English translation on the Auramala Project website; please take the time to have a look.  There are numerous other posts about the letter on their site.

Much has been written about the Fieschi Letter; see for example Ian Mortimer's Medieval Intrigue, Edward III: The Perfect King and The Greatest Traitor; Seymour Phillips' Edward II; and Roy Martin Haines' King Edward II and Death of a King.  In this post I just want to express some of my (possibly random and disjointed) thoughts on the letter.  It ended up in a French archive, where it was discovered in the late 1870s; for a plausible reason how this may have come about, see here on the Auramala Project page (they have a few other posts on this subject too).  Some people assume the letter must be a later fake, but there are really no grounds for believing this.  Edward II's academic biographer Seymour Phillips does not believe that Edward survived past 1327, but is sure of the authenticity of the Fieschi Letter and that it is a genuine fourteenth-century document.

The Fieschi Letter refers to the man Manuele met and spoke to as 'your father', i.e. Edward III's father; it doesn't say 'the man claiming to be your father' or 'the man who says he is your father'.  There is nothing in the letter to suggest that Manuele Fieschi thought the man he met was anyone other than Edward II.  And even if, as some modern writers claim, Manuele was taken in by a clever impostor - a man pretending for some nefarious reason to be the late king of England, or a man suffering from a delusion that he was Edward II and genuinely believed that he was - Manuele's acceptance of him as Edward II does at the very least imply that there was some doubt in Europe as to whether Edward had died in 1327 or not.  If Manuele Fieschi had known for absolutely certain that Edward II had died in 1327, he would never have been taken in by an impostor.  Imagine someone going round Europe claiming to be Edward I after his death, or Edward III.  This would never have worked; everyone knew these kings were dead.  And Manuele didn't just hem and haw and think 'Hmmm, that's weird and interesting' and then do nothing about it.  He wrote a letter to no less a person than the king of England.  (Just to be clear, we can't prove for absolute certain that Edward III in fact received the letter, as his copy of it has never been found.)  Imagine what an unbelievably foolish crank Manuele would have looked in the eyes of one of the most powerful men in Europe if he'd written him a letter explaining how his father had survived Berkeley Castle, but Edward III knew as a sure, certain fact that his father had indeed died there, having seen his face after death and been able to identify him beyond a shadow of a doubt.  The very existence of the Fieschi Letter implies at the very least that a) Manuele Fieschi wasn't sure whether the king of England had died in 1327 at all, and b) that he had reason to believe Edward III wasn't sure whether his father had died either.  So whether you believe Edward II was alive after 1327 or not, there's surely something to the story.

One very important thing to bear in mind about Manuele is that he wasn't a humble, ignorant, illiterate, credulous peasant who never set foot outside his small Italian village and who could have been easily duped into thinking some random man he met was the former ruler of a distant kingdom he knew nothing about.  He came from a powerful noble family, the Fieschi, which produced two thirteenth-century popes and seventy-two cardinals, and also exercised considerable secular influence in Genoa and across much of northern Italy.  Manuele was a lawyer, to Pope John XXII and his successor Benedict XII, no less.  Some English writers act as though 'papal notary' means nothing, as though Manuele was a minor clerk sitting in a dusty office with dozens or hundreds of other minor clerks, basically just a pen-pusher.  The pope only had five notaries (thanks to Ivan Fowler of the Auramala Project for this info), and Manuele was one of them.  He held benefices in England - he was a canon of York, for example - and although he may never actually have visited the country, it wasn't a place he knew nothing about.  His first cousin Percivalle Fieschi was bishop of Brescia then bishop of Tortona, he himself became bishop of Vercelli in 1343, his second cousin once removed Luca became a cardinal in 1300, and the Fieschi men who didn't enter the Church were counts of Lavagna.  Cardinal Luca and his brothers and nephews were kinsmen of Edward I and II and always acknowledged as such, and Luca and Edward II corresponded on occasion.  They met in person and spent time together in York in 1317 when John XXII sent Luca and another cardinal to England to negotiate between Edward and Robert Bruce.  Accompanying Luca on that visit, one of the members of his retinue, was his kinsman Percivalle Fieschi, who therefore saw Edward II.  Percivalle knew first-hand what Edward II looked like.  Percivalle was Manuele's first cousin.  Percivalle in Tortona was very near the hermitage of Sant'Alberto di Butrio, where Manuele told Edward III his father ended up (see map below), and in fact it lay in his diocese.  In the 1330s when Edward II would have been at Sant'Alberto, the owner of the castle of Oramala, in the same valley (the Staffora valley) as the hermitage, was Cardinal Luca Fieschi's nephew Niccolo Malaspina.  It was well within Manuele's power to check the identity of the man he met presenting himself as Edward II, by the simple expedient of asking his own first cousin just down the road.  It's also possible that Manuele himself saw Edward in England during his reign and thus would have been able to recognise him himself, but not certain.  He knew other men well who would have recognised Edward of Caernarfon, including his kinsman Cardinal Luca Fieschi, who was alive until January 1336, and there was also Luca's nephew Niccolo Malaspina at nearby Oramala.  At any rate, the idea that a man of Manuele's calibre, a highly-born and well-connected lawyer of the pope himself, would go off and tell the king of England that his father was alive if the story was nonsense, when the man's identity was so easy for him to check with his own family never mind anyone else, is absurd.




At least one modern writer has claimed that Manuele was trying to blackmail Edward III so that the English king would give him more benefices in England.  Again we run into the problem that blackmail could only possibly have worked, and Manuele knew that it could only possibly have worked, if there was some doubt in Edward III's mind as to whether his father was really dead or if he knew that he wasn't.  Blackmail only works if there is something someone wishes or needs to be kept secret.  And besides, to suggest that Manuele Fieschi of all people needed to blackmail anyone for influence or position is frankly also absurd.

The good people of the Auramala Project in Pavia, linked above, are doing great work on the Fieschi Letter and are painstakingly searching Italian archives in the hope of finding confirmation of its narrative.  This is important work, and I'm so thrilled that they're doing it.  As for what the letter says about Edward II's movements prior to his alleged escape from Berkeley Castle, which is far more in my own line of work, here it is (translation from the Auramala Project site):

"First he says that feeling England in subversion against him, afterwards on the admonition of your mother, he withdrew from his family in the castle of the Earl Marshal by the sea, which is called Chepstow. Afterwards, driven by fear, he took a barque with lords Hugh Despenser and the Earl of Arundel and several others and made his way by sea to Glamorgan, and there he was captured, together with the said Lord Hugh and Master Robert Baldock; and they were captured by Lord Henry of Lancaster, and they led him to the castle of Kenilworth, and others were kept elsewhere at various places; and there he lost the crown by the insistence of many. Afterwards you [Edward III] were subsequently crowned on the feast of Candlemas next following. Finally they sent him to the castle of Berkeley."

What's especially interesting about this is the fact that Edward and his few remaining allies sailing from Chepstow and being at sea (literally and metaphorically) for five days in October 1326 appears neither in the chancery rolls nor in any chronicle, and is known to modern historians only by the chance survival of Edward's last chamber account, which is now held at the library of the Society of Antiquaries in London.  None of Edward's chamber accounts survive at all from the beginning of his reign in 1307 until late 1322, and then only in fragments until the last one of June 1325 to October 1326, which is complete.  Without this fortuitous survival, we'd have no way of knowing that the Fieschi Letter is correct on this point.

Notice that the Fieschi Letter says that Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, was with Edward at Chepstow.  Edward's academic biographer Seymour Phillips in his magisterial work Edward II (2010), p. 591, says that Arundel was in fact not with Edward at this time and had left the king before he reached Wales, but unfortunately he doesn't cite a source for this claim, and I've never been able to find one.  I haven't seen anything which definitely places the earl elsewhere or which tells us where he was after Isabella and Roger Mortimer's invasion, only that he was executed in Hereford on 17 November 1326.  Arundel was beheaded on that day with two men named John Daniel and Robert de Micheldever.  Edward II, at Gloucester, ordered John Daniel on Friday 10 October 1326 to "levy all the fencibles in his bailiwick and have them at Gloucester by Wednesday next."  (Patent Rolls 1324-7, p. 326; Close Rolls 1323-7, p. 651)  So John Daniel was going to join the king, or at least was ordered to, a few days before Edward sailed from Chepstow.  This may mean that the earl of Arundel therefore was with Edward as well, though admittedly this is pretty thin evidence.  It's really difficult to find out where the earl of Arundel actually was in October and the first half of November 1326; the last mention I can find of him in the chancery rolls is on 2 August 1326, and he's not named in Edward's surviving chamber account (the sole piece of evidence which confirms the king's sailing from Chepstow) at this time.  That doesn't necessarily prove anything, however: other men definitely with Edward at this time are not named in the account in the autumn of 1326 either, including Hugh Despenser the Younger (his confessor Richard Bliton is mentioned, but not he himself), Simon of Reading and Robert Baldock.  The Fieschi Letter is correct that the earl of Arundel was no longer with Edward when he was captured in South Wales on 16 November 1326 (the day before Arundel was executed in Hereford).

The Fieschi Letter is accurate in its details up to the coronation of Edward III in early 1327.  Then it states:
"Afterwards the servant who was keeping him, after some little time, said to your father: Lord, Lord Thomas Gurney and Lord Simon Bereford, knights, have come with the purpose of killing you. If it pleases, I shall give you my clothes, that you may better be able to escape. Then with the said clothes, as night was near, he went out of the prison; and when he had reached the last door without resistance, because he was not recognised, he found the porter sleeping, whom he quickly killed; and having got the keys of the door, he opened the door and went out, with his keeper who was keeping him."

There is no way of knowing for sure, of course, whether or to what extent this account of Edward II's escape from Berkeley Castle is correct.  One could express doubt at the notion that he might simply have walked out of the castle by the simple expedient of killing a porter, though in fact Sir Robert Walkfare, a Contrariant imprisoned at Corfe Castle by Edward in the 1320s, did exactly that. (Patent Rolls 1327-30, p. 42).  Surely, though, there would be considerably more security for the former king, of all people, especially as the Dunheved group had already successfully, albeit temporarily, freed Edward from custody at Berkeley.  And who was the 'keeper' with him, and what became of him?  Was Edward perhaps allowed to escape?  So that years later, he genuinely thought he had, but in fact his 'escape' was part of a plot to present him as dead when in fact he wasn't, but being held somewhere else?  But I'm getting into the realms of fantasy here.  It is worth pointing out, however, the strong association of Edward II with Corfe Castle after his capture: his half-brother the earl of Kent thought he was being held there in 1330, several chroniclers including Adam Murimuth thought he was there at some point, and the author of the Brut even thought he'd been murdered there.  There is nothing in any official source to confirm that Edward was ever held at Corfe, but his joint custodian Sir John Maltravers was there in September 1327 on 'the service of the king's father,' i.e. Edward II.

Notice that Edward, assuming it was indeed he who met Manuele Fieschi, claimed that Sir Thomas Gurney and Sir Simon Bereford were coming to murder him.  Gurney was indeed one of the two men convicted at the parliament of November 1330 of Edward II's murder, but the other was William Ockley, not Bereford.  Then again, Simon Bereford was executed at Christmas 1330 on the grounds that he had aided Roger Mortimer, earl of March, in all of Roger's felonies.  One of the fourteen charges against Roger was that of having had Edward removed to Berkeley Castle to have him killed, so one might argue that Bereford was indirectly accused of complicity in Edward II's death, and Edward might have heard of Bereford's execution and assumed that it was in connection with his supposed murder.  Thomas Gurney and Simon Bereford were knights, and certainly Edward knew who they both were.  The name of William Ockley, however, who was merely a man-at-arms, would have meant nothing to him.  Correctly, the Fieschi Letter does not name Sir John Maltravers, Edward's joint custodian with Thomas Berkeley in 1327, as one of the men coming to murder Edward just before his escape from Berkeley Castle; several fourteenth-century chroniclers identified him as one of the murderers, even the usually well-informed royal clerk Adam Murimuth, but Edward III never once accused in Maltravers' very long life (he lived until 1364) of any involvement in his father's death.

There are some issues with the Fieschi Letter, but as a piece of evidence that Edward II survived long past after his supposed murder in September 1327, it's impossible to dismiss lightly.  When taken in conjunction with the Melton Letter of January 1330 in which the archbishop of York stated outright that Edward was then alive and in good health, the earl of Kent's 1329/30 plot to free Edward which was supported by at the very least a few dozen and probably many hundreds of men, Edward III spending time with a man claiming to be his father in 1338, and Lord Berkeley's strange words to the November 1330 parliament, we can see that there is an extremely strong case for taking the possibility of Edward II's survival past 1327 very seriously.

03 December, 2015

Ten Years of the Edward II Blog! And a Book Giveaway!

Unbelievably, the Edward II blog is now exactly ten years old! Yes, I wrote my first post here on 3 December 2005. Ten years, 627 posts and 1.3 million visitors later, Edward and I are still here.  And intending to go on and on and on for another ten years, or more.  I still have tons I want to write about; I never run out of material!

Thank you so much, all of you, whether you visit the blog regularly or just occasionally or if this is the first time you've ever been here. Without you reading, I wouldn't have the motivation to go on.  And lots of you do visit, which is great. An average of around 1000 visitors a day, in fact, with my record being just over 41,000 in a month. The countries with the highest number of visitors are, not unexpectedly, the US and the UK, with Germany in third place. I have to say this really surprises me, but there it is, I get between 3000 and 5000 visitors from Germany every month. Russia is also really high on the list, and I often see the blog linked to Russian history forums and other sites.

To celebrate the blog's tenth anniversary, I have two free, signed copies of the new paperback edition of my Edward II: The Unconventional King to give away to two lucky readers! To enter the draw, simply leave a comment here with your email address (so that I can get in touch with the winners), or if you prefer, email me directly at edwardofcaernarfon@yahoo.com. Doesn't matter where you are in the world, as long as you have a postal address to receive the book! The closing date is Saturday 12 December. Best of luck!