12 December, 2018

Hugh Despenser the Elder (1)

First part of a two-part post about Hugh Despenser the Elder, who was earl of Winchester for four and a half years in the 1320s and who was executed in 1326 when he was sixty-five.

Hugh, known to posterity as Hugh Despenser the Elder to distinguish him from his son of the same name, was born on 1 March 1261. [Cal. Inqs. Post Mortem 1272-91, nos. 101, 389; Fine Rolls 1272-1307, p. 152] He was the only son of Hugh Despenser, justiciar of England, and Aline Basset, who was probably Hugh the justiciar's second wife (though the identity of his presumed first wife has never been established). Hugh the Elder had at least two sisters or half-sisters, Eleanor and Joan, and possibly Anne and Hawise as well. His father Hugh the justiciar was born around 1220/23 and was, inevitably, the son of a man also called Hugh Despenser, who died in 1238. Aline Basset was many years her husband's junior and was born sometime in the 1240s; she was said to somewhere between twenty-two and thirty years old in late 1271. [CIPM 1216-72, no. 807] As she gave birth to her son Hugh in early 1261, she is unlikely to have been born after 1245. (Aline may have been the mother of one or several of Hugh the justiciar's daughters as well, but their dates of birth are unknown, as is the date of Aline and Hugh's marriage.) Aline was one of the two daughters of Philip, Lord Basset (d. 1271) and his first wife Hawise Lovaine (d. 1254 or before), and as her sister Margery FitzJohn died childless sometime before their father, Aline was Philip's sole heir. His sizeable inheritance across the south and midlands of England, from Wiltshire in the west to Essex and Suffolk in the east, thus passed entirely to the Despenser family.

Hugh 'the Elder' was three years old when his father Hugh the justiciar fought at the battle of Lewes in May 1264, on the side of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, against Leicester's brother-in-law King Henry III and Henry's brother Richard of Cornwall and son the future Edward I. Philip Basset fought for the king against his son-in-law Hugh the justiciar, and was badly wounded and captured. Hugh 'the Elder' was four years old when his father was killed at the battle of Evesham on 4 August 1265, again fighting for Simon de Montfort against Lord Edward. Hugh's maternal grandfather Philip Basset, as a royalist baron, had enough influence with the king to ensure that, although Hugh the justiciar died fighting against the king and his son, Henry III granted three of the late Hugh's manors in Leicestershire to Aline Despenser née Basset two months after Evesham.

Hugh the Elder lost his Basset grandfather in October 1271 when he was ten years old, and he was eleven when Edward I succeeded his father Henry III as king in November 1272. By then, Hugh had acquired a stepfather: Roger Bigod, born c. 1245, last of the Bigod earls of Norfolk, nephew and heir of Roger Bigod the previous earl of Norfolk (d. 1270). Hugh's mother Aline had a stepmother, Ela Basset née Longespée, daughter of Henry II's illegitimate son William Longespée, earl of Salisbury (c. 1176-1226), and dowager countess of Warwick by her first marriage. Aline Despenser née Basset - rather interestingly, she kept her first husband's name throughout her second marriage to the earl of Norfolk even though Norfolk was of higher rank than Hugh Despenser the justiciar - died in early April 1281, and Hugh Despenser the Elder, as Aline's only son, was her heir. He was allowed, on acknowledgement of a payment of 500 marks, to take possession of his mother's lands though he was still a few months underage. The rest of the Basset lands passed to him sixteen years later when his step-grandmother the elderly Ela died in 1297, when she must have been in her early seventies or older. Hugh held lands in Wiltshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Suffolk, inherited another three manors in Worcestershire and Leicestershire from his father's childless first cousin John Despenser (d. 1275), and from his father the justiciar several more in Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. Over the years and decades, Hugh the Elder added considerably to his already large estates and by the early 1320s held close to seventy manors across the south and Midlands. Even before his son Hugh the Younger rose high in Edward II's affections in the late 1310s and both men were able to augment their estates by force, coercion and other illegal and quasi-legal methods, Hugh the Elder was already a wealthy landowner who in 1291 shortly before his thirtieth birthday was able to make a loan of £500 to the perpetually impoverished young earl of Arundel, Richard Fitzalan.

As the stepson of the earl of Norfolk and in possession of a sizeable inheritance, Hugh the Elder was a baron of some substance. Probably in 1286, though the date is not recorded, Hugh married Isabella Chaworth née Beauchamp (b. c. 1263/66), eldest daughter of William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (c. 1240-98) and Maud FitzJohn (d. 1301), and widow of the Marcher lord Patrick Chaworth (d. July 1283). Isabella had one child from her first marriage, Maud Chaworth (1282-1322), who married Edward I's nephew Henry of Lancaster in or before early 1297 and was the mother of Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster, and great-grandmother of King Henry IV. Hugh Despenser and Isabella married without a licence from Edward I, and in January 1287 Hugh acknowledged liability for a fine of 2,000 marks for doing so. His father-in-law William, earl of Warwick, died in 1298, and was succeeded as earl by his son Guy, Isabella's younger brother.

Hugh the Elder and Isabella née Beauchamp had six children: in probable birth order, they were Alina, who married Edward Burnell in May 1302; Hugh the Younger, who married Edward I's eldest granddaughter Eleanor de Clare in May 1306; Isabella, who married Gilbert de Clare, lord of Thomond, in c. 1306 and later married John Hastings in c. 1308/9 and thirdly Ralph Monthermer in 1318; Philip, who married Margaret Goushill in or before June 1308; Margaret, who married John St Amand in December 1313; and Elizabeth, who married Ralph, Lord Camoys in or before May 1316. Hugh the Younger, the second child and first son, was the Despenser/Basset heir after his father. Five of the six Despenser children had children of their own; Alina was the exception. She lived until May 1363 when she was in her mid-seventies, and was almost certainly the last surviving child of Hugh the Elder, though the death dates of her younger sisters Margaret St Amand and Elizabeth Camoys are not known for sure. Neither are the dates of birth of any of Hugh the Elder's children, even Hugh the Younger's, though Alina was probably born c. 1287 and Hugh the Younger c. 1288/9. Elizabeth the youngest may have been born as late as c. 1300/02, and was almost certainly only a young child when her mother died in May 1306.

Hugh the Elder's father had died in rebellion against Henry III and his son the future Edward I, but Hugh himself followed an entirely different career path, and served Edward I and his son Edward II faithfully for four decades. He was first summoned to parliament in 1283 when he was only twenty-two, and fought in Edward I's Welsh wars of the early 1280s and in his Scottish wars of the 1290s and early 1300s. He fought at the battle of Falkirk in July 1298, took part in the siege of Caerlaverock in the summer of 1300, and fought for Edward II at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314 when he was fifty-three. He and his son Hugh the Younger were among the 500 or so knights who accompanied Edward II during the king's long and desperate gallop to Dunbar Castle after the loss at Bannockburn. Hugh the Elder also sailed to Flanders with Edward I when the king led a campaign there against Philip IV of France in August 1297, and is often mentioned as one of Edward I's closest allies in that difficult, crisis-ridden year, unlike his father-in-law the earl of Warwick and stepfather the earl of Norfolk.

Between 1286 and 1307 when Edward I died, the king often - just about every year - sent Hugh the Elder abroad on important diplomatic missions to the pope, the king of France, the king of Germany, the archbishop of Cologne, the Guardians of Scotland, and so on. Hugh was evidently a talented and capable diplomat, and in early 1297 was appointed justice of the forest south of the river Trent as well, a position he held for many years. He was accused of brutality and corruption in his capacity as justice of the forest, and from the 1290s onwards increased his lands by a series of perhaps rather dubious deals with others. Hugh was not exactly overburdened with scruples, and in 1298 a Londoner called Saer le Barber was sent to Newgate prison for stating that he "kept more robbers with him than any other man in England." [Early Mayor's Court Rolls, 23] In 1315, Edward II - or it may have been his cousin Thomas of Lancaster, then in semi-control of the English government - ordered an investigation into the 'oppressions' Hugh the Elder was alleged to have committed as justice of the forest. Basically, Hugh was an intelligent and immensely able man, a talented diplomat, politician, soldier, and estate manager, and if he had been able to rein in his and his son's greed and had not been so prone to brutality and corruption, the story of his life would make for far more pleasant reading and he might well not have ended his life on the public gallows in Bristol. There is much to admire about Hugh the Elder; there is also much to condemn him for. Second part of this post coming soon!

06 December, 2018

Edward II Was Not Starved To Death

Or at least, there's not a single shred of evidence that he was or that this particular cause of death ever occurred to anyone in the fourteenth century, but the idea has taken off in at least one Facebook medieval history group I sometimes look at, where it's claimed that Edward II's death by starvation (at Berkeley Castle in September 1327) is the 'current theory' of his demise. Well, no, it isn't, except on Facebook.

I suspect this latest theory might represent a confusion with Edward II's great-grandson Richard II, the next deposed king of England, who almost certainly did starve to death at Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire in February 1400. Or perhaps even with Edward's powerful chamberlain and 'favourite', Hugh Despenser the Younger. Hugh refused all food and drink between his capture on 16 November 1326 and his execution in Hereford eight days later, according to the Brut chronicle, which states that by the time he arrived in Hereford he was "almost dead for fasting."

Starvation is one of the few causes of Edward II's death that fourteenth-century chroniclers didn't speculate about. They did mention illness, grief, natural causes, suffocation, strangulation, poison, a fall, and of course somewhat later the mythical red-hot poker, or stated that they didn't know what happened to him or merely that he died at Berkeley without further explanation. Starvation doesn't seem to have occurred to any of them, and even Geoffrey le Baker, who invented the tales of Edward's mistreatment at Berkeley Castle some decades later in the interests of promoting him as a suffering saint, didn't claim that he starved to death.

Sometimes you can actually see new myths about Edward II developing. It's weirdly fascinating. Now that the film Outlaw King has come out, depicting him as some whining psychotic rolling around in the mud screaming with an anachronistic fifteenth-century pudding bowl haircut - at a battle he didn't even participate in - no doubt there will be even more. Oh yay.

02 December, 2018

Edward II's Visit to Eleanor Despenser, 2 December 1325

On 2 December 1325, 693 years ago, Edward II visited his eldest and favourite niece Eleanor Despenser née de Clare (born c. 14 October 1292) at his manor-house of Sheen - later known as Richmond Palace - west of London. The day before this visit, Edward had written to his queen, Isabella of France, who was refusing to return from her brother Charles IV's court in Paris or to permit her and Edward II's thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor to return to England either.

Edward II was staying at Westminster in early December 1325, and parliament had recently taken place there. An entry in his chamber account states, in French (my translation):

"Monday the second day of December, paid to my lady, Lady Eleanor Despenser [ma dame dame Alianore la Despensere] of the king's gift, by the hands of the king himself, when the king went from Westminster to Sheen to my said lady and returned the same night back to Westminster, in going and returning in a flat-bottomed boat, 100 marks."

The next entry states:

"Item, paid to Syme Laweman, Will Shene, Ric[hard] Hustret, Henry Hustret his son, Robyn Curre, Jak Edriche, Watte Couherde, Ric[hard] Gobet, to each of these eight valets, porters of the king, following the said boat between the said Westminster and Sheen, of the king's gift, by the hands of John Harsik giving them the money in the said boat in the king's presence, to each of the eight four shillings for boots for the water, twenty-four shillings."

So it seems that the king rowed himself along the River Thames, with these eight men - all of whom frequently appear in Edward's extant chamber accounts of 1322 to 1326 - following behind in another boat. A third entry relates that John Harsik, the chamber squire who gave the eight men their money to buy boots, bought fish for the king and Eleanor's supper at Sheen: roach, dace and loach. Given that it was December and the days are very short at this time of year, it must have been dark when Edward returned to Sheen, and perhaps even when he left Westminster. Imagine rowing yourself along the Thames in the dark and the cold, though for sure Edward must have known the river really well.

Eleanor Despenser had been staying at Sheen, at Edward II's expense, since 9 October or a little earlier. He bought firewood for her chamber there. She was either very close to term at the time of her uncle's visit or had just given birth; another entry in the king's chamber account on 14 December 1325 states that Edward gave thirty shillings as an offering to the Virgin Mary in gratitude that God had granted Eleanor a prompt delivery of her child (though the date of this offering is not clear and it may have been made a few days before the king's clerks recorded it). Eleanor's husband Hugh Despenser the Younger may have been at Sheen with her after his recent return from Wales, where it was rumoured that he had been killed, though he isn't specifically mentioned in the account as being present. Annoyingly, the child Eleanor bore in early December 1325 is not named or even given a sex in Edward's account - it's as though his clerks didn't care at all about historians 700 years later who would dearly love to know such things - though it may have been Eleanor's fifth and youngest daughter Elizabeth Despenser, future Lady Berkeley.

And finally and as a completely off-topic point, tomorrow, 3 December 2018, is the thirteenth anniversary of this blog! I started it on 3 December 2005, and it has now had just under 2.4 million visitors. Here's to the next few years!

29 November, 2018

Lancaster and York Article; The Spellbinders Novel

Here is a link to an article I wrote about the houses of Lancaster and York for the BBC History Magazine website! Here is my book Blood Roses about the two houses before the Wars of the Roses, and oh, here is a link to Chris Brown's new book about Robert Bruce, that I'm looking forward to reading.

Links to two more articles I've written, for the History Press website: The House of Lancaster in Seven People; Edmund of Langley and his Children.

And my friend Aleardo Zanghellini has written a novel about Edward II, Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, The Spellbinders, which I'm dying to read. Here it is on Amazon, and here is Aleardo's website dedicated to the book.

24 November, 2018

Hugh Despenser the Younger, Pirate and Extortionist

To celebrate the publication of my biography of Hugh Despenser the Younger this month, and to mark the anniversary of his execution in Hereford on 24 November 1326, here are some snippets about him.

- Hugh was probably born around 1288/89, so was about five years younger than Edward II. The date of birth you almost always see for him online, 1286, is too early; his parents probably married that year (or perhaps in late 1285), and he had an older sister.

- He had one older sister (Alina Burnell), three younger sisters (Isabella Hastings, Margaret St Amand and Elizabeth Camoys), an older half-sister (Maud of Lancaster née Chaworth, born 1282), and a younger brother, Philip. Philip Despenser died in September 1313 at the age of barely twenty, long before Hugh's period of power, though I do find it interesting to speculate what kind of role Philip might have played in his brother's regime.

- Hugh was an ancestor of Henry VIII's sixth wife Katherine Parr, and his younger brother Philip was an ancestor of Henry's third wife Jane Seymour. (Hugh - Edward, d. 1342 - Edward, d. 1375 - Margaret, d. 1415 - Philippa Ferrers, d. 1434 - Thomas Greene, d. 1462 - Thomas Greene, d. 1506 - Maud, d. 1531 - Katherine Parr, d. 1548.) (Philip, d. 1313 - Philip, d. 1342 - Philip, d. 1401 - Philip, d. 1423 - Margery, d. 1478 - Philip Wentworth, d. 1464 - Henry Wentworth, d. 1501 - Margery, d. 1550 - Jane Seymour, d. 1537.)

- Henry of Grosmont (c. 1310-1361), first duke of Lancaster, grandfather of King Henry IV, was Hugh's nephew, his half-sister Maud's son. Sir Hugh Hastings of Elsing in Norfolk (c. 1310-1347), whose remains were examined a few decades ago - he was found to have stood five feet ten inches tall and to have suffered a severe blow to the mouth - was another nephew, son of Hugh's sister Isabella.

- The man who abducted Edward II's beloved Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall, in June 1312 - Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick - was Hugh's uncle, younger brother of his mother Isabella Beauchamp (d. 1306). Hugh was the grandson of William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (c. 1240-98) and step-grandson of Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk (c. 1245-1306).

- Hugh often kept copies of his own letters and stored them at the Tower of London, with the happy result that much of his correspondence survives today and reveals that he was eloquent, intelligent, sarcastic, and distressingly prone to threatening people. All his letters were written, or rather dictated, in French, and as it's usually the drafts that survive, you can see how he had certain phrases added or struck out as he went along, revealing his thought processes. ("Blah blah blah Robert Bruce, king of Scotland...oh no, wait, we don't call him that, do we? Strike those last words out.") Several of his letters state that he had read out his correspondent's previous letters to Edward II and his council, so he was obviously a fluent reader.

- Hugh was one of the 266 men knighted with Edward of Caernarfon on 22 May 1306 when he was about seventeen, and married Edward's eldest niece, thirteen-year-old Eleanor de Clare, four days later in the presence of her grandfather Edward I. They had been married for twenty years and six months at the time of his execution on 24 November 1326. His mother Isabella Beauchamp died around the time of his wedding, sometime before 30 May 1306 when the writ for her inquisition post mortem was issued. Hugh the Elder never remarried.

- Hugh often sent letters to the sheriff of his lordship of Glamorgan, Sir John Inge, telling him to do this, that and the other as though Inge was his own personal servant who existed only to do his bidding rather than a royal official. A few of these long letters still survive, and show how Hugh micro-managed affairs in Glamorgan and took a deep interest in his lordship. They also show his disdain for his Welsh tenants.

- Other letters reveal that Hugh was not shy about writing things like 'it seems to our lord the king and to us that...' and 'the king and ourselves think that...', and  thus coupling himself with God's anointed. The tone of his letters to John Inge was often hectoring and menacing; when writing to other people, he often comes across as haughty and self-important, though he was capable of humour as well and wielded sarcasm like a weapon. The few surviving letters of his wife Eleanor née de Clare (1292-1337), by contrast, are extremely courteous and amiable.

- He was, however, careful always to use people's correct titles: even in 1324/25, after Roger Mortimer of Wigmore had supposedly sent assassins to kill Hugh and his father, he referred to him as 'Sir Roger Mortimer'. Edward II and others, by contrast, called him 'the Mortimer'. Hugh referred to his wife's sister Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare as la dame de Bourgh, 'the lady de Burgh', and to himself as 'Hugh le Despenser the son'. He sent a few letters to his cousin Ralph, Lord Basset of Drayton, and a certain amount of affection for Basset is apparent: he often called him 'fair cousin' or 'beloved cousin.'

- Hugh's downfall in 1326 brought a veritable flood of petitions complaining that he had taken manors from lots of people, threatened them, forced them to pay him large sums of money, imprisoned people until they paid ransoms, and much more. His behaviour as royal favourite in the 1320s was frankly appalling, and his greed for lands and money was insatiable. Both men and women, rich and not nearly as rich, were his victims; he was an equal opportunities extortionist.

- One of his letters made me bark with laughter when I saw it. He threatened Sir John Botetourt with having him hanged, drawn and quartered if Botetourt did not hand over a manor to him, and *literally in the very next sentence* added cheerily "May God keep you."

- He was probably already a grandfather when he was executed in November 1326, though he was only about thirty-seven: his eldest daughter Isabella gave birth to her son Edmund Arundel, also the grandson of the earl of Arundel, in or before December 1326. Hugh left nine children: Hugh, Edward, Gilbert, John, Isabella, Joan, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth. He may also have been the father, from a relationship with a mistress called Joan, of Nicholas de Litlington (1312/15-1386), abbot of Westminster.

- There is no evidence whatsoever that Hugh raped Queen Isabella, an invention of the twenty-first century. Despite his appalling greed and penchant for imprisoning people, I very much doubt that he had anyone called 'Lady Baret' tortured, as claimed at his trial. The charges against him read out at his trial, while containing some kernels of truth, are to a great extent absurd.

- Hugh's great-uncle Sir Walter Beauchamp, one of the younger brothers of his grandfather the earl of Warwick, was steward of Edward I's household from 1289 to 1303.

- When Hugh was growing up - wherever that was - he must have grown accustomed to his father Hugh the Elder's frequent trips abroad, to the pope, the king of France, the Guardians of Scotland and other important men, on Edward I's business.

- Hugh spent much of the year 1310 jousting on the continent, defying an order from Edward II at the end of 1309 that English knights were not to leave the country to joust abroad. He took part in a tournament in Mons in July 1310, and had also participated in a tournament at Dunstable in the spring of 1309 so evidently was a fan of jousting. His wife Eleanor most probably accompanied him abroad, and may have given birth to their second son Edward Despenser in October 1310 after they returned. Their eldest, Hugh or 'Huchon', was born in 1308 or the first half of 1309, and their eldest daughter Isabella was born in 1312 or the beginning of 1313 and was named after Hugh's mother. Their second daughter Joan was named after Eleanor's mother Joan of Acre and may have been born around 1314/15. Their third son Gilbert first appears on record in July 1322 though was probably a few years old by then, and their youngest son John first appears on record in November 1324 though was certainly several years old then. Their youngest child was born in December 1325.

- Hugh and his father Hugh the Elder, born 1 March 1261, fought at the battle of Bannockburn on 23 and 24 June 1314, and both were among the 500 knights who galloped to Dunbar Castle with Edward II after Edward lost the battle. Hugh the Younger must have acquitted himself bravely and honourably during the battle, as Edward made him a knight banneret soon afterwards, even though he still seems to have disliked and distrusted Hugh. If he didn't actively dislike Hugh, he was at the very least entirely indifferent to him for many years.

- Although numerous records of payments made to messengers for carrying Edward II and Hugh's letters to each other survive, I've only ever found one letter they sent each other that still exists. It dates to May 1324 and is more of a note, and in it Hugh informed Edward about ships in the Gower Peninsula. The letter opens "Honours and reverences, very honourable lord."

- Hugh enthusiastically took up piracy in the English Channel after his enemies the Marcher lords forced him into (supposedly permanent) exile in August 1321, and the Vita Edwardi Secundi calls him a 'sea-monster.' As late as 1336, Edward III paid compensation to some Genoese merchants whose ship Hugh had captured and robbed off the dunes of Sandwich. He may even have attacked Southampton on 30 September and 1 October 1321 with Robert Batail of Winchelsea, baron of the Cinque Ports. [The National Archives SC 8/17/833]

16 November, 2018

Edward II Borrows Money

Edward II's extant chamber accounts of 1324 to 1326 reveal that he did not carry cash with him, and if he needed to pay someone after purchasing an item or to hand out alms, he borrowed the money from one of his household servants. The money was paid back to the men either on the same day or, usually, a few days later, sometimes with a few pence added on as a thank-you gift from the king for lending him the cash. It was Edward's chamber clerks who gave the money back to his servants, and who recorded the payments in the royal accounts; where the money came from is not stated, but there is evidence that the king's clerks kept cash in locked boxes or coffers or in barrels. (In 1323, Edward II himself lost a key to a locked box full of money, and a locksmith had to come and make a new one.) As for the chamber staff who lent the king money, the valets earned three pence a day, and their wages were paid once or twice a month in arrears. As all their food, drink, clothes and shoes were provided for free, three pence a day was their disposable income, and it seems that the men had little problem handing over five shillings here, another two shillings there.

Where the chamber valets and others kept their wages is also something I wonder about - perhaps in a scrip around their waists. As the only coin in circulation was the silver penny, carrying around a few shillings would have been quite heavy: five shillings was sixty pence, and therefore sixty coins. In July 1326, Edward II gave a cook of his called Will Balsham forty shillings (480 coins!) to buy himself a hackney horse, and the money was give to Will "by the king's own hands between two silver dishes." There are also numerous instances of the king meeting his subjects and handing money over to them with his own hands, either as a gift or in payment for fish or bread or other purchases, or ordering one of his servants to do it, so presumably on these occasions Edward told one of his clerks to unlock a box or coffer containing money and hand it over to the person directly.

Quite by chance, I've just this minute seen an entry on the Patent Roll dated 28 November 1313 (CPR 1313-7, p. 52), where a merchant from Normandy called Nicholas du Vual, who had made large profits of fifty pounds in the market of Boston, Lincolnshire, sewed up the money in a linen shirt to keep it safe. His servant Simon Basil put the shirt on and travelled to Nicholas's native Caen to give it to Nicholas's wife, but sadly was drowned on the way, and the money was discovered and temporarily confiscated, though Nicholas did eventually get it back after he petitioned Edward II about it.

- At Christmas 1324, Edward II borrowed the huge sum of twenty marks - a mark was two-thirds of a pound or 160 pence - from his chamber squire John 'Jankyn' Harsik, for what purpose is not stated. Jankyn got his money back in early February 1325.

- In March 1326, Edward hired a cart to take piles of straw from Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire to Hugh Despenser the Younger's castle of Hanley in Worcestershire. He paid the carter five shillings in advance, and borrowed the money from his chamber valet Henry Lawe. Henry got his money back later the same day, with an extra shilling, i.e. twelve pence, added on as a gift (four days' wages for him).

- Henry's brother Simon 'Syme' Lawe lent Edward II five shillings in London on 14 July 1325 to give to a messenger who had brought the king letters from Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury. The money was returned to him a month later.

- Jack de la Coppehouse, chamber valet and the man in charge of the brass vessels in the royal household, lent the king four shillings to play dice with his sergeant-at-arms Syme of Reading at Bayham Abbey on 25 or 26 August 1324, and got his money back on 28 August. Edward also received five shillings from one of his chamber clerks to play cross and pile with Syme of Reading.

- On 24 June 1326, Edward played dice in the Tower of London with his household knight Sir Giles Beauchamp, to celebrate the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. He borrowed five shillings from his chamber valet Roger May to do so. Roger's money was returned to him on 7 July.

- A few days before this, when leaving Leeds Castle in Kent, Edward had borrowed four shillings from his usher Peter Bernard to give as alms to a 'poor man' he encountered on the road. Peter got his money back later that day. He also lent the king eight shillings in May 1326 so that Edward could pay cross and pile with Sir Robert Wateville. Edward lost the money to Wateville, but Peter Bernard's loan was returned to him on 22 May.

- Sometime in July 1326, Edward borrowed six pence from his chamber valet Watte Don to give as alms to an unnamed person he encountered, and gave Watte his money back on 28 July.

- Elis 'Eliot' Peck, one of the king's wheelwrights, lent Edward a shilling in November 1324, and got two shillings back four days later. In August 1326, Eliot lent Edward another shilling to give to a ditcher called Gibbe at the palace of Clarendon in Wiltshire, who was working alongside the king in a ditch and who needed new shoes. His money was returned to him on 22 August, probably the same day he lent it to Edward.

- Edward, the parker of Cold Kennington, sent Edward II a gift of young pigeons for his table on 3 July 1326. The king sent his trumpeter Janyn the Scot to the parker's house, and Janyn gave him five shillings and eight pence of his own money. He got it all back fifteen days later.

- Peter Plummer, or 'Peres le Plomer' as his name was spelt, a royal clerk, borrowed six pence from a carter of the royal household called John of Burstwick, and paid John his money back at Edward II's command on 11 September 1325.

11 November, 2018

Rumours of the Killing of Hugh Despenser the Younger, November 1325

Sometime not too long before 8 November 1325, Hugh Despenser the Younger left Edward II in the south-east of England and travelled to 'the parts of Wales' - where in Wales is not stated - with a small-ish retinue. He remained there until 20 November or a little later, and had been reunited with the king and with his heavily pregnant wife Eleanor née de Clare in and around London by 28 November. In early September 1325, Hugh the Younger had persuaded Edward II not to travel to France to pay homage to Charles IV for his French lands but to send his adolescent son Edward of Windsor instead, supposedly on the grounds that Hugh and his father the earl of Winchester's lives would be in danger during the king's absence abroad. Even so, Hugh evidently was not afraid to travel to Wales by himself, without Edward's protection. He and Edward kept in touch by letter, sent via messengers; one of them was the Dominican friar Thomas Dunheved, who with his elder brother Stephen would lead a gang of men who temporarily freed the deposed Edward from Berkeley Castle in the summer of 1327. Another was the king's squire Thomelyn de Haldon.

At the French court, meanwhile, around the end of October 1325, Edward II's queen Isabella of France had felt confident enough to make her loathing of Hugh Despenser the Younger public. She gave Edward an ultimatum, that he must send Hugh away from him or she and their not quite thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor (born 13 November 1312) would not return to England. This speech was recorded by the author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi, who also cites a letter sent to Isabella by all the English bishops on Edward II's orders in November or early December 1325. This letter makes it apparent that Isabella had threatened to destroy Hugh Despenser the Younger with the help of her brother Charles IV and other Frenchmen, though her speech or her own letter to this effect does not survive.

The squire Thomelyn de Haldon brought Edward II letters from Hugh the Younger on 8 November, and that was the last time the king heard from Hugh for a little while. An entry in the king's chamber account on 20 November 1325 states (in French): "Item, paid to Will de Haveryng, king's porter, and to John de Carleford and Peres Bernard, ushers of the king's chamber, who were sent hastily from Isleworth to the parts of Wales to ascertain the welfare of my lord Sir Hugh [Despenser] the son, because Jack Pyk told the king that the said Sir Hugh had been killed, when the said Will, John and Peres returned and informed the king that the said Sir Hugh was well and hearty by God's mercy, to each of the three ten marks for their good news, thirty marks."

Jack Pyk was a valet of Edward II's chamber (and also the captain of a ship called the Blome of Westminster), and evidently was passing on news he had heard to the king. It seems, therefore, that rumours that Hugh Despenser the Younger had been killed were current in November 1325. As it happened, he had not and was perfectly well, though the large sum of ten marks the king gave each of the three men who brought him the news that Hugh was fine reveals Edward's huge relief. The day before this payment was made, Edward had sent another man called Syme to Wales to see what was going on, evidently fretting that the other three men had not come back yet, and not sure whether Hugh was dead or not. Given the timing of Isabella's speech to the French court, I do wonder if Edward II and others believed that she, or perhaps Hugh Despenser's nemesis Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, had had Hugh assassinated; there is evidence that Roger did send assassins after Hugh and his father and others some months after his escape from the Tower in August 1323. Hugh Despenser the Younger was unharmed, and if anyone did try to kill him in November 1325 they failed, but this was almost exactly a year before Isabella and Roger Mortimer really did have Hugh killed on 24 November 1326, and not at the hands of a quiet assassin but in the most public and atrociously agonising manner possible.

Source: Edward II's last chamber account, now held in the library of the Society of Antiquaries of London, SAL MS 122.

04 November, 2018

Blood Roses Book Giveaway

My fifth book Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York Before the Wars of the Roses came out recently, and I have two free, signed copies to give away! They can be sent anywhere in the world so don't worry about that, and all you have to do is enter is either: leave a comment here on the blog with your email address (so I can contact you if you've won); write a post or leave a comment on my Edward II Facebook page here, or send me a private message there if you prefer, also with your email address; or email me at edwardofcaernarfon(at)yahoo.com. The closing date is midnight, GMT, Sunday 18 November 2018, so you have two weeks to enter, and I'll contact the two winners as soon as possible after that. (I typed 1318 first instead of 2018, and to correct it. :D) I can write any inscription in it that you like, so if you'd like it as a present for someone else, that's no problem. Good luck!

30 October, 2018

Their Mums Visited Them

I've written a few posts before on the blog about Edward II's chamber staff and their lives, so brilliantly illuminated by his surviving chamber accounts of the 1320s. The chamber account of 1324/5 reveals that the king's clerk Peter Pulford was visited by his mother Mariote in January 1325. Mariote also "talked to the king" and received a massive 100 shillings or five pounds as a gift from Edward.  Litel Colle (Little Colin) the chamber valet was visited by his mother Anneis in June 1325, and Jak Gryndere the wheelwright was visited by his mother Johane in October 1325. Some years earlier, Dulcia Withstaff, mother of the king's fool Robert, came to visit her son and the king at Christmas, and Edward gave her ten shillings. I think it's great to see that royal household staff kept in touch with their mothers! I've written before about the wives and sometimes the children of royal household servants coming to visit their husbands/fathers at court, and sometimes it seems that they stayed for quite a while - a few weeks or even several months. Servants were also allowed to leave court and visit their families sometimes too, and needed the permission of the king or one of his senior household officials to leave court.

If you're interested in Edward II's household staff, there's always my article ''Bought by the King Himself': Edward II, his Chamber, his Family and his Interests in 1325-26', in Fourteenth Century England X, ed. Gwilym Dodd, published February 2018. More info here.


24 October, 2018

Two Fourteenth-Century Schools in London

A tragic incident which took place in London on Tuesday 19 July 1301 reveals the existence of a school in the city at that time. The extant Coroners' Rolls show that an eight-year-old boy called Richard, son of John the mason, "was walking, immediately after dinner, across London Bridge to school." Richard "hung by his hands in play from a certain beam on the side of the bridge," but sadly his hands gave way, and he plunged in the Thames below and was drowned. A large crowd of horrified onlookers told the jurors who investigated Richard's death what had happened. This sad situation does at least tell us that there was a school somewhere near London Bridge in 1301, attended by eight-year-olds.

The household accounts of Edward II's widow Isabella of France mostly do not survive during the fifty years she lived in England, but they fortuitously do for the last few months of her life in 1357/58. These extant accounts demonstrate that in 1358, Isabella paid thirteen shillings and four pence (one mark) to send her vielle*-player Walter Hert to a 'school of minstrelsy' (scole minstralsie) in London, and thus reveal the fascinating fact that there was some kind of school of music and the performing arts in London in the middle of the fourteenth century.

* A bowed, stringed instrument not dissimilar to a modern violin.