18 November, 2015

Medieval Murder Mysteries: Edward II

Part two of this series on the Yesterday channel in the UK was King Edward II: A Mysterious Death, shown on Tuesday 17 November at 9pm.  Anerje gives her thoughts on it here.

So I knew it was going to be bad when the historian they got to argue for Edward's possible survival was not Ian Mortimer (or even me, for that matter), but Paul Doherty.  The man who wrote his doctoral thesis on Isabella of France but doesn't even know which of her brothers was king of France in 1320 or which year her mother died, and who appears to think he has some kind of telepathic connection with Isabella by making dogmatic statements such as '"Isabella had murder in her heart" towards her husband Edward in 1326/27.  There were no historians to argue the other side, i.e. that Edward II did indeed die at Berkeley in 1327, such as Seymour Phillips, Michael Prestwich or Jeff Hamilton.  Instead we got this baffling line-up: Richard Felix, who's a paranormal investigator (let me repeat that: he's not a fourteenth-century historian, he's a paranormal investigator) who's always dragged out for TV programmes about torture; Ciaran O'Keeffe, billed on the programme as a criminal psychologist, otherwise known as a parapsychologist and also a paranormal investigator who used to appear on a TV programme called Most Haunted with Richard Felix; Andrew Rose, a 'barrister and historian'; Professor Mike Green, a forensic pathologist (OK, hearing about the plausibility or not of murder by red-hot poker was pretty interesting); and the current owner of Berkeley Castle, Charles Berkeley, and a castle guide, Linda McLaren, who argued that at the castle, they believe that Edward II was suffocated on his bed there. Not an unreasonable statement, though perhaps not exactly an unbiased one either, given that the presumed murder of a king at Berkeley must bring a lot of visitors to the castle.  "The king was well-treated here and probably died many years later in Italy" doesn't make nearly such an appealing story to get the paying punters in, kind of like the way Castle Rising in Norfolk makes a big deal about Isabella being imprisoned there after 1330 and going mad, and doesn't admit that "Isabella lived a purely conventional life as a dowager queen and just happened to spend quite a lot of time here because she liked it."  Next week on Medieval Murder Mysteries, for the episode about the death in 1203 of Arthur, duke of Brittany, they've got Derek Acorah.  Derek freaking Acorah.  For those of you who are lucky enough not to know who Acorah is, he's a 'spirit medium', also a member of the Most Haunted team - you might be spotting a certain pattern emerging here - and someone who claims to be psychic and in touch with the dead.  God help us.

Richard Felix stated that the story of the red-hot poker is too ridiculous to have been invented, so therefore must be true.  Huh.  Now there's a strong argument.  I once read this story about a boy who thinks he's normal but then finds out he's a wizard, and he plays a game called Quidditch on a broomstick and has an enemy called Voldemort and goes to a school where he learns to do all kinds of magic things.  Clearly that's too crazy to be made up, and therefore it must be true.  A voiceover assured us that "Richard Felix has researched the red-hot poker story and believes it to be true."  Oh well then, if a paranormal investigator and torture expert thinks that a torture story is true, it must indeed be true.  We mere fourteenth-century experts who delve into the contemporary documents, weigh up the facts and try to come to a measured conclusion might as well just give up and go home.  Felix also repeats the story that Edward's jailers tried to suffocate him with the stench of animal carcasses, which was invented decades later by Geoffrey le Baker and is nonsense, and is disproved anyway by Berkeley Castle records.  Felix claims that the king's screams could be heard outside the castle without noticing the contradiction with his previous claim that the men killed Edward in this manner so as not to leave a mark on his body and so that no-one would realise he'd been murdered.  He also claims "it took him well over quarter of an hour to die in dreadful agony," which is something not recorded in any source.  He also says that with Edward dead, "the road was now clear for Mortimer and Isabella" without clarifying what that means, and that Isabella, who he says was known as the 'She-Wolf' (a nickname in fact only given to her in 1757), wanted to punish her husband for being "openly gay."  Ciaran O'Keeffe continued this theme by talking about Isabella's "public humiliation."

Paul Doherty argued - yay! - that Edward escaped from Berkeley Castle in 1327, but the only evidence he cited for this was Thomas, Lord Berkeley's curious words to parliament in November 1330, the lack of royal officials present at Berkeley Castle after the death, and the fact that Edward wasn't buried at Westminster Abbey.  The Fieschi Letter of c. the late 1330s was only briefly mentioned, and the Melton Letter of 1330 (both letters state that Edward survived past 1327) and the plot of William Melton, archbishop of York and Edward's half-brother the earl of Kent to free him in 1330 were not mentioned at all.  The narrative of Edward's survival as described in the Fieschi Letter was dismissed as 'unlikely' without further explanation, and it's stated that there's 'precious little evidence' that he didn't die at Berkeley and an 'absence of hard proof' for this notion.  I suppose a letter written by an archbishop over two years later stating that Edward was then still alive and in good health somehow doesn't count.

Weird/horrid bits: at one point they were talking about the execution of Edward's cousin Thomas of Lancaster in 1322 (he was beheaded), and we were shown a man tied to a stake, screaming as he's burned to death.  Heh?  Naturally we had to get a long-ish reconstruction of the red-hot poker murder with lots of screams and close shots of Edward's face as he's tied up and bent over a table, though thankfully we didn't see what's going on below (and this scene was repeated what felt to me like about forty-seven times).  As if that's not enough, there was then a discussion of how fast, or otherwise, a poker inserted inside the bowels would have killed Edward and how far up you'd have to insert it (yuck), and a computer generation of a skeleton having this done to it.

Stuff that's fine: the documentary was quite good on Edward and Isabella's relationship, saying that 'by 1325 it had started to crumble' rather than depicting as a disaster from start to finish.  Isabella went to France and began an association with Roger Mortimer, rather than beginning a passionate affair with him.  The shots of Berkeley Castle were terrific, and it was nice to see Charles Berkeley looking at the fourteenth-century manuscripts held there.  The guide at the castle, Linda McLaren, stated that Edward was well-treated at Berkeley with his own chef, servants and even a marshal to look after his horses, which is correct and contradicts Richard Felix's taking Geoffrey le Baker's tales as gospel truth.  The discussion about suffocation being far more plausible than a poker is interesting, the pathologist also made a good point about the lack of independent witnesses at Berkeley Castle to verify the cause of Edward's death or even his identity, and the barrister points out the improbability of a red-hot poker when there would have been much easier methods to hand.

Conclusion: some not so bad bits, but for the most part, sensationalist and superficial, and a wasted opportunity.  I've been hoping for a long time that we might get a TV programme featuring Edward II's death and survival, done properly and seriously with people who actually know what they're talking about.  Instead, we get paranormal investigators.  Frankly, I find it weird to see people discussing Edward II when I don't even know who they are, besides Paul Doherty and Charles Berkeley.  (Paranormal investigators!?!)

16 November, 2015

Edward II: The Unconventional King in Paperback, and Medieval Murder Mysteries

First of all, I'd like to make a polite request that actually isn't a request and frankly isn't that polite either.  Damn well stop plagiarising my blog!!!  You know who you are, people!  I keep seeing my posts reproduced on Facebook and Tumblr and Ancestry.co.uk and other sites, without citation and without a link.  Just copied and pasted from here, as though the copier wrote the text him/herself.  Look, if you'd like to quote one or several of my articles, you're most welcome, but acknowledge that it's mine and not yours, name me (I'm Kathryn Warner and my name appears at the end of every post and all over the blog, so don't pretend you don't know who I am), and put in a link to this site.  I'm getting really sick of it.  I put a hell of a lot of work into this site, it takes a lot of my time, it takes a lot of reading and research and writing, and it angers me to see my hard work plagiarised elsewhere without my permission and without even the sodding courtesy to name me as the author.  JUST STOP IT!!!!  I will take the matter further if you keep doing it.

Calming down and moving onto much better news, I'm delighted to announce that my book Edward II: The Unconventional King is now available in paperback in Europe and Canada.  Yay!  I'm afraid that in the US, though, you'll have to wait till 19 January 2016.  Links below if you'd like to purchase a copy:

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Amazon Germany

Amazon France

Amazon Italy

Book Depository (in the UK but free delivery worldwide)

Guardian Bookshop

More news: tomorrow, Tuesday 17 November at 9pm, on the Yesterday TV channel in the UK, there's a programme which is the second part of a series called Medieval Murder Mysteries and which is entitled King Edward II: A Mysterious Death.  I'm not sure what to expect, really; I had nothing to do with the programme and don't know anyone who did (at least not anyone who's told me), and I hope it's not too awful.  If we get the silly old stories about red-hot pokers and Edward being held in a cell near rotting animal corpses being presented as though they're fact, I might just scream.  (Not true.  Definitely not true.)  Though maybe I'm being unfair to the makers and it'll be fab, and it's Edward II getting more exposure so yay for that.  Though then again, the programme website does say 'Discover the grisly truth about this royal scandal', which doesn't sound like a particularly measured account of Edward's possible survival in Italy.  'Grisly truth' sounds very much like a damned red-hot poker to me.  Anyway, report to follow, assuming I can watch the programme soon, and Anerje's intending to write one too.  The next in the series, to be shown on 24 November, looks like it could be really interesting as well: it's about Arthur, duke of Brittany, who disappeared in 1203 and is assumed to have been murdered by or on the orders of his uncle King John.

12 November, 2015

October/November 1325: Isabella Refuses to Return to Edward (2)

Second part of a post; the first part is here, or directly below this one.

Isabella and Edward II's son Edward of Windsor sailed from Dover on 12 September 1325 and paid homage to his uncle Charles IV for Gascony and Ponthieu at Vincennes twelve days later. The boy turned thirteen on 13 November 1325. Edward of Windsor's presence in France was a key factor in Isabella's decision not to return to her husband: with their son the king's heir, the future king of England, under her control, she held a vitally important bargaining chip, and used her adolescent son as a weapon against her husband. As I've pointed out before, although Edward II's decision to send his heir to France in September 1325 appears with hindsight to have been an incredibly foolish decision, it wasn't really; Edward had painted himself into a corner where all possible options available to him were fraught with risk, and after weeks of agonising sending his son away must have seemed, and in fact probably was, the least dangerous course of action.

Edward of Windsor was accompanied to France by, among others, Walter Stapeldon, bishop of Exeter and treasurer of England (who had founded Exeter College at Oxford in 1314). Isabella loathed Stapeldon, believing that along with Hugh Despenser the Younger he had been instrumental in persuading her husband to confiscate her lands in September 1324. Stapeldon came to believe, whether correctly or not, that there were people at the French court who intended to harm him, and fled back to England disguised as a common traveller. He was back by late October 1325.  Historian F. D. Blackley suggested a few decades ago that Walter Stapeldon was the immediate cause of Isabella's decision; he had been authorised to pay the queen's expenses, but only for her return journey to England. As he fled from Paris before he gave her the money, this may have forced her into making the decision whether to return to England and the dominance of the hated Despensers, or remain in France. A furious Isabella sent Stapeldon a sharply-worded letter on 8 December accusing him of being of Hugh Despenser’s 'accord' and more obedient to him than to her. She also accused him of dishonouring Edward II, Charles IV and herself.

According to the Vita Edwardi Secundi, Charles IV, "not wishing to seem to detain her said 'The queen has come of her will, and may freely return if she so wishes. But if she prefers to remain in these parts, she is my sister, and I will not detain her.'" (Vita, ed. Denholm-Young, p. 143.)  One modern writer has claimed "There is no incontrovertible evidence to prove that Isabella and her brother King Charles had worked behind the scenes to secure her son's presence in France and simultaneously prevent her own return to England, but it is by far the most likely conclusion in the light of their wholly compatible interests and the immediate support Charles gave her once she had made her feelings known."  The French king's speech above is then cited as evidence of this support. Charles IV's role in the events of 1325/26 is intriguing and often ignored, but quite how anyone gets from his seemingly rather grudging remark 'I won't expel my sister from my kingdom, but she's also free to go back to England if she wants to' to 'Charles had been supporting Isabella behind the scenes for years to help her bring down her husband' frankly is beyond me. In the same way, I really don't get how Isabella's speech 'an intruder has come between my husband and myself, and I won't return to my husband until he is removed' has come to be interpreted as 'I hate my husband and am defying and rebelling against him with my beloved Roger at my side'. This is all too typical of much modern writing about Isabella; frankly it's little more than fiction with her name attached to it. There's a tendency to see secret plots and cunning conspiracies and long-term, Europe-wide strategies  against Edward II everywhere, which makes a good story; a better story than people just muddling through and making short-term decisions rather than following a series of complicated, high-risk steps over a period of years with the aim of bringing Edward II down. A good story is a good story, but that doesn't necessarily make it true. It's so tempting to look at where Isabella ended up in 1326/27 and assume that she'd been planning her husband's downfall since August 1323 when she supposedly helped Roger Mortimer escape from the Tower, or since 1322 when Hugh Despenser returned to England and became her enemy, or even since November 1312 when her son was born and it occurred to her that she could wield more power as the mother of the king than as the wife of the king. In reality, however, it's even possible that Edward II's deposition wasn't intended or mooted until as late as Christmas 1326, after the executions of the Despensers and when it was clear that his position as king had become untenable.

Edward II, having heard of Isabella's refusal return to him, cut off her expenses in mid-November 1325, and, short of funds, the queen was forced to borrow 1000 Paris livres from Charles IV on 31 December. This was the equivalent of only £200 sterling, less than a month's income for Isabella even on the reduced amount imposed on her in September 1324 when Edward confiscated her lands and gave her an income from the Exchequer, and was a loan, not a gift – hardly a sign of her brother’s great favour towards her, as it has sometimes been interpreted. Many of Isabella's servants, whom she could no longer afford to pay, went back to England, from late November 1325 to January 1326: they're mentioned in Edward II's chamber account when they received money for their travel and other expenses from the king on their return.

Edward II wrote his last-ever letter to Isabella on 1 December 1325, ordering her home and claiming that he was suffering badly from her 'so very long absence'. Unfortunately, he also went into endlessly long and tedious justifications for Hugh Despenser the Younger's behaviour, which must have irritated Isabella immensely. He did the same thing in letters to his son Edward of Windsor, Charles IV and numerous French magnates and bishops, and before the parliament which began at Westminster - the last one he ever held - on 18 November 1325. Faced with the painful realisation of her husband's priorities and his utter refusal to take her seriously and to send Hugh away from him, Isabella was left with no other choice but to remain in France in November 1325 and, not long afterwards, to ally herself with the English Contrariants on the Continent, led by Roger Mortimer, the men who could help her gain the revenge she had sworn on Hugh Despenser for destroying her marriage.

07 November, 2015

October/November 1325: Isabella Refuses to Return to Edward (1)

On 9 March 1325, Isabella of France, queen of England, left her husband's kingdom and travelled to her homeland of France, in order to negotiate a peace settlement between her brother Charles IV and her husband Edward II.  The two kings had gone to war the previous year, the little known War of St-Sardos.  The much later chronicler Jean Froissart, who is often cited as a source for Edward II's reign though he wasn't even born until about 1337 and first set foot in England in about 1361/2, claims that Isabella and her twelve-year-old son Edward of Windsor (the future Edward III), persecuted victims of the king and his malevolence, pretended to make a pilgrimage to Canterbury then fled in secret from Winchelsea to the safety of France. Needless to say, this is absolute nonsense. Isabella departed from Dover with Edward II's full consent and knowledge, with a large amount of money for her expenses and a retinue. Her son remained in England for another six months, departing for France - in order to pay homage to his uncle Charles IV for Gascony and Ponthieu - on 12 September 1325.

Isabella remained in France for eighteen months, and when she finally returned to England in September 1326, it was at the head of an invasion force, with her husband's greatest enemy - Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore - at her side.  Isabella and Roger's relationship has been excessively romanticised in much modern writing, and we don't actually know for sure that they were in love or even that they were necessarily sleeping together. (I'm not saying they certainly weren't, just that we should bear in mind how little we know or can possibly ever know about people's state of mind, personal feelings and personal  relationships.) They had begun some kind of association by 8 February 1326, when Edward II complained that his queen was 'adopting the counsel' of Roger Mortimer and his allies on the Continent, meaning other English noblemen and knights who had joined the 1321/22 Contrariant rebellion against the king and the Despensers and who fled the country after the Contrariant defeat at the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322.

At some point before her association with Mortimer began, probably in late October 1325 or thereabouts, Queen Isabella announced in public at the French court that she was refusing to return to her husband. The Vita Edwardi Secundi, which was written by one of Edward II's clerks and which abruptly ends shortly after this, records Isabella's speech:

"I feel that marriage is a joining together of man and woman, maintaining the undivided habit of life, and that someone has come between my husband and myself trying to break this bond; I protest that I will not return until this intruder is removed, but discarding my marriage garment, shall assume the robes of widowhood and mourning until I am avenged of this Pharisee."  (Vita, ed. N. Denholm-Young, pp. 142-3)

The 'Pharisee' of course meant Hugh Despenser the Younger, Edward II's chamberlain and 'favourite' who dominated his life - politically or emotionally or more likely both - in the 1320s. Isabella's speech has often been interpreted, weirdly, to mean that she was defying Edward and openly declaring her rebellion against him. But of course that is not even close to what her words say. What her words actually say is that she believed a third party, Hugh, had come between herself and her husband to such an extent that she felt like a widow (and the French Chronicle of London confirms that the queen took to wearing clothes "as a lady in mourning who had lost her lord"). She felt that Hugh was intruding into her marriage. She spoke of what marriage meant to her. She stated that she would not return to Edward unless he removed Hugh from his side, and swore that she would avenge herself on Hugh for destroying her marriage. What she did not say was that she was rebelling against Edward. She stated that she would return to him when 'this intruder is removed'. Now, we could debate and discuss what was really going on in Isabella's mind, whether she meant this or not, but we cannot know for sure. And perhaps for a change we should do her the courtesy of actually listening to her instead of blithely reinterpreting her speech as 'Well actually, what she really meant was that she loathed and despised and was repelled by her husband and had no intention of ever going back to him, that she was in love with Roger Mortimer and was planning Edward's downfall with him, and that she was openly declaring her rebellion against Edward'. Hmmmmm.

The often-repeated assumption that Isabella was in love with Roger Mortimer in 1325, that she had helped him escape from the Tower of London on 1 August 1323 and that she had been secretly conspiring with him and others for years to bring down her husband makes a nice story, but there is not a shred of evidence for any of it. As I've written before, and also here, it is incredibly unlikely that Edward II stupidly fell into her and Roger Mortimer's and Charles IV's cunning 'trap', or that there was ever a 'trap' in the first place, by sending his son to France in September 1325. I think it's quite likely that when Isabella left England in March 1325, she had some notion of asking Edward to send the hated Hugh Despenser away from him as a condition of her return. I think it's incredibly unlikely that Isabella had an inkling that she would eventually return to England at the head of an invasion force eighteen months later. To me, Isabella's behaviour in late 1325 and 1326 indicate a woman deeply distressed at the breakdown of her marriage and furious at the man she held responsible for it, not a woman who loathed her husband and was deeply in love with someone else. She set Edward an ultimatum, and must have been deeply hurt by his utter refusal to consider her feelings; in long rambling letters to herself, her brother Charles IV and French bishops and noblemen, and in a speech to parliament in London in November 1325, Edward II showed that his greatest priority was to defend Hugh Despenser against all accusations. And of course he completely refused to send Hugh away from him. Left with no other choice but to act on her threat, Isabella duly did so, and began a political alliance with Roger Mortimer and the other Contrariants on the Continent such as John Maltravers, Thomas Roscelyn and William Trussell which resulted, whether she and they had originally intended it or not, in Edward II's forced deposition.

More on this in another post, coming soon.

01 November, 2015

Some Of The New Knights Of 22 May 1306 (2)

Part two of a series which began here, looking at some of the men who were knighted with Edward of Caernarfon at Westminster on 22 May 1306.  As well as Piers Gaveston, Roger Mortimer and Hugh Despenser the Younger, they also included Edward II's good friend William Montacute (d. 1319), Edward's fifteen-year-old nephew Gilbert de Clare, future earl of Gloucester, and Gilbert's first cousin Gilbert de Clare, lord of Thomond, born in 1281 (Gilbertus de Clare filius domini Thomae de Clare).

Today, I'm looking at Edmund of Cornwall, Giles Astley, Ralph Camoys, William Trussell and Robert Wateville.

- Edmund of Cornwall (Edmundus de Cornubia)

Edmund was a second cousin of Edward of Caernarfon, being the grandson of Henry III's younger brother Richard, earl of Cornwall and king of Germany (1209-1272), and was frequently acknowledged as kinsman by Edward I and Edward II in the chancery rolls.  His father Richard (d. 1296) was one of Earl Richard's illegitimate children and the half-brother of Richard's legitimate son and heir Edmund, earl of Cornwall (d. 1300).  Earl Edmund was a first cousin of Edward I on both sides: their fathers were brothers, and their mothers Eleanor and Sanchia of Provence were sisters.  Sir Edmund of Cornwall had a younger brother, Geoffrey of Cornwall, and married a woman called Elizabeth, one of the two daughters and co-heirs of Brian de Brompton.  Brian died sometime before 28 November 1308, and Elizabeth proved her age, fourteen, in November 1309.  (Cal Inq Post Mortem 1307-27, pp. 57-8, 128).  She inherited lands in Shropshire and Herefordshire.  Sir Edmund of Cornwall lived a long life, and died on 22 March 1354, leaving his widow Elizabeth and a son and heir Edmund of Cornwall, who in 1354 was either aged 'thirty years and more' or 'forty years and more'. (Thanks, Inquisitions Post Mortem!)  (Cal Inq Post Mortem 1352-60, pp. 138-9).  Richard, earl of Cornwall, Henry III's brother, had no legitimate grandchildren - his sons Henry of Almain and Edmund, earl of Cornwall died childless, and his other legitimate children with Isabella Marshal and Sanchia of Provence all died in infancy - but did have descendants via his illegitimate children.

- Giles Astley (Egidius de Asteley)

Giles was a younger son of Sir Andrew Astley and a woman named Sibyl, and the younger brother of Nicholas Astley, who was twenty-four in 1300 when their father died.  Both brothers were taken prisoner by the Scots while fighting for Edward II at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314, and Nicholas died later that year, apparently of natural causes.  Giles married a woman named Alice de Wolvey and died in or before 1316, leaving a young son Thomas Astley, who was heir to his childless uncle Nicholas.  Thomas Astley married Elizabeth Beauchamp, one of the daughters of Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1315) and Alice de Toeni, and they had four children, including William, Lord Astley.

- Ralph Camoys (Radulphus de Kamoys)

Ralph was a long-term adherent of the Despensers, from at least the beginning of the 1300s, and often accompanied Hugh Despenser the Elder abroad in the company of such well-known Despenser retainers as Ingelram Berenger, John Ratinden, Ralph Gorges, John Haudlo and Malcolm Musard.  He was the son and heir of Sir John Camoys, who died in 1298, and Margaret Gatesden (d. 1311), the heiress of her father John Gatesden in Sussex.  An entry on the Fine Roll of November 1294 relates to Ralph receiving one of his father John's manors for which he had done homage, so he must have been at least twenty-one then, and must have been born in 1273 or earlier.

Ralph married firstly Margaret de Braose, daughter of William de Braose, lord of Gower in South Wales (d. 1291) and half-sister of the William de Braose (d. 1326) who inadvertently kicked off the Despenser War of 1321 when he allowed his son-in-law John, Lord Mowbray to take possession of the Gower peninsula in the autumn of 1320.  With Margaret, Ralph had his son and heir Thomas.  He married secondly the much younger Elizabeth Despenser, youngest (as far as I can tell) child of Hugh Despenser the Elder and Isabel Beauchamp, probably born in the mid to late 1290s, and one of the four full sisters of Hugh the Younger (two of the others were Aline Burnell and Isabel Hastings).  With Elizabeth, Ralph had several more children, including sons Hugh, John and Ralph.  Sir Ralph Camoys survived the downfall of his father-in-law and brother-in-law the two Hugh Despensers in 1326 and was pardoned for his long-term adherence to them in early 1327 (Patent Rolls 1327-30, p. 20), and died in 1336.  It was believed for many years that his second wife was one Elizabeth Rogate, but Douglas Richardson convincingly demonstrated that this is not the case.  Ralph was the great-great-grandfather of Edward IV's close friend William, Lord Hastings, executed in 1483, whose mother was Alice Camoys.

- William Trussell (Willelmus Trussel)

There were several men named Sir William Trussell active in the early fourteenth century.  The one knighted with Edward of Caernarfon in May 1306 may be the man of this name who pronounced the death sentence on both Hugh Despensers in October/November 1326.  A father/son pair both named William Trussell were active during the Contrariant rebellion of 1321/22, against Edward II; I'm assuming, I hope correctly, that the son was the man knighted in 1306, and also the man present at the trials of both Despensers.  He or his father, or both, fled overseas after the Contrariant defeat at the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322, and spent years in exile on the Continent.  With him were John Maltravers, one of the former Edward II's custodians in 1327 who was also knighted on 22 May 1306, and, after his dramatic escape from the Tower of London on 1 August 1323, Roger Mortimer.  William Trussell was associated with Mortimer in exile on the Continent for the next few years and with him took part in the invasion of England in September 1326.  William Trussell, presumably the son, was appointed as the royal escheator this side Trent after Edward II's downfall, and later as the royal escheator beyond Trent.  There's also another William Trussell mentioned in the chancery rolls in Edward II's reign, the son of an Edmund Trussell, and it's really hard to work out who was who.  Edward II's squire Oliver de Bordeaux married Maud Trussell in 1317, with Edward himself attending the wedding.  Maud was the mother of a William Trussell by her first marriage, and had another son, Warin Trussell.  (Patent Rolls 1324-7, p. 214).

- Robert Wateville (Robertus de Watervill)

As with William Trussell, there were two men of this name active in Edward II's reign, and distinguishing them is not easy.  One was pardoned in 1313 for involvement in Piers Gaveston's death (as were more than 350 men) and was captured fighting for the Contrariants at Boroughbridge.  The Robert Wateville knighted in May 1306 was probably the man of this name who was a household knight of Hugh Despenser the Younger and married Hugh's niece Margaret Hastings in Marlborough in Edward II's presence on 19 May 1326.  (An occasion on which Edward gave a pound to a servant of Margaret's mother Isabel, Lady Hastings for "making him laugh very greatly.")  Edward showed huge generosity to Wateville in 1326: he gave him gifts of forty marks on two separate occasions and forty pounds another time, visited him at his house in London, and paid his expenses when he was ill for thirteen days.  All this generosity availed him nothing, as Wateville went over to Isabella's side soon after she arrived in England with the invasion force in September 1326, and was with her at Bristol in October 1326.  (Close Rolls 1323-7, p. 655)  One of the Sir Robert Wate(r)villes was the godfather of Giles Badlesmere, born in 1313/14, son and heir of Bartholomew, Lord Badlesmere and Margaret de Clare.  (Cal Inq Post Mortem 1327-36, p. 480)

28 October, 2015

Edward II in The Bastard Executioner

Yesterday evening, I watched part of the fourth episode of the historical drama series The Bastard Executioner (which presumably means an executioner who is illegitimate rather than one who only executes bastards).  The reason?  Edward II and Piers Gaveston appeared in it.  The series is about a Welsh knight who fought for Edward (or his father? Not sure) and takes place in a Welsh county called 'Ventrishire', and the episodes have titles in both English and Welsh.  I haven't seen the first three episodes; frankly I'm not interested enough, but just wanted to see how it portrayed Edward and Piers.  The fourth episode is called 'A Hunger/Newyn'.

Ummmm yeah.  One of the main characters, who appears to be called 'Lady Love' for some weird reason, travels from Wales to Windsor Castle as she's been summoned by Edward II.  She meets Piers Gaveston and is rudely kept waiting for many hours by Edward, hungry and forced to sit at a table groaning with food which she is not allowed to eat.  In fact, she is only summoned to the king after she's gone to bed and is asleep, when Piers waltzes into her bedchamber and sits on her bed.  Piers is young, handsome, elegant and very French (played by Tom Forbes, who also played William Stafford in Wolf Hall; see here, and here for a pic of him as Piers).  So, weirdly, is Edward II (played by Jack Greenlees, very nice!), who speaks English with a strong French accent and keeps lapsing from English into French.  At one point he called Lady Love une petite scarabée d'or, 'a little golden beetle', and on another occasion says something in French and looks to Piers to translate it for him.  This is bizarre.  Although French was almost certainly Edward's first language, he wasn't a Frenchman.  On quite a few websites I've seen, viewers are - understandably - confused about this and refer to him as 'the French ruler'.  I've also seen various people online claim that Edward II grew up in France, and that the makers of The Bastard Executioner therefore did good research.  Nope, Edward grew up entirely in England (having left his birthplace of Wales when he was only a few months old) and set foot in France for the first time in January 1308 when he was twenty-three, when he married Isabella in Boulogne.  Given that Edward was born in Wales and was the first member of the English royal family to be prince of Wales, and given that the whole show is about Wales, I'd have thought the producers could have made good use of that fact, but no.  Edward is...French.  Okey-dokey then.  I think the programme missed a trick there.

The titles are odd: Edward II keeps being called 'His Majesty', a later invention, and 'Lady Love' addresses Piers Gaveston as 'Sir Gaveston', even though she knows he's the earl of Cornwall.  'Sir' should be used with a man's first name, not his last name.  Lady Love is called 'the baroness'.  The makers of the programme seem to confuse Edward II with his father and call him 'Edward Longshanks II'.  Lady Love addresses her female attendant as 'Maiden', and I seem to recall hearing another character addressed as 'Chamberlain', presumably because that's what he is.

The best you can say really is that Piers and Edward are both young and good-looking, though Edward tends perhaps to a certain femininity.  He's also immature and faintly useless; when he meets Lady Love, he's far more interested in continuing to take part in archery (at night) than in sorting anything out for her, and hands the whole matter over to Piers.  I suppose the whole thing could have been much worse.  (It could also have been a lot better, but still.)  At least Edward isn't snivelling and throwing tantrums and generally behaving like a teenage girl in a strop, the way he's so often depicted.  Instead he's doing something active and sporty, which I rather liked.  He's tall, handsome and has long fair hair, which is accurate, and the Twitter account of the programme acknowledges his great strength.  He's useless but not malicious, and friendly, apart from rudely keeping Lady Love waiting for him all day.  It looks as though Piers Gaveston appears again in episodes five and nine, so I might have to watch those soon.  It'll be something of an ordeal for me though, I'm afraid.  I skipped through episode four searching for the Piers/Edward scenes, but still saw the grotesque torture of a man having his eye put out with a knife and both his arms cut off, which made me shudder with horror and disgust.  Absolutely, definitely not my kind of programme.  Anyway, I suppose at least the programme is increasing Edward II's name recognition among an audience who've probably barely heard of him before.  So yay for that.

24 October, 2015

The Middle Age Unlocked: Guest Post by Gillian Polack and Katrin Kania

I'm delighted to welcome Gillian Polack and Katrin Kania to the blog!  They're taking part in a blog tour to promote their great new book The Middle Age Unlocked: A Guide to Life in Medieval England, 1050-1300.


The Middle Ages is a time of changes, and the fourteenth century is an especially rich period of change. This is one of the (several) reasons why “The Middle Ages Unlocked” stops right at the brink of the fourteenth century.  There are changes in so many different areas. There’s the Black Death, of course, killing a large chunk of Europe’s population.

An abbot's grave at Fountains Abbey. Photo by Dr Gillian Polack
The century saw the introduction of firearms: our earliest cannons come from this time. It saw profound changes in clothing and textiles as well, with buttons becoming a fashionable element of garments, shoes changing in shape, and silk being grown and processed in Europe more than before.

Modern reproduction of cloth buttons like they became fashionable in the fourteenth century. Sewing and photo by Katrin Kania
Printed books were not common for moveable type had not yet been invented, but printing was widespread on fabrics during this time, to imitate costly pattern-woven textiles.

An early printed fabric, gold pattern on yellow background (probably printed with glue to attach metal powder or leaf metal). Silk fabric, 14th/15th century. Picture from Deconinck, E., Ph. George, D. De Jonghe, van Strydonck M. J. Y., J. Wouters, J. Vynckier, and J. De Boeck. Stof uit de Kist: De Middeleeuwse Textielschat uit de Abdij van Sint-Truiden. Leuven, 1991 p. 305.
When we’re looking at archeological finds, we can see many more changes in shapes and forms due to fashion and sometimes due to technology. Things are different in the fourteenth century. Knives have different blade forms. Ceramic vessels change shapes. Artistic styles and architectural styles undergo a change, with the Curvilinear Style of Decorated Gothic in England giving way to the Perpendicular Style, Gloucester Cathedral being a very good and rather early example of this.

Gloucester Cathedral, nave looking towards the choir. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
Why is there so much change during the fourteenth century? Is it due to the Black Death? The epidemic, coming in several waves and killing off so many people, definitely had a huge impact on lifestyle and economy. Climate changes may have had an influence on architecture (at least on secular architecture) and on clothing.

Though we will probably never figure out what started off this time of changing, we can definitely see a lot of the groundwork for these changes laid in the previous centuries. The thirteenth century was already ripe with innovations, though many of them did not find wider use at once. Clocks are a very good example for this – they were known in the late thirteenth century, but only began to see much more use in the fourteenth century. The Great Wheel, used for spinning, also found more widespread use in the fourteenth century than before.

Reconstruction of an early spinning wheel, after illustrations from fourteenth-century manuscripts such as the Luttrell Psalter. Reconstruction and photo by Katrin Kania.

The big changes in the fourteenth century did not occur spontaneously. Like a garden bed carefully tilled, fertilised and seeded starts to sprout when the earth warms and the time is right, many of the changes in the late Middle Ages grew from the groundwork of the period before.

We’ve stopped right before the fourteenth century starts with “The Middle Ages Unlocked” – but you can find the groundwork in our book, and it might help you to understand why things happen when they do!

Dr Katrin Kania is a freelance textile archaeologist and teacher as well as a published academic who writes in both German and English. She specialises in reconstructing historical garments and offering tools, materials and instructions for historical textile techniques. Find her website at www.pallia.net and her blog at togs-from-bogs.blogspot.com. She also tweets under @katrinkania.

Dr Gillian Polack is a novelist, editor and medieval historian as well as a lecturer. She has been published in both the academic world and the world of historical fiction. Her most recent novels include Langue[dot]doc 1305 and The Time of the Ghosts (both Satalyte publishing). Find her webpage at www.gillianpolack.com and her tweets under @GillianPolack.

19 October, 2015

19 October 1330

On 19 October 1330, 685 years ago today, Edward III arrested Roger Mortimer, earl of March, at Nottingham Castle.  The young king was not quite eighteen years old (born 13 November 1312) and ready to take over the governance of his own kingdom.  In a proclamation issued shortly afterwards, Edward showed how unimpressed he was with those who had been ruling England since the forced abdication of his father Edward II in January 1327, presumably Roger, Edward III's mother Isabella and various of their allies: "the king understands that diverse oppressions and hardships have been inflicted upon many men of his realm by certain persons who have been his ministers..." and that the affairs of the kingdom "have been directed until now to the damage and dishonour of him [Edward III] and his realm."

Incidentally, Edward arresting Roger in Isabella's bedchamber is not nearly as intimate as it might sound to modern ears; the two weren't alone in bed together but using the chamber as a venue for a meeting with their few remaining allies, including the bishop of Lincoln Henry Burghersh (who tried to escape from the king down a latrine shaft), Sir Hugh Turplington (who was killed), and Sir Simon Bereford, Sir Oliver Ingham and Roger's son Geoffrey (who were all arrested).  Roger was executed on 29 November 1330, Isabella's pleas to her son to have pity on him falling on deaf ears.

I'd like to thank Kathleen Guler for writing this fab review of my book Edward II: The Unconventional King!  There's also a thoughtful and most interesting review of it by Professor Jeff Hamilton, Piers Gaveston's biographer, here.  I was delighted to read that.

Finally, there's a great blog post by Ivan Fowler and the Auramala Project about my recent trip to Pavia to talk about Edward II, with pics!

13 October, 2015

Elizabeth de Clare, Isabella de Verdon, the Auramala Project and Mitochondrial DNA

While in Pavia recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the geneticists Enza Battaglia, Anna Olivieri and Antonio Torroni, who are an important part of the Auramala Project.  The Project is investigating the Fieschi Letter, which was addressed to Edward III and informed him how his father Edward II had escaped from Berkeley Castle in 1327 and ended up in Italy.  They're also searching through Italian archives to find possible documentation supporting Edward II's survival in Italy in the 1330s, and ultimately attempting to find descendants who share Edward's mitochondrial DNA, in case the possibility arises some day to test Edward's remains (see here for their posts about this).  I'm helping with the genealogy part, and have found a line from one of Edward's sisters in the female line down to the 1700s (so far).

I've also looked at Edward's maternal ancestry, his mother Eleanor of Castile, grandmother Joan of Ponthieu, great-grandmother Marie of Ponthieu, great-great-grandmother Alais of France, and so on.  I got the maternal line back to the mid-900s to Edward's ten greats grandmother.  Unfortunately, tracing the female descendants of Edward's female ancestors hasn't proved fruitful yet and I haven't been able to find any lines of descent past the fifteenth century, though it has thrown up some interesting people with whom Edward shared mitochondrial DNA: Henry the Young King's wife Marguerite of France (Edward's great-great-great-aunt; her husband was Edward's great-great-uncle); Richard Lionheart's queen Berengaria of Navarre (granddaughter of Edward's great-great-great-grandmother Berenguela of Barcelona) and her nephew Thibault the 'Troubadour King' of Navarre; Jeanne de Penthièvre, duchess of Brittany in her own right (c. 1319-1384), great-great-granddaughter of Agatha of Ponthieu, younger sister of Edward's grandmother Joan of Ponthieu, queen of Castile; Constance of Béarn, viscountess of Marsan (d. 1310), who married Edward I's first cousin Henry of Almain, and who was, like Edward II, descended in the female line from Gerberga of Provence, countess of Provence and Arles (d. 1115).

Edward II had numerous sisters, but only five lived into adulthood: Eleanor, Joan of Acre, Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth.  Mary became a nun, so is out.  Margaret had only one son, Duke John III of Brabant, so is out.  Eleanor had one daughter, Joan of Bar, countess of Surrey, who had no children, so is out.  That leaves Joan of Acre, countess of Gloucester and Hertford (1272-1307) and Elizabeth, countess of Holland, Hereford and Essex (1282-1316).  Elizabeth had two daughters: Eleanor le Boteler or Butler née de Bohun, countess of Ormond (c. 1310-1363) and Margaret Courtenay née de Bohun, countess of Devon (1311-1391, the last survivor of Eleanor of Castile's grandchildren), both of whom had daughters.  Joan of Acre had five daughters: Eleanor de Clare who married Hugh Despenser the Younger and William la Zouche; Margaret de Clare who married Piers Gaveston and Hugh Audley; Elizabeth de Clare who married John de Burgh, Theobald de Verdon and Roger Damory; Mary de Monthermer who married Duncan MacDuff, earl of Fife; and Joan de Monthermer, who became a nun.  I can't find any female descendants for Eleanor de Clare; although she had five daughters (Isabella, Joan, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth Despenser), none of them had any daughters of their own.  Isabella Despenser had one son, Edmund Fitzalan, and Elizabeth Despenser four sons including Thomas, Lord Berkeley.  The other three Despenser daughters were forcibly veiled as nuns by Edward II's queen Isabella of France a few weeks after she had their father executed on 24 November 1326, even though they were only children at the time.  Mary de Monthermer had one daughter Isabella MacDuff, who had one daughter Elizabeth Ramsay, who died childless.  So of Joan of Acre's five daughters, that leaves two, Margaret and Elizabeth de Clare, who had daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters and so on, as well as their cousins Eleanor and Margaret de Bohun, the two daughters of Joan of Acre's sister Elizabeth.  Thus, there are four nieces of Edward II who are relevant to this research.

I still need to do more research into the female descendants of Eleanor de Bohun, who had two daughters, Margaret de Bohun, who had seven or eight daughters, and their cousin Margaret de Clare's daughter Margaret Audley, who had four daughters.  (Margaret de Clare's other daughter Joan Gaveston died young in 1325.)  Elizabeth de Clare, Joan of Acre's third daughter, had two daughters: Isabella de Verdon (21 March 1317 - 25 July 1349) and Elizabeth Damory (shortly before 23 May 1318 - c. 1361/62).  Elizabeth Damory herself had two daughters, Agnes and Isabel Bardolf, who are named in their grandmother Elizabeth de Clare's 1355 will when she left them bequests in aid of their marriages, but they disappear from history after that.  If they did marry and have children, there's no record of it, and it seems likely that they either died before they could marry or that they became nuns.  So that's the end of that line, unfortunately (the line of Elizabeth Damory's son William Bardolf continued, but that's irrelevant for our purposes).

Isabella de Verdon, Edward II's great-niece, to my joy, turned out to be a key figure.  Here's the story of how she came to be born.  Elizabeth de Clare (16 September 1295 - 4 November 1360) was widowed from her first husband, the earl of Ulster's son and heir John de Burgh, on 18 June 1313.  She was not yet eighteen years old and had a baby son William Donn ('the Brown') de Burgh, later earl of Ulster, born on 17 September 1312 (William's daughter and heir Elizabeth de Burgh, born in 1332 and named after his mother, married Edward III's second son Lionel of Antwerp).  Elizabeth de Clare remained in Ireland for some time after John de Burgh's death.  On 24 June 1314, her elder brother Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, was killed at the battle of Bannockburn, leaving Elizabeth and their other sisters Eleanor and Margaret as his heirs.  In late 1315, Elizabeth's uncle Edward II ordered her back from Ireland, where she had (I imagine) been living under the protection of her father-in-law Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster.  Edward presumably wished to marry Elizabeth off to a man of his choosing, as he did later when he more or less forced her to marry his current court favourite Sir Roger Damory.

Unfortunately for Edward II but more especially for Elizabeth, Theobald de Verdon had other ideas.  Theobald was the justiciar of Ireland, seventeen years older than Elizabeth (born on 8 September 1278), and the widower of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore's sister Maud, with whom he had daughters Joan, Margery and Elizabeth de Verdon.  On 4 February 1316, Theobald abducted the twenty-year-old Elizabeth de Clare from Bristol Castle where she was then staying, and married her.  As Elizabeth was an adult, a widow and a mother, this may not have been as traumatic as the later abduction of her teenaged niece Margaret Audley must have been, but still.  Theobald claimed to Elizabeth's enraged uncle Edward II shortly afterwards when he visited the Lincoln parliament that Elizabeth had come to him willingly, but then he would say that, wouldn't he?

After less than six months of married life with his probably reluctant bride, Theobald de Verdon died on 27 July 1316, only in his late thirties.  Elizabeth's feelings on the matter are unknown, but fortunately for us, Theobald left her about a month pregnant at the time of his death.  Sometime during her pregnancy, Elizabeth retired to Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire, where her aunt Mary, Edward II's sister, was a nun (the two women evidently were extremely fond of each other).  At Amesbury on 21 March 1317, eight months after the death of Theobald, Elizabeth gave birth to their daughter Isabella de Verdon.  Edward II, staying at the nearby royal palace of Clarendon, sent a silver cup with stand and cover as a christening gift for his latest great-niece, having received news of the birth from a messenger sent by his sister Mary.  Queen Isabella was chosen as godmother and travelled from Clarendon to Amesbury to attend the christening; the baby was named after her.  Roger Martival, bishop of Salisbury, performed the ceremony.  Isabella de Verdon was one of the four co-heiresses of her father, with her three older half-sisters (nieces of Roger Mortimer); primogeniture did not apply to women, and daughters inherited equally.  Elizabeth de Clare was still recovering from the birth when Edward II came to Amesbury and put pressure on her to marry his current 'favourite', Roger Damory.  Elizabeth, who really had no choice, married Damory a few weeks later, and their only child Elizabeth Damory was born shortly before 23 May 1318, only fourteen months after her half-sister Isabella de Verdon.

Sometime in the late 1320s when she was still only a child, Isabella was married to Henry, Lord Ferrers of Groby in Leicestershire, who was much her senior. born by 1304 at the latest and perhaps in the 1290s.  Henry, unfortunately, claimed his conjugal rights early: Isabella gave birth to her eldest child probably in February 1331 (her mother sent her gifts for her purification ceremony that March, around the time of her fourteenth birthday).  The child, not surprisingly, did not survive.  Luckily. this early experience of childbirth did not damage Isabella's body, and she gave birth to four more children, two sons and two daughters including Elizabeth Ferrers, who was born probably sometime in the mid or late 1330s.  Elizabeth Ferrers married David de Strathbogie, titular earl of Atholl, who was born in the early 1330s as the son of David de Strathbogie the elder and Katherine Beaumont, one of the daughters of Henry, Lord Beaumont.  Katherine's sister Isabella Beaumont married Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster, and David the younger was thus the first cousin of Blanche of Lancaster, who married Edward III's third son John of Gaunt, and his paternal grandmother was Joan Comyn (actually both of his grandmothers were Comyns).  Elizabeth Ferrers and David de Strathbogie had a daughter Elizabeth de Strathbogie, who had a daughter Elizabeth Scrope, who had a daughter Elizabeth Clarell, and so on down the centuries until the 1700s at least.  More work is still to be done, tracing this line further.

If you've done any genealogical research and are aware of any female lines from Edward II's sisters or their maternal ancestors, please contact either me or the Auramala Project!

08 October, 2015

I Am In Italian Newspapers

Edited to add: I'd also like to thank Kathleen Guler for this fab review of my book Edward II: The Unconventional King!

It's rather exciting to be in Italian newspapers! :) The first one here is from Pavia, and is an interview kindly translated for me by Ivan Fowler of the Auramala Project, about Edward II's survival in Italy (the headline says 'Edward, the king who escaped to Oltrepo', Oltrepo being an area of the province of Pavia and where the hermitage of Sant'Alberto di Butrio is situated).  On 22 September, I spoke at the Salle Teresiano at the university of Pavia, a gorgeous old library, about Edward and his afterlife in Italy.  

The others are from Vercelli.  There are some lovely pics at the end of the article (here), including of His Excellency the archbishop of Vercelli who introduced my talk, and of me signing autographs.  My talk was called (in Italian) 'Edward II, the king who died twice, and the bishop of Vercelli Manuele Fieschi', which you can see in the headline.

This was the article in a Vercelli paper announcing my forthcoming presentation, also headlined 'The mystery of the king who died twice':

And another one from Vercelli!

Last but most definitely not least, in the national paper La Stampa! :)