10 November, 2006

Edward II in custody 1327: part one

In November 1326, King Edward II - by then, no more than a fugitive in his own country - was captured in South Wales with the younger Hugh Despenser and a small band of followers. Despenser was taken to Hereford and executed, and Edward was removed to Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, in the custody of Henry of Lancaster.
Henry was King Edward's cousin, the son of Edward I's brother Edmund Crouchback, earl of Lancaster (1245-1296). He was born in about 1281 and was the younger brother of Earl Thomas of Lancaster, Edward II's most implacable enemy, beheaded in 1322. Through his elder half-sister Jeanne, Queen of France and Navarre, he was also the uncle of Queen Isabella.

Henry, arguably the only person to emerge from the period 1327-30 with any credit, treated the fallen king with respect and honour. In January, Edward was either forcibly deposed, or abdicated voluntarily - it's still not entirely clear which - leaving the new rulers of England with the thorny problem of what to do with the ex-king. Many people were uneasy with the situation of the king being in prison, but if Edward were released, he could revoke his deposition and reinstate himself. The death of Mortimer, and probably Isabella too, would certainly be the result - they had executed the Despensers, and Edward could be vindictive and merciless in revenge. Also, Henry - although an ally of the couple and Isabella's uncle - was a political danger. To ensure his support, Isabella and Mortimer had promised him his brother's earldom of Lancaster, but the huge lands and revenues of the earldom gave him great power, and his brother Thomas had used that power to constantly disagree with and thwart Edward. Although Isabella and Mortimer had needed Henry's support during their revolution, they now had to neutralise him. Custody of the king gave him enormous leverage over them - he could threaten them with Edward's restoration any time he was dissatisfied, and they didn't want Henry to wield the kind of disruptive power his brother had.

To add to their problems, a group of Edward's supporters were plotting to free him from Kenilworth in March 1327. The gang's leaders were the Dunheved (or Dunhead) brothers: Thomas, a Dominican friar and King Edward's confessor, and Stephen, Lord of Dunchurch in Warwickshire. There were contemporary rumours that Edward had sent Thomas to the Pope to secure a divorce from Isabella. While there's no direct evidence of this, it's quite plausible.
The other conspirators were: two men named William Aylmer (one the parson of Donnington Church), William Russell, Thomas Haye, Edmund Gascelyn, William Hull and John Morton. There was a flurry of writs and orders for their arrest, issued by an alarmed Mortimer and Isabella who had numerous other problems to contend with also, but the gang managed to evade capture - and were to cause many more headaches for Mortimer and Isabella later in the year.

In late March 1327, the former Edward II was removed from Kenilworth and sent to Berkeley Castle, in Gloucestershire. It's not clear if Henry of Lancaster agreed to Edward's removal - 'washed his hands of him', in Paul Doherty's words - or if it was forced on him. According to Ian Mortimer's recent biography of Edward III, Roger Mortimer supervised Edward's removal himself, and Henry was furious, though Doherty and Alison Weir claim that Henry was keen to rid himself of the huge responsibility for Edward.

The Lord of Berkeley was Thomas, who was born about 1293/97, and married Roger Mortimer's eldest daughter Margaret in 1319. He and his father Maurice were imprisoned by Edward in early 1322, during Edward's successful campaign against the earl of Lancaster and the Marcher lords, and Maurice died in prison at Wallingford Castle in 1326. Thomas, therefore, had every reason to detest the former king, and given that his father-in-law was now the main power in England, every reason to remain loyal to him. Berkeley had the advantage of being far away from Scotland, where many of Edward's allies were, and also, the Dunheveds were strong in the vicinity of Kenilworth. The disadvantage of Berkeley was its proximity to Wales, where Edward had more friends, but on the plus side, it was remote and secure. Edward arrived there by 6 April 1327 at the latest. Thomas Berkeley and his brother-in-law Sir John Maltravers - Edward's joint jailor - were awarded the princely sum of five pounds per day for the former king's upkeep.

The chronicle of Geoffrey le Baker, several decades later, gives the familiar story that Edward was mistreated at Berkeley, humiliated, half-starved, and incarcerated in a cell above animal carcasses, in the hope that the stench would kill him. However, it's also possible that Edward was treated reasonably well. The records show that he received delicacies such as capons and wine, though it may be that his guards stole them. While it seems highly unlikely that he was treated as an honoured guest, the stories of his incarceration above rotting animal carcasses may be exaggerated. It's difficult to know for sure. One thing that is definite is that Edward never saw his wife or his children again.

In part two, shortly, I'll look at the little-known story of Edward's secret release from Berkeley in the summer of 1327.

12 comments:

Susan Higginbotham said...

I wish the author of the novel I've been reading had seen these posts before she started writing!

Alianore said...

From what you've told me, Susan, I wish she'd read the entire blog, and some of the books on Edward II - it sounds as though her grasp of the history is pretty shaky!

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, what book are you reading, Susan? Sounds scary.

Alianore said...

Gabriele, it's a new novel that I'll be reviewing soon - Susan has a review copy, but I haven't received mine yet. It sounds extremely inaccurate.

Susan Higginbotham said...

I've been coy about the title because I'm hoping against hope that some of the sillier inaccuracies will have disappeared in the final version, which I haven't seen yet. But I'm not terribly optimistic

Carla said...

A lot of people don't seem to mind historical inaccuracy - someone commented on the HNS list the other day that they'd seen a published Regency romance in which the heroine picked up a camera to take a photo of the villain. That takes some beating :-)

Why did Isabella and Mortimer make Henry Edward's custodian, do you think, given the leverage that gave him? Did they think he was firmly on their side?

Deirdre said...

I can't wait to read the review of that one, if it's the one I'm thinking of. I read the blurb about it over on Amazon, and it did not sound like a promising book at all, if I remember correctly.

Alianore said...

Hi Deirdre! Unfortunately there are some problems with the distribution of the novel - I'm still waiting for my copy, which should have arrived a week ago. I'm not sure what to think - it sounds kind of, um, awful, but then it is about Edward and Isabella...

Carla: a photograph in the early 19th century takes some beating!

Henry got custody of Edward in November 1326, when he and his men were sent to find the king and Despenser in South Wales. At that point, still early in the revolution, nobody was really sure what was going to happen. Isabella and Mortimer simply might not have thought through the implications of Henry having Edward in his custody - at that stage, they were just desperate to capture him.

Jan said...

Help! I have become interested in the abbey town riots of Spring 1327, and it has become an obsession. I'm sure they are linked to Isabella and Mortimer trying to oppose the abbots who might have supported Edward II. Does anyone know what I should read to find out more? Were there any plots to rescue Edward II in early April 1327, after he was taken to Berkeley Castle? I know about the July attempt - but otherwise my ignorance is boundless! Help, please!

Alianore said...

Hi Jan - delighted to meet someone who's so fascinated by this!:-)

There was an attempt to rescue Edward from Kenilworth in March 1327, around the first ten days of the month, which was (presumably) the catalyst for his removal to Berkeley, on 3 April 1327. The attempt was led, like the July one, by Stephen and Thomas Dunheved - their gang included: William Aylmer, parson of Donnington, another William Aylmer who was parson of Bradewell, William Russell, Thomas Haye, Edmund Gascelyn, William Hull and John Morton. The Patent Rolls 1327-30, pages 79 to 81 (which cover the months March and April 1327) are full of writs against these men and a few others, and orders for their arrest. Stephen Dunheved was lord of Dunchurch in Wiltshire, which is only 15 miles from Kenilworth.

There was a council meeting at Stamford in April 1327, where some of the bishops who'd opposed Edward's deposition, such as Hethe of Rochester, Gravesend of London and Archbishop Melton of York, raised the thorny issue of Isabella returning to her husband.

Paul Doherty's Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II, Ian Mortimer's bio of Roger Mortimer, and Alison Weir's bio of Isabella, contain a few details of the March 1327 plot. There's not much, though - like the July 1327 one, the whole thing is shrouded in mystery. ;)

Please let me know if you find anything else out, and how your research is going! I'm dying to hear about it all!

Jan said...

Thank you so much - now I have a line to follow up. This site is an absolute treasure trove - and it's good not to be alone with one's obsessions!
I will look at the books you suggest - though my interest is really in everyday life in these strange monastic towns, where everything was different from the standard 'mediaeval town life'. As you may have guessed, I live in one.
I'll keep reading.

Alianore said...

Thanks, Jan - I'm glad you're finding the site helpful.

Good luck with the research, and do let me know how you get on. :)