15 November, 2006

Edward II in custody 1327: part two, escapes

In the summer of 1327, the Dunheved brothers and their gang continued their efforts to free Edward from captivity. He was now at Berkeley, and evidently the gang discovered this and moved from Warwickshire to Gloucestershire to put their plans into action.

The reasons for the Dunheveds' great loyalty to Edward II are uncertain (see the post below this one for some biographical details of them). Edward seems to have been the kind of man who repelled many, or most, people with his odd and unkingly behaviour, but in a very few people, he inspired intense loyalty and love. The gang itself was small, but Alison Weir points out that 'there must have been... a network of conspirators throughout the south-west' supporting them. Supposedly, some of the 'great ones of the land' were supporting them - who, is uncertain.

One of these conspirators was Donald, earl of Mar, nephew of King Robert Bruce. Donald was born around 1300, son of Gratney, earl of Mar and Robert Bruce's sister Christina. He was taken to England as a hostage in 1306 with many members of his family, though Edward I ordered that he didn't have to be held in chains, because of his tender age. At some point, he ended up in Edward II's household, where he grew so devoted to the king that he refused to return to Scotland after Edward was forced to release all the Scottish hostages in 1314. Donald took part in Edward's campaign against the Marchers in 1321/22, and was at Bristol with the elder Despenser in October 1326. He managed to flee the city before Isabella and Mortimer took it, and returned to Scotland. He was implicated in the earl of Kent's conspiracy against Isabella and Mortimer in 1330, and was in the Welsh marches not far from Berkeley in June 1327, trying to rescue Edward.

What very few people realise, and what is truly fascinating, is that the Dunheved brothers succeeded in freeing the ex-king Edward II from Berkeley Castle in the summer of 1327. The exact details are unclear - 'shrouded in secrecy', you might say - but that Edward was temporarily free is certain. Somehow, members of the organised and extremely competent Dunheved gang, presumably hiding out in the numerous woods in the vicinity, gained entry to Berkeley Castle in June. Paul Doherty remarks that building work was being carried out on the castle at this time, and that perhaps members of the gang infiltrated the group of workmen. Alternatively, one man may have entered the castle dressed as a priest (as some of the gang were). Once one or several men were in, they could open a postern gate for the others. The looted and ransacked the castle, overcame Edward's guards, and fled outside with Sir Edward of Caernarvon, as he was now known.

The evidence for this extraordinary capture comes from a contemporary letter, written on 27 July 1327 at Berkeley Castle and addressed to the Chancellor, John de Hothum. The author was either John Walwayn, a royal clerk presumably investigating the affair, or Lord Thomas Berkeley himself. The author states that the Dunheved gang had been indicted for 'abducting the father of our lord the King [Edward III] out of our guard, and feloniously plundering the said castle'. Twenty-one men are named. On 1 August, Thomas Berkeley was given special powers to hunt down these men. By 20 August, one of them, William Aylmer, had been arrested at Oxford. Doherty speculates that Aylmer turned King's evidence and betrayed his former friends, as all evidence against him was quashed and he was released. Most of the other gang members were captured. The priests and friars were - illegally - not given benefit of clergy, as they should have been; Isabella and Mortimer had no time for such niceties. Most of the men just disappeared. There's some dispute about the fate of the Dunheveds themselves - Thomas, the friar and Edward's confessor, apparently died in Newgate prison, and Stephen evidently managed to evade capture. It seems likely that he joined the conspiracy of Edward's half-brother, Edmund earl of Kent, in 1330.

Doherty draws attention to an interesting murder case of 1329, before King's Bench. A man named Gregory Foriz was accused of murder; William Aylmer was named as one of his associates, and Henry earl of Lancaster (see my previous post) stood as Foriz's guarantor. This connection possibly points to a deeper conspiracy, involving Lancaster - the greatest magnate in England and a man starting to exercise profound misgivings about the regime of Isabella and Mortimer. He would rebel against them in late 1328.

There's no direct evidence that Edward was ever recaptured. However, as Weir points out, the letter of 27 July makes no reference to capturing Edward, only the men who'd freed him, so presumably he was already back at Berkeley. On the other hand, would Walwayn or Berkeley have dared to put down in writing that Edward was still at liberty? Obviously, Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella couldn't afford to broadcast the fact that the ex-king was at large.

To judge by indirect evidence, however, it seems that Edward was back at Berkeley by early September (unfortunately...;) Around this time, yet another plot was hatched to free him from Berkeley, by a Welsh lord named Rhys ap Gruffydd, yet another man who would support Kent in 1330. Edward was very popular in Wales, and Mortimer was detested, thanks to his empire-building. Rhys and his uncle had long been loyal supporters of Edward, and Rhys fled to Scotland around the time of Edward's deposition. His plot was discovered on 7 September, when he was betrayed to William Shalford, Roger Mortimer's lieutenant in South Wales. Shalford wrote to Mortimer on 14 September that 'if the Lord Edward was freed, that Lord Roger Mortimer and all his people would die a terrible death by force and be utterly destroyed, on account of which Shalford counselled the said Roger that he ordain a remedy in such a way that no one in England or Wales would think of effecting such deliverance'. [Not the original letter, but from a court case of 1331 when Shalford was accused of being an accessory to Edward's murder.]

On the night of 23 September, nine days after Shalford's letter, Edward III was informed of his father's death...

21 comments:

Gabriele C. said...

Hehe, the material for a story where Edward escapes and lives as lowly mason somewhere in the countryside, probably happy for the first time in his life. :)

Alianore said...

Yes, lots of plotbunnies there, Gabriele! ;) It's a nice idea, isn't it?

Carla said...

It's a lovely idea. (How about a new poll, Alianore, "What would you like to have happened to Edward II?" - I bet the 'lived happily ever after as a lowly mason' idea would win hands down).

Sadly, since there was a second plot to free Edward, either he was recaptured or Rhys was labouring under a cruel delusion.

Oooh, I would like to do something with this! It has everything.

Alianore said...

Ooh, nice idea for a poll, Carla! I'll have to think of some alternatives - 'murdered (he deserved it)', 'lived HEA as a lowly mason', 'lived HEA as a hermit', 'imprisoned for many more years' etc...

This really would make a brilliant idea for a novel - and a film! *Gets carried away imagining which actors would play the roles*.

Much as I'd love to believe that Edward was not recaptured and nobody remembered to inform Rhys, the lack of panic evident in the autumn of 1327 suggests that, unfortunately, he was. I'll have to write a post sometime about Kent's conspiracy in 1330, when he was executed for trying to restore Edward to the throne - despite having attended Edward's funeral.

Deirdre said...

I'm imagining in my head right now a Medieval version of Ocean's Eleven, except instead of a heist it deals with a rescue effort. Perhaps we could call the film "Edward's Eleven"? ;)

Carla said...

Great title, Deirdre! And Alianore says there were 21 named conspirators, plus possibly Henry of Lancaster as a shadowy 'Mr Big' figure in the background, which makes 22 - which is exactly two lots of eleven...
It's no doubt my fault for being a Brit, but Ocean's Eleven always makes me think of a cricket team.

Alianore said...

LOL, Deirdre and Carla! The title Ocean's Eleven always makes me think of cricket too, and the number 22 makes me think of the length of a cricket pitch, in yards (but then I am a bit of a cricket anorak).

This is my potential cast list for Edward's Eleven(s):
- Edward II: Sean Bean
- Roger Mortimer: Clive Owen
- The Dunheved brothers: Ioan Gruffudd and Hugh Dancy
- Henry 'Mr Big' of Lancaster: Viggo Mortensen
- Gang members: Ben Chaplin, Joseph Fiennes, Dougray Scott, Orlando Bloom....

All of the above chosen for their acting ability and not their looks, obviously. ;) Oh, and Sophie Marceau could reprise her Braveheart role as Isabella.

Carla said...

Oh, yes, obviously. It never occurred to me to think otherwise :-)

Don't you want to get Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe in there somewhere? Piers Brosnan? Jeremy Irons? How about an elder-statesman role for Sean Connery?

Since there are two lots of eleven, maybe we should call it Edward's Elevenses?

Gabriele C. said...

Alianore,
I'd soo watch that movie. I'd even get the DVD. And I won't care about historical correctness, not with that cast. :)

Alianore said...

Edward's Elevenses - the new Edward and Isabella novel I'm waiting for apparently has Edward playing 'lawn games' during his imprisonment at Berkeley, and elevenses would seem to fit that! ;)

I'm not a fan of Russell Crowe, and I haven't really forgiven Mel Gibson for Braveheart, so no roles for them. I'll definitely consider the others, though! Jeremy Irons was great as Leicester in the Channel 4 production.

Gabriele, the eye candy would make even me forgive any historical errors. ;)

Carla said...

He was, wasn't he? The historical liberties in the Channel 4 Elizabeth annoyed me (the meeting with Mary Queen of Socts that never was; having Elizabeth present at Leicester's deathbed, which somehow lost most of the emotional impact; an actual knife-wielding Catholic assassin - oh, please), but Jeremy Irons and Helen Mirren made up for a lot.

You wouldn't need to take many liberties with Edward's Elevenses to get a great story out of it, would you? There's not a lot known, which means lots of space between the facts to spin a story in. E.g. it's not known how they got into the castle, so if you fancy a wet-shirt scene (might as well make good use of all that eye candy) you can decide they had to swim the moat - and if the castle was unsporting enough not to have a moat, there must be a river somewhere in the vicinity.....

Pity there isn't an Oscar category for 'Most Eye Candy In A Single Picture'. It'd win hands down :-)

What, by the way, are lawn games? It sounds faintly salacious. Like 'Gone for Tiffin' in the Carry On films.

Alianore said...

The 'Elizabeth secretly meets Mary' storyline annoyed me too - for me, a big part of what makes the story so fascinating is that the two women didn't meet. Oh well, the rest was pretty good, especially the graphic beheading of Essex (played by Hugh Dancy, who is going to shine as Stephen Dunheved, I'm sure).

Berkeley had a moat in the Middle Ages, and is next to the Severn, which the men will definitely have to cross, probably several times, in broad daylight - just to make the most of the 'wet shirt' shots!

I'm not sure what the 'lawn games' are - Susan told me about it. To me it sounds like a rather transparent attempt to make Isabella a more sympathetic character by turning Edward's 'imprisonment' into jolly japesome frolics, but we'll see... With any luck, my copy of the novel will arrive in the next day or two, and I'll blog about it.

Deirdre said...

Sean Bean sounds like a great choice for Edward, Alianore! That particular bit of casting would make a good change from the wispy, effeminate way Edward way Edward was portrayed in Braveheart (yet another big inaccuracy, since wasn't Edward II in reality supposed to be tall and broad-shouldered and athletic?)

As for the recent Elizabeth biopic, I've made a point of avoiding it after the things I heard about it. The best portrayal of Queen Liz will always be for me Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R.

Alianore said...

Hi Deirdre. Yes, the contemporary chronicles say that Edward was big (at least 6 feet), enormously strong, and extremely fit and healthy. He loved outdoor exercise such as swimming (in the middle of winter sometimes!), digging ditches, thatching roofs, etc. In other words, he was about as far from the (nastily stereotypical, IMO) depiction of him in Braveheart as you can get.

As for his favourites, Piers Gaveston was 'King of the Joust' and a great soldier, and Hugh Despenser was a pirate on the English Channel in winter - so none of them were soft and effeminate, as also seen in Braveheart (the character of Philip).

I did enjoy Elizabeth for the most part, but I haven't actually seen the Glenda Jackson version, so I don't know how they compare. I certainly prefer the Helen Mirren version to the Cate Blanchett film of a few years ago.

Carla said...

The Glenda Jackson version is superb, in my view - well worth looking out for on DVD.

Deirdre - there were two recent British TV miniseries on Elizabeth, one made by Channel 4 and starring Helen Mirren, one made by the BBC and starring Ann-Marie Duff. Both had their good and bad points.

Agreed about the unpleasant stereotypes in Braveheart. I suppose they needed a good excuse for Isabella to have an adulterous fling with Mel, so Edward had to be an unsympathetic character.

Gabriele C. said...

No, no Mel Gibson, not only because of Braveheart but also because of his anti-Semitism. Drunk people say the truth, don't they?

That Elisabeth meets Mary thing is an invention of the German playwright Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) and obviously has become a stock motive since then.

Alianore said...

That's right, Gabriele, I'd forgotten about that - he was arrested for drink driving, wasn't he, and came out with some nasty stuff?

I didn't know Schiller had invented a meeting between Elizabeth and Mary - that's interesting. I haven't seen the BBC series with Ann-Marie Duff yet.

Gabriele C. said...

Alianore,
there's a bit about Schiller's Maria Stuart on my blog today. :)

Alianore said...

Ooh, that's great stuff, Gabriele! Love your translations. Schiller's references to 'Mortimer' threw me a bit, though. ;)

Gabriele C. said...

LOL. I don't think those Mortimers are related. Though it could be fun if they were. :)

MRats said...

"Look, we all go way back and, uh, I owe you from the thing with the guy in the place. And I'll never forget it"--Reuben, "Ocean's Eleven", 2001.

The quote fits, doesn't it?

Since I've found you mentioning Sean Bean twice during my chronological exploration of your posts, I looked him up on the Internet. I knew the name, but could not place the face. I recognized him at once from "Game of Thrones", and you know what's strange? I was picturing him as one of the Dunheved brothers while I read your blog! Sean isn't my image of Edward, though I do picture a British actor who in his younger days could almost have passed as Edward's twin. Sometimes it's difficult for me to bring alabaster effigies and manuscript illustrations to life unless I visualize a living person.
An excellent example of artwork failing to capture the subject would be Anne Boleyn, whose portraits seem almost cartoonish. Fortunately, there's an American soap opera actress who, in the early 1970s, had similar features to--hold your nose, now--"Anne"imate, her for me perfectly.

What's interesting is that we all have our unique way of picturing these historical figures, especially those without contemporary likenesses, and no two of us see them the same. Yet here we gather together to learn about them!

Another interesting coincidence is that over ten years before the tragedy of "Braveheart", I chose Mel Gibson as my image of Mortimer. I'd seen him in "Mad Max", and the idea was reinforced by three of the first four "Lethal Weapon" films where his hair is just right. Not long after discovering Mortimer, I found the perfect Isabella while watching music videos one night. I'd never heard of her, but within a year she was a superstar and is to this day.

Which brings to mind the question: if Mel Gibson wanted to "roger" Isabella so badly (and, yes, I DO know what that means in the UK) why didn't he just make a movie about Mortimer? He could have "gay-bashed" Edward all the way through it, instead of just sporadically. But, I guess Mel wanted to portray a hero, and depicting Mortimer as a worthy protagonist would have strained the limits of even Gibson's wild imagination.

A note about Glenda Jackson, who is also MY favorite Elizabeth: for those who may not know it, since it was released a long time ago, she was also Elizabeth in the film, "Mary Queen of Scots", with Vanessa Redgrave playing the title role.