03 October, 2007

Events September to December 1327

In this post, I'll look at the events from September to December 1327, after the alleged murder of Edward II in Berkeley Castle. For the purposes of the post, I'm assuming that Edward really was murdered on 21 September. However, there are very reasonable grounds to suspect that this wasn't the case.

Setting the scene: the principal characters on Sunday 21 September 1327

- Sir Edward of Caernarfon, formerly King Edward II, forty-three years old, imprisoned in Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, in the custody of Thomas, Lord Berkeley and John Maltravers. Attempts had been made to free him, including a successful one, and his friends Rhys ap Gruffydd and Donald of Mar were in Wales, also plotting to free him. They were betrayed to William Shalford, Roger Mortimer's Deputy Justice of Wales, on 7 September, whereupon Shalford sent a letter to Mortimer begging him to find a solution to the Edward problem.

- King Edward III, his mother Queen Isabella, his legal guardian Earl Henry of Lancaster, and other nobles were at Lincoln, where they were attending Parliament. (Not at Nottingham, as often stated; they arrived there on 30 September.)

- Roger Mortimer, lover of Queen Isabella, was absent from court. He had left on or around 4 September, and was in south Wales. He rejoined the court in Nottingham by 4 October.

During the night of 23/24 September, Sir Thomas Gurney arrived at Lincoln, bearing letters from Lord Berkeley (further proof that Berkeley was indeed at Berkeley Castle, despite his 1330 protestations that he wasn't). Edward III was informed of his father's death, which was said to have come from natural causes, and another letter was addressed to Queen Isabella. How they felt cannot possibly be determined. How complicit Isabella was in the murder - or plot to present it as murder - is a matter for speculation. On 24 September, Edward III wrote a letter to his cousin John de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, informing him that his father had been "commanded to God". This is important, as it proves that Edward began disseminating news of his father's death without checking the facts; in other words, that he took Berkeley's letters at face value.

How the young man felt about the news that his healthy forty-three-year-old father was dead can only be surmised. He was only fourteen years old - he would turn fifteen on 13 November 1327 - and held no power in his own kingdom. He must have suspected that his father had been murdered, and that Roger Mortimer - and possibly his own mother - were heavily involved. It can't be easy for him, not knowing who he could trust, with no-one to confide in. Also, to what extent he mourned for his father, or felt guilt over his actions in taking his throne, is unknown.

On 28 September, the death of the former king was publicly announced before Parliament. Two days later, the court arrived at Nottingham, and by early October, Mortimer had rejoined them. I'll just emphasise the point that nobody at court, not Edward III or Isabella or Edward II's half-brothers Kent and Norfolk or his cousin Lancaster, went to Berkeley to view Edward's body - or even to check that he really was dead.

Meanwhile, back at Berkeley, Edward's body was embalmed, presumably shortly after death, before bodily decay set in. (Edward III was embalmed immediately after death in 1377). Oddly, the embalming was not carried out by a local physician or apothecary, as you'd expect, but by a local woman, presumably a midwife or wise woman. Edward's heart was removed and placed in a silver vase; Thomas Berkeley later claimed 37 shillings and 8 pence from the Exchequer for the costs. Heart removal was a totally normal and accepted practice in royal burials at this time. To give one example of many, the body of Edward II's mother Eleanor of Castile was buried in Westminster Abbey, but her entrails were buried at Lincoln Cathedral and her heart at the Blackfriars in London. The heart of her son Alfonso was also placed in her tomb.

Edward II's heart was later presented to Queen Isabella; many years later, it was placed in her tomb, on her breast. The embalming probably involved covering the face with cere-cloth (wax impregnated cloth), as Edward I's had been in 1307 - when his tomb was opened in 1774, traces of it were still visible on his face. Richard II's face was covered with cerecloth when his body was brought south in 1400, and lifted for people to identify him.

The existence of the woman who embalmed Edward is only known because Exchequer clerks queried the expenses of Hugh Glanville, the royal clerk sent to take charge of Edward's funeral. Glanville took the woman to meet Isabella, soon after Edward's funeral, whereafter she disappears from history (I hope not from life). What she said to Isabella is not known, of course.

From 21 September to 20 October 1327, Edward II's body was guarded by one man: the royal sergeant-at-arms, William Beaukaire. I've already pointed out how odd it is that the only man who watched over Edward's body for a full month was a man who six months earlier had been holding out at Caerphilly Castle against the forces of Mortimer and Isabella, and was thus an adherent of Edward II. This is at odds with the accepted narrative that Edward was murdered on the orders of Roger Mortimer - who could have found plenty of other men willing to cover up evidence of Edward's murder. So why send one of Edward's adherents?

At some unknown date, several men arrived at Berkeley to view Edward's body; knights, abbots and burgesses, their identity unknown. This is mentioned by only one chronicler, Adam Murimuth, who was also the only chronicler in the southwest of England at the time. Unfortunately, he doesn't tell us when this viewing took place, or whether it was at Berkeley or Gloucester, after Edward's body was moved there. Professor Roy Martin Haines has written that it must have taken place before Edward was embalmed, but provides no evidence for this assertion. I personally think it's very doubtful that it did, as it would have taken a few days at least to send out messengers to the men and assemble them at Berkeley, and Edward would have been embalmed by then, almost certainly.

Murimuth also writes that the men only saw the body superficialiter. What does this mean, exactly? Frustratingly, he doesn't say. Superficially, so that the men only got a brief glance at the body? Or does superficialiter mean that they only saw the upper part of the body? (From superficies, meaning 'surface'). Was Edward's face covered with cerecloth, and his body in a shroud, when the men saw him? Was Murimuth hinting that something odd was going on? There are no definitive answers.

On 20 October, a few other men arrived to watch over Edward's body. They were: two knights, Sir Edmund Wasteneys and Sir Robert Hastings; two royal men-at-arms, Bertrand de la More and John de Enfield; two chaplains, Richard de Potesgrave and Bernard de Burgh; Andrew, royal chandler; and John Eaglescliff, Bishop of Llandaff. Eaglescliff was a Dominican friar; the Dominicans were Edward II's favourite order, so Eaglescliff's inclusion was a considerate gesture, probably by Edward III or Queen Isabella. Whether any of these men saw Edward's face is uncertain.

The following day, Abbot John Thoky of Gloucester took over custody of Edward II's body. It was placed on a large chariot or hearse covered with black cloth, drawn by six black horses. Abbot Thoky and his group of monks were joined by Thomas, Lord Berkeley and a group of his knights, all in black, and men-at-arms, carrying lances with black pennons. The funeral cortege made its slow and jolting way the sixteen miles to Gloucester, watched (I imagine) by silent crowds. The cortege stopped every mile; later, local people planted oak trees at all these stopping points. The gate in Gloucester that they passed through, where Berkeley officially handed over custody and legal responsibility, still partially exists (right).

On 22 October, Hugh Glanville, the clerk deputed to arrange Edward's funeral, finally arrived at Gloucester. Edward's body lay in state in the Abbey (now Cathedral). The cover over his body was painted with a gilded leopard, made from 8oo gold leaves, and two more leopards were painted onto the sides of the hearse. The corners of the hearse were decorated with four gilded lions, four images of the Evangelists sat on top of it, and there were eight incense burners, in the form of angels, also gilded. Countless candles were placed everywhere, and barriers of oak were constructed to keep the curious populace from getting too close.

Perhaps the most important point, however, is that Edward's face was obscured: a cover decorated with yet another golden leopard was placed 'over the corpse of the late king at Gloucester'. Forty shillings was paid for 'carving a wooden image, in the likeness of the deceased king', and a copper gilt crown was made for it.

Edward III, Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, and many, many others, arrived in Gloucester on 19 December. The magnificent funeral took place on the 20th. Roger Mortimer wore the new black tunic in which he would be dragged to his execution, less than three years later. And again, we can be almost certain that Edward's face was not exposed. In 1329/30, his half-brother the Earl of Kent was convinced that Edward was still alive. This suggests, if nothing else, that he didn't get a close look at the corpse's face, and wasn't convinced that anyone else had, either.

I'll look at this in more detail in a later post. Kent is almost inevitably called gullible and a fool by modern historians, because he believed Edward to be alive. It's a circular argument: he only believed Edward was alive because he was a gullible fool; the fact that he believed Edward was alive proves that he must have been a gullible fool. There are considerable grounds for believing that Kent was not a fool, but at any rate, how often do people attend funerals, and then come to believe years later that the dead person is not in fact dead?


Gabriele C. said...

As I said before, that whole affair smells really fishy. :)

Alianore said...

Haha, yes, it's as fishy as a hundred barrels full of really stinky fish. ;)

Gabriele C. said...

That would make a lot of garum. :)

Paul said...

I didn't know the tomb was opened in 1774, was there any reason for this? Any details of what they found? Sounds morbid I know but if there was a description of the body that may help with the identity.

I know Edward I was supposed to be taller than most, hence the nickname, and Edward II in the same mould. I wouldn't have thought there were many 6 footers around to plant in his stead while Edward II escaped to Italy or wherever he may have ended up.

Alianore said...

Gabriele: I had to google garum - hmmm, doesn't exactly sound like it's to my taste. ;)

Paul: it was pretty common in the 18th and 19th centuries, and even the 20th, to open the tombs of kings and nobles (curiosity, I suppose). Ed I's body was intact, and he was found to be 6 feet 2 inches. "In 1774 his tomb was opened and inside a Purbeck marble coffin his body was found nearly entire, wrapped in a waxed linen cloth and wearing royal robes of red and gold with a crimson mantle. He had a gilt crown on his head and carried a sceptre surmounted by a dove and oak leaves in enamels."

Ed II's tomb was opened in the 19c and the lead coffin was seen, but not opened.

Sometimes you can learn some interesting stuff from this habit of disturbing people's eternal rest! Richard II was just a shade under 6 feet tall, Ed III's son Edmund of Langley was 5 feet 11, Henry III was 5 feet 9, Anne Mortimer (mother of Richard, Duke of York, father of Ed IV and Rich III) was 5 feet 6. The tomb of Sir Hugh Hastings (died 1347) was opened in 1978 and his skeleton was found to be 5 feet 10 inches. At some point he'd taken a severe blow to the mouth and suffered from osteo-arthritis in his shoulder and elbow joints. And Sir Bartholomew Burghersh's (died 1369) tomb was opened in 1961 - he was also 5 feet 10 and had twisted his ankle and broken some ribs at some point.

So although there probably weren't too many men over 6 feet, the noblemen/royals whose tombs have been opened were actually pretty tall. (And Anne Mortimer being 5 feet 6 is impressive - that's taller than I am!)

Paul said...

Sorry I misread it and thought the 2nd Edward's tomb was opened. I'd have thought curiousity would have forced the lead coffin open. Especially as it's not 100% sure what happened to him.

I read that Samuel Pepys visited Henry V's queen Katherine as her coffin had been left open for 100's of years. He proudly wrote in his diary that he had kissed a queen that day - eeuw.

Alianore said...

It's frustrating that they didn't open Ed II's coffin!

Paul said...

Makes you wonder why they opened it in the first place?

19th C Scientist 1: "Oh look a lead coffin"

19th C Scientist 2: "Hm so it is, righto lads seal it back up again"

19th C Labourer: *splutter* "You're the boss, you know we're charging you a full day for this right?"

Carla said...

Just wondering if monks and high-ranking churchmen also tended to be on the tall side? Like the nobility, they could expect a pretty good diet, which is related to height.

Was it normal for family to hurry to view the body after someone important died? - i.e. how unusual was it that nobody went to see Edward II's body after his death?

Alianore said...

Paul: LOL!

Carla: not sure about churchmen - perhaps it depended on their family background, and therefore the diet they ate in childhood. The ones who came from noble backgrounds would be taller on average, I presume.

It's quite likely that Ed II's funeral was the first time a wooden effigy was used, instead of the coffin being open and the deceased's face being visible - but it's not certain, so we probably shouldn't make too much of it. Afterwards, it was usual for kings and other royals to lie in state with their faces exposed before burial.

Kate Plantaganet said...

Eeeeuuuuuuuwwwwww is right! But funny and interesting so keep those juicy snippets of information coming!

Those tall royals must have been so impressive to their subjects!

Sorry Ed's coffin wasn't open. Maybe you could get permission Alianore - for a blog piece....;)))

Alianore said...

Let me add my voice to the chorus of 'eeewwwww's! :)

Kate: hehe, I wish... ;)