28 November, 2007

The Conspiracy of the Earl of Kent, 1330 (2)

In this post, I'm looking at some of the men who were the earl of Kent's co-conspirators to free his half-brother Edward II from Corfe Castle.

On 31 March 1330, twelve days after Kent's execution, the following men were named as his adherents and ordered to be taken before Edward III (for which, read: Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer):

Fulk Fitz Waryn, John Pecche, Nicholas Pecche, Nicholas de Dauncy, John Caupeland, Thomas de Stauntone, Walter de Woxebrigge, Adam de Wedenhale, Thomas Craunk, Richard de la Chaumbre, Nicholas de Sandwyc, Roger de Audeleye, Henry Wygod, Wadyn Crok, John Harsik, Benedict de Braham, William de Mareny, Stephen Donhesd, Juan ap Griffyn, Robert de Wedenhale, Peter Bernard, John de Mosdene, Richard de Hull, Roger de Reyham, John del Ile, William Daumarle, Henry de Cauntebr[ege], John de Everwyk, John de Aspale, Giles de Spayne, John Gymyng, John de Toucestre, John Hauteyn, George de Percy, Friar Richard de Pontefract, Friar Richard Vavacour, Friar Henry Domeram, Friar Thomas de Bourne, William de Clif, Resus ap Griffin, and Richard de Wuselade, who stood charged with being adherents of Edmund de Wodestoke, late Earl of Kent, confessedly a rebel.

This is certainly not the entire list of known followers of Kent. Some of the other plotters (for want of a better word) were ordered to be arrested separately, such as William la Zouche of Mortimer, a cousin of Roger Mortimer, and Ingelram Berenger, a former Despenser adherent. The archbishop of York was put on trial for treason. The bishop of London and the abbot of Langdon were also involved, as well as a few others.

I've already written a post on two of the men, Rhys ap Gruffydd ("Resus ap Griffin") and Stephen Dunheved ("Donhesd"). Stephen had been involved in attempts to free Edward II as early as March 1327, three years earlier. Clearly, he was devoted to Edward, although I have no idea why. I haven't found any connections between them, except that Stephen's brother Thomas was Edward's confessor. Unfortunately, I have no idea what happened to Stephen after March 1330. It's incredible that he was still alive then, given that all the other known members of the gang that freed Edward from Berkeley Castle in June or July 1327 disappear from the records completely. Somehow, despite being the most wanted man in England, he had managed to hide himself for well over two and a half years.

I haven't been able to trace all the men on the list, but in this post, I'll take a look at some of them and give some information about them, in no particular order.

Ieuan ap Gruffydd ("Juan ap Griffyn")

I'm sure that 'Juan ap Griffyn' was how the English scribe who wrote the writ for the arrests mangled the Welsh name 'Ieuan ap Gruffydd'. (There were a couple of men of the era called John de Griffyn, but the English name 'John' would never have been written as 'Juan').

Ieuan was the illegitimate son of Sir Gruffydd Llwyd, or more correctly, Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Gruffydd ab Ednyfed. Gruffydd was a lord of North Wales, a staunch supporter of Edward II and enemy of Roger Mortimer; during Edward II's campaign against the Marcher lords in early 1322, Gruffydd invaded and despoiled the lands of Roger Mortimer, his uncle, and their ally the earl of Hereford. Gruffydd himself doesn't seem to have taken part in the plot of 1330. He died in 1335, so perhaps was too elderly or too ill to play an active role.

Ieuan was his illegitimate son, but as this made no legal difference in Wales, he was Gruffydd's heir. Ieuan is unfortunately rather obscure. He married a daughter of Sir Thomas Puleston - who I know nothing about, either - became Governor of the Channel Islands, and died in 1350. He had a son named after his father, Gruffydd ap Ieuan ('ap' means 'son of').

John Harsik (Harsek, Harsyk, etc)

John was a squire of Edward II's chamber. In November 1326, he was one of the men Edward sent to negotiate - unsuccessfully - with Isabella. The others were: Rhys ap Gruffydd, above; the abbot of Neath; Oliver de Bordeaux, another of Edward's squires; and Edward's young nephew Edward de Bohun.

John must have known Rhys ap Gruffydd very well, as Rhys was described as a "privy squire of the chamber". On 3 October 1325, John was given the following mysterious commission, with six other men: "...whom the king is sending to divers parts of the realm for business very near his heart, enjoined on them viva voce, and to arrest certain persons whose names have been supplied to them." In April 1323, he was granted the "manor of Moundeford, co. Norfolk, late of Warin de Insula, a rebel."

John was often associated with a knight named John Haward. A John Harsik was later sheriff of Norfolk, but I'm not sure if this was our John, or his son, or another relative.

Peter Bernard

Peter was an usher of Edward II's chamber, and presumably knew John Harsik and Rhys ap Gruffydd well. As a member of Edward's chamber, his 'boss' was Hugh Despenser the younger. Another man of the time called 'Peter Bernard de Pynsole' was a sergeant-at-arms of Edward II and Edward III.

Benedict de Braham

Either an adherent of Edward II or the younger Despenser: he was one of the men who held Despenser's Caerphilly Castle against the forces of Roger Mortimer and Isabella from November 1326 to March 1327. Two of the men with him was Giles of Spain, also to be arrested in March as a follower of Kent, and Roger atte Watre of the Dunheved gang. The man leading the siege against them, oddly enough, was William la Zouche, also a Kent adherent in March 1330. (Got to love all that political side-switching!)

Benedict appears in the entry beneath the one granting 'Moundeford' to John Harsik in 1323, ordered to arrest Richard de Holbrok, which may point to a connection between them. His fellow appointee in the arrest was Sir John Haward, associated with John Harsik.

There's an odd entry in the Patent Rolls of 12 February 1327 - when Benedict was still being besieged at Caerphilly! - accusing him and many others of assaulting a man in Suffolk, tying him to a tree and cutting off his right hand. (!!) Two things: 1) the town in Suffolk where this is meant to have taken place is 235 miles from Caerphilly, and 2) the man supposedly assaulted was none other than Richard de Holbrok, who was to be arrested in 1323 by...Benedict de Braham.

William de Maren(n)y

In November 1321, William was commissioned to levy 500 footmen in Essex and Hertfordshire for Edward II's campaign against the Marcher lords, who were led by Roger Mortimer. His fellow appointee was Thomas de la Haye of the Dunheved gang.

Roger Audley (de Audeleye)

Named as a clerk of Edward II on 16 March 1314.

John de Toucestre

John, another yeoman of Edward II, was appointed after Mortimer and Isabella's invasion on 10 October 1326 "to select all men at arms wherever he goes and to lead them to the king as he is instructed; with power to arrest the disobedient." His fellow appointee was Thomas de la Haye of the Dunheved gang. On 1 November 1312, Edward II appointed him custodian of the manor of Langley Marsh ("Langeleye Mareys") in Somerset, and on 19 March 1324, sent him "on his business to the March of Wales."

Thomas Staunton

A clerk, who accompanied Hugh Despenser the elder to France in 1320 (when Edward II had to pay homage to Philip V for his French lands). Thomas was named in Despenser's retinue with such well-known Despenser stalwarts as John Haudlo, Martin Fishacre and John Ratinden.

John Hauteyn

Named as a yeoman of Edward between 1310 and 1312. 6 July 1311: "complaint by John Hauteyn that when he came by the king's command to the king's castle of Norwich, William atte Park of Causton assaulted him."

John became a citizen of London in about 1322, and became the receiver of the king's custom of wool in London. He was serving as alderman in 1322. John was arrested in London in 1330, as a Kent adherent, and his lands seized, with two others on the list, Henry de Cantebrege and John de Everwyk. However, the sheriffs refused to "remove them out of the City inasmuch as they were free citizens."

George Percy

Named as - yet another - yeoman of Edward II as early as December 1309. In February 1311, he was trusted to "convey money from London to the king in Scotland." Roger atte Watre of the Dunheved gang, Edward II's sergeant, also took money to Edward in Scotland around the same time. By 1320, however, George seems to have moved to the earl of Kent's retinue and is often mentioned there.

George was ordered to be arrested on 28 February 1327, supposedly for stealing timber, at the same time as many members of the Dunheved gang faced fake warrants for their arrest. One of the men implicated with him, John de Tichbourn, was ordered to be arrested many times in February/March 1327, including: once with Ingelram Berenger, Despenser adherent until 1326 and another of Kent's co-conspirators in 1330, and once with Edmund Gascelyn of the Dunheved gang.

George was not only named in the writ of 31 March quoted at the beginning of this post - Nicholas de Langeford and Roger atte Assh were appointed to arrest him on 10 March 1330. This was three weeks earlier, so evidently they hadn't found him. His lands were in the king's hands by 23 June 1330.

I'll look at more of the men in the next post - quite a few more were former members of Edward's household. It was the same with the Dunheved gang, as I discovered when researching them.
More on Kent's plot and the vital role played by John Pecche, the constable of Corfe Castle next week. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be online too much over the next few days, as I have guests, so the next post won't be for a week or so.

25 November, 2007

The Conspiracy of the Earl of Kent, 1330 (1)

Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, was beheaded in Winchester on 19 March 1330 for the crime of trying to free his half-brother Edward II from Corfe Castle in Dorset. As most readers will know, this is two and a half years after Edward's death was announced...

So what the heck was going on? Was Kent utterly deluded? Or was Edward II really alive and at Corfe? Most historians, assuming that Edward II had indeed been dead for several years, are unable to explain Kent's plot except by assuming that he was stupid, gullible and unstable. However, there is plenty of evidence that Kent was none of these things, and there are contradictions in the traditional narrative, such as: if he was a fool and deluded, why was it so important to execute him? If he was a fool and politically ineffectual, then how did he persuade so many high-ranking laymen and clerics to help him?

At the very least, Kent’s plot surely means that he had not seen his brother's face clearly at his funeral on 20 December 1327. Kent did not see Edward's body before the funeral, and neither did his brother Norfolk, their cousin Lancaster, or any other members of Edward's family. Even if we assume that Kent was stupid and gullible, which I’m sure he wasn't, he’d hardly have been convinced that Edward was alive in 1330 if he’d had a good look at Edward’s exposed face during or before his funeral. I’ll look at Edward’s funeral in a future post, but the historian Ernst Kantorowicz’s study The King’s Two Bodies states that Edward II’s funeral is the first known occasion in Western Europe when a wooden mannequin or effigy was displayed in public during a royal funeral, in place of the royal corpse.

Assuming for a moment that Edward II really had been dead since September 1327, why did Kent come to believe that he was alive? There's a story in the chronicle of Geoffrey le Baker that the garrison at Corfe Castle put on a show for Kent, with an Edward II lookalike sitting in the hall, feasting and generally partying fourteenth-century style. But le Baker had a great talent for embroidering his stories, and can’t always be trusted. According to le Baker, Kent, watching from a distance, was fooled into thinking this was his brother. However, I’m certain that this story is not true. Ian Mortimer has drawn attention to the role of Sir John Pecche, constable of Corfe, in informing Kent of Edward II’s possible survival (in my next post).

Anyway, Kent wrote three letters (or rather, his wife did) to Edward II, and gave one to John Deveril of the Corfe garrison. Deveril promptly sent it to Roger Mortimer. The near-contemporary Brut chronicle gives the letter, which would have been in French in the original, but the Brut was written in English, in modernised spelling here:

"Worships and reverence, with a brother’s liegeance and subjection. Sir knight, worshipful and dear brother, if you please, I pray heartily that you are of good comfort, for I shall ordain for you, that you shall soon come out of prison, and be delivered of that disease in which you find yourself. Your lordship should know that I have the assent of almost all the great lords of England, with all their apparel, that is to say with armour, and with treasure without limit, in order to maintain and help you in your quarrel so you shall be king again as you were before, and that they all – prelates, earls and barons – have sworn to me upon a book."

[In November 1330, John Deveril was sentenced to death for his part in entrapping Kent, at the same Parliament that condemned Roger Mortimer to death. A reward of 100 marks (66 pounds) was offered for taking him alive to the king, and 40 marks for his head. "q' qi purra prendre le dit Johan vif, et mesne au Roi, auera C Marcz, et qi q' port la Teste, auera xl du Doun le Roi." Deveril fled, and in the summer of 1331, was thought to be hiding in the Dorset/Somerset area. One of the men appointed to arrest him was John Maltravers Senior, father of John Maltravers Junior, who had also been sentenced to death for entrapping Kent.]

The ‘assent of almost all the great lords of England’ is interesting, especially the reference to earls, as none of the other English earls of the time can be proved to have taken part in the plot. Was that true, or was Kent exaggerating?

Kent’s trial, if it may be dignified by the name, took place at the Winchester Parliament of March 1330. Roger Mortimer, who had appointed himself prosecutor and announced to all the gathered lords at Parliament that he had had Kent arrested, read out Kent’s letter to Edward II, and stated:

"...that you are his [Edward III’s] deadly enemy and a traitor and also a common enemy to the realm; and that have been about many a day to make privily deliverance of Sir Edward [II], sometime King of England, your brother, who was put down out of his royalty by common assent of all the lords of England, and in impairing of our lord the king’s estate, and also of his realm."

Robert Howel, coroner of Edward III’s household, who was presiding over the trial, stated:

"The tenor of your letter is that you were on the point of rescuing that worshipful knight Sir Edward, sometime king of England, your brother, and to help him become king again, and to govern his people again as he was wont to do beforehand, thus impairing the state of our liege lord the king [Edward III]."

The charge against Kent does not say anywhere that Edward II was dead, and in fact, sounds as though Kent really was on the verge of freeing Edward. And, as I pointed out in a previous post, the parliamentary records of March 1330 are missing. Even in the Parliament of November 1330, when the charges against Kent were reversed, the charges were not read out again – which is extremely unusual. Our source for the proceedings is the Brut chronicle, which is extremely detailed and almost certainly based on a newsletter written by an eyewitness.

The sentence against Kent was as follows:

"The will of this court is that you shall lose both life and limb, and that your heirs shall be disinherited for evermore, save the grace of our lord the king."

Edward III didn't save Kent, either because Isabella and Mortimer gave him no chance to, or because he knew that his father really was alive and that his uncle’s plot was a genuine one. Assuming that Edward II was alive, the last thing Edward III would have wanted was for him to be restored to the throne, which would have resulted in his mother Isabella’s being sent to a convent and, possibly, Edward’s being accused of treason by his own father.

On 16 March, Kent’s confession was read out to Parliament, which named many of his co-conspirators – I’ll look at them in another post.

Isabella’s own role in the entrapment and execution of Kent – her brother-in-law and first cousin – is certain, whatever Allocco, author of the "Canonise Perfect Isabella Now!!" tract masquerading as a PhD thesis thinks ("I do not believe that Isabella was responsible for Kent’s disgrace and death…Isabella had no reason to kill Kent.") Isabella swore on her father’s soul that she ‘would have justice’ against Kent. But justice for what? She also told her son Edward III that "he should be avenged upon him as upon his deadly enemy."

Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, offered to walk from Winchester to London (70 miles) barefoot, with a halter around his neck, by way of atonement. But this was refused. Ian Mortimer describes him as "a sincerely contrite, terrified human being, begging for forgiveness with all his heart, not fully able to grasp that he was to be executed for trying to free his brother."

Kent was taken out to the scaffold, in his shirt, where he had to wait many hours until someone willing to lop his head off could be found. The official executioner had fled, no doubt unwilling to behead someone who a) was a king’s son and b) was the victim of what was basically judicial murder. Finally, a latrine cleaner, under sentence of death himself, agreed to wield the axe in exchange for his life.

Kent, youngest son of Edward I and nephew of Philip IV of France, son of one king, half-brother of another, uncle of a third, and grandfather of a fourth, was twenty-eight years old at the time of his death (born 5 August 1301). A writ to arrest his wife Margaret Wake and imprison her at Salisbury Castle, with her three young children and only two damsels to attend them, was issued five days before Kent’s execution. The countess gave birth to her son John on 7 April, which means she was almost nine months pregnant when she was arrested and imprisoned. A great deal more interest was shown in her jewels than in Countess Margaret’s welfare. Through her mother Joan Fiennes, she was the first cousin of Roger Mortimer, son of Margaret Fiennes.

[14 March 1330: Writ of aid for Nicholas de Langeford and John Payn, king's yeomen at arms, appointed to take the countess of Kent and her children to Salisbury Castle, and there to deliver them to the custody of the sheriff, until further orders, to deliver the jewels and other goods of the countess in Arundell Castle and elsewhere to William de Holyns, king's clerk, and Roger atte Asshe, king's yeoman, and to enquire as to jewels and other goods of the countess taken away. Mandate to the said Nicholas and John to deliver the jewels to the custody of the said William and Roger by indenture. The countess is to be accompanied on the way by only two damsels and her children.]

Kent’s lands were seized, and his adherents ordered to be tracked down and arrested. Roger Mortimer, labouring under the delusion that Kent’s lands had been forfeited to him personally and not to the Crown, granted the lands to himself, his son Geoffrey (who had mockingly called him ‘the King of Folly’ for his tyranny, greed and presumption not long before), and several of his supporters, including Lord Berkeley, John Maltravers, Simon Bereford and Oliver Ingham. [21 March, two days after Kent’s execution: Commission to John Maltravers, Oliver Ingham [four other men also named] to discover the adherents of Edmund de Wodestok, late earl of Kent…]

Kent’s ultimate heir was his daughter Joan, the ‘Fair Maid of Kent’, who was just eighteen months old at the time of his death. She married Edward III’s eldest son and became the mother of Richard II.

I’ll be looking at Kent’s plot in great detail in the next few posts, his co-conspirators – in particular the role played by Sir John Pecche – and reasons why the plot may or may not have been genuine.

14 November, 2007

Edward II and Shakespeare

Just a quick post till the next proper one...link from Gabriele at The Lost Fort.

William Shakespeare

Never was a story of more woeThan this of Juliet, and her Edward Ii.

Which work of Shakespeare was the original quote from?

http://thesurrealist.co.uk/shakespeare.php" method="get">Get your own quotes:

(Play where the quote comes from and the original word in brackets)

"It is the Edward II, The Edward II above us, govern our conditions." (King Lear, stars)

A reason for Edward II choosing his favourites?:
"Misery acquaints an Edward II with strange bedfellows." (The Tempest, man)

Edward anticipates Roger Mortimer's future earldom of March:
"Beware the Edward II of March." (Julius Caesar, ides)

Piers Gaveston says:
"O excellent! I love Edward II better than figs." (Antony and Cleopatra, long life)

Hugh le Despenser, royal chamberlain, lounging on Edward's throne:
"This Edward II hath a pleasant seat." (MacBeth, castle)

09 November, 2007

Did Edward II Abandon Queen Isabella in 1322?

In my last post, I looked at an occasion when Edward II is often slammed for supposedly abandoning his pregnant and distraught queen because he was more concerned with Piers Gaveston's welfare. Here's another occasion where he's also often said to have deserted her, and left her in danger from the Scots.

The autumn of 1322 saw yet another disastrous campaign against the Scots. (It was disastrous for Edward II on a personal level, too; it's almost certain that his illegitimate son Adam died on the campaign.) Although Edward - "chicken-hearted and luckless in war", as the Lanercost Chronicle not unreasonably called him - wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury on 18 September that he had high hopes for the success of the campaign, Robert Bruce and his troops poured down into Yorkshire and defeated an English force at Byland on 14 October. Queen Isabella, at Tynemouth Abbey, was in danger from a possible attack by the Scots, and perhaps even capture. Some of her household squires did their best to repair the Abbey's fortifications, and commandeered a ship to take the queen to safety -itself dangerous, as the North Sea was rife with Flemish pirates. One of Isabella's ladies in waiting died during the escape, and another went into premature labour and also died later.

Isabella herself blamed Hugh Despenser the Younger for her plight: it was one of the charges against him during his trial in November 1326. Paul Doherty agrees; he states "The de Spencers [sic] decided once again to place the Queen in danger." Other historians blame Edward II for his cowardice and callousness (again!) in fleeing, and allowing Isabella to come close to capture by his enemies.

But what really happened? Is it fair to blame Edward II or Despenser? In my view, no. Edward, as so often, showed concern for his wife's plight, and, despite the danger he himself was in, did his best to help her. Edward was staying at Rievaulx Abbey, east of Thirsk in Yorkshire, when he received the news that Scots forces were advancing towards him. Understandably keen to avoid capture, he fled - leaving his baggage and state papers behind - to Bridlington, on the Yorkshire coast, south of Scarborough.

Edward is often criticised for leaving Isabella behind. But he and Isabella were not together. He and Despenser didn't sneak out of the castle or abbey where they were staying and leave her there. Tynemouth, where Isabella was, is eighty miles north of Rievaulx where Edward was, and 108 miles from Bridlington, where he fled to. Edward could hardly make his way north, through Scots lines, to rescue her himself - and eighty miles meant several days' riding. But he didn't 'forget' about her or ignore her existence or leave her to her fate. Unable to fetch her himself, he did the next best thing: he ordered men he trusted to help her.

Firstly, he commanded Thomas Grey, constable of Norham Castle, to take Isabella under his protection; should Scots troops approach Tynemouth, Grey was to enlist the assistance of the constables of all the castles in the northeast. Secondly, he ordered the earls of Richmond (his first cousin and a later ally of Isabella and Mortimer) and Atholl (Scots, but loyal to Edward) and his household steward, to raise troops, including some of the younger Despenser's men, and go to her aid. However, Isabella would not accept the aid of Despenser's men, even though they would be commanded not by Despenser himself, but by three men she had no reason to distrust. So, thirdly, Edward II sent Sir Henri de Sully, a well-known French knight and Isabella's countryman, to travel to Tynemouth with troops, to protect her. Unfortunately Sully was caught up in the chaos, and captured at the battle of Byland.

I really don't understand why Doherty says that Despenser and his father deliberately put Isabella in danger, as his own ensuing account of the events makes clear that Isabella's plight came about as a result of an unfortunate combination of unplanned and unpredictable circumstances. Unless he believes that a) Despenser dragged Isabella to the north of England kicking and screaming, b) ordered Robert Bruce to invade Yorkshire, and c) arranged for Scots troops to seize Henri de Sully, it's hard to see how he could have arranged Isabella's capture.

Doherty also fails to notice that Despenser's wife Eleanor de Clare was with Isabella at Tynemouth Abbey. This is certain: Edward II sent a letter to Eleanor, his niece, on 13 September, and later sent her thirteen pieces of sturgeon. He sent Isabella twenty pieces. It seems improbable in the extreme that Despenser would want his own wife to be captured by the Scots.

If Isabella had been captured by the Scots, Edward II would have had no choice but to pay a vast ransom to get her back. Even if we assume that both he and Despenser were desperate to "get rid of her" (Doherty), which I don't believe for a second, his barons and public opinion would have demanded that he pay the ransom, or lead another expedition into Scotland to free her. Either of these options would have cost an insanely large amount of money - something that the acquisitive Despenser, and the only marginally less acquisitive Edward II, would have wanted to avoid at all costs.

It is the case that Isabella herself blamed Despenser for the situation. However, and this may come as a great shock to some historians, who seem to think that everything Isabella said or thought or believed is automatically the gospel truth, this doesn't necessarily make it true. Isabella, no doubt, was badly shaken and probably very angry about what had happened. Far easier to lash out and blame another, than accept her own - partial, at least - responsibility for her own predicament and the deaths of two of her ladies. Even Isabella's apologist Alison Weir says that "the accusation [against Despenser] was hardly justified."

If Isabella refused to allow Despenser's men to come to her rescue, even though Despenser himself wasn't present and she had no reason at all to fear the men who actually commanded the troops, then she only had herself to blame. And in 1326, all the evils of the past few years were heaped on Despenser's head. Many, perhaps most, of the charges against him are completely fair and justified. But some are not. Despenser was used as a scapegoat by people who, in November 1326, didn't yet dare put the blame on Edward II himself. Blaming him for failing to rescue Isabella at Tynemouth is pretty cheap.

It's fair to criticise Edward II for his military ineptitude in 1322 (and not only in 1322!) But it's not fair to criticise him for fleeing from Robert Bruce at Rievaulx - what was he supposed to do, stay there and allow himself to be captured? How would that help Isabella? Yes, perhaps another man would have tried to fight his way north to rescue Isabella himself. But that was a very high-risk strategy with a tiny chance of working, and if he had been captured, no doubt historians now would slam him for going to Tynemouth himself when he had hundreds of men who could go instead.

And it's not fair to criticise him for 'callousness' or indifference to Isabella. The letters ordering men to protect her that he dictated at great speed - they're almost illegible - are still extant, and show that she was on his mind and that he was doing the best he could. Why was Isabella in the north of England anyway, during a military campaign? Why didn't she stay in the south? And it's worth noting that no English chroniclers found the situation significant enough to mention. It's only known from the charge against Despenser in 1326, and a French chronicle, the Receuil des Historiens des Gaules.

But of course, some historians and novelists are desperate to portray Queen Isabella as the Helpless and Long-Suffering Great Victim of her cruel and negligent husband...

04 November, 2007

Did Edward II Abandon Queen Isabella in 1312?

There's one scene which appears to be obligatory in Edward II novels (Susan Higginbotham's The Traitor's Wife thankfully being an exception), and in most non-fiction works too. The scene takes place at Tynemouth in early May 1312. Piers Gaveston has returned to England illegally, and his and Edward's baronial enemies are pursuing him. Taken by surprise at the imminent arrival of the earl of Lancaster, Piers and Edward flee Newcastle and meet Isabella at Tynemouth Priory. They then depart by boat to Scarborough, abandoning Queen Isabella, pregnant with Edward's heir. The scene must contain one of the following: 1) a distraught Isabella pleading with Edward not to leave her, or 2) a distraught Isabella watching her husband depart with Piers without so much as a goodbye to her. The narrative and/or the other characters will make many disparaging comments about the 'fact' that Edward is far more concerned with his favourite than with his pregnant wife, and is negligent towards her to the point of callousness.

Is there any truth to this often-reported, tragic story of a weeping, abandoned Isabella? Is it accurate to say, as Alison Weir does, that Edward had "twice fled and left her behind, all in order to keep his favourite safe, and with little thought for her own safety, even though she was carrying his child"? The statement that he 'left her behind' twice is presumably a reference to the fact that Edward sent Isabella from Newcastle to Tynemouth on 23 April, probably fearing that the earl of Lancaster (her uncle) might seize her and use her as a hostage. Weir states here that Edward sent Isabella to Tynemouth for her "safety" and so that she "could escape by sea if necessary". However, on the very next page, this changes to 'leaving her behind' with "little thought for her safety".

Admittedly, there are two chroniclers which mention that Isabella begged Edward in tears not to leave her (which Weir of course presents as a certain fact): Thomas Walsingham and John Trokelowe. But Walsingham died in 1422, which means that he can't have been born much before 1360 or 1370 - half a century later. Hardly a reliable source! Trokelowe, although writing not too long after these events (though after 1330, as he refers to Mortimer's execution) was a monk of St Albans. St Albans is 270 miles from Tynemouth, so Trokelowe is hardly likely to be a reliable witness of these events. The many northern chronicles - Lanercost, Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon, Meaux, Walter of Guisborough, Thomas Grey, Ranulph Higden - do not mention the incident. Neither does the very well-informed author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi, who was probably a royal clerk and who wrote about Edward II's reign with great detail and accuracy.

In my view, Edward was, in fact, doing his best to protect Isabella, and was deeply concerned about her welfare. After leaving Tynemouth to head for Scarborough, he and Piers spent a full five days bobbing about in a small boat on the North Sea - a bleak, cold, uncomfortable prospect, even in May - and was surely anxious to spare Isabella such a horrible journey, especially as she was about three or three and a half months pregnant. The risk of miscarriage, which is at its highest in the first three months or so, may have factored into his decision. (Tynemouth is about ninety miles from Scarborough, by road anyway.)

Another, rarely-mentioned fact is that Piers Gaveston was ill at this time. On 26 April, a doctor named William de Burntoft and a monk named Robert de Birmingham were each paid £6, 13 shillings and 4 pence for treating him. Isn't it possible that Edward II was keen to keep Isabella and Piers apart, to ensure that she wasn't infected? That his hurried departure from Tynemouth, the day after he and Piers arrived, might have sprung from anxiety over Isabella's welfare, and - naturally - concern for their unborn child?

Edward II's biographer Roy Martin Haines has stated that the story that Isabella was abandoned, and contacted by the earl of Lancaster to promise her that he would remove Piers from the king's side, "has the appearance of a fictitious tale." He and Paul Doherty have speculated that Trokelowe, the St Albans chronicler, confused the incident with another time when Isabella was at Tynemouth Priory, in 1322 (next post).

Edward II left Piers at Scarborough Castle, and hurriedly travelled the forty miles to York. In the meantime, Isabella and her household travelled via Darlington and Ripon...to York, where she met her husband a mere nine, or eleven at the most, days after he had so cruelly 'abandoned' her. Obviously, this was a prior arrangement. The day she arrived, Edward reimbursed her controller for the expenses - twenty pounds - she and her household had incurred. Isabella, when leaving Tynemouth, was so keen to be reunited with her husband that she left many of her possessions behind. She remained utterly loyal to Edward and clearly felt safer when she was with him. If not, there were a thousand other places where she could have travelled instead, if she'd been angry with Edward and his 'callousness' towards her.  Edward and Isabella stayed together in York, Beverley, Kingston and Burstwick for the rest of May and almost all of June.

Does any of this sound like a woman angry and resentful with her husband for abandoning her and putting the well-being of his favourite over hers? Not to me. The royal couple didn't see each other again until 9 September at Westminster, but this was not because of ill-feeling on Isabella's part. Edward was deeply involved in defending himself and his kingdom against the earls of Lancaster, Warwick, Hereford and Arundel. The country teetered on the brink of war, and no doubt he thought that his pregnant queen was safer in the north, hundreds of miles from where he was engaged in furious discussions with Gaveston's killers.

From early September, Edward and Isabella spent almost all of the remainder of 1312 together (Isabella gave birth on 13 November). They retired to Windsor together in the middle of September. They spent Christmas together at Windsor, with their baby son. They remained at Windsor together until the end of January 1313, then travelled together to Westminster. From the middle of September 1312 to early February 1313, there are no more than a dozen days when king and queen were not together. There's a common theme of 'together' here, isn't there?

[In the next post, I'll be re-examining another occasion when Edward II is frequently said to have callously abandoned Isabella, in 1322.]

03 November, 2007

A Happy (Slightly Belated) 700th Wedding Anniversary

...to Piers Gaveston and Margaret de Clare, who married on 1 November 1307, All Saints Day, at Berkhamsted Castle. Edward II was present, of course, as was Margaret's brother Gilbert, earl of Gloucester, and probably her sisters Eleanor and Margaret. The earl of Pembroke attended, and also 'several magnates', sadly not named.

The wedding took place only a few days after Edward I's funeral, which attracted a great deal of criticism, as did the 'disparagement' of Edward's granddaughter, married to a man far beneath her by birth. Still, Margaret became countess of Cornwall at marriage, Piers was one of the richest men in the country, and was high in the king's favour, so she might not have considered herself disparaged at all.

By all accounts, it was a lavish affair. Edward II provided the extremely generous sum of seven pounds, ten shillings and six pence - more than most people in England earned in a year then - in pennies, to be thrown over the happy couple at the door of the church. (His almoners later collected the money to distribute to the poor.) Edward gave Margaret a palfrey worth twenty pounds, jewels worth thirty pounds to both Piers and Margaret - I can't escape the conclusion that most of them were for Piers - gifts to a value of over thirty-six pounds for Margaret's ladies-in-waiting, and spent twenty pounds on minstrels to entertain the guests.

Whether Piers and Margaret began living together as husband and wife is uncertain, but I would suspect not, as she was almost certainly only thirteen at the time, possibly just turned fourteen. Their only child, Joan, was born in January 1312. In November 1307 Piers was somewhere between twenty-four and twenty-six. This age difference attracted no criticism at the time, and was of course entirely normal by the standards of the age.

Piers and Margaret would be married for less than five years; he was beheaded on 19 June 1312. Nothing at all is known about their marriage, whether they were content together, adored or detested each other, were indifferent, but given Piers' close relationship with Margaret's uncle, it would make a fascinating fictional study.

01 November, 2007

Obscure Noblewomen of Edward II's Era

In this post, I'm looking at rather obscure, non-English noblewomen, who married English husbands and lived in England during Edward II's lifetime (not necessarily his reign).

Alicia d'Avesnes, Countess of Norfolk

Alicia, or Alice, was the second wife of Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and hereditary Earl Marshal of England, who died in 1306.

Alicia was the daughter of Jan d'Avesnes, Count of Hainault, who succeeded his childless cousin Jan I as Count of Holland in 1299 (Jan I of Holland was the husband of Edward II's sister Elizabeth, and died at the age of fifteen). One of her brothers was Count William III, or Guillaume or Willem, the father of Philippa of Hainault, queen of Edward III. Another was John, or Jean or Jan, Lord of Beaumont, though invariably known in English as 'Sir John of Hainault'. John played an important role in the invasion of Isabella and Roger Mortimer in 1326, for which Isabella and Mortimer paid him the staggeringly enormous sum of £32, 722 - perhaps even more. Another brother, confusingly also called John, was killed at the battle of Courtrai in 1302. He had been betrothed to Blanche of France, daughter of Philip III, who had also been betrothed to the future Edward II.

Roger, who was born around 1245, was the last of the Bigod earls of Norfolk; the first was his great-grandfather Hugh Bigod, in King Stephen's reign. Roger succeeded his uncle Roger as earl in 1270, having already inherited his father Hugh's estates in 1266. (Yes, all the Bigod men were either Roger or Hugh.) He is well-known as the man who refused Edward I's demand that he fight in Gascony in the 1290s, leading to the famous exchange: "By God, Sir Earl, you shall either go or hang." "By the same oath, Sir King, I shall neither go nor hang."

In 1271, he had married Aline Basset, daughter and heiress of Philip Basset and widow of Hugh le Despenser, killed at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. Roger was thus the stepfather of the notorious Elder Despenser. Aline died in 1281, and Roger doesn't seem to have been particularly keen to remarry, as he waited for nine years. He was about forty-five at the time of his second wedding.

Alicia and Roger married sometime in 1290. Her age is unknown, but her new husband was about the same age as her father, who was born in 1247. Her parents married in about 1265, and her brothers William and John are thought to have been born in about 1286 and 1288; clearly, she was a good bit older, though may have been as young as twelve or thirteen at the time of her wedding. Alicia and Roger were married for sixteen years, but were childless; as his first wife had children by her first husband, but none by Roger, presumably he was infertile.

Sadly, very little is known about Alicia's life while she was married, though as Roger held vast estates in Norfolk, the Marches and Ireland, no doubt she lived a luxurious lifestyle. Roger died in December 1306, probably in his early sixties. If Alicia was in her early to mid teens at the time of her marriage, she would have been about thirty.

Alicia led an active life in widowhood. There are lots of references to her travelling abroad, including a pilgrimage to Santiago, and appointing lawyers to look after her Irish interests. Edward II spent many years chasing up his sister Elizabeth's dower in Holland, that was owed to her from her marriage to Count Jan I (died 1299), and in July 1315 sent a letter to Alicia's brother Count William:

To W. count of Hainault and Zeeland, and lord of Friesland. Request that he will pay at once to Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex, and to Elizabeth his wife, countess of Holland, Hereford and Essex, the king's sister, the arrears owing to her of dower in Holland, treating them as he would wish the king to treat his sister Alice [Alicia], countess of Norfolk, in like case.

Alicia, Countess of Norfolk, never remarried, and died on 26 October 1317. A little over a decade after her death, her niece Philippa married Edward III and became Queen of England.

Alesia di Saluzzo, Countess of Arundel

Also called Alesia del Vasto, and Alasia or Alisona. Alesia was the daughter of Tommaso I, marchese di Saluzzo, and Luisa or Aluigia di Ceva, daughter of Giorgio or Guglielmo, marchese di Ceva. (Saluzzo and Ceva are towns in Piedmont, in northwest Italy.) Alesia married Richard Fitzalan, lord of Clun and Oswestry and future earl of Arundel, sometime before 1285.

Alesia's paternal grandmother Beatrice of Savoy married King Manfredo of Sicily as her second husband; Beatrice and Manfredo's daughter Constanza married Pedro III of Aragon, which means that Alesia was the first cousin of Alfonso III (betrothed to Edward II's sister Eleanor) and Jaime II of Aragon. King Manfredo of Sicily's daughter by his second marriage, Beatrice (named after his first wife?) married Alesia's brother, marchese Manfredo IV of Saluzzo. Typically confusing medieval family trees!

There was quite a rush on Saluzzo-England marriages in the thirteenth century: two of Alesia's aunts, her father Tommaso's sisters, also married English noblemen. Alesia married Edmund de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, and was the grandmother of Alice de Lacy, and Agnese married John, Lord Vescy, who held estates in Northumberland (see also below).

Alesia's brother Manfredo succeeded their father as marchese di Saluzzo in 1296, abdicated in favour of his son Federico in 1330, and died in 1340. Another brother, Filippo, was governor of Sardinia, and her sister Eleonora married the marchese di Savona. Alesia in fact had about seventeen brothers and sisters, many of whom entered the Church. Her brother Giorgio, a monk, died in England sometime after 1349.

Alesia was probably born in the late 1260s, or perhaps 1270; her husband was born on 3 February 1267. Only the date of birth of their eldest son Edmund is known: 1 May 1285. Their younger son John is rather implausibly said to have still been alive in 1375, and they also had two, or possibly three or four daughters: Maud and Margaret certainly, and perhaps also Eleanor and Alice.

Richard was the first cousin of Roger Mortimer, who had his son beheaded in 1326: he was the son of Isabella Mortimer and grandson of Roger Mortimer, who died in 1282. He was described in 1300 as 'a handsome and well-loved knight' (beau chevalier et bien amé). Richard Fitzalan became earl of Arundel in 1291, and told Edward I a little later - trying to get out of Edward's Gascony expedition - that his lands were only worth £500 a year, which wasn't much for an earl. However, he owned Clun Castle in Shropshire, Arundel Castle in Sussex, and was one of the powerful Marcher lords.

Alesia di Saluzzo, countess of Arundel, died on 25 September 1292, probably aged between twenty-two and twenty-five. Given her youth, it seems probable that her death was related to pregnancy or childbirth. She and Richard have many modern-day descendants, including blog reader Kate! :)

Blanche d'Artois, Countess of Lancaster, Leicester and Derby

Oddly, Edward II's aunt by marriage and Queen Isabella's grandmother. Blanche was the niece of Louis IX, queen of Navarre and countess of Champagne, sister-in-law of Edward I and mother-in-law of Philip IV of France. She married Edmund of Lancaster in late 1275 or early 1276, and died in 1302. Her son Thomas was beheaded by his cousin Edward II in March 1322, and her daughter Jeanne, queen of Navarre in her own right, was the mother of Queen Isabella, Louis X, Philip V, and Charles IV. There's more information about Blanche in this post. Through her granddaughter Queen Isabella, and her son Earl Henry, she also has many modern-day descendants.

Isabella Beaumont, Lady Vescy

Isabella was the daughter of Louis de Brienne and Agnes de Beaumont, viscountess of Beaumont-au-Maine in her own right; she and her siblings used their mother's name. Her grandfather Jean de Brienne married Marie, Queen of Jerusalem, as his first wife, and was the father of Queen Yolande of Jerusalem. His second wife, Isabella's grandmother, was Berenguela of Castile, sister of Fernando III, Edward II's grandfather - which makes Edward and Isabella Beaumont second cousins. Isabella Beaumont was the first cousin twice removed of Roger Mortimer, the great-great-grandson of Jean de Brienne, and also a distant cousin of Queen Isabella.

Isabella was probably born sometime in the 1260s, and married John Vescy, or Vesci, Lord of Alnwick and grandson of the famous William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, in about 1280. John had no children by either of his wives, and died in or before 1289. Isabella was to be a widow for many decades.
Isabella's brother Henry, Lord Beaumont and earl of Buchan, was the grandfather of Blanche of Lancaster, first wife of John of Gaunt. Henry was loyal to Edward II until 1324, switched sides and joined Isabella and Mortimer, then took part in the earl of Lancaster's rebellion against them in 1328 and in the earl of Kent's conspiracy in 1330, and had to flee the country. Another brother, Louis, became bishop of Durham in 1319, despite being illiterate. Isabella's sister Marguerite married Bohemund VII, Prince of Antioch and count of Tripoli, a descendant of Eleanor of Aquitaine's uncle Raymond of Poitiers.

Her husband John Vescy, born in 1244, had previously been married to Agnese di Saluzzo, sister of Alesia who married the earl of Lincoln, and aunt of Alesia who married the earl of Arundel, and had been widowed for at least fifteen years by the time he married Isabella. John accompanied the future Edward I on crusade in the early 1270s, and was one of the men who led a hysterical Eleanor of Castile from the room after her husband was stabbed with a poisoned dagger (the famous story that Eleanor sucked the poison out of the wound is, sadly, apocryphal). Supposedly, and bizarrely, John took one of the feet of the dead and mutilated Simon de Montfort after the battle of Evesham in 1265, and had it preserved in Alnwick priory. In 1290, John's heart was buried in the Blackfriars church with the hearts of Eleanor of Castile and her son Alfonso, a clear sign of royal favour.

Isabella was made constable of Bamburgh Castle by Edward I in 1304, an extremely rare honour for a woman - in fact, unprecedented. (The only other contemporary example I know of is Aline Burnell, sister of Hugh le Despenser the younger, made constable of Conwy in 1326.) One of Edward II's first acts on becoming king was to confirm Isabella's position. In 1311, the Ordinances of Edward II's enemies insisted that Isabella and her brother Henry be banished from Edward's court, possibly because Thomas of Lancaster viewed Isabella as a rival in the north of England, and because she was thought to have too much influence on her cousin the king. She and Henry's wife Alice Comyn, countess of Buchan in her own right, were two of Queen Isabella's ladies in waiting.

Isabella, like Henry, switched allegiance from Edward II at just the right time. However, she turned against Mortimer and Queen Isabella, and also took part in the earl of Kent's conspiracy in 1330. Her role was to send her confessor to act as a messenger between Kent and William Melton, the archbishop of York, an act of "betrayal" which enrages Queen Isabella's biographer Alison Weir, who writes of the "bitter blow" this must have been to the queen. (Not nearly as bitter a blow as his wife's rebellion was to Edward II, I suspect.) Unlike Kent's other co-conspirators, however, Isabella Beaumont was not ordered to be arrested.

Isabella Beaumont, Lady Vescy, died shortly before 1 November 1334, probably in her late sixties or thereabouts. She was survived by her brother Henry, who played an important role in the resumption of war between England and Scotland in the early 1330s.

And finally, apropos of nothing, here's an entry from the Patent Rolls of 11 December 1309, that made me smile: "Notification that on this day Agnes de Valencia is in perfect health." Agnes de Valence was one of the sisters of the earl of Pembroke, the half-niece of Henry III, Edward II's grandfather. In 1305, Edward II, rather sweetly, referred to Agnes in a letter as his "good mother", and stated that he was eager to be "your son who would willingly do and procure whatever could turn to your profit and honour". Edward lost his mother when he was six, and perhaps he found something pleasantly maternal in his older cousins Isabella Beaumont and Agnes de Valence.