25 February, 2008

25 February 1308: Coronation of Edward II

On this day 700 years ago, Edward II and Isabella were crowned king and queen of England at Westminster Abbey. Edward was exactly twenty-three and ten months, Isabella just twelve.

The coronation differed from its predecessors in several respects. Firstly, the wives of peers attended for the first time. Secondly, Edward took his oath in French, not Latin - a fact often used to condemn him as 'stupid, lazy, ignorant and uneducated' by historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, conveniently ignoring the fact that Edward, even if he was ignorant of Latin, which is most unlikely, could easily have learnt the short responses by heart, and that French was the native language of probably everyone attending the coronation.* Thirdly, a new clause was added to the coronation oath: "Sire, do you grant to be held and observed the just laws and customs that the community of your realm shall determine, and will you, so far as in you lies, defend and strengthen them to the honour of God?"

More ink has been spilt on the meaning and intention of this clause than you could possibly imagine, but I'm not going to analyse it here because, frankly, the whole subject is tedious beyond belief. (The full text of Edward's oath, in the French original and English, is in the sidebar on the left.)

[* Edward III also took the coronation oath in French in 1327, and nobody has ever accused him of being stupid and ignorant because of it. Poor Edward II; every single damn thing he ever did has been used against him one way or another.]

The coronation was delayed by a week, possibly because of all the conflicts caused by Edward's obsession with Piers Gaveston, or more likely, because Robert Winchelsey, archbishop of Canterbury, was ill and out of the country, not returning until 24 March. Winchelsey was a staunch opponent of Edward I, who in 1306 asked the Pope to suspend Winchelsey, which he did. When Edward II acceded, he asked the Pope to reinstate the archbishop. The ungrateful git repaid Edward by joining his enemies, becoming one of Gaveston's most implacable foes, and excommunicating him in 1312. Henry Woodlock, bishop of Winchester, performed the coronation ceremony in Winchelsey's stead.

Edward and Isabella stayed at the Tower of London from 19 to 24 February, and on that date, rode through London in procession to Westminster. On the morning of the 25th, they walked from Westminster Hall to the Abbey, along a carpet strewn with flowers. Edward wore a green robe and black hose, and was barefoot. Above them, the barons of the Cinque Ports carried an embroidered canopy, and before them, proceeded the prelates and the barons. Directly preceding Edward and Isabella were, in this order: William Marshal, carrying the gilt spurs; Edward's brother-in-law the earl of Hereford carrying the royal sceptre; his cousin Henry of Lancaster carrying the royal rod; the earls of Lancaster, Warwick and Lincoln carrying the three swords. Then, four men carrying a board covered with chequered cloth, on which the royal robes were placed. They were Hugh Despenser the elder, Roger Mortimer, Thomas de Vere, son of the earl of Oxford, and Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel. Mortimer, de Vere and Arundel were cousins. Then, Edward's treasurer Walter Reynolds, carrying the paten of the chalice of St Edward the Confessor, and the chancellor John Langton carrying the chalice itself. And finally, and controversially, Piers Gaveston, just before the king and queen and therefore in prime position, carrying the royal crown.

The Pauline annalist, apparently an eyewitness, described Gaveston as "so decked out that he more resembled the god Mars than an ordinary mortal". The other earls wore cloth-of-gold, as they were entitled to do in the king's presence (cloth-of-gold is material shot through with gold thread, so sadly, they are unlikely to have much resembled the Bee Gees), but Gaveston wore royal purple, of silk, encrusted with jewels.

Isabella's uncles Charles of Valois and Louis of Evreux attended the coronation, as did her brother Charles, the future Charles IV, and Edward's sister Margaret and brother-in-law Jan, the duke and duchess of Brabant. Presumably, his other sisters Elizabeth, countess of Hereford, and Mary, the nun, also attended, as did the mayor, aldermen and citizens of London. Supposedly, a knight called John Bakewell was crushed to death in the great crowd of people in the Abbey.

At the altar, Edward and Isabella both made offerings of gold. During the ceremony, the count of Valois put on Edward's left buskin (a kind of boot) and left spur, the earl of Pembroke Edward's right buskin, and Gaveston the right spur - to the anger of many, as these duties were of profound significance, and Edward was publicly placing Gaveston above the rest of the nobility.

Edward swore his oath and was anointed with holy oil on head, hands and chest, then he himself raised his crown from the altar and handed it to Bishop Woodlock, who placed it on Edward's head. Edward was then escorted to his gilded and painted throne, with the Stone of Scone underneath, which his father had removed from Scotland eleven years earlier. A long line of prelates and barons came to kneel before him and swear (homage and) fealty. Finally, it was Isabella's turn to be consecrated, crowned and anointed, on the hands only.

Edward and Isabella received the sacrament, and then were escorted back to the palace, Edward carrying the royal verge (his staff of office) in his left hand. Piers Gaveston carried the sword Curtana, which the earl of Lancaster had carried previously in the procession to the Abbey, which caused more mutterings, or rather shouts, of discontent. Edward changed out of his coronation robes and proceeded with all the others to Westminster Hall, where a banquet was to take place. Edward knighted several young men at this time, including his sixteen-year-old nephew the earl of Gloucester.

Gaveston had been responsible for arranging the banquet, and it was a fiasco, either because Gaveston wasn't much of an organiser or because he was already so resented the cooks, servers etc did their worst, in order to embarrass him. It was long after dark when the banquet finally got underway, and although there was a vast amount of food, it was badly cooked, badly served and close to inedible. (Possibly, the French had expected nothing less of English food.)

Edward had ordered tapestries bearing his own arms, and those of Piers Gaveston, to adorn the walls of the hall, as though Gaveston was his consort and not Isabella. Even by Edward's standards, this was astonishingly tactless. He then made matters worse by sitting next to Gaveston and ignoring everyone else, including Isabella, talking and laughing with his friend. Isabella's uncles were, not unreasonably, grievously offended. Although it's understandable that a man in his twenties would prefer to talk to a friend of his own age than to a twelve-year-old he barely knew, there's no doubt that Edward's behaviour was extremely insulting to the French. Whether he intended to be rude, or just didn't care, is not certain.

After the banquet, the counts of Evreux and Valois returned to France and complained to Isabella's father Philip IV that Edward II favoured Gaveston's couch to Isabella's bed. Isabella herself wrote to her father declaring that her husband was "an entire stranger to my bed". The chronicler Robert of Reading, who hated Edward, wrote scathingly about "the mad folly of the king of England, who was so overcome with his own wickedness and desire for sinful, forbidden sex, that he banished his royal wife from his side and rejected her sweet embraces." And Adam Murimuth wrote that Edward "loved an evil male sorcerer [!!] more than he did his wife, a most handsome lady and a very beautiful woman."

But Isabella was not a 'woman', and I for one find it impossible to condemn Edward for 'rejecting the sweet embraces' and shunning the bed of a girl not long past her twelfth birthday! I really doubt that Edward intended any offence or insult to Isabella personally, but he could hardly have been less interested in a girl too young to be his wife in anything but name, or of any political use to him.

Parliament met shortly afterwards. Edward's antics at the coronation had strengthened the already pretty strong opposition to Piers Gaveston; most of the earls, barons and bishops abandoned Edward, and many threatened to make war on him if he didn't banish Gaveston. Within eight months of his accession, Edward II had brought his country to the brink of civil war over his obsessive love for his Gascon favourite. What happened next, I'll save for another blog post. :)

27 comments:

Carole said...

LOL Alianore - I love the idea of the cooks deliberately messing up the banquet to embarrass Gaveston! I wonder who was responsible for bribing them? I doubt it was Lancaster, as he himself was part royal and wouldn't have wanted to turn the coronation into a farce, same applies to Hereford, married to Ed's sister - perhaps Warwick is the best candidate for this too, as well as wanting to asssault Piers!

Alianore said...

Hi Carole! I doubt very much that it would have been Lancaster, as he was an ally of Ed and Gaveston at this time. Of course, my theory might be totally wrong, and Gaveston really was an incompetent organiser. ;)

Lady D. said...

What a fantastically detailed post! I could almost see it happening as I read it. Loved the fact of Edward walking barefoot over strewed flowers - was this usual at coronations or just a dramatic flourish at this one?

Gaveston must have really stood out like a sore thumb in his outfit - a bit like the bride's mother outshining the bride! I bet if he was around today he'd be one of those celebrities always in Hello magazine. Maybe he spent so much time on his outfit that he forgot to organise the feast properly LOL!

Gabriele C. said...

Perhaps Piers' idea of a good party included Elton John and the Rolling Stones, and not a bunch of stiff necked French nobles, and so he ordered the food from Burger King and Subway to be done with the whole mess.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Poor Isabella! No one seems to have thought to record what she was wearing, did they?

Alianore said...

Thanks, Lady D! Afraid I'm not sure about other kings being barefoot (my obsession with Ed II allows me no time for reading about other kings ;), but as putting on the boots was of great ceremonial importance, they were probably were.

You've got me imagining Piers in Hello now. ;) "Sir Piers shows us around his beautiful home, ummm, homes..." :-)

Gabriele: so true! Those French nobles were incredibly dull company, no doubt. ;)

Susan: no, I've never seen a description of what Isa was wearing.

Paul said...

I think I've said it before on here but there are times when you just wish you could go back in time and grab Ed by the shoulders and give him a good shaking. This is one of them, like the article said he either intended to insult his in-laws (who happened to be ruling one of, if not the most formidable European power) or didn't care. Either way he doesn't come out of the story very well.

I do agree that the lack of attention paid to a 12 year old girl, shouldn't be used to blacken his name. Although he could've probably tried to hit the mark somewhere between ignoring (insulting) her completely and ripping her gown off and ravishing her.

Some light respectful conversation before politely excusing himself so that he could have a word with the event organiser (which needed to take place in his bedroom no doubt).

Susan Higginbotham said...

I think the king/queen walking barefoot was the norm at coronations (or at least became so). Elizabeth Woodville is recorded as being barefoot at hers, and so is Richard III at his (or in his case, at least in hose without shoes).

Alianore said...

(which needed to take place in his bedroom no doubt). *Grins*

Yeah, he could have found a happy medium in his treatment of Isa, couldn't he?? But that's Ed. Everything had to be extreme, completely one thing or the other. Oh well, he got a bit more respectful towards her a few weeks down the line (not a lot, but a bit). And yes, the king of France was the most powerful man in Europe, so insulting him was really foolish behaviour. It's as though Ed thought that now he was king, he was untouchable and could do whatever the heck he wanted. As we all know, he was proved horribly wrong...

Carole said...

It's as though Ed thought that now he was king, he was untouchable and could do whatever the heck he wanted. As we all know, he was proved horribly wrong...

I think that Edward had spent so long having to do what his father wanted him to do, and being punished if he didn't, that he felt that his father's death was a liberation and didn't realise that there were other and greater constraints on his behaviour than simply his father's opinion...

Gabriele C. said...

Ed: Piers, what went wrong with the banquet?
Piers: The cooks don't speak French. And they insisted on chopping everything to pieces and fill into the stomachs of sheep. It's their idea of pastries.
Ed *sighs*: We need French chefs. Maybe Philippe will give me some of his.
Piers: I think Philippe is a bit pissed at you.
Ed: Is he? Too bad.
Piers: You should be a bit nicer to Isabella. You know, like talk to her once in a while. Women like to be talked to, or so I've heard.
Ed. OK, I will talk to her tomorrow. But right now I don't feel like talking. *grins*
Piers *grins back, they kiss*

Carole said...

Perhaps it would have been better if if Ed had asked his father-in-law for some chefs before he annoyed him so much! The French would have still been annoyed, but the English lords might have been less angry if their stomachs were full... especially the Earl of Lincoln (I'll see if anyone gets the joke!)

Susan Higginbotham said...

I got it, Carole!

Maybe it was a matter of the cooks having their own private little party out back with the wine . . .

Alianore said...

Gabriele: you really need to write some Ed/Piers fiction. You've got them down pat. ;)

Carole: I agree - Ed II was so relived to be finally free of the influence of his father that he forgot about everyone else!

LOL, Mr Burst-Belly probably didn't care about the inedible food at the coronation, as long as he could eat his fill. ;)

Carole said...

Gabriele: you really need to write some Ed/Piers fiction. You've got them down pat. ;)

I agree!!!

Carla said...

I second Paul's comment. Didn't Edward have any common sense? That's a rhetorical question :-)

Alianore said...

Carla: nope, not a molecule of it. ;) That's why I feel so protective of him, because the poor baby was so incapable of looking after himself. :-)

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, after my characters develop 'chemistry' where history never put it (you know who you are), it would be a change to write about some who reportedly did have chemistry. :)

But I don't need more ideas for stories, really. And I haven't done any research about Ed, I only read Alianore's blog. ;

Alianore said...

Aww, shame. ;) But I understand you have enough plot bunnies already. ;)

Satima Flavell said...

Lovely post, Alianore. I shall plagiar - er- borrow it to put in my family history notes. Much nicer than the dry stuff from Wikipedia:-)

Satima Flavell said...

PS Who was the Wm Marshall who carried the spurs? Not, surely, a descendant of the Original and Best:-)Hadn't that family died out in the male line by 1308?

Alianore said...

Thank you, Satima! Glad you enjoyed the post, and do feel free to plagia...ummm, borrow as much of it as you like. ;)

Oh, and thanks for linking to my blog on yours - I've reciprocated. ;)

The William le Marshal of 1308 was lord of Hingham in Norfolk, born 1277, killed at Bannockburn June 1314. He was either the great- or the great-great-grandson of John le Marshal, brother of The Original and The Best ;) William earl of Pembroke, died 1219. As you say, the male line of the earl of Pembroke had died out - his five sons all died childless by 1245 (without legitimate children anyway! ;)

Satima Flavell said...

Ah, thanks. I knew about John, but not his lineage. It's hard to know where to stop sometimes with medieval genealogy. I mean, how many dead rellies does one need, really...

Alianore said...

I mean, how many dead rellies does one need, really... *Grins*

Know what you mean - I get pretty obsessive, myself. ;)

ellaquinnauthor said...

I have a different take on Izzy. Although married, it was against church law to take a girl to bed unless she'd started her period, thereby making her a woman. If she was complaining that Ed wasn't in her bed, chances are she'd already started having her period and was understandably miffed about being neglected. In addition, she was raised to be a queen, and take responsibilities at an early age. Chances are, she didn't behave like a 12 year old of a later age.

I think Ed was being a borish young man. It was ashame there was no one to take him to task.

Kathryn Warner said...

Since I wrote this post five years ago, I've learned that the only source for Isabella's supposed letter to her father complaining about Edward ignoring her bed, and her uncles complaining to him as well, is the much later chronicler Thomas Walsingham, who died in 1422 (not 1322). As he had no possible way of knowing the contents of Isabella's letters to her father a century earlier, it's obviously pure invention, and I no longer take it seriously as a source. Yes, she was raised to be a queen but not to become a mother at the age of *twelve*.

I do think Edward behaved astonishingly tactlessly at his coronation banquet, but I simply cannot find it in me to criticise a man for not having sex with a twelve-year-old, even one who may have been more mature emotionally than modern girls of her age. Average age of first menstruation has got younger, not older, since then, and I sincerely doubt that Isabella was fertile, or that she thought there was anything wrong with Edward not consummating their marriage (assuming he hadn't).

As for someone 'taking Edward to task', to me he comes across as someone who was sick to death of having been taken to task for his relationship with Piers for the last few years and was now behaving with the freedom of someone whom no-one dared publicly criticise any more. As for being boorish, maybe, but 23-year-old kings aren't famed for their tact, usually.

sarah c said...

Wonderful as always. It does strike me how important knowing languages was in their time for Edward knew at least three but not now at least here in the US. Can't explain why Isabella's arms weren't used.

But on the subject of their marriage, in a time when pre pubescent royal girls were married off separate negotiations and treaties existed about when the marriage was consummated. Generally when the bride turned 14 or 15. Later this was the case with the Tudor Pss Margaret married at the same age to the much older Scottish king.