08 February, 2008

Edward's Eccentric Aquatic Activities

Edward II, that most unconventional of kings, enjoyed swimming and rowing, widely considered totally incompatible with his royal dignity. He probably got a taste for the water, as it were, while growing up at Langley near St Albans, rowing on the Gade. Before he became king, he had to pay compensation to his Fool, Robert Buffard, for accidentally injuring him in the water. Wonder what he did - dived on top of him? Pretended to drown him a little too sucessfully?

A few years later, the archbishop of Canterbury sent a member of his household to Edward with a belt he'd lost in the Thames - which implies that he'd gone swimming fully dressed, and also that some poor unfortunate had to plunge in and retrieve the belt!

Edward's most famous aquatic activity came in the autumn of 1315, when he spent an entire month on holiday at Fen Ditton near Cambridge, with the company he liked best, "a great concourse of simple people". He spent the time swimming and rowing, and apparently having a whale of a time - except for the time he fell in and nearly drowned. Edward does seem to have been rather unlucky in water, which in fact is fortunate for us, as otherwise his pursuits might not have been recorded.

However, this particular holiday - which sounds very healthy and relaxing to me, at least - was mentioned in the contemporary Flores Historiarum (Flowers of History) chronicle, written by a monk named Robert of Reading. Robert never passed up a chance to bash Edward, and he's in full force here. He states sarcastically that Edward went to the Fens so that "he might refresh his soul with many waters", and refers to his bracing activities as "childish frivolities".

Then he comments, brilliantly, that when the holiday was over, Edward "set off with all speed, he and his silly company of swimmers, for the parliament which he had ridiculously caused to be summoned to Lincoln."

That makes me giggle every time I think about it. I think it's the 'ridiculously' that tickles my funny bone. What a shame for Edward, though, that he was born in the fourteenth century, an era that didn't understand him and his love of swimming, digging, hedging, thatching, and so on. Just think how much of a role model he'd be nowadays, with his love of the outdoors and physical exercise. I can just see him on TV, doing public infomercials, imploring a nation of overweight couch potatoes to give up their sedentary lifestyles and their junk food and to get outside in the fresh air.

Robert of Reading also slammed Edward for spending time at Burgundy, the hut he'd built himself in the precincts of Westminster. It sounds rather pleasant, actually; it had a large garden.

Criticising Edward's eccentric pursuits was a common theme of the age. In July 1314, a member of Edward's own household, Robert le Messager, was arrested for saying that "it was no wonder the king couldn't win a battle [Bannockburn], because he spent the time when he should have been hearing Mass in idling, ditching, digging and other improper occupations". Queen Isabella, no doubt as bemused (and humiliated) by her husband's weird hobbies as anyone else, interceded for the man.

On the day Edward agreed to Parliament's decision to depose him, 20 January 1327, a delegation sent to him at Kenilworth Castle read out the reasons why his subjects had rejected his rule. Included in the second one, which began "he has not been willing to listen to good counsel", was "he has always given himself up to unseemly works and occupations". Some of these unseemly things were: that Edward had bought cabbages from gardeners to make soup, and had held a meeting on a barge. (The HORROR!!!)

If ever a man was born in the wrong century, it was Edward II...

11 comments:

Susan Higginbotham said...

Poor Ed! Think of all those corporate types who use their yachts and their seats at sporting events to do business. He was way ahead of his time.

I keep seeing on Google that thing about Ed banning football by Westminster because it interfered with Parliament holding its meetings (if I'm remembering it correctly). Maybe if he had channeled his efforts into football instead of swimming, he might have won over one segment of society, anyway!

Kate Plantagenet said...

When he held his meeting on a barge, it can be assumed that it was a "Royal Barge" is that right? Perhaps he was traveling with dignitaries from one place to another and general conversation turned into a 'meeting', or perhaps it never took place at all and those who were braying for him to sign away his kingship were really scraping the bottom of the PR barrel to make him sign the document.

Alianore said...

Susan: that thing about Ed and football comes up over and over on Google, doesn't it?

Kate: apparently it was a working barge, not a royal one, hence the seething disapproval of Ed's holding a meeting on it. But scraping the barrel is right...

Gabriele C. said...

I wonder how hearing the mass should quailfy him better for winning a war than digging. The Romans won theirs by digging more than once. :)

Lady D. said...

I wonder if he made the soup himself too?

You know, he sounds a bit at times like our own Prince Charles with his unconventionality. I could just see Ed cheering on Greenpeace - or maybe even joining them if it was on water lol!

I wonder what Hugh made of all these activities? It probably gave him a chance to do some more ruling the country while Ed was happy digging ditches. Now, if you ask me, that's a good example of a working partnership!

Alianore said...

Gabriele: that bit about losing Bannockburn because he didn't attend Mass made me giggle, too. ;)

Lady D: bet he did make the soup. ;) And I'm sure you're right about Hugh and Ed!

Carla said...

Couldn't he have dropped the belt in the Thames by accident, without going swimming wearing it?

He was probably born into the wrong job as much as the wrong century. If he'd been a younger son and not so politically important, people might have put up with his eccentric behaviour a lot more readily.

Re losing Bannockburn because he didn't attend Mass often enough. It sounds daft to a modern ear, but if you believe that victory and defeat are signs of God's favour and annoyance, respectively, then a logical explanation for the Bannockburn disaster is that the king must have annoyed God in some way, and failing to attend Mass is as good a reason as any.

elflady said...

I agree with you, Carla. People used to have faith back then. And Gabriele, digging trenches, or whatever they were called, as centurions used to, might have given them a chance. Though it's not exactly the general's job...

Lady D, you're right, I can imagine the smirk on Hugh's face: "You go out and play, and let ME take care of things!" Well, some people do go to work...

Alianore said...

Carla: it's possible (about the belt) but it seemed to me that Edward had to be immersed in the Thames, as if the belt had just dropped in as he was getting into a barge or something, someone could surely have retrieved it there and then. And with all the other examples of Ed's love of water, it just seemed the likeliest explanation. ;)

A few people who've written on Ed have commented that he would have been much happier as a country squire than as king. It's a shame for him that his 3 elder brothers died young, and he couldn't just be the eccentric younger brother of the king.

I understand why Edward was criticised for not attending Mass. It doesn't sound daft to me at all, given contemporary attitudes - in fact, it's exactly what I'd expect someone to say.

Edward Sumarokov said...

Please tell me is it true that Edward II wrote some poems ?

Kathryn Warner said...

No, not that is known, Edward - a poem called The Lament of Edward II written shortly after his deposition was once attributed to him, but is now believed to have been written by one of his supporters.