This weeks marks the the 692nd anniversary of the birth of John of Eltham, Edward II's younger son, on 15 August 1316.
John was conceived at Clipstone in Nottinghamshire, sometime in November 1315 (presumably - or early December, if he was premature). Edward II and Queen Isabella were together at the royal hunting lodge there from 30 October to 11 December 1315, and from 22 December to 25 January 1316, when they left to attend parliament at Lincoln.
The first indication that Edward knew Isabella was expecting a child comes on 22 February 1316, when he asked the dean and chapter of the church of St Mary in Lincoln to "celebrate divine service daily for the good estate of the king and queen Isabella and Edward of Windsor their first-born son." (1) The reference to Edward of Windsor (King Edward III) as 'first-born son' of course indicates that Edward knew there would be a second-born child; previous references to young Edward call him "the king's son." (2) Sometime in 1316 - the Wardrobe entry is undated - Edward paid Vannus Ballardi, of the Lucca banking firm the Ballardi, nearly four pounds for pieces of silk and gold tissue, and flame-coloured silk, to make cushions for Isabella's carriage so that she could travel in greater comfort - probably during her pregnancy. (3)
Edward and Isabella left Lincoln on 24 February 1316 and spent most of the next few months at Clipstone, Kings Langley and Westminster. On 23 or 24 July, they arrived at Eltham Palace in Kent, and Edward stayed there with his eight-months-pregnant wife for three days before departing for the north of England, leaving Isabella behind. His reason for going north was to take part in yet another campaign against the Scots, which in fact was postponed from August till October, then till the following year, and ended up never taking place at all as Pope John XXII arranged a peace treaty between the two sides on 1 January 1317. (4) Edward arrived in York on 16 August 1316, and stayed at the convent of the Franciscans near the river Ouse. He was accompanied by his niece Margaret, Piers Gaveston's widow, and paid her chamber valet Walter Dymmok eight shillings and ten pence for "certain work done in the chamber of the said countess [of Cornwall]." (5) On his way from Kent to York, Edward touched and blessed 135 sick people. (6)
Meanwhile, Queen Isabella gave birth on 15 August to their second son John, called 'of Eltham' after his birthplace. (Edward was at Tadcaster, ten miles from York, that day.) Isabella sent her steward Eubolo de Montibus the 230 miles to York to inform Edward, and the delighted king rewarded him with a gift of £100. (7) The St Albans chronicler writes of Edward's joy at the birth of his son. (8) If nothing else, John's existence secured the succession to the throne in case anything happened to Edward of Windsor, in an age when the rate of child mortality was horrific. I would imagine that John was named in honour of the new pope, John XXII, who was elected by the cardinals at Avignon on 5 August. News of his election reached England about the time of little John's birth - Edward II gave a pound to Lawrence de Hibernia, the messenger who brought him the news, on 17 August 1316. (9)
Eubolo de Montibus had reached Edward with the news of his son's birth by 24 August, on which date Edward asked the Dominicans of York to pray for himself, "Queen Isabella our very dear consort, Edward of Windsor our eldest son, and John of Eltham our youngest son, especially on account of John." (10) Edward was thirty-two at the time of his son's birth, Isabella twenty or twenty-one.
Edward had a piece of Turkey cloth and a piece of cloth-of-gold delivered to Eltham, to cover the font in the chapel during John’s baptism, and ordered Isabella’s tailor Stephen de Falaise to make her a robe from five pieces of white velvet for her churching ceremony. (11) On 31 July, Isabella had sent her messenger Godyn Hautayn with letters to the bishop of Norwich and her uncle the earl of Lancaster, asking them to stand sponsor (godfathers) to her soon-to-be-born child. (12) However, there is no record of the earl of Lancaster attending the ceremony - a gross insult.
Lancaster's failure to attend can probably be explained by the increasing conflict between himself and his cousin the king. The two men met at York sometime in the second half of August and had a furious row, probably on account of Edward's on-going reluctance to accept the Ordinances of 1311, to which Lancaster was dedicated. The Flores Historiarum claims that Edward armed himself against his cousin, and that his fear of Lancaster was the reason for his postponement of the campaign in Scotland. (13) Whether that is true or not, Edward was concerned enough about Lancaster’s hostility to summon Queen Isabella to him with all speed, fearing for her safety. On 27 September, he paid Isabella’s messenger William Galayn a pound for informing him of Isabella’s imminent arrival in York. (14) Isabella travelled very fast: she was at Buntingford in Hertfordshire on 22 September, 175 miles from York, and was presumably reunited with Edward there shortly after the 27th. (15)
The king and queen spent most of October and November in and near York, spending two and a half weeks (22 October to 8 November) at Newburgh, an Augustinian priory a few miles north of the city, now a stately home. They spent a few days at Scrooby, east of Sheffield, were at Clipstone for most of December, and spent Christmas at Nottingham. (16) Meanwhile, little John of Eltham was looked after by his nurse Matilda Pyrie, in the household of his elder brother Edward of Windsor, at Wallingford Castle near Oxford. (17) It's significant that Edward sent his sons to live at a castle that had formerly belonged to Piers Gaveston. Presumably Edward and Isabella visited their sons there occasionally: Edward was at Wallingford on 29 January 1317, from 22 to 26 April 1318, and on 1 May 1318. It's very likely that the boys also visited court occasionally, though given the paucity of records mentioning children - even the king's children - we can't be totally sure. It's also hard to say for sure when Edward first saw his son John.
(1) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-1317, p. 398.
(2) For example: Patent Rolls 1313-1317, pp. 373, 387; Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-1318, pp. 3, 11, 30, 45.
(3) Thomas Stapleton, 'A Brief Summary of the Wardrobe Accounts of the tenth, eleventh and fourteenth years of Edward II', Archaeologia 1836, pp. 342-343.
(4) Foedera, Conventiones, Litterae et Cujuscunque Acta Publica, ed. Thomas Rymer, volume II, i, p. 308.
(5) Stapleton, p. 320.
(8) Chronica Monasterii S. Albani Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneforde, Monachorum S. Albani, ed. Henry Thomas Riley, p. 95.
(9) Stapleton, p. 321.
(10) Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 430; Foedera, p. 296.
(11) Stapleton, p. 336.
(13) Flores Historiarum, ed. H. R. Luard, volume iii, pp. 176-177.
(14) Stapleton, p. 320.
(15) Patent Rolls 1313-1317, p. 621.
(16) Details of Edward's whereabouts are taken mostly from The Itinerary of Edward II and his Household 1307-1328, by Elizabeth Hallam; also from Foedera and the Close and Patent Rolls.