06 August, 2008

The King's Generosity

The fourteenth-century chronicler Ranulph Higden called Edward II "prodigal in giving," and here are a few random examples of his generosity. Bear in mind that most people in England at the time earned between about 1 and 3p a day, 12p made 1 shilling, and 20 shillings made 1 pound (so there were 240p in a pound).

- £500 to Theophania de Saint Pierre, Queen Isabella's former nurse, in 1316 (a staggering amount!)

- £50 to Peter the Surgeon for curing a boy bitten by one of Edward's great horses

- 2 and a half pounds to Edward's painter Jack of St Albans for dancing on the table, which "made him laugh very greatly" (lui fist tres grantement rire)

- A year's salary to his servant Morris for amusingly falling off his horse, twice (though as Ian Mortimer points out in The Time-Traveller's Guide To Medieval England, Morris was ill, not trying to be funny, which makes Edward's laughing at him pretty cruel!)

- £50 to Piers Gaveston's messenger for bringing him "good news" of Piers in March 1312

- £1 to a woman "he drank with" on the way to Newcastle in 1310

- gifts worth a staggering £1600, plus more gifts worth £300 paid for by Edward but sent in Isabella's name, to Pope John XXII after his election in 1316. They included a cope "embroidered and studded with large white pearls," thirteen golden salt-cellars, numerous golden dishes and bowls, a golden basin and a golden chalice. The gifts sent on Isabella's behalf included a "gold buckle set with diverse pearls and other precious stones."

- 2 and a half pounds each to Edward's squires John Haclut and Thomas de la Haye (later of the Dunheved gang) for going to Newport on his behalf in 1321

- 2 rings, worth 30 shillings each, to his squire Oliver de Bordeaux and Oliver's wife when they married in 1318

- A pound (20 shillings) to John Spayn, page of Edward's chamber, when he married Amice Maure in 1319 (Amice was a bribour of Edward's household, mentioned in the same list as his washerwomen - I'm not sure what the word means)

- 30 shillings to William Wytherwood, purveyor of the royal household, for bringing him delicious crabs and prawns (Edward said "he had not had anything so much to his taste for a long time").

- £100 to his niece Eleanor de Clare (Despenser) when she was ill after childbirth in 1323

- A pound to 10 fishermen (i.e., 2 shillings or 24p each) of Thorne near Doncaster in November 1322, who caught "big pikes, big eels and a great number of other fish," and "who fished in the king's presence" (qe pescherent en la presence le Roi)

- £2 to William Lalblaster, messenger of the count of Poitiers (Queen Isabella's brother, soon to become King Philip V) for bringing Edward bunches of new grapes in October 1316

- 2 and a half pounds to Philip V's messenger William de Opere in September 1317, for bringing Edward a box of rose-coloured sugar

- £5 to Robert Daverouns, violist of the prince of Tarentum, for "performing his minstrelsy in the king's presence" in November 1316. (Tarentum is modern-day Taranto in Puglia, southern Italy; its prince in 1316 was Philip I, who was Edward's second cousin)

- 1 mark (13 shillings and 4p) to Tanin, messenger of Antonio di Pessagno (an Italian banker) for bringing Edward 2 camels, in November 1317

- 10 shillings to Dulcia Withstaff, mother of Edward's fool Rob Withstaff, when she visited the king sometime in 1317.

Sources:
- Calendar of Close Rolls/Foedera (Theophania)
- Ian Mortimer, The Time-Traveller's Guide to Medieval England (Morris)
- Michael Prestwich, 'The Court of Edward II' in The Reign of Edward II: New Perspectives, ed. Gwilym Dodd and Anthony Musson (Jack of St Albans, John Spayn, Peter the Surgeon, prawns)
- James Conway Davies, 'The First Journal of Edward II's Chamber', English Historical Review, 1915 (fishermen)
- Thomas Stapleton, 'A Brief Summary of the Wardrobe Accounts of the 10th, 11th, and 14th years of Edward II', Archaeologia, 1836 (rose sugar, camels, grapes, Tarentum, gifts to pope, Newport, Dulcia)
- J. S. Hamilton, Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall 1307-1312 (Piers' messenger)
- Michael Prestwich, The Three Edwards (woman in Newcastle)
- James Conway Davies, The Baronial Opposition to Edward II (Eleanor Despenser)
- T. F. Tout, The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History (Amice Maure)

23 comments:

Susan Higginbotham said...

Rose-colored sugar sounds tasty! I wonder if you just ate it like a sugar stick.

Kevin said...

Edward's greatest gift, and his deepest and ultimately fatal flaw: generosity to his friends.

While to a select few (including myself) it is endlessly entertaining to psychologize the man, I think ultimately it is impossible to gloss the full intent and character of someone so far removed from our own time and culture. But, it's fun to try!

Your posts do a marvelous job at humanizing a tragic figure. The smallest details paint the best intimate portraits of people from the past.

Any possibility that you might consider footnoting? I enjoy looking the facts up. I continue to build a modest home library, including a coveted copy of _Vitae Edwardi Secundi_.

I haven't blogged on my site in a while, but will soon have something up on the 1397 murder of Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester (Edward II's grandson). I've also got something in the works for Cecily Neville, "Quene by Right," mother of Edward IV and Richard III. Since I am both a Yorkist and a Lancastrian by descent, it's impossible for me to pick sides when it comes to the Wars of the Roses. (smile)

Alianore said...

Susan: sounds yummy, doesn't it? You could get violet sugar, too.

Thanks, Kevin! I'm glad that you think I humanise Ed - that was why I set up the blog in the first place, really, to give Ed a more human face than you usually see.

I've edited the post so you can see the sources. I'm sure a few of them are available on Google books. The article about Ed's Chamber only lists the entries in French, not translated (thank goodness I can read it!)

Looking forward to your next posts, and glad to see you back!

Lady D. said...

Just think what Ed would give to you for doing this blog *grin*

And I know he kept one camel at Langley - what did he do with the other one I wonder? I wonder if he ever thought of riding them?

Gabriele C. said...

I find the differences amazing. It looks like when he had to use his own purse, he could only find a few pounds in it, but when he could plan and use the state treasury, the sums go up. A lot.

Alianore said...

Lady D: a few hundred quid at least, I hope. ;) The camel was at Langley when Ed was a child (it's mentioned in 1290) and I don't know what he did with these two!

Gabriele: the amount of money depended entirely on the rank, status and wealth of the recipient, not the source of the money - with the exception of that £50 to Piers' messenger, which was ludicrously generous (the equivalent of maybe 20 years' wages)

£2 might not sound like much, but it was a year's income for the majority of people in the country. On the other hand, Eleanor Despenser and her husband had an income of several thousands pounds a year, so giving her £100 was, comparatively, far less generous than giving a painter 2 and a half pounds, or a pound to a random woman he met.

Ceirseach said...

Not to mention his generosity in giving all his wedding gifts, including those from his father in law, to Piers?

Brian said...

He seems such an agreeable chap, does Edward. I mean, I'd think a lot more of the present royal family if they went around the country dishing out the odd ten grand to random strangers.

Edward's tragedy was that he didn't fit the person spec. for king as drafted by the power brokers of the time.

Alianore said...

Brian: I know, his behaviour was so endearing in many ways, wasn't it? Pity he was so unsuited to his position.

Ceirseach: that's almost certainly a myth. Only one source (Annales Paulini) mentions the story, and it doesn't actually say that Piers kept the gifts. IMO, Edward sent Piers the gifts from France for him to put in a safe place. Unfortunately, this is one of those stories mentioned vaguely in one chronicle that's been repeated so often it's become one of those things everyone 'knows' about Ed II - and a scene where Piers flaunts himself in Isa's jewels is practically a staple of Ed II novels. But if Ed giving away his and Isa's wedding presents, and her jewels, to Piers Gaveston, was as notorious as it's made out to be nowadays, why don't other contemp sources mention it? Lots of writers have passed the story on, usually in terms of outrage at Ed's appalling behaviour, without bothering to check the primary sources, and without bothering to notice that contemp chroniclers told a lot of stories about Ed and Piers that are demonstrably and provably not true.

Kevin said...

Thanks Alianore for the references...now I will see how many I can find in Google books. I suppose I should be adding more memory to my computer soon. (smile)

Christy K Robinson said...

What was the pincipal source of Edward's wealth? Was it inherited? Income from estate rents? Taxes on agriculture/wool products? Imports/exports or port duties? A cut of the Church monies? Piracy (Hughie's sideline)? Booty from wars (well, he wasn't exactly a success in that)? Punitive fines? Gifts (like those from his father-in-law)?

Edward seemed to have an easy-come-easy-go fiscal policy. Did his familiarity with gardeners and peasants give him any insight into their hand-to-mouth existence? Much of that wealth must have come from taxes and tithes of the peasants and barons of England. Did Edward have a sense of responsibility for his subjects to even out the years of famine and plenty?

Alianore said...

Good luck with the books, Kevin - and the Vita Edwardi Secundi. It's a great resource - I love it!

Christy: ummm, I'm not great on medieval finance, but yeah, pretty much everything you mentioned, except for inheritance - Ed II inherited massive debts from his father, of about £200,000 - which is probably billions these days.

As to whether Ed's enjoyment of the company of common people gave him any insight into their lives - it's hard to say, but an early historian (can't remember who offhand) stated that one of the few positives of his reign was that 'the commons were not oppressed'. In 1315, he tried to regulate the price of basic foodstuffs during the great famine, which unfortunately didn't work. OTOH, he didn't do a lot to protect his subjects in the north from the frequent incursions of the Scots.

Gabriele C. said...

Ed II inherited massive debts from his father, of about £200,000

I assume a good deal of that went into the collection of whopping big castles in Wales. :)

Carla said...

Gabriele - I think the Scottish Wars of Independence were quite expensive, as well as all those Welsh castles. Funny how kings never seem to be short of ready cash no matter how bankrupt the country is :-)

Alianore, what happened to the 200,000 debt and who was it owed to?

Kevin said...

I think the seeds of Edward's excessive generosity and lack of fiscal responsibility were sown early in his childhood. Tout says that Edward's father "the king was always dictating to his son what he should do even in the merest trifles." Even so, little Edward, at the tender age of ten, had already become used to having his desires met in grand fashion. While staying at Langley, his household terrorized the St. Alban's citizenry and markets by seizing all the victuals they could lay their hands upon: they stole cheese and eggs from private households, robbed bakers of their bread, and even demanded recipes made to order (Chapters in the Administrative History of Medieval England: The Wardrobe, The Chambers and the Small Seals, 2:173). It is as if, when finally king, Edward could say, "It's mine, and nobody's going to tell me what I can do with it."

Alianore said...

Carla and Gabriele: yes, those Welsh castles cost Ed I a fair bit, and Ed II too. And the Scots wars were wildly expensive, as Carla says.

Carla: mostly to Italian bankers, also to churchmen who lent him money and noblemen for their wages in war, I expect. Ed II was skint for most of his reign, till 1322, when the forfeited lands of the Contrariants brought in a major windfall. And Hugh Despenser's despotic efficiency meant that by 1326, Ed had £60,000 in his treasuy - which Mortimer and Isabella ran through in about 5 minutes flat.

Kevin: a chronicler says of Ed in 1294 "Whatever he spent on himself or his followers, he took without paying for it", as though Ed himself was responsible and not 10 years old! He had a household of at least a few dozen people, even as a child - and they all had to eat.

Of course, royals were expected to live lavishly, and no-one criticised Ed for his extravagance. Look at Isabella, spending £1400 just on jewellery in the last few months of her life! No-one criticised her for that - she was a (dowager) queen and a king's daughter, and was expected to look the part. No-one bothered about Ed spending £1000 on clothes to look good at the French court in 1313, either. However, purveyance was a very thorny issue in Ed's reign.

Carla said...

"And Hugh Despenser's despotic efficiency meant that by 1326, Ed had £60,000 in his treasuy -"
Ah, so Despenser didn't enrich himself at the king's expense, then, as is traditional for royal favourites? He enriched himself and the king at the expense of everybody else? No wonder he was hated.

Alianore said...

Oops, just spotted my typo - 'treasury'. ;) Yes, that's exactly it, Carla - he made himself and the king very rich, and everyone loathed him for it. He was the most hated man in the 14the century, with the possible exception of John of Gaunt.

Alianore said...

14th, not 14the. Agh!! :-)

christy k robinson said...

"- A year's salary to his servant Morris for amusingly falling off his horse, twice (though as Ian Mortimer points out in The Time-Traveller's Guide To Medieval England, Morris was ill, not trying to be funny, which makes Edward's laughing at him pretty cruel!)"

Bet Edward would have loved every bit of the Olympics. A surfeit of sports AND fit bodies in very skimpy attire. Imagine his gifts of appreciation to the English athletes!

Alianore said...

LOL, Christy! He would have bankrupted himself. ;)

Bet Ed would have loved Candid Camera, too. ;)

Christy K Robinson said...

"[Despencer] was the most hated man in the 14the century, with the possible exception of John of Gaunt."

Hey, that's my ancestor John you're trash-talking!

I saw John's armor at the Tower of London, and had my pic taken next to it in 2004. I'm 5'6", and although the suit was on a low platform, that suit towers above me. (Not to make a pun or anything.) Here's the image: http://travel.webshots.com/photo/2981248210084119722jZRqLU

Alianore said...

All I can say is, it's lucky for John that he wasn't in London in 1381 during the Peasants' Revolt, or he'd have ended up with his head on a spike. ;)

That's a great pic, Christy.