20 December, 2008

Merry Christmas!

This will be the last post until 10 January or thereabouts, as I'm off on holiday tomorrow.

Firstly, I'd like to thank author Michael Jecks for giving me such a great mention in his latest newsletter (I'm a wonderful lady! *Blushes*) Michael writes a very popular series of murder mysteries set in Edward II's reign, and if you haven't read them yet, you should. (He does a marvellous Hugh Despenser, for one thing.) And thanks to Ian Mortimer for recommending my site to Michael.

Here's some fairly random Edward II-related Christmas stuff...

The festive custom of electing a boy-bishop was widespread in the Middle Ages, especially in England. In 1316, Edward II gave six shillings and eight pence to John, son of Alan of Scrooby (a town in Nottinghamshire) for officiating as 'boy-bishop' in his chapel at Clipstone on 6 December, St Nicholas's Day, and ten shillings to the unnamed boy who played the role of boy-bishop in his chapel at Nottingham on 28 December, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. These were very generous amounts for young boys of low rank.

Another pleasant medieval custom was the 'King of the Bean', when the person lucky enough to find the bean the cooks had added to the food had the right to preside over the festivities. At Edward's court over the festive period of 1316/1317, a knight called William de la Beche became King of the Bean, and Edward gave him "a silver-gilt chased basin, with ewer to match," worth seven pounds, thirteen shillings and ten pence, on the Feast of the Circumcision, 1 January 1317. (Websites usually say the King of the Bean ceremony took place on 6 January, Twelfth Night, but Edward's Wardrobe account clearly states that it was 1 January, this year at least.) The following year, a squire of Edward's household named Thomas de Weston was the lucky man, and received "a silver-gilt basin with stand and cover, and a silver-gilt pitcher to match," price not given, from Edward.

Edward's court spent Christmas 1317 at Wesminster, and New Year at Windsor. Queen Isabella's gift from her husband was an enamelled silver-gilt bowl, with foot and cover, worth seventeen pounds. That might not sound like much, but it was several times most people's annual income. Edward also gave a gold ring with six emeralds, worth twenty marks, to his sister Mary the nun, rings of unstated value to his nieces Margaret Audley and Elizabeth Damory - their sister Eleanor Despenser isn't mentioned - and a gold ring with two emeralds and three pearls worth thirty-two shillings to his great-niece Joan Gaveston, Piers' five-year-old daughter. He also gave rings to his sons Edward and John, aged five years and sixteen months respectively. I find the idea of giving a ring to a sixteen-month-old rather amusing.

Twenty-five knights, including Robert Umfraville, earl of Angus, Richard Damory, brother of Edward's favourite Roger Damory, and Ingelram Berenger, John Haudlo and Walter Beauchamp, the latter three associated with Edward's friend Hugh Despenser the Elder, received silver-gilt goblets worth seven pounds from the king that year.

In December 1317, Edward paid one pound, thirteen shillings and six pence for a "great wooden table" to be placed in the great hall of Westminster Palace during the seasonal festivities, and also paid thirty pounds to Thomas de Hebenhith, mercer of London, for "a great hanging of wool, woven with figures of the king and earls on it, for the king’s service in his hall, on solemn festivals." It was Edward's custom to gamble on Christmas night, usually spending five pounds. (Whether his household let him win, and how he reacted if they didn't, is not clear.)

Annoyingly, the gifts Edward II and Queen Isabella gave each other at New Year were often not specified - in 1312, for example, Isabella gave Edward "certain precious objects," and in 1320, he gave her "many precious gifts." Honestly, it's like the men who kept records of such things didn't care at all about the needs of a certain Edward-obsessed historian many centuries later, who really wants to know these things. Soooo inconsiderate.

I wrote on the blog last year that Edward spent Christmas 1307, the first of his reign and his last as a single man, at Wye in Kent with Piers Gaveston - according to a statement in Annales Paulini. I've since discovered that the annalist was wrong, and Edward was actually at Westminster, presumably with Piers, as he (scandalously!) appointed him keeper of the realm on 26 December for the period in January when Edward went to France to marry Isabella. Edward didn't arrive at Wye until 3 January 1308. He spent Christmas 1325, his last one as a free man, at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. In December 1326 he was in captivity at Kenilworth Castle, and by December 1327 he was supposedly dead - hmmmm - and his funeral took place on 20 December, 681 years ago today.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Satima Flavell said...

Thank you for a year's worth of fascinating posts, Alianore. I hope you have a wonderful holiday!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Satima, and the same to you! Spare a thought for us poor Northern Europeans with our damp, dank, dismal December weather while you soak up the sunshine. ;)

Susan Higginbotham said...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Looking forward to a 2009 full of Edward II!

Jules Frusher said...

Have a great time back home Alianore! And have a great Xmas and New Year!

I think they had a lot more fun at Xmas in the 14th C than we do now. At least they weren't stuck watching repeats on TV. I wonder if I should suggest resurrecting the old traditions to my family hmmmmm.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Susan, and same to you! And yes, plenty more Ed posts to come next year!

Same to you, Lady D! LOL re the repeats on telly. If I see that Father Ted episode where they get stuck in the ladies' lingerie department one more time, I'll scream.

Susan Higginbotham said...

We get Braveheart a lot here during the holidays (it ran almost nonstop on one station during Thanksgiving). I don't know why the American networks think we want to spend a jolly family Christmas watching William Wallace die.

Anerje said...

Merry Christmas Alianore! I shall suffer withdrawal symptons until January 10th! And I agree with lady D - I'm sure they had a lot more fun at Christmas in the 14th century! Be warned Alianore - the Daily Express has reported there are more repeats on tv than ever this Christmas!

Christy K Robinson said...

Whatever happened to all the bling from Edward's reign? The jewelry, the silver plate, the precious objects? Was it kept and willed to children? Was it sold to pay fines or ransom? Melted down and recycled? Is there anything identifiable left in museums? Have archaeologists found hoards?

Alianore and all her loyal fans: a happy Christmas and a blessed new year to you. May the season bring out the best in you and your loved ones.

Carla said...

Happy Christmas, Alianore, and best wishes for the New Year! Have a lovely holiday.