In 1313, Edward II and Queen Isabella spent nearly two months in France, between May and July, to attend the simultaneous knighting of her three brothers and for Edward to meet his father-in-law Philippe IV to discuss Gascony. Edward was now twenty-nine, Isabella seventeen or eighteen. This was her first visit to her homeland for nearly five and a half years.
Edward and Isabella left Dover with their large retinues at sunrise on 23 May 1313 and arrived at Wissant the same day, the king casually disregarding the Ordinance of 1311 which stated that he needed the consent of the baronage in parliament to leave the country. Edward has often been criticised, in his own time and ever since, for leaving his kingdom at such a turbulent time; the negotiations between himself and Piers Gaveston’s killers were still dragging on. Shortly before they left, in a fruitless attempt to forestall criticism, Edward issued a proclamation that he was travelling to France at the personal invitation of both the king of France and the pope, and intended to return "with the utmost despatch." (Nearly two months would hardly count as 'utmost despatch'.) He left his nephew the earl of Gloucester in England as regent. Keen to present himself well, Edward paid the astonishing sum of £1000 for his clothes and jewels, and during the trip, he spent money with wild abandon: he gave gifts to the French court worth more than £3000 and paid almost £4500 merely on wine, truly staggering amounts.
The king and queen entered Paris on 2 June, where "the whole city rose up and went forth to meet them." The knighting of Isabella’s three brothers took place the following day, and Edward belted his eldest brother-in-law Louis, king of Navarre and the future Louis X of France, with the belt of knighthood. The two men and Philippe IV then knighted about 200 others, including Isabella’s two other brothers Philippe and Charles and their cousin Philippe de Valois - all of them future kings of France. Another new knight was Robert of Artois, Edward's cousin (great-grandson of Edward's grandfather Henry III).
Over the next few days, Edward II and Isabella attended banquets given by Philippe of France and Louis of Navarre, and Philippe's brothers the counts of Valois and Evreux. Philippe also hosted a feast for his daughter Isabella and daughter-in-law Marguerite, queen of Navarre. At midday on Tuesday 5 June, Edward himself gave a splendid banquet at St-Germain-des-Prés near Paris, which was held in tents open to public view and hung with rich cloths. Torches, candles and other lights burned even in the middle of the day, and attendants on horseback served the guests. The amount of food eaten during Edward's stay in France is astonishing: Philippe IV gave Edward and Isabella 189 pigs, 94 oxen, 380 rams, 160 pike, 200 carp, 80 barrels of wine, and much else.
Two days after giving his banquet, Edward suffered the embarrassment of missing a meeting with Philippe IV, as he and Isabella had overslept. The amused chronicler Geoffrey of Paris gives their night-time 'dalliance' as the reason, and says that it was hardly a wonder if Edward desired his wife, as Isabella was "the fairest of the fair" (c'est des belles la plus belle). Wouldn't you think though that someone might have woken them up? And how did Geoffrey of Paris know the reason for the oversleeping - did Edward hang a 'Do Not Disturb: Post-Coital Fatigue' notice on the door? I hope the weather that day was better than it had been the day before, when Paris was lashed by wind and rain. Later in the day he and Isabella overslept, Edward stirred himself sufficiently to watch a parade of Parisians from the Ile-Notre-Dame to the Louvre, from the windows of Philippe's apartments. He and Isabella, surrounded by a throng of ladies and damsels, saw the procession again later from a tower in their lodgings at St-Germain.
On the first anniversary of Piers Gaveston's death, 19 June 1313, Edward watched Bernard the Fool and fifty-four naked dancers perform for him at Pontoise, and gave them forty shillings. I wonder if all that nude flesh went some way to consoling him. Also at Pontoise on an unknown date, Edward and Isabella suffered a disaster when a fire broke out in Edward's wardrobe one night, and they were forced to run out into the street in their night-clothes. They lost many of their possessions, and poor Isabella's arm was badly burnt.
Just before their departure from England, Edward had sent letters to the emperors of China, Trebizond and the Tartars, and the king of Georgia, asking them to help a friar named Guillerinus de Villanova who was travelling east to convert the infidel (as Edward called them). At Poissy in early July, Edward had the pleasure of meeting Villanova, and gave him "many handsome presents." The king gave an offering of twenty shillings at the shrine of the Crown of Thorns in Sainte-Chapelle, twenty shillings to his minstrel William Craddock - probably for performing during Edward's banquet on 5 June - forty shillings to Philippe IV's minstrel Hurel, twenty-four gold florins to various friars of Paris, and ten marks to the English friar John Dunkhull setting out for the Holy Land. He also gave thirty shillings to the church of St-Pierre in Pontoise in compensation for the damage done to its meadows by his oxen while they were pastured there.
Philippe IV gave Edward four horses and armour as a leaving present. The king and queen arrived back at Dover on 15 July, quite probably a few pounds heavier than they had been a few weeks earlier!
- Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-1313, p. 588.
- The National Archives E 101/375/8, fo. 32.
- Chronique métrique de Godefroy de Paris, ed. J.-A. Buchon (1827), p. 194.
- Elizabeth A. R. Brown and Nancy Freeman Degalado, ‘Le grant feste: Philip the Fair’s Celebration of the Knighting of His Sons in Paris at Pentecost of 1313’, in Barbara Hanawalt and Kathryn Reyerson, eds., City and Spectacle in Medieval Europe (1994), pp. 57-86.
- Elizabeth Hallam, The Itinerary of Edward II and His Household, 1307-1328 (1984), pp. 98-102.
- Alison Weir, Isabella, She-Wolf of France, Queen of England (2005), pp. 91-92.