24 June, 2009

Random Moments in the Life of Edward II

Here are a few entries from Edward II's chamber account of 1325/26, which I've transcribed and translated from the original manuscript in the Society of Antiquaries library at Piccadilly. Edward's chamber accounts are a fascinating glimpse into his private world, detailing presents he gave out, whom he dined with and what he ate, minstrels who performed for him, names of the men who served him closely and thus knew him best, and so on - hence my willingness to ruin my eyesight by spending many hours, weeks and months peering at tiny, faded handwriting in medieval French.

- a fisherman called Cock atte Wyk - seriously - gave Edward a present of a "great eel," a barbel, dace and other fish, and received a gift of two shillings in return, in October 1325.

- in October/November 1325 Edward paid various men, including his squire Thomelyn de Haldon and the Dominican friar Thomas Dunheved, for bringing him letters from his chamberlain and favourite Hugh Despenser the Younger, "who is in the parts of Wales," and returning to Hugh with the king's letters. This is very interesting, given that Hugh had successfully persuaded Edward a few weeks earlier not to go to France without him in the belief that he would be killed in the king's absence, but evidently was happy enough to set off for Wales by himself while Edward (and Hugh's very pregnant wife Eleanor) remained in the south-east.

- Edward also paid five shillings on 23 February 1326 to one of his messengers "sent out of court secretly with letters of the king to Sir Hugh [Despenser]," and a pound on 21 March to Hugh's squire Janekyn de Sufford, "who is sent from Kenilworth to London with letters of the king to the said Sir Hugh, on private business." So it seems that Edward and Hugh were apart far more than I had ever realised, which changes the mental picture I had of their relationship.

- in August 1325, Edward gave a gift of ten shillings to Robert Traghs, porter of his chamber, whose wife had recently borne a daughter. Robert got permission to travel to London to visit his wife, Joan, and their child. (Ten shillings, half a pound or 120 pence, was a pretty generous gift to a man of Robert's rank, who only earned one and a half or two pence a day - so was the equivalent of at least two months' wages.)

- Edward gave twenty-five shillings to Will Shene, another porter of the chamber, about to marry a woman whose name the king's clerk recorded as 'Isode'. The money was intended in part as a gift and in part to cover the expenses of their wedding, celebrated at Henley-on-Thames on Sunday 20 October 1325.

- on his way from Walton-on-Thames to Cippenham on 17 October 1325, Edward bought a pike, two barbels and a trout from Jack Fisher ('Jak Fyssher', as his clerk wrote it) of Shepperton, also giving Jack four shillings as a gift. The entry makes it clear that it was Edward himself, not one of his servants, who bought the fish from Jack: achatez de lui p’ le Roi mesmes. Edward also bought quantities of fish from four other people the following day, which were carefully recorded as having been purchased by the king himself.* That is soooo Edward.

* les queux choses susditz furent achatez en lewe de Tamyse p’ le Roi mesmes.

- there's a nice fishy entry in the account for the period when Edward was staying at Langdon in Kent, the end of August 1325, while he and his advisers debated whether or not he should travel to France to pay homage to Charles IV for his French lands - you know, the time he didn't stupidly fall into Isabella and Mortimer's Oh-So-Cunning Trap as so many writers like to claim he did. He, both Hugh Despensers, the earl of Arundel, Edward's friend the abbot of Langdon, the chancellor Robert Baldock, Robert Mohaut and unnamed "other magnates" sat in the garden at the abbey of Langdon and dined on large quantities of fish and seafood bought for them in Dover, Sandwich and other places: bream, cod, whiting, sole, salted herring, crabs and so on. There's a nice image, I think - the king and some of his great magnates sitting in an abbey garden enjoying the late-summer sunshine*, eating platters of fish and seafood.

* presumably - though I don't actually know what the weather was like then. There was a drought in England the following summer, 1326, according to Annales Paulini.

- Edward had chamber staff called Litel Wille, Litel Colle and Grete Hobbe.

- it has been known for many years that Edward gave two and a half pounds or the equivalent of a year's wages to his painter Jack of St Albans for dancing on a table and making him laugh uproariously. What is usually missed or ignored is that Edward intended the gift for Jack to support his wife and children - en eide de sa femme et ses enfauntz, the entry says - and that he gave Jack the money with his own hands, a great honour for the painter. Nor is it ever stated that this pleasant little interlude took place on 11 March 1326, when Edward was expecting Isabella and Mortimer's invasion at any time - but evidently hadn't lost his sense of humour.

- Edward gave a pound to one Alis Coleman for brewing ale for him in late 1325. He seems to have been fond of that particular drink: in February 1323, he gave five shillings to another Alis who had travelled from York to Pontefract to bring him ale as a present from her mother.

- Edward also gave a pound in November 1325 to a woman named Luce, who had brought him a gift of bread, chickens and ale (again!) while he was staying at Cippenham. Maybe she thought his cooks weren't feeding him properly. A pound each to two women of humble birth - very generous.

- The king spent five pounds on food for the poor to celebrate St Katherine's Day, 25 November 1325, and somewhat mysteriously, gave ten shillings to a woman called Anneis "for that done at the gate of the Tower" of London to mark the day. Presumably this had something to do with the church of St Katherine's by the Tower, next to the Tower.

- Edward's fondness for the company of the lowborn is demonstrated by the entries revealing that he invited sailors, carpenters and the like to dine privately with him reasonably often, such as Adam Cogg, captain of Hugh Despenser the Younger's barge, who ate with the king on four days in June 1325.

- contrary to popular belief, there is nothing in Edward's chamber account to demonstrate that he didn't enjoy the company of women. For example, he dined alone with Lady Hastings on or shortly before 8 August 1326 and with his sister-in-law Alice, countess of Norfolk on 30 January that year, giving presents of ten shillings to Lady Hastings' valet and the same each to Henry Newsom, harper, and Richardyn, citoler, who "made their minstrelsy" before Countess Alice and himself as they ate. Not to mention his enormous affection for his niece Eleanor Despenser, who, with her husband Hugh, was arguably the most important person in Edward's life in the last eighteen months or so of his reign.

- Alison Weir, in her biography of Queen Isabella, points out that men named Wat Cowherd, Simon and Robin Hod and others appear in Edward's chamber account of 1322 and received what she calls "substantial" sums of money (though she doesn't specify the amounts) from the king for spending time "in his company." She speculates that Edward "was being promiscuous with low-born men" and that Isabella must have heard about it and been angry. In fact, Wat, Simon and the others were pages and porters of Edward's chamber and crop up extremely often in the accounts, accompanying the king on his travels and receiving their wages. There's no way of proving that Edward didn't have sex with them, of course, but there's no reason at all to think that he did. Sadly, reality proves far more mundane than speculation.

- Edward's scribes sometimes referred to his chamber staff by nicknames in the account - for example, the Simon Hod mentioned above (not the king's bit of rough but one of his porters) was often called 'Syme', short for 'Symond', the usual spelling then, as was Syme Lawe, a valet of the chamber. Hugh de Greenfield and Hugh Smale were often called 'Huchon'. Edmund Fisher and Edmund Quarrell, valets, were called 'Monde', short for 'Esmond', the usual contemporary spelling. Monde Fisher's wife Isabelle was sometimes called 'Sibille'. Men called John were often called 'Janekyn', men called Thomas 'Thomelyn' and the name Richard was sometimes written 'Richardyn'. Wat Cowherd's name was spelt 'Watte Couherde' (or Couhierde).

- One especially interesting piece of info I've found is the approximate date of the marriage between Sir Richard Talbot - a Lancastrian knight captured at the battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, who pragmatically switched sides and joined the Despensers - and Elizabeth Comyn, daughter of the John Comyn, the lord of Badenoch murdered by Robert Bruce in 1306, and niece and co-heir of the earl of Pembroke. Richard and Elizabeth married in secret, at Pirbright in Surrey, shortly before 10 July 1326: an entry in the chamber account on that day giving Richard a gift of ten marks says that he avoit espouses p’uement la dame de Comyn, 'had married secretly the lady Comyn'.

I'll post soon about entries from Edward's accounts relating to his niece, Eleanor Despenser.

11 comments:

Kate Plantagenet said...

Wonderful stuff! I wonder what the 10 shillings were for at the gate on St Katherine's day?!!!! Perhaps Anneis was a particularly sorry looking beggar at the gate? The descriptions of the food made me hungry. Thank you for translating these documents - I know you are having fun BUT it doesn't hurt to hear how grateful we are. And we ARE!

Ashmodai said...

Thanks for this awesome and interesting information, Alienor!
I enjoyed it a lot. (And I can't get the picture of Ned buying fish out of my head now...)

Susan Higginbotham said...

Fascinating, especially the information about Elizabeth Comyn's secret marriage. If she managed that, surely she couldn't have been kept a virtual prisoner by the Despensers, as is usually alleged, don't you think?

Alianore said...

Thanks, Kate! Hope the details were as much fun to read as they were to transcribe! I don't know about Anneis - the entry seems to mean that she did something to earn the money rather than just beg for it, but this is where the annoying vagueness of the chamber account creeps in. Grrr.

Ashmodai: thanks, and glad you enjoyed it! The bit about Ed buying his own fish is wonderful, isn't it - such a great image (to us anyway - not to his contemporaries).

Susan: priuement could also be translated as 'privately', but that still raises the question: if she was a prisoner, how did she manage to get married in private (or secret?) I'd love to know the truth of the situation. Was Elizabeth telling the truth, or embroidering and exaggerating her woes in the aftermath of the Despensers' downfall?

Susan Higginbotham said...

And giving Richard Talbot ten marks after his secret/private marriage wasn't exactly the act of an outraged monarch! Sounds as if Elizabeth Comyn could have been exaggerating a bit.

Lady D. said...

I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed hearing about every one of these discoveries. There is much here that threatens to rewrite a great deal in the istory books. I am particularly intrigued as to why Hugh should have been so apart from Edward during this period. Like you, I had always assumed they were together - on grounds of Hugh's security if nothing else.

And I completely concur with Elizabeth Comyn exaggerating her 'terrible imprisonment' at the hands of the Despensers ;-)

Clement of the Glen said...

Another fascinating insight into Edward's character, Alianore.

He comes across in these documents as way ahead of his time. A 'modern' monarch, in the style of our 21st century Royalty, not a medieval king.

On 21st October 1324 Robyn Hod was discharged with five shillings because he was no longer able to work. He was docked pay on several occasions previously, so it is quite likely he was either sick or too old to work. As you say reality proves far too mundane than speculation.

Alianore said...

Susan: exactly, especially when you compare this gift to the heavy fines imposed on everyone else who married without the king's consent.

Lady D: What gets me is that everyone who's discussed the Liz situation in print has assumed she was telling the absolute gospel truth about her treatment, and make the same assumption about everyone else who complained about the Despensers - so it would be really fascinating to investigate the Despensers' activities and find out what is true and what is not. Discovering that Hugh was apart from Ed from at least 9 Oct to 19 Nov 1325 and from 23 Feb to 21 March 1326 demonstrates that the usual notion that he needed to be constantly at Ed's side to 'control' him and the government isn't accurate - so then I start to wonder what else is assumption and not fact.

Clement: thanks, and glad you enjoyed the post! I really must read up more about Robyn.

Geronimo said...

I think you should spill all the bad stuff on him too; and there is plenty

Henry Funk said...

Thank you for your enjoyable and informative blog.

Alison Weir's treatment of Robin Hood strikes me as a grotesque example of what can happen when a non-expert writes about medieval history.

Payments to Robin Hood figure in several "journals" (daily accounts) of the chamber, so it shouldn't have been too difficult to discover that he was a regular employee and not a male prostitute.

Moreover, the fact that this Robin Hood was a "porter of the chamber" at the court of Edward II has been well known since the mid-19th century when Joseph Hunter, assistant keeper of public records and a well-known West Yorkshire local historian, published a pamphlet (Robin Hood, 1852) in which he argued that the royal servant was in fact the famous outlaw. Weir could have picked up just about any book on the supposed historicity of Robin Hood and found discussion of this royal servant.

Far from being a euphemistic way of saying they had sex with the king, the mention in the accounts of Robin Hood and other employees being in the company of the king means they were doing service in the king's presence rather than having been left "behind" at some other place. Medieval English kings were peripatetic, and in this respect Edward II certainly was no exception (as witnessed by his itinerary published by E.M. Hallam in 1984). On many occasions, for instance when he was hunting or on a flying visit, there was no need for the king to bring along all his servants, so those not needed were left behind pending his return. Now I have not done any actual calculations, but I am pretty certain one would find the daily pay was lover for servants "left behind" than for those who were with the king. This is why the accounts either separate recipients of servants' wages into those who were with the king and those who weren't or alternatively, when there are payments to only a few servants, state for each whether he was with the king.

Quite apart from all this, an actual payment for casual sex would be extremely unlikely to appear in royal (or any other) accounts during the Medieval period.

I wonder what Weir might have made of the term "groom of the stool" if this position had been first introduced during the reign of Edward II :-) .

Kathryn Warner said...

Henry, many thanks for taking the time to leave such a terrific, insightful comment! You're absolutely spot-on. Goodness only knows how anyone can look at payments to the king's staff and think 'oh, he must have been having sex with low-born men!' Absolutely baffling. Loved the 'groom of the stool' bit :) :-)