On 1 September 1317, a shocking event took place on the road between Darlington and Durham*: the new bishop of Durham, Louis Beaumont, his brother Henry, and two cardinals were attacked and robbed of "a very great sum of money" while on their way to attend Louis's consecration as bishop. The four men were imprisoned, and although the cardinals were soon freed, the Beaumont brothers remained in captivity until mid-October, at Mitford Castle.
* the attack took place, according to various reports, either at Rushyford, Ferryhill or somewhere called 'Ache' (Aycliffe?).
The perpetrator of this spectacularly appalling piece of lawlessness - attacking cardinals, for pity's sake! - was one Gilbert Middleton, a household knight of Edward II's, who suffered dire punishment for his act: the furious cardinals excommunicated him, or, as the Vita Edwardi Secundi puts it, "solemnly and in public separated Gilbert de Middletone and his accomplices from the communion of the faithful." Edward II himself, furious and embarrassed that two high-ranking churchmen should be attacked in his kingdom, delared that he would "punish the sons of iniquity" who had perpetrated the outrage. He was as good as his word: Middleton was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered on 24 January 1318.
The two cardinals were Luca Fieschi, an Italian nobleman by birth and a distant relative of Edward II, and Gaucelin D'Eauze or Duese, a relative of the then pope, John XXII (born Jacques Duese). They had arrived in England in June 1317 to negotiate between Edward and Robert Bruce, king of Scots, who had supposedly declared that he would not meet them unless they acknowledged him as king, a forlorn hope; far from being neutral, the sympathies of the pope and his cardinals were entirely in Edward II's favour. No doubt it had also occurred to many people that Cardinals Luca and Gaucelin could also usefully negotiate between Edward and his over-mighty cousin, the earl of Lancaster, relations between the two men having deteriorated to the extent that England was teetering on the brink of civil war in 1317. (Not an uncommon situation in Edward II's turbulent reign, it has to be said.)
So that's why the bishops were in England, and here's a quick summary of the background to Louis Beaumont's election as bishop of Durham, which is probably relevant to the attack. The death of Bishop Richard Kellaw in October 1316 saw intense politicking on the part of Edward II, Queen Isabella, the earls of Lancaster and Hereford, and the monks of Durham themselves. Isabella favoured the election of Louis Beaumont; Edward himself promoted the controller of his wardrobe, Thomas Charlton; Lancaster put forward his clerk John Kinnersley; the earl of Hereford a clerk named John Walwayn, and the Durham monks, Henry Stamford. Edward abandoned his support of Charlton and wrote to the pope on behalf of Isabella’s candidate Louis Beaumont – his second cousin – after Louis’s brother Henry promised him that Louis would be "a defence like a stone wall" against the Scots, though the Rochester chronicler claims that the king changed his mind after Isabella implored him on her knees to support her candidate. The pope duly provided Beaumont to the bishopric on 9 February 1317.
It is likely, though not certain, that the earl of Lancaster was involved in the September 1317 attack. Furious at the failure of his candidate to attain the bishopric of Durham and already an enemy of the Beaumonts – he had demanded Henry Beaumont’s removal from court in 1311 and 1314, and their sister Lady Vescy’s in 1311 – Lancaster probably asked Gilbert Middleton to attack them on his behalf. This cannot, however, be proved. Pope John XXII, rightly or wrongly, thought that Robert Bruce was at least partly to blame for the attack, and told Edward II that Bruce had perpetrated outrages on the cardinals and seized and carried off the bishop of Durham. He also informed the cardinals that Bruce had torn up letters the pope had sent him and "laid violent hands" on the bishop of Carlisle.
Who supported Gilbert Middleton, the earl of Lancaster or Robert Bruce or neither of them or someone else entirely, remains uncertain. If Lancaster was involved - and some of the men co-accused with Middleton, among them Sir John Eure, were certainly Lancaster's retainers - he escaped punishment over the episode. Middleton himself had been on apparently amicable terms with Edward II until at least January 1317, when the two men exchanged letters via a messenger called Adam Shirlok. So what persuaded him to commit such an appalling act of violence against the king's friends? Perhaps Middleton was one of the knights of Edward’s household annoyed at his promotion of favourites - Roger Damory and Hugh Audley were extremely prominent and influential at court in 1317, and some of Edward's knights had staged a theatrical protest against his favouritism at Westminster that June - and equally annoyed that Edward failed to protect his subjects in the north from Scottish invasions. Scalacronica claims that Middleton was angry with Edward for arresting his cousin Adam Swinburn, who had "spoken too frankly" to the king about the state of the north. We can probably also see the attack in light of the general rise in lawlessness which followed the Great Famine of 1315-17. Presumably, Middleton (and Lancaster?) had no idea that the Beaumont brothers were accompanied by the two cardinals; he is hardly likely to have dared attack the party otherwise.
Lancaster met the cardinals and escorted them to Boroughbridge, where the earls of Pembroke and Hereford met them and took them to Edward II in York. Edward had heard of the attack by 12 September, on which day he ordered Hamo de Felton, parson of 'Luchham' church (I'm not sure where 'Luchham' is), to keep Gilbert Middleton's son, who was already in Felton's custody, safely, "under pain of forfeiture." On 20 September Edward told all his sheriffs to proclaim the news that he would punish the "sons of iniquity" who had "lately committed robberies and outrages." The king's squires William Felton, Thomas Heton and Robert Horncliffe captured Middleton and his brother John at Mitford Castle in January 1318 - "through treachery of his own people," says Scalacronica - and sent them to Edward, who ordered Simon Driby and thirteen other squires to deliver them to the Tower of London. Edward rewarded Middleton's captors with a generous income, up to fifty marks a year each, from the issues of Middleton's lands.
On 24 January 1318, royal justices sentenced Gilbert Middleton to execution, and he suffered a terrible death by hanging, drawing and quartering. Although some chronicles say that Middleton's brother John shared this awful fate, an inquisition taken in November 1319 proves that John was still alive then. For their part, Cardinals Luca and Gaucelin remained in England until late August 1318, and Edward II informed them in November 1320, not entirely helpfully, that he was unable to restore their stolen goods as he did not know where they were to be found.
Middleton was the only man who suffered the ultimate penalty for the attack, though dozens of others took themselves off to the pope to get his absolution for their role in it: Edward granted a safe-conduct on 12 September 1318 to sixty-two men "who are going to the Court of Rome on account of acts perpetrated in the Marches of Scotland, whereby they feel their consciences wounded." He renewed the safe-conduct in August and October 1319 for one Marmaduke Basset - known by the nickname Duket - who "returned without bringing with him sufficient evidence of his absolution," and thus had to travel to Avignon a second time. The attack on the cardinals combined with the fact that Gilbert Middleton was a household knight of Edward II's is sometimes seen as 'evidence' that Edward 'favoured lawless personalities', a discussion I'll save for another post.
- Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-17, 1317-21; Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-18, 1318-23; Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-42; Foedera, vol. II, i; Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326; Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-48.
- Vita Edwardi Secundi Monachi Cuiusdam Malmesberiensis, ed. N. Denholm-Young; Scalacronica: The Reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III as Recorded by Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, knight, ed. Herbert Maxwell; The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell.
- Thomas Stapleton, ‘A Brief Summary of the Wardrobe Accounts of the tenth, eleventh, and fourteenth years of King Edward the Second’, Archaeologia, 26 (1836); Michael Prestwich, ‘Gilbert de Middleton and the Attack on the Cardinals, 1317’, in Warriors and Churchmen in the High Middle Ages: Essays Presented to Karl Leyser, ed. T. Reuter (1992)