07 July, 2009

Edward II Should Have Been Born...

...a fisherman on the Thames. He really, truly should. There are countless references to fishermen - and women - in his chamber journal of 1326, and Edward spent much of that summer pootling up and down the Thames and other waterways west of London chatting to fishermen and women and giving them presents. There are also more references than I could ever count regarding the purchase of fishing-nets for the king's household.

This is my fourth and last post on the chamber journal of Edward II, the king who declared at his abdication in January 1327 "I greatly lament that I have so utterly failed my people, but I could not be other than I am." And what he was was utterly unconventional - as I hope these blog posts about his activities in 1325/26 go some way to demonstrating.

- Edward gave two shillings to John de Walton on 25 July 1326, who "sang before the king [chaunta deuant le Roi] every time he passed by water through these parts," and also gave Edward a present of loach. John The Singing Fisherman!

- Edward gave his valet/fisherman Edmund 'Monde' Fisher a gift of ten shillings on 12 June 1326 towards the costs of his illness, maybe the same illness that was then cutting a swathe through the king's household, but Monde sadly died the following day. Edward gave a pound to his widow Isabelle and ten shillings to his daughter Joan - the women received the money "in the king's presence" - and granted permission for Monde's son, his page Little Will Fisher, to go home with two shillings for his expenses. On 25 July, Edward encountered Monde's widow Isabelle (or Sibille) again, near Sheen - the same day he saw John The Singing Fisherman - and she gave him and his niece Eleanor Despenser a present of loach. He gave her a present of five shillings.

- on 13 and 14 July at Chertsey and Isleworth, Edward gave cash gifts of between two and five shillings each to six men and one woman who had brought him flounder, roach, unspecified other fish and chickens. As he so often did, he handed over the cash with his own hands.

- he gave five shillings on 26 July to Edward of Kennington, who had brought him two pike, "to repair his house."

- as well as fish, Edward liked seafood. He gave a pound to his purveyor William Wythe on 29 July for bringing him crabs and prawns, and "said that for a long time nothing had been so much to his satisfaction." I have a reference somewhere, which I can't find at the moment, to Edward giving an equally generous gift to an oystermonger for bringing him oysters that he really enjoyed.

- he gave six pence on 24 July to Jack le Frenche of Walton, who "brought to the king by his command water from a well" - it was a hot summer - six pence to Robyn atte Hethe, "who suffers from a great illness," and three pence to Will de Pykingham, who retrieved a knife one of Edward's squires had dropped in the river.

- Edward sent one pomegranate each to two members of Hugh Despenser the Younger's household on 9 June, who had been left behind ill at Saltwood in Kent: his chamberlain Clement Holditch and his clerk Richard Navely.

- Edward celebrated the Nativity of St John the Baptist, 24 June 1326, by playing dice with Sir Giles Beauchamp at the Tower of London. He spent three shillings.

- the eccentric king spent quite a bit of time in 1325 and 1326 at 'Burgundy', his hut or cottage at Westminster. On 15 July, he paid twenty-eight men for cleaning the ditches there "in the king's presence."

- 26 July 1326: "Item, paid to Will the gardener of Kenilworth who came to talk to the king on some business touching him, of the king's gift for his expenses in returning to the said Kenilworth, three shillings."

- the king's chamberlain and favourite Hugh Despenser was away from Edward yet again in late July 1326, having gone to Wales, where Edward sent him letters. Those two were apart far more often than I'd ever imagined.

- on the other hand, Edward's niece Eleanor Despenser was with the king, yet again. He spent two days at Sheen with her in July, then they travelled together by water to Byfleet, Edward spending eighteen pence on roach and dace for her. She appears so often in the chamber journal that Edward's clerks sometimes referred to her merely as 'my lady', with no name necessary.

- the king went from the Tower of London on 20 July to visit Hugh Despenser's newly-married nephew-in-law Robert Wateville at his house without Aldgate. Robert was ill, and received forty marks from Edward.

- Edward went stag-hunting at Walmer on 30 July. His cook Morris (spelt Moryz) was riding in front of him and kept falling off his horse, though why is not clear - intentionally, to amuse the king, or unintentionally because he was ill? Anyway, Morris received a pound because "the king laughed greatly." Either this reflects well on Edward for still having a sense of humour and being generous, or badly if he was laughing at someone too ill to stay on his horse (how cruel!)

- Edward bought some cloth for himself on 3 August - I still need to do some work on that entry, as it's hard to read and there are a few words I don't know, but it included 'vermilion silk decorated with silver'.

- on the same day, he bought a habergeon or sleeveless coat of chain-mail for a pound, also spending three shillings and sixpence having his sword repaired and 'improved' and getting a chape, a cap or cover for the point of the sword, made. None of this did him any good when the invasion came, of course.

- in May 1326 at Down Ampney in Wiltshire, various lovely things were delivered to Edward: a gold crown with fourteen rubies and emeralds; a silver crown decorated with artificial jewels; a gold chaplet; a hat of vermilion velvet with a "vine of gold" and bells; a white velvet hat lined with pure miniver; and another hat of vermilion velvet "powdered with diverse animals." And lots of other gorgeous items. Edward may not have acted like a king, but he certainly looked like one. I wonder if he wore all this finery when handing over money to fishermen or watching a group of men clean ditches.

All these details bring Edward II and the realities of his life close to me. Whatever anyone else might think of him, and there does seem to be an awful lot of negativity about him online - lots of it, I have to say, not really justified - to me he was utterly wonderful, and I adore him. So there.


Susan Higginbotham said...

Love the bit about John the singing fisherman! Wonder if he sang about fish.

Jules Frusher said...

As much as I liked Edward before - these entries make me like him even more. It seems that he really liked the people he chose to spend time with and was concerned with their everyday lives and families too - what a lovely bloke!

Rowan said...

I totally agree with Lady D.
And I guess Ned would have spent a much happier life being a fisherman.

Clement Glen said...

There is so much detail in these manuscripts. More than I ever thought. It gives us such a wonderful opportunity to glimpse into the lives of these people and put the records straight.

Thank you Alianore for sharing this with us. Are you still going to start a new website?

Kate Plantagenet said...

I am sure Edward loved watching 28 men dig ditches for him. It was half way through July - I am sure they had their shirts off.....*winks*

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks all for the comments!

Lady D is hard at work on the website - coming soon!

Carla said...

He was certainly a character. Just reading these entries you can see immediately how some people were captivated by him, and also why others thought him completely hopeless.