31 January, 2009

Edward II and Minstrels

Here are a few details about minstrels and other performers in Edward II's era. This is a very, very long way from being an exhaustive list, of course - that would fill a book! Unfortunately, the kind of songs or music that minstrels performed before the king is rarely stated, but I've given as much detail as I can.

Anyone interested in medieval music definitely needs to read Richard Rastall's fantastic thesis 'Secular Musicians in Late Medieval England', where some of the info in this post comes from. It's available online: Part 1 and Part 2. There's also Constance Bullock-Davies' Menestrellorum Multitudo: Minstrels at a Royal Feast (1978) and A Register of Royal and Baronial Domestic Minstrels 1272-1327 (1986).

To get an idea of how generous Edward was to his minstrels, bear in mind that a typical wage for the majority of people in the country was 1 to 3 pence a day. So although Edward giving a pound to a minstrel might not sound like much, it was a few months' wages for most people.

£1 = 240 pence, or 20 shillings
1 mark = 160 pence, or 13 shillings and 4 pence

July 1290: 426 minstrels perform at the wedding of Edward's sister Margaret to the future duke of Brabant.

Christmas 1296: 12-year-old Edward gives 2 shillings to the famous acrobatic dancer (or tumbler, saltatrix) Matilda Makejoy, who "made her vaults before the Lord Edward, the king's son" at Ipswich, almost certainly naked. Matilda was still performing for Edward in 1311.

c. 1300: A bawdy, farcical play (in English) called The Interlude of the Clerk and the Damsel appears, wherein a clerk unsuccessfully practises his seduction techniques on a young woman. A fragment survives, including the line "but his arse ly withouten door". Given that Edward II loved watching plays, I wonder if he ever saw this one.

5 January 1303: Edward (aged 18) gives half a mark to 3 clerks of Windsor playing interludes before him.

February 1303: Edward goes swimming with his fool Robert Bufford, and has to pay him compensation for playing a trick on him in the water.

May-October 1303: the Genoese violists Bestrudus and Beruche spend a few months in England, and receive £5 and 16 shillings from Edward. They return in August 1304, and get another 30 shillings from him.

1305: Edward sends "Richard, our rhymer" to the abbot of Shrewsbury, to learn the 'crwth' or crowd. In 1302/03, a man called 'Teguareth le Crouther' lives in Edward's household and is given shoes for the entire year, and Edward has another crowder called Matthew in 1305/06.

1305-06: a taborer called Martinettus is in the household of Edward's little half-brothers Thomas and Edmund. Edward I pays 11 pence to repair his drums, which the boys have broken.

22 May 1306: for the knighting of Edward of Caernarfon and nearly 300 others, Edward I spends a total of 200 marks on hundreds of minstrels. This includes a payment of five marks each to men called the king of Champagne, King Capenny (also called Capiny, King of the Heralds), King Baisecue, King Marchis and King Robert. Other performers are:

- The famous Matilda Makejoy
- Pearl in the Eye (Perle in the Eghe; given in English, not French, in the original. Apparently he was blind, suffering from cataracts.)
- Reginald 'The Liar' (le Menteur)
- Lion de Normanville
- "The minstrel with the bells"
- "The gitarer"
- Grendone, Mellet, Fairfax and Monet (identified only by their first names)
- Bandettus le Tabourer, Hugethun the harper and Janin the organist
- Edward of Caernarfon's harper Amekyn, his crowder Nagary, his trumpeters Januche and Gillot and his "five boy-trumpeters"

25 and 26 May 1306: 2 harpers and various other minstrels perform at the weddings of Edward's nieces Jeanne de Bar and Eleanor de Clare to the earl of Surrey and Hugh Despenser at Westminster. Edward I, who attends both weddings, pays them over £37.

1306-07: in his first year as king, Edward II has 4 'young minstrels' in his household: Little Andrew, John Scot, Roger the trumpeter and Francekinus the nakerer.

17 September 1307: Edward gives £2 to his trumpeter Richard to help him build a house.

1 November 1307: Edward pays a total of £20 for minstrels at the wedding of Piers Gaveston and Margaret de Clare. (He also gives 5 shillings to a local resident for "damage done by the king's party" to his property.)

September 1310: Edward gives 2 shillings to the harper Willekyn Fox to buy himself a furellus, whatever that is.

March 1311: Edward pays his minstrel Grillo 31 shillings and 4p, which he owes him for wages.

20 February 1312: Edward pays 40 marks to celebrate the purification of his niece Margaret Gaveston after the birth of her daughter Joan. The guests are entertained by 'King Robert'.

30 June/7 July 1312: on his way from York to London after Piers Gaveston's death, Edward gives a pound each to the minstrels Graciosus and Janin 'the Magician' (or 'Conjuror', tregettour), the former performing before him at Howden and the latter in the king's chamber at Swineshead Priory.

16 August 1312: Edward gives 3 shillings to John of Bologna, "making his minstrelsy with snakes before the king" at Canterbury.

12 October 1312: the oddly-named Ooghmus, minstrel of the earl of Pembroke, performs for Edward and, presumably, the heavily pregnant Queen Isabella, as they await the birth of their first child at Windsor Castle. Edward gives him £2.

20 May 1313: Edward gives "Ivo Vala the citoler and Thomas Dynys, his fellow" £4 17s 8p to buy themselves hackneys and saddles.

18 June 1313: on his French trip, Edward gives a pound to the dwarf of the count of Armagnac.

19 June 1313: here's the original entry (translated from Latin) regarding the naked dancers of a recent post: "To Bernard le Fol and 54 of his fellow actors, coming naked into the presence of the king and dancing, of the king's gift, 40s [£2]".

June 1314: Edward takes his poet, the Carmelite friar Robert Baston, with him to Bannockburn to make songs about his glorious victory. Oops. Baston is captured by the Scots and forced to write about their victory instead.

June 1314: on the way to Bannockburn, Edward, appropriately enough, listens to bagpipers, fiddlers, a trumpeter and others.

June or July 1315: Edward gives 20 ells of striped cloth to William de Forsham and 3 others "for singing before the king in his chamber at Westminster."

August 1315: During the Great Famine, Edward issues a proclamation which states, among other things, that only 2 or 3 minstrels a day should visit great households, and they should not go to "smaller people" at all - "unless requested to do so," he adds helpfully.

1 November 1316: Edward gives the very large sum of £5 to Robert Daverouns, minstrel of his second cousin Philip, prince of Achaea.

December 1318: An Ordinance for Edward's household states that he will have 2 minstrels and 2 trumpeters with him at all times and as many others as he wants, "who will make their minstrelsy before the king at all times that it will please him."

September 1319: Edward takes minstrels sent to him by his brother-in-law the king of France to the siege of Berwick.

12 May 1321: the earl of Pembroke's violist Merlin performs for the king at Westminster, 8 days after the start of the Despenser War.

After March 1322: the execution of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, inspires a song in Latin, which calls him "the blessed Thomas" and the "flower of knights," and says "the pouring out of prayers to Thomas restores the sick to health; the pious earl comes immediately to the aid of those who are feeble." Yes, that's Thomas of Lancaster. But in a world where there was a campaign to canonise Edward II *pauses for hysterical laughter*, anything is possible.

March 1322: minstrel John le Boteler, who uses the name 'Fiery King', is captured at the battle of Boroughbridge.

October 1322: Edward grants John le Boteler's forfeited houses in Pontefract to his harper William Morley, called 'King of the North'.

28 October 1322: smarting from his recent ignominious near-capture by the Scots at Rievaulx Abbey, Edward gives a pound to Sourelius, minstrel of the earl of Louth, who plays for him in York.

January 1323: Edward gives £2 to 4 clerks of Snaith, Yorkshire, for "playing interludes in the hall at Cowick before the king and Sir Hugh [Despenser]".

February 1323: gives a pound to his 'piper minstrel', Laurentin.

February 1323: Edward gives a mark to John, his nakerer. This may be the Janinus the nakerer who had perfomed for the king as early as 1303 (Edward gave him money to buy skins to cover and repair his nakers). Nakerers called Janotus and Januche also appear, possibly the same man with a variety of spellings of his name.

1323: Edward listens to northern women singing songs about Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester (killed at the battle of Evesham in 1265 fighting against Edward's father).

6 January 1325: Edward gives an Epiphany gift of 50 shillings to his minstrels, and 2 shillings to his piper Little Alein for his performance.

12 February 1325: Edward gives 20 pounds compensation (a huuuuge amount of money!) to 2 squires of his chamber, Giles of Spain and Berduk de Till, who burnt their arms - and thighs as well, in Berduk's case - while "playing before the king." What they were doing unfortunately isn't stated. This took place at Burgundy (Borgogne), a hut or cottage in the precincts of Westminster Abbey where Edward spent quite a bit of time in the last couple of years of his reign, shunning all his luxurious accommodation in and around London. Bless his little peasant heart.

24 February 1325: Thomelyn Sautriour ('psalterer') of London plays before the king in his chamber at the Tower, and receives a pound.

1331: in Edward III's reign, Roland le Fartere performs by "making a leap, a whistle and a fart." :-)

28 January, 2009

The Great Famine, 1315 to 1317

A post about the natural disaster which affected northern Europe in the early fourteenth century.

In the mid-1310s, the climate was bizarre in the extreme, and it rained heavily and constantly for much of the summer of 1314 and most of 1315 and 1316. (I wonder if it rained during the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314?) This torrential rain, inevitably, caused flooding; crops rotted away and livestock drowned in the waterlogged fields. The result was the Great Famine, which is estimated to have killed at least five per cent, and perhaps much more, of the population of England. The rest of northern Europe suffered a similar or higher death toll. The author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi, evidently unaware that this was a pan-European disaster, knew exactly where to apportion blame: on the English people themselves, who "excel other nations in three qualities, in pride, in craft, and in perjury." Therefore, "the hand of God appears to be raised against us…I firmly believe that unless the English Church had interceded for us, we should have perished long ago...All this comes from the wickedness of the inhabitants." He also blamed the fact that Saturn had been in the ascendant for three years, but now that Jupiter was about to succeed, the rain would cease and the fields be filled with abundance.

The shortage pushed up prices enormously. Anonimalle and Lanercost say that a quarter of "badly cleaned and scantly weighed" wheat cost forty shillings or more, six or eight times the normal price, Anonimalle that "two little onions" cost a penny – a few hours’ wages for most people – at Cheapside in London, while the St Albans chronicler gives the price of a quarter of salt as a staggering thirty-five shillings. (Imagine having to work half a day or more just to be able to afford two small onions!) The Sempringham annalist says "there were great floods of water throughout England, and the wheat was destroyed, and the hay also, and there was great famine and great dearth of wheat throughout the land." He gives the price of a quarter of wheat as twenty-four shillings and more, a quarter of barley as sixteen shillings and a quarter of oats as twenty shillings, many times the usual price. Such bread as was available could not satisfy hunger, as the grain was soaked from the endless rain and had to be dried in ovens before it was cooked, and contained minimal nutrients.

In March and April 1315, Edward II did his best to mitigate his subjects’ misery by ordering the price of basic foodstuffs, grain and various kinds of meat, to be regulated. According to the Anonimalle, Edward passed these regulations with the advice of his privy council and without the consent of the magnates, and the chronicler, rather unfairly, calls Edward’s council "feeble" and the regulations "foolish," claiming that the king and his advisors were trying to "deceive the common people." The Vita, on the other hand, says that the earls and barons themselves developed the regulations, "looking to the welfare of the state." Edward’s attempts to improve the situation inevitably resulted only in traders refusing to sell what few goods they had at an artificially low price. In August 1315, Edward proclaimed that the magnates of the realm should limit the number of courses served at their tables, on account of the "excessive and abundant portions of food" they were accustomed to enjoying.

According to the St Albans chronicler, when Edward visited St Albans from 10 to 12 August 1315 even he had difficulties buying bread for himself and his household. Still, the king was in a far better position than the majority of his subjects: in Northumbria, already weakened and despoiled by Scottish raids, "dogs and horses and other unclean things were eaten," says the Vita, and the St Albans chronicler says that horse meat was precious and that "fat dogs" were stolen. The port of Berwick-on-Tweed suffered particularly. Its warden, Maurice Berkeley, sent anguished letters to Edward and the royal justice William Inge between October 1315 and February 1316, telling them "no town was ever in such distress," that the garrison were deserting, dead of hunger or reduced to eating horses, and that if Edward failed to send help immediately, "the town will be lost by famine." Berkeley ended one letter by saying "Pity to see Christians living such a life."

And for others, imminent starvation drove them to far worse horrors than eating pets or horses. Rumours of cannibalism were rife, and the St Albans chronicler even claims, I hope with great exaggeration, that some people resorted to eating children. After the famine came a "severe pestilence," which claimed many more victims. Dead bodies were so numerous they could hardly be buried. In their misery and starvation, many people begged for food, stole whatever they could, and murdered others for what little food they had.

Even in a hand-to-mouth economy where food shortages were common, nothing as bad as this had ever been seen before: "Such a scarcity has not been seen in our time in England, not heard of for a hundred years," says one chronicler, and others agree, talking of misery "such as our age has never seen" and "such a mortality of men in England and Scotland through famine and pestilence as had not been heard of in our time." The unsuccessful regulations concerning the price of foodstuffs were abolished at the Lincoln parliament of early 1316, which met the approval of the Bridlington chronicler: "How contrary to reason is an ordinance on prices, when the fruitfulness or sterility of all living things are in the power of God alone, from which it follows that the fertility of the soil and not the will of man must determine the price."

The weather finally improved in 1317, and gradually the famine loosened its dread grip. But for the long-suffering inhabitants of Europe, far worse was to come: the first great outbreak of the Black Death lurked three decades round the corner.


- Vita Edwardi Secundi Monachi Cuiusdam Malmesberiensis, ed. Noel Denholm-Young (1957), pp. 63-70.
- Annales Londonienses 1195-1330, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, volume 1 (1882), pp. 238-239.
- Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon Auctore Canonico Bridlingtoniensi, in Stubbs, Chronicles, volume 2 (1883), pp. 47-48.
- The Anonimalle Chronicle 1307-41, from Brotherton Collection MS 29, ed. W. R. Childs and J. Taylor (1991), p. 90.
- Le Livere de Reis de Britanie e le Livere de Reis de Engletere, ed. John Glover (1865), pp. 331-333.
- The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell (1913), p. 217.
- Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneforde Chronica et Annales, ed. H. T. Riley (1866), pp. 92-93.
- Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 306.
- Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland 1307-1357, pp. 85, 89-91.

23 January, 2009

The Minor Misdeeds of Hugh Despenser the Younger

I know I keep failing to write the promised post on the Great Famine, but it's definitely coming soon. Definitely. In the meantime, here's a post on everyone's favourite fourteenth-century tyrant.

As well as being a pirate, extortionist and despot who took lands from vulnerable widows, who used the king's favour to make himself the richest and most powerful man in England, and who [insert your favourite Hugh Despenser the Younger crimes here], Despenser committed a series of less infamous and less serious offences...

1) In October 1311, Queen Isabella had to make alternative arrangements for transporting the baggage of Eleanor Despenser, her lady-in-waiting, because "the lord Hugh le Despenser her husband stole away from her her sumpter-horses and other carriage necessary for her at Eltham."

2) When he was constable of Odiham Castle in Hampshire between February 1320 and June 1321, Despenser removed the parker, Wiliam of Odyham, from his position. The reason? Odyham had once raised the hue and cry against Despenser's mother Isabel Beauchamp, the earl of Warwick's sister, for taking five deer from the park without a licence. Isabel Beauchamp died in May 1306. Evidently, Despenser had a long memory. As for Odyham, he had to wait until Edward III's reign to seek restitution.

3) Probably in 1325, Despenser and his allies Robert Baldock (chancellor of England) and Robert Holden (controller of Edward II's wardrobe) imprisoned 31 men at Portchester Castle for 6 or 7 days until they agreed to buy a few dozen tuns of "rotten and putrid" wine. "The men received [the wine] by force and fear against their will, and were forthwith compelled to pay the late king [Edward II] £20 therefor."

4) Edward II seized Despenser's five manors on 9 January 1310, because "he had gone to parts beyond sea contrary to the king's inhibition." On learning a few weeks later that the manors in fact belonged to Despenser the Elder, who had granted the income from them to his son "for his maintenance," he returned them (Despenser held practically no lands until his wife's share of her brother Gloucester's inheritance was given to them in November 1317, and evidently couldn't support his family properly).

5) At the Lincoln parliament of February 1316, Despenser attacked Sir John Ros, a) in the cathedral, b) in front of the king and c) on a Sunday. Oops. Apparently Ros had tried to arrest Ingelram Berenger, one of the household knights of Despenser's father, though Despenser may have been unfavourably disposed towards Ros anyway, as Ros had married Margaret Goushill, widow of Despenser's brother Philip, less than 7 months after Philip's death. Despenser punched Ros in the face repeatedly till he drew blood, and "inflicted other outrages on him in contempt of the lord king," forcing Ros to draw his sword in self-defence. Despenser later claimed, with amusing implausibility, that he had merely stretched out his hand to defend himself and accidentally hit Ros in the face with his fist, after Ros "heap[ed] outrageous insults on the same Hugh [and] taunted him with insolent words," and rushed at him with a knife. Despenser was fined the whopping sum of £10,000, which he never paid.

On the other hand, Despenser had himself been the victim of assault some years before: in late 1311, the Lords Ordainer ordered that Robert Darcy, Edmund Bacon and the other members of Edward II's household who had attacked Despenser be removed from court.

6) Also at the February 1316 parliament, Despenser claimed, not entirely unreasonably, that the dowager countess of Gloucester couldn't possibly be pregnant by her husband, who had died at Bannockburn in June 1314, and therefore, could he and his wife possibly have their share of her late brother's lands? The royal justices Geoffrey le Scrope and Gilbert Touthby told him that although the birth was delayed, "this ought not to prejudice the aforesaid pregnancy," and reprimanded him and his wife Eleanor for failing to apply to Chancery for a writ "to have the belly of the aforesaid countess inspected by knights and discreet matrons." As they had not observed due process, their negligence would redound to their own shame and prejudice.


1) British Library MS Cotton Nero C viii, folio 137d.
2) Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery) 1308-1348, no. 988; The National Archives SC 8/160/7986.
3) Calendar of Close Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 143-4, 147-8; Cal Inq Misc 1308-1348, nos. 987, 993; TNA SC 8/169/8443, SC 8/169/8437, SC 8/157/7803, SC 8/293/14641, SC 8/209/10408.
4) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 54; Cal Close Rolls 1307-1313, p. 198.
5) Parliament Rolls Of Medieval England (attack on Ros); Annales Londonienses 1195-1330, p. 200 (attack on Despenser).

16 January, 2009

Edward II's Trip To France, 1313

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.

09 January, 2009

Happy (Freezing) New Year

A Happy New Year to you all, and I hope you had a great festive season. I certainly did, having eaten approximately three times my own body weight in chocolate and mince pies and drunk enough sherry and mulled wine to sink the Titanic.

The very cold weather in Britain and Germany lately - it's minus 15 C, or 5 F, here at the moment - got me thinking about the weather in Edward II's era. Cold winters seem to have been the norm back then. The London annalist vividly describes the Great Frost of 1309/10: "There was such cold and such masses and piles of ice on the Thames and everywhere else that the poor were overcome by excessive cold." He adds that the Thames froze over so solidly, bonfires could be lit on it. The winters of 1308/09, 1310/11, 1312/13 and 1313/14 were also bitterly cold, as was the winter of 1321/22, when Edward II went on campaign against the Marcher lords who had destroyed the lands of his favourite Hugh Despenser the previous spring. The Rochester chronicler says that snow lay on the ground for most of the first three months of 1322, and when the earl of Lancaster was led out to his execution on 22 March, a jeering crowd threw snowballs at him, according to the Brut. The Bridlington chronicler says that Hugh Despenser had prostated himself in the snow before Edward a few days before Lancaster's execution, arms outstretched, begging the king not to unfurl his banners against their baronial enemies.

The Rochester chronicler also says that the icy, snowy roads impeded Edward's progress during the campaign. Evidently, there was a temporary thaw during the second week of March 1322, when the Sempringham chronicler writes that Edward lost many supplies "through a great flood of water." The thaw is confirmed in a letter by Edward himself, who announced that he had been unable to cross the Trent because of the flooding, the melted snow having presumably raised the level of the river.

The Sempringham chronicler often described climactic conditions, and thus we learn that on 1 December 1319 "there was a general earthquake in England, with great sound and much noise," on 26 January 1320 "in the morning, there was a wonderful eclipse of the moon of many various colours," and on 17 April that year, "about midnight, there were frightful thunders heard, with lightning, and immoderately high wind."

Although people must have suffered during the terrible cold - and let me say here that, soft modern person that I am, I am exceedingly grateful to live in a world with central heating - it was the exceptionally wet years of 1314 and 1315 which caused the worst suffering. The endless rain rotted crops and led to the Great Famine of 1315 to 1317, the subject of the next post.

Swans navigating the ice, New Year's Day:

Frosty sunrise in South Cumbria, 8.45am, 5 January.