03 February, 2011

Two Letters To The King Of France

A post about two very different letters sent by Edward II to his father-in-law Philippe IV of France in the summer of 1309, only four days apart.  The twenty-five-year-old king was then attending parliament at Stamford, Lincolnshire; Piers Gaveston had recently returned to the country after his year-long exile in Ireland (Edward travelled to Chester to meet him on 27 June) and was restored to his earldom of Cornwall on 5 August.  Edward II was also planning a campaign against Robert Bruce, which in the end was postponed for a year and on which only three of his earls - Piers, Edward's nephew Gloucester and nephew-in-law Surrey - were to accompany him.  In the middle of all this, Edward discovered, to his great annoyance, that his father-in-law's envoy to England had acknowledged Robert Bruce as king of Scotland and had endeavoured to hide this fact from Edward: hence the second letter.

1) This is a letter Edward sent from Stamford on 30 July 1309, excusing himself from travelling to meet Philippe because of his ongoing 'business' or 'affairs' (busoignes) in Scotland.  In both letters, I've tried to keep as close to the original punctuation, choice of word and word order as possible, to give a good flavour of how it reads:

"To the very excellent and very puissant prince, his very dear and very beloved father, Ph' by the grace of GOD noble king of France, Edward by the same grace [king of England] etc, greetings and very dear affection.

Very dear sire, we have well understood the letters of authority which you sent us by Sir Mahen de Varennes, your knight, bearer of these [letters], and what Sir Mahen has told us on your behalf.

And regarding, sire, what he has said to us from you, by this same authority, that you would like to know if we would be willing to accept another day for the meeting between you and us;

You, sire, will know, by our messages, which will come to you later, that our affairs in Scotland are in such condition, that we cannot well proceed towards other parts [nous ne nous porroms bonement treire vers autres parties] until we are advised otherwise.

Regarding that which you have sent us by your letters, that you hold us for excused, we thank you dearly [nous vous mercioms cherement].

And, very dear sire and father, we pray you that it will please you to hold us excused, that the said Sir Mahen has been so delayed in attending to this reply; we will soon make known to you the reason.

Very dear sire and father, may our Lord, of our grace, grant you a good and long life.

Given at Stamford, the 30th day of July."

2) A letter Edward wrote four days later on 3 August, in an entirely different tone:

"To the king of France, the king, greetings [A Roy de France le Roy, saluz].  We are sending to your highness two pairs of letters, enclosed within these, which Sir Mahen de Varennes, your knight, who carried your letters to us, wrote in his own hand to Sir Robert Bruce [sire Robert de Brus]; of which one is addressed to him as earl of Carrick; and the other as king of Scotland [Roi d'Escoce]; in a manner which appears more fully in these same letters;

And this letter, which is addressed to the said Robert as earl of Carrick, the said Mahen sent in a box, openly; and the other he had concealed in the breeches [brael] of the bearer of the aforesaid letters.

This act, sire, we hold suspicious, the manner of delivery as well as the matters contained within one of these letters;

In this, sire, kindly have regard for the honour of yourself and of us.

And, sire, for this reason, the said Sir Mahen has been delayed with our response to the last letters which you sent to us by him.

Given at Stamford, the third day of the month of August."

On the same day that Edward wrote (or dictated, rather) the first letter, he summoned his army to muster at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 29 September.  On 21 August, however, he appointed his ally Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster - father-in-law of Edward's nephew the earl of Gloucester and of Robert Bruce himself -"to treat with Robert de Brus for terms of peace."

We have to be cautious when using letters as a source to tell us something about a person's character, attitudes etc, as Edward II simply couldn't have had the time to read or listen to all (or even to many) of the letters sent out in his name and most of them are merely conventional, but it's very difficult to imagine that his clerks would have dared to write in such an abrupt fashion to the king of France unless Edward had told them to.

Foedera 1307-1327, pp. 78-79; Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland 1308-1348, p. 19; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-1313, p. 189; Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 224-225.


Susan Higginbotham said...

Love the business of the letter being concealed in breeches!

Paula Lofting said...

Its amazing to be able to hear the words of high profile people across the passing of time. Thankyou for this post Kathryn!

Kathryn Warner said...

Susan, that's great, isn't it? I do wonder how the letter was discovered1

Thanks, Paula! Really glad you liked the post!

Anerje said...

I love the differing 'tone' in the letters! Great stuff!

Carla said...

I suppose it might have been in a belt pouch, a bit like a money belt, which would be a more obvious place to search (and less unpleasant for the messenger). Isn't there a letter describing the death of Llewellyn the Last that says something about finding Llewelyn's seal 'in the breeches of Llewellyn', which I always took to mean something like a money belt.

Quite a sharp difference in tone between the letters! Do we know how Philip reacted to the second one? I imagine he wouldn't have been best pleased to be addressed so curtly. Robert Bruce got his 'King of Scotland' title acknowledged after Bannockburn.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Anerje! (And see, I managed to get Piers into this post, too...;)

Carla, yes, that makes sense! I haven't seen Philippe's response to Edward's second letter, unfortunately, though I can't imagine he was very pleased! Pope John XXII didn't acknowledge Robert Bruce as king until January 1324, and refused yet again in the autumn of 1325 to lift Robert's excommunication, for which Edward thanked him.