22 March, 2011

Wine, Decrepitness And A Duelling Archbishop

Some fairly random, but I hope interesting, extracts from letters of 1324/25, at a time when Edward II was at war with his brother-in-law Charles IV of France over Gascony: the little-known War of Saint-Sardos.

- Some of the Englishmen sent to Gascony to aid the war effort evidently didn't think much of the place: the royal clerk Nicholas Hugate sniffily told Hugh Despenser the Younger in December 1324 that "in this country, one will find nothing except wine" (en cest pays homme ne trovera gueres fors que vyn).  [Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents (Camden third series, 87, 1954), p. 114; my translation.]

- Edward II's seneschal of Gascony from June 1323 to March 1324 was Sir Ralph Basset, who was in some way related to Hugh Despenser the Younger (who always addressed Basset as 'very dear cousin'; Hugh Despenser the Elder's mother, who was countess of Norfolk by her second marriage and died in 1281, was Aline Basset).  Ralph Basset in December 1324 advised Despenser that he should "have the treasury of our lord the king searched, to see if you might find an ancient record" pertaining to Castile, because he had "heard from some old people" (jeo ai entendu par ascunes ancienes gentz) that the kings of Castile had often claimed homage for the part of Gascony as far north as the River Dordogne.  Alfonso X had incited a rebellion in Gascony in 1253 with a view to invading and taking over the duchy, though he renounced his claims to it the following year when his half-sister Eleanor married the future Edward I.   Presumably Basset was hoping that, seventy years after the marriage of Edward II's parents, the regents of Castile would decide to fight France for a share of Gascony, a ludicrously unrealistic proposition to which Despenser did not even bother to respond in his next letter to Basset.  [Chaplais, War of Saint-Sardos, pp. 118-119, 145; my translation.]

- Ralph Basset, as early as 6 December 1323, was aware of the hostility towards Edward II and England in general in Paris, and informed Hugh Despenser the Younger of the same, in a letter which began "Sire.  I am writing to you because I do not dare write to the king."  [War of Saint-Sardos, p. 3; my translation.]

- Edward II reached out to the Spanish kings as potential military allies against France, and entered into correspondence with Jaime II of Aragon regarding a marriage alliance between their families.  His younger daughter Joan, born July 1321, was betrothed to Jaime's grandson the future Pedro IV of Aragon, who was born in September 1319.   In February 1325, Edward decided to write not to Jaime but to his son, the future Alfonso IV (Pedro IV's father), on the grounds that Jaime, then in his late fifties, "is old and decrepit and it is not certain that he is not dead."  Jaime, in fact, lived until November 1327.  [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1324-1327, p. 104.]

- Edward II's elder daughter Eleanor of Woodstock was betrothed to Alfonso XI of Castile.  Carried away by the wonderfulness of his adolescent first cousin twice removed, Edward wrote "The king rejoices greatly that providence has illuminated abundantly the boldness of Alfonsus's youth by gifts of virtues and natural and gracious good things, as widely diffused fame has made known and is as now spread to the ends of the world."  [Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, p. 344.]

- Edward wrote again to Jaime II of Aragon in September 1324, "remembering the treaties of love between his and James’ royal house that have existed for a long time."  (Edward’s eldest sister Eleanor had long been betrothed to Jaime’s elder brother Alfonso III, but he died in June 1291 before the marriage could take place, and she married the count of Bar instead.)  Edward grumbled to Jaime about Charles IV's "severity and malevolence," and asked Jaime to send men-at-arms, horsemen and footmen to aid him against Charles, so that "Charles's greed may be restrained and his pride repressed."  He sent the same letter to Alfonso XI of Castile and the regents Juan el Tuerto, Maria Díaz de Haro and her cousin Fernando.  [Close Rolls 1323-1327, pp. 313-314.]

- Edward was forced in October 1325 to send an apologetic letter to Pedro López de Luna, archbishop of Zaragoza (Saragossa, as his clerk spelt it) and primate of Spain, for his envoys' failure to present themselves or communicate their business to him, declaring himself "annoyed" by their error.  [Close Rolls 1323-1327, pp. 516-517.]

- In December 1324, Hugh Despenser the Younger told Edward II's half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent and commander of the king's forces in Gascony, that the only reason for the late arrival of the ships carrying provisions to Gascony was that "a strong wind was against them, which we cannot turn by our own command" - a statement clearly intended humorously but which also demonstrates Despenser's arrogance, with its implication that he could control everything except the weather.  [Saint-Sardos, p. 64; my translation.]  This statement was mistranslated in Natalie Fryde's Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326 (1979) as "Even I cannot control the wind."

- The earl of Kent sent Despenser a letter on 22 November 1324 which ended "Very dear and beloved nephew, may Jesus Christ of his power grant you a good and long life."  Given that Kent was one of the men who sentenced Despenser to death two years almost to the day later, that is somewhat ironic.

 - Queen Isabella, sent as an envoy to her brother Charles IV in March 1325 - sometimes considered by her fans (though not by me) to be the first stage in her Super-Duper Extra-Special Clever Cunning Plan to meet Roger Mortimer, wrest control of her son from her husband and ultimately depose him - sent a letter to Edward II on 31 March 1325, in which she called him "my very sweet heart" (mon tresdoutz coer) five times.  [Saint-Sardos, pp. 199-200.]

- One of the men Edward II sent to Gascony was Alexander Bicknor, archbishop of Dublin, who proved deeply unpopular in the duchy: Arnaud Caillau, ally of Edward and Hugh Despenser, enemy of Charles IV and probably a relative of Piers Gaveston, informed Despenser in November 1324 that the inhabitants wished that Bicknor had not come to Gascony, but stayed in Ireland instead ("vostra gent de Guasconha ne vousissent ja qe larchevesque de Dovelina fust venu au pais, anceis voudreint qe fust oras en Irlanda").  [Saint-Sardos, p. 92.]   Bicknor loathed Hugh Despenser, and claimed that only his office prevented him from challenging Despenser to a duel; Edward retaliated by sending the Dominican friar Thomas Dunheved to the pope with letters asking John XXII to depose Bicknor from his archbishopric.  The pope refused.  [Foedera 1307-1327, p. 600.]

 And, on the note of the archbishop of Dublin boasting that he wished to duel against the king's chamberlain and 'favourite', I shall end this post.  :)

15 comments:

silveragvixen said...

Love the comments about my ancestors Hugh de Spenser and Ralf Bassett, let alone Edward II...instead of just names and dates they are becoming 'people' as I gain insight into their lives...

Kathryn Warner said...

Oh, they're all your ancestors?? That's great! Yes, it's lovely when you get some insight into people of the past as individuals, isn't it, rather than just names?

Ragged Staff said...

I generally enjoy old letters (and snippets therefrom) even when I know next to nothing about the people themselves! You've gone a long way to changing that, but I'm not quite there yet...

Kathryn Warner said...

Ragged Staff, yes, I love old letters too! I was reading some of the Paston Letters a while ago, and even though I'm a bit shaky on who some of the people are, I found them completely fascinating.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Love these! I guess Hugate was craving ale instead?

Kathryn Warner said...

Probably, Susan, like a typical Englishman! :)

Elizabeth said...

Can the man just not enjoy the fact that there is good wine!? So picky, these Englishmen.

Kathryn Warner said...

:-) :-) :-)

Undine said...

I can only echo the previous comments about old letters. The more informal, seemingly trivial letters are usually the ones that teach you about the personalities of the writers. It's like peeking over their shoulders.

By the way, Kathryn, I got a good laugh from your sidebar post about being told to "get a life." I've gotten that sort of thing myself, only the phrase used was "history snob."

If I ever create another blog, I plan to use that as the title.

Kathryn Warner said...

Undine, that's a great name for a blog! And long may we continue to care about history and correcting the myths...

I especially love Hugh Despenser's letters of 1324/25 because they're drafts, with lots of words and phrases crossed out or added - so you can see exactly what was going through his mind as he dictated them. Wonderful stuff.

Kate S said...

I can only wish you could post more of these, Kathryn! And crossed-corrected drafts too. They are invaluable stuff.
And the Ralph Basset in question must be the uncle of Raiph Stafford, with whom I suppose he begun to serve, or was in his wardship, or something to that effect? That's interesting, since Ralph Stafford was a party in anti-Mortimer conspiracy in 1330. I wonder if he inherited his pro-despenser-anti-mortimer position from his uncle's loyalties, or was it a coincidence?

Kathryn Warner said...

Kate, I'll definitely post more extracts of these letters soon - it's been great to see the enthusiastic response to them! Just need to translate a bit more. :-)

I have to admit I'm not really sure of the Bassets' and Staffords' family tree *blushes*. Must check that! It's certainly possible that Stafford followed Basset's pro-Despenser/anti-Mortimer line, and he was apparently very close to the young Edward III, judging by later events.

Kate S said...

I've been doing some research on Ralph Stafford, whom I find rather fascinating. From what I found, and that is not much, to my regret, his mother Margaret Basset was Ralph Basset's sister, and since Stafford has lost his father early, he somehow came to be in his care. Later he was in Basset's retinue. There had to be strong connection with Bassets, as Ralph is obviously named after that line, his own father, if I remember correctly, was named Edmund. And one more connection: much later, Ralph occupied his Uncle's post as the seneschal of Aquitaine. Right before the campaign of Derby's, where he defended Aiguillon.
I always wondered how he really felt towards Despencers, was he really loyal to them, or just against Mortimer, like Henry of Lancaster, for example, who was against both of them.

Anerje said...

Haven't been able to get on-line this week, so am late for this post! Some great little details hidden away in these letters!

Gabriele C. said...

Looks like several of us need to get lives. :D