25 April, 2011

Happy Birthday And Happy Easter

Happy Birthday to Edward II, who was born on 25 April 1284 and is thus 727 years old today!  Looking good for his age, isn't he...?  :-)  It's also the birthday of King Louis IX of France in 1214; Edward II was seventy years younger to the day than Louis, who was both his father's uncle by marriage (Louis's wife Marguerite being the elder sister of Edward I's mother Eleanor of Provence) and his wife Isabella's great-grandfather.

Today is of course also Easter Monday, and I thought I'd take a quick look in this post at where Edward was for every Easter of his reign and what he was up to at that time.  Oh, he had a lovely tradition on Easter Monday, inherited from his father: if he was caught in bed that morning, his 'captors' had the right to drag him out, and he had to pay them a large ransom to free himself.  In 1311, Edward paid twenty pounds to three of his household knights who dragged him out of bed, and in 1312, gave forty marks to Isabella of France's damsels and ladies for 'capturing' him. 

Here are the dates of Easter Monday, and what Edward was up to:

1308, 15 April: Edward was at Windsor Castle with Piers Gaveston, and fortified the place against his barons, who were gathering at Westminster with the intent of forcing Edward to exile Piers.  (Which he duly had to do a few weeks later, to his great fury.) 

1309, 31 March: Edward was at Langley in Hertfordshire, his favourite residence, plotting to bring Piers back to England.  (Which he duly did a few weeks later, to his great joy. :)

1310, 20 April: Edward was at Windsor, having been recently forced to consent to the formation of a group of barons and bishops called the Lords Ordainer, who were to have sweeping powers to reform his household.

1311, 12 April: at Berwick-on-Tweed with Isabella, avoiding the Lords Ordainer and attempting a military campaign against Robert Bruce, which failed because Robert (sensibly) refused to meet an English army in the field and undertook guerrilla warfare instead.  Meanwhile, the Lords Ordainer in London were preparing the Ordinances, which would limit Edward's sovereign powers considerably and force Piers Gaveston into exile yet again.

1312, 27 March: at York, with the newly-pregnant Isabella and - guess who? - Piers Gaveston, who had returned to England from his third exile some weeks before.  Edward was, as he had been the previous year, staying (or is 'skulking' a better word?) in the north to avoid his baronial opponents.

1313, 16 April: at Windsor, avoiding the Westminster parliament which should have started on 18 March - it was on 7 April postponed until 6 May - by pretending to be ill ("the king did not come at the appointed day, detained, as was thought, by a feigned illness," says the Vita Edwardi Secundi).

1314, 8 April: at Ely Cathedral, quizzing the monks as to their supposed possession of the body of St Alban when he'd just seen it in St Albans Abbey.  Heh.  "You know that my brothers of St Albans believe that they possess the body of the martyr. In this place the monks say that they have the body of the same saint. By God’s soul, I want to see in which place I ought chiefly to pay reverence to the remains of that holy body."  You tell 'em, Edward.

1315, 24 March: at Windsor, having recently attended the parliament which regulated the price of basic foodstuffs in the early months of the Great Famine.

1316, 12 April: at Windsor, shortly after the rebellion of Llywelyn Bren and shortly before the rebellion in Bristol came to a head.

1317, 4 April: at the palace of Clarendon, supposedly plotting with Roger Damory and his other court favourites to annoy his cousin Thomas of Lancaster by abducting Lancaster's wife Alice de Lacy, shortly before Damory married Edward's rich widowed niece Elizabeth de Clare.

1318, 24 April: at Wallingford Castle, which had formerly belonged to Piers Gaveston, a few days after some of his barons and bishops met Thomas of Lancaster at Leicester in an attempt to improve the dire relations between the two most powerful men in the country.  Isabella was then heavily pregnant with their elder daughter Eleanor of Woodstock.

1319, 9 April: at Kirkham, around the time that Edward embarrassed himself by asking the pope for permission to have himself re-anointed with the holy oil of St Thomas Becket, in the belief that this would bring his political troubles to an end.  (In a remarkably honest letter to John XXII, Edward condemned his own gullibility and "dove-like simplicity.")

1320, 31 March: at Eltham in Kent with Isabella, waiting for safe-conducts from her brother Philippe V of France to arrive, for them to travel to Amiens so that Edward could pay homage to Philippe for his French lands.  The safe-conducts failed to arrive, so they returned to Westminster a week later, and finally travelled to Amiens in late June.

1321, 20 April: at Gloucester, attempting unsuccessfully to negotiate with the Marcher lords, who began attacking the lands of the two Hugh Despensers on 4 May.

1322, 12 April: at Pontefract Castle, formerly Thomas of Lancaster's, a few weeks after the successful campaign against the Contrariants and Lancaster's execution, and before parliament opened in York in May.

1323, 28 March: at Langley, not long after Edward returned south after a long sojourn in Yorkshire.  This was the year when it all started to go horribly wrong for him, as I mentioned recently.

1324, 16 April: also at Langley, nine days before Edward's fortieth birthday.  By now the king was, brilliantly, openly feuding with several of his bishops and his cousin Henry of Lancaster, while war with his brother-in-law Charles IV broke out this year and the king and the Despensers were wildly unpopular.  Bravo, Edward.

1325, 8 April: at Beaulieu Abbey, a few weeks after Queen Isabella sailed for France to negotiate with her brother Charles IV; Edward would never see his wife again.  She sent him a letter on 31 March, calling him "my very sweet heart" (mon tresdoutz coer).

1326, 24 March: at Kenilworth, also formerly his cousin Thomas of Lancaster's.  Crisis crisis crisis, with Isabella and Roger Mortimer's invasion expected any time and war with France breaking out again.  Edward did find time a few weeks before Easter to found Oriel College at Oxford, however, and on 11 March, gave money to his painter Jack of St Albans for dancing on a table and making him laugh.

Easter Monday fell on 13 April in 1327; Sir Edward of Caernarfon, formerly King Edward II, spent it at his new home of Berkeley Castle - not entirely voluntarily, shall we say - where he had been moved from Kenilworth a few days previously.

18 April, 2011

Plotting To Free Edward II, 1327 And 1330

In the early autumn of 1327, a group of Welsh knights plotted to release the former Edward II from captivity at Berkeley Castle - which appears to have been unrelated to the plot of the Dunheved brothers and their allies to free Edward that summer.  The ringleaders were Rhys ap Gruffydd of South Wales, lord of Narberth, sheriff of Carmarthen and formerly a squire of Edward II's chamber (see here for more about him), and Sir Gruffydd Llwyd of North Wales, lord of Dinorwig and Tregarnedd, sheriff of Anglesey and Merioneth.  Rhys (with half a dozen of their allies) fled to Scotland after the failure of the plot, while Gruffydd was imprisoned at Caernarfon Castle for eighteen months.  [1]

Edward II's loyal Scottish friend Donald, earl of Mar, Robert Bruce's nephew, appears to have been deeply involved in the plots to free Edward from Berkeley in 1327.  Donald - captured in 1306 as a child by Edward I and imprisoned at Bristol Castle - remained totally loyal to Edward II throughout his reign and only returned to his homeland at the time of Edward's capture in November 1326.  In the summer of 1327, he led one of the columns of his uncle Robert's army against the new regime, and Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer evidently considered him a great threat: in July and August 1327, they ordered the arrest of two of his supporters in Staffordshire merely for sending letters to him, and also ordered the arrest of Richard le Brun, former mayor of Chester, for adherence to Donald.  (The Dunheved brothers, perhaps not coincidentally, were in Chester in early June 1327.)  In the summer of 1327, Donald's adherents were said to be gathering in the Marches "to do and procure the doing of what evils they can against the king [Edward III] and his subjects" and to have returned from Scotland "to do what mischief they can to the king and his realm."  [2]

What's interesting is that Donald of Mar, Rhys ap Gruffydd and Gruffydd Llwyd's son Ieuan (future governor of the Channel Islands) were also involved in the earl of Kent's plot of 1329/30 to free his half-brother Edward - supposedly dead since September 1327 - from Corfe Castle.  [3]  William Melton, archbishop of York, sent a messenger to Donald to inform him that Edward was alive; Donald duly promised Melton that he would come to England with an army of 40,000 men when instructed by the archbishop.  [4]  (Rather a large army to free a dead man, you might think.)  Rhys ap Gruffydd met other enemies of Roger Mortimer and Isabella in Paris and Brabant - whose duke was Edward II's nephew - who were also plotting an invasion of England.  On 8 August 1330, Roger Mortimer appointed himself, as justice of Wales, to arrest and imprison any followers of Rhys, who was said to be "propos[ing] to enter the realm with a multitude of armed men"; it was said that many people in Wales were "of his confederacy."  [5]

This planned invasion never took place, but caused panic in England, where Roger Mortimer and Isabella were by now deeply unpopular: the Brut chronicle wrote that the country was "ful sore adrade, and almost destroiede," and "bigan the communite of Engeland for to hate Isabel the Quene...".  [6]  In mid-July 1330, Mortimer and Isabella ordered all the sheriffs in the country to array knights, squires and others who bore arms; they should prepare themselves as speedily as possible "to set out against certain contrariants and rebels who lately withdrew secretly from the realm and who have assembled a multitude of armed men in parts beyond the sea and have prepared ships of war and other things and who propose entering the realm to aggrieve the king and his people."  Other arrays were ordered in late July and August against "certain rebels who lately withdrew from the country by stealth."  [7]

As well as Edward II's good Welsh and Scottish friends, there were plenty of English men keen to free him from captivity.  In 1330, they included the bishop and mayor of London; William la Zouche, lord of Ashby, who had besieged Hugh Despenser the Younger's castle of Caerphilly in 1326/27 with Hugh's son inside; Malcolm Musard; William Aune; Giles of Spain; and many dozens of others.


1) See my previous post, which lists the sources for this paragraph.
2) Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon Auctore Canonico Bridlingtoniensi, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. ii, p. 96; H. Maxwell. ed., The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, pp. 256-257; Calendar of Close Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 142, 157, 212; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 139, 180-181, 183, 191.
3) E.M. Thompson, ed., Adae Murimuth Continuatio Chronicarum, p. 256; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1327-1337, pp. 169-170.
4) Ian Mortimer, 'The plot of the earl of Kent', in his Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies, p. 161; Seymour Phillips, Edward II, p. 567.
5) Murimuth, p. 256; Close Rolls 1330-1333, p. 51.
6) F.W.D. Brie, ed., The Brut or the Chronicles of England, vol. 1, p. 257.
7) Close Rolls 1330-1333, pp. 147, 151; Patent Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 544, 563, 570-572.

11 April, 2011

Everything Going Wrong

A post about Edward II in late 1322 and early 1323, following his humiliating flight from a Scottish army at Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire on 14 October - when he was forced to ride fifty miles to Bridlington on the coast to evade capture, leaving all his possessions behind, "to the great shame and ruin of the king and his realm" as the Anonimalle chronicle (not at all unreasonably) wailed.  For the second time in his reign - the first was after the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314,when the king left his great seal behind on the battlefield - one of Edward's seals was captured by a Scottish force he was fleeing from, and for the second time, the Scots courteously returned it.  (A writ of 27 October 1322 mentions that Edward had recovered his privy seal.)  [1]  Edward's half-brother the earl of Kent, Hugh Despenser the younger, the king's former steward John Cromwell and other men accompanied him on his flight, while John Dalton, once the executed Thomas of Lancaster's bailiff of Pickering, helped Despenser's ally Robert Baldock in some way at Rievaulx and received a reward of ten marks from the king.  [2]

Edward spent one night at Bridlington Abbey, and the abbot, Robert of Scarborough, escorted him to Burstwick the following day.  Edward had written to the abbot on 12 September, thanking him warmly for the two carts and eight horses he had provided for Edward's disastrous expedition in Scotland and returning them, adding that the abbot would "find him [Edward] his most gracious lord when he has affairs at court."  The Bridlington chronicler, who might have seen Edward or talked to members of his retinue, asks rhetorically "What worse fate could befall the English than to behold their king fleeing from place to place in the face of the Scots?"  [3]  After his flight from Rievaulx, Edward spent late October and early November in York, where he gave - among many other gifts - a pound to the earl of Louth (John de Bermingham)'s minstrel Sourelius for performing before him, two pounds to a monk of Rievaulx to buy himself a habit and nine pence to Litel Wille Fissher (whose father Monde was also in the king's household) and Wille de Donestaple, pages of his chamber, to buy themselves shoes.  [4]

Edward probably saw the interesting phenomenon on 31 October recorded by the Sempringham annalist and the Brut: the sky "of a colour like blood," which supposedly lasted from Terce to Vespers, or nine a.m. to sunset.  [5]  He spent the second week of November at Tutbury in Staffordshire, forfeited to the Crown by the earl of Lancaster and where his great favourite Roger Damory had died the previous March.  On the way back to York, Edward stayed at Thorne near Doncaster, where he gave two shillings each to ten fishermen "who fished in the king’s presence and took great pike, great eels and a large quantity of other fish."  His chamber account also records a payment of ten shillings to John Burnet for a small boat "bought from him in the king’s presence," and two pounds to the Carmelite friar Walter Mordon, "whose mass the king often heard in the chapel" at Temple Hirst.  The account sheds light on Edward's enjoyment of 'low' pursuits and fondness for the company of the lowborn: for example, he went to the forge at Temple Hirst to talk to his blacksmith, John Cole.  [6]

The king decided to spend the winter in the north, and on 27 December, once more ordered a muster of his army at York on 2 February 1323 - a campaign destined never to take place (he would never fight in Scotland again).  Edward spent Christmas 1322 at York, and ate porpoise, sturgeon, swans, peacocks, herons, pigeons, venison and wild boar, among much else.  He paid two women for singing for him in the garden of the Franciscans on 26 December, presumably a mild day.  [7]  Hugh Despenser was with him, but Isabella of France - perhaps still angry at what she chose to see as their 'abandonment' of her at Tynemouth - apparently was not: Edward gave Jack Stillego ten shillings on 19 December for bringing him letters from his wife, and there is little evidence of other contact between the couple for the next few months.  [8]  Four days after receiving the queen's letters, Edward informed various (unspecified) sheriffs that Isabella was going on pilgrimage at "diverse places within the realm" until the following autumn, and granted writs of aid to eighteen members of her household "to provide lodging for her company and horses."  [9]

Isabella's whereabouts for the next few months are rather obscure for the most part, though there's a romantic notion that she spent some of this time visiting and otherwise aiding Roger Mortimer, imprisoned at the Tower of London.  (And, according to several novelists, having hot sex with him.  Riiiiiight.)  Quite how the queen of England of all people was meant to have gone into Mortimer's cell without anyone in the Tower, a very busy place, ever noticing, I cannot imagine - but there you go, that's the theory.  Make of it what you will.  She certainly spent some time at the Tower in early 1323, in the company of Hugh Despenser's wife and her niece by marriage, Eleanor de Clare. The queen wrote a letter to the treasurer on 17 February, from the Tower, asking him to ensure that her "dear and beloved cousin" Joan Mortimer (née de Geneville) received promptly the money allocated for her sustenance.  This has sometimes been seen as evidence of her collusion with Joan's husband Roger, with whom the queen began a relationship in late 1325.  Although it is possible that Mortimer smuggled a message to Isabella asking for her help, it is equally likely that the queen was motivated by concern for a (partly-French) noblewoman who was her distant cousin.  Eleanor de Clare also wrote a letter on Joan's behalf, on the same date and from the Tower; I think we can safely say that Eleanor was not colluding with Roger Mortimer.  [10]

Edward II, meanwhile, remained in Yorkshire with Hugh Despenser until 19 March 1323, when he began to make his way back south.  On 7 January, he gave two pounds to four clerks for playing "interludes" before himself and Hugh Despenser in the great hall at Cowick, and spent three shillings playing dice.  On 4 February, he had to pay fourpence to replace a key which opened a chest of money, "which the king himself lost" (q' le Roi mesmes perdist).  [11]  More and more problems beset the troubled, unpopular and increasingly tyrannical king in 1323: Andrew Harclay's treason; a near-escape from Wallingford Castle by some of the Contrariants imprisoned there; a remarkable royal vendetta which he carried out against several of his bishops; persistent reports of miracles at the execution sites of several Contrariants; Roger Mortimer's escape from the Tower; and conflict with his brother-in-law Charles IV of France which would ultimately end in war in 1324.  Edward II's troubled reign was becoming ever more chaotic and beginning its final descent towards his deposition in January 1327...


1) The Anonimalle Chronicle, 1307-1334, ed. W. R. Childs and J. Taylor, p. 112; Foedera 1307-1327, p. 498.
2) Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon Auctore Canonico Bridlingtoniensi, in W. Stubbs, Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 2, p. 79; James Conway Davies, 'The First Journal of Edward II’s Chamber', English Historical Review, 30 (1915), p. 676.
3) Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland 1308-1348, p. 143; Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon, pp. 79-80.
4) Rastall, Richard, 'Secular Musicians in Late Medieval England' (PhD thesis, University of Manchester, 1968), part 2, p. 70; Davies, 'First Journal', 675-676.
5) Le Livere de Reis de Britanie e le Livere de Reis de Engletere, ed. John Glover, p. 347; The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F. W. D. Brie, vol. 1, p. 228.
6) Davies, 'First Journal', pp. 676-678; The National Archives E 101/379/17.
7) Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp 687, 690 (muster), Mary Saaler, Edward II 1307-1327, p. 116 (food); E 101/379/17 (singers).
8) Davies, 'First Journal', p. 678.
9) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-1324, pp. 227, 229.
10) Isabella's letter: TNA SC 1/35/45; Eleanor's: SC 1/37/4.
11) Davies, 'First Journal', pp. 678-679; E 101/379/17.

06 April, 2011


Oh dear, I've really been neglecting the blog lately!  :(  I don't even have a proper post today, either.  Apologies; life seems to be getting in the way at the moment.

So in the absence of a post about Edward II or an aspect of his reign or someone else who lived then, here are a few links to other sites:

- Alan Flower of History and the Sock Merchant hosted an excellent History Carnival recently.

- My blog, and Hannah's blog, get a nice mention here.

- A great post about Edward II by Martin Porter.

- I've discovered the Alternate History Discussion Board lately, which is very active and has some fascinating 'what if' threads, including: what if Edward II had been more competent and what if Edward I had outlived him?

- More generally, The Guardian has had a few articles recently about history and the teaching of it in schools; see here, here, here and here (as usual in The Guardian, the comment threads below the articles are well worth a read too).

- A production of Marlowe's play about Edward II, updated to Latin America (with Edward renamed Eduardo and Piers Gaveston Gustavo), is on at the Rose Theatre, directed by Constanza Hola Chamy.

- And last but certainly not least: The Daisy and the Bear, K. L. Clark's hilarious historical spoof set in the fifteenth century (it's brilliant; see her blog for extracts), is now available to buy on Lulu.