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.


Anerje said...

I wonder why the sky was like that? You can bet it was seen as a 'bad omen'. Maybe it was an exageration anyway. As for Isabella, according to the novel I'm reading about her right now, she was indeed inside the Tower, and yes, she did secretly see Roger Mortmer - and gosh, yes, she did help him to escape :>

Kathryn Warner said...

Anerje, it's interesting about the sky, isn't it? Both chronicles record it, on the same day, in almost exactly the same way.

Gosh, really? Does she?? Must have been that Harry Potter invisibility hood Isabella famously had, to be able to do that without anyone noticing. How terribly original of the novelist. Can't wait to read it. :-) :-)

Carla said...

Big sandstorms in the Sahara sometimes throw vast clouds of dust into the atmosphere that get carried to Western Europe including the UK. There's a satellite picture of one on the Met Office site here. Usually they only result in very bright red sunsets, occasionally in dusty red rain. Maybe the blood-red sky was due to an exceptionally powerful version of something like this.
Which is a very boring explanation; no doubt something much more dramatic could be made of it, considering the disastrous battle, the country going to the dogs, and Hallowe'en into the bargain :-)

Gabriele Campbell said...

Next time Ed better gets a chain and hangs that great seal around his neck. In case he can remember where he (mis)placed it. :P

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Carla, that's great! Love your alternate explanations, too. ;)

Gabriele, sounds like a good plan...:)