19 September, 2011


Some of my favourite extracts from letters of Edward II's era...

- Hugh Despenser the Younger to Sir John Inge, sheriff of Glamorgan, on 21 March 1321:

"Regarding that which you have heard, that the earl of Hereford is even more gloomy and thoughtful than usual, it is no wonder if he is, as he has turned his countenance against his liege lord, who has given him so many goods and honours, that he might well have much to think about" (avoir grant pensee, literally 'have great thinking').

The earl of Hereford was Humphrey de Bohun, widower of Edward II's sister Elizabeth (died May 1316).

- Hugh to Inge again, fifteen days previously; you can practically hear him sighing with exasperation:

"We have already so often sent letters on this subject in the past that we are quite tired of it, and we inform you that we will send no further instructions about it until we have need to write in answer to your letters, and therefore the instructions we have given before this must suffice."

- Edmund, earl of Arundel, to the "good and wise men and his dear and beloved bailiffs and the other burgesses and good men of the town of Shrewsbury" (bones gents et sages et ses chiers et bien amiez les bailiffs et lez autres burgoys et bone gent de la vile de Salopesbir) during the Despenser War on 4 June 1321, regarding a sum of money which they were keeping for him and which he evidently suspected his cousin Roger Mortimer of Wigmore of wanting to steal:

"And we beg you as friends, and charge you on pain of all that you are able to forfeit to the king, as well as our friendship, that you should keep safely for our use the money which you have received in our lord's [Edward II's] town, for we do not under any circumstances intend that our cousin of Mortimer, who is so close to us in blood [nostre cousin de mortemer qe nous est si pres de saunk], should do us such a great injury, which we have in no way merited."

Arundel and Mortimer, who were almost the same age (born on 1 May 1285 and 25 April 1287 respectively) were first cousins once removed: Arundel was the son of Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (1267-1302), himself the son of Isabella Mortimer, elder sister of Roger Mortimer's father Edmund.

- Arnaud Caillau of Gascony to Edward II in March 1325, during the War of Saint-Sardos, perturbed because he had only had one letter from the king since leaving England the previous summer:

Mon cuer est en grant penssement, literally, 'My heart is in great thinking'.

This letter ended:

"May our Lord increase your honour and and grant you a good and long life, and give you vengeance over all your enemies, wherever they may be."

A similar ending, from Arnaud to Hugh Despenser the Younger in November 1324:

"I pray to God, who is all-powerful, that he increase your honour daily, and guard you from all evils, and multiply your goods, and give you vengeance over all your enemies."

- Hugh Despenser the Younger to Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent in September 1324:

"And truly, sire, there is no other reason that the ships arrived late with you, except that a strong wind was against them, which we cannot divert by our own command."

- Eighteen-year-old Duke John III of Brabant to Edward II, his uncle, in May 1319.  In late March and early April 1319, Edward had asked Pope John XXII to "proceed with severity against the Scots," and also sent letters to his nephew, to Robert of Bethune, count of Flanders, and to the towns of Bruges, Dunkirk, Mechlin, Ypres and others, asking them not to allow any Scots into their territory or to trade with them.

"Very dear uncle, we have well understood your letters which you sent us regarding Robert Bruce, and about his adherents and companions, and about the wrongs they have done to you and to my lord the king [Edward I] your father and my grandfather, on whom GOD have mercy, in Scotland, and also in your kingdom of England; which wrongs, damage, defiance and outrages that they have done to you and still do strike us dumb and weigh heavily upon our heart."  (Foedera 1307-1327)

- Isabella of France to Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, on 5 February 1326, about her husband Edward II:

"My very dear and very sweet lord and friend" (Mon treschier et tresdouche seignut et amy): how Isabella referred to Edward
"And certainly we desire above all else, save God and the salvation of our soul, to be in the company of our said lord [Edward] and to live and die there."


- Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents
- Seymour Phillips, Edward II
- Foedera 1307-1327
- W.H. Stevenson, 'A Letter of the Younger Despenser on the Eve of the Barons' Rebellion, 21 March 1321', English Historical Review, 12 (1897)
J. Goronwy Edwards, Calendar of Ancient Correspondence Concerning Wales
- The National Archives, Arundell Deeds, 215/1


Rowan Lewgalon said...

I enjoyed this article SUCH a lot!
It is like stepping back in time - fascinating! Thanks a lot for that. =)
"Mon cuer est en grant penssement"...Isn't that language just beautiful?

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Rowan! :) I love the language too - I must translate more of Arnaud's letters because they're so brilliant. :)

Susan Higginbotham said...

I love Hugh's letters. I wish someone would collect and publish an English translation of them. Hhm, sounds like an excellent project for someone with the initials KW!

Kathryn Warner said...

Me too, Susan - and hehe, yes, you could be right...:-)

Anerje said...

The comment about being unable to command the wind always makes me laugh! And yes, good idea Susan - come on KW:>

Kathryn Warner said...

That's a great one, isn't it, Anerje? :)

Kate S said...

I loved the one about beloved bailiffs.
I'm in the line to pre-order Hugh's letters! ;)

Kathryn Warner said...

Hehe, thanks, Kate! ;)