27 January, 2012

Two of Edward II's Letters

Just a quick post today about two letters sent by Edward II.

The first dates perhaps to late 1311, shortly after Piers Gaveston was sent into his third exile, though it may also date to late 1321, when Hugh Despenser father and son were also perpetually exiled from England.  The letter was sent to the abbot of Glastonbury, and the king almost certainly sent it to numerous other high-ranking churchmen as well, though these letters have not survived.  Edward asked the abbot to search through his chronicles for information about people exiled from England during the reigns of his ancestors "and for what reasons and at what time, and by whom, and how, they had been recalled."  Evidently, he was searching for a precedent by which he could bring Piers Gaveston or the Despensers back from banishment.  The abbot of Glastonbury received Edward's letter at vespers on 2 January (presumably 1312, or 1322) and replied two days later, having obeyed his king's command with some haste.  He enclosed a few extracts from his chronicles, which dated from 1210 to 1289.  One of the precedents he found concerned William de Valence (died 1296), half-brother of Edward's grandfather Henry III and father of the earl of Pembroke of Edward's reign, exiled from England in 1258 and allowed to return in 1261.  Another dated back to 1210, when William de Braose was outlawed and exiled from England, though was allowed to return in the fourteenth regnal year of King John, May 1212 to May 1213.

Edward II's original letter no longer exists (the abbot's reply was fortunately copied into his register for posterity), and it's a shame that it cannot be dated more precisely.  Stones and Keil (see below for reference) state that the document is found in the same folio and in the same hand as letters of 1321/22, but the reference to William de Valence, who was a foreigner although half-brother of the king of England, would be more relevant to Piers Gaveston than the Despensers, who were Englishmen.  If the abbot was writing in 1322 about the Despensers, it perhaps seems odd that he doesn't mention the several returns from exile of Piers Gaveston himself, unless he was trying to be tactful - though neither does he mention the exile in 1305 and return in 1308 of Robert Winchelsey, archbishop of Canterbury.  Edward II had already revoked the Despensers' exile on 8 (Hugh the younger) and 25 (Hugh the elder) December 1321, though may later that month still have been searching for further justifications for doing so.  Without further information both dates remain plausible and possible.

[E.L.G. Stones and I.J.E. Keil, 'Edward II and the Abbot of Glastonbury: A New Case of Historical Evidence Solicited from Monasteries', Archives, 12 (1976), pp. 176-82.  See also Chris Given-Wilson, Chronicles: The Writing of History in Medieval England (2004), pp. 73-74, 229.]

The second letter was written on 20 November 1311 to Sir Robert Holland, adherent and - apparently - friend of Edward's first cousin and enemy Thomas, earl of Lancaster (and about whom I'm intending to write a blog post sometime).  The letter reads:

"Edward by the grace of God king of England, lord of Ireland and duke of Aquitaine, to our dear and faithful Sir Robert de Holand, greetings.  We make known to you that we are very joyous and pleased about the good news we have heard concerning the improvement in our dear cousin and faithful subject Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and that he will soon be able to ride in comfort.  And we send you word and dearly pray that, as soon as he is comfortable and able to ride without hurt to his body, you should ask him to be so good as to hasten to us at our parliament and that you yourself should kindly come in his company to our said parliament if you can, for love of us.  Given under our privy seal at Westminster on the twentieth day of November in the fifth year of our reign."

There's something about this letter that really appeals to me, perhaps because the sentiments of care and concern in it must surely have been so opposed to what Edward really felt about his cousin, one of the men who had just mandated Piers Gaveston's exile yet again.  It's also interesting for the insight into Thomas of Lancaster's physical condition at the time - was he ill, or had he had some kind of accident?  Somehow I can just imagine Edward gritting his teeth and clenching his fists over this letter.  :-)

[Cited in George Osborne Sayles, The functions of the medieval Parliament of England (revised edition, 1988), p. 302.]


Anerje said...

I would imagine by the time of the Despencers, Edward had vast experience of banished favourites. Although, he never seemed to learn .

Kathryn Warner said...

He never learned from his mistakes, did he? :-(

Anerje said...

Well, Kathryn, at least he showed his devotion to his friends/favs/lovers, whatever anyone wants to call them.

Kathryn Warner said...

So true! Looked at from a personal level, I can only admire (and sigh over!) Edward's devotion to the people he loved. It's just that as a king...:-(