04 April, 2012

Edward II's 'Favourites': A Comparative Study

I was just thinking recently about what a dangerous occupation it was to be beloved of Edward II.  Of the five men who can be said to have been the king's 'favourites' - Piers Gaveston, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley, William Montacute, Hugh Despenser the Younger - only one survived the reign.

- Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall (c. 1281/83 - 19 June 1312)


A member of the future Edward II's household from 1300, or perhaps even as early as 1298 when Edward was only fourteen, Piers was without doubt the great love of Edward's life, and the king was still remembering him in prayers at the end of his reign.  (Whatever Edward II's many faults, he was loyal to those he loved.)  Edward's actions in recalling Piers from exile no fewer than three times, particularly in late 1311, seem politically foolish and exasperated many at the time, but clearly stemmed from a deep love and a need to have Piers near him.  Piers was beheaded and run through with a sword at Blacklow Hill, Warwickshire on 19 June 1312, at the instigation of the earl of Lancaster.  He left a legitimate daughter, Joan, by Edward's niece Margaret de Clare, who died around the time of her thirteenth birthday in January 1325, and an illegitimate daughter Amy, who married and had children.

 - Sir Roger Damory (c. late 1270s/early 1280s - 12 March 1322).


Roger rose in the king's favour in late 1315, and numerous grants of lands, income, appointments and wardships in 1316 and 1317 track Edward's growing infatuation with the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire knight, which culminated in his marriage to Edward's wealthy niece Elizabeth.  He was highly influential at court until Hugh Despenser the Younger displaced him in the king's affections, and subsequently joined the Contrariant rebellion against Edward in 1321/22.  Roger Damory died at Tutbury on 12 March* 1322 from wounds sustained while fighting against Edward's army; the king's beloved friend (or whatever he was to Edward) ending up dead in rebellion against him.  What a story!  See also Hannah's post about his trial and death.  Roger left one legitimate child, Elizabeth, who married John, Lord Bardolf and had children.

(* The date of Roger's death is usually given, including in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, as 13 or 14 March 1322, but his widow Elizabeth de Burgh commemorated his death on 12 March every year by giving food to the poor: Frances Underhill, For Her Good Estate: The Life of Elizabeth de Burgh, p. 30.) 

- Hugh Audley, later earl of Gloucester (c. 1289/93 - 10 November 1347)

The only favourite of the king to survive the reign, Hugh thrived in Edward III's, being made earl of Gloucester in 1337.  A close(ish) relative of Roger Mortimer, Hugh joined the king's household in late 1311 and rose in his favour in 1316, being rewarded with the other great prize at Edward II's disposal, marriage to Piers Gaveston's widow Margaret.  It seems that Edward was not nearly as infatuated with Hugh as he was with Roger Damory, but still Hugh rose much higher than his rank and birth would ordinarily lead one to expect.  Hugh also joined the Contrariant rebellion and might well have been executed, except that his wife Margaret pleaded for his life, and he thus survived the reign.  Hugh and Margaret's daughter Margaret had five children by her husband Ralph Stafford, via whom Hugh is the ancestor of - oooh, pretty well everyone.

- Sir William Montacute (c. late 1270s - mid-October 1319)

Not entirely a 'favourite' in the sense that the other men were, perhaps, but William was also a great influence at court from about 1316 to 1318 and was named in various chronicles in the same breath as Roger Damory and Hugh Audley (collectively they were deemed 'worse than Piers').  He was knighted with Edward in 1306, and had known the king for a long time.  Edward couldn't reward him with the marriage of a niece as William was already married to Elizabeth de Montfort, and in fact William was the only one of the five 'favourites' not married to a de Clare sister.  He was sent away from the king in 1318 to be steward of Gascony, in what was officially a promotion but was really intended to remove him from Edward's court, and died there in autumn 1319, of natural causes as far as I know.  His son and heir William thrived in Edward III's reign, being the king's closest friend and made earl of Salisbury.

- Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan (c. 1287/90 - 4 November 1326)


What else can I say about Hugh, haha.  He and Edward II must have known each other for many years, as Hugh was knighted with Edward in 1306 and married his niece Eleanor de Clare a few days later, and his grandfather the earl of Warwick had been a friend of Edward I.  There is no indication that Edward cared at all about Hugh or even noticed him much until after parliament appointed him the king's chamberlain in 1318, but once he and Hugh had become close in and after 1319, Hugh remained firmly in the king's favour until his grotesque execution on the orders of Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer on 24 November 1326.  He left at least nine children, three of whom suffered from Isabella's spiteful vindictiveness by being forcibly veiled as nuns a few weeks after Hugh's death.

7 comments:

Kate S said...

I think there's a misspelling:
>Hugh and Margaret's daughter Margaret had five children by her husband Hugh Stafford

He has to be Ralph. A most interesting personage, by the way, in my opinion.

Kathryn Warner said...

Oooops! Of course you're right, Kate - I had the name Hugh on the brain while writing the post. :) Will change it, and thanks!

Anerje said...

Of course, if Piers had survived, there would have been no other favs:> Your comparison not only shows the danger being a fav posed, but also the vindictiveness of those who opposed them.

Kathryn Warner said...

Very true, Anerje! :)

Gabriele C. said...

Yeah, and Mortimer was not Isa's favourite, no way. He never got any advantages out of the relationship. ;)

Kathryn Warner said...

Exactly, Gabriele. It was all just *entirely* coincidental that he 'fell in love' with Isa and got all those lands and riches. :-)

Carla said...

Even more dangerous than being one of Henry VIII's wives...