25 September, 2012

The Siege Of Caerphilly Castle, 1326/27

Shortly before Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger were captured in South Wales on 16 November 1326 following Roger Mortimer and Isabella's invasion, they had spent time at Hugh's great stronghold of Caerphilly, which he and his wife Eleanor had inherited from her father Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester (died 1295).  Why Edward and Hugh decided to leave a castle where they could have held out practically forever, I can't imagine, but they left it in the hands of an experienced knight named Sir John Felton and Hugh the Younger's eldest son, yet another Hugh - Edward II's chamber journals call the lad 'Huchon' and the Anonimalle chronicle names him as 'Hughelyn' - who was then seventeen or eighteen.  According to an entry on the Fine Roll of 30 December 1326, when Edward II was still king but in captivity at Kenilworth Castle, he had ordered John Felton on pain of forfeiture and on an oath sworn on the Gospels not to surrender Caerphilly "to the king's wife or Edward [of Windsor] his son..." while he was at the castle in early November.  Evidently the loyal Felton, who was named in Edward's chamber journal in August 1326 as one of Hugh Despenser the Younger's knights and was ordered with Donald of Mar on 14 October 1326 to hold the Marches of Wales against the rebels, took his oath seriously.  [1]

Edward and Hugh had left the massive sum of £14,000 and a great deal of their treasure inside Caerphilly; see my post for some of it, and a full inventory in William Rees' book Caerphilly Castle and its place in the Annals of Glamorgan.  The siege of the castle probably began very soon after Edward II's capture in mid-November, or perhaps even before.  On 1 December 1326, a week after the execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger, Roger Mortimer and Isabella appointed Sir Roger Chandos as sheriff of Glamorgan and declared that "it is the king's will that the same Roger cause the siege of the castle of Kerfily, which still holds out against him, to be diligently kept up."  [2]  This entry on the Patent Roll was issued in the name of "the queen and the king's firstborn son," and needless to say represents Isabella's wishes, not those of her husband, who was now being held captive at Kenilworth Castle.  The garrison of Caerphilly Castle under John Felton, however, refused to surrender and give up the teenaged Huchon Despenser to be executed like his father and grandfather, even when they were all promised free pardons for holding the castle against the queen.  And execute the teenaged Huchon Despenser was exactly what Mortimer and Isabella wanted to do, as is made clear by several entries in the chancery rolls which offer a pardon "of the forfeiture of his life and limbs" to all members of the garrison except Huchon - presumably for no other reason than he was the son of the hated Despenser the Younger.

On 15 February 1327, Roger Mortimer and Isabella, evidently frustrated at the failure of Sir Roger Chandos to capture the castle and at the garrison's refusal to give up Huchon Despenser to his death - not to mention at the thought of all that lovely treasure and money inside that they couldn't access - appointed Sir William la Zouche, lord of Ashby in Leicestershire, to lead the siege in Chandos's place.  On the same day was issued a "[p]ardon to all who were [sic] in Kaerfilly Castle when it was [sic] held against queen Isabella, except Hugh son of Hugh le Despenser the younger."   [3]  William la Zouche was a distant cousin of Roger Mortimer (his father was named Robert Mortimer, and he took his mother Joyce la Zouche's name), and the stepfather of Juliana Leyburne and of Thomas Beauchamp (born 1314), future earl of Warwick, by marriage to Alice de Toeni, who had died in 1324.  In early 1329 la Zouche married Edward II's niece and Huchon Despenser's mother Eleanor (de Clare) Despenser and the next year joined the earl of Kent's plot to free the former Edward II from Corfe Castle, but in 1326/27 was firmly on Isabella and Mortimer's side.  Roger Northburgh, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, was appointed as joint leader of the siege, rather oddly.  With them were twenty bannerets, five knights, twenty-one squires, 400 footmen, men-at-arms and others.  [4]

By 20 February 1327, la Zouche or Northburgh had evidently learned the identity of some of the men holding out inside Caerphilly, and just under forty were named in yet another pardon on that date which excluded Huchon Despenser.  [5]  A siege of the castle might end up lasting a very long time: Gilbert 'the Red' had designed Caerphilly to be basically impregnable, and the only real option was to starve the garrison out.  And therefore on 20 March 1327, the siege was abandoned and all the men inside pardoned, including Huchon Despenser, who was spared execution: "Pardon to Hugh son of Hugh le Despenser the younger of the forfeiture of his life, without restitution of his lands."  [6]  With Huchon's life now safe, the garrison - around 150 of them - left the castle.  Huchon Despenser was imprisoned in Roger Mortimer's custody until December 1328, then transferred to Bristol Castle in the custody of Sir Thomas Gurney, named as one of Edward II's murderers in November 1330.  [7]  The chronicle of the royal clerk Adam Murimuth says that he, like his stepfather William la Zouche and uncle Edward de Monthermer, was involved in the 1330 plot of the earl of Kent (who like Edward II himself was Huchon's great-uncle, though there was only about seven years' age difference between the two men), though as he was in prison presumably his role could only be one of passive support.  Huchon was released by Edward III after the downfall of Roger Mortimer and Isabella, and later made an excellent marriage to the earl of Salisbury's daughter Elizabeth Montacute; their tombs and effigies still exist in Tewkesbury Abbey.  Huchon inherited his mother Eleanor's vast lands on her death in 1337, and died childless in February 1349, perhaps of the plague.

As for the garrison who refused to surrender him, most of them are very obscure and I doubt I could find out much about them, though there are a few I'd like to look at here:

Giles of Spain
I once wrote part of a blog post about the Castilian-born Giles, who is especially interesting: a long-term member of Edward II's household, he was another adherent of the earl of Kent in 1330, and was later sent by Edward III to pursue Thomas Gurney in Spain.

'Gills. Beaucair'
Almost certainly this means William Beaukaire, a royal sergeant-at-arms who guarded Edward of Caernarfon's body alone from 21 September to 20 October 1327.  Presumably 'Gills' was a nickname for Guillaume, and presumably also William was French, as Beaucaire is a town in the south of France, near Avignon (not in the English-ruled part of the country).  Most, most interesting and peculiar to see that a man who held out against Mortimer and Isabella for months with Despenser adherents was the sole guardian of Edward II's body a few months later, for an entire month.

Roger atte Watre
One of Edward II's sergeants-at-arms from at least 1311 onwards, Roger joined the Dunheved brothers in the summer of 1327 in temporarily freeing Edward of Caernarfon from Berkeley Castle.

Stephen Dun
I wonder if this means Stephen Dunheved?

Benedict (or Benet) Braham
Apparently from Suffolk, Benet was one of the men named on 31 March 1330 as aiding the earl of Kent in his plot to free Edward of Caernarfon, and ordered to be arrested.

Rodrigo (or Roderico) de Medyne
A sergeant-at-arms of Edward II who later served Edward III for many years as well.  He was still alive in November 1348.

Simon Symeon
Simon later joined the household of Edward II's cousin Henry, earl of Lancaster.  Known as 'Simkyn', he served the Lancasters faithfully for many years.

William Hurley 
I've saved the best till last.  :)  William's name appears in the pardon as 'William de Hurle, carpenter', which is something of an understatement: he was Edward II and Edward III's master carpenter from the late 1310s/early 1320s to c. 1354, and worked on many projects including the palace of Westminster, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.  He is most famous for his work on the fabulous timber lantern of the octagonal crossing tower at Ely Cathedral (the original tower collapsed in 1322).  More info about William here.

Sources

1) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-1327, p. 430; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1324-1327, p. 332.
2) Patent Rolls 1324-1327, p. 341.
3) Patent Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 12, 18; Fine Rolls 1327-1337, pp. 12-13.
4) William Rees, Caerphilly Castle and its place in the Annals of Glamorgan, p. 83.
5) Patent Rolls 1327-1330, p. 14.
6) Patent Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 37-39.
7) Calendar of Close Rolls 1327-1330, p. 352.

36 comments:

Susan Higginbotham said...

The men of Caerphilly either had a very strong sense of honor to stand by Huchon (love that name), or Huchon himself must have been capable of inspiring such loyalty. Great post!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Susan! I'm so glad they stood by him, and it speaks so well of both them and him that they did.

Kathryn Warner said...

Oh, and I really love the name Huchon too! As that's what he's known as in Edward's chamber journal, it almost certainly must have been the name his family called him.

Anonymous said...

Kathryn, fascinating and brilliantly written! As always! Except for "Huchon", I love- and actually always have loved- the name of the castle Ashby de la Zouch. Sounds so exotic and non-English:-) Thank you for reminding me about it. Hopefully I will finally learn more about the castle's history(now when you have mentioned its inhabitants in the text). Thank you,

Kasia Ogrodnik

Anonymous said...

It's so heartening that Huchon saved his neck- at least one character in this sad story- He did not lack courage, that's for certes:-)

Kasia Ogrodnik

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks so much, Kasia! I really have to agree about Ashby de la Zouch - it feels so nice in the mouth when you say it, somehow. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Great post. I also like the name "Huchon"; so many "Hugh"s gets confusing. I wonder, though, do you know if Sir William la Zouche may have been a remote ancestor of the Lord Zouche who voted to acquit Mary, Queen of Scots?

Esther

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Esther! It was great to find such a helpful nickname!

Sorry, I'm really not sure about the Zouches. :( There were lots of them around in Edward II's time and I can't figure out how or if they were all connected! :/

Cher said...

I loved the bit about Ely Cathedral! I've seen the Lantern Tower in person, but I never thought I'd learn anything about the man who designed it!


Was this Zouche related to the Zouches who took part in the Belers murder? So many Zouches...and yet so few Zouches today! Where did they all go?

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Cher! I love Ely Cathedral, and it was so great to realise that Edward II actually knew the man who designed and built that wonderful structure.

Hmmmm, I really have to sit down sometime and figure out the la Zouche family tree... :-)

Anonymous said...

Kathryn, I've just read the text for the second time and through the links you have included, learned some new and fascinating facts about Edward and his contemporaries. I've highly enjoyed the list of riches of Juliana Leyburne:-). William Beaukaire's guardianship of Edward's body and his involvement in the whole story has turned out to be intriguing indeed. What could his sole guardianship have meant? Can we treat it as yet another proof that Edwrd was still alive at the time? I don't know how to iterpret it. Any clues?:-)

Anerje and Gabrielle, I assure you that I pay frequent visits to your blogs, just can't leave comments. I've been so occupied elsewhere that I haven't found enough time to create a Google account so far:-(

Kasia Ogrodnik

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Kasia! Thanks so much for reading, and am so glad that you're enjoying it! I love Juliana Leyburne; she's one of my favourite people of the era. ;-) It's so odd about William Beaukaire, isn't it? Either he'd completely changed sides in six months and was keen to demonstrate his loyalty to the extent of guarding the former king's body, or...a loyal Despenser adherent was chosen to cover up something more interesting, as you say. ;) :)

Anonymous said...

I would vote for the second version you have mentioned:-)As for Juliana, her mother and grandmother, it's really sad that they are so ignored by historians. I still remember my joy upon a discovery I made some time ago when I found a book by Susan M. Johns 'Noblewomen, Aristocracy and Power in the Twelfth-Century Anglo-Norman Realm'. To my delight it turned out to be a treasure chest full of info concerning Anglo-Norman influential noblewomen with Petronilla, the wife of Robert of Leicester( the chief ally of Henry the Young King in the latter's rebellion against his father) among them. I found myself lucky indeed to come across that very book. Now I find myself wondering how many of the ladies were actually omitted:-) Well, it was Petronilla who counted, so I did not complain:-)

I will check the remaining links as soon as I can. Edward's story is simply fascinating.

Kasia Ogrodnik

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, me too :) :)

Juliana has unfortunately often been confused with her grandmother, also Juliana, who died in late 1327 or early 1328 - it's often been assumed that this was Juliana Leyburne and that she died in her twenties. She was countess of Huntingdon, half-sister of the earl of Warwick and mother of the earl of Pembroke - she should be more famous than she is. ;) And I like it that her son held the same title as the great William Marshal. :) Oh, what a great find = you must have been thrilled! It's wonderful when you pick up a book you think won't be very useful, and it turns out to be an absolute mine of great information.

Yaaaay! :) :)

Anerje said...

I love Caerphilly castle, with it's 'wobbly' tower. Although a ruin, it's still in good condition with parts of it restored - it's quite popular for weddings and themed banquets. It does make you wonder why Edward and Hugh left it - it was very secure.

Anonymous said...

Anerje, I've seen the photos of Caerphilly online and thought it very picturesque, and the name itself... sounds like sheer music, at least to a foreigner:-) And I do share your and Kathryn's wonderment why Edward and Hugh decided to leave Caerphilly's safety. What had ever gotten into them???
Oh, and I want to thank you for your blogs concerning Sudeley Castle. I had no idea it was the only private castle in which Queen of England had been buried. And I was truly moved at the sight of the piece of lace woven by Anne Boleyn for Elizabeth.

Kasia Ogrodnik

Kathryn Warner said...

I've still never been to Caerphilly, sadly. :/ Hope I get there before I'm too much older. :)

Carla said...

Presumably all the Hughs were confusing even at the time - they'd done Hugh the Elder and Hugh the Younger, and Huchon probably sounded better than Hugh the Even Younger.

Perhaps Edward II and Hugh (the Younger) feared that although they could hold out in Caerphilly for a long time they would also be trapped there if it was besieged. That might not matter if they were confident of reinforcements arriving in time to lift the siege, but if they weren't confident of that, it may have seemed better to try to keep moving, perhaps with the hope of going abroad to seek help from one of Edward's international relatives. Could that be an explanation?

Kathryn Warner said...

In the chancery rolls, Huchon is usually called 'Hugh son of Hugh le Despenser the son'. Very confusing, so I can well understand the need for a nickname. :)

Edward had left the Tower of London in early October for fear of being trapped in a hostile city, and perhaps also feared being trapped inside Caerphilly - I think you're right, Carla. Somewhat earlier, it appears that he'd held out hopes of reaching Ireland, but contrary winds drove them ashore. Perhaps they were hoping to try that again, or try to sail somewhere else.

Gabriele C. said...

I've been to Caerphilly and I too, wonder why they left the place. I think the way Isabella and Mortimer conducted affairs, the pendulum would have swung in direction of Edward eventually.

Anonymous said...

Gabrielle, I've just visited the Lost Fort. Breathtaking castles, esp. Neuenburg and Rudelsburg, and their history- fascinating. The Memblem crypt and the Romanesque chapel at Querfurt so lovely, reminded me about our Polish Romanesque 'jewel', as it happened situated nearby where I live, in Cieszyn. Just have a look:

http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ko%C5%9Bci%C3%B3%C5%82_%C5%9Bw._Miko%C5%82aja_w_Cieszynie

The church of St Nicholas in Cieszyn, one of the oldest churches in Poland.

P.S. Oh, I would forget! I was browsing the Lost Fort and came across the article under 27.03.08 entitled Henry and William at Carlisle Castle. Very well written and full of info. I wrote about Malcolm and William myself, but focused rather on William- Henry the Young King relations and William's involvement in the Great Revolt (which meant the same, for all roads in the story lead to... Henry II:-))

Kasia Ogrodnik

Anonymous said...

Kathryn, I read your Weather yeasterday. Brilliant! I can't recall when I had so much fun reading about history and... weather, mixed together! Today's weather forcasting could learn much from its medieval predecessors, don't you think? :-)

Kasia Ogrodnik

Kathryn Warner said...

I so loved writing that weather post. :-) Yes, TV forecasts would be much enlivened by a few 'demons yelling in the air'. :) :)

Gabriele C. said...

Kasia, thank you for your kind words. That's a lovely little church you got there. There are more remains from that time and even earlier times here since the Church gained foot in Germany at the time of the Merovings and - in eastern Germany - Charlemagne. They then sent missionaries east who promptly got clubbed to death (like said Brun of Querfurt). :)

Kathryn, you should share that weather post with non-FB readers (I suppose it's from the FB site, right?).

And sorry for hijacking your blog for my convos with Kasia, but I had to disable anoymous comments again because I got spammed, and I really hate the word verification too much (it took me some 20 efforts last night).

BTW Kasia, just getting an account without using it may be a solutions; I got Wordpress and Typepad accounts for that reason.

Kathryn Warner said...

No problem at all, Gabriele! I'm enjoying the conversation. ;-) Sorry about the spam, though. :( I got quite a lot yesterday for some reason, even with word verif turned on.

My weather post is on the blog, here: edwardthesecond.blogspot.com/2009/09/and-your-weather-forecast-for-early.html Kasia isn't on Facebook either. ;-)

Gabriele C. said...

Ouch, I must have missed that one. Didn't even comment. :(

Well, Cassius Dio has the trees throw their tops at the hapeless Roman soldiers during the Battle of the Teutoborg Forest, so no wonder the Middle Ages added a bunch of demons.

Kathryn Warner said...

Trees throwing their tops? Excellent. :)

Anonymous said...

Kathryn, I, too, apologize for hijacking your blog. Actually I should have asked for your permission first. I know.

Gabrielle, I'm going to work this out (with my husband's help, of course:-)).

Anerje said...

Thanks Kasia for your comments on my blog posts. What wouldn't I have given to hold that piece of lacework by Anne Boleyn!

Anerje said...

As for Caerphilly castle, why on earth did Edward and Hugh leave it??? At least inside they would have been able withstand a seige. I read they were heading to Swansea castle before being forced to Neath. Swansea castle was much smaller than Caerphilly, and would never have been able to hold out. I thought maybe they could have had the idea of fleeing to Ireland? That would make sense. But then why do that? What I do know is that once captured at Neath Abbey, the Welsh made off with lots of Edward's possessions. You can't blame us;>

Kathryn Warner said...

No, not at all, it's absolutely fine to talk here! :)

Kathryn Warner said...

Anerje, sorry, once again I wasn't notified of your comments and have just seen them - silly Blogger. :-(

Tony said...

Fascinating and I am compiling a Mortimer family tree so the links to La Zouche and other family names bring this to life.

Tony said...

Fascinating blog and I am producing a Mortimer family tree so the references to other prominent families like la Zouche and Beauchamp help bring it to life for me.

john12 said...

What I found interesting was that, according to Prof. William Rees, most of the footmen in the besiegers were Welsh,he publishes a list of the names.

Kathryn Warner said...

John, that's true! Love Prof. Rees' work. His book about Caerphilly Castle is incredibly useful, especially (for me anyway) the inventory he provides of Edward II's possessions captured there after the 1326/27 siege.