05 January, 2013

Edward II And His Children

I want to repost something I wrote a few months ago, in response to a blog post I've seen recently which states that Isabella of France's "marriage to a king teaches her she must first be loyal to herself if she is to save her children’s lives – and her own."  (The blog post is about a new novel featuring Edward II and Isabella which sounds as though it's going to be exactly like pretty well every other novel ever written about them, with Nasty Horrid Gay Crappy Weakling Edward and Poor Long-Suffering Victim Turned Amazing Strong Fabulous Wonderful Amazing Fabulous Strong Feminist Icon Isabella.  And thus follow all my snarky rules for fiction about the pair.  Groooooooan.)  I simply do do not know where this notion comes from, that somehow the lives of Edward II and Isabella's children were in 'danger'.  It's absolute madness.  What on earth makes these people think that Edward would ever have endangered the lives of his own children?

Here's the post again:

I'm becoming perturbed at a notion I've seen repeated several times recently - in two badly-written and barely-researched novels and various online articles - that Edward II 'ignored' his children and didn't care about them, to the point where he could hardly even remember their names and was unwilling to pay their expenses.  Where the hell does this notion come from?  And why do some people think, as I was informed in a blog comment and an email, that there's actually some historical evidence for it?  I can't imagine, but it's time to put this idiocy to rest right now.  The promised 'evidence', incidentally, was not forthcoming.  Now there's a surprise.  In fact, no historian or non-fiction writer of the last 700 years has ever, to my knowledge, argued that Edward II was a negligent parent; even Alison Weir, who appears to despise him, admits that he was a "good and loving father."  Neither did anyone in his own time claim that he was cruel to or did not love or was in any way neglectful of his children and his responsibilities towards them.  So, therefore, to anyone who is perpetuating this nonsense about him: just stop it.  To anyone who's read this rubbish somewhere and is wondering if there's any truth in it: no, there certainly isn't.  You know, I am so damn sick of people inventing this kind of nasty, hateful nonsense to make Edward more unsympathetic or unlikeable to their readers.  How would you like it if you were accused of being a bad, unloving and neglectful parent when in fact you adore your children and would do anything for them?  It would hurt, wouldn't it?  Why are you saying it about Edward II then?

See also here and here for my previous posts about Edward II and Isabella of France's four children (Edward III, born November 1312; John of Eltham, born August 1316 (Johan in contemporary spelling); Eleanor of Woodstock, born June 1318 (Alianore or Alienora); Joan (Johane) of the Tower, born July 1321).  Firstly I should point out that we're talking about 700 years ago and there really isn't very much evidence for anyone's personal relationship with anyone else, sadly; personal letters are practically non-existent, diaries actually are non-existent.  Secondly, we have to remember that familial norms of 700 years ago were different, and that Edward II was a medieval king, not a modern hands-on father.  This is so obvious it shouldn't even need pointing out, but unfortunately it does to some people.

Edward II was twenty-eight when his son and heir the future Edward III was born at Windsor on 13 November 1312.  (He might have become a father much sooner, but had to wait for Isabella, who was sixteen when their son was conceived, to be old enough to bear children.  Actually, he had become a father much sooner: his illegitimate son Adam was born sometime before 1310.)  The Vita Edwardi Secundi and the St Albans chronicler both say that the boy's birth "much lessened the grief which had inflicted the king on Piers' death," [1] which, given how much and for how long Edward had loved Piers Gaveston, is significant.  Edward granted the enormous sum of eighty pounds annually to Isabella's steward John Launge and his wife Joan, "on account of his bringing to the king the news of the birth of Edward his first-born son," on 16 December.  [2]  As Edward II was actually at Windsor at the time of the birth, this can hardly have been an onerous task for John Launge, and eighty pounds a year gave him and his wife a higher income than some knights.  Edward of Windsor was only eleven days old when his father granted him the entire earldom of Chester on 24 November, an earldom for which Edward of Caernarfon himself had had to wait until he was almost seventeen to receive from Edward I.  [3]  As Ian Mortimer points out in his biography of Edward III, "The king's [Edward II's] instinct was to shower those whom he loved with presents, and so he immediately ordered that the baby be raised to the front rank of the peerage."  [4]  Further grants of lands were made to the boy over the next few years, and he was also given a large household of his own.  This, of course, was entirely expected and normal for the heir to the throne, and it would have been an insult to the boy if he hadn't.

Edward and Isabella's second son John was born at Eltham in Kent on 15 August 1316, and perhaps named in honour of the new pope, John XXII.  Edward was 250 miles away in Yorkshire at the time, meeting his cousin Earl Thomas of Lancaster; John was his only child for whose birth he wasn't somewhere close by.  The king had shown his concern for Isabella's comfort during her pregnancy by paying twenty pounds to John Fleg, horse dealer of London, for a bay horse "to carry the litter of the lady the queen" and paying Vannus Ballardi of the Lucca banking firm the Ballardi almost four pounds for pieces of silk and gold tissue and flame-coloured silk to make cushions for Isabella’s carriage, so that she could travel in greater comfort. [5] Edward gave £100 to Isabella’s steward Eubulo Montibus, who rode from Eltham to York to bring him the happy news, and the St Albans chronicler comments on Edward’s joy at the birth of his son. He had heard the news from Montibus by 24 August, on which date he asked the Dominicans of York to say prayers for himself, "Queen Isabella our very dear consort, Edward of Windsor our eldest son, and John of Eltham our youngest son, especially on account of John." Edward had a piece of Turkey cloth and a piece of cloth-of-gold delivered to Eltham, to cover the font in the chapel during John's baptism, and ordered Isabella's tailor Stephen de Falaise to make her a robe from five pieces of white velvet for her churching ceremony. [6]  John appears to have joined the household of his older brother the heir to the throne, and in later years - I'm not sure when - was granted his own household under the command of his first cousin Eleanor (née de Clare) Despenser, who remained in charge until late 1326.  Paul Doherty, a harsh critic of Edward II and just about everything he ever did, and the inventor of what I sometimes call the 'OMG Edward II totally stole Isabella's children from her OMG!!!' theory, calls Eleanor in his rather bizarre book Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II merely "Eleanor de Spencer [sic], Hugh the Younger's wife." It's interesting to note how he neglects to point out that she was also Edward I's eldest granddaughter, the daughter of Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester (d. 1295), in his day arguably the greatest nobleman in England, and a mother of at least nine children. Eleanor was thus of extremely high birth and an entirely appropriate person to be in charge of the household of the second in line to the throne (who was her own first cousin, albeit twenty-four years younger).

Edward II was at Woodstock with Isabella when their first daughter Eleanor was born on 18 June 1318, and the king's wardrobe accounts record a payment of 500 marks to "Lady Isabella, queen of England, of the king's gift, for the feast of her purification after the birth of Lady Alienora her daughter."  The little girl soon joined the household of her elder brothers, under the care of a nurse named Joan du Bois. [7]  The king and queen's youngest child Joan was born in the Tower of London on 5 July 1321; Edward, then somewhere in London or Westminster, granted Robert Staunton a respite of eighty pounds on a debt of £180 he owed to the Exchequer, "in consideration of his services to queen Isabella, and of his bringing news of her delivery of Joan, the king's daughter." [8]   Edward arrived at the Tower on 8 July and stayed with Isabella and their newborn daughter for six days, removing the constable, John Cromwell, from his post, as the Tower was in a rather dilapidated state and rainwater had come in through the roof onto the queen's bed while she was in labour.  Edward later set up a household for Eleanor and Joan under the overall command of Hugh Despenser the Younger's sister Isabel, Lady Hastings; the girls' governess (mestresse) was Joan Jermy, sister of Edward's sister-in-law Alice Hales, countess of Norfolk. Isabel Hastings was married to Ralph de Monthermer, who had previously been married to Edward II's sister Joan of Acre and was therefore the girls' uncle. And thus, three more entirely appropriate people looked after the king and queen's children. There is nothing at all to suggest, incidentally, that Edward II cruelly and spitefully 'removed' his children from Isabella's care in 1324, as a few modern writers claim (I'll be looking at this in more detail in a future post). The king wrote to his daughters, then living at Marlborough Castle, on 26 July 1326, and no doubt on other occasions too, but the record of those letters happens to survive (Edward gave a messenger five shillings to ride from Sheen to Marlborough "to his daughters, with letters from the king"). He arranged excellent marriages, which didn't go ahead owing to his deposition, for Eleanor and Joan with King Alfonso XI of Castile and the future King Pedro IV of Aragon.

Edward's actions during Isabella's pregnancies indicate how concerned he was about her well-being and that of their children, and I'm going to point out again here that the oft-repeated story that he 'abandoned' her at Tynemouth when she was pregnant with Edward III in May 1312 is a total myth, as Isabella's own surviving household account of 1312 proves.  See also Seymour Phillips, Edward II (2010), p. 203: "Contrary to the report in Trokelowe's chronicle, written at St Albans, the pregnant Isabella was not abandoned at Tynemouth; instead she left there with her husband on 5 May and accompanied him to Scarborough before returning to York on 17 May."  As Professor Phillips points out in a footnote, Trokelowe confuses events of 1312 with those of 1322, another occasion when Isabella was in Tynemouth and caught behind Scottish lines.  Not that this is ever going to stop fans of the Victim!Isabella school of thought repeating it solemnly as fact, however.  I imagine they can even think of something to find fault with in Edward's concern for his pregnant queen; no doubt in their minds, it proves that he was only interested in her as a 'brood mare' or some such nonsense.  If we try to look at the details we know about Edward II and Isabella of France's family life objectively or with sympathy towards Edward, rather than with the assumption that he was a cruel neglectful horrid husband and father to his long-suffering wife and children, a touching picture emerges of the king's delight in his children, his concern for their and Isabella's health and well-being, his treating his children with the respect to which royal children were entitled by granting them lands and their own households and servants, arranging good marriages for them and frequently ordering prayers to be said for them and his wife.  Not least, his actions demonstrate his total certainty that his children were indeed his.

I have no idea how Edward of Windsor, the future Edward III, felt about Edward II as he was growing up. It's hard to imagine that he could have felt much pride in his father's rule. The boy's childhood was punctuated by his father's failures, problems and errors, such as Bannockburn when he was only nineteen months old, the endless conflict with the powerful earl of Lancaster, the loss of Berwick, the Contrariant rebellion of 1321, the disastrous Scots campaign of 1322, the unsuccessful war with France in 1324/25, the domination of the Despensers, and so on. Edward III's attitude to his father may have been very similar to his grandfather Edward I's attitude to his inept father Henry III: whatever his determination to be a better ruler and warrior and to avoid making Henry's mistakes, there is no doubt that Edward I loved Henry as a father, enjoyed a very close relationship with him and mourned him sincerely when he died. Edward of Windsor's probable embarrassment and shame at his father's misrule and his concern that Edward II was destroying his inheritance, does not necessarily mean that their personal relationship as father and son was an unhappy or not a close one. Edward II's younger children John, Eleanor and Joan were very young, only ten, eight and five, at the time of his deposition.  There is no reason whatsoever to suppose that they did not love their father or that he did not love them or care about them.

Edward II's relationship with Edward of Windsor became much more difficult and fraught in late 1325 and 1326, when Isabella chose to use the boy (then thirteen) as a weapon against her husband. It's unfortunate that much of what we know about Edward II's relationship with his son comes from the period when the latter was being held in France, whether with his consent or not is impossible to say.  Edward II sent three letters to his 'fair son' (Beaufitz) which are full of his distress, fear and anger that his beloved son had been taken from him and was being used against him, and that a marriage was being arranged for him to which Edward (the king) had not consented.  On 19 June 1326, a furious and distraught Edward ended his final letter to his son, who must also have been distraught to read it, with a threat: "...if the king find him contrary or disobedient hereafter to his will, he will ordain in such wise that Edward [of Windsor] shall feel it all the days of his life, and that all other sons shall take example thereby of disobeying their lords and fathers."  After September 1325, father and son would never see each other again, and I find it so sad that this is the last known contact between them.  In their rush to praise Isabella for her cleverness and bravery in detaining her son in France and using him as a figurehead in the invasion of England, very few commentators stop to consider the tragic personal consequences of this act: the destruction of Edward II and Edward III's relationship.  But hey, it's only Edward II, the useless snivelling gay king whom most people despise and who probably didn't even father the boy anyway, so who cares?   And it's Isabella, the patron saint of medieval feminist empowerment, so her actions are seen as brave and wonderful.  I'm struggling to imagine another woman who could destroy the personal relationship of her husband and son as completely as Isabella did, another woman who could hold her adolescent son hostage in another country to prevent him returning to his father - or who at the very least forced him to choose between his father and her - and ensure that the two could never meet or ever enjoy the same closeness again, and be lauded for it as Isabella usually is.

These letters of Edward II, and his letters sent at the same time to his rebellious queen and her brother, have often been used by writers as evidence that he was weak, feeble, unmanly; the contempt with which his emotive and anguished phrases have been dissected and sneered at in certain quarters is truly remarkable to me.  (Or it would be, if I weren't so used to the utter contempt in which many writers hold Edward.)  I'm not sure really what the correct and appropriate way would be for someone to react and feel and write in emotionally painful and difficult circumstances where he feels that he is losing his own child, and that the child has been forced to choose between his parents and is being deliberately used as a weapon against his father. (I'm sure Edward's detractors would themselves have written much more manly, strong, virile and unequivocally heterosexual letters in this horrible situation. Or you know, whatever.  Stiff upper lip and all that, what what?)

I have a personal interest in all this, admittedly; I care very much about Edward II and it genuinely hurts and upsets me when people accuse him without any evidence whatsoever of being a bad uncaring father.  Say all you want about him being an inadequate military leader and ruler, he deserves it, but don't make up such horribly personal insulting things about him.  Simply being a bad king doesn't mean he was bad at everything and a total failure in all his personal relationships.  Even if he was a bad husband - which isn't nearly as obviously true as a lot of people seem to think - this doesn't automatically make him a bad father.  It really doesn't.


1) Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneforde Chronica et Annales, ed. H. T. Riley, pp. 79-80; Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young, p. 36.
2) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 516, 519.
3) Calendar of Charter Rolls 1300-1326, p. 202.
4) Ian Mortimer, The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation, p. 23.
5) Frederick Devon, Issues of the Exchequer: Being A Collection of Payments Made Out of His Majesty’s Revenue from King Henry III to King Henry VI Inclusive, p. 131; Thomas Stapleton, 'A Brief Summary of the Wardrobe Accounts of the tenth, eleventh, and fourteenth years of King Edward the Second', Archaeologia, 26 (1836), pp. 342-343.
6) Stapleton, 'Brief Summary', p. 320 (Montibus and baptism); Trokelowe, ed. Riley, p. 95; Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 430 (prayers).
7) Stapleton, 'Brief Summary', p. 337 (purification); Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 389 (household); Patent Rolls 1327-1330, p. 163 (nurse).
8) Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 23.


Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

Kathryn, welcome back and Happy New Year to you! I will read your latest text as soon as I emerge from my children's room (hope without serious injuries :-)) It looks very "attractive". I mean your text not the room, which is quite messy. Thank you for paying a visit to Henry's blog!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Kasia, and Happy New Year! Best of luck in the children's room...:) :)

Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

I hope you don't mind Henry's resolutions were inspired by Edward's? Edward's were such fun to read that I had to try to do the same for the Young King.

Kathryn Warner said...

I thought they were great! :)

Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

Thank you :-)

Unknown said...

You make your point well, I don't think the evidence we have can lead us to the conclusion that Edward II was intentionally a bad father.
However, I do think that by the mid 1320s that Edward II may have created a danger for Edward of Windsor and any other Plantagenet heirs to the throne - the growing power of Hugh Despenser. How far would his ambition grow? Your (re)post made me consider how Edward of Windsor would be feeling at the time he was sent to France to meet Isabella. No doubt he was able to hear the English baron's grumblings of Hugh's growing influence, titles, income, etc. What suspicions would the young Edward have of Hugh's dynastic ambitions for his own family?
I have seen articles and books discuss the possible danger the young Edward III faced from Roger Mortimer and HIS dynastic ambitions leading up to the events of the coup of 1330 - but could there have been similar concerns regarding Despenser in the mid 1320s?
If Edward had stayed with the King and the Despensers, and there had been no successful Isabella/Mortimer invasion - where would things have ended up with Hugh? What would the end game have been?

Kathryn Warner said...

I have no doubt Edward of Windsor loathed Hugh Despenser, but there is nothing - absolutely nothing at all - in Edward II's behaviour that would ever make me think that his son's position as heir to the throne would be endangered by Hugh. (It's just possible that Edward II's last letter to his son in June 1326 contains a hint of disinheriting him, but this was many months after Isabella had refused to allow their son to return to England, and Edward was furious, extremely emotional and deeply concerned.) I think it does Edward II a disservice to think he would ever have allowed Hugh Despenser to take his son's place as rightful heir, even assuming that was possible, and equally, there is nothing at all to indicate that Hugh ever aimed for the throne or even thought this could ever be remotely possible; his ambitions were to build a huge power base in South Wales, and to marry his daughters into comital families in England and Ireland. The only title he possessed was lord of Glamorgan, though he had been appointed chamberlain by parliament in 1318, and he could expect one day to inherit his father's earldom of Winchester. Hugh didn't grant himself a grandiose earldom as Roger Mortimer was to do some years later. Neither did he bankrupt the country, as Roger and Isabella did. I doubt actually that Edward III feared Roger's dynastic ambitions - Roger and Isabella's grotesque mismanagement of his kingdom and their judicial murder of his uncle Kent, and Roger's using and abusing royal power and patronage which did not belong to him, were ample reasons for Edward III's desire to remove and execute him. It's fascinating to wonder what might have happened if Edward II hadn't been forced to abdicate in 1327 and how Edward of Windsor might have behaved and acted towards Hugh Despenser as he grew older.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Once again, well said.

Anonymous said...

Have a happy new year. Perhaps you should write a novel (I really want someone to write one where Joan Mortimer has a boyfriend). Seriously, I think Isabella (at least) may have believed that Hugh (not Edward) posed a threat to her children. I don't think it would have been murder or disinheritance, but the conflicts triggered by (or about) Despenser weren't good for anyone. Also, IMO, she was genuinely frightened by Despenser (Isabella took very good care of Isabella; again, IMO, the only reason behind Tynemouth is that she was more frightened of Hugh than of the Scots)


Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Sami, and for the emails too! Replies coming asap :)

Happy New Year, Esther! I'd also love to see a novel where Joan Mortimer has a boyfriend, or at the very least, one where she's a sympathetic, fully realised character instead of an irrelevant, sexless annoyance. True, the endless conflicts and turbulence of Edward's reign can't have made a healthy atmosphere for the royal children growing up in it, but I've never been able to see Isabella as the terrific loving mother a lot of people seem to think she was either.

Carla said...

Welcome back, and Happy New Year!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Carla, and likewise!

Anerje said...

WElcome back Kathryn! But what a shame a new year still brings the old myths about Edward - can't believe there will be another negative novel about Edward. Just what is it about Edward that would make anyone think he didn't love or care for his children? It's almost like because he was gay, he couldn't possibly love his children! Contrast his treatment of his children with that of his own father and him.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Welcome back and a happy New Year. Keep those Edward posts coming. :)

Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

Kathryn,I too wonder, how, after seven hundred years, can anyone write with such certainty that somebody was a bad father or husband, and how anyone can take it for granted.

As for me, you've managed to convince me that Edward could not have been a neglectful and cruel father nad husband. Quite the contrary. I hope all those who have written the accusatory nonsense you've mentioned will read your text. Too strong an evidence in Edward's defence to be neglected, even by his sworn enemies.

Anonymous said...

A lot of the nonsense may be due to the change in what constitutes "good" or "bad" parenting so that people judge medieval parents by modern standards. By all accounts, all four of the children seemed very fond of both Edward and Isabella ... notably Edward III, who both refused the crown unless Edward II consented and later kept quite close with Isabella after her fall ... so I think both were good parents.