Some months ago, I wrote a blog post about the, to me, deeply irritating tendency in modern historical fiction to portray numerous medieval kings of England as not really the sons of their fathers. The post focused particularly on a series of four novels about Simon de Montfort, the earl of Leicester killed at the battle of Evesham in 1265, which portray him as the real father of King Edward I, who was in reality his nephew by marriage. My friend Sarah has also written two great posts about this, here and here.
As I've said before, if the author's theory about Edward I's parentage was confined to the pages of her novels and clearly just fictional, I'd roll my eyes a lot and sigh in exasperation and let it be, but she's been posting all over the internet - on her website and blog, Facebook, Amazon and numerous guest posts on blogs - that her 'discovery' that Edward I was Simon de Montfort's son and not Henry III's has a strong foundation in fact. In fairness, she's never stated that it's certain truth, which would be difficult without having been present in Eleanor of Provence's bedchamber nine months before Edward I's birth in June 1239, but on the basis that she's presenting it as an entirely plausible and probable version of history, I think it's perfectly reasonable for me and others to judge her novel and in particular this theory against the standards the author has claimed for it; she has not said her novel is fiction based loosely on real people, but that it's historically accurate and that her theory of Edward I's paternity has historical validity. Sarah reports that she frequently gets blog searches looking for something like 'Simon de Montfort was Edward I's father' in much the same way that I get searches for 'William Wallace was Edward III's father'. Lately I've been digging through the thirteenth-century chancery rolls again with regard to this matter and found some information, which I present here.
The author's theory that Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester was Edward I's father hinges on the fact that Henry III and presumably his queen Eleanor of Provence were staying at Kenilworth Castle between 9 and 15 September (according to the author) 1238, a little over nine months before the birth of their eldest child Edward on 17 June 1239. The author has repeated on her website, in the 'Historical Context' section of her first novel, on Amazon and Facebook and elsewhere that Kenilworth in September 1238 was Simon de Montfort's 'home'. It wasn't. The author claims to have more than thirty years' experience of reading primary sources relating to the era she writes about, so it's odd that she's never noticed Kenilworth wasn't granted to Montfort until 13 February 1244 (Calendar of Patent Rolls 1232-1247, p. 419), and even then he was only appointed warden of the castle: "The like [appointment during pleasure] of S. earl of Leicester to the custody of the castle of Kenilleworth". Henry III did not grant Kenilworth Castle to Simon outright, as his own possession, until 9 November 1253 (Patent Rolls 1247-1258, p. 250): "Grant to Simon de Monte Forti, earl of Leicester, and Eleanor his wife, of the manor of Odiham and the castle of Kenillewurth for the lives of both or either of them." (Henry had granted Kenilworth to his sister Countess Eleanor in her own right, not to her and Simon, on 9 January 1248: "Grant to her of the castle of Kenillewurth to keep for her life." Patent Rolls 1247-1258, p. 5.)
An entry on the Fine Roll of February 1241 (membrane 25/802), an order from the king, states that one Philip de Lacelles "is to keep Kenilworth Castle" as its warden, so clearly Kenilworth was still a royal castle then; ditto April 1242, when Gilbert de Segrave replaced Lacelles (Patent Rolls 1232-1247, pp. 280, 284). On the Patent Roll of 7 April 1242 (Ibid., p. 294), we find an acknowledgement by Segrave that he "has received from the king the castle of Kenillewuth to keep in his fealty, during pleasure, in this form, to wit, that he will surrender it to none but the king during his life, and in case of the king's death during the said custody to none but Queen Eleanor to the use of the king's heir, and in case she cannot come personally, to none but one of the queen's uncles not of the fealty of the king of France, to the use of the said heir." (That is, the future Edward I, then aged two years and ten months.) This makes it absolutely, completely certain that Kenilworth Castle was still in the possession of King Henry III in 1242 and that at this time he intended it to pass eventually to his son the future Edward I - he changed his mind in 1248 and gave it to his sister, as noted above - and it definitely did not belong to Montfort then. Montfort replaced Segrave as custodian of the castle in February 1244, as also noted above. The famous chronicler Matthew Paris does say that while Simon de Montfort was away from England in 1238 - he returned from Italy on 14 October, St Calixtus's day - his wife Eleanor "lay concealed, in a state of pregnancy, at Kenilworth castle", where she gave birth to their eldest child Henry in Advent (ed. J.A. Giles, pp. 124, 139, 155). Presumably Henry III was accommodating his sister at Kenilworth as a guest, in much the same way as his grandson Edward II accommodated his favourite niece Eleanor Despenser at his palace of Sheen in late 1325 when she was pregnant; Eleanor is named in the king's chamber account on 2 December as then staying at the palace, and gave birth, almost certainly at Sheen, on or before the 19th. Evidently, then as now, people liked to invite close relatives they were very fond of to stay at their homes. The warden of Kenilworth Castle in 1238, as far as I can tell, was William de Lucy, who was appointed by the king on 24 April 1236 (Fine Rolls, membrane 20/243).
The author, as well as stating definitively that the king and queen were at Kenilworth from 9 to 15 September 1238 which may or may not be true, claims in her first novel that the Patent Rolls have 'large lacunae' from 30 August to 12 September that year, and that this, combined with (supposedly) other missing entries from the Charter and Liberate Rolls and other sources for these days, means that there was 'a deliberate concealment of the king's location in early September'. Actually the Patent Rolls 1232-1247, pp. 231-233, would appear to record Henry III's presence at the following: Winchester on 31 August 1238; Kingsclere on 2 September; Woodstock on 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 September; Kenilworth on the 15th; Coventry on the 17th. As 'deliberate concealments' of the king's whereabouts go, this is not particularly impressive. According to the author, "[t]he seemingly coordinated absence of information for the period from August 30 to September 6 suggests intent. I offer it as yet another piece in the circumstantial evidence of the queen's visit to Kenilworth in September 1238, and the resulting birth of Edward nine months later" and also "[b]oth King Henry and Edward I would have had good reason to want evidence of the queen's stay at Kenilworth destroyed." Errrm. I found Henry at Winchester, Kingsclere and Woodstock on those dates in about two minutes. 30 August to 6 September 1238 would be a very early conception for a baby born on 17 June 1239, so I'm not sure why anyone would want to hide the king's whereabouts between those dates anyway. The Rolls only very rarely record where the queen was, and we don't know for certain that she accompanied her husband to Kenilworth in September 1238, though it's very probable that she did. We certainly don't know that Simon de Montfort was there with the royal couple, and it's extremely unlikely that he was; if Matthew Paris is correct, he only returned to England a month later in mid-October 1238. All of this seems a remarkably thin basis for insisting that Queen Eleanor and Montfort were certainly together at Kenilworth and most probably had relations that resulted in the birth of Edward I the following June. And if Henry III was at Kenilworth, which he certainly was, and his sister was there too, how could their respective spouses have committed adultery together without them or anyone else noticing? Royal lack of privacy in the Middle Ages and all that?
|'Kenilworth was Montfort's home'. Nope, not in September 1238, nor for a long time afterwards. The Patent Roll citation is wrong (should be p. 233).|
The author has also claimed that "A Pipe Roll entry in November 1238 concerned a payment to a physician who guaranteed that if the Queen and King drank an herbal tisane and prayed at the tomb of Saint Edward the queen's barrenness would be cured...seven months later the Queen was reported (by Matthew Paris) to have given birth to a remarkably strapping infant, clearly not puny and premature. Christened Edward for the saint who worked this miraculous birth, that child would reign as Edward I, King of England." According to her, this is proof that Eleanor had deceived the king and that Simon de Montfort and not he was the father of her child. Maybe I'm just being thick and obtuse, but I really don't get the logic of this. In November 1238, Queen Eleanor was only a few weeks along in her pregnancy and perhaps hadn't yet realised she was pregnant, hence her asking a physician for help. Or perhaps the visit to the physician for his tisane had taken place months earlier and the payment only now recorded. At any rate, it seems to me a decidedly odd basis for assuming that Henry III was not the father of his son Edward I. Clearly Henry III was not infertile or incapable, as his and Eleanor's next child Margaret, future queen of Scotland, was born a mere fifteen months after Edward in September 1240, with Beatrice following in June 1242 and Edmund in January 1245 (and the little girl Katherine, who died young, after a long gap in November 1253).
The author's speculation about Edward I's paternity is also based on a deliberate alteration of Matthew Paris's account of Eleanor of Provence's churching in August 1239 following Edward's birth. At this event, Henry III furiously accused Simon de Montfort of seducing his (Henry's) sister Eleanor - they had married early the previous year - which the author constructs as Henry actually wishing to accuse Montfort of seducing his wife, but at the last moment realising he needed an heir and therefore substituting the word 'sister'. This tale involves the archbishop of Canterbury hearing the queen's first confession for many months and immediately breaking the sacred seal of confidentiality and telling the king that she had committed adultery with Montfort. It makes perfect psychological sense to me, though not to the author who is evidently baffled that Henry would raise an issue which had supposedly been resolved many months earlier, that the king might at first have been pleased with the romance of his sister's love marriage, then belatedly realised, and become angry and upset when he did so, that her marriage could and should have been used to benefit England in a political alliance with another country (Henry's other sisters Joan and Isabella were married to the king of Scotland and the Holy Roman Emperor). And it is hardly unknown for an argument to be seemingly resolved and finished only for one party to start feeling aggrieved again hours or days or weeks or months later and revive the argument, which is what Henry seems, to me, to have done here. I don't know all that much about Henry's personality, but his grandson Edward II often let his heart rule his head and let his emotions get the better of him, in ways that might also seem puzzling to people more level-headed and less prone to intense, seemingly contradictory feelings. As a very emotional person myself, I really don't see how Henry III's behaviour at his queen's churching is so inexplicable that we have to start inventing daft theories to make sense of it.
So to sum up, for the author to claim that Kenilworth Castle was Simon de Montfort's 'home' in September 1238, a massive fifteen years before it was actually granted to him outright and more than five years before he was even appointed its custodian, is wildly inaccurate; when the king was there nine months before the birth of his eldest son, it was still a royal castle. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever therefore to suppose that Simon de Montfort was anywhere near Queen Eleanor at the time she conceived Edward I. OK, fine, if a writer still wants to make up a fictional tale that her hero was the true father of a king of England, that's her prerogative, but she shouldn't pretend that this story has any basis whatsoever in fact. When one examines the Patent and Fine Rolls of the 1230s to 1250s, any notion that Kenilworth Castle belonged to Simon de Montfort at the time Henry III and presumably Queen Eleanor stayed there in September 1238 simply melts away, taking with it any and all foundation of the author's oft-repeated theory that Montfort fathered Edward I. Let me reiterate that if this theory was to be found solely within the pages of her novels, I wouldn't have dedicated anywhere near as much space to demolishing it, but because she has so often claimed in so many places online that her theory has historical validity and has often written 'Simon de Montfort was probably the father of Edward I' as though it's a factual statement, I felt I had to alert readers who might otherwise believe there is evidence supporting it to its complete lack of foundation. We're talking about Edward II's grandparents, after all. I have a strong personal interest.
The author also claims that there was much gossip current in the thirteenth century to the effect that Montfort was Edward I's father. I am unaware of any evidence for this. She thinks that Henry III and Eleanor of Provence's second son Edmund, earl of Lancaster (1245-1296) actually was Henry's son. If Edmund really had been Henry's only true son, this would have given him and his son and heir Thomas (c. 1278-1322) a very strong claim to the English throne. Edmund was totally loyal to his brother Edward I all his life, but his son Thomas of Lancaster was a thorn in the side of his cousin Edward II (Edward I's son) for almost a decade and a half; the two men battled for control of the English government for much of the 1310s, and Edward ended up having Thomas beheaded for treason in 1322. Given the endless hostility between the king and his wealthy, powerful cousin, if Thomas had had even the slightest inkling that his uncle Edward I was not really of royal birth and his father Edmund was, he most certainly would gleefully have used this fact against Edward II as much and as often as he could. As the holder of five earldoms and the richest man in England, Thomas had an enormously strong power base, many of whom would most likely have supported him had he decided to make a bid for the throne on the basis that Edward II, grandson of Simon de Montfort and not of Henry III, had no claim to it. The fact that Thomas never did any such thing nor ever even hinted at his uncle's non-royal paternity demonstrates that he had simply never heard this supposed gossip about Edward I being fathered by Montfort. Are we supposed to believe that a lot of people knew or guessed that Edmund of Lancaster was Henry III's only true son, but this never reached the ears of Edmund's own son? Nonsense. The slur of not being of royal birth was never thrown at Edward I either at any time during his long life, not even during his crisis with his barons of 1297/98. Why would his enemies have not used this supposed 'gossip' if they'd ever heard of it?
Can you imagine the reaction of any king of England on being told to his face that his grandmother was an adulteress and his grandfather a cuckold and his father not of royal blood, meaning that neither his father nor he had any right to occupy the throne? Can you even imagine? It's utter madness to suggest that a group of Edward II's subjects with no power or political influence whatsoever would have dared to say to him directly 'Yes, my lord king, as you call yourself though you have no right, your father was a bastard not of royal birth, because your grandmother, the one you remember with great affection because she showed such love and concern for you as a child, committed adultery with her brother-in-law'. Edward did not hang or in any way threaten the women who sang for him, but for sure he would have done if they'd had the effrontery to tell him something like that. And in the political climate of 1323, when Edward was having to deal with the fact that a great many of his subjects believed the executed Thomas of Lancaster to be a murdered saint who performed miracles to the great benefit of the English people, and with his brother and heir Henry very much alive and still a thorn in Edward's side, any declaration that the Lancasters had a superior claim to the throne would have been a remarkably sensitive issue. You can tell from the way Edward I's subjects treated him and especially the way the Lancasters behaved that no-one had the slightest reason to believe that Edward was not Henry III's son, in the same way that you can tell from the way people behaved towards Edward III that no-one had the slightest reason to believe that he was not Edward II's son. There was no gossip that Edward I was not his father's son, and there was no gossip that Edward III was not his father's son. These are silly, highly implausible modern inventions which - siiiiigh - we have to accept in fiction, but should always challenge whenever anyone tries to claim that they have any basis at all in fact.
EDITED TO ADD, 2 March 2013: the author's long Facebook post responding to my review claims that the castle of Kenilworth was given by Henry III to his sister Eleanor and her husband Simon de Montfort as a wedding gift in the spring of 1238. She does not cite a source for this statement, which is not surprising, as there isn't one, and it's her own invention. I have recently also looked through the Close Rolls in addition to the Patent, Fine and Charter Rolls, Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous and other thirteenth-century primary sources which I looked at for my review, and they confirm my statement in it that Kenilworth was still a royal castle in 1238 and did *not* belong to Simon de Montfort at that time or until a few years later.
On 4 March 1238 (Calendar of Close Rolls 1237-1242, p. 31), we find an order to the constable of Kenilworth Castle to send some bream "from the king's fishponds at Kenilworth" to the bishop of Worcester. Far more significantly, however, on 22 July and again on 23 September 1238 (Ibid., pp. 78, 103, 105) we find another order from the king to his constable of Kenilworth Castle, ordering him to give one Geoffrey de Langley six, later raised to twenty, oak trees from "the king's enclosure at Kenilworth", 'haya regis de Kenilleworth' in the Latin original, "of the king's gift", 'de dono regis'. The entry of 23 September concludes "Witness the king at Wenlock, 4 September", 'Teste rege apud Wenlok', xxiij. die Septembris.' September 1238 is exactly the month that Ashe continues to claim that the castle of Kenilworth belonged to Montfort and that he was there with Queen Eleanor (of Provence) to father Edward I, but as we see here from the Close Roll, it was a royal castle at the time, in the possession of Henry III. Why and how would the king be ordering his constable of the castle to take oak from the "king's enclosure of Kenilworth" as a gift to someone if it belonged to Montfort? Obviously, he wouldn't. The author is wrong to say that Kenilworth Castle was Montfort's in September 1238; primary source evidence issued by Henry III's own government at this time demonstrates conclusively that the castle belonged to the king then and until he granted it to his sister Eleanor de Montfort in 1248 and to her and her husband Simon jointly in 1253, as I wrote above.
The author claims in her Facebook post responding to my review that "the 1244 citation of the granting of Kenilworth to Simon de Montfort refers to the return of the castle to him after his return from exile 1239-1244." Nope; the entry on the Patent Roll of 13 February 1244 that I've previously cited states perfectly clearly "The like [the previous entry says 'Appointment during pleasure'] of S. earl of Leicester to the custody of the castle of Kenilleworth, with like mandate to the tenants of the castellany. And G. de Segrave, who had the custody of the said castle, has letters patent testifying that he surrendered the castle to the king at Wudestok on Saturday before Ash Wednesday." This makes it apparent that Kenilworth was a royal castle of which Montfort was being appointed constable, or keeper, or warden, or custodian, however we decide to translate the Latin word 'constabulario'. If the castle was Montfort's own property being returned to him, this would be apparent from the wording of the grant, and it wouldn't state that he had 'custody' of the castle (if that's how this passage is interpreted, then the castle's previous owner would seemingly be the Gilbert de Segrave mentioned here, which of course he wasn't - he was its constable, being replaced by Montfort). If Kenilworth had indeed previously belonged to Montfort as the author claims and was now being returned to him following his return to England from exile, this would also be apparent; when the king took (temporary or permanent) custody of someone else's lands, castles and chattels, there were legal procedures which had to be followed and recorded. There would be an order to the king's escheator to take Kenilworth into the king's hands when Montfort left the country, for example, and a corresponding order to return it to him some years later. None of this documentation exists for Kenilworth, for the very simple reason that Simon de Montfort didn't own it until much later. There is therefore absolutely no reason to suppose that Montfort was anywhere near Kenilworth Castle and Queen Eleanor in September 1238, and absolutely no reason to doubt the statement that he was still in Italy at this time which appears in the contemporary chronicle of Matthew Paris, who, as the author herself has pointed out, knew Montfort personally. And, therefore, absolutely no reason whatsoever to suppose that he was Edward I's real father. Can we please, please, put this extraordinarily silly notion to rest now?