25 April, 2013

25 April 1284: Birth of Edward II

Happy Birthday to my lord king, born in Caernarfon, North Wales 729 years ago today on 25 April 1284.
Statue of Edward II which dates to his own lifetime, c. 1320, on the King's Gate of Caernarfon Castle.
Edward II, as well as being one of only two English monarchs with a Spanish parent (the other is Mary I, born in 1516 as the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon), is one of only three English monarchs I can think of who were born in Wales, the others being Henry V, born in Monmouth in 1386, and Henry VII, born in Pembroke in 1457, neither of whom was particularly close to the succession to the throne at the time of their births.  Although Edward II was born as the son of the reigning king of England, he was not in fact born as heir to the throne: his ten-year-old brother Alfonso, born in Bayonne in November 1273 and named after their uncle and his godfather Alfonso X of Castile, was still alive at the time of his birth.  Alfonso, however, died what seems to have been very suddenly on 19 August 1284, four months after the birth of his little brother, and thus tragically deprived England of having a king called Alfonso of Bayonne.  (Bayonne, incidentally, is about 25 miles from the French-Spanish border and 75 miles from Gabaston, the little village that was the ancestral home of Edward II's beloved Piers Gaveston.)  Edward of Caernarfon and Alfonso's two elder brothers John (1266-71) and Henry (1268-74) having also died young, the infant born in North Wales in the spring of 1284 thus became heir to his father's throne, and presumably to the king's great relief was a robust and healthy child who grew up to be an enormously strong, physically powerful, tall and fit adult.

Caernarfon Castle, with the King's Tower on the right with the flags flying from it, traditionally (though probably wrongly) said to be Edward II's birthplace.
As well as his then still-alive brother Alfonso and his two dead brothers John and Henry, Edward of Caernarfon had five older sisters alive in 1284 in addition to at least another five who had died in infancy: his surviving sisters were Eleanor, later countess of Bar (born June 1269); Joan of Acre, later countess of Gloucester and Hertford (born spring 1272); Margaret, later duchess of Brabant (born March 1275); Mary, veiled as a nun at Amesbury Priory (born March 1279); and Elizabeth, later countess of Holland, Hereford and Essex, only twenty months Edward's senior, born in Rhuddlan in August 1282.  Edward I and Eleanor of Castile's daughters who died young were Katherine, another Joan, Berengaria and two whose names are unknown.  There may have been yet another sister who died in infancy, and perhaps even another brother.  Edward II was at least the fourteenth and perhaps the fifteenth or sixteenth child of Eleanor of Castile, of whom only six outlived her; he was also almost certainly her youngest child, his alleged younger sisters Beatrice and Blanche being inventions of the nineteenth century.  Edward I also had three children with his second queen Marguerite of France, Thomas, earl of Norfolk (1300-38), Edmund, earl of Kent (1301-30) and Eleanor (1306-11), and thus fathered at least seventeen children altogether.

At the time of Edward of Caernarfon's birth, Edward I was almost forty-five, born on 17 June 1239, and had been king of England for eleven and a half years.  Edward's mother Queen Eleanor, born Infanta Doña Leonor de Castilla, was forty-two, born most probably in late 1241 in the north of Spain.  According to the itinerary of Edward I, the king was in Caernarfon from 1 April to 6 May 1284, then went to Harlech via 'Lammanath'.  Presumably Queen Eleanor stayed in Caernarfon after her son's birth and was churched there; the king returned to the town on 25 May and stayed till 8 June.  To celebrate the birth of 'Lord Edward, the king's son', Edward I paid twelve shillings to feed 100 poor people and gave out nine pounds in alms in the town of Caernarfon.  The precise location of Edward of Caernarfon's birth is unknown, as the enormous castle which still stands in the town and is usually said to be his birthplace was in the extremely early stages of construction in April 1284.  Most likely he was born somewhere in the town, or perhaps in one of the timber buildings which already existed at the site where the stone castle was built.  If the latter, I can't imagine it was very comfortable for the queen, giving birth for at least for the fourteenth time, in her forties, in the middle of what would basically have been a large muddy building site.

Edward of Caernarfon was baptised on 1 May, though unfortunately the identities of his godparents have not survived.  His first wet-nurse was Mary, Marrola or Mariota Maunsel, presumably a Welsh woman, who fell ill and was forced to leave his service in the summer of 1284, replaced by Alice Leygrave, later called "the king's mother, who suckled him in his youth." (Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-13, p. 581.)  Mary Maunsel must have remained in contact with the future king, however, as Edward II never forgot her; on 14 November 1307 when he was twenty-three, four months after he became king, he gave her seventy-three acres of land rent-free in Caernarfon for life, and in March 1312 granted her an annual income of five pounds, a very generous amount for a woman of her rank and status.  (Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-13, pp. 21, 448.)  The future Edward II lived in Caernarfon for the first few months of his life, until sent with his elder sisters to Bristol in the autumn of 1284; he did not return to the land of his birth until he was almost seventeen in April 1301, shortly after his father created him prince of Wales.

Caernarfon Castle, with part of the town visible in the background.

Further Reading
Seymour Phillips, Edward II (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010)
Hilda Johnstone, Edward of Carnarvon, 1284-1307 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1946)

11 comments:

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Happy Birthday to His Majesty!
Although, I must admit, it's still exciting to think that there might have been the king named Alfonso on the English throne :-)
I think I've mentioned it before, but still I will recommend it again: there's a wonderful BBC series Illuminations: The Private Lives of Medieval Kings. One of the episodes ( I can't recall whether it was ep.1 or 2) is in greater part devoted to Alfonso's beautifully illuminated book of prayers, never finished due to his untimely death. The blank pages with the miniatures started but never finished (some of them are only the sketches) are the only reminder of the sad fate of the young prince and his golden dreams never fulfilled.

And on a happier note, what an extraordinary woman Mary Maunsel must have been. Not forgotten after so many years. What super-extra qualities did she posses- I can't help wondering :-) (or perhaps we should ask what extraordinary man Edward must have been- not to forget his worthy wet-nurse after such a long time!!!) Oops, I really am a chatterbox!!!

Happy birthday again!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder. Do you know the origin of the story that Edward I presented the infant Edward II to the Welsh, promising them that he would be a Welsh-
speaking Prince of Wales?

Esther

Kathryn Warner said...

Have just come in from a very long day and will write more as soon as I can ;-), but just wanted to say the origin of the 'Edward I presented a prince who would speak no English' dates from 1584, in David Powel's Historie of Cambria.

Kathryn Warner said...

Kasia, thank you for the lovely comment! :) I also agree it would be fascinating to have had a King Alfonso in England - I suppose then Alfonso/Alphonse would be a common English name ;) I'd love to see the episode about his book of prayers.

I love that Edward remembered his wet-nurse after so many years, even though she hadn't served him long and he couldn't possibly have had any memory of it. There are several older women to whom he seems to have been close, perhaps a consequence of losing his mother when he was six.

Anerje said...

Birthday Greetings to Edward II! And we'll done on sneaking in a mention of Edward's beloved Piers!

Kathryn Warner said...

:-) Anerje, there's hardly any post where I can't sneak in a mention of Piers somewhere, haha ;)

Carla said...

Happy Birthday to Edward!

Yes, I wonder whether having a King Alfonso would have made Alfonso a common English name! Perhaps it would have been quickly shortened to Alf in common use and ended up being merged with dimunitives of Alfred.

Anerje said...

I typed well but my iPad said we'll - honest! Btw I love the part in Chris Hunt's 'Gaveston' novel when Edward meets Piers for the first time on his birthday, and Piers announces he has the best present ever - 'myself'!

Anonymous said...

Forgot to add this in my last post (I apologize for multiple posts), but ... is there any proof that April 25 is also the birthday of Roger Mortimer? Talk about weird coincidences ...

Esther

Kathryn Warner said...

Esther, I'm not sure what the source is for Roger Mortimer's birthday without checking, but it seems fairly clear that yes, he was also born on 25 April three years after Edward II.

Anerje, I love that bit too! There was a discussion on Facebook recently about which historical event you'd most like to have witnessed, and my choice was the first meeting of Edward and Piers ;)

Carla, I imagine it would have made Alfonso in some form extremely popular, as Edward became because it was carried by Edward I and then his son and grandson.

Sami Parkkonen said...

pro info, thanks