27 August, 2013

Edward II's Death and Afterlife Revisited (3): Survival

This is the third instalment in my Edward II's Death and Afterlife Revisited series.  Please take a look at part one and part two if you haven't already, and see also Ian Mortimer's new article on his website (PDF) for the arguments in favour of Edward II's survival past 1327 and the scholarly response to them.  If you're new to the blog and are interested in the debate surrounding Edward II's fate in 1327 and afterwards, I've also written these posts:

Freeing Edward from Berkeley
Edward was not tortured at Berkeley
Events from September to December 1327
Oddities in the narrative of Edward's death
The earl of Kent's plot of 1330
Archbishop Melton's Letter of 1330
John Trevisa and the red-hot poker
And plenty of others; see under 'Aftermath of Edward II's Reign' in the sidebar on the right for links.

Every fourteenth-century chronicle who dealt with the topic says that Edward of Caernarfon died at Berkeley Castle on or about 21 September 1327, though stated causes of death vary considerably (as I pointed out in part two of this series, the red-hot poker story is far from unanimous, not that you'd know it from most modern writing on the subject).  No chronicle says that Edward survived past 1327.  In addition to chronicle evidence, we have the former king's funeral taking place at Gloucester Abbey on 20 December 1327 and all the preparations made for that by the English government, and a statement by the fourteen-year-old Edward III himself, in a letter to his cousin the earl of Hereford of 24 September 1327, that n're t'sch' seign' et piere est a dieu comaundez, "our very dear lord and father has been called to God".  The parliament of November 1330, the first one held after the young Edward III took over the governance of his own kingdom, also repeated - very often - that Edward II was dead.

Edward III's letter of 24 September 1327. His announcement of the death of his father is at the start of the third line.

On the other hand, we also have a considerable body of evidence that Edward II did not die in September 1327:

- Two letters, one written in 1330 by an English archbishop and one written a few years later by an Italian papal notary who subsequently became a bishop, both of which make clear and entirely unambiguous statements that Edward II was alive past 1327.  The first letter asks the recipient, the mayor of London, to buy numerous provisions for the former king, who is said to be in 'good bodily health' at the time (January 1330, over two years after his funeral); the second provides a detailed account of how Edward of Caernarfon escaped from captivity at Berkeley Castle and made his way to the continent.  (See the top of this post for a link to the first letter, by Archbishop William Melton.)

- The execution of Edward II's twenty-eight-year-old half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, on 19 March 1330 for the 'crime' of trying to free the supposedly dead former king from captivity at Corfe Castle.

- The support and aid given to Kent in this endeavour by many dozens of other men, including the archbishop of York, the bishop and mayor of London, the earls of Mar and Buchan, former and future sheriffs of Kent and many former members of Edward II's household.

- The promise made by Edward II's Scottish friend and ally Donald, earl of Mar, to the archbishop of York in the autumn of 1329 that he would bring an army of 40,000 men to England to secure Edward's release.

- Statements in various contemporary chronicles that many people in England believed Edward II to still be alive in the late 1320s, and proclamations of the same time period declaring that anyone who claimed that Edward was still alive would be arrested.

-The statement to the November 1330 parliament by Thomas, Lord Berkeley, custodian of Edward of Caernarfon from 3 April 1327 until Edward's supposed death at Berkeley's home on 21 September that year, that he hadn't heard about Edward's death until he attended the present parliament over three years later.  This despite his writing in September 1327 to inform Edward III of his father's demise (which information prompted the young king's letter to the earl of Hereford, cited above).

- The entry in Edward III's Wardrobe account of 1338 which refers to a man called William le Galeys or William the Welshman, "who says he is the father of the present king."  Not only was William not executed, as royal pretenders almost inevitably were, he was actually brought to Edward III in Koblenz and met him.

- One might also add the persistent legends in Italy of a king of England who died there, and the mysterious squire of the king of Navarre described as the 'son of the king of England' and 'the bastard of England'.

I'm going to look at all of these points in detail over several blog posts, starting soon!

20 comments:

Beata said...

This is just fascinating. I'm looking forward to the future blogs.

If all this was in a work of fiction it would be dismissed as too far-fetched!

I haven't read the Melton Letter in full and am about to track it down (I read French and Latin so the language won't be tooooo problematic).

Roll on next blog.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks so much, Beata! I really appreciate your support, and I'm so glad that we've got to know each other recently ;)

I've written a bit on the Melton Letter already but will cover it in more detail soon: http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.com/2012/01/william-meltons-letter.html I recommend Ian Mortimer's 2010 book Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies, which includes a full English translation of the letter; or Roy Martin Haines edited it for the English Historical Review in 2009, in the French original.

Beata said...

I was about to read some of what you have already written about the Melton letter when I got sidetracked by People Maligned in Historical Fiction .... it is really hilarious.

I've got Medieval Intrigue on order and I'll have a look at the EHR Haines article later this week.

I'm reading my way through your blogs & thoroughly enjoying them as well as finding them really entertaining and informative.

Sami Parkkonen said...

One thing which is very important about Edward II and his death is the royal title of Prince of Wales.

Now, as we know, it is the title given and carried by the crown prince and nobody else. Edward III carried that title untill 1341 and did not name his son and heir a Prince of Wales untill that date. Now why would this man, to whom kingship and all that goes with it were very important, carry the title of an heir himself this far and only then give the title to his son?

There is only one obvious reason: he knew that the king, his father, was still alive and did not want to change the titles untill he was dead and he became truly the king and his son the prince.

Also, it was around this time when Edward III adopted a new royal motto: It is as it is. This has puzzled historian for ages, what is the meaning of it, but I think Ian Mortimer is on the right tracks here. I think it was Edward III's way to declare to the world what he could not openly say: he is now the king for real.

Kathryn Warner said...

I really want to do another post sometime on people maligned in histfict ;) Thank you for enjoying the blog!

Sami, actually Edward III never held the title of prince of Wales - Ian Mortimer argues that it was the one title Edward II never gave up (he made his son duke of Aquitaine and count of Ponthieu in Sept 1325, and Ed III became king of England and lord of Ireland in Jan 1327), and that Ed III only gave his son the title once he knew his father was dead.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Ok, thanks for correction K. I should have known to ask this from you, The Expert :-D

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to reading more of your work about this! I find it interesting that Seymour Phillips discusses the de Freschi (sp?) letter to show how it doesn't necessarily show that Edward survived, but doesn't mention anything about Melton's letter.

Esther

Kathryn Warner said...

Hehehe, no problem, Sami! :-D

Esther, I was also amazed and disappointed that Professor Phillips doesn't mention the Melton Letter at all. Surely he must know about it!

Anerje said...

I love this area of your research! I frequently re-read all your articles and Ian Mortimer's articles. It's the behaviour of the Italian bankers and Edward III that clinches it for me. Looking forward to more on this fascinating mystery!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Anerje!

Sami Parkkonen said...

For me the fact that a guy claiming to be kings father apperas just like that, gets to meet the king, king gives him money and that guy keeps his head is a quite a proof that something is going on. I mean, Edward III was not a man to horse around with his royal title or his family roots.

Bill said...


A truly fascinating topic!

But am i right in thinking there are two references to William le Waleys in the 1338 wardrobe accounts?

Firstly that he met with Edward 3 at Koblenz, where his Lombard guardian was reimbursed his travelling expenses.

And later, that Le Waleys spent some weeks in Antwerp, where Phillipa and some of the kids were staying, where there was another cash disbursement to the Lombard? If so, that implies that Le Waleys spent weeks intermittently in Edward 3's company. Isn't it virtually impossible to think an impostor could pull that off?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that, Despite Ian Mortimer making a point of ridiculing the idea of a death sentence being handed downto the Earl of Kent for the attempt to free a dead man, the idea is not "ridiculous" as he suggests, and this death sentence is not evidence that Edward II was still alive. The fact of the matter is, whether Edward II was alive or not, The Earl of Kent conspired against the current king and that is treason and certainly would have been dealt with harshly.

Perhaps Edward was alive. Perhaps he was dead, but Kent didn't want to believe it. How many people still think Elvis did not die as history says he did?

The Earl of Kent was guilty of treasonous activity, whether Edward was alive or not. It was the act of conspiring to overthrow the current king, not the act of trying to free a dead man that got him executed. It's a fine distinction, but I think a meaningful one.

Kathryn Warner said...

We don't know that Kent was necessarily 'conspiring' against his nephew Edward II - it's not directly stated anywhere that he was trying to restore his brother to the throne, only that he wanted to free him from captivity. After the liberation of the former king was achieved, Kent's confession states that Edward of Caernarfon 'would have been taken wherever would have been appointed'.

Kathryn Warner said...

And as I point out here and in my English Historical Review article, there were at the very least many dozens, and probably far more than that, men who were acting on their belief that Edward was still alive, and risking a great deal - execution, imprisonment, exile, seizure of lands and goods. Awful lot of men risking an awful lot for a delusion.

Anonymous said...

We do not know for sure that Edward II survived. This view should be respected.

Anonymous said...

We do not know for sure that Edward II survived. This view should be respected.

Kathryn Warner said...

We don't know for sure that he didn't die in 1327, and we don't know for sure if he did. Would be nice if more historians actually engaged with the arguments and evidence rather than just waving them off as 'implausible' and 'unconvincing'.

Anonymous said...

You are quite right. I have read the arguments in favour of his survival, put forward in your book and in several others. Personally, I don't find them convincing, nor do I find the theories that Richard II, Henry VI, Edward VI or either of the princes in the Tower survived. But I respect your view.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you :-) I don't mind at all if people weigh up the evidence and think about it and come to the conclusion that Edward died at Berkeley Castle in Sept 1327 after all. That's absolutely fine with me. What bugs me is when professional historians ignore all the evidence pointing to his survival and/or make silly, meaningless arguments (Nicholas Vincent's comments in his debate with Ian Mortimer in BBC History Magazine recently, for example - agh!)