06 September, 2013

What Lord Berkeley Said To Parliament In November 1330, And Its Over-Elaborate Modern Interpretations

On 3 April 1327, custody of Sir Edward of Caernarfon, formerly King Edward II, was transferred from his cousin Henry, earl of Lancaster to Thomas, Lord Berkeley and Sir John Maltravers.  Berkeley (born c. 1293/97) was Roger Mortimer's son-in-law, and Maltravers, a knight of Dorset, was married to Berkeley's sister (see here for more info about the two men).  Contrary to popular belief, there is really no reason to imagine that Edward was tormented and abused while under Lord Berkeley's supervision at Berkeley Castle, and John Maltravers was never at any point in his long life accused of any complicity in the death of Edward of Caernarfon or of mistreating him.  Lord Berkeley wrote to Edward III informing him of his father's death at Berkeley Castle on 21 September 1327, sending Sir Thomas Gurney as his messenger.  The fourteen-year-old king, then at parliament in Lincoln, told his cousin the earl of Hereford on 24 September 1327 that he had heard the news during the night of 23 September, presumably meaning 23-24 September, the night before he sent the letter.  News of the former king's death was disseminated at parliament and from there, around the country.  Edward II's funeral took place in Gloucester on 20 December.  (See here for a narrative of events between September and December 1327.)

Edward III overthrew his mother Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham Castle on 19 October 1330, and to general relief and jubilation, took over the governance of his own kingdom.  On 23 October Edward summoned a parliament to be held at Westminster beginning on 26 November, during which Roger Mortimer was sentenced to death; the sentence was carried out on 29 November.  Mortimer's son-in-law Thomas, Lord Berkeley, who had been given legal responsibility for the welfare of the king's father in 1327, was called to account during the parliament.  In response to the question "how can he excuse himself, but that he should be answerable for the death of the king," Berkeley said something very strange, recorded in Latin in the rolls of parliament (he had presumably been asked, and had answered, the question in French):

- qualiter se velit de morte ipsius regis acquietare, dicit quod ipse nunquam fuit consentiens, auxilians, seu procurans, ad mortem suam, nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento isto: he wishes to acquit himself of the death of the same king, and says that he was never an accomplice, a helper or a procurer in his death, nor did he ever know of his death until this present parliament.  (Text and translation from The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England.)

This peculiar statement 'he did not know of his death' or 'he never knew about his [Edward II's] death' - peculiar because it was Lord Berkeley himself via his messenger Sir Thomas Gurney who had informed Edward III of his father's demise in September 1327 - has been translated over-elaborately by some modern commentators so that the words mean what they think they should mean.  Take for example Professor Roy Martin Haines in his 2002 book Death of a King, p. 78:

"Now this can hardly be taken to mean, as some have thought, that the baron did not know that the king was dead.  For one thing such a thing would have been tantamount to treason, and had been so interpreted during the regime of Isabelle and Mortimer*; for another, it would be quite inconceivable in the light of all the circumstances already painstakingly reviewed [in Haines' book].  What Berkeley meant to say, and he ought to have expressed himself more clearly, unless the recording clerk is to blame, was that he knew nothing about the circumstances of Edward's death.  As we now know, the idea of murder was first openly mooted in the parliament and there accepted as the cause of death."  Although Professor Haines is beyond doubt a superb historian with a remarkable decades-long track record of publications about Edward II and his reign, is it reasonable for him to assume that he knows what was going on in Thomas Berkeley's mind in late 1330 and to explain to readers 'what Berkeley meant to say' with such utter certainty?  This is a classic example of how Berkeley's strange remark is interpreted by someone sure that Edward II had been dead for more than three years at the time, to make it fit into this notion, to make the words say what the modern commentator wants them to say.

(* A reference, presumably, to the execution of Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent in March 1330 for attempting to free the supposedly dead Edward from captivity.)

Here's another modern-day declaration by someone else convinced that he knew what Thomas Berkeley was 'really' saying in November 1330: David J.H. Smith, the Berkeley Castle archivist, wrote several years ago in a letter to the Times Literary Supplement (now behind a paywall, so I can't link to it) that "what Thomas actually said was that this was the first time he had heard any suspicion of foul play in the King's death...".  No.  That is not what Thomas actually said.  What Thomas actually said, as recorded in the rolls of parliament by a clerk who was there and heard him speak, was nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento isto.  Nec unquam, never; scivit, he knew; de morte sua, of or about his death; usque in presenti Parliamento isto, until this present parliament, i.e. the one sitting at Westminster in November 1330, over three years after the alleged death of the former Edward II at Berkeley Castle.  What in those six words says anything at all about 'suspicion of foul play'?  Thomas Berkeley's words can only be made to mean 'he hadn't previously heard any suspicion of foul play' or 'he knew nothing about the circumstances of Edward II's death' by people looking at his words with the assumption that Edward died at Berkeley Castle while under Lord Berkeley's care in 1327 and trying to change the meaning of the words so that they make logical sense to them in this context.

Edward II's biographer Professor Seymour Phillips, Professor Chris Given-Wilson and the other editors of the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504 (PROME) translate nec unquam scivit de morte sua as 'nor did he know of the death...' in their text of the proceedings of the November 1330 parliament without any additions, although their Introduction to this parliament says that Lord Berkeley claimed he "had not known that the former king had died of other than natural causes."  Professor Phillips goes into this point in more detail in his 2010 work Edward II, pp. 579-80.  Footnote 18 acknowledges his translation of nec unquam scivit... as 'nor did he know of his death' in PROME, and adds that "my intention was to avoid over-interpretation of the text, since I was aware that it was open to different meanings."  To quote Professor Phillips in his narrative (he is himself quoting Ian Mortimer's article 'Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle'*): "Is 'the most obvious meaning' that Berkeley was claiming 'that he had not at any time heard of the death', or does it mean that he did not know the circumstances of the death until 1330?  The latter meaning is more consistent with the language employed, especially when taken in conjunction with the immediately preceding statement that 'he was never an accomplice, a helper or a procurer in his death' ('ipse nuncquam fuit consentiens, auxilians, seu procurans, ad mortem suam'): this can only mean that Berkeley knew that the death had occurred but that he claimed he had no part in it."

(* Ian Mortimer, 'The Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle', English Historical Review, cxx (2005), pp. 1175-1214; reproduced in his Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies (2010), pp. 61-108.)

To summarise, nec unquam scivit de morte sua has been variously stated to mean certainly or almost certainly that what Thomas Berkeley really intended to say was that a) he knew nothing of the circumstances of Edward II's death; b) he hadn't previously heard any suspicion of foul play relating to the death; c) he hadn't known that the king's death was due to anything other than natural causes; d) he knew nothing of the circumstances of the death although he knew it had taken place, but had nothing to do with the death.  We are also informed that one of these interpretations 'is more consistent with the language employed' than translating nec unquam scivit de morte sua literally as 'he never knew about the death'.  Hmmm, this is a lot of meaning being read into those six simple words, isn't it?

Although I already knew what Berkeley's statement dicit quod ipse nunquam fuit consentiens, auxilians, seu procurans, ad mortem suam, nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento isto meant, I decided to send it to Quintus the Latin Translator as I was very interested in how an independent Latin expert would translate it, and he kindly sent this back to me:

"He said he was never in agreement to his death, either by lending help or by direct involvement, and he never knew about his death until this present parliament."

According to his website, Quintus was educated in Latin to doctoral level at Cambridge, taught Latin Prose and Verse Composition at the university, and then moved on to head the Classics department at a prestigious boarding school.  Here we see how a Latin expert, without knowing the background to Berkeley's statement and without a vested interest in altering the translation so that it fits into his preconceived notions of what the statement 'should' mean, translates nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento istohe never knew about his death until this present parliament.  Not 'he didn't know about the circumstances of his death' or 'he didn't know until the present parliament that it was murder' or 'he hadn't previously heard any suspicion of foul play', or any other ways in which these words been interpreted in recent years.  Simply, 'he never knew about his [i.e. Edward II's] death'.  I certainly wouldn't call myself an expert in the European languages derived from Latin, but if someone said in French, for example, Il n'a jamais su de sa mort, I'd assume they meant 'He never knew about his death' and not that they were trying to tell me they didn't know the person was murdered, which I assume would be Il n'a jamais su qu'il a été assassiné/tué, or didn't know anything about the circumstances of the death, which I'd translate as something like Il n'a jamais su comment il est mort/il a été tué.

As Professor Haines says, perhaps Lord Berkeley 'should have expressed himself more clearly' to parliament.  Or perhaps the clerk who recorded his statement was in fact to blame as the professor suggests, and Berkeley said something else and it was written down wrongly or less fully than the baron had meant.  Or perhaps we should work with the evidence that we actually have, rather than trying to read Lord Berkeley's mind and ascertain what we think he 'really' meant or what the clerk 'should' have recorded and thus try our hardest to make his words fit into the scenario that Edward II certainly, definitely, absolutely died in his castle in September 1327.

It is true that the November 1330 parliament was the first time that the cause of Edward II's death was officially and openly stated to have been murder.  The killers, in addition to the executed Roger Mortimer, were named as Sir Thomas Gurney (who had carried Lord Berkeley's letter to Edward III) and the man-at-arms William Ockley or Ogle (see here for more about them), and a price was put on their heads.  It is also undoubtedly true that the young Edward III was keen to emphasise that his father really was dead, to a point where - to me, at least - it almost seems absurd.  The response to the petitions of the earl of Kent's widow Margaret Wake and their young son Edmund repeats over and over that Edward II was dead and had been dead when the earl of Kent had tried to free him from captivity a few months earlier, "which release was impossible to secure all that time seeing as he was already dead, as is said above," and Kent "had knowingly wished the said release to the prejudice of the king our present lord, which was completely impossible as is said above," and was "willing to purchase the easement and the release of his same brother, which release was impossible to secure all that time seeing as he was already dead," and evil men had tried to convince Kent and "encourage him to purchase the release of his said brother, as if it had been possible to do this" and had caused him "to understand that our lord the king the father of our present lord the king was alive when he was dead, and for that reason it had been impossible to have secured or purchased his release."  So, have we got that yet, folks?  Just in case you missed the message being hammered home again and again, Edward of Caernarfon is DEAD.  And cannot possibly be free somewhere, and the earl of Kent and his many adherents cannot in any way have really been on the verge of releasing him because that's impossible.  Really, really impossible.

I still think "I never knew about his death until the present parliament" is an extraordinary thing for Lord Berkeley to have said.  If he was feigning ignorance of the circumstances of the death, why not say "I didn't know until I heard it at this parliament how Edward died, I don't know anything about how it happened, I wasn't there"?  On further questioning by parliament on the issue, Berkeley's alibi, as discussed below, was that he had been away from Berkeley Castle at the time and was seriously ill.  So why didn't he just say that the first time?  If Berkeley meant to say that this was the first time he had heard that Edward II's death was now being treated as murder, why not state that, rather than "I never knew about his death"?  Edward II's death was openly being stated as murder, and two men named as his murderers in addition to Roger Mortimer; Berkeley had nothing to gain by being coy and refusing to refer to the death as murder when the young king himself had stated this to be the case.  Berkeley went on to claim that he had been absent from Berkeley Castle at the time, "detained with such and so great an illness outside the aforesaid castle at Bradley that he remembers nothing of this."  This convenient illness and amnesia did not prevent Berkeley from writing to Edward III informing him of his father's death, and obviously was a lie (which Edward III presumably realised, having received Berkeley's letter on 23-24 September 1327 and acted on it in good faith, by disseminating the news of his father's death).

Thomas, Lord Berkeley lied to Edward III.  Either he lied to him in September 1327 by telling him that Edward II was dead when he wasn't (or at least, Berkeley didn't know for sure if he was dead or not), or he lied to him in November 1330 by telling the king that a) he had never known about the death of Edward II until he came to the current parliament and/or b) that he wasn't at Berkeley Castle on the night Edward II was supposedly killed there.  As Ian Mortimer points out in his article 'The Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle' (cited above), Berkeley's letter to Edward III informing him that his father was dead is of fundamental importance, because it was this information which caused the young king to begin disseminating the news of his father's death to parliament, from where it spread around the entire country.  At no point, as far as is known, did Edward III send anyone to Berkeley Castle to confirm the veracity of Lord Berkeley's information (although the chronicler Adam Murimuth, who was ninety miles away in Exeter at the time, tells us that a group of knights, abbots and burgesses were invited to Berkeley Castle to view Edward II's body but only did so superficialiter).  Everything flowed from that letter of Lord Berkeley, the spreading of information that Edward II was dead, the funeral arrangements made for the former king, the certainty of fourteenth-century chroniclers that Edward II died at Berkeley Castle on or around 21 September 1327.  And yet thirty-eight months after that letter, here we have Lord Berkeley stating before parliament that "he never knew about [Edward II's] death until the present parliament."  To say that this is curious is an under-statement.  For more info, please do read Ian Mortimer's 'The Death of Berkeley Castle', his 'Twelve Angry Scholars' article in Medieval Intrigue (pp. 109-51), and his new essay An Inconvenient Fact, which go into Lord Berkeley's statement, interpretations of it and the likely meaning in great detail.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post. Didn't know that Edward III made those statements about the Earl of Kent's plot being impossible ... would this be justification ofr condemning Mortimer for executing Kent? Also, would Edward II being alive pose much of a threat to Edward III, since Edward III was so wildly popular? Edward III was known to have been fond of his father (he refused the throne until his father consented) as well as his mother (and he would want her cleared of murder, if for no other reason than he claimed the French throne through her, so if she looked better, his claim would be more attractive) -- Berkeley might have thought the idea that Edward II was alive would be welcome to Edward III.

Esther

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Esther! The statements about Edward being dead in response to Kent's plot strike me as overkill, though they may also have been intended to emphasise Kent's innocence as well as hammer home the message that Edward II was dead. Officially so, anyway. That's a great idea!

Anerje said...

I am mesmerised by Lord Berkley's statement. I kept re-reading it to actually believe what I was reading - and yes, Kathryn, if you think Edward II was murdered in 1327, you will try to find a meaning in Lord Berkley's words and make 'excuses' for him. It does sound incredulous. But then if you accept that Edward II was still alive, it makes sense. Isabella and Mortimer would perhaps have used the information Edward II was secretly still alive to manipulate Edward III. Edward II would be a threat to his son if he fell into the wrong hands. I love to read your posts on this subject!

Bryan Dunleavy said...

How clever of you to seek out a neutral Latin translation. Ian Mortimer's thesis becomes more compelling and your research is helping to bolster the idea of Edward II's survival beyond the date of his reported death. I might be completely convinced if I could satisfy myself that it was possible for a man who had been at the summit of power for 20 years could live out his days in anonymity and obscurity.
It really is time to investigate the contents of the tomb at Gloucester. Modern science should be able to tell us if they are the likely bones of Edward II and if, for example, they were deposited when the tomb was built or a decade or so later.

churchaholic said...

Isn't there a large element of they would say that wouldn't they - Regicide was (and perhaps is) serious business. I'd have sorted out my cover stories very early on.

Sonetka said...

Just how much trouble did Lord Berkeley imagine he might be in while all of this was going on? If he was frantically trying to distance himself from anything related to Edward II's death, he might have forgotten about the letter and exaggerated his ignorance just to make it clear that he had not injured or murdered the late king. A sort of fourteenth century "I don't know what you're talking about, and furthermore I didn't do it."

And as you said, there's the possibility that the transcriber summarized what Berkeley said a little too concisely. For that matter, what was the transcriber's Latin skill like? Presumably it was very good, but if he made other mistakes I'd wonder if "dead" had been swapped in for "murdered" accidentally. Whenever these weird discrepancies come up I always think of the parish clerk who transcribed Anne Hathaway's name mistakenly as Anne Whateley, and thereby inadvertently created a whole imaginary youthful romance with Mysterious Lost True Love Anne for William Shakespeare. This isn't to say that Berkeley's contradictions weren't weird, and they're fascinating to read about -- thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you again for another fascinating post. This great explanation made the whole issue of Thomas Berkeley’s parliamentary evidence a lot clearer! Are any other questions and answers recorded in the Rolls, by the way? I can't believe there wouldn't have been follow-up questions. I did wonder if Thomas Berkeley had attended Edward II’s funeral, or visited Gloucester Abbey and seen Edward’s tomb between December 1327 and November 1330 (and if the answer to either question is yes, could anyone in his parliamentary audience have known that)? I wish we could see the reaction of the MPs to Berkeley’s comment. I don’t suppose our clerk has written “Gasps of amazement!” or “Loud snoring from the peers’ benches” in the margin here, has he?

I got really excited when you said the comment was “recorded in Latin …(and) he had presumably been asked..and..answered…in French”. I wonder if the Latin clerk’s translation was simultaneous or written up from notes after the event? Sorry for the translator digression – that’s my job and I get obsessed about it sometimes! I often have to check or make English minutes of non-English meetings; could that be analogous to the work of fourteenth century parliamentary Latin clerks? Probably not, but I still think the logic of the transcribed sentence does seem a bit strange both in the wider context, and considering the sequence of "I didn't agree to it" > "I didn't know about it" . If I’d been this clerk’s boss reviewing his minutes in 1330, I’d have said to him “Could you just check with Lord Berkeley exactly what he means; looks like you might not have reflected that French comment perfectly in Latin here." Sorry for the digression, I don’t suppose thoughts from a modern translator's perspective are any help answering whether Edward survived beyond 1327. So, I am eagerly waiting for your next incisive and illuminating post on the issue!

Thanks again and apologies for the long comment and multiple questions, Henry

Anonymous said...

Henry expressed my immediate reaction on reading this post! As I live in an officially bi-lingual, in which the population is in general is by no means bi-lingual, there have always been nuances of language that have not been expressed, even in official documentation. Fourteenth C Norman French, as used in England, was one assumes, as mutable as has English always been.
Judith

Kathryn Warner said...

Many thanks to all for the comments! Much for me to ponder :-)

Gabriele C. said...

Bryan, if Edward entered a monastery, preferably one with hard physical work (would be to his liking) and a vow of silence like the Cistercians, he could have got away with it.

Kathryn, I agree to read the sentence at what is says, but I too, wonder what may have got lost in translation. Did Parliament proclaim Edward dead in 1327? An official announcement must have traveled around, and even gossip would have done and eventually reached the pub where Berkeley took his evening ale. To not have heard about Edward's death at all strikes me as really strange. So either there was a mistake in translation and Berkeley meant he had not heard it was murder, or he makes a weird sort of excuse. I wasn't involved in anything, I was not there, I don't know nothing ... because either he was afraid of consequences and floundered around or the whole affair WAS fishy (ie. Edward lived and Berkeley knew) and Berkeley tried to reconcile two irreconcilable facts (he sent the letter while knowing Ed was not dead) and talked rings around that. :-)

thewonkslament said...

This really is dancing on the head of a pin, and proves nothing. Berkeley's words, or their reporting, or both, carry a measure of ambiguity. So what? That does not add up to to any plausible narrative of Edward II's survival, or any case for unpicking the overwhelmingly most likely understanding of events: that Edward was (very sensibly, from their point of view) murdered at the behest of Mortimer and Isabella.

But to run with it, suppose I were to ask you: "Do you know about your conception?" What would you take my question to mean? I can't possibly be asking you whether or not you know you were conceived - it's a given. Pretty obviously I'm asking you that very awkward question of whether you know about the circumstances of your conception. So even taking the Quintus translation, which uses this formulation, as gospel, as you appear keen to do, there is ample room for accepting that Berkeley's denial that he "knew about" the death was a denial that he knew about it in the sense of knowing its circumstances, or being knowledgeable on the matter.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that the letter announcing Edward II's "death" was not actually written by Berkeley, but was a forgery perhaps (or signed with his name)?

Esther

Kathryn Warner said...

Wonkslament: so to you, the notion that Edward II died in 1327 is on the same level of certainty that I was conceived? About taking the translation as 'gospel' - interesting notion - that is in fact what the words mean. If you want to interpret them as meaning something else that isn't recorded, fair enough, plenty of others have done the same. I didn't even mention here the possibility that Berkeley's words mean that Edward II survived. Alone, no, of course they don't. In combination with other evidence, such as the Melton and Fieschi letters and Kent's plot, yes, I do think there are grounds for questioning the traditional notion that Mortimer and Isabella had Edward killed.

Sami Parkkonen said...

"He said he was never in agreement to his death, either by lending help or by direct involvement, and he never knew about his death until this present parliament."

Now to me this means following:

Berkeley, who knew his own life was at stake, says in front of the parliament and his peers and king etc. that did not want Edward II to die, as he was not in agreement of such. He did not want him to die.

He also states that he did not help or was involved in the killing in any way.

And most of all, he says, without a doubt, that he did not even know the old king was dead before THIS parliament.

Now, if we wish to twist the words, then why not look at the last ones? What he actually says is that he did not even know the old king was dead. Meaning he had believed all the time that the old king was still alive.

"he never knew about his death until this present parliament".

So he had lived all this time thinking that old king was alive somewhere untill he was accused of his death at this parliament.

Ok. If we wish to speculate here: what would you do, if you would be accused of doing something years ago on behalf of the then queen, like murdering the father of the new king who is also accusing you?

I think Berkeley realised that Isabella and Mortimer had played him nicely back in 1327 and made him send that letter to teenage Edward III who, like any teenager, wrote about to the others, making it official.

Berkeley had written that letter and was doomed. He must have known it. What there is left to do? When all the plots and tricks are done, when you have no more cards to play? Tell the truth. You have nothing to lose.

I believe Berkeley told the truth. Why not? He knew there was no way in hell he would survive since he was made a scapegoat by Mortimer and Isabella back in 1327. He coild not prove they were behind the letter. He had no eviodence. So what to do?

Tell the truth.
"I was never in agreement to his death, either by lending help or by direct involvement, and I never knew about his death until this present parliament-"

Anerje said...

Taken in isolation, of course the letter doesn't prove Edward II was still alive. It's part of a jigsaw. I was totally sceptical, but fitting the evidence together, it is totally plausible. I printed off all Kathryn's posts on the subject, had already read 'The Greatest Traitor', and then read the rest of Ian Mortimer's word. I read them, re-read and re-read them. There's so much evidence out there. If you compare the speculation about the Princes in the Tower, there's far more evidence Edward II survived than the Princes did. It's a shame that Edward II just doesn't attract the same interest.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Yes Anerje,
too much weird things, like the plot to release king who had been dead officially for three years by then. All the letters etc.

chris y said...

I suspect that the crux of this problem lies in the preposition de, which (in classical Latin, I don't know about mediaeval) can be as ambiguous as English "about".

For instance, if I ask you if you know about the civil war in Syria, you might answer, "Of course I do, it's been all over the news for months". Or you might say, "Not really. I'm not an expert in western Asian politics and I don't really trust any of the commentary I've read." In the first case, you're interpreting "know about" as "know that it exists"; in the second case you're interpreting it as "have a deep understanding of it". Both are legitimate interpretations, and you would need quite a lot of context to decide which one was appropriate.

I think there's a similar ambiguity in the clerk's use of scivit de morte sua. Berkeley might be claiming that this was the first time he had heard of Edward being dead, or he might be saying that he knew he was dead, but had never been briefed on the details before now. In either case, given that he was supposed to be responsible for Edward, he emerges as staggeringly irresponsible, but it strikes me as just plausible that, if some of his fellow peers were insinuating that he was responsible for Edward's death, he might make the latter claim.

Anerje said...

Chris - if a former king died in your custody, wouldn't you want to know what happened? Wouldn't you investigate the circumstances? Especially if you wrote a letter to the new king informing him? It's not just 'staggeringly irresponsible', it's downright bizarre. If an accident, or illness, claimed Edward's life, wouldn't Berkeley want to make sure he wasn't responsible in any way?

chris y said...

Anerje - Yes, if a former king died in my custody, there would be a commission of enquiry set up within hours and I'd take great care that everybody could see me doing it right. In fact, if I had a former king in my custody I'd be getting regular frequent status reports on him so that I wasn't wrong footed if anything happened. Berkeley's attitude and behaviour is hard to understand, not least because of his apparent lack of concern for his own well being.

My point was though that there is a slight ambiguity in the report of what he said to Parliament, and that, given he would look bad on either interpretation, it might be slightly less self incriminating to claim not to know the circumstances of Edward's death than to claim not to know he was "dead". I mean, Berkeley was an important public man, a close relative of the regent, no less, who had, presumably, friends; he had, presumably, hangers on and servants. Edward III had been notified in writing of his father's death in a letter purporting to come from him. Even if his authorship of that letter was forged, how likely is it that nobody mentioned it to him? "Oh damn, I knew there was something I should have told you..." On the other hand, it is plausible that his father in law told him that it might not be good for his health to investigate the circumstances of Edward's death too closely.

Anonymous said...

All these good comments and the fascinating original post have motivated me to splash out on two years’ on-line access to The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England! I have read this bit about hundred times now and I can’t help feeling that Professor Phillips’ explanation is the best fit for the context, as opposed to the other elaborate interpretations or even Ian Mortimer’s more literal take (but I could be guilty of seeing what I expect to see). The paragraph does seem to take the circumstances of the death at as its theme right from the opening. Judging from the follow-up questions, Berkeley’s interrogators don’t appear to think he has denied that it took place there in 1327.
Elsewhere on the net, I found a piece from a Gloucestershire local historian looking for trees planted at stops along the route of Edward’s cortege from Berkeley castle to Gloucester Abbey. It looks like a great read in its own right, but interestingly for this discussion, it says that Berkeley escorted Edward’s coffin on its final journey from the castle to the abbey. If this is verifiable, might it tip the scales a bit more towards Professor Phillips’ interpretation? Apologies for a silly parallel, but I imagined an undertaker saying “I didn’t know the man whose funeral I arranged was actually dead”. The interrogation that Thomas Berkeley underwent does not feel (to a non-expert like me) like an exchange that might follow such a remark.

Just one final thought about the general fishiness, I flicked through some of the other pages for that parliament, and I was a bit struck by the dramatic contrast with the treatment his father-in-law got just a couple of weeks before (have I read the atmosphere correctly?) I wondered if someone on top had decided not to push matters too much further after Roger Mortimer's execution, leaving Berkeley and his jurors to dial in scripted performances en route to a pre-arranged outcome. Or is that too cynical? Best wishes, Henry

Anonymous said...

TheWonkslament's comment is amusing as he/she falls straight into the trap of not wanting to believe what the evidence actually says, or might say. Such people then put forward an argument that shows why they can justify setting this evidence aside, not realising how feeble their alternative explanation is.

'Do you know about your conception?' is a good way of illustrating the importance of Berkeley's statement. If you have heard about your conception from your parents, then you probably trust their news. But Berkeley's statement is like your mother saying 'I've not heard until now that I had a child by your father' (Berkeley being the proven sole source of the story before it was circulated). If your mother told you now that she had not heard 'of' or 'about' having a child by your father, you would have to say that your knowledge of your true parentage would be based on an assumption, which was probably wrong. In which case you would have to look for other evidence that showed who your real father was.

What is incredible is how this little detail exposes the bad historical arguments that people use to maintain their view of history is correct - even good historians fall into this trap. And reveal their own lack of understanding of historical methodology along with it.

Sami Parkkonen said...

I think that Berkeley was made or told to write young Edward III that letter. At that moment he could have not refused. Afterwards, since there had been no investigations or anybody asking, he propably just wished things would remain quiet and hoped the best. But once he was called up, he told the truth. He did not know about the death before this parliament which means he assumed that the old king was still alive.

Now how he could make such a claim? Because he knew Edward II did not die in his castle at his watch. Actually, he had been convinced that old king was still alive and there fore did not know that he was dead before being accused of his death.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Now, who the heck was this William de Galles guy?? We have a total stranger who came to see Edward III, claiming to be his father, and was not only received by the king but also spent few days with him in peace and got money from him when he left.

Nobody just walked to see the king. And if you claimed to be his daddy, particulary this king, you'd better be right. Otherwise your head would be really loose in a flick of an eye.

We know there was this guy. A man, whom we know nothing about, who came to see Edward III claiming to be his father. Who could it be? An impostor? Jester? Trickster who fooled the king for days on end?

Edward III was not a king to be fooled with. He did not fall into traps set to him by papal envoys, diplomats or such. He was nobodys fool. Any doubt about the identity of this man and the guy would have been chopped up, gutted, hanged etc. But what happened?

King not only received him. He also spent days with him, introduced him to his kids and wife, gave him some money and and safe escort. Who could this man be?

In the light of this strange episode I think it is obvious that Berkeley was telling the truth. He propably knew that the king knew the truth.

But Edward III did not forgive him about the letter which he received while still under the reign of his mother and Mortimer. No matter why, Berkeley had fooled him when he was just a frightened teenager. Berkeley had made him believe his father was dead, no matter why or by whose orders.

Berkeley knew his only defence was the truth. He could not explain the letter away. But he could say that he knew the old king was not killed in his custody since he did not want to kill him. In other words, Berkeley was trying to say to Edward III that his father was alive because he did not want nothing to happen to him in his custody.

But Berkeley did not understand that Edward III was not punishing him for that. He was dead man because he had tricked him to believe his father was dead.

James said...

Reading that it seems to me as though Berkely knew of a plan to murder the king and wanted nothing to do with it. The part that states he was unaware of the kings death until now could just as easily be a lie to cover his back or a manner of sorts to keep himself out of a volatile situation. Plausible deny-ability. It in no way sheds any light one way or another.

Kathryn Warner said...

I agree, in itself it doesn't necessarily mean that much, especially when we can't be totally sure that the clerk recorded his words correctly (presumably Berkeley spoke in French and his speech was translated into Latin). As part of a greater whole, however, the belief of many influential people in 1329/30 that Edward of Caernarfon was alive, it becomes rather more interesting.