22 December, 2013

Edward II's Christmases

I've written plenty of Christmas posts in previous years: see here, herehere, herehere and here.  Unbelievably, this is the ninth Christmas since I started the blog on 3 December 2005!  It's scary how fast time passes.  Don't worry; even after more than eight years and 500 posts, I'm not going anywhere, and the Edward II blog will continue for many more years yet.  Oh yes!

Here's a guest post by me on Ivan Fowler's excellent blog, about what Edward II ate and drank and the ceremony around dining at his court.  Do check out Ivan's blog; he's doing a lot of terrific work on Edward's afterlife in Italy, and has a novel about it too, Towards Auramala.  And if you're in the mood for a great Robin Hood novel set in Edward II's reign, I definitely recommend Steven McKay's Wolf's Head, which has lots of very positive reviews.

In this post I'm going to look at where Edward II spent each Christmas of his reign, and where possible add a little information too.

- Christmas 1307: Twenty-three-year-old Edward, not yet crowned king, was at Westminster, which is apparent from a few entries in the chancery rolls and in Exchequer documents.  Although the Annales Paulini claims that he spent Christmas at Wye in Kent with Piers Gaveston, Edward did not in fact arrive at Wye until 3 January 1308, on his way to Dover from where he sailed to France on 22 January to marry Isabella in Boulogne.  On 26 December 1307 (at Westminster), Edward took the extraordinary step of appointing Piers custos regni, keeper of the realm, while he travelled to France to marry Isabella (Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-13, p. 31).  The author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi surely spoke for many when he exclaimed "An astonishing thing, that he who had lately been an exile and outcast from England should now be made ruler and guardian of the realm."

- Christmas 1308: At Windsor, with the queen.  Piers Gaveston was then in exile.

- Christmas 1309: At his favourite residence of (King's) Langley in Hertfordshire, with the queen and Piers Gaveston.  According to the Vita, "the lord king and Piers with the whole household directed their steps to a place of which the king was fond.  The place is called Langley, near the town of St Albans.  There they passed the festive season, fully making up for former absence by their long wished-for sessions of daily and intimate conversation."

- Christmas 1310: At the port of Berwick-upon-Tweed, with the queen.  Eight days before Christmas, Edward sent Sir Robert Clifford and Sir Robert FitzPain to Selkirk to "speak with Robert de Brus," and sometime before 19 February 1311 sent his nephew the earl of Gloucester and Piers Gaveston to Melrose for the same purpose, "but it was said he [Robert Bruce] had been warned by some he would be taken, and therefore departed, so they have had no parley." (Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland 1307-57, p. 39.)

- Christmas 1311: At Westminster, with Isabella.  The fortunate survival of Isabella's household book at this time makes interesting reading: the queen despatched "various precious goods" to the very pregnant Margaret Gaveston at Wallingford Castle as a New Year gift, and sent letters to Edward II's sister Mary the nun, Lady Mortimer, either the mother or wife of her future favourite Roger Mortimer, and Hugh Despenser the Elder, whom she would have executed in 1326.  Although even the usually very well-informed Vita Edwardi Secundi claims that Edward spent Christmas with Piers Gaveston, as do Annales Londonienses and the Bridlington chronicler, this is not the case: Edward gave Piers' messenger a pound on 23 December for bringing him Piers' letters (as pointed out by J.S. Hamilton in his biography of Piers).

- Christmas 1312: At Windsor with the queen and their six-week-old son Edward of Windsor, earl of Chester.  The king spent almost £1250 on cloth for himself, his wife and son and their retainers in order for the royal family to look as splendid as possible during the festive season at Windsor.  On 19 December, he sent a palfrey horse worth six pounds and a saddle "with a lion of pearls, and covered with purple cloth" worth five pounds to Nichola, wife of Piers Lubaud, the Gascon sheriff of Edinburgh and constable of Linlithgow.  Why Nichola was singled out for this honour is not clear, although it is probable that Lubaud was a cousin of Piers Gaveston.

- Christmas 1313: At Westminster, presumably with the queen.  The situation in England was calmer as Edward had on 16 October issued pardons to all the men responsible for "all causes of anger, indignation, suits, accusations, &c., arisen in any manner on account of Peter de Gavaston, from the time of the king's marriage with his dear companion Isabella, whether on account of the capture, detention, or death of Peter de Gavaston, or on account of any forcible entries into any towns or castles, or any sieges of the same; or on account of having borne arms, or of having taken any prisoners, or of having entered into any confederacies whatever, or in any other manner touching or concerning Peter de Gavaston, or that which befell him." (Patent Rolls 1313-17, p. 21.)

- Christmas 1314: At Windsor, with the queen.  On 6 December, the feast day of St Nicholas, the couple had been at Langley, where the king gave two pounds to Robert Tyeis, who officiated as boy-bishop in his chapel.  Edward played the board game of 'tables' on Christmas Eve with members of his entourage.  On 27 December, he gave the chancellor and scholars of Oxford University twenty pounds to pray for Piers Gaveston's soul, and on 2 or 3 January 1315 finally buried him, two and a half years after his death, at the Dominican priory at Langley which he had founded in 1308.

- Christmas 1315: At the royal hunting lodge of Clipstone, with the queen.  Although they probably didn't yet know it, Isabella was recently pregnant with their second son John of Eltham, who was born on 15 August 1316.

- Christmas 1316: At Nottingham, having been eighteen miles away at Clipstone again on Christmas Eve.  As was Edward's habit, he played at dice on Christmas Eve, spending a massive five pounds on this occasion (more than most of his subjects lived on in a year).  He gave six shillings and eight pence to John, son of Alan of Scrooby, who ‘officiated’ as boy-bishop in his chapel on St Nicholas's Day and ten shillings to the unnamed child who acted as boy-bishop in his presence at St Mary's Church in Nottingham on 28 December, the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

- Christmas 1317: At Westminster with the queen, who was about three months pregnant with their third child Eleanor of Woodstock.  Edward spent one pound, thirteen shillings and six pence on a "great wooden table" to be placed in the palace hall, and also paid thirty pounds to Thomas de Hebenhith, mercer of London, for "a great hanging of wool, woven with figures of the king and earls on it, for the king’s service in his hall, on solemn festivals."  By New Year, someone had realised that constantly taking the hanging up and down was damaging it, so Edward paid Thomas de Verlay six shillings and three pence to make and sew a border of green cloth around it.

- Christmas 1318: At Beverley in Yorkshire.

- Christmas 1319: At York, where, as I pointed out in the last post, Edward invited the thirty-two scholars of his 1317 foundation at the University of Cambridge to join him.  Only seven of them arrived on time.

- Christmas 1320: At Marlborough in Wiltshire, probably with Isabella, who was once again pregnant, with their youngest child Joan.  Edward spent nearly sixty pounds on the festivities for Christmas and Epiphany.

- Christmas 1321: At Cirencester in Gloucestershire, where he had ordered his army against the Contrariants to muster.  He spent eighty-seven pounds on the festivities, and 115 pounds for "sixteen pieces of cloth for the apparelling of ourselves and our dear companion [Isabella], also furs, against the next feast of Christmas," also ordering more cloth and linen for Isabella and her damsels and "other things of which we stand in need, against the great feast."

- Christmas 1322: At York after the failure of his latest and last campaign in Scotland; I'm not sure if Isabella was with him or not. Edward paid two women for singing for him in the garden of the Franciscans on 26 December, presumably a mild day. The much later chronicler Thomas Walsingham says that Edward "showed a joyful expression" over the Christmas season "though his heart was savagely tormented," and that he was hated in the north of England for his failures in Scotland and his "witless behaviour."

Christmas 1323At Kenilworth with the queen, where Edward gave a pound each to two minstrels of the bishop of Ely who performed for them. He also gave half a mark each to three of his vigiles or watchmen to buy themselves "winter tunics for their night vigils."

- Christmas 1324: At Nottingham, and again, I'm not sure whether Isabella was with him or not.   Edward gave an Epiphany gift of fifty shillings to his minstrels and two shillings to his piper Little Alein for his performance.

- Christmas 1325: At Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, Edward's last as a free man.  Isabella was in France and refusing to return to him.

- Christmas 1326: At Kenilworth in captivity, while a council at Wallingford debated his fate.  Edward's state of mind, given that he was imprisoned and his friends executed, can hardly be guessed at.

This will be the last post for a little while as I'm on holiday, so I'll take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas and happy New Year, from me and Edward II! :-)

15 December, 2013

Edward II and Oxbridge (2)

This is a continuation of my earlier post detailing Edward II's foundation of two Oxbridge colleges: King's Hall at Cambridge University in 1317 and Oriel College at Oxford University in 1326.

How did Edward II celebrate the tenth anniversary of his succession to the throne, on 7 July 1317?  By founding a college at Cambridge University, of course!  To quote from W.W. Rouse Ball's The King's Scholars and King's Hall (1917), on that date "Edward II issued a writ to the sheriff of Cambridgeshire directing him to pay out of royal moneys in his hands the sums necessary for the maintenance in the University of Cambridge of certain scholars whom the king proposed to send there...Two days later the first ten [or perhaps twelve; see below] scholars, with John de Baggeshot their warden, arrived in Cambridge, and took up their residence in a house hired for them at the expense of the crown."  By Christmas 1319, when the scholars of King's Hall (as it became known) spent the festive season with the king in York, there were thirty-two of them, maintained clothes and all at Edward II's expense.

W.W. Rouse Ball's excellent work on King's Hall and its early history details the lives of the scholars.  They received around nine yards of cloth annually at Christmas to make their robes and were also given shoes, while the warden received two sets of robes a year, the winter set fur-lined.  The warden Simon de Bury was given a tunic and a long tabard with hood, lined with budge (sheep's wool) in 1325.  The scholars also received pocket money: half a mark (six shillings and eight pence) twice a year.  They had to be at least fourteen years old and with a good knowledge of Latin to be accepted, and of course of good knowledge and ability in general.  The journeys of the thirty-two scholars from Cambridge to York to spend Christmas 1319 with Edward II is documented by Rouse Ball: six of them plus the warden left Cambridge on 20 December and arrived 150+ miles away in York on horseback a mere four days later on Christmas Eve, which was making excellent time given the vagaries of travelling in the dead of winter, while the remaining twenty-six left on the same day but didn't arrive until 28 December.  (Edward II's reaction to their tardiness is sadly unrecorded.)  While in York, one scholar was involved in an assault on a man named William Hardy, presumably a local resident, and was left behind in disgrace when the others returned to Cambridge.

Alan B. Cobban's The King's Hall Within the University of Cambridge in the Later Middle Ages also contains a wealth of information about Edward II's foundation.  It was properly designated at the time as Aula scolarium Regis Canterbrigiae, or Aula Regis for short.  Cobban cites the beginning of Edward's writ of 7 July 1317: Come nous eioms envoiez noz chers clercs Johan de Baggeshote et douze autres einfaunz de notre chapelle a luniversite de Cantebr' a demorer y et demody a nos coustages..., "As we have sent our dear clerk John Bagshot and twelve other children of our chapel to the university of Cambridge to remain there and to be at our expense...".  In 1546, the King's Hall was incorporated into the new foundation of Trinity College, along with Michaelhouse College, founded in 1324 by Edward's ally Hervey Stanton or Staunton, chief justice of the King's Bench.

Edward II also co-founded Oriel College at Oxford with his clerk Adam Brome on 21 January 1326, and the foundation charter says that love of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a desire to increase her "divine cult" motivated him to establish the college.  The king declared his zeal for sound learning and religious knowledge, granted Brome, the first college provost, and the scholars permission to acquire sixty pounds worth of lands and property, and specifically requested that five or six of the first ten scholars be students of canon law. The foundation was originally named the Hall of the Blessed Mary; the name 'Oriel' comes from a house called La Oriole granted to the college after Edward's deposition, and the college's full name is still "The House of the Blessed Mary the Virgin in Oxford, commonly called Oriel College, of the Foundation of Edward the Second of famous memory, sometime King of England."

Part of the entry on the Charter Roll relating to the foundation of Oriel states:

"Ordinance for a college of scholars studying in theology and dialectic in the university of Oxford, to be governed by a provost, to which office Adam de Brom, king's clerk, is appointed; and for the habitation and support of the said provost and scholars, gift to them of a messuage, five shops, five solars and one cellar in Oxford in the parish of St Mary, late of Roger le Mareschal, parson of the church of Tackeley, and of a messuage in the suburbs of Oxford called ' La Perilloshalle'..." (Calendar of Charter Rolls 1300-1326, pp. 481-2, 485-6).

Whatever Edward II's numerous faults, flaws, mistakes and ineptitude, his establishment of colleges at Oxford and Cambridge universities is something that should be remembered and acknowledged.  Edward is sometimes, for reasons which escape me, deemed to be 'stupid'.  To this I can only respond that 'stupid' people generally don't care about learning to the extent that they found and endow colleges at the only two universities which existed in his kingdom then, which Edward, incidentally, described as "the twin jewels of our crown."  Hardly anyone else in the entire long history of Oxford (founded before 1096) and Cambridge (founded in or before 1209) has founded colleges at both universities, Edward's descendant Henry VI, who founded King's College at Cambridge and All Souls at Oxford, being the only other person I can think of.  So the next time you see someone sneering at Edward II for being an utter disaster, you might like to remind them of that particular achievement.

05 December, 2013

Anniversary and Wrongness

Have just realised that I missed the eighth anniversary of the blog two days ago!  Yes, I began the Edward II blog on 3 December 2005, and this is the 505th post.

Anniversaries in Edward II Land this week:

- 1 December 1319: According to the Sempringham annalist, "there was a general earthquake in England, with great sound and much noise." On the same day, Edward granted powers to four men to make a truce with Robert Bruce.  Robert confirmed it on the 22nd.

- 1 December 1325: Edward wrote to Isabella, then in Paris refusing to return to him until Hugh Despenser was removed from his side. This is the last (known) letter he ever sent to his wife.

- 2 December 1307: Piers Gaveston held a famous jousting tournament at his castle of Wallingford.

- 4 December 1307: Edward II wrote to the kings of Sicily, Castile, Portugal and Aragon, telling them that he believed the charges of his soon-to-be father-in-law Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V against the Knights Templar were nothing more than "the slanders of ill-natured men, who are animated…with a spirit of cupidity and envy," asking them to remember the Templars' devotion, honesty and long service to the Christian faith, and saying that belief in the accusations was "hardly to be entertained."

- 6 December 1318: the leading members of Edward II's household - Bartholomew Badlesmere, steward; Hugh Despenser the Younger, chamberlain; Roger Northburgh, treasurer; Gilbert Wigton, controller of the Wardrobe - created a Household Ordinance, the second oldest extant in England.

- 8 December 1321: Edward issued a safe-conduct for Hugh Despenser the Younger to return to England, "in pursuance of his petition that the judgement of exile and disherison lately passed upon him by certain magnates contains errors and should be annulled."

- 10 December 1307: Edward wrote to Clement V with reference to the Templars, saying that he had heard "a rumour of infamy, a rumour indeed full of bitterness, terrible to think of, horrible to hear, and detestable in wickedness" and declaring that "we are unable to believe in suspicious stories of this kind until we know with greater certainty about these things."
Now I'm going to respond to some hideously wrong things I've seen posted about Edward II and Isabella online in the last few weeks:

We are told that Isabella "was a slender, pale-skinned blonde with sparkling blue eyes and a full mouth."  No source records Isabella’s appearance, other than that she was very beautiful.  This account, presented as fact, is pure fiction.  We have no idea whether her hair was blonde or black or chestnut brown or auburn, whether she was slender or plump, short or tall, pale-skinned or darker, whether she had blue or green or hazel or brown eyes.

"Like the female progeny of all the Royal Households of Europe, Isabella was a pawn in the Affairs of State and whilst still an infant she was betrothed to the future King Edward II of England. The sexual proclivities of the older Edward were already being questioned and it was early suggested that the marriage would be neither happy nor fruitful."

I am so, soooooo bored with this endless, stupid 'pawn' business to describe royal and noble women in the Middle Ages.  Edward II had no choice about marrying Isabella either, and was first betrothed in the interests of his father's foreign policy when he was only five, but no-one calls him a 'pawn', do they?  No-one calls their son Edward III a 'pawn' because Isabella used him to make an alliance with Hainault in the summer of 1326.  No-one suggested beforehand that Edward and Isabella’s marriage would not be happy or fruitful, and although her uncles who attended her and Edward's coronation were supposedly angry at the king's preferential treatment of Piers Gaveston there, any comments that Edward and Isabella's marriage was therefore doomed (doomed, I tell you, dooooooomed!) were written with hindsight many years later.  They had four children together.  How was their marriage not fruitful? As I've suggested before (and here), their relationship was for many years far more successful than is commonly supposed.  And finally, I wonder who exactly was already 'questioning' Edward of Caernarfon's 'sexual proclivities' as early as 1299 when he was only fifteen, and where were they doing this?

"Isabella arrived in England in 1307, aged 15 and it was rumoured that the elderly Edward I himself deprived Isabella of her virginity because he doubted his homosexual son’s ability to do so."  

AAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!  Isabella and Edward I never met.  She arrived in England after her marriage on 7 February 1308 when she was twelve, seven months after the death of Edward I.  I repeat: Isabella of France and Edward I never met.  Where the hell does this nonsense about a lecherous Edward I in his late sixties sleeping with his daughter-in-law come from?  I've seen it before and it baffles me.  I presume it's based on his character as invented in Braveheart.

"...Edward adored the gowns just not on her. Her jewellery he gave away to his favourite Piers Gaveston who proceeded to wear as much of it as possible whenever he was in her presence. She was humbled and humiliated time and time again particularly as her husband took a string of low-born male lovers. She hated the way he openly flaunted his homosexuality, the hugging and kissing in public displays of affection, the dancing with young men or balancing them on his knee at banquets."

 The tedious old 'Edward gave Isabella's jewels to Piers’ story AGAIN.  He didn't.  Piers deliberately wore the jewels in front of the queen?  Fiction.  Edward dancing with young men and balancing them on his knee?  Fiction.  He 'adored the gowns'?  Oh really?  Stereotype of gay men, and fiction.  A 'string of low-born male lovers'?  Fiction.  If that means Piers Gaveston, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley and Hugh Despenser, none of them were 'low-born'.  Piers' father was one of the leading barons of Béarn; Hugh Audley was closely related to the Mortimers; Roger Damory came from a long line of Oxfordshire knights; Hugh Despenser was nephew and grandson of earls of Warwick.  

"Throughout this period of instability [around Piers Gaveston's death], Isabella, who had herself taken the ambitious Sir Roger Mortimer as a lover, conspired with her husband’s enemies."

Much, much, much too early for Isabella to take Roger Mortimer 'as a lover', which didn't happen until late 1325 or early 1326, certainly not 1312 when Roger wasn't in England anyway.  And there is precisely no evidence that Isabella was opposed to Piers Gaveston or welcomed his death or had anything to do with it or that she 'conspired' with Edward's enemies.  Fiction, fiction, fiction.  People confuse Isabella's actions against the Despensers in the 1320s and project them back to fifteen years earlier, and assume that because she hated Hugh Despenser, she must also have hated Piers Gaveston and wanted rid of him.  But Piers and Hugh were very different men and to hate one was not automatically to hate the other.

"Safe in the Royal Court of her brother and with her son the heir to the throne in her possession she now openly declared her liaison with Sir Roger Mortimer, condemned her husband’s homosexuality, and declared her intention to invade England with an army raised in France."

So how did she do that then?  State in public 'I condemn my husband's homosexuality'?  I don't think so.  Interesting how very much a lot of people in modern times care so darn much about Edward II's sexuality, or what they think his sexuality was.  And notice how Isabella's teenage son the future Edward III is said to have been 'in her possession', as though he wasn't a human being at all but an object.  Odd, to moan about Isabella being a 'pawn' in affairs of state yet applaud her for arranging her thirteen-year-old son's marriage and keeping him little more than a prisoner to further her own ambitions.  This is something Isabella's fans do over and over again.

"On 3 April, 1327, Edward was removed in secret from Kenilworth to the more remote Berkeley Castle near Gloucester. A few months later Isabella was heard to remark “Edwardum occidere nolite timere bonum est” (Do not be afraid to kill Edward, it is good). According to Sir Thomas More what happened next was unequivocal in its brutality:

“On the night of 11 October while lying on his bed (the King) was suddenly seized and while a great mattress held him down and suffocated him, a plumbers iron, heated intensely hot, was introduced through a tube into his private parts so it burned the inner parts of his intestines.”

A hot rod pushed up his rectum was a truly horrible and painful way for Edward to die, but the insertion of a tube ensuring there would be no marks guaranteed that for Isabella and Mortimer it was a clean death. It was a death that had been designed specifically for him by a vengeful Queen, a punishment she felt befitted his crime."

Because when you're talking about something that happened in 1327, you really want to take Thomas More of all people as a source, especially when he gets the date so wrong (11 October instead of 21 September).  The Latin letter with the misplaced punctuation supposedly ordering Edward's death was discredited many decades ago.  The idea that Edward's murder by red-hot poker was ordered by the queen in 'revenge' for his 'crime' (of fancying men more than he fancied her, presumably - the horror!) is of course pure invention.  I often see stuff like this about Isabella and Edward posted online as though it's factual, when it's almost entirely taken directly from the pages of historical fiction.  I'm getting pretty sick of people thinking about how they might have felt in Isabella's situation and assuming she must have felt the same way, and presenting such speculation as 'fact'.

And of course it just wouldn't be the internet if we didn't see the 2329546th variation of the feeble old joke about gay kings really being 'queens': "A gay royal would give a great deal of humor to "God save the queen.""  Ba-doom-tish!  Give that person an originality prize!