23 March, 2014

May 1313: Saracens and Edward II's Gascon 'Brother'

Edward II and Queen Isabella departed for France on 23 May 1313 and stayed there for almost two months (see my post about it).  It was an evenful trip: the king and queen's pavilion caught fire one night and Edward saved his wife's life, Edward and his father-in-law Philip IV knighted his three brothers-in-law, Edward spent the first anniversary of Piers Gaveston's death watching fifty-four naked dancers perform for him, and so on.  A couple of interesting things happened just before he and Isabella left England.  Here they are...

On 23 May 1313, the day of the king and queen's departure, Edward II ordered Sir Robert Kendale, constable of Dover Castle and warden of the Cinque Ports, "to pay to six Saracens, whom the king is sending to him to stay in Dover Castle until the king's return from parts beyond sea, 6d each daily for their expenses."  (Close Rolls 1307-13, p. 537.)  Saracens here presumably meant Muslims, or Arabs.  I don't know who these six people were, whether they were all men or some women too, or how they came to be in England.  Unfortunately, I haven't found any other references to them, so I don't know what became of them when Edward returned to England in July 1313.  He himself was in Dover, from where he and Isabella sailed to Wissant, when he issued the order to the constable of Dover Castle, which might imply that the six 'Saracens' had travelled with him there and were left behind at the castle, with a rather generous allowance of sixpence a day each.  (By way of comparison, Edward's pages earned twopence a day, his valets threepence, and his squires seven and a half pence.)  Dover Castle was a comfortable royal residence, and clearly the six people were not being sent there to be imprisoned, but rather to live at the king's expense on a decent allowance until he returned from his visit to France.  I'm rather intrigued by them and wish I could find out who they were, and what happened to them!

The great, much missed academic Professor Pierre Chaplais (1920-2006) made a fascinating discovery in his book Piers Gaveston: Edward II's Adoptive Brother, 1994, pp. 111-12.  In a document now held at The National Archives in Kew, E 101/375/8 (accounts of Edward II's Wardrobe in the sixth year of his reign, July 1312 to July 1313), Chaplais found a tantalising reference to a royal pretender who had previously gone unnoticed.

In E 101/375/8, there's a large payment of thirteen pounds made by Edward II at Eltham on 22 May 1313, the day before he left for France, to a man named Richard de Neueby, a vallettus (valet, groom) said to be from Gascony, though as Professor Chaplais points out this is a very curious name for a Gascon.  Even more curiously, Neueby claimed to be Edward II's brother: dicenti se esse fratrem regis, "who says he is the king's brother".  In 1318, famously, John of Powderham claimed to be the real son of Edward I and was executed for it (though Edward II's initial reaction was to laugh, greet Powderham with the words "Welcome, my brother" and express a wish to make Powderham his court jester).  Not only was Richard de Neueby not executed or punished in any way, he was given the very large sum of thirteen pounds as the king's gift, de dono regis.  There is no more information about Neueby's claim.  Did he say he was a legitimate son of Edward I, or an illegitimate one?  Or was he claiming in some other way to be a brother of Edward II, not by blood but in some adoptive fashion?  What was the purpose behind his claim - did he seek official recognition from Edward II, or was the claim only made privately?  Was his claim ignored and unpunished because Edward saw that he was mad and not a threat to him in any way?  Was Edward amused by the claim, as he initially was with John of Powderham's three years later?  Did Edward decide to deal with Richard at a later date when he returned from France?  Was the large sum of money a bribe to go away and keep quiet, or a genuine heartfelt gift?  I have no answers, and no other references to the Gascon valet Richard de Neueby, "who says he is the king's brother," have yet been discovered.  The thirteen pounds given to Richard is hard to explain, as it was so generous - 260 days' wages for a valet, as Professor Chaplais calculated.

My own research into Edward II's chamber journal of 1325/26 shows that in 1326, the king acknowledged a man called Edward Pymmok or Pymock as his confrere, which translates as 'brother' or 'colleague' or 'companion'.  This man, who is also affectionately referred to in the journal as le petit Pymock, 'the little Pymock', was the son of John Pymock, one of Edward II's household squires.  I don't know how it came about that the king acknowledged the son of one of his household servants as his 'brother', but evidently he did so quite openly, at least among his staff.  Edward II's wet-nurse as an infant was Alice de Leygrave, whom he acknowledged as "the king's mother, who suckled him in his youth" and who many years later served in the household of Queen Isabella with her daughter Cecily.  Perhaps there was a similar connection with Edward Pymock, that the latter's mother also looked after the future Edward II in some way in childhood, so that the king thought of le petit Pymock as his 'brother'.  The same dynamic was cearly not operating with Richard de Neueby, however, as the latter came to the king at Eltham in Kent and somehow, it is really not clear how, claimed to be Edward II's brother.  Recognition was not forthcoming, but neither was punishment.  Richard de Neueby fades from history after May 1313, as do the six Muslims staying at Dover Castle.  What became of them all?  I'd love to know.

*

For reference, here's the full Neueby entry from TNA E 101/375/8, folio 29d, as found and cited by Professor Pierre Chaplais, in the Latin original and translation:

Ricardo de Neueby, valletto de Vasconia, dicenti se esse fratrem regis, de dono ipsius regis per manis dicti domini Rogeri liberantis ei denarios apud Eltham xxij die Maii, xiij li.

To Richard de Neueby, valet of Gascony, who says he is the king's brother, of the gift of the king himself, by the hands of the said Sir Roger [unidentified] delivering the money to him, at Eltham the 22nd day of May, thirteen pounds.

17 comments:

Sami Parkkonen said...

Well, Edward II certainly had a sense of humour about these things, which his father nor his son did not concerning the heritage etc.

But this is very, very interesting indeed. Why would he give that much money to somebody?

But, on the other hand, he gave hefty sums for other people who made him laugh...

Kathryn Warner said...

I agree, Sami, it's really interesting. Edward was indeed very generous to people who amused him, and his reaction here was anything but hostile.

Anerje said...

All this brotherhood speculation is quite fascinating. I suppose there could have been illegitimate sons of Edward 1st around. I think Edward was right to keep a sense of humour regarding long lost brothers. Throw into the mix that Chaplais thinks Piers Gaveston was an 'adopted brother' and it makes you wonder what was going on at court.

What a shame there's no more info on the Saracens.

Kathryn Warner said...

There's a very unreliable tradition that a Sir John Botetourt was an illegitimate son of Edward I, which I find extremely unlikely, not least because there's not a shred of evidence that Edward II ever thought he was his brother, and Botetourt was present at Piers' murder in 1312. It's interesting that we don't know of any illegitimate children of Edward I, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was one or two floating around somewhere.

Marsha Lambert said...

Fascinating post! xx :)

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Marsha! :) xx

Sami Parkkonen said...

Perhaps Edward knew about his fathers liasons more than we and it was a great source of amusement for him. Perhaps he did not even care if there were bastards around?

Unless a bastard was recognised by the father there was no way of knowing in those days, anyway. I think Eddie was laughing his breeches off for this one.

Kathryn Warner said...

I think it's quite likely that Edward I had illegitimate children. He fathered legitimate ones between the early 1260s and 1306, after all, and he was a widower for most of the 1290s, so it'd hardly be surprising if he took a lover.

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Kathryn, thank you for this.... "exotic" read! Saracens and a Gascon and the mystery involved (and unsolved). I highly enjoyed it.

PS Was the afore-said John of Powderham a real threat to Edward? Why was he executed in the end if, at first Edward's reaction was so "carefree"? (BTW, we are so lucky to know such details as Edward's reactions, such precious nuggets of info).

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

I have just read your "Edward and the Imposter" post. Has the whole affair been described in any of Edward II novels? It deserves to be. I can picture the particular scenes perfectly. I know that John himself couldn't have found much humor in it (perhaps grim one), but Edward apparently did, and I'm sure the readers would find it, too.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Kasia! Yes, it would make a fantastic fictional scene, wouldn't it?

Sonja said...

After watching The Plantagenets on BBC I found your blog which I will read with attention. I would like to know why of all kings you choose Edward II.

Thanks for the pleasure in reading it.

Kathryn Warner said...

Welcome, Sonja! So glad you found the blog. I've been obsessed with Edward II for a decade, hard to say why really - I just feel as though it's my job to defend him and educate people about him :)

Carla said...

How very strange! I don't suppose anyone would be able to prove it one way or the other.

Kathryn Warner said...

It is strange, isn't it, Carla? I'd love to look into it more, but unless Edward I acknowledged de Neueby as his son, as you say, it can't be proved one way or the other.

Carla said...

Which he didn't, if I understand your post correctly.

Could Richard de Neueby have had some connection with Piers Gaveston? Doesn't one of the chronicles say that Edward II loved Piers Gaveston like a brother, or something like that? Just occurred to me that Richard de Neueby from Gascony might have been something to do with Piers' Gascon family and the 'brother' could be a reference to that. Edward II might have been exceptionally generous to someone who could remind him of Piers... Is this remotely possible?

A more prosaic scenario could be if Richard de Neueby was the result of a casual one-night stand between Edward I and a woman of lower social standing - the archetypal serving girl or milkmaid somewhere that the king happened to be passing through. The child might have been told he was a king's son as something for the family to be proud of, even if they never expected or claimed any recognition or acknowledgement. Then for some reason as an adult, Richard de Neueby decides to turn up at Edward II's court to try his luck, maybe hoping to trade on this family story for a job or a present; Edward II finds this immensely amusing, gives him a present and sends him on his way; all ends happily as Richard de Neueby makes no further claim and is no threat because of his low social standing, so he disappears from the records.

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla, that's an excellent idea, and I'd also wondered if the Gascon connection might somehow be Piers-related. It's such an odd name for a Gascon, 'Neueby'. Yes, about five 14c chroniclers say that Edward called Piers his brother, and he seems to have called him that in speeches and letters, as well.