16 March, 2014

Quotes About Edward II

Some statements about Edward II by some fourteenth-century chroniclers which I find interesting or telling.

"He was taken from Kenilworth to Berkeley, where he died, in what manner what was not known, but God knows it.  He was buried at Gloucester, and reigned nineteen years.  He was wise, gentle, and amiable in conversation [sagis, douce, e amyable en parole], but indolent in action.  He was very skilful in what he delighted to employ his hands upon.  He was too familiar with his intimates, shy with strangers, and loved too exclusively a single individual."

"In his time the commons of his realm were wealthy and protected by strong laws, but the great men had ill will against him for his cruelty and the debauched life which he led, and on account of Sir Hugh [Despenser the Younger], whom at that time he loved and entirely trusted."

Both of the above come from the Scalacronica of Sir Thomas Gray, whose father of the same name was captured fighting for Edward II at Bannockburn and who later served in the retinue of the Despensers.  It's interesting to note that more than three decades after Edward's presumed death in 1327, Gray had evidently not heard the red-hot poker story.  I find the 'but God knows it' part very moving.

"A handsome man, of outstanding strength...He was prodigal in giving, bountiful and splendid in living, quick and unpredictable in speech...savage with members of his household, and passionately attached to one particular person, whom he cherished above all..."

From the Polychronicon, written around 1350 by Ranulph or Ralph Higden, a monk of Chester.

"...from his youth he devoted himself in private to the art of rowing and driving carts, of digging ditches and thatching houses, as was commonly said, and also with his companions at night to various works of ingenuity and skill, and to other pointless trivial occupations unsuitable for the son of a king."

From the Chronicle of Lanercost, written in the 1340s at Lanercost Priory, near the Scottish border.

"For our King Edward has now reigned six full years and has till now achieved nothing praiseworthy or memorable...If our King Edward had borne himself as well [as Richard Lionheart] at the outset of his reign, and not accepted the counsels of wicked men, not one of his predecessors would have been as notable as he.  For God had endowed him with every gift, and had made him equal to or indeed more excellent than other kings.  If anyone cared to describe those qualities which ennoble our king, he would not find his like in the land."

"...Piers [Gaveston] now Earl of Cornwall did not wish to remember that he had once been Piers the humble esquire.  For Piers accounted no-one his fellow, no-one his peer, save the king alone.  Indeed his countenance exacted greater deference than that of the king.  His arrogance was intolerable to the barons and a prime source of hatred and rancour...Piers alone received a gracious welcome from the king and enjoyed his favour to such an extent that if an earl or baron entered the king's chamber to speak with the king, in Piers' presence the king addressed no-one, and to none showed a friendly countenance save to Piers only...Indeed I do not remember to have heard that one man so loved another.  Jonathan cherished David, Achilles loved Patroclus.  But we do not read that they were immoderate.  Our king, however, was incapable of moderate favour, and on account on Piers was said to forget himself, and so Piers was accounted a sorcerer."

From the Vita Edwardi Secundi, Life of Edward II, a chronicle written by a clerk in Edward's service.  Also from the Vita, not about Edward directly, but here are three rather cynical and sarcastic quotations which I really like.

In connection with John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, becoming Piers Gaveston's friend and ally after Piers' return to England in 1309, having formerly been opposed to him:

"See how often and abruptly great men change their sides.  Those whom we regard as faithless in the North we find just the opposite in the South.  The love of magnates is as a game of dice, and the desires of the rich like feathers."

After Pope Clement V elected Walter Reynolds, whom the author describes as "a mere clerk and scarcely literate", to the see of Canterbury in 1313:

"But My Lady Money transacts all business in the Curia.  If perchance you are ignorant of the habit and customs of the Roman Curia, pay heed to this...This astonishing vanity, this detestable greed of the Curia, has been a scandal to the whole world."

On Edward's allies in 1312/1313 urging him to make war on the barons who had killed Piers:

"Few people are magnanimous and the suggestions of evil men are always with us...It would be well for the magnates if they could distinguish truth from falsehood, if they could separate deceit from sound judgement.  But by some depravity of nature the delicate ears of the rich more readily receive the blandishments of the lying tongue more than the candid testimony of truth."

'The delicate ears of the rich'.  I love it!

11 comments:

Little Angelic Rose said...

The phrase that resonates most with me is 'shy with strangers'. Such a human reaction, so poignant.

Kathryn Warner said...

I agree! In the French original it's 'as estrangis soleyn', incidentally.

Anerje said...

Amongst the negative comments are some hidden gems - I noted the 'shy with strangers' bit as well. Also he was wise and amiable, and handsome - there just seemed so much expectation on Edward. And when considered not up to the job of king, criticised for his common pursuits and so-called lowly friends. I wonder what the 'various works of ingenuity and skill ' Edward got up to at night with his companions were? :) I loved the quotes on Piers - to think he allowed Edward to be his equal :) As for the nobles - no doubt they were treacherous.

Kathryn Warner said...

Anerje, I've also often wondered what those night-time activities were too! ;-) Love your Piers comment! ;-)

Anerje said...

Well Kathryn, I love the idea of a confident Piers literally lording it over everyone - Ian Morris in his book on Edward III says part of Piers' charm was his confidence and may have encouraged Edward to be himself. Which wasn't necessarily always a good thing - although Piers would never have dug ditches I'm sure, so he can't be blamed for that:)

Kathryn Warner said...

Hehehe, yeah, it's very hard to picture that. :)

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

I love this: "He was prodigal in giving, bountiful and splendid in living, quick and unpredictable in speech..." :-)Reminds me of his ancestor I'm rather fond of :-)

Kathryn Warner said...

That's one of my favourite parts too, Kasia! ;-)

Anerje said...

I meant Ian Mortimer - predictive text on my I-pad can be so annoying!

Sami Parkkonen said...

All of which pretty much confirms my image of the man.

Here we have a talented guy who had to become a king. I sometimes think he made his mind pretty early on that he would be himself and not some "king", which he was not supposed to become originally anyway.

And yes, a human being, with all his faults. Perhaps he had a crush on Piers, perhaps Piers was the best looking guy in the realm? Who knows.

Fantastic tragic figure, Edward II was. If his father had been like a thunder and lightning, and his son became steel and stone, he himself was very much just a man. Perhaps that is why he makes us think, still.

Carla said...

"I find the 'but God knows it' part very moving."
When I read that part of the post the first thing I thought of was Kipling's poignant line for the tombstones of the unidentified, 'A soldier of the Great War, known unto God'.

One thing that the quotes seem to agree on fairly consistently is Edward's tendency to put far too much trust in a single individual. Given that medieval high politics was full of aristocratic factions, a key skill for a king was to be able to play them all off against each other and thus always be the only one holding the balance of power. Letting an individual or a small clique gain a disproportionate influence over the king means the king gets embroiled in the faction fighting rather than being 'above' it in some way, with potentially fatal consequences. I can see why Edward II (or anyone) might want to have someone on whom they can rely totally and trust absolutely, but the combination with absolute royal power can be toxic.