30 March, 2014

The Eventful Parliament of November 1330

Edward III led a coup d'état against his mother Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, earl of March, at Nottingham Castle on 19 October 1330.  Roger, his son Geoffrey and his supporters Sir Oliver Ingham and Sir Simon Bereford were arrested.  Four days later at Leicester, the young king issued summons to nine earls, both archbishops, nineteen bishops, twenty-six abbots, two knights of every shire and so on to attend a parliament to be held at Westminster on the Monday after the feast day of Saint Katherine, that is, 26 November (Close Rolls 1330-33, p. 160).  Parliament duly sat there from that day, thirteen days after Edward III's eighteenth birthday, until Sunday 9 December.

Records of this parliament fortuitously still exist (they often don't), and can be read in Rotuli Parliamentorum in the original French and Latin, and in The Parliament Rolls Of Medieval England (PROME), in the original and English translation.  It was, needless to say, an extremely eventful parliament.  Proceedings began with the judgement on Roger Mortimer, who was bound and gagged and thus forcibly prevented from speaking in his own defence.  Fourteen charges against him were read out.  The first reveals Edward III's anger that Roger "usurped by himself royal power and the government of the realm concerning the estate of the king" when he had never been elected to the king's regency council, and states that Roger had filled the king's household and other positions of influence with his followers, and told men like John Wyard to spy on Edward, with the result that "our said lord the king was surrounded by his enemies so that he was unable to do as he wished, so that he was like a man living in custody."  The second charge concerned Edward II, that "whereas the father of our lord the king was at Kenilworth by the ordinance and assent of the peers of the realm, to remain there at their pleasure in order to be looked after as was appropriate for such a lord, the said Roger by the royal power usurped by him, was not satisfied until he had him at his will, and ordained that he be sent to Berkeley Castle where he was traitorously, feloniously and falsely murdered and killed by him and his followers."

There was no other possible outcome, once these and the other dozen charges had been read out: Roger's guilt was deemed to be 'notorious' and he was condemned to be drawn and hanged, which sentence was carried out at Tyburn on 29 November.  Then came his ally Sir Simon Bereford, a rather mysterious character accused and convicted of being a "helper and supporter of the said Roger de Mortimer in all his treasons, felonies and evil acts...which things are an encroachment on royal power, the murder of a liege lord, and the destruction of the royal blood line; and that he was also guilty of various other felonies and robberies, and the chief maintainer of robbers and felons."  Bereford was also sentenced to death for these crimes, and executed on 24 December.  Presumably Edward III had strong evidence of Bereford's guilt, though his involvement in the regime of 1327 to 1330 and his role in the presumed death of Edward II remain obscure.

Sir John Maltravers of Dorset, who with his brother-in-law Thomas, Lord Berkeley had been custodian of the former Edward II at Berkeley Castle in 1327, was sentenced to death in absentia because he had "principally, traitorously and falsely plotted the death" of Edward II's half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, executed on 19 March 1330.  "...[S]ince he knew of the death of King Edward, nevertheless the said John by ingenious means and by his false and evil subtleties led the said earl to understand the king was alive, which false plotting was the cause of the death of the said earl and of all the evil which followed."  It is important to note here that although some contemporary chroniclers - even Adam Murimuth, who's normally pretty well-informed - thought that Maltravers was accused and convicted of the murder of Edward II, he was not, neither in 1330 nor at any other point in his very long life ( he was eventually allowed to return to England and lived until 1364).  1000 marks was offered as a reward if Maltravers was taken alive, and £50 for his head.

The fabulously-named Sir Bogo de Bayouse, a Yorkshire knight, and John Deveril were also sentenced to death in absentia for their role in entrapping the earl of Kent, and a price put on their heads.  Both men had been at Corfe Castle in Dorset, where the earl of Kent and others thought Edward of Caernarfon was being held, in 1330; Kent admitted at his trial that he had given a letter intended for Edward to Deveril, who betrayed him and took it instead to Roger Mortimer.  Deveril was thought to be hiding in the Dorset/Somerset/Wiltshire area in August 1331 (Patent Rolls 1330-34, p. 201), though he was never found and his fate is unknown.  Somewhat ironically, one of the men ordered to search for and arrest him was 'John Mautravers the elder', father of the John Maltravers above.  Sir Bogo de Bayouse fled to France and ultimately, with his wife Alice, to Italy, and died in Rome on 26 July 1334 (Seymour Phillips, Edward II, 2010, p. 576).

Two men, a knight of Somerset named Sir Thomas Gurney and a man-at-arms called William Ockley or Ogle, were also sentenced to death in absentia, "for the death of King Edward, the father of our present lord the king, that they falsely and traitorously murdered him."  I've sometimes seen it stated that the supposed red-hot poker method of Edward II's murder was officially given out at this parliament as the cause of death.  This is absolutely untrue.  All that was stated about Gurney and Ockley's supposed murder of Edward is what I have quoted here.  The cause of Edward II's death was never given in any official government source, and all we have is speculation and gossip by chroniclers.  William Ockley disappeared and was never heard of again.  Sir Thomas Gurney's subsequent fate is, by contrast, well-known, and I've written a long post about him and Ockley here.

Edward II's first cousin Henry, earl of Lancaster, and his adherents were pardoned for taking part in a failed rebellion against Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer in late 1328/early 1329, and the many adherents of the earl of Kent who had supported and aided him in his plot to free the former Edward II a few months previously ("in bringing about the deliverance of our lord the king who is dead, whom God absolve") were also pardoned.  On 7 December 1330, Kent's widow Margaret Wake and their young son Edmund, aged three or four, presented petitions asking for the record of treason against Kent to be expunged, partly on the grounds that "Sir Roger de Mortimer, late earl of March acknowledged at his death before the people that the said earl was wrongfully killed...".  I'm going to cite a large part of the response to their petition because it states so often that Edward II was dead, really truly dead, and it was thus really, truly, completely, totally, entirely impossible for anyone to have freed him, to the point where the repetition becomes very amusing:

Mortimer, Bereford, Bayouse, Maltravers, Deveril "and other evil men of their faction plotting the death of the said earl of Kent in a deceitful manner by an agreement made between them, gave and caused the same earl to understand that the Lord Edward, late king of England, the father of our present lord the king, and brother of the said earl, was alive, when he had been dead for a long time. And they did this to encourage him to purchase the release of his said brother, as if it had been possible to do this, so that, by such a thing, they would have promoted the downfall of the said earl of Kent. And when they discovered that he, being thus deceived and misled by their false plotting, believed their words, and appearing to them to be 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, as is said above, they then allowed most secret negotiations thereupon between them until they again saw they were able to entrap the same earl of Kent, and then they put to him that he had knowingly wished the said release to the prejudice of the king our present lord, which was completely impossible as is said above, finally reported it to the king and to others of his council in the parliament last summoned at Winchester...".

So have we got that yet?  No, wait, there's an abbot sitting at the back there who's slightly deaf and is still somewhat confused on this point.  Let's go again: Mortimer, Maltravers, Bereford, Bayouse and Deveril "caused the said earl of Kent, who is dead, 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; from which incitement and evil intent all the aforesaid evil ensued, which thing is well-known and notorious...".

Richard Fitzalan, young son of the earl of Arundel executed by Roger Mortimer and Isabella in 1326, was restored to his inheritance - he had fled from England a few months previously because he had either joined the earl of Kent's conspiracy or was plotting independently to overthrow Roger and Isabella - and four men (William Montacute, Edward de Bohun, Robert Ufford and John Neville) who had helped the king to arrest Roger at Nottingham were rewarded.  Next came Thomas, Lord Berkeley, to acquit himself of any complicity in the death of Edward of Caernarfon at his castle in September 1327.  Not long ago, I wrote a post about this, about Berkeley's peculiar statement "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" (nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento isto).  The comments on that post are great too, and especially check out the one which accuses me of 'dancing on the head of a pin' and of taking a translation as 'gospel' because I asked a Latin expert with no vested interest in changing Lord Berkeley's words to fit an agenda of what he thinks the words are 'supposed' to mean.  It's so funny when people pop up to prove my point about preferring over-elaborate translations so that Berkeley's words mean whatever the commenter wants them to mean.  :-D


Anonymous said...

Great post! I read somewhere that, years later, Edward III would reverse Mortimer's conviction (and reinstate his son as Earl of March) because Mortimer couldn't speak in his own defense -- wonder what he would have said if given the opportunity? If true, I think that it shows that Edward III came to doubt that his father was dead --- but I think he would have wanted to believe in that anyway. However, IMO, Edward III truly believed that his father was dead in 1330.


Anerje said...

How odd that Mortimer was gagged and couldn't speak in his defence. Was perhaps someone worried as to what he might actually say?

Caroline said...

Perhaps the great men in the parliament were rather slow on the uptake and like modern viewers of TV documentaries needed to have every point hammered home not once, not twice, not three times but multiple times just so that they really, really did understand what they were being told - the king's father IS dead. Listen carefully - the old man IS dead! Do you understand me? He is DEAD!

Or is it a case of "Methink the writer doth protest too much"

Gabriele C. said...

There are a lot of people condemned in absentia. Makes you wonder if they got a warning and by whom.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Great post once again! Reminds me of the trials during the Stalin epoc in Soviet Union. Official party line was the name of the game here too. :-D

Looks like Edward III wanted to make sure nobody got any more ideas of his father being alive. I guess Berkeley slipped but it went largely unnoticed or nobody dared to raise an issue about his sayings. Understandably so.

Carol Rondou said...

So Edward II isn't just merely dead, he's really most sincerly dead/

Jerry Bennett said...

A very enlightening post again, Kathryn. What I find slightly surprising is the speed at which everything happened, from the original summons to parliament on 23rd of October to its opening on 26th November. It would not have been easy to gather so many from every corner of England. Although many would have been at the Nottingham parliament, when Mortimer was overthrown, I suspect far more would still have had to be summoned.

I wonder if the number of people condemned "in absentia" wasn't a consequence of this swift response. Presumably messengers would have ridden from Leicester carrying the official summons to parliament, but probably spreading news of Mortimer's downfall at the same time. It would have taken Edward and his closest advisers a few days to draw up lists of who they wanted to accuse, and in that time those most closely associated with Roger Mortimer would have had time to flee. Some may even have been at Nottingham, and fled as soon as they could slip away unnoticed. Few people could have had too much confidence in getting a fair hearing, given how the kingdom had been ruled ever since the "Contrariants rebellion".

I think Edward III showed wisdom beyond his years in the speed with which he repaired the divisiveness of his father's reign. Freeing Geoffrey Mortimer would have been part of that process. He may have remembered Geoffrey telling Roger to his face that he was the "King of Folly" (Ian Mortimer - "Greatest Traitor"). Perhaps much of that is down to the influence of his friends and tutors. He had suffered personally from the divisiveness of his father's reign, and was presumably determined not to make the same mistakes again.

Anonymous said...

There may have been particular reasons for preventing Mortimer from speaking at his trial eg blabbing that Edward was not in fact dead, but Mortimer was not the only one not allowed to speak in his own defence.

If I remember correctly, Mortimer presided over the trial of Hugh Despenser the Elder and prevented him from speaking, so it's ironic he should find himself in the same position.

Thomas of Lancaster was also not allowed to defend himself in 1322 and according to the Vita said, "This is a powerful court and great in authority, where no answer is heard nor any excuse admitted."

I seem to remember reading somewhere that at that time there could be no defence against a charge of treason because treason could never be justified or excused. So in Lancaster's case, when he unfurled his banner at Boroughbridge - a treasonable act - it justifed his execution and removed any chance of defending himself at trial. If that's so, and if Mortimer's acts were treasonable then he would not have been permitted to defend himself anyway.

Also, according to Murimuth, from the execution of Lancaster in 1322 to that of Mortimer, no noble condemned to death was allowed to speak in his own defence. I'm not sure if that's accurate or an exaggeration but it implies that it was, at least, not uncommon.