24 July, 2015

Edward II's Mood, As Revealed By His Correspondence

Although I have to exercise caution when using Edward II's extant correspondence to gauge his personality and feelings - Edward couldn't possibly have seen more than a fraction of all the letters, writs and so on sent out in his name, and the vast majority of them are purely conventional - there are occasions when he emerges abruptly in his correspondence and it's clear that Edward himself must have dictated a letter, or part of it.  Here are some examples.

- Edward sent a letter to Isabella in France on 1 December 1325, after he had heard that she was refusing to return to him.  The letter (in French) opens abruptly with Dame, 'Lady'.  That's Edward's own voice, at the beginning of a very personal missive in which Edward seeks above all else to defend Hugh Despenser the Younger to his wife, having heard that Isabella was refusing to come back to him because she was afraid of Hugh and angry that he had come between her and Edward, which must have irritated her profoundly.  His clerks wouldn't have dared address the queen like that.  The letter starts "Lady, often we have summoned you to us, both before the homage and after..."  [Close Rolls 1323-7, pp. 580-81; Foedera 1307-27, p. 615; the translation of the French on the Close Roll is not particularly good.]  Edward also addresses Isabella as 'Lady' elsewhere in the letter, as in "And, Lady, we have heard that...".  It comes across as angry, bitter and somewhat sarcastic.  This would be the last letter he ever sent his wife.

- A letter from Edward to Pope John XXII on 10 June 1326 refers to Isabella as "the queen of England, our wife."  When Edward was happy and content with her in 1313, he called her "our very dear consort, our dear lady, Lady Isabella queen of England."  Spot the difference.  [Foedera 1307-1327, p. 629]

- On a similar note, Edward wrote a letter on 3 October 1326 after Isabella's invasion, pointedly referring to her simply as "the king's wife," not even acknowledging her as queen, not using her name.  And obviously not with the conventional "our very dear consort" before her name either.  In his chamber account of this period, however, she is still called ma dame la roine, "my lady the queen."  [Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 582]  And it is not the case, as the French Chronicle of London claims, that Edward had it publicly proclaimed in 1326 that "the queen of England might not be called queen."  For all Edward's anger with Isabella, he certainly never took it that far.

- Edward II's letters to his father-in-law and second cousin Philip IV of France always began with the same style of address: "To the very excellent and very puissant prince, his very dear and beloved father, Philip, by the grace of God noble king of France, greetings and very dear affection."  On 3 August 1309, however, Edward was deeply annoyed with Philip, having learnt that the French king had smuggled letters to Scotland hidden in the breeches of his messenger which acknowledged Robert Bruce as king.  In his letters to Edward and in a letter which Philip sent openly to Scotland, not hidden away, Philip talked of Bruce only as earl of Carrick and thus pretended that he had not addressed him as king.  Furious at his father-in-law's two-faced, deceptive behaviour, Edward's letter opened with "To the king of France, greetings."  Again, spot the difference.  That's clearly Edward's own order to his clerks, who wouldn't have dared address the king of France in such terms without his say-so.

- Unwilling to take responsibility for his own failures in Scotland, Edward II sent a bitterly sarcastic letter on 10 February 1323 to his second cousin Louis Beaumont, bishop of Durham.  In 1316, Edward had abandoned the support of his own candidate for the bishopric and supported Louis instead on being told by Louis's brother Henry that Louis, if appointed, would be "a defence like a stone wall" against the Scots in the north of England, in stark contrast to the negligence of Louis's predecessor Richard Kellaw.  Edward reminded Louis of all this, and fumed "the king knows actually that greater damage is done in the bishopric by the bishop's default, negligence and laziness than in the time of his predecessor, neither the bishop, nor his friends or relations giving counsel or aid according to their promises."  [Close Rolls 1318-23, p. 697; Foedera, p. 506]  Yes, that's Edward II accusing someone else of laziness and negligence.  "Dear Kettle, you are black.  Much love, Pot."

- In 1305, twenty-one-year-old Edward of Caernarfon sent this delightful letter to Philip IV's half-brother Louis. count of Evreux, his frequent correspondent: "We are sending you a big trotting palfrey which can hardly carry its own weight and stands still when it is laden, and some of our misshapen greyhounds from Wales, which can well catch a hare if they find it asleep, and some of our running dogs which can follow at an amble, for well we know how you take delight in lazy dogs. And, dear cousin, if you want anything else from our land of Wales, we can send you plenty of wild men, if you wish, who will well know how to teach breeding to the young sons and daughters of the nobility."  This letter clearly demonstrates Edward's sense of humour, and has often been misunderstood.

- And finally for today, a memorandum on the Close Roll of 20 January 1312 also reveals much about Edward. It was appended to the order to return the earldom of Cornwall to the newly-returned Piers Gaveston, and says "These writs were made in the king's presence by his order under threat of grievous forfeiture."  The writ restoring Gaveston's earldom is in French, not the usual Latin, which almost certainly means that Edward II himself had drafted it.  The memorandum indicates that Edward's chancery clerks were reluctant to write out the writs (presumably because they knew how Edward's magnates would react), and he stayed in the room to make sure they did it, then lost his temper and threatened them. It's so easy for me to imagine Edward stomping around, dictating the writ, noticing that his clerks were unwilling to write it down and yelling "Oi, do it right now or I'll confiscate every single damn thing that you own!"

11 comments:

Anonymous said...


Great post. It is a tragedy (IMO) that the last letter from Edward to Isabella was defending Despenser ... nothing about their good times or their children; there is not even a mention of any rumors concerning Mortimer. It is sad that, after so many years (not to mention the romantic picture of Edward saving Isabelle when the tent caught fire) the relationship declined so sharply.

Esther

Sami Parkkonen said...

Edward was truly not a man with stiff upper lip. I mean, he did get a bit emotional from time to time. But he was emotional in good as well. If he had not been emotional he would not have been so loyal but then again, it was this loyalty or some weird sense of private honor (A man always keeps his word)that lead to his downfall and many difficulties.

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Very interesting. I do agree with Esther - Edward's last letter to Isabella is so much telling. It must have ruined any chance of reconciliation between them :-(

It's fascinating how much we can learn from the different forms of address.

Kathryn Warner said...

Incidentally, there were no rumours about Mortimer as early as 1 December 1325 and it's doubtful that he and Isabella were involved in any kind of association then. A proclamation of 8 February 1326 is the earliest reference to their association and apparently it was then that Edward had first heard of it.

I've recently read Edward's letter to Isabella of 1 Dec 1325 in the original French, having always previously read the English translation in Foedera, but have realised that the translation is inadequate, certainly at the beginning, which isn't translated at all.

Elijah Shalis said...

Coming from a once upon a time moody person myself, I think Isabella got tired of Edward's moodiness. I have experienced relationship difficulties because of that myself. It can take a real toll on a loved one.

Sami Parkkonen said...

@Kathryn:

Hmmm, are we to expect some new new info in the coming book about the original sources?? :-D

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes :) That proclamation of 8 Feb 1326 is the first piece of evidence that Isabella was in some way involved with Mortimer. Edward said that she was 'adopting the counsel' of Mortimer and the other English exiles on the Continent.

Anonymous said...

There is such a wealth of information and emotion to be gleaned from letters such as these - which were standardised, which were personal, the forms of address, the language used. It is the only place to find the person behind the biased chronicles and the poor historical writing. It is their voice, and in those wonderful, rare cases, their hand. Fascinating and beguiling.

Marvellous stuff, thank you!

Anerje said...

On holiday at the moment but still managed to check in here. What a fabulous post! You can feel Edward's moods - he's clearly furious at Isabella's defiance!

Jerry Bennett said...

I wonder what Louis of Evreux had done or said to deserve that joke about being a lover of lazy dogs? It was so utterly different to the letters written later in his reign, and provides a very human aspect to the young Edward, before the duties of kingship really started to affect him.

Do we know to who the letter of October 1326 was sent? Presumably to one of Edward's allies, but which one, and was it to a lord or a bishop? I can imagine a bit more formality about Isabella if it had been to a churchman, with Edward continuing to honour the sanctity of marriage. What was he hoping to achieve by it?

You can also sense the stress that Edward was under from the tone of the letter to Louis Beaumont in 1323. Edward had been thoroughly trounced by the Scots the previous year, and would have known by then that Andrew Harclay was trying to arrange a peace treaty with Robert Bruce - an act of treason in his eyes. He must have been in total despair at how he was ever going to hold onto the North of England, never mind try to fight back. It would be interesting to know just what sparked that written assault on Louis Beaumont. Was it something specific that Beaumont had done, or was it just general anger at his actual betrayal by Harclay, and the very reluctant support he received from many Northern lords and churchmen?

For me, that is both the frustration and the beauty of history. There are always more questions to tax an enquiring mind.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Some of those remind me of the letter Heinrich IV wrote to Pope Gregory VII. "To bishop Hildebrand ...." :-P