18 September, 2016

18 September 1324: Edward II Confiscates Isabella's Lands

692 years ago on 18 September 1324, during the little-known War of Saint-Sardos between Edward II of England and his brother-in-law Charles IV of France, Edward took the county of Cornwall into his own hands, supposedly because it lay on the coast ‘in the more remote parts of the realm’ and might be invaded by the French. Cornwall was owned by Edward's queen, Isabella, who was also Charles IV's sister. The king also seized all of Isabella’s other lands and castles on this day, though he failed to explain how inland counties such as Wiltshire and Oxfordshire might be vulnerable to a French invasion. [1] Edward assigned Isabella instead an income from the Exchequer, said by several fourteenth-century chroniclers to be merely a pound a day, a gross underestimate: in fact she was granted 3920 marks or £2613, six shillings and eight pence annually, a little over seven pounds a day, considerably lower than her pre-September 1324 income of £4500 but hardly a ‘fraction’ of it, as sometimes stated. [2] Sophia Menache points out that it is doubtful if Isabella ‘suffered a substantial economic setback’ in 1324, though the queen was, understandably, outraged at the loss of her lands. [3] She and her household could certainly live on the amount: the earl of Lancaster had in 1314 reduced Edward’s expenses to ten pounds a day for a household more than twice the size of the queen’s, and Edward’s father, during one of their quarrels in 1305, allowed him only £155 a month or just over five pounds a day for his household costs. [4] Edward had taken his stepmother Queen Marguerite’s lands and castles into his own hands in late 1317, so the move was not unprecedented, yet Edward soon restored Marguerite’s lands to her, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that his seizure of Isabella’s estates was intended punitively. [5] Precisely what Edward’s motives in punishing his wife were is uncertain, though the queen herself blamed Hugh Despenser the Younger and his ally Walter Stapeldon, bishop of Exeter and treasurer of England. Isabella’s French attendants, excepting her chaplain Peter Vernon, were not exempt from the arrest of Charles IV’s subjects – although Edward did permit other French people to remain in England – and were either imprisoned or forced to return to their homeland. [6] Charles IV was justifiably furious at the treatment of his subjects. [7] Supposedly Isabella managed to smuggle a letter to her brother complaining that she held no higher position at court than that of a servant and that Edward was a ‘gripple miser’, i.e. mean to her but generous to another, although this was only recorded at the end of the fourteenth century by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, who had no access to Isabella’s correspondence.

Yet the loss was not only financial. It was proof that Isabella’s husband saw her no longer as his loyal and supportive partner of more than a decade and a half, but as an enemy, no longer as his loving wife but merely Charles IV’s sister, to be blamed for Charles’s actions and punished. It must have been devastating for Isabella, who had done nothing wrong. What was going through Edward’s mind when he decided to treat his queen in such an appalling and absurdly unfair way is hard to imagine. Edward could be vindictive to the point of cruelty towards people he loved who he thought, rightly or wrongly, had betrayed him, and somehow Isabella had come to reside in that category in his mind. Edward’s seizing her lands and, in doing so, implicitly making a public declaration that he no longer loved and trusted her, was almost certainly the thing which was soon to push her into opposition to him.


1) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-27, pp. 300-02, 308; Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-7, pp. 223, 260; Foedera 1307-27, p. 569.
2) The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Maxwell, p. 249, is one of the chronicles which gives Isabella’s income as a pound a day; see M. C. Buck, ‘The Reform of the Exchequer, 1316-1326’, p. 251, T. F. Tout, The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History, p. 140, and Tout, Chapters in the Administrative History of Mediaeval England, v, p. 274, for her real income.
3) Sophia Menache, ‘Isabelle of France, Queen of England – A Reconsideration’, p. 110.
[4] Tout, Chapters, vol. 3, p. 275.
[5] CPR 1317-21, pp. 38, 46, for the seizure of Marguerite’s lands.
[6] CCR 1323-7, pp. 204, 206-7, 209-11, 216.
[7] Pierre Chaplais, ed. The War of St-Sardos, pp. 128, 130.


sami parkkonen said...

Eddie had a one major fault: he had a temper. Just like in Bannockburn where he should have stayed back and calmly direct his troops during a battle, he dove in with a fury and almost lost his head and kingdom. He had a short fuse, as we say todaý. And when the couple had no doubt problems in their marriage, a guy like Despenser sniffed it out at once and no doubt fueled the flames for he was trying to take control of the whole realm by intrigue and favoritism, just like Mortimer later on was trying to take over. Hugh most likely made a successful whispering campaign against Isabella and Eddie got mad and took away the lands, the most priced possessions of the time, from her wife. Isabella no doubt got mad at Eddie but that was nothing compared how mad he got with Hughie.

Anonymous said...

It's difficult to say if Edward's actions were cruel/vindictive/petty etc; Isabella didn't starve did she? I don't want to keep mentioning other kings as this post is dedicated to Edward but I have to say, sorry, if you compare his confiscation of her lands, to Henry VIII and his wives especially the alleged trumped up charges against Anne Boleyn - who he executed - Isabella was humiliated but managed to retain an income, and her life. Perhaps, Edward was furious with Isabella's constant accusations of his 'supposed' too close relationships with other men; maybe Isabella was justified in complaining to Edward about these so-called male 'friends'. I'm not defending Edward or Isabella as after so many centuries ago it is nearly impossible to tell now. I do think Edward deserves a little sympathy; he didn't expect to be king and he really shouldn't have been as the role was unsuitable for him and it may have been a mostly miserable experience for him. Amanda

Kathryn Warner said...

I really agree with you, Amanda! So many modern writers drone on about Isabella's supposedly terrible suffering. Which basically amounted to Edward talking to Piers more than to her at the coronation and having her lands confiscated 16 years later.