20 November, 2016

20 November In Different Years

On 20 November 1311, Edward II sent a polite letter to Sir Robert Holland, adherent and friend of the king's first cousin and enemy Thomas, earl of Lancaster, which included the following: "We are very joyous and pleased about the good news we have heard concerning the improvement in our dear cousin and faithful subject Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and that he will soon be able to ride in comfort. And we send you word and dearly pray that, as soon as he is comfortable and able to ride without hurt to his body, you should ask him to be so good as to hasten to us at our parliament." It's interesting that Thomas of Lancaster does seem to have been prone to illness, though exactly what he suffered from is unclear. In 1305, he excused himself from attending twenty-one-year-old Edward, then the heir to the throne, because he was ill; Edward promised that he would visit Thomas instead, "to see and to comfort you." The two cousins were apparently on close terms then, but it all went horribly wrong, and they came to loathe each other, especially after Thomas had Piers Gaveston killed in 1312.

On 20 November 1316, Edward II's brother-in-law Philip V acceded as king of France, on the death of Philip's nephew the five-day-old King John I 'the Posthumous', son of Louis X (died 5 June 1316) and Clemence of Hungary. Philip V and Edward II seem to have been on good terms, as brothers-in-law if not necessarily as kings: shortly before his accession, Philip sent Edward bunches of new grapes, and a year later, a box of rose sugar. Edward gave a very generous gift of twenty marks on 7 August 1316 to the messenger who brought him the news that Philip's wife Joan of Burgundy had borne a son, Louis, on 24 June (the boy died when he was a few months old). Edward excused himself from attending Philip's coronation in early 1317.

On 20 November 1322, Edward II gave two shillings each to ten fishermen of Thorne, near Doncaster, "who fished in the king's presence and took great pike, great eels, and a large number of other fish." I find it hard to think of any other medieval king of England who would willingly have stood by a river in winter watching men fish. This, though, was entirely normal of Edward II, who seemed to love nothing more than chatting to fishermen. And carpenters, and shipwrights, and ditchers, and blacksmiths, and any other of his 'lowborn' subjects he happened to encounter. One of my favourite Edward anecdotes dates to September 1325, when Edward paid compensation to a Thames fisherman called Colle (i.e. Nicholas) Herron, whose goods had been burned in some accident "the last time he was with the king." That's right, the king of England spent time hanging out with a fisherman called Colle Herron, and more than once at that. There are countless dozens of similar entries in Edward II's household accounts. Then of course there's the famous John of Walton, who in July 1326 was said to have "sung before the king every time he passed through these parts by water," i.e. along the Thames, and who was also a fisherman.


Anonymous said...

Edward was really born too early, in that mixing with the 'great unwashed' i.e. the fishermen/builders/thatchers/farmers etc would be an appealing trait today but I suppose in his time was thought most undignified. What a lovely part of his character that he was truly interested in his people of all ranks of society. Amanda

Kathryn Warner said...

Amanda, absolutely, Edward's 'common touch' would be appreciated far more nowadays than it was in his own lifetime, when it was considered unnatural!

Anonymous said...

Kathryn, I've just been reading some older posts of yours and my question is this:
have you got a fantastic memory or a library of all the Rolls and documents that you get this staggering amount of information from? I really am interested, not being sarcastic, perhaps you have a very organised system where you can pluck data from and come up with a lively topic. Amanda

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Amanda, yes, I have access to a lot of primary sources and a ton of notes and material :-)

Anerje said...

Amanda - Kathryn is a walking encyclopaedia on Edward II - you won't find mentions of Edward hanging out with fishermen in many books!
I get the feeling Piers wouldn't have hung round with fishermen very much ;)

sami parkkonen said...

One of the obvious reasons for the hatred towards Edward was his ability to be with commoners at ease. He hung around with them, did all sorts of "un-kingly" stuff with them, and paid well for them. I can only imagine what kind of animosity that has created among the high born nobles and high ranking men of illustrious families. Or the highest echelons of the church.

Here we have The King, anointed by God, in all his God given powers and glory, and then he goes and chats with fishermen, manual laborers and mule drivers. If that was not scandalous, then what was? Added to this is the fact that Edward and Piers mocked openly several barons and others, that Edward did lots of stuff on ad hoc bases and caused all kinds of grey hairs for the court officials, and no wonder he had so few supporters among the power elite in the end.

He truly was born in the wrong century at the wrong time. Today people cheer when prince William washes toilets in some third world country while working for some relief organisation and prince Harry has famously hilarious sense of humor and connection with the commoners. When Eddie behaved almost like that, he was absolutely hated by the elite.

Jerry Bennett said...

Different times bring different standards. I think Edward's fondness for fishing and manual labour would have been tolerated had he been more successful in his role as king, and particularly as a war leader. There was nothing wrong with taking an interest in the "nuts and bolts" of how the country operated, particularly given the importance of the wool trade to the English exchequer. The interest in fishing could possibly be linked to Edward's religious devoutness, as at the time it was considered against God's laws to eat meat on certain days of the week.

What made him truly unpopular was, first off, his blind devotion to his favourites and secondly his inability to deal with Robert Bruce. He would not be the first incompetent king of England, but he was saddled with a baronage that was just as useless. He needed someone like a William Marshal to organise the defence of his realm, but Pembroke had grown too old by 1319 and the siege of Berwick, and several potentially competent commanders had been killed at Bannockburn, notably the earl of Gloucester, Robert Clifford and Giles d'Argentin. After Bannockburn the only competent commander left in England was Andrew Harclay, and he was too minor to have any influence, until he defeated Lancaster at Boroughbridge.

In times of crisis, the ability to defend your realm is vital, and that was where Edward was lacking in both luck and judgement. I suspect the accusations of mixing with commoners would never have been made with such vehemence had he been more successful if confronting Bruce, and many of them were made long after his reign had ended anyway.

Isn't hindsight a wonderful thing?

sami parkkonen said...

As for Edwards inability to deal with Robert the Bruce...

Not one English king or ruler was able to do that. Not even Edward I. Robert the Bruce was an exceptional leader in that he was able to wrestle a kingdom for himself despite the fact that he was not popular on either side of the border. But unlike Edward II, Robert the Bruce was ruthless beyond any boundaries, experienced in violence both as a professional warrior and individual, and very very clever warrior.

Bruce was part Norman stock, fought with the English when it suited for him and at the lowest point of his campaign for the Scottish crown he had barely couple dozen followers with him. Despite of all that he emerged as the one leader who could and did take the English head on in the battle field and usually won. On personal level, when John Comyn came close enough, Bruce killed him in a church personally with his buddies. That says a lot about him.

Compared to him as a war leader, Edward was almost non experienced. His ideas of war came from jousting and tournaments mainly, he had been leading an army nominally in Scotland during his fathers campaigns, but he had no personal experience for real. Thus, when the push came to shove at the bloody field of Bannockburn, Edward II fought as a knight, not as a king.

Robert the Bruce drew first blood before the actual battle when the opportunity presented itself to him and doing so provided example for his army, which was a huge morale booster. But during the actual battle Robert the Bruce stayed up on the hillside where from he could conduct the movements of his troops like a king should have done.

Meanwhile Edward II mocked his underlings for cowardice, rode straight into the Scottish schiltrons and fought like a maniac, loosing one horse from beneath him, galloping back into to the melee, loosing his shield carrier, the enemy grabbing the bridles of his steed etc. until he was dragged away by more aware of nobles who estimated that the battle was lost.

Edward II proved at Bannockburn that he was both brave and capable warrior on personal level, he fought from the morning untill mid afternoon in the fiercest fighting in the thick of it, but doing so he also proved that he was a bad war leader and general. Without his direction and commands, the English army fell apart and became confused mass of men who acted the way Robert the Bruce wanted. The use of the most feared element of the English armies, the archers, was not utilized almost at all during the battle. Edward should have been commanding them but instead he was swinging his personal weapon somewhere in the crash and din of the battle.

That being said, not one English war leader was able to defeat or reign in Robert the Bruce. not even Roger Mortimer, who some seem to think as a top notch professional soldier. Actually he was no good at all for England. He and Isabella bowed down for Robert the Bruce for they did not know either what to do with him. And unlike Edward II, they did not have the nerve to go to war against the northern leader nor face him on a battle field, which perhaps was wise on the hindsight.

To put it shortly; yes, Edward was terrible general and was outwitted and out fought by Bruce but I think this was also used to paint Edward II in a bad light only afterwards. I believe the animosity among the barons and the elite had it's roots from earlier times, when young prince Edward and his loved Piers mocked the mighty men and Edward I the father used to reprimand his son. Th loss for Robert the Bruce was just a good additive for all that had been said and done years before.