26 May, 2017

Happy Wedding Anniversary to Hugh and Eleanor Despenser

711 years ago today on 26 May 1306, Edward I's eldest granddaughter Eleanor de Clare married Hugh Despenser the Younger in the royal chapel at Westminster Palace, in the presence of her grandfather the king, who had arranged the match and paid Hugh Despenser the Elder £2000 for the marriage of his son and heir. Eleanor was thirteen and a half, Hugh probably about seventeen or eighteen, and their first child Hugh or Huchon was born around 1309. They were to have at least ten children together that I know of, perhaps more, of whom nine survived childhood: Huchon, Edward, Gilbert, John, Isabella, Joan, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth Despenser. By the time of Hugh's execution on 24 November 1326, the couple had been married just over twenty years, and as far as I can make out their marriage was a solid and happy one.

I'm currently writing a biography of Hugh Despenser the Younger, to be published next year. He was a bad. bad boy, but also a highly intelligent one, and he's massively fun to write about!

20 May, 2017

My Books

In case anyone is keeping score :), here are my existing and future books! (Note: the titles of all books after number 3 are subject to change!) Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II will be out in the UK in twelve days.

1) Edward II: The Unconventional King (published October 2014)

2) Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen (pub. March 2016)

3) Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II (to be pub. 1 June 2017)

4) A True King’s Fall: The Life of Richard II, King of England 1377-1399 (to be pub. 15 October 2017)

5) Valour and Vainglory: The Life of Hugh Despenser the Younger (to be pub. probably September 2018)

6) Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York 1245-1415 (to be pub. late 2018 maybe)

7) Affluence and Abduction: The Lives of the de Clare Sisters, 1292-1360 (to be pub. probably September 2019)

8) Philippa of Hainault: Queen of Edward III, Mother of the English Nation (to be pub. around October 2019)

9) Time-Honour’d Lancaster: John of Gaunt, Grandfather of Europe (to be pub. around October 2020)

Phew! That's a lot of writing! I'd better go and get on with it :-)

11 May, 2017

John of Eltham Was Not 'Removed' From His Mother In 1324

I've dealt previously with the absurd notion that Edward II and his chamberlain and favourite Hugh Despenser the Younger cruelly removed the three younger royal children, John, Eleanor and Joan, from Queen Isabella's custody in September 1324, and gave them to the care of Edward's niece/Hugh's wife Eleanor and Hugh's sister Isabella Hastings. This was an invention of one extremely unreliable and inaccurate historian in the late 1970s, and frankly I'm astonished that better historians have chosen to repeat it without checking, especially as the document he cites for his claim does not date to September 1324 at all but to the period July 1322 to July 1323.

Browsing the Calendar of Memoranda Rolls recently, I discovered that Eleanor Despenser's care of John of Eltham dates back to at least 3 July 1322: she was paid a hundred pounds for his expenses from 3 July 1322 to 16 April 1324. As I note below, Eleanor spent quite a bit of time attending Queen Isabella for most of Edward's reign and until well into the 1320s, and at least on occasion she also took charge of John of Eltham and his household, though perhaps only irregularly. As Edward II's eldest niece and John of Eltham's first cousin, Eleanor Despenser was a perfectly suitable person to have the occasional care of the king and queen's second son, and she had a large brood of her own children. Growing up among his Despenser cousins might have proved a happy experience for John. John, aged not yet ten, was at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire from 22 May to 20 July 1326, and Eleanor was there with him for at least part of that time, as Edward's chamber account shows. Isabella was then in France, by her own choice.

From my own research I know that Queen Isabella and Eleanor Despenser née de Clare spent a considerable amount of time together, even after Eleanor's husband Hugh began to get seriously on Isabella's nerves, to put it mildly. For all Isabella's loathing and even fear of Hugh, she doesn't appear to have held Eleanor even vaguely responsible for her husband's actions or to have allowed his behaviour to damage her affection for Eleanor, and Eleanor was attending the queen for at least part of February/March 1323, months after Isabella blamed Hugh Despenser for leaving her - and indeed Eleanor as well - in danger at Tynemouth Priory the previous autumn. The two women continued to get on well and spend time together. The notion that Edward II and Hugh Despenser imposed Eleanor on an unwilling Isabella in and after 1324 as a kind of jailer and spy is nonsense. Eleanor had been attending Isabella on a semi-regular basis since at least November 1310 and most probably since Isabella first arrived in England in February 1308.

And as Eleanor had received money for looking after John as early as 3 July 1322, and three months later was with Queen Isabella at Tynemouth Priory and in February/March 1323 was with her in London, I think it's safe to say that Isabella was perfectly happy with her niece-in-law and her lady attendant having the occasional care of her second son. I really do hope that the whole absurd nonsense of Edward II and Hugh Despenser cruelly removing Isabella's children from her can be laid to rest one day.

05 May, 2017

Dates of Birth and Death of the de Clare Siblings (1291-1360)

Edward of Caernarfon's second eldest sister Joan of Acre married Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford, on 30 April 1290 when he was forty-six and she eighteen or almost. Their first child, only son and heir Gilbert, earl of Gloucester and Hertford, was born a year later, sometime between 23 April and 11 May 1291, according to the evidence of his parents' Inquisitions Post Mortem taken in January 1296 and May 1307. [CIPM 1291-1300, pp. 234-51; CIPM 1300-07, pp. 311-31] Gilbert was the eldest grandchild of Edward I and only seven years younger than his uncle Edward II. He married Maud de Burgh, one of the many daughters of the earl of Ulster, on 29 or 30 September 1308 when he was seventeen, and was killed at the battle of Bannockburn on 24 June 1314, aged twenty-three.

Eleanor, Lady Despenser and lady of Glamorgan, eldest of the three daughters of Gilbert the Red and Joan of Acre, was born in October or November 1292. This is according to several books and articles, but I don't know what the source is and can't confirm the date. Eleanor was certainly the eldest of the three de Clare sisters, and the date of birth appears to be plausible. She married Hugh Despenser the Younger at Westminster on 26 May 1306 when she was probably thirteen and a half. Eleanor died, according to her (incomplete) IPM, on 30 June 1337 at the age of forty-four, leaving her eldest son Hugh or Huchon Despenser as her heir; he was then said to be between twenty-six and twenty-nine years old. [CIPM 1336-46, pp. 78-9]

The date of birth of the second sister Margaret de Clare, countess of Cornwall and Gloucester, is not known. Her Wikipedia page gives 12 October 1293 as the date, but I haven't the faintest idea where that comes from. Who knows where Wikipedia contributors find stuff? That date strikes me as a little too close to the date of birth of Margaret's sister Eleanor in October/November 1292 to be plausible, and a little too far away from her younger sister Elizabeth's birth in September 1295. Gilbert 'the Red' and Joan of Acre were in Ireland from June 1293 to April 1294, so Margaret may have been born there, or not long after they returned to England. A date of birth in the spring or early summer of 1294 would give a more regular spacing between Margaret and her siblings and would make her about thirteen and a half when she married Piers Gaveston on 1 November 1307; her sisters were also both thirteen when they married. She married her second husband Hugh Audley on 28 April 1317.

Wiki gives 9 April 1342 as the date of Margaret's death, as do many other websites. Her Inquisition Post Mortem in fact says that she died on ‘Tuesday the morrow of the Close of Easter last’ in Edward III's sixteenth regnal year, which ran from 25 January 1342 to 24 January 1343. Easter Sunday in 1342 fell on 31 March, so Margaret therefore would seem to have died on 2 April 1342, not 9 April. [CIPM 1336-46, pp. 253-5] Her heir was her only surviving daughter, Margaret Stafford née Audley, from her second marriage to Hugh Audley. Margaret Stafford was said to be either eighteen or twenty years old at the time of her mother's death, which places her date of birth around 1320 or 1322.

The youngest de Clare sibling, Elizabeth, was supposedly born on 16 September 1295, just a few weeks before their father Gilbert 'the Red' died in early December 1295. I'm not sure what the source for her date of birth is; I'm not saying it's incorrect, just that I haven't, yet, seen the document which gives it. Elizabeth married 1) John de Burgh, son and heir of the earl of Ulster, on 30 September 1308; 2) Theobald de Verdon, around early February 1316; and 3) Roger Damory, shortly before 3 May 1317. She had one child from each marriage. Elizabeth died on 4 November 1360, aged sixty-five, leaving her granddaughter Elizabeth de Burgh, countess of Ulster, as her heir. The younger Elizabeth was born in 1332 as the only child of the elder Elizabeth's son William Donn de Burgh, earl of Ulster (1312-33), and married Edward III's second son Lionel (b. 1338). [CIPM 1352-60, 507-13]

30 April, 2017

Top Ten Myths About Edward II and Isabella of France

In no particular order, here are the top ten fake stories still often repeated about Edward II and Isabella of France. Thanks to my good friend Sami Parkkonen for the suggestion!

1) Edward II gave Isabella's wedding gifts and/or jewels to Piers Gaveston in 1308

I'm bored to tears with this stupid fake story, which I see repeated everywhere. This particular piece of unhistorical idiocy was invented by Agnes Strickland in the mid-nineteenth century and is based on a misreading of one line in the Annales Paulini, which says that King Philip IV of France gave some gifts (war-horses, a bed, rings) to his new son-in-law Edward II at the time of the royal wedding in early 1308 and that Edward sent them to Piers Gaveston in England. Firstly, the gifts were given to Edward, not to Isabella, not even to Edward and Isabella jointly (unless we think that Isabella's father gave her war-horses for, y'know, all the wars she was personally going to fight in. Doesn't seem terribly likely, does it?). Secondly, there is no indication at all that Piers was meant to keep the gifts permanently; he was Edward II's regent of England during the king's absence in France, and was the person Edward trusted most. He was sent the items so that he could store them safely, not keep them. Isabella is not even mentioned in the Annales Paulini at this point. See here and here for my posts about this spectacularly annoying fake story, and for the line in the Annales which has (deliberately?) so often been misinterpreted. There's also an even sillier continuation of this fake story, wherein it is said that poor Isabella had to watch Piers Gaveston parading round in her own jewels and was helpless to do anything about it. For the record, there's no hint of any animosity on Isabella's part towards Gaveston; the notion that she and Piers were somehow rivals for Edward II's affections and that as Piers 'won' Isabella somehow 'lost' is merely an assumption.

2) Edward cruelly removed Isabella's children from her in 1324

Invented by Paul Doherty in his doctoral thesis about Isabella in 1977. Look at any book or article or thesis or even novel about Edward II and Isabella written before the late 1970s, and search for any notion or even a hint that 'Edward removed Isabella's children from her custody in 1324'. I assure you that you won't find it. Since then, however, it's been repeated everywhere, even by usually careful and excellent historians who should know better and yet seem, bizarrely, to believe that Paul Doherty is a reliable source. Bear in mind, this is the man who doesn't even know which of Isabella's brothers was king of France in 1320 or what year their mother the queen of Navarre died, who calls Edward II's niece Margaret de Clare 'Joan of Gloucester', who can't even figure out that a woman he says was born in 1296 cannot have been nine in 1303 and twenty-three in 1321, who makes up irrational nonsense that the queen of England was asked to take an oath of loyalty to a nobleman, and who cheerfully misquotes primary sources so that they say what he wants them to say. For his claim that Edward II inflicted even more hardship on his wife in September 1324 by cruelly removing her children from her custody, Doherty cites a document which actually dates to Edward II's regnal year from July 1322 to July 1323. Awesome. See here for a rebuttal of the whole absurd notion. And frankly, if Paul Doherty tells you that the pope is Catholic and that the Atlantic Ocean is wet, double check.

3) Edward abandoned Isabella when she was pregnant in 1312 to save Gaveston instead

Another main plank in the trendy Victim!Isabella school of history, which says that Edward II was so horrid to his poor young newly pregnant teenage wife that he abandoned her weeping at Tynemouth in early May 1312 in order to take Piers Gaveston to safety in Scarborough instead. The story is based solely on a misunderstanding by the St Albans chronicler, writing decades later and nearly 300 miles away, who mixed up events of 1312 with those of the autumn of 1322 when Isabella really did get trapped at Tynemouth with Robert Bruce's army nearby. See here. No doubt, if Edward had taken Isabella on a boat on the bleak, rough and cold North Sea for five days in the first trimester of pregnancy, his modern 'Edward II could never do anything right' detractors would be wailing about that too. No real historian takes the idea that Edward 'abandoned' his pregnant wife in May 1312 remotely seriously, because it's so obvious that the St Albans chronicler was mixing up events which took place ten years apart; the story only appears in books written with a preconceived and wildly inaccurate notion that Isabella was the tragic neglected victim of her nasty cruel gay perverted husband for many years.

4) Edward II was not the father of Edward III

We mostly have Braveheart to thank for this one. Thanks, Mel Gibson! It was the above-mentioned Paul Doherty who first invented the notion, however, in a 1985 novel in which he changed Edward III's date of birth by eight months in order to accommodate the fiction that his real father was Roger Mortimer. Yes, that would be the Roger Mortimer who was in Ireland at the time that Edward III and all of Isabella's three younger children were conceived. There is no doubt whatsoever that Edward II and Isabella were together at the right times to conceive all their children, and the idea that Edward II was not the father of Isabella's offspring is based solely on the notion that human sexuality only ever exists as a binary and that because Edward loved men, he must necessarily have been incapable of intercourse with women. Daft. He fathered an illegitimate son as well as his children with Isabella. The 'Edward II hurted poor ickle twagic Issy howwibly, de howwid meanie' crowd also get a lot of mileage out of the fact that Edward and Isabella only conceived their first child in February 1312 when they'd been married for just over four years, apparently because they think that a man in his twenties should have been having lots of enthusiastic sex with a pre-pubescent or barely pubescent twelve-year-old. Because yes, that would be just great, wouldn't it? See here.

5) Edward II was weak and feeble

Because he loved men, and men who love men are automatically girly and camp and pathetic and feeble, as opposed to strong manly virile heterosexual men who only love women and are thus terribly strong and manly, dontcha know? That's not homophobic at all. For the absolute nadir of this school of thought, check out the novel about Piers Gaveston by Brandy Purdy, if you can stomach it (I can't), and if the idea of a gay man stamping his ickle foot and screeching and shaking his ickle fists impotently and throwing girly tantrums and wailing appeals to you. As for the real Edward II, as opposed to the feeble girly caricature so beloved of some modern writers who cannot write actual people but only offensive stereotypes, he was "one of the strongest men of his realm." "Fair of body and great of strength." "Tall and strong, a fine figure of a handsome man." "A handsome man, strong in body and limb." "Elegant, of outstanding strength." And so on and so on and so on.

6) Hugh Despenser the Younger raped Isabella with Edward's connivance

An invention of Paul Doherty and Alison Weir in the early twenty-first century in the service of their Victim!Isabella agenda, and a particularly nasty one based on no evidence whatsoever except a pile of silly rhetorical questions. I think it's appalling to accuse a person of a serious and devastating crime with evidence that's not merely absurdly flimsy but actually non-existent. See here.

7) Edward was trying to annul his marriage to Isabella in c. 1324/25

A rumour reported by two chroniclers, disproved by actual evidence from the chancery rolls and the Vatican archives, which shows that Edward II sent Friar Thomas Dunheved to John XXII to complain about the archbishop of Dublin, not to try to annul his marriage. He would have had to be spectacularly stupid to try to annul his marriage to Isabella at the same time that he was sending her as a peace envoy to her brother Charles IV, and of course he had no grounds whatsoever for an annulment and knew it. But who cares about evidence and logic when your main aim is to portray Isabella as the helpless tragic victim of her cruel husband? See here.

8) Isabella was aiding Roger Mortimer in and before 1323; Isabella and Roger fell passionately in love in late 1325

The idea that Isabella was helping Roger in the Tower during his imprisonment there in 1322/23 is based entirely on hindsight and knowledge of their later association, and has not a single shred of evidence to support it. It wasn't even suggested until the 1590s, by the playwright Christopher Marlowe. The idea that they fell madly in love and had a passionately and blatantly sexual affair is also an assumption based on little or no evidence.

9) Isabella hated Edward II

No, she didn't. This is based firstly on the idea that because their marriage ended with Isabella rebelling against her husband and playing a huge role in his downfall, their relationship must always have been an unhappy disaster, which doesn't follow at all. I think we've all been in relationships that didn't work out, right? Sometimes relationships that have ended with a great deal of animosity and emotional pain. That doesn't mean that we hated our partner for years or that the relationship was doomed from the start and always unhappy, does it? Yet somehow, some people seem to forget that human beings and human relationships are complex and change and evolve over time, and act as though Edward and Isabella could only ever have felt one thing for each other in nearly twenty years. (Him for her: indifference. Her for him: loathing.) It's based secondly on the assumption that Isabella fell madly in love with Roger Mortimer in late 1325, and that he was very different to Edward II and his antithesis, therefore if she loved Roger she must have hated Edward. And been happy to have a 'real man' in her life after so many years of the inadequate and inadequately heterosexual Edward, blah blah blah, you've read all this crap before. It's my strong belief that in fact Edward and Isabella loved each other for many years and had a mutually supportive and affectionate partnership, and that when it all started to go wrong in and after 1322, Isabella was devastated. Far from hating Edward and wanting to destroy him, she wanted her old happy marriage back. And only when that didn't work, and Edward refused to send Hugh Despenser away from him, did Isabella decide to remove Despenser herself.

10) Edward II was a coward

This one comes from the fact that Edward had to flee the field of Bannockburn on 24 June 1314 in order to evade capture, though proponents of this idea never seem to stop and wonder why a physical coward would have been fighting right in the thick of the battle in the first place (and one chronicler pointed out that Edward fought "like a lioness deprived of her cubs"). Edward wasn't much of a commander, and having lost the battle, there was really little else he could do but ensure that he wasn't killed or captured by the Scots - and it seems that he was dragged protesting from the field by his kinsman the earl of Pembroke, and certainly didn't turn tail and run the minute things got difficult. Being killed in June 1314 would have brought Edward's nineteen-month-old son to the throne, with all the perils of a regency of many years standing that would have entailed - and who would have ruled England for all those years anyway? Who was more competent than Edward II? His cousin Lancaster? His queen Isabella? Yeah, no. Edward being captured would have meant a ransom massive almost beyond imagining being imposed on the English for his release. Neither situation was much of an improvement on what actually did happen; quite the opposite. 

23 April, 2017

But They Were In A Chamber Together!

Edward III, not quite eighteen years old, arrested his mother's 'favourite' Roger Mortimer, earl of March and lord of Wigmore, at Nottingham Castle on 19 October 1330. The story is well known: the young king and about twenty of his loyal household knights entered the castle via a secret tunnel and burst into the queen's chamber. Isabella herself supposedly shouted out to her son "Fair son, fair son, have pity on gentle Mortimer," according to the later chronicler Geoffrey le Baker (who tends to be massively unreliable); in the French original, Beal filz, beal filz, eiez pitie de gentil Mortymer. 'Gentle' 700 years ago did not of course mean the same thing it means today, but rather meant someone of noble birth, as in 'gentleman'.

As Isabella and Roger Mortimer were in a chamber in Nottingham Castle at the time of their arrest late at night, it's often assumed nowadays that they were, if not necessarily in the act of making love, sharing a bed when the young king burst in, or at the very least alone, private and in an intimate space. This is emphatically not the case. Isabella and Roger were by no means alone: their remaining close allies were present in the chamber with them, including the bishop of Lincoln Henry Burghersh, Roger's son Geoffrey Mortimer, Sir Oliver Ingham, Sir Simon Bereford, Hugh Turplington, who was the steward of the king's household but loyal to Roger Mortimer, a household squire called Richard de Munimuth, an usher called Richard de Crombek, and probably others. The pair were having a meeting with the few men who were still loyal to them after almost four years of their unpopular misrule, not in bed together. When Edward III and his knights suddenly, shockingly, burst in, the bishop of Lincoln tried to escape down a latrine shaft and had to be rescued. Oh dear, how humiliating. During the ensuing scuffle, Hugh Turplington was killed by Sir John Neville of Hornby while trying to protect Roger Mortimer and shouting "You shall all die an evil death here!", and Richard de Monmouth was also killed, though at whose hands is unclear. Monmouth had been an attendant of Mortimer during the latter's imprisonment in the Tower of London, and fled to the continent with him.

Next year, I have a long article coming out in an academic journal, which includes the words 'Edward II and his Chamber' in its title. Much more information on this at a later date, but I assure you that the article only very briefly deals with Edward II's sex life, and not in relation to his chamber, which was a department of his household with the chamberlain, Hugh Despenser the Younger, at its head. The word 'chamber' in the Middle Ages really does not have the intimate meaning we tend to assign to it nowadays.

17 April, 2017

Edward II And His Stepmother

I so often see it stated that Edward II and his stepmother Marguerite of France had a close, loving relationship, and I just want to examine that idea here. My primary aim with this blog has long been to examine stories about Edward II, both negative and positive, and see if they stand up to scrutiny.  They frequently don't. It's fascinating and frankly alarming how much we think we know about Edward is not based on any contemporary evidence whatsoever, or at the very least is exaggerated. Because of the paucity of evidence for inter-personal relationships in the early fourteenth century, what little information we do have tends to be exaggerated by modern writers and made into something far more than it actually is. After all, no-one kept diaries and vanishingly few private letters are extant, so modern writers tend to take whatever they can find. This is fair enough, of course, but we should always bear in mind how little we can really know about people's personal relationships, and try not to make more of scanty evidence than we should. And it's also often stated that Marguerite had a close relationship with her husband Edward I and that after his death she stated 'When he died, all men died for me', but I'm also not really convinced that their marriage was a particularly happy one. Edward I never had Marguerite crowned as queen of England, which is probably quite revealing. And it's understandable that she never wanted to remarry after Edward I's death, because of course he was a king, and marrying any other man would have been a real comedown. Isabella of France never remarried in all the years of her widowhood either, and no-one has ever taken that to mean that she adored and had been madly happy to be married to Edward II. Anyway, just putting it out there as a possibility.

Edward of Caernarfon's mother Eleanor of Castile, queen of England, died on 28 November 1290 when she was in her late forties and Edward, her youngest child, was only six. Edward I, after nine years as a widower, married Philip IV's half-sister Marguerite of France on 8 September 1299, when he was sixty and she twenty (she was born sometime between September 1278 and September 1279).  Edward of Caernarfon was fifteen at the time of his father's wedding, only about five years younger than his new stepmother. Marguerite was younger than some of her other stepchildren, such as Joan of Acre, countess of Gloucester (born 1272) and Margaret, duchess of Brabant (born 1275). Edward II was the first king of England since before the Norman Conquest to have a stepmother, and of course after Edward II married Isabella of France in January 1308, Marguerite was also the new queen's aunt, as half-sister of Isabella's father Philip IV.

Fifteen-year-old Edward of Caernarfon spent time with his new stepmother  - who was already pregnant with his half-brother Thomas of Brotherton, born on 1 June 1300 a little under nine months after the royal wedding, whether she knew it or not - at Langley in Hertfordshire from 2 to 20 November 1299.  Edward's twenty-year-old sister Mary, the reluctant nun, was also present. The three were entertained by Henry, a fool sent by the count of Savoy. Edward of Caernarfon as was his wont, played dice, and they ate nuts, apples, pears and other fruit. Edward and Marguerite were also together from Christmas until February 1300, and as her New Year gift, Edward gave his stepmother a gold ring with a ruby. [Seymour Phillips, Edward II, pp. 81-82 and note 26, citing The National Archives E 101/355/17, E 101/355/30; Hilda Johnstone, Edward of Carnarvon 1284-1307, pp. 44-46]

This is just one example of Edward of Caernarfon spending a considerable amount of time in the company of his stepmother in his father's lifetime. The last four words are, in my opinion, key here. Edward was still only fifteen in early 1300, and not operating under his own agency but following his father's orders. There were other times when he was in Marguerite's company, or in touch with her. In the summer of 1305, Edward quarrelled badly with his father, who sent his household away and cut off his income. The prince of Wales thanked Marguerite for intervening for him with his father so that Piers Gaveston and Gilbert de Clare of Thomond would be restored to him, yet it was his sisters who really came to his rescue; Joan for example sent him her seal so that he could order goods, and Mary the nun invited her to stay with him. The tone of Edward of Caernarfon's letter to Marguerite is almost obsequious. He wrote to her on seven further occasions in 1304/05, a year his correspondence happens to survive, and we may fairly assume that this was not unusual and that Edward sent letters to his stepmother in other years as well. Jeffrey Hamilton believes that Edward's asking his stepmother to intercede with his father on his behalf shows the 'tangible sense of the deep trust and faith' he had in Marguerite. ['The Character of Edward II', in Reign of Edward II: New Perspectives, ed. Dodd and Musson, pp. 16-17] It might well mean that, of course, or it might just be that Edward assumed Marguerite was the obvious person to ask her husband for a favour. Isabella of France often interceded with Edward II on behalf of petitioners, and I'm not sure anyone would take that as evidence of 'deep trust and faith' between them. I sometimes think historians see what they expect to see, and interpret evidence in a way that fits something they already believe, whether correctly or not.

Official documents of the era almost inevitably refer to Marguerite of France as Edward II's 'mother', but as there was no word for 'stepmother', this means very little. Edward II and his father-in-law Philip IV of France (Marguerite's older half-brother) always addressed each other as 'very beloved father' and 'very beloved son' in their correspondence; such forms were purely conventional and say nothing at all about their personal relationship. Edward and Philip quite probably disliked each other, but courtesy and addressing fellow royals in the correct ways were more important than personal feelings. Alice Leygrave, Edward's wet-nurse who much later joined the household of Queen Isabella, was in 1312 referred to as "the king's mother, who suckled him in his youth." I've also seen people claiming that Edward II's great-grandson Henry IV (reigned 1399 to 1413) was also very fond of his stepmother Katherine Swynford on the grounds that after he became king, he referred to her as his 'mother.' But of course he did; she was his father John of Gaunt's widow. There was no other way for him to refer to her. It says nothing about their personal relationship and does not necessarily mean that he was fond of her, let alone that he saw her as his mother (his own mother Blanche of Lancaster died when he was under eighteen months old). Henry might well have been enormously fond of Katherine, of course; I'm not saying that he wasn't, merely that conventionally addressing her as his mother means nothing much one way or the other. In an extant letter of 1305, twenty-one-year-old Edward of Caernarfon addressed his much older kinswoman Agnes de Valence (daughter and sister of earls of Pembroke) as his 'good mother' and promised to do whatever he could for her as a loving son should do, which doesn't suggest that he'd found a maternal figure in Marguerite and was in need of one. This is probably not terribly surprising as she was only about five years his senior. I find this letter poignant.

One of Edward II's possessions in 1312 was a brooch specifically said to have been a gift to him from madame la Roine la miere, 'my lady the queen, the mother.' Whether this means Eleanor of Castile or Marguerite of France is not clear. It might even mean Edward II's grandmother Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III and mother of Edward I, who lived until Edward II was seven and did give him other gifts. Again, even if Marguerite did give her stepson a brooch, this is not necessarily evidence that she was hugely fond of him, but was merely expected and normal behaviour. Marguerite of France married a king, but with the knowledge that her sons would never succeed to the throne because her husband already had an heir. Her sons would only ever be the half-brothers and later the half-uncles of kings, but could not expect to be kings themselves unless something happened to Edward of Caernarfon. I wouldn't be surprised if that caused some resentment in Marguerite. I don't mean for a second that she ever wished him harm, but it might have been a barrier between them.

Even if we think that Edward of Caernarfon was close to and fond of his stepmother up to 1307, in early 1308 she opposed his beloved Piers Gaveston and, according to a contemporary newsletter, gave financial support to the English barons trying to force his exile. The newsletter gives the sum of forty thousand pounds, which is obviously an absurd exaggeration and Marguerite cannot possibly have given them anything like as much (or even had a fraction of that sum available to her), but it seems clear that she was hostile to Piers and helping his enemies. If Marguerite and Edward had been so close as is often surmised, I find it hard to see why she would have opposed Piers Gaveston in 1308 and even actively funded the baronial opposition which was determined to banish him abroad. However politically sensible it might have been to detach Piers from the king, there is nothing Marguerite could have done which would hurt Edward II more, or which he would find harder to forgive. She surely knew that.

I'm not saying for certain that Edward II and Marguerite did not have a good relationship, only that the available evidence has, in my opinion, been stretched too far. They may well have enjoyed each other's company enormously and been extremely fond of each other, but what evidence we have doesn't automatically point to such a conclusion. At any rate, however they might have felt about each other before Edward became king, Marguerite's supporting the baronial opposition to Piers Gaveston in 1308 put an abrupt end to any closeness and affection there might have been, and for the remaining ten years of her life, there is little if any evidence of visits or letters or gifts. Edward mostly ignored his stepmother. He attended her funeral in 1318, as did his sister Mary the nun, but again this was most likely simply what convention demanded. If Edward kept the anniversary of Marguerite's death every year with prayers, as he did for his own mother, I'm not aware of it.

13 April, 2017

Contrariant Miracles 1322/23

In March and April 1322, Edward II had between nineteen and twenty-two knights and noblemen executed for taking part in the Contrariant rebellion, including his own first cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster. Here's a reliable list of the names of the executed men; the numbers have often been inflated in modern literature, generally by including the names of men killed at Boroughbridge, and also by talking about a 'bloodbath' and a 'reign of terror' and 'horror piled upon horror' and other such absurdly over-emotional comments which tip over into the hysterical.

This post is about a rather interesting phenomenon which occurred in the aftermath of the executions: many of Edward II's subjects claimed that miracles had taken place at the execution sites of several of the Contrariants. This was, for the most part, a political protest against Edward II, the Despensers and their greedy and tyrannical regime after their victory over the Contrariants in 1322.

Miracles were being reported at the execution site of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, beheaded just outside his Yorkshire castle of Pontefract on 22 March 1322, within weeks of the earl's death. [1] A campaign to canonise Lancaster – surely one of the unlikeliest saints of all time, nearly as unlikely as Edward II himself – began in 1327, and his cult grew in popularity; as late as the Reformation, his hat and belt preserved at Pontefract were used as remedies in childbirth and for headaches. [2] A Latin song written at the end of Edward II's reign or at the beginning of his son Edward III's laments "the blessed martyr" and "flower of knights" (my response to this can be basically be summed up as: ROFL), and says "the pouring out of prayers to Thomas restores the sick to health; the pious earl comes immediately to the aid of those who are feeble." [3]

In 1323, miracles continued to be reported at the site of Lancaster's execution. 2000 people, some from as far away as Kent, gathered to pray and make oblations at his tomb in Pontefract. [4] The archbishop of York, Edward II's friend and ally William Melton, twice had to remind his archdeacon that Lancaster was not a canonised saint and order him to disperse the throng gathering at the earl's tomb, some of whom were crushed to death. [5] Edward sent his clerk Richard Moseley to investigate, the king's attitude to the situation apparent from his description of the crowd as "malefactors and apostates" and his comment that they were praying "not to God but rather to idols." The crowd made their feelings clear, too: Moseley was assaulted, and two of his servants killed. [6] The very pro-Lancastrian Brut chronicle includes a bizarrely disgusting story in which Hugh Despenser the Younger, troubled and angered by the "great heresy" of the alleged miracles, sent a messenger to Edward to inform him about them. As the messenger passed through Pontefract, he "made his ordure" at the place where Lancaster had been beheaded – and later suffered punishment for this sacrilegious act when he "shed all his bowels at his fundament." [7]

Miracles were also said to have taken place at the execution site of the Contrariants Sir Henry Montfort and Sir Henry Wilington in Bristol: the mayor of the city told the king that Montfort’s brother bribed a poor child with two shillings "to pronounce to the people that he received healing of his sight." Edward II ordered an inquisition into the alleged miracles in October 1323. [8] On 28 June 1323, Edward had ordered Stephen Gravesend, bishop of London, to prevent people praying and making offerings at a tablet in St Paul's "whereon are depicted statues, sculpture or images of diverse persons, and amongst others the effigy of Thomas, late earl of Lancaster...as the king learns with displeasure that many of the people go to the said tablet and worship it as a holy thing without the authority of the church of Rome, asserting that miracles are done there." [9] The French Chronicle of London describes this object instead as a tablet which the earl of Lancaster had had made to celebrate Edward's granting of the Ordinances in 1311. [10]

This whole thing is, I think, most revealing of the contemporary mindset. Edward II was disturbed at the political implications of these alleged miracles performed by his executed enemies, but also, being a very pious man, seems to have been genuinely angry at what he saw as 'apostasy', the worship of false images, and people disobeying the Church.


1) Anonimalle Chronicle, 108: The Brut, 228; J. R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, 329.
2) Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 329.
3) Thomas Wright, The Political Songs of England, pp. 268-72.
4) Foedera 1307-27, 536-7? 
5) Natalie Fryde, The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II, 153.
6) Cal Inq Misc 1308-48, 528-9.
7) Brut, 230.
8) Cal Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, 543.
9) Cal Close Rolls 1318-23, 723; Flores Historiarum, 213.
10) Croniques de London, 46; Anonimalle, 114.

02 April, 2017


Apologies for not updating the blog more regularly; I've been really busy lately, had visitors, and am still going through the long and painful bereavement process.

Just to let you know, I was commissioned to write another piece for BBC History Magazine, this time for their 'historical holiday' series. I chose the fabulous Spanish city of Seville, an ancient, beautiful and fascinating place with strong links to Edward II: his maternal grandfather Fernando III of Castile and Leon is the patron saint of the city. The piece will appear in the May edition of the magazine, and will be out later this month. Here's a short preview!

19 March, 2017

The Death of Sir John Eure in 1322

I've previously written posts about Edward II's 1321/22 campaign against the Contrariants, the baronial rebels who had forced the exile of the two Hugh Despensers in August 1321: see here, herehere, here and here. In March/April 1322, twenty or so Contrariants were executed; they were all noblemen or knights. See here for an accurate list based on a variety of primary sources. The number of Contrariants executed in 1322 has been grossly inflated in modern literature, notably by Natalie Fryde in her 1979 work The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326, usually by including the names of men killed at the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322. Accounts of Edward II's executions of the twenty or twenty-two thuggish knights and noblemen who had committed serious crimes (such as homicide, assault, false imprisonment, blackmail, theft and plunder, and much else) often reach a fever-pitch of bizarre hysteria in modern writing: a 'bloodbath', 'atrocities', 'slaughter' and so on.

Four fourteenth-century chronicles - the amusingly anti-Edward II Westminster chronicle Flores Historiarum, the Lanercost chronicle, the Livere de Reis and the fragment called the 'Chronicle of the Civil Wars' - give the Lancastrian knight Sir John Eure as one of the executed Contrariants in March/April 1322. Sir John Eure was a supporter of Edward II's cousin and enemy Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and was suspected in 1317 of complicity in Sir Gilbert Middleton's attack on the cardinals Luca Fieschi and Gaucelin Duèse; Edward ordered the sheriff of Northumberland the mayor of Newcastle to arrest Eure on these grounds on 30 September 1317 (CPR 1317-21, p. 88). Earlier, in 1313/14, Eure had been the king's escheator beyond Trent.

John Eure in fact was killed by fourteen men who all were seemingly Edward II's supporters (though I don't recognise any of their names), though without Edward's prior knowledge. Eure's chaplain Richard Uttyng was also killed. One of Eure's killers, interestingly enough, was named as an adherent of Bartholomew Badlesmere, a Contrariant executed in April 1322. Edward II complained that 'malefactors', asserting that Eure was "the king's enemy, which he was not," killed him while he was "in the king's faith and peace." It seems that fourteen men got carried away when pursuing the Contrariants who had fought at Boroughbridge, or even just those they thought had fought there. Edward told his kinsman Louis Beaumont, bishop of Durham, on 26 March 1322 (four days after his cousin Thomas of Lancaster's execution and ten after Boroughbridge) not to 'molest' the fourteen men for "beheading John de Evre when pursuing him as the king's enemy, until the king shall issue further orders after he has been certified of this matter." On 28 May 1322, Edward II pardoned Eure's killers. This is just a little reminder that we can't always take contemporary chronicles at face value; even when they positively assert that Edward II had a man executed, other extant records prove that he did not (though admittedly he did not punish the men responsible for killing a knight and a chaplain without the slightest authority).

CCR 1318-23, 430, 474; CPR 1321-4, 127-8; Livere de Reis, ed. Glover, 345; Lanercost, ed. Maxwell, 236; Flores, ed. Luard, 208; Haskins, ‘Chronicle of the Civil Wars’, 79-80. The men who killed John Eure are named as: John Hert, Robert Stanford (Badlesmere's adherent), William Stapelton, Geoffrey Yelemund or Ikemund, Richard Heddeleye, Richard Thorp, Thomas Witton, Thomas Fox, William Those, Robert Corbrigge, John Conyngham, William Hortheworth, William Masham and Thomas Raynton. A Richard Skynner is added in one chancery roll entry, which probably means Richard Thorp.

10 March, 2017

Chicken or Brave-Hearted? The Future Edward II at War, 1300-06 (Guest Post)

Today I'm delighted to welcome writer and researcher David Pilling to the blog! He's a man who knows a thing or two about Edward I and his reign, to put it mildly, and he's written a great post about Edward of Caernarfon's military career during his father's lifetime which sheds new light on Edward's dire military reputation.

Edward II, rated one of England’s most incompetent kings, presided over a sequence of appalling military disasters in his reign. His most famous defeat at Bannockburn in 1314 was followed by other, lesser-known reverses in Scotland and Gascony, all of which demonstrated the king’s strange inability to wage war. The Lanercost chronicler’s stinging description of Edward as ‘ever chicken-hearted and luckless in war’ was unfair - Edward was no coward, as his performance at Bannockburn demonstrates - but perhaps summed up the general opinion of him among contemporaries, especially in the north.

History loves a good pattern. By rights Edward’s military ineptitude should have been evident from the start; once a dud, always a dud. Yet the reality is more nuanced. As Prince of Wales, serving in the Scottish wars of his father, Edward I, the young Edward was perfectly competent. These early campaigns, often skated over in histories of Edward II, deserve closer attention. The startling discrepancy between Edward’s military performance as prince and king provides another slant on this most complex of men.

Edward was first summoned to military service, aged 15, on 1st March 1300, when his father mustered the English host ‘to punish the Scots’ upon the expiration of a truce. Edward I mobilised his army at Berwick-on-Tweed, on Midsummer’s day, while his son was ordered to muster on the same day at Carlisle. The latter was an independent command, though the prince was attended by the earls of Lincoln, Lancaster, Gloucester and Arundel. Henry de Lacey, Earl of Lincoln, was a veteran of the Welsh wars and clearly meant to guide the prince. Edward I wished his son to have the aid and advice of experienced men, yet be perceived as the leader of the Carlisle expedition: ‘so that the chief honour of taming the pride of the Scots may accrue to the prince,’ as the writ stated.

The 1300 campaign was not one of Edward I’s more successful wars. Hampered by the desertion rate of his northern levies, he could do little more than lay siege to the castle of Caerlaverock, south of Dumfries. A royal herald did his best to glorify the campaign by composing a long martial poem, The Siege of Caerlaverock, praising the courage and splendid appearance of Edward’s knights. The herald provided eloquent descriptions of the king and his son:

‘Edward King of England and Scotland, Lord of Ireland, Prince of Wales, and Duke of Aquitaine, conducted the third squadron at a little distance, and brought up the rear so closely and ably that none of the others were left behind. In his banner were three leopards courant of fine gold, set on red, fierce, haughty and cruel; thus placed to signify that, like them, the king is dreadful, fierce and proud to his enemies, for his bite is slight to none who are envenomed by it; not but his kindness is soon rekindled towards such as seek his friendship or submit to his power. Such a prince was well suited to be the chieftain of noble personages.’

‘The fourth squadron, with its train, was led by Edward the king’s son, a youth of seventeen years of age, and bearing arms for the first time. He was of a well proportioned and handsome person, of a courteous disposition, and intelligent; and desirous of finding an occasion to display his prowess. He managed his steed wonderfully well, and bore with a blue label the arms of the good King his father. Now God give him grace that he be as valiant and no less so than his father.’

If the herald can be relied on, we have a vivid image of the ferocious old king - ‘fierce, haughty and cruel’ - bringing up the rearguard with his usual iron discipline, while his dashing son was sent on ahead. Again, these contemporary accounts suggest the prince was being deliberately pushed into the limelight by his father. Now an old man by the standards of the day, Edward I had to convince the world of the fitness and capacity of his only adult male heir. For some reason (perhaps ignorance?) the herald also stuck two years onto the prince’s ages.

The prince’s actions during the siege of Caerlaverock went unrecorded. In August, after the castle had fallen, he had his first taste of combat in a fight on the nearby River Cree. After some skirmishing between the two armies, the Scottish host under Umfraville, Comyn of Badenoch and Buchan drew up on the banks of the river in three divisions. For a long while the missile troops of both armies shot at each other, though the king was wary. According to Rishanger, Edward suspected an ambush, and ordered the Earl of Hereford to recall some foot soldiers who had crossed the stream. Prince Edward is described venturing down to the riverside with his cohort so he could watch the exchange of missiles. The young man’s curiosity and eagerness to get close to the action hardly suggests a ‘chicken-hearted’ disposition.

The infantry on the other side of the river were in aggressive mood. They interpreted the Earl of Hereford’s approach as the signal to attack, and charged the Scots. At this moment the banner of the Prince of Wales was also seen to go forward; in a blaze of youthful exuberance, Edward led his knights across the river to join in the assault. Hereford, without meaning to do so, had triggered a general engagement. Word swiftly reached the king, who leaped aboard his destrier, ordered the trumpets and horns to sound the advance and galloped down to the river at the head of his battalion. Earl Warenne, the loser of Stirling Bridge, followed close behind. The result of this piecemeal and unintended charge might have been calamitous, but the English were saved by their king’s reputation. By now the Scottish nobles were completely unwilling to face the dreaded Longshanks in open battle. They fled in headlong rout, abandoning their infantry and baggage train to the enemy. Rishanger bemoans the desertion of the Welsh among the English army, who might otherwise have pursued the fleeing Scots into the ‘moors and watery shallows’ and destroyed them forever.

After this encouraging start, young Edward may well have felt that warfare suited him. The war fizzled out, but was renewed again the following year when Edward I laid siege to Bothwell Castle. He despatched his son, together with the Earl of Lincoln, to advance through the south-west of Scotland. No glorious battles were fought, but the prince installed a fresh garrison at Ayr and successfuly besieged Robert de Bruce’s castle of Turnberry and Comyn of Badenoch’s castle of Dalswinton. In late September Edward was at Loch Ryan, probably acting on orders from his father to cut off Scottish forces moving west to Galloway. Edward’s presence in the region effectively forced the Scots to move east. On October 23rd he wrote a letter to the treasurer at York, reporting that he had inspected the castles of Lochmaben and Dumfries and found them in a pitiful state: ‘feebly garrisoned with troops and lacking in victuals and other provisions’. Edward resupplied the castles and shortly afterwards rejoined his father’s main army. There is not the slightest glimmer of incompetence in the prince’s conduct.

Surviving accounts for the following years reveal how the prince was armed and equipped on campaign, and how he amused himself during the long, tedious hours of inactivity. An inventory from November 20th 1302 lists the cost of armour for the prince’s body:

‘3 bacinets, 20 shillings; 2 pair of ' jamber ' at 2 marks per pair; an iron headpiece with crest, 60s; another round one, 60s; a helmet with visor, 53s; another close one for the Scottish war this year, bought by John Dengaigne and Hugh de Bungeye, 151. To Bernard of Devon armourer o£ London, for 2 pairs of 'jamber' at 20s. a pair ; a pair of plate quisses, 6s. Sd. ; a pair of ' poleyns ' and 2 pairs of ' sabaters,' in all, 13s. 4:d. ; and a pair of gloves of plate, 10s.’

The inventory also mentions two urinals for Edward’s personal use, apparently carried along with the rest of the army baggage! Further entries list his expenses, including money spent at dice and on purchasing dogs to hunt in Scottish forests.

In 1303 Edward I embarked upon yet another gigantic effort to break Scotland to his will. Having recovered Gascony from the French, he could now focus all his energies on this, his final conquest. The Prince of Wales, now 19, was again given a measure of independent command. More details filter through the surviving records. A payroll for May-October 1303 revals the prince’s personal bodyguard consisted of Spaniards, seven crossbowmen and two lancers. It may be significant that Edward himself was half-Spanish through his mother, Eleanor of Castile.

On 5th March 1303 the King ordered his son to reinforce Sir Alexander de Abernethy at the fords and passes about ‘Dryppe’, and to despatch other knights for this purpose. This was to be done with all haste, said the king, since he could not see how the knights could ‘more honourably win their shoes and boots.’ The prince’s swift response greatly pleased his father, who sent him the following commendation:

’And we let you know that it seems to us that herein you have had good and wise advice, wherewith we hold ourselves well satisfied; and it seems to us that the matters are as well arranged as well may be until your coming to us.’

These letters, while not evidence of any particular warmth between father and son, at least implies something more than stiff formality or mutual antipathy. There is very little reliable evidence to suggest that Edward I was unimpressed by his heir. In pure military terms, away from court politics, the reverse appears to have been true.

On 8th June the king reached Perth, though his army didn’t arrive until the 18th. The elder Edward’s furious energy at this time, often racing days ahead of his infantry, was remarkable for a man in his early 60s. At Perth he halted for two months while supplies and reinforcements came up for the next stage of the campaign.

On 10th July Edward sent a special request to the monastic order of Chartreuse, begging them to pray for his family, subjects, adherents and the success of the war. This has been interpreted to mean the king had fallen ill, though there may have been a more obvious cause for his anxiety. At about the same time his son rode out from Perth on a two-week foray into Strathearn. The prince was accompanied by just eleven archers and their captain, William Wilde, and a small number of cavalrymen. On the 13th and 23rd this small raiding party fought two skirmishes with the Scots at Athol, losing six horses. One of the cavalrymen, Arnald Fytous, lost two.

The details of this foray, rarely mentioned in more general histories, must surely overturn Edward II’s ‘chicken-hearted’ reputation. At the Cree he had charged the Scots without waiting for orders (shades of his father at Lewes in 1264) and in 1303 risked his person on a dangerous raid into hostile territory with just a handful of men. It seems odd his father should have permitted the foray to go ahead. He had kept his son away from the tourney field, knowing the dangers of that violent blood-sport. If the prince had met his death in the skirmishes at Athol, dynastic catastrophe would have ensued. The next heir was Thomas of Brotherton, a three-year old. Edward I could not have reasonably expected to live to see Thomas grown to adulthood. A long minority government, with England embroiled in a war against Scotland, was the stuff of nightmares.

As it was, Prince Edward returned unscathed from his adventure. The army moved on to take Brechin Castle, and then marched on a long chevauchée round north-eastern Scotland. The king and his son advanced at the head of separate divisions, burning and plundering all in their path. Hamlets and towns, granges and granaries all went up in flames. Young Edward was no less ruthless than his father, and some documentary evidence survives of the destruction he wreaked: Walter, dean of the cathedral church of Elgin, requested a gift of timber to repair his houses destroyed by the prince’s army. Certain traditions survive of English troops besieging the castles of Urquhart and Cromarty at this time. It may be the prince was despatched to oversee these operations, another sign of his father’s faith in him.

All this grinding pressure was meant to target the estates of John Comyn, Guardian of Scotland, and pound him and his fellow Guardians into submission. The strategy succeeded: Comyn and his peers formally surrendered to Edward I at Strathord on 9th February. Prince Edward was kept busy. Earlier, on January 27th, he was recorded crossing Perth bridge in pursuit of the Scots. The Guardians at this time were in negotiations with the king, so this action may have been intended to hunt down William Wallace and his ally Simon Fraser. Fans of Braveheart may puzzle over the image of the heroic Wallace being chased by the supposedly foppish and ineffective Prince Edward. The reality is that Wallace was a desperate fugitive by this point, continually harassed and pursued by vengeful English forces. In the spring Wallace and Fraser were routed by the English at Happrew and lucky to escape. They would not remain at liberty for long.

On 5th March 1305, while laying siege to Stirling Castle, Edward I ordered his son to reinforce the Earl of Carrick, moving against Scottish ‘rebels’ near Stirling. Carrick was none other than Robert de Bruce, later victor of Bannockburn. Here the great hero of Scottish independence fought and served alongside the future Edward II, in order to crush the last flickering embers of Scottish resistance to Edward I! The king also ordered his son to provide the army with lead for siege engines. Some of this may have gone towards the construction of War Wolf, a monstrous trebuchet that allegedly brought down an entire section of castle wall with one shot.

The eventual fall of Stirling, and execution of William Wallace on 23rd August 1305, marked the final conquest of Scotland. Or so it seemed. In February 1306 Bruce murdered his great rival, John Comyn, before the altar in the Chapel of Greyfriars Monastery in Dumfries. Soon afterwards he went into revolt against the English crown, and Edward I was obliged to conquer Scotland all over again. The sick and ageing king grimly sent his forces north, among them the Prince of Wales. On 13th September young Edward triumphantly reported a victory: he had captured the castle of Kildrummy, and inside it a great number of Scottish nobles, including one of Bruce’s brothers. Bruce himself had narrowly escaped. This was one of several heavy defeats suffered by Bruce in the early stage of his resistance, until he met that famous spider in a cave and learnt to ‘try, try again.’

With the benefit of hindsight - always the historian’s favourite conceit - Kildrummy marked young Edward’s last Scottish victory of any note. On 7th July 1307 his father died at Burgh-on-Sands near Carlisle, leaving the new king with a mountain of debt and unfinished business in Scotland. From this moment on the familiar narrative re-asserts itself, with the hapless Edward II stumbling from one defeat to the next. I hope this essay has at least demonstrated there was nothing inevitable about his later military failures. This may in turn serve to explain the shock and disappointment expressed by contemporary annalists.

(This is Kathryn again) Many thanks to David for this fantastic and enlightening post on a subject rarely written about and poorly understood. Just to confirm what he wrote in his last line, the author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi wrote of Edward II in 1313: "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, they would not find his like in the land...If he had followed the advice of the barons he would have humiliated the Scots with ease. If he had habituated himself to the use of arms, he would have exceeded the prowess of King Richard [Lionheart]. Physically this would have been inevitable, for he was tall and strong, a fine figure of a handsome man...What hopes he raised as prince of Wales! How they were dashed when he became king!"

05 March, 2017

Elizabeth Comyn and Sir Richard Talbot

A post today about the Scottish noblewoman Elizabeth Comyn and the English knight Sir Richard Talbot, who married in or before the summer of 1326 and were the ancestors of the Talbot earls of Shrewsbury.

Elizabeth was the younger daughter of John 'the Red Comyn', lord of Badenoch and nephew of John Balliol, king of Scotland, and Joan de Valence, one of the three sisters of Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke and a half-niece of Henry III of England. Elizabeth's date of birth is often given as 1 November 1299, and if that's accurate she was only six years old when her father was killed in February 1306 by his great rival Robert Bruce, who shortly afterwards made himself king of Scotland. Elizabeth spent most of her life in England. Her only brother John was killed fighting for Edward II against Robert Bruce at Bannockburn in June 1314, and Elizabeth's nephew Aymer Comyn, John's only child and named after their uncle Aymer de Valence, died as an infant before 25 October 1316. (John's widow and little Aymer's mother Margaret Wake later married Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent and was the mother of Joan of Kent and grandmother of Richard II.) Elizabeth and her older sister Joan, countess of Atholl, were little Aymer Comyn's heirs, and jointly inherited four manors in Northumberland. [CIPM 1317-27, 3; CPR 1313-7, 164; CFR 1307-19, 308] They were also the heirs, with their cousin John, Lord Hastings (b. 1286), to the vastly greater inheritance of their maternal uncle the earl of Pembroke when he died in June 1324. [CIPM 1317-27, pp. 314-40] Aymer Comyn's IPM taken on Monday 15 November 1316 says that "Joan the wife of David earl of Atholl" was then twenty-four and her sister Elizabeth sixteen, which would seem to indicate that she was born in 1300. This is the only certain evidence I know of for her age, other than Aymer de Valence's IPM in 1324, in which the jurors' estimates of Elizabeth's age are all over the place, between sixteen and twenty-two or just "of full age", and jurors in some counties didn't even know her name and called her and Joan "daughters of the Redecomyn", or called her Isabel. Elizabeth can't possibly have been sixteen in 1324 as this would place her birth two years after her father's death. The 1 November 1299 date of birth may well be correct, but I can't confirm it, and if anyone knows the source, please tell me! I'm a bit puzzled as thirteenth/fourteenth-century dates of birth were generally only recorded in IPMs, and as Elizabeth's wasn't recorded in her nephew's or in her uncle's, I don't know where it would have been. (It won't be in her father's, if he had one, as she wasn't the Red Comyn's heir when he was killed in 1306, her brother John was.) In 1979, Natalie Fryde (in her Tyranny and Fall of Edward II, p. 114) claimed that Elizabeth was "only a teenager in the 1320s," but this is highly unlikely. Even if Elizabeth was John the Red Comyn's posthumous child, she can't have been born later than about September or October 1306, and in that instance would have been only ten when named as her nephew Aymer Comyn's heir a decade later, not sixteen. IPMs are usually a sight more accurate on the ages of children and teenagers than on adults'.

After her uncle the earl of Pembroke died in June 1324, and in fact even before, Elizabeth became a target of the royal favourite and chamberlain Hugh Despenser the Younger. An inquisition taken in March 1328, early in Edward III's reign, stated that Hugh, his father the earl of Winchester and three other men (Nicholas de Sudynton, William Staunford and John Hasselegh), captured Elizabeth at Kennington in Surrey and "thence conveyed her against her will" to Woking in the same county, a manor of the elder Despenser, and then to 'Purefrith', i.e. Pirbright, which also belonged to the elder Despenser. They kept her in prison "for a year and more" until 20 April 1325, when Elizabeth agreed to grant her Gloucestershire manor of Painswick to Hugh the Elder and her manor of Goodrich Castle to Hugh the Younger. She was kept in prison for another half a year, then finally released, presumably in or about October 1325. As late as July 1348, the inquisition of March 1328 was exemplified at the request of Elizabeth's husband Richard, and on this occasion it states that on 20 April 1325 "by force and duress they [the Despensers] compelled her against her will and by threats of death to grant in fee to the earl the manor of Payneswyk, co. Gloucester, and to Hugh the younger the castle and manor of Castel Godrich in the march of Wales...". [CIM 1308-48, no. 1024, pp. 254-5; CPR 1348-50, p. 122]

If the dating in the inquisitions is correct, Elizabeth's capture at Kennington and removal to Woking must have predated the death of her uncle Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, who died on 24 June 1324. Even though he was a close kinsman of Edward II and the king's envoy to France that year - he died on his way to the French court - Pembroke was evidently unable to protect his niece or to free her from the Despensers' clutches, which says a lot for the Despensers' dominance at court in these years. Natalie Fryde speculates (Tyranny, p. 114) that Elizabeth was intended at this date as "the future wife of the Despenser heir", by which I assume she means Hugh the Younger's eldest son Huchon (b. c. 1308/9). This is not impossible but I haven't found any supporting evidence, and Huchon was much younger than Elizabeth. Actually, it's rather curious that, as a noblewoman and heiress and in her twenties, Elizabeth was still unmarried in 1324/25. Even if she was born as late as 1306, which I don't at all think she was, she would have been eighteen in 1324, and even that would be an advanced age to be unmarried by the standards of her class and era. (And incidentally, in this part of the book Fryde was confused about the Hastings family, and thought that Laurence Hastings, son of Elizabeth's cousin John and future earl of Pembroke, was Hugh Despenser the Elder's grandson. He wasn't; he was the step-grandson of Hugh's second daughter Isabella.)

Elizabeth Comyn was treated utterly appallingly in 1324/25 by the Despensers: imprisoned for about eighteen months and forced under duress to hand over two manors to them, and even, according to the inquisition of 1348, threatened with death. It says a great deal about Edward II, all of it unpleasant, that he was willing to tolerate and even facilitate such inhumane nastiness inflicted on a young woman. Then, something which was possibly rather romantic happened, or at least I like to think it was romantic. An entry in Edward II's last chamber account, dated 9 July 1326, records a gift of ten marks from Edward to Sir Richard Talbot, a retainer of the younger Despenser, because Richard "was very poor" and because he had "secretly married the lady Comyn" at Pirbright. [SAL MS 122, p. 75] Richard Talbot came from a staunchly Lancastrian family, and his father Sir Gilbert (b. 1276) had been captured fighting against the royal army at Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322 and was, like many other Contrariants, landed with a hefty fine for doing so. Still, knights needed to put food on the table as much as anyone else did, and Gilbert and his son Richard pragmatically switched sides to the all-powerful Despensers, at least for a while. (They abandoned them pretty sharpish in 1326, though in fairness so did almost everyone else.) In addition to the gift of ten marks from Edward II, Hugh Despenser the Younger lent Richard Talbot ten pounds on 17 July 1326. A loan, not a gift - that's Hugh for you - though I doubt he ever got it back as he was dead mere months later. I really do hope that Elizabeth Comyn consented to the marriage to Richard Talbot and was happy to marry him, because if she didn't, it was yet more abuse heaped on her. I like to think that Richard, as one of Hugh Despenser's household knights, witnessed her plight at close hand in 1324/25 and tried to help her, and they fell in love. I have no evidence for that, of course, but it would make me happy. The reference to a 'secret' wedding indicates that Edward II and Hugh Despenser only found out about it after it took place and that therefore they didn't impose it on her, which I hope means that it was Elizabeth's own choice. As Richard was 'very poor' in 1326 and was only a household knight of Despenser, she certainly didn't marry him for his money either. I have an image in my mind of Richard throwing himself on Edward's mercy, unsure of the king's reaction and expecting him to rage about it, but instead Edward accepted it without problem and blessed the couple. Not that the king giving Richard (and by extension Elizabeth) ten marks, or the loan from Hugh, in any way mitigates what was done to her, of course. Did Edward II have a guilty conscience? Was he capable of a guilty conscience? Who knows. And what's interesting is that Elizabeth and Richard married at Pirbright, where Elizabeth had been confined until c. October 1325 and which was a manor of Hugh Despenser the Elder. Either she continued living there voluntarily after her release, or their wedding took place a few months before it was mentioned in Edward II's chamber account on 9 July 1326 and perhaps when she was still a prisoner of the Despensers. Either way, I don't find it hard to imagine Elizabeth giving a mighty cheer at the downfall of the Despensers in October/November 1326.

It's also interesting that an entry on the Fine Roll of 23 March 1327 [CFR 1327-37, p. 35], the 1328 inquisition and its 1348 exemplification all refer to "Richard Talbot and Elizabeth Comyn his wife" or "Elizabeth Comyn now the wife of Richard Talbot." It's very unusual for married women in the fourteenth century to be called by their maiden names. This may have been done because by birth Elizabeth was of much higher rank than her husband, who was only a knight; she was a great-niece of both Henry III, king of England, and John Balliol, king of Scotland, and heir to one-third of the huge Pembroke inheritance (though she and the other heirs never held the full inheritance as their aunt by marriage Marie de St Pol outlived all of them). As the only child of John Balliol's nephew the lord of Badenoch still alive after her sister Countess Joan died sometime before the summer of 1326, Elizabeth also had a fairly decent claim to the Scottish throne, though of course the Balliols never regained it after 1296.

As noted, Sir Richard Talbot was the son and heir of Sir Gilbert Talbot, who was born on 18 October 1276 ['aged 29 on the feast of St Luke last', CIPM 1300-07, 377] and was himself the son and heir of Sir Richard Talbot the elder who died shortly before 3 September 1306. Gilbert was Edward III's chamberlain from 1327 to 1334, and died either during the night of 20/21 February or on 24 February 1346, aged almost seventy. [CIPM 1336-46, pp. 519-24] His son Richard was said to be forty at the time, which would seemingly place his birth in 1305 or early 1306. I'm not really sure, though, how seriously we can take the IPM as evidence that Richard Talbot really was precisely forty in February 1346. He was obviously many years past being sufficiently old enough (twenty-one) to take over his father's lands immediately, so his exact age wasn't of great importance. 'Forty' is a nice vague-ish round number that might equally well mean forty-three or forty-five. All things considered, all we can say for sure is that Richard Talbot was born sometime in the early 1300s, and he was probably some years younger than Elizabeth Comyn, though how many years is impossible to say.

Sir Richard Talbot died on 23 October 1356, in his early to mid-fifties. His heir was his and Elizabeth's son Sir Gilbert Talbot, who was born either in 1326 or 1332, as he was said to be either twenty-four or thirty at the time of Richard's death (thanks, IPMs!). [CIPM 1352-60, pp. 277-9] It's impossible to say which date of birth is more probable. There are no references in Edward II's 1326 chamber account to Elizabeth being pregnant or giving birth, though that doesn't necessarily mean that she wasn't or didn't. Elizabeth herself died on 20 November 1372, aged over seventy; she had outlived her brother John by fifty-eight years and her sister Joan, countess of Atholl, by close to fifty. Her son Gilbert born in 1326/32 had a son Richard Talbot, who died in 1396 and had three sons. One was archbishop of Dublin, one was betrothed to one of the daughters of Edward III's youngest son Thomas of Woodstock (she died before marriage), and one was John Talbot. Elizabeth Comyn's great-grandson John Talbot, born in the 1380s and sometimes called 'Great Talbot', was killed in battle in France in 1453 and was the first earl of Shrewsbury, and was the father (by his second marriage to the earl of Warwick's daughter Margaret Beauchamp) of Eleanor Talbot or Eleanor Butler who supposedly married Edward IV before Elizabeth Woodville. And just think, that secret marriage to Edward IV could never have happened, if it ever happened at all, if Eleanor's great-great-grandparents Elizabeth Comyn and Richard Talbot hadn't "secretly married" in or a little before the summer of 1326, and founded the Talbot dynasty.

28 February, 2017

An Inaccurate Article about Isabella of France in History of Royals

I've just had an article about Isabella of France published in a special edition of BBC History Magazine, and coincidentally there's also an article about Isabella in the latest edition of History of Royals magazine (which was founded a few months ago and is published monthly). I don't recognise the name of the author and have no idea who she is, and unfortunately the article repeats many of the tired old myths and inventions about Edward II and Isabella I've been trying to demolish for years. *sigh* I suppose that at least we don't get the statement that Edward abandoned a pregnant Isabella at Tynemouth in 1312 or any hints that he wasn't the father of her children, so it's not quite the full deck of Isabella myths.

We're told early on that Isabella endured years of humiliation as her husband promoted his then-favourite, Piers Gaveston, ahead of her. Isabella saw lands and jewels meant for her given to Gaveston.

The notion that Edward gave Isabella's jewels and/or wedding gifts to Piers Gaveston was invented by Agnes Strickland in the nineteenth century. I've debunked it here and here. The Annales Paulini only say that "The king of France gave to his son-in-law the king of England a ring of his kingdom, the most beautiful bed (or couch) ever seen, select war-horses, and many other extravagant gifts. All of which the king of England straight away sent to Piers." See Isabella and her possessions mentioned there? Nope, me neither, yet somehow Strickland contrived to misunderstand this passage and claimed that it was Isabella's gifts that were given to Piers. The passage says that Philip IV dedit, 'gave', the wedding gifts to Edward - just to Edward, regi Angliae (the king of England), not to him and Isabella jointly. The next sentence says that Edward misit, 'sent', all the gifts to Piers. I don't see how that implies that Piers was necessarily meant to keep the gifts; he was, after all, Edward's guardian of England during the king's absence in Boulogne, so it makes perfect sense that the wedding gifts would have been sent to him to have stored safely. Agnes Strickland was also hopelessly confused about the timeline of events and thought that Piers was exiled to his native Gascony in 1308, whereupon Edward gave him items belonging to Isabella, when in fact he was made lieutenant of Ireland. It's such a pity that so many writers continue to perpetuate Strickland's invention.

This notion that Piers and Isabella were rivals for Edward's affections and that Isabella was 'humiliated' by Piers' presence is pure fiction and assumption and should not be presented as 'fact' as it is here. I genuinely have no idea what 'promoted his favourite ahead of her' even means. Isabella was Edward's wife and the crowned queen of England. How could anyone be promoted ahead of her? Let's not forget that she was only recently turned twelve when she married Edward; do people really expect him to have been all over her? Yuck. The bit about Edward giving her lands to Piers is a new invention as well. Which lands? Of course he didn't. No-one has ever said he did.

In or after 1322, Isabella refused to swear loyalty to the Despensers.

I've dealt with this silly idea before as well. It's an invention of Paul Doherty in his badly-written and error-strewn 2003 work Isabella and the Strange Book about Edward II (not its real title). Doherty misread a chronicle - how, I have no idea, as it's been translated into English - which says that Henry, Lord Beaumont, a cousin of both the king and queen, was imprisoned in 1326 "because he would not swear to the king and Sir Hugh de Spencer to be of their part to live and die." Isabella is, needless to say, not mentioned in the chronicle's account of Beaumont's arrest. Why and how the queen of England, who outranked everyone in the country except her husband, would have been expected to swear an oath of loyalty to mere barons is not explained, and she was in France in 1326 when this happened anyway. I cannot begin to imagine how Doherty thought that it was Queen Isabella who was refusing to take an oath, and I do wish that people who copy his story would check the chronicle before repeating it.

The Despensers moved against her, taking her lands, her household and her children from her.

This absurd and offensive notion that Isabella's children were cruelly removed from her in September 1324 is another invention of Paul Doherty, this time in his doctoral thesis about her in the late 1970s. I've debunked it at length here. The source he cites for his claim is a wardrobe account of Edward II that dates from July 1322 to July 1323, not September 1324 as he says, and the membranes he cites don't even exist in the document. It's infuriating how many writers - even eminent historians who should know better - have copied Doherty's fiction ever since without bothering to check, and the story has become part of the official narrative of Isabella's life, endlessly repeated as though it's certainly true. It's emphatically not. The French members of Isabella's household were removed from her in 1324 because England and France were at war, not her entire household, as stated. Edward II was pretty vile to his wife, though, as he exempted some other French people in his realm from his general order to be arrested, but not Isabella's servants, with only one exception (her chaplain Pierre). And however powerful they were, the Despensers couldn't have confiscated the queen's lands; that was Edward II's own doing, and although he did give her a smaller income from the exchequer in compensation, it was pretty low to treat his own wife as an enemy alien.

Isabella played the part of the desperate queen, risking all to rescue her people from tyranny

Gag. If Isabella cared that much about 'rescuing her people from tyranny' - and they weren't 'her people', they were Edward's - it's odd that for the next few years she and Roger Mortimer behaved as badly in that respect as Edward and the Despensers had. This 'rescuing the suffering people from tyranny' has become another part of the Isabella narrative in the last few years, and it makes her look like such a noble heroine, doesn't it, but it's really not very likely.

Though she was known to history as the 'She-Devil of France'..Born a Princess of France in 1295...

She-Wolf, not She-Devil, and the name was only given to Isabella in a poem of 1757. She wasn't born a princess as the title didn't exist yet. Like all daughters of kings at this time, she was addressed as ma dame, my lady.

The attraction between Isabella and Mortimer was obvious and their affair became notorious. There are few references to it in the chronicles of the time

Contradictory statement - if the alleged 'affair' was barely referred to by contemporary chroniclers, which is true, then how did it become 'notorious'? Where else, in 1326, could it have become notorious? It's not like they had tabloid newspapers. The article goes on to refer to a letter of Edward II (dated March 1326) in which he complained about his wife making Roger Mortimer her main adviser and keeping him and others in her company, but Edward being angry at his wife's alliance with his worst enemy and other English exiles on the continent is hardly evidence of a notorious and passionate affair. 'The attraction was obvious' - to novelists maybe, but where are the sources that say Isabella and Mortimer were obviously attracted to each other? Are we writing history or romantic fiction? Their alliance from late 1325 until Mortimer's sudden arrest in October 1330 do suggest an understanding and a closeness, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they were passionately attracted to each other in late 1325. This is so often repeated as fact, and it simply isn't.

The Lanercost chronicle said in the 1340s that at the time of their downfall in 1330, there were "rumours of a liaison" between Roger Mortimer and the queen mother, "according to common report." Adam Murimuth said the two had an '"undue familiarity," but he said exactly the same thing about Edward II and Piers Gaveston, and that's never been taken as definitive proof that the two men had a passionately sexual and romantic relationship. Other chronicles refer to Roger as Isabella's "chief counsellor" or even just "of her faction," or he's merely named in a list of those who accompanied her to England in September 1326 and who were involved in government thereafter. In November 1330 he was accused of "falsely and maliciously putting discord" between the king and queen, which can easily be explained by Roger's threat (below) that Isabella would be killed if she returned to Edward. Jean Froissart claimed a few decades later that Isabella was pregnant by Roger at their downfall in 1330, but Froissart wasn't even born until c. 1337, and even if this is true, which it almost certainly isn't, it had taken Isabella almost five years after the start of their supposedly passionately sexual affair to become pregnant and is still not evidence for their huge mutual attraction in late 1325. None of this is incontrovertible evidence of a notorious, flagrant, adoring affair. I have to admit to being really annoyed at the use of language in so many modern books and articles, where Roger Mortimer is inevitably called Isabella's 'lover' whereas Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser are Edward II's 'favourites'. There's as much, or as little, evidence that Roger and Isabella's relationship was sexual as there is for Edward's with Piers and later Hugh, so why the obvious difference in language? There's also no mention in all this happy romanticising of the rather inconvenient fact that Mortimer was married to Joan Geneville throughout his entire association with Isabella, and that they had twelve children together; no mention of any 'years of humiliation' Joan might have 'endured'.

An argument was recorded between Mortimer and Isabella in which he threatened to kill her after she suggested she should return to Edward. That this dispute took place in the presence of Isabella's son shows the depth of emotional attachment between the two.

Does it? Why? There's sometimes an assumption (not only in this article but elsewhere) that Roger threatening to kill Isabella if she went back to her husband must have been a result of sexual jealousy. That's not impossible, but it's only an assumption. My reading is very different. Roger was imprisoned by Edward II in February 1322 and lived as a fugitive on the continent after his escape from the Tower in August 1323; by the summer of 1326 when he made this threat to Isabella, he'd been living a precarious existence for four and a half years. In all that time, he had no access to his family (his wife, his mother, all but one of his twelve children), his homes, his income, his lands, his power and influence, his goods, even his clothes; all his entire comfortable life as a well-connected and wealthy English nobleman had vanished. He was an impoverished exile, albeit a highly-born and respected one, entirely dependent on the goodwill of the king of France, the count of Hainault and other continental noblemen who took pity on his plight. Of course Roger wanted his old life back, and he needed Isabella to achieve that. Without the support of the queen of England, and her control of her thirteen-year-old son, the heir to Edward II's throne, Roger had no chance whatsoever of being able to strike against his detested enemies the Despensers, and either to persuade Edward II to restore him to his lost position or even to overthrow the king and rule himself with Isabella. If he had been able to strike against the Despensers with an army, he and his allies (such as John Maltravers and Thomas Roscelyn) would have done it long before the summer of 1326, but without the queen he had only previously been able to send assassins into England to take out the Despensers and their ally the earl of Arundel, and this failed. His plans depended completely on Isabella. If she went back to England and Edward, he would never again have another chance to act against his enemies and get his old life back. Of course Roger raged at the prospect of losing his one chance of going home, and having to live out the remaining decades of his life as an impoverished exile permanently deprived of his home, family and income, dependent on the charity of others and always looking over his shoulder in case Edward II did to him what he had done to Edward's friends and sent assassins after him. Raged enough to lose control of himself and threaten Isabella even in the presence of her son (who, highly unimpressed, remembered it for more than four years and raised it against Roger at his trial before parliament in November 1330). It's not even clear from the rolls of parliament, where Roger's threat was recorded, that the 'he' who would kill Isabella means Roger himself. He might have been saying that it was Edward who would kill her. I find it incredibly unlikely that this threat was the doing of a man deeply in love with Isabella who could not bear to think of his lover resuming her place in her husband's bed. It's far more likely to have been the act of a desperate exile seeing his last chance to return home slipping through his fingers.

There's also, of course, the underlying assumption (not only in this article but elsewhere) that Isabella had been unhappy with Edward for many years and was, ahem, dissatisfied in bed and delighted to have a Real Man at last. My own reading of the events of 1325/26 tends rather to the view that what Isabella wanted was to have Hugh Despenser removed from court so that she could resume her marriage with Edward, a marriage in which she had been happy and content until Despenser intruded into it. Roger Mortimer, a baron with the ability, energy and charisma to raise an army and to rid her of the hated Despenser and his father, was a useful, indeed vital, ally, but not necessarily a lover or someone she had romantic feelings for. At least, not at this point. And call me hopelessly cynical, but given that Roger Mortimer made himself the most powerful man in England and an earl as a result of his association with Isabella, I find it hard to believe that his feelings for her were genuine. In the same way, I doubt very much that Hugh Despenser just happened to fall in love with Edward II in about 1318. Despenser used the king for wealth and power; Mortimer used the queen for the same purpose. I really don't see any difference between them. That one of these situations is often viewed these days as achingly romantic and the other as 'perverted' (as I've seen it described) is solely, in my view, a result of the genders of the people involved.

One more point, something I can't prove but which occurs to me: Isabella of France was a woman with a profound and almost sacred sense of her own royalty, the daughter of the king of France and the queen of Navarre and herself crowned queen of England at twelve, who in 1314 revealed the adultery of her sisters-in-law to prevent them foisting a child not of royal blood on her father's throne, and who in 1328 declared passionately that "my son, who is the son of a king, will never do homage to the son of a count," i.e. her cousin Philip VI. Her husband, whatever he had done, was a king, the son of a king, the grandson of two kings, and the father of Isabella's son the future king. Roger Mortimer was merely a baron. Is such a woman, daughter of two sovereigns and the wife of a king, likely to have permitted a man not of royal blood to touch her royal person? I don't and can't know, but it's a point that has rarely if ever been considered. I think there's a tendency for modern writers to look at Isabella too much through modern eyes, and to forget that she was a fourteenth-century woman of the highest royal birth, whose attitudes were not ours.

I realise that "the scorned and abused queen secretly yearned for revenge for many years on her husband and his nasty lovers, and having been neglected by her husband, fell passionately in love with a manly baron who helped her overthrow the nasty lover and get her stolen children back" is a compelling narrative, but that's all it is, a narrative. It's fiction. It bears little resemblance to the real story of a woman called Isabella of France. One of the four books recommended as 'further reading' at the end of the History of Royals article is my own biography of Isabella. It's a pity the author doesn't seem to have picked it up, nor read this blog.

24 February, 2017

My New Books Are Now Available

I'm delighted to announce that my next two books are now available for pre-order! Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II will be released on 1 June 2017 in both the UK and US. Here is the UK Amazon link, here is the US one. Ignore the customer reviews on Amazon.com; they're for a much older book with a similar title which have been wrongly attributed to my book - hope Amazon sort that out soon. The 'Look Inside' feature also doesn't work, and the author biography is, evidently, not me ("the American Agatha Christie"??). Long Live the King is also available from Book Depository, here.

My fourth book, a biography of Richard II (final title to be determined) will be released on 15 October 2017. Amazon UK link here, US link here, Book Depository here.

Other news: on Saturday 24 June 2017, I'm leading a study day called "King Edward II: The Man and the Mystery" at the Wuffing Education Study Centre at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk (site of one of the greatest ever archaeological finds in the UK). The programme is here; scroll down to see 'my' day. Click here to book a place; if you've never been to a study day at Sutton Hoo before, it's only £25. Hoping to see you!

Finally, the special 'medieval kings and queens' edition of BBC History Magazine is out now. If you're not in the UK and can't buy it in a local shop, you can order it here. I wrote the opinion piece, and there's also an article by me about Isabella of France. Pics below!