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.


Jules said...

Many people tend to misinterpret certain medieval concepts in modern terms. I must admit, when I first heard the gentle Mortimer' line, it made me chuckle. Gentle and Mortimer really shouldn't appear in one sentence. But once the original is seen, the real meaning becomes much clearer. As for chamber, yes, it was so, so much more than just a place to sleep - it was the beating heart of a noble's household, where everything got done. Great post :-)

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the group were discussing? I'll look again at this event as I expect I've missed something. Possibly something very sensitive as otherwise why be together in a 'chamber', not in the 'great hall' or 'privy chamber'; listening ears that may betray them they thought? I did laugh about the bishop though - desperate or what to try to escape in that fashion. Amanda

sami parkkonen said...

Good text. This is very common mistake done these days and I am pretty sure some do it on purpose, just to make it appear that Roger the Rod and sexually overcharged she-wolf were having bedroom skin brawling all day every day, when in reality we have no evidence what so ever that they were lovers or even had an intimate relationship at all at any given time.

Chamber really was not a bedroom, thus when a lady announced that she retires to her chambers it meant that she went to her private quarters, her rooms, apartment, not just a bedroom.

So many things are mistaken, transformed into modern meanings, when people talk about and recreate medieval times. It is done in literature, movies and tv-shows, and amazingly: in so-called history too.

Personally I am always slightly annoyed when women run around medieval England with huge 80's perm wildly flying around their heads, the biggest hair-do's naturally on the heroine's head. when in reality all women covered and tied their hair, except prostitutes. Just a detail but always annoying.

Meghana B said...

Interesting information, as always! Have you ever seen the miniseries World Without End? One of the episodes (the first one, I think) has Edward III storming into Isabella's bedchamber and arresting Roger Mortimer, which I did not know was incorrect until you pointed it out. But since the miniseries mostly focuses on fictional characters during the era, it's surprisingly accurate (to my knowledge). It also features Edward II surviving his deposition ;)