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.


sami parkkonen said...

Once again rock solid debunk.

I think reason why these weird false "facts" keep on living despite the evidence is that somehow people can not separate fiction and fact. History is for some a strange realm of myths and legends, colorful stories and juicy details, never ending story of sorts, and thus when hit with reality, with facts, people are confused or get mad.

History is a factual science, research of the past. Fiction is the Other thing. Why not stick with fiction, if history does not make one happy?

Anonymous said...

Was the "Edward killed with red-hot poker" story still accepted at the time this myth was created? I can't help wondering if this myth might have been created to explain Isabella's involvement in such a crime ... similar to the way that George Boleyn becomes an abusive rapist ... to "explain" his wife's participation in bringing him to trial and execution (even though the contemporary sources don't mention her by name as involved at all)


Anonymous said...

Esther, mu understanding is that the chroniclers spreading the 'red hot poker' story were Higden and Geoffrey le Baker both writing in the late 1350's or thereabouts; in fact Higden was summoned to Edward III with all his papers and, after a private meeting, stopped writing altogether. So, he was 'strongly advised', perhaps, to drop the story. It does seem that Edward III was more aware of the fate of his father than wanted to let on. Amanda