19 October, 2018

Two New Books

I have not one but two new books out this month! Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York Before the Wars of the Roses is already out in the UK: see Amazon; Goodreads; Waterstones; Book Depository. It covers the period from 1245, the year Edmund of Lancaster, founder of the House of Lancaster, was born, to 1400, the year Richard II, deposed by his cousin Henry IV as the first Lancastrian king, died at Pontefract Castle. Blood Roses is divided into four parts: 1245 to 1296, 1296 to 1330, 1330 to 1362, and 1362 to 1400, and an epilogue covers the years 1400 to 1422. There are ten family trees at the front.

The contents of Blood Roses (1)

The contents of Blood Roses (2)

And my bio of Hugh Despenser the Younger, Downfall of a King's Favourite, is out very soon - on Amazon it's showing as already available for sale rather than pre-order, but it also says 'dispatched within one to two months' (!!) so it seems that the copies aren't there yet. It's the first-ever bio of this powerful man who was once voted 'the greatest villain of the fourteenth century' in BBC History Magazine! It's also on Goodreads; Book Depository; Waterstones. There are two appendices, the first a list of Hugh's children* with biographical details and (often approximate) dates of birth and death, and the second Hugh's itinerary from May 1306 - the month of his wedding to Eleanor de Clare - until his execution on 24 November 1326. For the first few years of Edward II's reign it's really hard to establish Hugh's whereabouts except on a handful of days in any year, but after he returned from exile in March 1322 I was able to ascertain his location on many days in any given month. I've translated a few of Hugh's own letters which have never been seen before, except for historians able to read Anglo-Norman. Hugh was a pirate and an extortionist, highly intelligent and articulate, greedy beyond description for lands and money, manipulative to the nth degree, and ruthless. In short, he was huuuuuuge fun to write about and, I hope, will be fun to read about. :-)

* He had at least ten legitimate children, of whom nine (Huchon, Edward, Gilbert, John, Isabella, Joan, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth) survived infancy, and may have been the out-of-wedlock father of Nicholas Litlington, abbot of Westminster (c. 1312/15-1386).

The contents of Downfall of a King's Favourite.

First part of Hugh's itinerary, long before he became Edward II's chamberlain and 'favourite' and his whereabouts are difficult to determine.

11 October, 2018

Edward II's Journey Along the Thames, Late July 1326

In late July 1326, Edward II travelled along the River Thames west of London, with his niece Eleanor Despenser née de Clare in his company. Her husband Hugh the Younger, the king's powerful chamberlain and 'favourite', set off for Wales on 22 July, though it was only a flying visit and he was back in the south-east of England by 5 August.

On 24 July 1326, Edward was at his manor-house of Sheen, later called Richmond Palace. On the 25th, a payment of forty shillings to the usher of the king's hall, Thomas Langham, is recorded there "when the king lately passed between Chertsey and Isleworth." The payment was made to Langham because son sein', which I think must be an abbreviation for seinere, i.e. "his swan," was born in the Thames. Before he left Sheen probably in the morning of 25 July, Edward sent a runner called Montz to Marlborough in Wiltshire with letters for his daughters Eleanor of Woodstock (b. June 1318) and Joan of the Tower (b. July 1321). Edward and Eleanor Despenser, in a flat-bottomed boat, travelled along the Thames from Sheen to Byfleet, and the king gave a gift of five shillings to Isabella, the widow of his valet Edmund 'Monde' Fisher who had died in June, whom he encountered "in the water around Sheen" (Isabella was a fisherwoman). Edward had also met Isabella and her daughter Joan at or near Sheen on 2 July 1326, and gave Isabella a hugely generous present of twenty shillings - it was the first time he had seen her since her husband died on or just before 15 June - and her daughter Joan ten shillings. His account says the money was given to the two women in his presence. Monde and Isabella's son Little Will Fisher was a page of the royal chamber, and might have been with Edward on these occasions. The king also gave three shillings in alms to a woman called Joan of Kennington and her six female companions, "fishing in the water of the Thames opposite Kennington," which is back towards London and near Westminster, so in the opposite direction from the rest of the journey. The king stayed at Westminster from 14 to 23 July before travelling to his palace of Sheen, so presumably this payment of alms was made sometime then, and recorded a few days later. The seven women received the alms in Edward and Eleanor Despenser's presence.

On the way from Sheen to Byfleet, the king and his niece passed through Kingston-on-Thames, where Edward sent a runner called John Stretton with letters for Hugh Despenser the Younger as he passed by the bridge, and through Walton-on-Thames, where he gave two shillings to a fisherman called John of Walton "who sang before the king every time he [Edward] passed through these parts." Also at Kingston bridge, a Will of Kingston sent a gift of lampreys to the king via a man called Jack Meryn, who received twelve pence from Edward, and a Will Pykingham retrieved a knife one of Edward's chamber staff had dropped in the Thames and received three pence. At Walton, Edward asked (or rather, ordered) a man called Jack le Frenche to bring him fresh water from a well - as I pointed out recently, it was a very hot summer - and gave him six pence, and gave another six pence to Robin atte Hethe also of Walton, "who suffers from a great illness." To put that sum of money in perspective, it was least two days' wages for most people, perhaps four.

Edward was still in Byfleet on 26 July, and paid eighteen pence for various kinds of fish for Eleanor Despenser. A man also called Edward, formerly the parker of Cold Kennington, brought a gift of two pike for the king, and went away with five shillings "to repair his house." A sailor called Will Lucas had travelled with the king since Westminster - perhaps he was the one rowing the boat, unless Edward was rowing himself, which wouldn't surprise me in the least - and at Byfleet was given permission to go to his home in Portchester, Hampshire. Will the gardener of Kenilworth Castle had come all the way to Surrey to "talk to the king on some matters concerning him," and received three shillings for his expenses travelling back to Warwickshire. The king's journey continued to Cippenham in Berkshire, where he received letters from Hugh Despenser the Younger's retainer Sir Robert Wateville, then to Henley-on-Thames, where he stayed on 27 and 28 July 1326. A woman called Alis brought Edward a gift of young chickens, and received two shillings in return. Edward had borrowed six pence from his chamber portour Watte Don, which presumably means the money he gave to Jack le Frenche or Robin atte Hethe, and Watte got the money back on 28 July. Wille Wythe brought the king crabs and prawns, and Edward declared that nothing had been to his taste so much for a long time and rewarded him with a massive twenty shillings. Eleanor Despenser was with him at Henley on 28 July when he granted a favour to a priory in Essex at her request.

A long stretch of Edward's journey on 28/29 July took him from Henley to Banstead, where the king gave five shillings to his fletcher Henry to buy himself shoes and linen cloth, and met up with his former chamber valet Jordan of Maidenhead. Jordan was now working as a parker and received a generous gift of ten shillings. Edward went stag-hunting on 30 July and gave twenty shillings to his cook Moryz, who "rode before the king and fell often from his horse, at which the king laughed greatly." The same day, Edward sent two men "to the parts of Wales with the king's letters to Sir Hugh [Despenser the Younger]." By the beginning of August 1326, Edward II was at Portchester in Hampshire, and Despenser joined him there a few days afterwards.

I think these entries in Edward II's accounts reveal a great deal about him: his generosity and sociability, particularly. I especially love his meetings with Isabella Fisher near Sheen, and obviously he knew exactly who she was and recognised her whenever he saw her. You can just picture the king of England, being rowed or even rowing himself along the river, spotting a fisherwoman whose husband and son have served in his household, hailing her, stopping to have a chat with her, handing over a sum of money which was half a year's income for her. Stopping again to have a chat at Walton with a fisherman who entertains him by singing every time he sails past. What a lovely image, the fisherman wading in the Thames who sees the king's boat approaching and starts to sing. There are also entries in an account of Edward II's in 1324/25, about "fisherwomen of Lambeth singing in the Thames" whenever they see the king or his household, and receiving money from Edward for doing so. (What was it with fishermen and fisherwomen of the Thames bursting into song?). Edward or someone around him must also have chatted to Robin atte Hethe to learn that he was seriously ill, and chatted to Edward the parker to learn that he was repairing his house, and Edward II gave them money with his own hands. He must have spoken English with them; there's no way fishermen and women of the Thames would have known French. Anyway, it's all rather delightful.

06 October, 2018

Edmund of Lancaster, Earl of Lancaster and Leicester (1245-96)

To mark the publication of my fifth book Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York Before the Wars of the Roses, due out on Monday 8 October, here's a post about the founder of the House of Lancaster, Edmund of Lancaster. Edmund was Edward II's uncle, his father's only brother, and in fact was the only uncle Edward ever knew (as Queen Eleanor's eleven brothers and half-brothers were either dead by the time Edward was born or far away in Spain).

Edmund of Lancaster was the fourth child and second son of King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, and was born either in London or Westminster on 16 January 1245. He was five and a half years younger than his brother the future King Edward I, born 17 June 1239, and also had two older sisters, Margaret (b. September 1240), later queen of Scotland, and Beatrice (b. June 1242), later married to the eldest son and heir of the duke of Brittany. A younger sister Katherine, born in November 1253 almost nine years after Edmund, died at the age of three and a half, so Edmund was his parents' youngest surviving child. He grew up at Windsor Castle with his siblings, his cousin Marie de Lusignan (daughter of one of Henry III's nine younger half-siblings), and Henry de Lacy, heir to the earldom of Lincoln, whose daughter and heir Alice would marry Edmund's eldest son Thomas decades later.

Like his elder brother, Edmund was named after an Anglo-Saxon royal saint; in this case, the king of East Anglia killed by the invading Danes in 869 (Edward I was named after Edward the Confessor, the king of England who died in 1066 and was made a saint in 1161). Edmund first left England as a nine-year-old in 1254 when his elder brother Edward married Eleanor of Castile in Burgos, northern Spain, and he attended the wedding. On the way back to England, Edmund and his parents visited the French court of King Louis IX and Queen Marguerite, who was Edmund's aunt, his mother Queen Eleanor's older sister. Possibly Edmund met his future second wife Blanche of Artois on this occasion; she was Louis IX's niece. Also present was his maternal grandmother Beatrice of Savoy, dowager countess of Provence, the only grandparent Edmund ever met, and his mother's two younger sisters Sancha (married to his father's brother Richard of Cornwall) and Beatrice (married to Louis IX's brother Charles of Anjou).

In the early 1250s, Pope Innocent IV (born Sinibaldo Fieschi) offered Edmund the throne of Sicily. This was in connection with a long-standing feud the papacy had with Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (1194-1250) long-lasting hostility which continued against Frederick's illegitimate son Manfred, regent and later the king of Sicily. Henry III and Queen Eleanor, delighted at the thought of their second son sitting on a throne even if it was in distant Sicily, pushed very hard for this to come about, but although Henry and Edmund himself referred to Edmund in letters as "king of Sicily" and talked on one occasion about the "second year of his reign" as such, it never happened and Edmund never set eyes on his 'kingdom'. As part of their deeply-felt desire to gain a throne for their son, in April 1256 Henry III and Eleanor of Provence opened negotiations for Edmund to marry the decade-older Plaisance of Antioch, dowager queen of Cyprus and the daughter of Bohemund, prince of Antioch and count of Tripoli. This ultimately did not work out either.

Edmund was overseas during much of 1264/65 when his father King Henry, elder brother Lord Edward and uncle Richard of Cornwall were captured at the battle of Lewes in May 1264 by his uncle-in-law Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester. Edward escaped, raised an army and defeated Simon at the battle of Evesham in August 1265, also without Edmund's participation. A few weeks after Evesham, Henry III granted his second son the late Simon de Montfort's earldom of Leicester, Edmund's first title. In June 1267, the brand-new earldom of Lancaster was created and bestowed on him, and gave his dynasty their name. And in 1269, the earldom of Derby was taken from Robert Ferrers (b. c. 1239), a man who had switched sides throughout the baronial wars of the 1260s and was trusted by no-one, and was given to Edmund in a piece of unpleasant legal chicanery. Edmund and his sons in fact never called themselves earls of Derby, though they held most of Robert Ferrers' lands, and the next earl of Derby was Edmund's grandson Henry of Grosmont in 1337.

Also in 1269, when he was twenty-four and she only ten, Edmund of Lancaster married the great heiress Aveline Forz. She was the only surviving child of William Forz, earl of Aumale (or Albemarle), who died in 1260 when Aveline was a baby, and Isabella née Redvers, heir of her brother Baldwin Redvers (d. 1262), earl of Devon. This marriage was intended to give Edmund another two earldoms on top of the ones he already had, but sadly Aveline died in November 1274 at the age of only fifteen. Chronicler Nicholas Trivet claims that she bore two children who died, hardly surprisingly given her youth, though there is no other evidence that she did. Before Aveline's death, Edmund of Lancaster had gone on crusade to the Holy Land with his elder brother Edward and numerous English noblemen, though he returned to England well before Edward did and was back home at the end of 1272, a few weeks after his father Henry III died and Edward succeeded him as king. Edward and his wife Eleanor of Castile finally returned to England in August 1274 and were crowned king and queen at Westminster Abbey that month, though Edmund boycotted the ceremony after a row over precedence with his brother. (His sister Margaret, queen of Scotland, did attend.) Edmund and Edward sometimes quarrelled, but Edmund was immensely loyal to his elder brother, remarkably so, given the frequent hostility among royal brothers of the Middle Ages. They had grown up in a close, loving family, and nothing broke the fraternal bond between them as long as they lived, despite occasional irritation on both sides.

At the end of 1275 or beginning of 1276, just over a year after losing Aveline Forz, Edmund married his second wife Blanche of Artois. She was, as noted above, the niece of King Louis IX of France who was Edmund's uncle by marriage, and was the widow of Enrique I, king of Navarre (d. 1274). Her baby daughter Jeanne or Juana (b. 1273) was queen of Navarre in her own right and married the future Philip IV of France in 1284. Edmund and Blanche had three sons. Thomas the eldest, born at the end of 1277 or beginning of 1278 two years after his parents' wedding, would be his first cousin Edward II's nemesis for much of his reign and was executed in 1322. He married the great heiress Alice de Lacy, who brought him the earldoms of Lincoln and Salisbury, in December 1294. Henry, born 1280 or 1281, was the ancestor of all the future Lancastrian dynasty, and died in 1345 at the age of about sixty-five. He married the heiress Maud Chaworth in early 1297 and they had six daughters and one son. John the youngest son of Edmund and Blanche, born sometime before May 1286, lived almost all his life in France and married the French noblewoman Alix Joinville. He died childless in 1317, and his heir was his elder brother Henry.

Via his marriage to Blanche of Artois, Edmund of Lancaster controlled the county of Champagne which was part of her daughter Jeanne's inheritance, and he held it until 1284 and was often acknowledged as count of Champagne in English records. Beginning the late 1270s and continuing until his death in 1296, Edmund spent much time travelling between England and France, and was a respected nobleman on both sides of the English Channel. He supported his brother Edward I loyally in his Welsh wars of the 1270s and early 1280s, and later in Scotland as well. He lost his mother Eleanor of Provence in June 1291, and was one of the executors of her will. Both his sisters, Margaret and Beatrice, had died in 1275, just months after Edmund's first wife Aveline Forz and his nephew Henry, second son of Edward and Eleanor of Castile, had died as well; it was a tragic few months in the English royal family.

In 1294, Edmund of Lancaster's diplomacy failed catastrophically when he was sent to France to negotiate between his brother Edward and the young king of France, Philip IV, whose wife Jeanne of Navarre was Edmund's stepdaughter. The two kings had quarrelled and the quarrel blew up into something very serious. Edmund thought he had found a solution that suited both sides, but Philip IV went behind his back and invaded Gascony, and England found itself at war with France. Edmund was appointed as one of the leaders of his brother's forces to Gascony, but ill health kept him in England long past the time he had wished to sail, and only a few months after he arrived in Bayonne he died there, on 5 June 1296 at the age of fifty-one. Edward I, in Aberdeen, heard of his brother's death on 15 July, and summoned parliament to sit in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk on the feast day of St Edmund, 20 November 1296. This was the king's way of honouring his late brother's memory. Edmund's embalmed remains were taken to England about six months after he died, probably by his widow Blanche of Artois, who certainly returned to England in January 1297 (perhaps just in time to witness her son Henry of Lancaster's wedding to Maud Chaworth). They remained for some time at the convent of the Minoresses without Aldgate in London, a house Edmund and Blanche themselves had founded in 1293.

Edmund of Lancaster was buried at Westminster Abbey on 24 March 1300 - not 24 March 1301 as one chronicler claims - in the presence of his brother Edward I, his widow Blanche of Artois and their sons Thomas, Henry and John, and many English earls, barons and bishops. His tomb, next to his first wife Aveline Forz (1259-74), can still be seen in the abbey. The chronicle of Lanercost in the far north of England called Edmund "a valiant knight and noble, who was genial and merry, generous and pious," and the heralds who wrote a poem of praise to the English knights and lords who took part in the siege of Caerlaverock in 1300 stated that Edmund's second son Henry's objective was to resemble his 'good father' as closely as possible. Edmund of Lancaster never did gain a crown as he and his parents had wished, though he married a queen, and his great-great-great-grandson and heir Henry of Lancaster became king of England 103 years after Edmund's death.

29 September, 2018

Edward of Windsor's Birth in November 1312: Celebrations

Queen Isabella gave birth to her and Edward II's first child Edward III at Windsor Castle on Monday 13 November 1312, and the child became heir to his father's throne from the moment he was born. I've written previously about Edward of Windsor's birth, and here's a post about the celebrations in London which followed it.

Isabella sent a letter to the mayor and aldermen of London, via her tailor John de Falaise, informing them that she had borne a son and that she and he were both well. In fact, news of the birth had already been brought to London by a man called Robert Oliver, who thus rather stole John's thunder. I don't know who Robert was; perhaps he was just a merchant who had the fortune to be passing through Windsor at the right time and who immediately rushed to London to carry the good news. John of Falaise didn't arrive in London until the following day, Tuesday 14 November, whereas Robert Oliver brought the news of Edward of Windsor's birth to the city sometime before sunset on the same day, 13 November. Crowds of people gathered outside the Guildhall at sunset, dancing, singing, cheering and blowing trumpets, and the mayor and aldermen processed through the city that evening with a "great glare of torches."

Very early on the Tuesday morning, it was proclaimed throughout London that the day was a public holiday and that no work would be done. Instead, everyone was to dress in their best clothes and go to the Guildhall at Prime or six a.m. - a reminder that the day started remarkably early in the fourteenth century - and from there to St Paul's Cathedral. Here, they would "make praise and offering" to God who had favoured them so greatly by giving them a royal child who one day would be their king, and would thereby also show respect to the little boy himself. The bishop of London, Ralph Baldock, chanted Mass, and afterwards people sang and trumpets were played, in the cathedral itself. The mayor sent a gift of ten pounds and a cup of silver to John of Falaise, who had brought the queen's letter; rather arrogantly, John sent it back because he thought it was too small. Perhaps his nose had been put out of joint by his failure to be the first man to bring the news of the future king's birth to the city.

The following Monday, 20 November, a week after the birth, the mayor and aldermen and the societies of drapers, vintners and mercers, dressed in their finest, rode to Westminster Abbey and made an offering there to give thanks again for Edward of Windsor's birth. After dining at the Guildhall, they led an all-singing all-dancing procession through the city, and basically the party went on for most of the night. The conduit on Cheapside - the man-made underground channel which brought drinking water to the city centre from the River Tyburn - flowed with wine all that Monday, and next to the church of St Michael a pavilion was set up with yet more wine for anyone to help themselves. Edward II himself was beyond delighted that he had a son and heir, and it's hard to overestimate the joy his subjects felt as well.

On the Sunday after Candlemas, i.e. on 4 February 1313, the fishmongers of London put on a great event for the king and queen, who were then in the city: they "caused a boat to be fitted out in the guise of a great ship...and it sailed through Chepe [Cheapside] as far as Westminster." The ship was presented to Isabella, and then the fishmongers accompanied her through London on the start of her pilgrimage to Canterbury, where she also gave thanks and made offerings to God for giving her a fine, healthy son. And so began the charmed life of King Edward III.

Source: Memorials of London and London Life, ed. H. T. Riley, pp. 105-7.

22 September, 2018

Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger

For me, one of the great fascinations of Edward II's reign is his relationship with Hugh Despenser the Younger. Considering this was a relationship which was a major factor in bringing down a king, very little is known about it.

What is often missed in accounts of Edward II's reign is that Edward and Hugh the Younger must have known each other for most of their lives, not necessarily particularly well, but it's hardly as though Hugh was a stranger to Edward when he was appointed his chamberlain in or before October 1318. Hugh's father Hugh the Elder was a consummate courtier whom Edward I often sent on important diplomatic missions abroad, to, for example, the pope, the king of Germany and the archbishop of Cologne, beginning in 1286 when Hugh the Elder was twenty-five and for the rest of his reign. Hugh the Younger's maternal grandfather was William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, who was almost exactly Edward I's own age, and Warwick's younger brother Sir Walter Beauchamp, Hugh's great-uncle, was steward of Edward I's household from 1289 to 1303. Hugh's older half-sister Maud Chaworth (b. 1282) was one of the young Edward of Caernarfon's noble companions in 1290 and perhaps in other years, and so was their second cousin Eleanor de Burgh, one of the many daughters of the earl of Ulster.

Hugh Despenser the Younger himself was probably born in 1288 or 1289 so was about four or five years younger than Edward II, a little too young to be his companion in childhood, but he and his close family were part of the court, which I feel is a point too often missed. There seems to be an assumption on occasion that the Despensers were little more than nobodies and an unimportant or even non-baronial family, or that Hugh and his father were merely humble country knights. Hugh the Elder was in fact the stepson of the earl of Norfolk and the son-in-law of the earl of Warwick, and as I've pointed out before, it was Edward I who arranged Hugh the Younger's marriage to his eldest granddaughter Eleanor de Clare in 1306, the year before his death. Edward I was not a man to marry his granddaughter off to a mere nobody. Edward of Caernarfon attended Hugh and Eleanor's wedding on 26 May 1306 - Eleanor, his eldest niece, was thirteen at the time and Hugh about seventeen - but he certainly didn't arrange it after Hugh became his favourite many years later, as often assumed.

Growing up in the 1290s and early 1300s, Edward of Caernarfon would have known exactly who Hugh Despenser the Younger was. The later chronicler Geoffrey le Baker claims that Edward II hated Hugh before he was made his chamberlain 1318. This may well be an exaggeration, but it seems to me that Edward, at the very least, did not like or trust Hugh at all before Hugh inherited his wife Eleanor's third of the de Clare lands in late 1317 and before Hugh was made his chamberlain a few months later, and he was forced to work with him. It's remarkable, given Hugh's dominance of the government and foreign policy and of Edward himself, especially after his return to England from piracy in 1322, how little Hugh appears on record in the first ten years of Edward II's reign. His father Hugh the Elder was often at court and was one of the godfathers of Edward's son Edward of Windsor in 1312; his wife Eleanor née de Clare was Edward's oldest niece and often visited the king and received generous gifts from him; Hugh, by contrast, was almost entirely ignored by the king for many years. A large part of that was because Hugh had no lands of his own and no political influence whatsoever - he was only summoned to parliament for the first time after the death of his brother-in-law the earl of Gloucester in 1314 - but some of it was surely personal. For example, when Edward II gave Hugh's wife Eleanor gifts of money in 1313 and 1314, he had to give the money to Hugh as he was Eleanor's husband and that was how it worked, but he pointedly declared that the money was a gift to Eleanor only. The Lords Ordainer complained in late 1311 that two knights and unnamed others of the royal household had left court with the specific intention of assaulting Hugh Despenser the Younger, and while it's not clear whether Edward told them to do it or not, he certainly knew about it.

Hugh the Younger was chosen as Edward II's chamberlain in or before October 1318, "at the request of the magnates," as the records of the parliament held that month indicate. The chamberlain was the man responsible for controlling access to the king, and after Hugh and Edward began spending a lot of time together, Edward's feelings changed dramatically. How this happened, I don't know; it's not visible in the extant records. It is clear, though, that by the following year, 1319, Hugh had worked his way into the king's favour, and from then until the end of the reign was to remain there. Having written this post, I'm still not entirely sure what my point is or how to end the post, except to emphasise that Edward II and Hugh Despenser had known each other for a realllllly long time before Hugh became Edward's chamberlain in 1318, that Edward might well have disliked Hugh before the two men began spending lots of time together (or at the very least was indifferent to him), and that however Hugh managed to work his way into Edward's favour, he did it so brilliantly that Edward refused to give him up in 1325/6 even when faced with an invasion of his kingdom.

15 September, 2018


I haven't done a photo post for absolutely ages, so here are some pics from my recent holiday to Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. (For the benefit of non-British readers, these places are pronounced: herrafudshuh; wustershuh; glostershuh. Tewkesbury is pronounced chooksburee or chooksbree. Ledbury is - hurrah! - pronounced as spelt.) Also, a couple from my recent visit to Nottinghamshire. Click on the pics to enlarge them.

Gloucester Cathedral, formerly St Peter's Abbey (until the Dissolution). Burial place of Edward II...or is it? :-)

Edward II's gorgeous tomb and effigy (two pics).

The effigy of Edward II's great-grandfather King John (d. 1216) in Worcester Cathedral. Not a great photo, but there were a few people walking around looking at it and I snapped a couple of pics hastily before they wandered into shot.

Several pics of the wonderful effigy of Blanche née Mortimer, Lady Grandison (d. 1347), one of the eight daughters of Roger Mortimer, first earl of March (1287-1330) and Joan Geneville (1286-1356), in St Bartholomew's Church, Much Marcle, Herefordshire. She's so stunningly beautiful. She's wearing a head-dress and wimple, a cloak tied across the front and long buttoned sleeves, she's clutching a rosary, her head rests on a cushion, and her feet rest on a dog whose head has broken off. Words cannot express how much I love this effigy and how absolutely thrilled I was to see it at last.

Malvern Priory, Great Malvern, Worcestershire, in the sunshine. A Benedictine monastery, it was founded c. 1075 and dissolved in 1540/41.

View from Great Malvern, in the Malvern Hills - the town is on a remarkably steep hill - with the priory in the foreground. This area was a hunting chase in the Middle Ages, and passed from the de Clares to the Despensers via Eleanor de Clare's marriage to Hugh Despenser the Younger. Probably in 1324, Hugh the Younger imprisoned a man for taking venison from his chase at Malvern.

Another view from a village near Great Malvern.

The Olde Trip to Jerusalem pub in Nottingham, supposedly the oldest inn in England (though this claim is disputed).

Mortimer's Hole, Nottingham Castle, supposedly used by Edward III and his band of young knights to arrest Roger Mortimer on 19 October 1330.

Hereford Cathedral, originally founded c. 670s; rebuilt in the late 1070s onwards; home of the Mappa Mundi.

View of Hereford Cathedral and the bishop's palace from the River Wye.

The site of Hereford's vanished castle, probably either the location of Hugh Despenser the Younger's trial on 24 November 1326, or his execution.

Church Lane, Ledbury, Herefordshire, a little street of Tudor buildings, with the church at the end.

The Painted Room, Ledbury, with wall paintings and Biblical quotations dating to very early in Elizabeth I's reign (1558-1603).

Building on Church Lane, Ledbury, dating to c. 1490.

The Olde Black Bear pub in Tewkesbury, the oldest pub in Gloucestershire, dating back to 1308, i.e. the beginning of Edward II's reign (it's currently closed for business). I had a drink here a few years ago; it still amazes me that I sat in a pub that Edward II might have known when he visited Tewkesbury.

Tewkesbury Abbey, founded 1092 as a Benedictine house, mausoleum of the de Clares and Despensers. Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester (d. 1295) is buried here, as are his son Gilbert, killed at Bannockburn in 1314, his father Richard (d. 1262), his grandfather Gilbert (d. 1230) and his daughter Eleanor Despenser (d. 1337). Both of Eleanor's husbands, Hugh Despenser the Younger (d. 1326) and William la Zouche (d. 1337) are here, as are her eldest son Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser (d. 1349), his wife Elizabeth Montacute (d. 1359) and her third husband Guy Bryan (d. 1390), Eleanor and Hugh the Younger's grandson Edward Despenser (1336-75), great-grandson Thomas Despenser (1373-1400) and great-great-granddaughter Isabelle, countess of Worcester and Warwick (1400-39) and Isabelle's elder brother Richard Despenser (1396-1413). Henry VI and Marguerite of Anjou's son Edward of Lancaster, prince of Wales was buried here after the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, and in 1478 so was Edward IV's brother George, duke of Clarence.

On the far right of the pic you can just see the effigy of Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser (1308/9-1349), lord of Glamorgan, eldest great-grandchild of Edward I. The chantry on the left is Isabelle Despenser, countess of Worcester and Warwick (1400-39), the Despenser heir, grandmother of Richard III's queen Anne Neville. Isabelle was the great-granddaughter of Huchon's younger brother Edward (c. 1310-1342).

The tomb of Hugh Despenser the Younger. Edward III gave Hugh's 'friends' and widow Eleanor permission to collect his remains from London, Dover, Bristol, York and Carlisle and bury him on 15 December 1330, just over four years after his execution in Hereford. For a condemned traitor who suffered the appalling fate of death by hanging, drawing and quartering, Hugh did pretty well to end up with a final resting place that still exists nearly 700 years later. (The fire extinguisher that used to sit right next to Hugh's tomb has now been moved.)

Worcester Cathedral again: the magnificent chantry of Arthur, prince of Wales (1486-1502), son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, elder brother of Henry VIII.

Inside Arthur's chantry.

09 September, 2018

The Victimisation of Isabella of France

I've been baffled for years at the way some modern writers seem determined to turn Isabella of France into a long-suffering tragic victim, and to invent misery and humiliation Isabella supposedly endured at the hands of her husband Edward II and his male 'favourites'. The narrative begins with Edward and Isabella's arrival in Dover in early 1308 a few days after their wedding in Boulogne, when Edward supposedly 'ignores' his new wife and humiliates her by kissing Gaveston in front of her. Then he fails to give her any income for an inordinately long time until he's forced to. He doesn't give her the attention which is her due. He gives her jewels or wedding gifts to Gaveston and allows his lover to parade himself in front of the queen wearing her own jewellery. He ignores her again at their coronation banquet, leaving her to 'fend for herself' (an actual quotation, as though the banquet was a deeply dangerous event). As the years go on, he fails to show her the slightest respect and affection and prefers his male favourites to her. He only makes love with her reluctantly in order to produce children. He treats her like a 'brood mare'. He abandons her weeping and pregnant to save Gaveston. He abandons her at Tynemouth again a few years later and permits his lover to conspire with the Scots to seize her and take her captive. He cruelly removes her children from her. He allows his lover to rape her. He allows his lover into their marital bed and demeans Isabella by talking of the 'stink of French mare' within earshot. He takes her lands from her and gives her an income that's only a 'fraction' of her previous income. (The confiscation of her lands is certainly true, but Isabella received an income that was almost half of what she had received before. This whole thing was unpleasant and deeply unfair on Edward's part, but I don't think almost fifty percent is a 'fraction' which instantly reduced her to rag-wearing penury.) There's even a series of novels, published some years ago, by the same writer who's invented much of the above in his non-fiction, that depict Isabella as the victim of sexual assault and rape at the hands of her father and three older brothers in childhood.

Almost all of this is absolute nonsense. The tale about Edward giving Isabella's jewels to Gaveston was invented by Agnes Strickland in the nineteenth century. The idea that Isabella was forced to endure an excessively long wait for any income is not borne out by comparison with other grants of dower in the early fourteenth century (it took about three months, and the situation was complicated by the fact that Edward II's stepmother Marguerite, Isabella's aunt, was alive. Compare this to the more than two years Isabella forced her daughter-in-law Philippa of Hainault to wait for her own rightful lands). The tale that Edward abandoned Isabella weeping in May 1312 was based on one chronicler's confusion of events of 1312 and those of 1322, and is disproved by their own household accounts of that year which show that the royal couple left Tynemouth at the same time and that Isabella travelled by land to meet her husband a few days later, being in the first trimester of pregnancy and therefore deciding to avoid the North Sea. The most egregious invention is the idea that Edward deliberately and cruelly removed Isabella's children from her, and since the late 1970s when this daft notion was first dreamed up, we've had novels where Isabella's young children are ripped, screaming, from their mother's arms, after Isabella has spent much of the novel telegraphing this cruelty by stating over and over how dreadful it would be if she lost her children. For pity's sake. The whole absurd melodrama of it all; it's less subtle than a sledgehammer.

A lot of the modern inventions about Edward II and Isabella of France's marriage make me deeply uncomfortable. According to several writers, Isabella did not only endure the Worst Marriage Ever, she was raped, sexually assaulted, demeaned and humiliated. I posted about a French comic last week, published as recently as 2012, which has Edward bringing Hugh Despenser into Isabella's bed to, ahem, get him ready to make love with his wife (this results in their son John of Eltham). After a dejected Isabella climbs out of bed afterwards, Edward and Hugh prepare to have some proper fun now that the horrible chore is over, and Edward says loudly that he has to give himself a good wash to get rid of "the stink of French mare." This is not only grossly homophobic, it's grossly sexist. Piling utter humiliation on a woman, turning her husband into a nasty gay caricature who loathes women and who gets a kick out of demeaning his royal wife and queen in the coarsest, crudest way possible, is simply revolting.

Two books published as non-fiction in the twenty-first century enthusiastically push the notion that Isabella was a victim of rape and sexual assault at the hands of Hugh Despenser the Younger, based on nothing more than rhetorical questions and, so it seems to me, perhaps based on a belief that to be considered 'strong' to a modern audience, a woman has to be the survivor of sexual assault. And not only are we told that Isabella's husband permitted his own lover to assault her sexually or even to rape her, her own father and three older brothers do too in a series of popular recent novels, before Isabella marries Edward and when she is still only a child. Seriously, what the hell is this? Why does this happen? Why do people do this? Why do Isabella's fans feel this need to pile ever more abuse and humiliation on her? And why do people complain on the one hand about the 'sexual prejudices' suffered by Isabella but think it's a mighty fine idea to pile homophobic abuse on Edward II? Why is it OK to accuse people of deeply serious, violent crimes without the slightest evidence? Why is it seen as a good idea to rescue Isabella from the opprobrium heaped on her for so long by heaping it on her husband instead? The whole thing is so childishly simplistic, no nuance, no depth, just idiotically one-dimensional Good People and Bad People. Even stuff like Isabella being forced to endure the company of Eleanor Despenser née de Clare, supposedly foisted on her by Edward and Hugh against her wishes, paints the queen as a helpless, passive victim who couldn't even choose who she wanted to spend time with. I just don't get why people do this. The absolute last thing Isabella of France was, was a helpless, passive victim.

After suffering so so so so so so so much at the hands of her nasty cruel perverted gay husband, the story goes, Isabella finally finds love and fulfilment and great sex in the arms of a strong manly virile heterosexual lover who is, conveniently enough, the exact opposite of Horrid Gay Edward. This is a narrative that's been created in fairly recent times and has had the names of real people added to it. It's not true. There's not one part of it that's even remotely close to being historically accurate. Actually it's about as accurate as Braveheart.

Basically, Edward and Isabella's relationship was a royal marriage that was actually, all things considered, pretty successful for a number of years, until Hugh Despenser the Younger returned from exile in March 1322, began to dominate Edward and the government, and decided to sideline Isabella. That Edward let him do it, when Isabella had always been such a supportive and affectionate partner, is one of the fascinations of the reign. Relationships are complex, and the reality is far more interesting than the usual 'horrid gay man torments his tragic neglected wife for years on end' narrative. What did happen between Isabella, Edward II and Hugh Despenser - and even, for that matter, with Hugh's wife Eleanor, who seems to have been more than usually close to her uncle Edward - in and after 1322? I don't know, but I do know that an awful lot of what has been written about them has been sheer nonsense.

Isabella's two daughters Eleanor of Woodstock, duchess of Guelders, and Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland, both did endure unhappy marriages. Eleanor's husband rejected her and pretended she had leprosy, Joan's husband took a parade of mistresses, one of whom was killed by David II's disgruntled barons as a result of her excessive influence over the king (shades of Piers Gaveston). In stark contrast to Isabella, I don't think I've ever seen a single person complaining about what Eleanor and Joan endured, and I'm afraid I find it hard to accept that homophobia doesn't play a part in the endless weeping and wailing over Isabella's supposed suffering at the hands of her husband. Compare the usual treatment of Edward II's extra-marital liaisons to the endless romanticising of the relationship between the very married Roger Mortimer and Isabella, and the endless romanticising of the long-term adulterous relationship between Edward and Isabella's grandson John of Gaunt and his mistress, later his third wife, Katherine Swynford. I don't recall ever seeing anyone taking the slightest interest in the feelings of Gaunt's second wife Constanza of Castile, or Roger Mortimer's wife Joan Geneville. Oh, but John of Gaunt and Roger Mortimer took female lovers, so that's all right then.

Isabella of France would not recognise herself in the popular modern narrative of her life. She was a royal autocrat, a fourteenth-century woman, not a modern woman plonked down 700 years ago with modern ideas of equality or finding fulfilment in the arms of a manly lover. She wouldn't recognise her immensely physical powerful husband - remember, Edward II was called 'one of the strongest men in his realm' - in the absurdly caricatured modern depictions of him as a weak, feeble, camp court fop, which say far more than about the people who write them than they do about Edward II. 

30 August, 2018

A French Cartoon about Edward II and Isabella of France

A friend of mine on Facebook recently drew my attention to a series of French comics about Edward II's queen Isabella, which are, inevitably, called Isabelle, La Louve de France or 'Isabella, The She-Wolf of France'. (This nickname, incidentally, was first applied to Isabella in 1757, in English, and has no historical basis whatsoever. La Louve is simply the French translation of the name and also has no historical basis whatsoever.) In particular, my friend commented on a bizarre sex scene with Edward, Isabella and Hugh Despenser the Younger she had read in the comic. See here for the comic; the sex scene is available via the Amazon 'look inside' function. I have no idea what the rest of the comic is like, but I have some serious problems with this bit. Here are the images; my translation into English is below.

First image:

Isabella: I am not your pet!

Edward: Right! You're nothing but a belly. I need heirs. It's your duty as queen! You should be grateful to my dear Despenser that he knows how to get me in the mood instead of whining. On all fours and turn over!

Second image:

Despenser: Now that the chore is over, my Edward, we'll finally be able to entertain ourselves!

Edward: Give me time to cleanse myself first. I can't stand the stink of French mare any more!

Isabella: *sad face*


Yowza. This is very reminiscent of Maurice Druon's Les Rois Maudits or The Accursed Kings series of novels, which feature a scene where Isabella states that she wrote to the pope to complain that Edward brought Hugh Despenser into their bed to, errrm, help him conceive his and Isabella's children. Given that Edward and Hugh's relationship began in late 1318 or 1319, before the conception and birth of all but one of Edward and Isabella's children, this seems incredibly unlikely. I know it's fiction, but the whole idea strikes me as blatantly homophobic. Edward II loved Isabella and their relationship worked perfectly well for many years until it all went horribly wrong in and after 1322. The idea that he would have treated her like this, insulted her to her face, brought another man into their bed, would be laughable if it wasn't so horrible, misogynistic and homophobic.

In the comic Hugh is called Edward's mignon, which in modern French means 'cute' but historically refers to the male 'favourites' or 'minions' of kings, whereas - of course! - Roger Mortimer is called Isabella's amant, 'lover'. This almost always happens in modern accounts of Edward II and Isabella, even now near the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century when we're supposed to live in a tolerant and progressive era. Heterosexual people have 'lovers'. Homosexual or bisexual people have 'minions' or 'favourites' or 'friends'. 'Friends' they love for most of their lives and bring their kingdoms to the brink of civil war over on several occasions, but yeah, they're just friends.

Edward himself is said to be a homosexuel notoire, 'notorious homosexual'. I wonder why only gay people are 'notorious' for their sexuality? Have you ever seen the words 'notorious heterosexual'?

And yes, I know it's fiction. I've had the 'but it's FICTION!!!' crowd bellowing that at me for over a decade. Braveheart is 'just fiction' but a gay man gets thrown out of a window for cheap laughs and another is cuckolded by the manly virile straight hero. A romance novel I reviewed a few years ago is 'just fiction' but refers to a gay man as a disgusting perverted worm. Funny how this 'but it's just fiction' argument so often seems to be used to defend and perpetuate offensive stereotypes and prejudices. 

24 August, 2018

Sir John Somery (d. 1322) And His Sisters Margaret Sutton And Joan Botetourt

Sir John Somery, lord of Dudley, Sedgley, Rowley Somery and other places in the Midlands, was born around 1280 as the son and heir of Roger Somery (1255-October 1291) and a woman called Agnes (I'm not sure of her background). When Agnes Somery died in November 1308, her son John was said to be twenty-eight years old. [CIPM 1307-17, no. 128] In May 1311, John Somery sued the chief justice of the court of common pleas, William Bereford, for defamation after Bereford and unnamed others stated that John "has obtained such mastery in the county of Stafford that no one can obtain law or justice therein; that he has made himself more than a king there; that no one can dwell there unless he buys protection from him, either by money or by assisting him in building his castles; and that he attacks people in their own houses with the intention of killing them, unless they make fine for his protection." [Patent Rolls 1307-13, p. 369]

Sir John Somery, a loyal royal knight who took part in Edward II's campaign against the Contrariants in 1321/22, married a woman called Lucy - I'm not sure of her background either - and died childless shortly before 24 August 1322 in his early forties. [CIPM 1317-27, no. 428] The heirs to Somery's sizeable inheritance in several Midlands counties were his two younger sisters Margaret Sutton, aged "thirty-two at the feast of Easter last" (i.e. born around 11 April 1290) and Joan Botetourt, "aged thirty at the feast of John the Baptist last" (i.e. born around 24 June 1292, and if this date is correct, she was Roger Somery's posthumous daughter and born more than eight months after his death). Margaret was married to Sir John Sutton, and Joan was the widow of Sir Thomas Botetourt, the eldest son of John, Lord Botetourt and his wife Maud née FitzThomas. Thomas Botetourt died shortly before 28 July 1322, just weeks before his brother-in-law John Somery. [CIPM 1317-27, no. 412] Thomas's heir was his and Joan née Somery's son John, said to be four years old in August 1322 in his father's IPM and seven in his grandfather John, Lord Botetourt's IPM of December 1324. John was actually born, according to his mother Joan née Somery's IPM, on 14 September 1318. [CIPM 1336-46, no. 181] John, Lord Botetourt the elder died on 25 November 1324 in his sixties, and his widow Maud née FitzThomas outlived him by some years. [CIPM 1317-27, no. 587] John Botetourt the younger, born 1318, nephew of Sir John Somery and the Botetourt heir and Somery co-heir, married Joyce la Zouche, younger half-sister of Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and stepdaughter of Edward II's niece Eleanor Despenser from her second marriage to William la Zouche of Ashby in Leicestershire.

I'm not entirely sure what, if any, children Sir John and Margaret Sutton, the other sister and brother-in-law of John Somery, had; Sutton was a common name, John and Margaret were incredibly common names, and it's hard to distinguish them from other people of the same name. It is sure, however, that this couple and specifically John became victims of Hugh Despenser the Younger in 1325. Hugh forced John to hand over eight of the manors he and Margaret had inherited from her brother John Somery to him after supposedly imprisoning him at Westminster for three weeks. Which does, let's face it, sound like exactly the sort of thing Hugh was capable of. Hugh, however, left the widowed Joan Botetourt, the other Somery sister, alone, though he did go after her parents-in-law John and Maud Botetourt in 1323 when he forced them to hand over a manor to him. More details in my forthcoming biography of Hugh the Younger, including a fascinating letter Hugh sent to John Botetourt senior in 1323 regarding his manor!

19 August, 2018

An Interview And An Article

I'm quoted in an article in the Washington Post! See here. As - apparently, I know nothing about it - a Mountbatten cousin of the royal family is marrying his husband this year, the journalist Kayla Epstein decided to write an article about gay British royals in history, and we talked on the phone some weeks ago about Edward II and his relationships with Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser.

My talk in the village of East Leake on 9 August, on the 700th anniversary of Edward II meeting his cousin Thomas of Lancaster in the village, went great. Around 125 people attended. After the talk, the lovely Paul Bradshaw interviewed me for his excellent Youtube channel Viral History (see also the Viral History website, here). The next morning, Paul was able to arrange for me to join a tour of Nottingham Castle grounds, currently closed for excavation, and I got to see Mortimer's Hole.

And here is Paul's interview with me on Youtube! It's just under ten minutes, and please do watch!  For any of you who are on Facebook, here is the Viral History page, and the interview with me is also here.

14 August, 2018

Hugh Despenser the Younger's Mares: A Journey, July 1325

In July 1325, Edward II gave his beloved chamberlain Hugh Despenser the Younger a hugely generous gift: eighty-four mares. The horses were perhaps intended to replace the even larger number of horses which Hugh claimed the Marcher lords had stolen from him during the Despenser War in May 1321. Edward charged five men with the task of leading the seven dozen horses from 'La Neyte' (somewhere in London, I'm never sure where) to Hugh's castle of Chepstow in South Wales (which Hugh had 'persuaded' the king's own half-brother Thomas, earl of Norfolk and earl marshal, to give to him in 1323 in return for a rather measly payment). Presumably Hugh kept a stud-farm there. London to Chepstow is a distance of 125 miles or so. The journey of the five men and eighty-four horses took ten days, and each stop was carefully recorded by Edward II's clerks in his chamber account (SAL MS 122).

The men charged with leading Hugh's horses the 125 miles to Chepstow were: Richard 'Hick' Mereworth, a valet of the king's chamber who came from Henley-on-Thames, and whose wife Johane became pregnant some weeks after his return; Litel Wille Fisher, a page of the king's chamber and one of his huntsmen, and the son of his valet Edmund 'Monde' Fisher; Henry of Morton; Watte Coleman; and Robyn atte Mulne. I'm unfamiliar with these last three men; perhaps they served in Hugh's own household. Leading the royal favourite's horses, a gift to him from the king himself, was one heck of a responsibility, especially as Hugh Despenser the Younger has never struck me as the kind of man who'd cheerily wave it off if the men made any kind of error or fault whatsoever when it came to his horses.

The journey began on 6 July 1325, which Edward's clerk recorded as "the eve of the Translation of St Thomas [Becket], the sixth day of July." On this night, the men and horses travelled to Brentford and spent the night there, and accommodation for all cost two shillings and eight pence. The 7th of July was spent at Maidenhead ('Maydenhuthe'), and accommodation cost three shillings and two pence. Monday 8 July was spent at Henley-on-Thames, where Hick Mereworth came from, and the lodgings there cost two shillings and eleven pence. The 9th of July was spent at Wallingford and the night there cost two shillings and seven pence, and 10 July at Abingdon, which cost two shillings and ten pence. The 11th of July was spent at Faringdon and the night's lodgings cost three shillings and four pence, and the 12th at somewhere called Borewardcotes - no idea where that is - which cost two shillings and seven pence. The 13th of July was spent at Cirencester and the night cost three shillings and three pence, and 14 July was spent at Gloucester, where it cost exactly the same. The 15th of July was spent at 'Wyttele', and the night cost two shillings and seven pence, and at some point on 16 July, the last day, the men availed themselves of "a meadow which belongs to Sir Gilbert Talbot by the road between Wyttele and Strigoil," i.e. Chepstow.

Coming back without the horses must have taken the five men only four days, as two of them were paid for fourteen days in total, and were back at court on 19 July 1325 (Edward II was at the Tower of London that day). Hick, leader of the five, received four pence a day for the full fourteen days; Watte Coleman was paid two pence a day for fourteen days and Henry of Morton two pence a day for ten days; and Litel Wille Fisher and Robyn atte Mulne received one and a half pence each for ten days. Litel Wille and Robyn were almost certainly just boys or very young men, which explains the discrepancy in pay. Interesting to note that Hick Mereworth and Watte Coleman were paid for the return journey but the others weren't; presumably, then, Henry, Litel Wille and Robyn didn't go back to court afterwards, at least not right away. In total, the journey of eighty-four mares and five men cost the king forty shillings and two pence, and all the costs were recorded in Edward's accounts a few weeks later on 27 August. Either Hick Mereworth and his associates had made notes of how much everything cost and where, implying that at least one of them was literate, or they had extremely good memories.

06 August, 2018

Treaty of Leake Talk; Hugh Despenser the Younger Bio

This coming Thursday, 9 August, I'm giving a talk about Edward II in the village of East Leake between Nottingham and Loughborough to mark the 700th anniversary of Edward signing the treaty of Leake with his cousin and enemy Thomas of Lancaster in the village on 9 August 1318. The talk begins at 7.30pm in the library, and I'm sharing it with local historian Keith Hodgkinson. Entrance is free, and if you're anywhere in the vicinity, do come along!

In other news, my biography of Hugh Despenser the Younger, out on 30 October, is now available for pre-order: Amazon; Waterstones; W H Smith; Book Depository (US). Blood Roses is also out in October.

01 August, 2018

The Dates of Birth of Edward Burnell, Giles Badlesmere, John Mowbray and Laurence Hastings

Edward Burnell, son and heir of Philip Burnell (d. 1294), great-nephew and heir of Robert Burnell, bishop of Bath and Wells and chancellor of England (d. 1292), nephew of Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (1267-1302), was born on 22 July 1287, not 1286 as some writers including myself have stated. His father Philip's Inquisition Post Mortem states that Edward was "aged seven on the feast of St Mary Magdalene last" in early August 1294; aged "seven years entering the eighth year" on 10 August 1294; and "six at the feast of St Mary Magdalene last" on the eve of St Mary Magdalene in 1294. [CIPM 1291-1300, no. 194] Edward Burnell married Alina Despenser, eldest child of Hugh Despenser the Elder, in or soon after early May 1302 when he was fourteen going on fifteen and she about the same age. They had no children and Edward died on 23 August 1315 at the age of twenty-eight, leaving his younger sister Maud Lovel as his heir.

Giles Badlesmere, son and heir of Bartholomew Badlesmere, was born on 8 October 1314 in Hambleton, Rutland. [CIPM 1327-36, no. 691] This was a manor belonging to Giles' mother Margaret née de Clare from her first marriage to Gilbert Umfraville. One of Giles' godfathers was Sir Robert Wateville, and he had four sisters: Margery, Lady Ros, Elizabeth, countess of Northampton (and the mother of the earls of March and Hereford), Maud, countess of Oxford, and Margaret, Lady Tiptoft. Margery was certainly older than Giles and Margaret was certainly younger, while Elizabeth and Maud were most probably older. Giles' mother Margaret was pregnant with him at the time of the battle of Bannockburn on 23 and 24 June 1314. His father Bartholomew was later accused, in a rather spiteful Latin poem, of abandoning his lord the earl of Gloucester to die on the battlefield.

Giles was in prison at the Tower of London when Roger Mortimer of Wigmore escaped from there on 1 August 1323. He must have been there since late 1321/early 1322 or thereabouts: his father Bartholomew joined the Contrariants in June 1321, and his mother Margaret was sent to the Tower after Edward II besieged Leeds Castle in October 1321 because she had refused to allow Queen Isabella inside. John Mowbray, son of John Mowbray, born November 1310 (below) was also a prisoner there. Edward II imprisoned young children. Awesomeness! [/sarcasm] I don't know when Giles was released from the Tower; his mother Margaret was freed in November 1322 but he wasn't. John Mowbray, below, was also a prisoner in the Tower in August 1323, but had certainly been released by late February or early March 1326 when he and some allies attacked Tickhill Castle in Yorkshire. Giles married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of William Montacute, earl of Salisbury (1301-44) and Katherine Grandisson, and died childless in 1338; Elizabeth was almost certainly too young for the marriage ever to have been consummated. The Badlesmere inheritance therefore passed to Giles' four sisters.

John Mowbray, son and heir of John Mowbray (1286-1322) and Aline Braose, was born at Hovingham, Yorkshire on 29 November 1310. [CIPM 1327-36, no. 250] Thomas, earl of Lancaster gave twenty shillings to the messenger who brought him news of Mowbray's birth, and John Mowbray's father John was ill at the time; because of the worry over her husband's condition, Aline née Braose went into labour a few days early. The younger John Mowbray married Joan of Lancaster, fourth daughter of Thomas of Lancaster's brother and heir Henry, in 1328, and they had a son John born in 1340 and two daughters, Blanche and Eleanor.

I've often said myself here on the blog and elsewhere that Laurence Hastings, earl of Pembroke, son and heir of John, Lord Hastings (1286-1325) and Juliana Leyburne (1303/4-1367), was born in March 1320. In fact, now that I've finally got round to checking his proof of age, I see that he was actually born on 20 March 1321, "the feast of St Cuthbert, 14 Edward II." Edward II's fourteenth regnal year ran from 8 July 1320 to 7 July 1321, so the correct date of birth is March 1321, not March 1320. [CIPM 1336-46, no. 337] Laurence was born in Allesley, Warwickshire, and his mother Juliana née Leyburne was sixteen or seventeen at the time. Betrothed to Hugh Despenser the Younger's third daughter Eleanor in 1325 when he was four - she was the same age or a little older - Laurence ultimately married Roger Mortimer's daughter Agnes after his fiancée Eleanor was forced into a convent by Queen Isabella a few weeks after her father Hugh the Younger's execution. Laurence and Agnes' only son John was not born until 29 August 1347, and one year and one day later, at the age of twenty-seven, Laurence Hastings, earl of Pembroke, died. His mother outlived him by almost twenty years.

27 July, 2018

My Forthcoming Books

I've updated my publications page, and here are all my forthcoming books:

My next, and fifth, book is Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York Before the Wars of the Roses. This is due to be published in early October 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon. It opens in 1245 with the birth of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence's second son Edmund, first earl of Lancaster, and tells the story of the houses of Lancaster and York until 1415.

Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger: Downfall of a King's Favourite. This is due out on 30 October 2018. It's the first-ever biography of Hugh; oddly enough, there's never even been an academic thesis devoted to him, let alone an entire book, even though he was the most powerful man in Wales and England for much of the 1320s. I enjoyed researching and writing this one so much, I can't even tell you! Hugh was a bad boy. Not nearly as bad as he's painted - he wasn't a torturer or a rapist - but bad enough.

Following in the Footsteps of Edward II, a travel guide to locations in Britain associated with Edward, to be published c. spring/summer 2019. Very different from my other books, and intended to encourage people to visit historical sites in Wales, England and Scotland.

The Lives of the Clare Sisters, Nieces of Edward IIc. summer/autumn 2019. This is a joint bio of Edward II's nieces Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth de Clare from the 1290s to 1360; the final title is yet to be determined. The drama of the three sisters' lives can hardly be overstated. All married at age thirteen, all imprisoned during the reign of their uncle and its aftermath, all deprived of their lands and income at some point, all married to men who might have been their uncle's lovers.

Philippa of Hainault, Mother of the English Nationc. late 2019/early 2020. A bio of Edward III's beloved queen and companion, who was born in c. 1314 and died in 1369; the title is not yet fixed.

1326: A Year in the Life of England, c. spring 2020. I'm really excited about this one. It's a chronological narrative of the year 1326, very much focused on the ordinary, common people. It was the year when Queen Isabella invaded her husband's kingdom with an army, but it was also the year of the great drought, the year when Henry of Cambridge was appointed chief blacksmith at the Tower of London, the year Robert Clavering of Newcastle-upon-Tyne was born, the year Edward the parker of Kennington rebuilt his house, the year John Toly fell out of the window of his London house and died, the year Johane Mereworth of Henley-on-Thames gave birth to a child...

John of Gaunt: Time-Honour'd Lancasterc. late 2020. A bio of Edward III and Queen Philippa's third son, Richard II's uncle and Henry IV's father. John was born in 1340 and died in 1399.

The Despensers: The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family 1261-1439, c. late 2020/early 2021. An account of the fascinating family whose fortunes rose and fell, from Hugh the justiciar (d. 1439) to Isabelle, countess of Worcester and Warwick (d. 1439).

The Daughters of Edward Ic. summer 2021. Title not yet fixed; a joint bio of Edward II's five sisters Eleanor, Joan of Acre, Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth.

19 July, 2018

An Attack on Tickhill Castle in Early 1326

On 23 March 1322, two 'Contrariants' were hanged in York: John, Lord Mowbray (b. 1286) and Roger, Lord Clifford (b. 1299/1300). The heirs of both men, understandably furious at Edward II, launched an attack on the royal castle of Tickhill a little under four years later. Here's a post about it.

John Mowbray's heir was his son John, born in Hovingham, Yorkshire on 29 November 1310 [CIPM 1327-36, no. 250] and hence only eleven years old when his father was executed in March 1322. Despite his youth, John was imprisoned in the Tower of London with his mother Alina née Braose and was still there in August 1323. I don't know when Edward II released him, but it was sometime before early March 1326. Roger Clifford was only in his early twenties when he was executed and had not married, so his heir was his younger brother Robert, born on 7 November 1305 and aged twenty in early 1326. [CIPM 1327-26, nos. 52, 77] The younger John Mowbray was still only fifteen then.

Despite the two men's youth, they managed to raise an armed force sometime around late February or early March 1326, and went to the town of Tickhill in Yorkshire. On the way they passed through Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire "with banners unfurled," a declaration of war on the king. Once at Tickhill, they besieged the royal castle there, and managed to capture it. They may have chosen this particular castle because its constable was Sir William Aune, a friend and ally of Edward II (and somewhat later a close associate of the criminal Coterel gang, and thus hardly an angel himself), or perhaps because it was convenient for them, or because it was lightly defended and reasonably easy to capture. Several men, how many is unclear, were killed during the assault on Tickhill.

News of young Mowbray and Clifford's capture of his castle at Tickhill came to Edward II's ears on 12 March 1326 at Merevale in North Warwickshire. He issued a "[c]ommission of oyer and terminer to Thomas le Blount, Philip de Somervill and Roger Hillary touching the persons who with John de Moubray and Roger [sic] de Clyfford, rebels and traitors, and others, came with banners unfurled to Burton on Trent, co. Stafford, and prevented the king's men and servants from passing through that town, killed some of them and committed other crimes in that town." The same commission was issued to "Henry le Scrop, Simon Ward, Roger de Somervill and Adam de Hoperton touching the persons who with the said John and Roger [sic] besieged the castle of Tykehill, co. York, killed the king's servants there, plundered the men of the town and committed other crimes." On 30 April, Edward II was still demanding that the commissioners found the "malefactors and other disturbers of the peace," but ordered them "not to molest or aggrieve" one Roger Curzon, who had been indicted before the commissioners but whom Edward pardoned on acknowledgement of a fine. Another of the men in Mowbray and Clifford's company was Thomas de Saundeby.

Having made their point - basically "yah boo sucks to you, we can take your sucky castles whenever we want, serve you right for executing our father and brother" - John Mowbray and Robert Clifford fled and were never captured. They either hid themselves somewhere in England, or went to the continent to join Roger Mortimer and the other enemies of Edward II and the Despensers and returned to England with them in September 1326. The two men were restored to royal favour and to their rightful inheritances in the new reign of Edward III early in 1327. John Mowbray's marriage was granted to Henry of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster and Leicester, on 28 February 1327, and probably the following year John married the earl's fourth daughter Joan. Their son John was born in 1340; their grandson Thomas Mowbray, born in 1367, was the first duke of Norfolk and the man whose duel with his second cousin Henry of Lancaster, duke of Hereford, was stopped at the last moment by Richard II in 1398. Robert Clifford married Isabel(la), sister of Thomas, Lord Berkeley, in 1328, and their second son Roger, born 1333, continued the Clifford line.

Sources: CPR 1324-7, p. 287; CCR 1323-7, p. 569; CCR 1330-3, p. 99 (attack on Burton and Tickhill); CPR 1327-30, p. 26 (Mowbray's marriage).

13 July, 2018

The Great Drought of 1326

Most of northern Europe has been going through an unusually long dry warm spell for the last few weeks and months, and everywhere I go at the moment I see brown, scorched grass and withering or dead vegetation. I've never seen the local stream run so low; sometimes it's a torrent, currently it's a trickle. The same weather conditions occurred in 1326, the last summer of Edward II's reign. Here's a post about it.

The earliest reference I know of to the heat of 1326 is in Edward II's chamber account: on 12 June, while he was at the archbishop of Canterbury's manor of Sturry in Kent, he gave a gift of linen cloth to the eight archers who formed his bodyguard because they had "run fast and well" alongside him in the hot weather. This implies that the hot dry weather had begun well before 12 June. The French Chronicle of London confirms this, saying that shortly before the Nativity of St John the Baptist, that is, 24 June, the weather was so hot and dry that fires burst out spontaneously in various places (as has happened this year, on Saddleworth Moor near Manchester). It talks of the "great dryness" throughout all the country. There was a severe shortage of water in many or most areas, and the River Thames ran so low that it was flooded by seawater and the ale made from the water tasted vile. In late July 1326, Edward II ordered a man near Walton-on-Thames to bring him fresh water from a well, surely another indication of the heat and dryness.

The annalist of St Paul's Cathedral also comments on the "great drought" throughout all England in 1326, and confirms the French Chronicle of London's statement that the Thames was flooded by seawater. People who owned animals had to lead them three or four leagues (i.e. three or four hours' walk) to find water for them. Fountains, rivers, streams, ponds and wells completely dried up, including Newport Pond in Essex, which was a league in circumference, and all the fish in the pond died. Edward II would have been lucky, therefore, if anyone had been able to find fresh water for him out of a well in late July. The dryness, the annalist says, continued well into the autumn of 1326.

I don't know when the weather broke, but the queen's invasion force arrived in England on 24 September 1326, and given that the St Paul's annalist states that the dry weather continued well into autumn, it seems highly likely that the country was still suffering from a severe lack of water at the time. Two chroniclers (the St Paul's annalist and the Anonimalle) say that when Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger were captured in South Wales on Sunday 16 November 1326, there was a great thunderstorm that lasted nearly all day. This seems like the pathetic fallacy or dramatic licence, except that two very different writers give the same tale. At least by mid-November 1326, then, the long period of dry weather had finally broken.

Society of Antiquaries of London Manuscript 122, pp. 66, 78

Annales Paulini 1307-1340, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 1 (1882), pp. 312-13

Croniques de London, ed. G. J. Aungier (1844), p. 50

07 July, 2018

The Ordeals of Elizabeth Hertrigg in 1312 and 1318

I seem to have written a lot about abductions of noblewomen on the blog: Elizabeth de Burgh in 1316, her sister Eleanor Despenser in 1329, their niece Margaret Audley in 1336, and Margaret Multon in c. 1316. Another famous one was Alice de Lacy, countess of Lincoln, by Hugh Frene in late 1335 or early 1336; I'll write about this one sometime too. Sadly the abduction of heiresses was all too common in the fourteenth century, and here's yet another that I don't believe I've seen mentioned anywhere before: the abduction of Elizabeth Hertrigg by Hugh Despenser the Elder in 1312, though this one did not result in forced marriage. The unfortunate Elizabeth was put through another horrible experience as well in 1318.

Elizabeth was the daughter and heir of John Hertrigg (the modern spelling is Hartridge), a tenant in chief who held lands in Berkshire, Sussex and Dorset, and her mother was called Nichola. Elizabeth Hertrigg was born either on 2 February 1303 or 1304: her father's Inquisition Post Mortem stated that she had either turned five or six years old "on the feast of the Purification last" in November 1309. John Hertrigg died before 24 October 1309 when the writ for his IPM was issued, and on 19 December, Edward II granted the rights to Elizabeth's marriage to one George Percy, called "king's yeoman." Elizabeth's mother Nichola was given a "mandate for the delivery of the body of the heiress" to Percy (this rather dehumanising language is typical of the era), but in fact it seems as though little Elizabeth remained with her mother rather than going to live in the Percy household. In February 1312, Elizabeth was living in Wambrook, Dorset, a manor which had belonged to her late father. [CIPM 1307-17, no. 212; CFR 1307-19, p. 50; CPR 1307-13, p. 203] Her mother Nichola was still in possession of Wambrook in 1330. [See here] Sometime before 29 January 1310, Edward II granted custody of the late John Hertrigg's lands, until Elizabeth came of age, to Hugh Despenser the Elder. [CCR 1307-13, pp. 190, 323]

On 22 February 1312 Elizabeth Hertrigg had recently turned either eight or nine years old, and was living at her late father's manor of Wambrook, Dorset (the village of Wambrook is now in Somerset) presumably with her mother Nichola. Officially she was in the custody of George Percy, who planned to marry her to his son John when she was old enough. Percy stated that Elizabeth was at Wambrook "under guard" (almost certainly for her own safety rather than because she wasn't allowed to leave!), but this made no difference to what was about to happen to her. Hugh Despenser the Elder sent 100 or more men "with force and arms" to abduct Elizabeth Hertrigg from Wambrook, and succeeded. The reasons for the abduction are not clear, but presumably had something to do with Despenser's custody of the lands of Elizabeth's inheritance. The 100 or more men who abducted Elizabeth on 22 February 1312 on Despenser's orders included Thomas le Artellet, Reginald Seint Cler, Thomas Wynslade, John Jorge, Robert Pyron, Adam Fraunceis, and John Pecche and his brother Nicholas. [George Percy's petition is TNA SC 8/259/12929] What's interesting about all this is that Edward II was at this time skulking in the north of England with Piers Gaveston, returned from his third exile, and Despenser the Elder was usually his close adherent and ally and was at court more often than not - yet was busily abducting a young girl at the other end of the country. As far as I can tell from the evidence of charter witness lists, Despenser did not return to court until July 1312, several weeks after Piers Gaveston's murder, when he met the king in London.  Given Despenser's loyal and devoted support of Edward II for the whole of his reign, it's hardly surprising to note that he does not seem to have suffered as much as a slap on the wrist for his illegal behaviour. That's the fourteenth century for you.

I don't know what happened to Elizabeth Hertrigg after her abduction by Hugh Despenser the Elder, but she married her guardian George Percy's son John sometime before July 1318, so evidently Despenser restored her to her guardian or to her mother at some point. That month or a little before, John Percy issued a complaint "touching the persons who had seized (rapuerunt) Elizabeth his wife at Shaldefeld Parva [nowadays Great Chalfield], co. Wilts, abducted her, and carried away her goods." [CPR 1317-21, p. 278] The translators of the Patent Roll used the word 'seized' for rapuerunt, and indeed it can mean that, or 'ravished.' The real meaning in this case, however, is made clear in an entry on the Close Roll in July 1319. Edward II ordered the sheriff of Wiltshire to "supersede until further orders the putting in exigent to be outlawed of John son of Ingelram Berenger, who was put in exigent because he was lately indicted in the sheriff's county court of the rape and abduction of Elizabeth wife of John Percy...John has surrendered himself to the king's peace and prison to stand to right concerning the above, and the king has meanwhile committed him to a certain keeper for safe-keeping." [CCR 1318-23, pp. 150-51; bold mine]

Sir Ingelram Berenger was said to be seven years old when his father John died in 1272, hence born c. 1265. His mother Christina, daughter and heir of Sir Matthew Wake, was born c. 1232. [CIPM 1216-72, nos. 128, 177, 794] Ingelram was a long-term adherent of Hugh Despenser the Elder (b. 1 March 1261) and served in his retinue for decades. And now his son had raped Elizabeth Percy née Hertrigg, six years after Despenser the Elder had sent 100 men to abduct her. Apparently the unfortunate Elizabeth was abducted from her home both in 1312 and in 1318, firstly in Dorset and secondly in Wiltshire. George Percy, Elizabeth's father-in-law and former guardian, complained also in July 1318 that ten men had stolen his goods at Great Chalfield, and evidently Elizabeth and her husband were living with his father in 1318. [CPR 1317-21, p. 278] I don't recognise most of the names of the ten men he accused of theft, but one was John son of Ingelram Berenger, and another was our old friend Malcolm Musard, certainly a Despenser adherent. It would seem that the feud, or quarrel, or whatever it was, that Hugh Despenser the Elder had begun against George Percy and his son and daughter-in-law in 1312 was continuing six years later, on the part of Despenser's adherents at least. It would also seem that some of the ten men who stole George Percy's goods in his Wiltshire home had decided to abduct and rape his daughter-in-law while they were at it. How unspeakably vile. Elizabeth was born in 1303 or 1304, so was still only fourteen or fifteen in 1318. She had been a young child when Despenser the Elder's men took her from her home, and was still only a teenager when this second hideous ordeal happened to her. John Berenger the perpetrator might have been the same age: at his father Ingelram's IPM in June 1336, John was said to be either 24 (clearly impossible as this would make him six years old in 1318) or 32 years old. [CIPM 1336-46, no. 27] If this is correct, he was also born about 1304 and was about fourteen in 1318. Edward II's statement that he had committed John to a keeper in 1319 probably also indicates that John was then underage.

John Berenger was released from prison at some point, I don't know when, and succeeded to his father's lands in 1336. His first wife Alice Stonor, daughter of Sir John Stonor (chief justice of the court of common pleas), died childless sometime after May 1332, and John married secondly a woman called Emma before January 1334. With her he had a son named Ingelram after his father, who was born around 19 June 1341 ("aged two years on Thursday next before the Nativity of St John the Baptist, 17 Edward III"). John died on 26 September 1343. Little Ingelram Berenger died soon after his father, and his IPM was held on 8 October 1344. This left the boy's sister Christina Berenger, John and Emma's daughter, as the Berenger heir, but she also died underage on 12 September 1349. [Hampshire Feet of Fines, CP/25/1/205/22, nos. 14, 50; CIPM 1336-46, nos. 467, 468; CIPM 1347-52, no. 297. Christina's heir was her cousin Nicholas Berenger, son of Nicholas, younger son of Ingelram the elder and brother of John.] John Berenger's widow Emma married secondly Sir Edmund Hakelut, had a son Leonard Hakelut around 1352, and lived until January 1380. [CIPM 1377-84, no. 241]

As for John Berenger's victim Elizabeth Percy née Hertrigg, she had a son from her marriage to John Percy called William Percy, who was probably born in 1337 (he was said to be two years old in late 1339). That's quite a late birth for a couple who married in or before 1318; perhaps they had fertility issues. John Percy died before 6 May 1339 when the writ for his IPM was issued, and in early March 1340 Elizabeth née Hertrigg was given permission to marry a second husband of the king's allegiance. By August 1343, she was married to William Burton. [CIPM 1336-46, no. 225; CPR 1338-40, p. 434; CCR 1343-6, p. 170; CFR 1337-47, p. 128] I haven't been able to find the date of her death, though she was still alive in October 1351. [CPR 1350-4, p. 173] According to this, Elizabeth and John Percy had two other children called John and Margaret, and an entry on the Patent Roll confirms that she had a daughter Margaret. Her second husband William Burton had a son called Thomas, and by June 1346 Thomas had married Elizabeth's daughter Margaret, i.e. his stepsister. [CPR 1345-8, p. 128]

Both George and John Percy had joined the household of Edward II's half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, future earl of Kent, by February 1320. [CPR 1317-21, pp. 419, 435] One very interesting postscript to this whole situation is that George and John Percy, and Ingelram Berenger, were all deeply involved in the earl of Kent's plot to free the supposedly dead Edward II from captivity in 1329/30. Another man involved was Sir John Pecche, presumably the same man who had helped the elder Despenser abduct Elizabeth Hertrigg from Wambrook in February 1312. George Percy, Ingelram Berenger, John Pecche and a fourth man, Fulk FitzWarin, lord of Whittington in Shropshire, were linked together in the chancery rolls as some of the earl of Kent's most important adherents. [CPR 1327-30, pp. 557, 565, CCR 1330-3, p. 95, and see my English Historical Review article from 2011 on Kent's adherents] Rebellion sometimes made strange bedfellows. I wonder what Elizabeth made of it all.