06 December, 2018

Edward II Was Not Starved To Death

Or at least, there's not a single shred of evidence that he was or that this particular cause of death ever occurred to anyone in the fourteenth century, but the idea has taken off in at least one Facebook medieval history group I sometimes look at, where it's claimed that Edward II's death by starvation (at Berkeley Castle in September 1327) is the 'current theory' of his demise. Well, no, it isn't, except on Facebook.

I suspect this latest theory might represent a confusion with Edward II's great-grandson Richard II, the next deposed king of England, who almost certainly did starve to death at Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire in February 1400. Or perhaps even with Edward's powerful chamberlain and 'favourite', Hugh Despenser the Younger. Hugh refused all food and drink between his capture on 16 November 1326 and his execution in Hereford eight days later, according to the Brut chronicle, which states that by the time he arrived in Hereford he was "almost dead for fasting."

Starvation is one of the few causes of Edward II's death that fourteenth-century chroniclers didn't speculate about. They did mention illness, grief, natural causes, suffocation, strangulation, poison, a fall, and of course somewhat later the mythical red-hot poker, or stated that they didn't know what happened to him or merely that he died at Berkeley without further explanation. Starvation doesn't seem to have occurred to any of them, and even Geoffrey le Baker, who invented the tales of Edward's mistreatment at Berkeley Castle some decades later in the interests of promoting him as a suffering saint, didn't claim that he starved to death.

Sometimes you can actually see new myths about Edward II developing. It's weirdly fascinating. Now that the film Outlaw King has come out, depicting him as some whining psychotic rolling around in the mud screaming with an anachronistic fifteenth-century pudding bowl haircut - at a battle he didn't even participate in - no doubt there will be even more. Oh yay.

02 December, 2018

Edward II's Visit to Eleanor Despenser, 2 December 1325

On 2 December 1325, 693 years ago, Edward II visited his eldest and favourite niece Eleanor Despenser née de Clare (born c. 14 October 1292) at his manor-house of Sheen - later known as Richmond Palace - west of London. The day before this visit, Edward had written to his queen, Isabella of France, who was refusing to return from her brother Charles IV's court in Paris or to permit her and Edward II's thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor to return to England either.

Edward II was staying at Westminster in early December 1325, and parliament had recently taken place there. An entry in his chamber account states, in French (my translation):

"Monday the second day of December, paid to my lady, Lady Eleanor Despenser [ma dame dame Alianore la Despensere] of the king's gift, by the hands of the king himself, when the king went from Westminster to Sheen to my said lady and returned the same night back to Westminster, in going and returning in a flat-bottomed boat, 100 marks."

The next entry states:

"Item, paid to Syme Laweman, Will Shene, Ric[hard] Hustret, Henry Hustret his son, Robyn Curre, Jak Edriche, Watte Couherde, Ric[hard] Gobet, to each of these eight valets, porters of the king, following the said boat between the said Westminster and Sheen, of the king's gift, by the hands of John Harsik giving them the money in the said boat in the king's presence, to each of the eight four shillings for boots for the water, twenty-four shillings."

So it seems that the king rowed himself along the River Thames, with these eight men - all of whom frequently appear in Edward's extant chamber accounts of 1322 to 1326 - following behind in another boat. A third entry relates that John Harsik, the chamber squire who gave the eight men their money to buy boots, bought fish for the king and Eleanor's supper at Sheen: roach, dace and loach. Given that it was December and the days are very short at this time of year, it must have been dark when Edward returned to Sheen, and perhaps even when he left Westminster. Imagine rowing yourself along the Thames in the dark and the cold, though for sure Edward must have known the river really well.

Eleanor Despenser had been staying at Sheen, at Edward II's expense, since 9 October or a little earlier. He bought firewood for her chamber there. She was either very close to term at the time of her uncle's visit or had just given birth; another entry in the king's chamber account on 14 December 1325 states that Edward gave thirty shillings as an offering to the Virgin Mary in gratitude that God had granted Eleanor a prompt delivery of her child (though the date of this offering is not clear and it may have been made a few days before the king's clerks recorded it). Eleanor's husband Hugh Despenser the Younger may have been at Sheen with her after his recent return from Wales, where it was rumoured that he had been killed, though he isn't specifically mentioned in the account as being present. Annoyingly, the child Eleanor bore in early December 1325 is not named or even given a sex in Edward's account - it's as though his clerks didn't care at all about historians 700 years later who would dearly love to know such things - though it may have been Eleanor's fifth and youngest daughter Elizabeth Despenser, future Lady Berkeley.

And finally and as a completely off-topic point, tomorrow, 3 December 2018, is the thirteenth anniversary of this blog! I started it on 3 December 2005, and it has now had just under 2.4 million visitors. Here's to the next few years!

29 November, 2018

Lancaster and York Article; The Spellbinders Novel

Here is a link to an article I wrote about the houses of Lancaster and York for the BBC History Magazine website! Here is my book Blood Roses about the two houses before the Wars of the Roses, and oh, here is a link to Chris Brown's new book about Robert Bruce, that I'm looking forward to reading.

Links to two more articles I've written, for the History Press website: The House of Lancaster in Seven People; Edmund of Langley and his Children.

And my friend Aleardo Zanghellini has written a novel about Edward II, Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, The Spellbinders, which I'm dying to read. Here it is on Amazon, and here is Aleardo's website dedicated to the book.

24 November, 2018

Hugh Despenser the Younger, Pirate and Extortionist

To celebrate the publication of my biography of Hugh Despenser the Younger this month, and to mark the anniversary of his execution in Hereford on 24 November 1326, here are some snippets about him.

- Hugh was probably born around 1288/89, so was about five years younger than Edward II. The date of birth you almost always see for him online, 1286, is too early; his parents probably married that year (or perhaps in late 1285), and he had an older sister.

- He had one older sister (Alina Burnell), three younger sisters (Isabella Hastings, Margaret St Amand and Elizabeth Camoys), an older half-sister (Maud of Lancaster née Chaworth, born 1282), and a younger brother, Philip. Philip Despenser died in September 1313 at the age of barely twenty, long before Hugh's period of power, though I do find it interesting to speculate what kind of role Philip might have played in his brother's regime.

- Hugh was an ancestor of Henry VIII's sixth wife Katherine Parr, and his younger brother Philip was an ancestor of Henry's third wife Jane Seymour. (Hugh - Edward, d. 1342 - Edward, d. 1375 - Margaret, d. 1415 - Philippa Ferrers, d. 1434 - Thomas Greene, d. 1462 - Thomas Greene, d. 1506 - Maud, d. 1531 - Katherine Parr, d. 1548.) (Philip, d. 1313 - Philip, d. 1342 - Philip, d. 1401 - Philip, d. 1423 - Margery, d. 1478 - Philip Wentworth, d. 1464 - Henry Wentworth, d. 1501 - Margery, d. 1550 - Jane Seymour, d. 1537.)

- Henry of Grosmont (c. 1310-1361), first duke of Lancaster, grandfather of King Henry IV, was Hugh's nephew, his half-sister Maud's son. Sir Hugh Hastings of Elsing in Norfolk (c. 1310-1347), whose remains were examined a few decades ago - he was found to have stood five feet ten inches tall and to have suffered a severe blow to the mouth - was another nephew, son of Hugh's sister Isabella.

- The man who abducted Edward II's beloved Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall, in June 1312 - Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick - was Hugh's uncle, younger brother of his mother Isabella Beauchamp (d. 1306). Hugh was the grandson of William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (c. 1240-98) and step-grandson of Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk (c. 1245-1306).

- Hugh often kept copies of his own letters and stored them at the Tower of London, with the happy result that much of his correspondence survives today and reveals that he was eloquent, intelligent, sarcastic, and distressingly prone to threatening people. All his letters were written, or rather dictated, in French, and as it's usually the drafts that survive, you can see how he had certain phrases added or struck out as he went along, revealing his thought processes. ("Blah blah blah Robert Bruce, king of Scotland...oh no, wait, we don't call him that, do we? Strike those last words out.") Several of his letters state that he had read out his correspondent's previous letters to Edward II and his council, so he was obviously a fluent reader.

- Hugh was one of the 266 men knighted with Edward of Caernarfon on 22 May 1306 when he was about seventeen, and married Edward's eldest niece, thirteen-year-old Eleanor de Clare, four days later in the presence of her grandfather Edward I. They had been married for twenty years and six months at the time of his execution on 24 November 1326. His mother Isabella Beauchamp died around the time of his wedding, sometime before 30 May 1306 when the writ for her inquisition post mortem was issued. Hugh the Elder never remarried.

- Hugh often sent letters to the sheriff of his lordship of Glamorgan, Sir John Inge, telling him to do this, that and the other as though Inge was his own personal servant who existed only to do his bidding rather than a royal official. A few of these long letters still survive, and show how Hugh micro-managed affairs in Glamorgan and took a deep interest in his lordship. They also show his disdain for his Welsh tenants.

- Other letters reveal that Hugh was not shy about writing things like 'it seems to our lord the king and to us that...' and 'the king and ourselves think that...', and  thus coupling himself with God's anointed. The tone of his letters to John Inge was often hectoring and menacing; when writing to other people, he often comes across as haughty and self-important, though he was capable of humour as well and wielded sarcasm like a weapon. The few surviving letters of his wife Eleanor née de Clare (1292-1337), by contrast, are extremely courteous and amiable.

- He was, however, careful always to use people's correct titles: even in 1324/25, after Roger Mortimer of Wigmore had supposedly sent assassins to kill Hugh and his father, he referred to him as 'Sir Roger Mortimer'. Edward II and others, by contrast, called him 'the Mortimer'. Hugh referred to his wife's sister Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare as la dame de Bourgh, 'the lady de Burgh', and to himself as 'Hugh le Despenser the son'. He sent a few letters to his cousin Ralph, Lord Basset of Drayton, and a certain amount of affection for Basset is apparent: he often called him 'fair cousin' or 'beloved cousin.'

- Hugh's downfall in 1326 brought a veritable flood of petitions complaining that he had taken manors from lots of people, threatened them, forced them to pay him large sums of money, imprisoned people until they paid ransoms, and much more. His behaviour as royal favourite in the 1320s was frankly appalling, and his greed for lands and money was insatiable. Both men and women, rich and not nearly as rich, were his victims; he was an equal opportunities extortionist.

- One of his letters made me bark with laughter when I saw it. He threatened Sir John Botetourt with having him hanged, drawn and quartered if Botetourt did not hand over a manor to him, and *literally in the very next sentence* added cheerily "May God keep you."

- He was probably already a grandfather when he was executed in November 1326, though he was only about thirty-seven: his eldest daughter Isabella gave birth to her son Edmund Arundel, also the grandson of the earl of Arundel, in or before December 1326. Hugh left nine children: Hugh, Edward, Gilbert, John, Isabella, Joan, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth. He may also have been the father, from a relationship with a mistress called Joan, of Nicholas de Litlington (1312/15-1386), abbot of Westminster.

- There is no evidence whatsoever that Hugh raped Queen Isabella, an invention of the twenty-first century. Despite his appalling greed and penchant for imprisoning people, I very much doubt that he had anyone called 'Lady Baret' tortured, as claimed at his trial. The charges against him read out at his trial, while containing some kernels of truth, are to a great extent absurd.

- Hugh's great-uncle Sir Walter Beauchamp, one of the younger brothers of his grandfather the earl of Warwick, was steward of Edward I's household from 1289 to 1303.

- When Hugh was growing up - wherever that was - he must have grown accustomed to his father Hugh the Elder's frequent trips abroad, to the pope, the king of France, the Guardians of Scotland and other important men, on Edward I's business.

- Hugh spent much of the year 1310 jousting on the continent, defying an order from Edward II at the end of 1309 that English knights were not to leave the country to joust abroad. He took part in a tournament in Mons in July 1310, and had also participated in a tournament at Dunstable in the spring of 1309 so evidently was a fan of jousting. His wife Eleanor most probably accompanied him abroad, and may have given birth to their second son Edward Despenser in October 1310 after they returned. Their eldest, Hugh or 'Huchon', was born in 1308 or the first half of 1309, and their eldest daughter Isabella was born in 1312 or the beginning of 1313 and was named after Hugh's mother. Their second daughter Joan was named after Eleanor's mother Joan of Acre and may have been born around 1314/15. Their third son Gilbert first appears on record in July 1322 though was probably a few years old by then, and their youngest son John first appears on record in November 1324 though was certainly several years old then. Their youngest child was born in December 1325.

- Hugh and his father Hugh the Elder, born 1 March 1261, fought at the battle of Bannockburn on 23 and 24 June 1314, and both were among the 500 knights who galloped to Dunbar Castle with Edward II after Edward lost the battle. Hugh the Younger must have acquitted himself bravely and honourably during the battle, as Edward made him a knight banneret soon afterwards, even though he still seems to have disliked and distrusted Hugh. If he didn't actively dislike Hugh, he was at the very least entirely indifferent to him for many years.

- Although numerous records of payments made to messengers for carrying Edward II and Hugh's letters to each other survive, I've only ever found one letter they sent each other that still exists. It dates to May 1324 and is more of a note, and in it Hugh informed Edward about ships in the Gower Peninsula. The letter opens "Honours and reverences, very honourable lord."

- Hugh enthusiastically took up piracy in the English Channel after his enemies the Marcher lords forced him into (supposedly permanent) exile in August 1321, and the Vita Edwardi Secundi calls him a 'sea-monster.' As late as 1336, Edward III paid compensation to some Genoese merchants whose ship Hugh had captured and robbed off the dunes of Sandwich. He may even have attacked Southampton on 30 September and 1 October 1321 with Robert Batail of Winchelsea, baron of the Cinque Ports. [The National Archives SC 8/17/833]

16 November, 2018

Edward II Borrows Money

Edward II's extant chamber accounts of 1324 to 1326 reveal that he did not carry cash with him, and if he needed to pay someone after purchasing an item or to hand out alms, he borrowed the money from one of his household servants. The money was paid back to the men either on the same day or, usually, a few days later, sometimes with a few pence added on as a thank-you gift from the king for lending him the cash. It was Edward's chamber clerks who gave the money back to his servants, and who recorded the payments in the royal accounts; where the money came from is not stated, but there is evidence that the king's clerks kept cash in locked boxes or coffers or in barrels. (In 1323, Edward II himself lost a key to a locked box full of money, and a locksmith had to come and make a new one.) As for the chamber staff who lent the king money, the valets earned three pence a day, and their wages were paid once or twice a month in arrears. As all their food, drink, clothes and shoes were provided for free, three pence a day was their disposable income, and it seems that the men had little problem handing over five shillings here, another two shillings there.

Where the chamber valets and others kept their wages is also something I wonder about - perhaps in a scrip around their waists. As the only coin in circulation was the silver penny, carrying around a few shillings would have been quite heavy: five shillings was sixty pence, and therefore sixty coins. In July 1326, Edward II gave a cook of his called Will Balsham forty shillings (480 coins!) to buy himself a hackney horse, and the money was give to Will "by the king's own hands between two silver dishes." There are also numerous instances of the king meeting his subjects and handing money over to them with his own hands, either as a gift or in payment for fish or bread or other purchases, or ordering one of his servants to do it, so presumably on these occasions Edward told one of his clerks to unlock a box or coffer containing money and hand it over to the person directly.

Quite by chance, I've just this minute seen an entry on the Patent Roll dated 28 November 1313 (CPR 1313-7, p. 52), where a merchant from Normandy called Nicholas du Vual, who had made large profits of fifty pounds in the market of Boston, Lincolnshire, sewed up the money in a linen shirt to keep it safe. His servant Simon Basil put the shirt on and travelled to Nicholas's native Caen to give it to Nicholas's wife, but sadly was drowned on the way, and the money was discovered and temporarily confiscated, though Nicholas did eventually get it back after he petitioned Edward II about it.

- At Christmas 1324, Edward II borrowed the huge sum of twenty marks - a mark was two-thirds of a pound or 160 pence - from his chamber squire John 'Jankyn' Harsik, for what purpose is not stated. Jankyn got his money back in early February 1325.

- In March 1326, Edward hired a cart to take piles of straw from Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire to Hugh Despenser the Younger's castle of Hanley in Worcestershire. He paid the carter five shillings in advance, and borrowed the money from his chamber valet Henry Lawe. Henry got his money back later the same day, with an extra shilling, i.e. twelve pence, added on as a gift (four days' wages for him).

- Henry's brother Simon 'Syme' Lawe lent Edward II five shillings in London on 14 July 1325 to give to a messenger who had brought the king letters from Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury. The money was returned to him a month later.

- Jack de la Coppehouse, chamber valet and the man in charge of the brass vessels in the royal household, lent the king four shillings to play dice with his sergeant-at-arms Syme of Reading at Bayham Abbey on 25 or 26 August 1324, and got his money back on 28 August. Edward also received five shillings from one of his chamber clerks to play cross and pile with Syme of Reading.

- On 24 June 1326, Edward played dice in the Tower of London with his household knight Sir Giles Beauchamp, to celebrate the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. He borrowed five shillings from his chamber valet Roger May to do so. Roger's money was returned to him on 7 July.

- A few days before this, when leaving Leeds Castle in Kent, Edward had borrowed four shillings from his usher Peter Bernard to give as alms to a 'poor man' he encountered on the road. Peter got his money back later that day. He also lent the king eight shillings in May 1326 so that Edward could pay cross and pile with Sir Robert Wateville. Edward lost the money to Wateville, but Peter Bernard's loan was returned to him on 22 May.

- Sometime in July 1326, Edward borrowed six pence from his chamber valet Watte Don to give as alms to an unnamed person he encountered, and gave Watte his money back on 28 July.

- Elis 'Eliot' Peck, one of the king's wheelwrights, lent Edward a shilling in November 1324, and got two shillings back four days later. In August 1326, Eliot lent Edward another shilling to give to a ditcher called Gibbe at the palace of Clarendon in Wiltshire, who was working alongside the king in a ditch and who needed new shoes. His money was returned to him on 22 August, probably the same day he lent it to Edward.

- Edward, the parker of Cold Kennington, sent Edward II a gift of young pigeons for his table on 3 July 1326. The king sent his trumpeter Janyn the Scot to the parker's house, and Janyn gave him five shillings and eight pence of his own money. He got it all back fifteen days later.

- Peter Plummer, or 'Peres le Plomer' as his name was spelt, a royal clerk, borrowed six pence from a carter of the royal household called John of Burstwick, and paid John his money back at Edward II's command on 11 September 1325.

11 November, 2018

Rumours of the Killing of Hugh Despenser the Younger, November 1325

Sometime not too long before 8 November 1325, Hugh Despenser the Younger left Edward II in the south-east of England and travelled to 'the parts of Wales' - where in Wales is not stated - with a small-ish retinue. He remained there until 20 November or a little later, and had been reunited with the king and with his heavily pregnant wife Eleanor née de Clare in and around London by 28 November. In early September 1325, Hugh the Younger had persuaded Edward II not to travel to France to pay homage to Charles IV for his French lands but to send his adolescent son Edward of Windsor instead, supposedly on the grounds that Hugh and his father the earl of Winchester's lives would be in danger during the king's absence abroad. Even so, Hugh evidently was not afraid to travel to Wales by himself, without Edward's protection. He and Edward kept in touch by letter, sent via messengers; one of them was the Dominican friar Thomas Dunheved, who with his elder brother Stephen would lead a gang of men who temporarily freed the deposed Edward from Berkeley Castle in the summer of 1327. Another was the king's squire Thomelyn de Haldon.

At the French court, meanwhile, around the end of October 1325, Edward II's queen Isabella of France had felt confident enough to make her loathing of Hugh Despenser the Younger public. She gave Edward an ultimatum, that he must send Hugh away from him or she and their not quite thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor (born 13 November 1312) would not return to England. This speech was recorded by the author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi, who also cites a letter sent to Isabella by all the English bishops on Edward II's orders in November or early December 1325. This letter makes it apparent that Isabella had threatened to destroy Hugh Despenser the Younger with the help of her brother Charles IV and other Frenchmen, though her speech or her own letter to this effect does not survive.

The squire Thomelyn de Haldon brought Edward II letters from Hugh the Younger on 8 November, and that was the last time the king heard from Hugh for a little while. An entry in the king's chamber account on 20 November 1325 states (in French): "Item, paid to Will de Haveryng, king's porter, and to John de Carleford and Peres Bernard, ushers of the king's chamber, who were sent hastily from Isleworth to the parts of Wales to ascertain the welfare of my lord Sir Hugh [Despenser] the son, because Jack Pyk told the king that the said Sir Hugh had been killed, when the said Will, John and Peres returned and informed the king that the said Sir Hugh was well and hearty by God's mercy, to each of the three ten marks for their good news, thirty marks."

Jack Pyk was a valet of Edward II's chamber (and also the captain of a ship called the Blome of Westminster), and evidently was passing on news he had heard to the king. It seems, therefore, that rumours that Hugh Despenser the Younger had been killed were current in November 1325. As it happened, he had not and was perfectly well, though the large sum of ten marks the king gave each of the three men who brought him the news that Hugh was fine reveals Edward's huge relief. The day before this payment was made, Edward had sent another man called Syme to Wales to see what was going on, evidently fretting that the other three men had not come back yet, and not sure whether Hugh was dead or not. Given the timing of Isabella's speech to the French court, I do wonder if Edward II and others believed that she, or perhaps Hugh Despenser's nemesis Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, had had Hugh assassinated; there is evidence that Roger did send assassins after Hugh and his father and others some months after his escape from the Tower in August 1323. Hugh Despenser the Younger was unharmed, and if anyone did try to kill him in November 1325 they failed, but this was almost exactly a year before Isabella and Roger Mortimer really did have Hugh killed on 24 November 1326, and not at the hands of a quiet assassin but in the most public and atrociously agonising manner possible.

Source: Edward II's last chamber account, now held in the library of the Society of Antiquaries of London, SAL MS 122.

04 November, 2018

Blood Roses Book Giveaway

My fifth book Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York Before the Wars of the Roses came out recently, and I have two free, signed copies to give away! They can be sent anywhere in the world so don't worry about that, and all you have to do is enter is either: leave a comment here on the blog with your email address (so I can contact you if you've won); write a post or leave a comment on my Edward II Facebook page here, or send me a private message there if you prefer, also with your email address; or email me at edwardofcaernarfon(at)yahoo.com. The closing date is midnight, GMT, Sunday 18 November 2018, so you have two weeks to enter, and I'll contact the two winners as soon as possible after that. (I typed 1318 first instead of 2018, and to correct it. :D) I can write any inscription in it that you like, so if you'd like it as a present for someone else, that's no problem. Good luck!

30 October, 2018

Their Mums Visited Them

I've written a few posts before on the blog about Edward II's chamber staff and their lives, so brilliantly illuminated by his surviving chamber accounts of the 1320s. The chamber account of 1324/5 reveals that the king's clerk Peter Pulford was visited by his mother Mariote in January 1325. Mariote also "talked to the king" and received a massive 100 shillings or five pounds as a gift from Edward.  Litel Colle (Little Colin) the chamber valet was visited by his mother Anneis in June 1325, and Jak Gryndere the wheelwright was visited by his mother Johane in October 1325. Some years earlier, Dulcia Withstaff, mother of the king's fool Robert, came to visit her son and the king at Christmas, and Edward gave her ten shillings. I think it's great to see that royal household staff kept in touch with their mothers! I've written before about the wives and sometimes the children of royal household servants coming to visit their husbands/fathers at court, and sometimes it seems that they stayed for quite a while - a few weeks or even several months. Servants were also allowed to leave court and visit their families sometimes too, and needed the permission of the king or one of his senior household officials to leave court.

If you're interested in Edward II's household staff, there's always my article ''Bought by the King Himself': Edward II, his Chamber, his Family and his Interests in 1325-26', in Fourteenth Century England X, ed. Gwilym Dodd, published February 2018. More info here.


24 October, 2018

Two Fourteenth-Century Schools in London

A tragic incident which took place in London on Tuesday 19 July 1301 reveals the existence of a school in the city at that time. The extant Coroners' Rolls show that an eight-year-old boy called Richard, son of John the mason, "was walking, immediately after dinner, across London Bridge to school." Richard "hung by his hands in play from a certain beam on the side of the bridge," but sadly his hands gave way, and he plunged in the Thames below and was drowned. A large crowd of horrified onlookers told the jurors who investigated Richard's death what had happened. This sad situation does at least tell us that there was a school somewhere near London Bridge in 1301, attended by eight-year-olds.

The household accounts of Edward II's widow Isabella of France mostly do not survive during the fifty years she lived in England, but they fortuitously do for the last few months of her life in 1357/58. These extant accounts demonstrate that in 1358, Isabella paid thirteen shillings and four pence (one mark) to send her vielle*-player Walter Hert to a 'school of minstrelsy' (scole minstralsie) in London, and thus reveal the fascinating fact that there was some kind of school of music and the performing arts in London in the middle of the fourteenth century.

* A bowed, stringed instrument not dissimilar to a modern violin.

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

Pics!

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.