14 January, 2018

Edward II And Isabella Of France's Children: Rough Dates Of Conception, And The Couple's Itineraries

I've been doing some more research in an attempt to ascertain, as far as possible, the exact whereabouts of Edward II and his queen Isabella of France when all their children were conceived. A full-term pregnancy is forty weeks from the first day of the last menstrual period, and about thirty-eight weeks from the actual date of conception. Here, therefore, are the locations of the king and queen approximately thirty-eight weeks before the births of their children.

1) Edward III (Edward of Windsor) was born on 13 November 1312. Thirty-eight weeks before takes us to 21 February 1312. On that date, Edward II was in York, and the day before had celebrated the purification ceremony of his niece Margaret Gaveston née de Clare, who had given birth to her and Piers' daughter Joan some weeks (probably forty days) before. Queen Isabella was in Bishopthorpe three miles south of York on 21 February, and arrived in the city to join her husband on or before 24 February. Most likely they conceived their son either on 24 or 25 February, as on the 26th the king left York for five days, returning on 2 March (1312 was a leap year) - unless Edward III was born somewhat prematurely and thus was conceived on or a little after 2 March. Conception on 2 March 1312 would mean that Edward III was born about eleven days prematurely, hardly a big issue. Edward II was at Windsor Castle with Isabella from 17 September 1312 until 9 November, when he left for his palace of Sheen about fifteen miles away. He returned on the 12th, presumably because Isabella or one of her attendants sent him a message from Windsor that she'd gone into labour. The king's departure just four days before his son was born might imply he didn't think the birth was imminent, and therefore that Edward III was indeed a little premature.

Conclusion: Edward II and Isabella were together at the right time to conceive Edward III. Easter Sunday fell on 26 March in 1312, so Edward and Isabella must have had intercourse during Lent. Tsk! Unless of course we want to come up with some daft conspiracy theory that Isabella took a lover just before she arrived in York to join her husband, or while he was away from the city between 26 February and 1 March. Without, of course, her 180 servants and all the other hundreds of courtiers and everyone else who constantly surrounded the king and queen noticing. Yeah riiiiight. Maybe it was the ghost of William Wallace.

2) John of Eltham was born on 15 August 1316. Thirty-eight weeks before takes us to 22 October 1315. On that date, Isabella was in Stamford, Lincolnshire. Edward II was thirteen/fifteen miles away in Chesterton and then in Alwalton, both just outside Peterborough, though his wardrobe (a department of his household) was with the queen in Stamford. Isabella's itinerary from 23 to 25 October isn't known, but she and Edward were together in Nottingham on 26 and 27 October, in Newstead together on the 28th and 29th, and in Clipstone together on the 30th and 31st, and into November.

Conclusion: Edward II and Isabella were together at the right time to conceive John of Eltham.

3) Eleanor of Woodstock was born on 18 June 1318. Thirty-eight weeks takes us back to 25 September 1317. Edward II was in York on that date. Queen Isabella's itinerary in 1317 is not particularly easy to establish, but the royal couple left Nottingham together and began the journey to York on 7 August 1317, so the strong likelihood is that Isabella was with her husband in York for most or all of September 1317, and still with him in early October 1317 when he began the journey south to London. The couple had both been at the royal manor of Clarendon in Wiltshire together in February and March 1317 and were together at Westminster in late May and early June, and in my opinion it is highly probable that Isabella spent most or all of that year with the king. Edward II paid a massive 500 marks for Isabella's purification ceremony after she gave birth to Eleanor of Woodstock, and is hardly likely to have done so if he had entertained the slightest suspicion that Eleanor was not his daughter.

Conclusion: There is every reason to suppose that Edward and Isabella were together at the right time to conceive Eleanor of Woodstock.

4) Joan of the Tower was born on 5 July 1321. Thirty-eight weeks takes us back to 12 October 1320. Edward II was at Westminster, where parliament had opened on 6 October. As in 1317, Isabella's itinerary this year is rather difficult to establish. On 14 October 1320, Edward gave a commission of oyer et terminer to three men to investigate a breach of security at one of Isabella's parks. This implies that she was in his company at that time and had informed him of it. Isabella and Edward were together at Clarendon on 5 September 1320, had been at Windsor together in mid-August, and had travelled together to France between 19 June and 22 July. There are various entries in the chancery rolls throughout 1320 - as indeed there are throughout 1317 - where Edward granted favours and appointments 'on the information/at the request/at the instance of Queen Isabella', meaning that she was with the king, had access to him and was able to intercede with him on others' behalf. Again, this all suggests that the couple spent most of the year together.

Conclusion: As with her elder sister, it is hard to prove conclusively that Joan's parents were together at the exact time of her conception, but there is no reason whatsoever to assume that they were not, and the overwhelming likelihood is that they were.


It is important to bear in mind that no-one at all so much as hinted that Edward II was not the father of his wife's children until the late twentieth century. It says far more about modern notions of sexuality - Edward loved men therefore he must automatically have been incapable of intercourse with women - than it does about Edward and Isabella. Let's not forget either that Edward fathered an illegitimate son called Adam, born around 1305/10, so obviously was capable of having sex with women.

It is also important to bear in mind that for the entirety of Edward III's life, and the lives of his successors, not even their deadliest enemies claimed they had no right to the English throne because of doubts over Edward III's paternity. Edward III began the Hundred Years War when he claimed the throne of France in the 1330s. Wouldn't it have been easy for Philip VI to say "You want my throne? You don't even have a right to your own throne! Your mother, my cousin, is suspected of taking a lover around the time you were conceived." Reynald II of Guelders would not have married Eleanor of Woodstock in 1332 if he had thought she was the child of Queen Isabella and a lover, and Robert Bruce would not have married his son David to Joan of the Tower in 1328 if he had believed likewise. 


Anonymous said...

Great post as always. Curious about one thing ... did the French ever mention any of the scandals surrounding Isabella when Edward started claiming the French crown?


Kathryn Warner said...

Not a word, which is one of the reasons why I think her supposed adultery and great love affair with Mortimer has been massively exaggerated by later writers.

sami parkkonen said...

It is almost hilarious and yes, very annoying, when people just can not twist their head around on this one. Fiction, invented homophobic baloney fits better to the imagined Hollywood-fantasy medieval England, than the facts.

Fist of all: gay men have had children even in our times in normal way. Yes, it may be not easy for them but I know at least two who have done it. So even the claim that gay men can not have children is garbage.

Secondly: Edward was most likely what we today call bi-sexual. He loved Piers, yes, but he also loved Isabella and showed it too. Yes, their relationship turned sour later on but for many years they were very loving couple specially by the medieval royal standards, when many marriages were just for political reasons alone.

Thirdly: Facts are facts. The very fact that not a single medieval writer has ever recorded anyone even implying that their children were not theirs. Not one. That should make it very clear. They were together at the right times, they loved each other quite openly and warmly for a royal couple in those days, so...

Most importantly: Isabella was not a jenny from the hood. She was not a simple country girl nor she was a harlot. She was not a page three glamour model nor she was a vamp or a gold digger. She was a royal born queen. She was almost a divine person, untouchable and high above any commoner, and she had been raised to live like a royal. She was married to a king who was anointed by God trough the highest churchmen of the day. As a queen in those days she knew who she was and what she was. She knew she was one of the Gods chosen ones.

To imagine that she would have fallen for a commoner, or even a knight in his shining armor, is a laughable notion. Even if she had had the urge to do so she knew that she was living under the gaze of the God every second of her life and if she would have had sex with anyone else than her husband, the anointed king, she would have been going straight to Hell. Not to mention the letters she wrote to him even after the disaster.

The wording of those letters, the words she calls her husband even after their separation and Edwards fall, are not words written by a woman who is having the romance of her life with someone else. She still wrote to him with tenderness and affection. She still loved him even though it was hopeless. That should tell something to all these bozos who doubt their relationship. It should also fill any need for a romantic aspects in this story: a woman who loves her husband to the very end despite of it all. Now that is real romantic story.

Also, Isabella was not a damsel in distress. She was not a willowy hapless woman lost in the storm winds of her life, looking for a real man to have sex with. She had a strong will, she was capable to stand up against her husband the king. No matter how big of a ladies man you think you were, she was one of those women whom you would not have been able to charm out of her nighties.

And finally there is his son. Had she had an affair with a man Edward III believed had killed his father, she would have had quite a different life after her son took the crown into his own hands. Edward III was not a man who would have had his mother to live in peace rest of her life. He would have hoisted her into some form of prison, real or not, he would have punished her for sure. But he did not.

So: Edward III did not think he was a bastard himself nor did she nor anyone else in medieval times or much later, up until 20th century, and Edward II and Isabella were together at the right times and loved each other very much. What more these numb nuts need??

Sonetka said...

Very illuminating post, thank you. I do get frustrated with continual attempts to overlay current mentalities onto those of people who've been dead for hundreds of years. A lot of it's about the surrounding storyline -- I've never seen anyone try to insinuate that Louis XIV's brother's children weren't his, even though his brother seems to have been exclusively interested in men and he slept with his wives because there was no other way to heirs. But there's no potential dramatic storyline around Philippe's children not being his, so nobody bothers. (Just to be clear, I am not saying that I believe his children were actually fathered by someone else, just that if "Loves men = not the father" were actually the case, he'd be way ahead of Edward II).

The Gael said...

Wasn't Phillipe more of a "Corporal Klinger" just like to dress up in women's clothes?

I would say his ability with his sword precluded anyone from questioning the paternity of his children or his choice in clothes.

The Gael said...

Wasn't Phillipe more of a "Corporal Klinger" just like to dress up in women's clothes?

I would say his ability with his sword precluded anyone from questioning the paternity of his children or his choice in clothes.

Tom Dundee said...

@ The Gael,

I think the one you are thinking of was the brother of Louis XIII. He would wear a dress in the Trenches. They did not make fun of his attire because of the Sword.

Tom said...

@ Anonymous
@ Kathryn Warner
@ Sonetka

Thomas Costain, in his Platanget series, said one of the reasons for Edward II deposition was "excessive sodomy".
To me, when the word excessive indicates a certain amount of sodomy was acceptable. Edward fathered enough kids, not everyone was like his father.

His effeminate appearance is a much later fiction. The same with Gaveston. Both were physically strong and respected knights.

Tom said...

The Gael,

I believe you are thinking of the brother of Louis XIII. He wore a dress during Trench warfare and it was best not to comment on it. Again the sword.

I may be repeating my comment because I am not sure my first one went through. Thank you.