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.


sami parkkonen said...

This is brilliant!

I insist that who ever makes the movie Edward II takes account of these. I mean, a medieval king rowing with his men, then stopping the whole process because he sees a familiar fisher woman to whom he hands out a huge sum of cash. And the singing fisher man, too! What a movie scenes!

But I feel a bit sorry for the cook Moryz. I mean, the guy was most likely a great cook but really bad rider and Edward being himself laughed his pants off watching this poor culinarist falling from the saddle again and again. Yes, he gave him 20 shillings, a whopping amount of cash, but still: king laughing at his cook who can not stay up in the saddle. You can not make up this stuff. And yes, this must be in that movie too!

Undine said...

I had the very same thought: this reads like a movie script; one of those "quiet interludes" in a historical film put in between scenes of battles and political intrigue. The King chatting with the widow of an old servant, clumsy cooks, singing fishermen...it's a wonderfully intimate look at a long, long ago summer.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, both! There is something filmic about it all!

Undine, you might be interested to hear that I have a contract for a book provisionally titled '1326: A Year in the Life of England', which is full of this kind of detail! Should be out early 2020 or so.

Undine said...

That sounds like a great concept for a book; I'm already looking forward to reading it! Yes, I have a particular fondness for history's overlooked, yet illuminating details.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks! I've long that Edward II's chamber account of that year opens a window into England in 1326, so have decided to use it as such in a book, with a few other contemporary sources! It was such a momentous year, but yes, it was also the year when Robin atte Hethe was ill and Edward the parker was repairing his house and so on.

sami parkkonen said...

That will be a Must-book for all of us medieval history enthusiasts.

Unknown said...

Really enjoyed this post Kathryn xx I will always think about this now when I go fishing on the Thames


Kathryn Warner said...

Thank, John! So glad to hear you're a Thames fisherman...I feel I know a lot about them in the 132os :-)