17 June, 2019

Edward II's Concern for People's Health

Edward II, while being a disastrous ruler and even more disastrous war leader par extraordinaire, did have some much more appealing character traits. One of them was a concern for and deep interest in the people around him. I've written here before about how the king spent part of the summer of 1326 chatting to his subjects along the River Thames, asking the retired parker of Cold Kennington, for example, about his ongoing repairs to his house and giving him a gift of three shillings to help out. On the same day, Edward talked to Robyn atte Hethe of Walton-on-Thames, and Robyn told him that he was 'suffering from a great illness'. Edward gave him some money to buy medicines.

Edward was staying at the Tower of London in October 1324 when he heard that Cecile Palmer, wife of the shipwright Alan Palmer - who worked near the Tower and whom Edward knew well - was very ill. The king sent Cecile ten shillings for medicines and other expenses. Sadly, she died a few weeks later, and Edward paid twenty shillings for her funeral and spent two shillings and six pence on 'offerings for her soul'. In April 1325, the king was staying in Winchester, and was in his private garden playing a game called palet (not dissimilar to boules) with men named Gaillard and Ernaudyn. His chamber valet Simon 'Syme' Lawe came into the garden and informed the king that his father, Roger Lawe of Byfleet in Surrey, was ill. Edward sent Syme to Roger with a gift of ten shillings.

It seems that some kind of stomach ailment was going around in June 1326, as four of Hugh Despenser the Younger's household staff fell ill that month, and Edward bought them a pomegranate each. Pomegranates have long been considered an aid against digestive and stomach complaints. Edward's chamber valet and fisherman Edmund 'Monde' Fisher also fell seriously ill in June 1326 perhaps with the same ailment, and had to be left behind at the archbishop of Canterbury's manor of Sturry in Kent when the king departed on 12 June. Edward told Monde's son Litel Wille Fisher to stay and look after his father and gave Monde twenty shillings and Wille two shillings for the wages he would miss while away from court. Monde died two days later, and the king gave Litel Wille's messenger who brought him the news a shilling. Litel Wille Fisher had himself been left behind at Kenilworth Castle a few weeks before as he was ill, and received five shillings from Edward. At some point later, he rejoined the court.

John Dene from a village near Canterbury (somewhere between Chartham and Bishopsbourne) was one of Queen Isabella's household servants who came back to England in late 1325 and early 1326, and was re-assigned to work as an usher of Edward II's chamber. In March 1326, John was sent home as he was 'very ill in one side'. Ten weeks later he still hadn't recovered, and when Edward was in the area, he visited John at home and gave him a generous gift of a hundred shillings. Sir Robert Wateville, a retainer of Hugh Despenser the Younger who became Hugh's nephew-in-law on 19 May 1326, also fell ill in July 1326, while the royal court was at Henley-on-Thames, and Edward sent him to London to 'take cures there' with a gift of forty marks. On 21 July, Wateville was still ill, and the king visited him in person at his home on or near Aldgate to check on his condition. Wateville received another gift of forty marks on this occasion. The king's personal physician Pancio da Controne, who later worked for Edward's son Edward III as well, was another man who was ill in 1326 and who received money from the king.

Edward II himself seems to have been remarkably healthy. In August 1325, he claimed to be ill, but almost certainly this was a diplomatic ailment to avoid having to travel to France to pay homage to his brother-in-law Charles IV for the lands he owned in that kingdom, or at least to postpone the decision of whether he should travel or not. I've never found anything in Edward's accounts that would confirm that he was genuinely ill at the time, though, as noted here, there are plenty of references to other people's illnesses and to Edward's willingness to pay the costs of his servants who were unable to work. You wouldn't necessarily expect to encounter sick pay in the fourteenth century, but as well as the payments I've noted in this post, there are a good few references to Edward's paying his servants' full wages while they were ill and to the way he accommodated them at one of his royal manors while they recuperated.

1 comment:

sami parkkonen said...

He might have been not so good general and politician, but he truly was a man of the people. Barons might have hated him and perhaps for some reason, high born men might have looked down upon him but he seems to have been at ease with the commoners. And spending such amounts of money on sick servants is highly exceptional at that time.

I have always found this side of Edward absolutely fascinating. Yes, he could be ruthless and hard, cold even, but so many accounts tell us about his easy going with his low born subjects with whom he joked, worked, played games, made bets and spent time with them. And sometimes he just "talked with" them. Show me a one medieval ruler, a king, who just talked with some ordinary people for no reason other than "Hey, lets talk". And handing out large amounts of cash for their medical bills... That is something that usually never happened.

This is wonderful stuff in my eyes.