28 March, 2020

Edward II and Jousting

Most unusually for a medieval king, and most unlike his son Edward III who adored it and often participated, there's no direct evidence that Edward II ever jousted. He does, however, seem to have watched the sport on occasion, though perhaps this demonstrates more of an interest in Piers Gaveston, an excellent jouster, than it does in the sport itself. I do wonder why Edward never showed much of an interest in jousting, and perhaps it was because his father was not keen on him competing as he grew up. When Edward of Caernarfon was just two years old in 1286, an important young nobleman was killed while jousting: William de Warenne, son and heir of the earl of Surrey. (He left a baby son, John de Warenne, future earl of Surrey, and a posthumous daughter, Alice, future countess of Arundel.) Duke John I of Brabant, father-in-law of Edward of Caernarfon's sister Margaret (b. 1275), was also killed jousting in 1294 when Edward was eight.

Edward of Caernarfon was the only living son of Edward I for sixteen years, between 19 August 1284, when he was just four months old and his ten-year-old brother Alfonso of Bayonne died, and 1 June 1300, when his half-brother Thomas of Brotherton was born. Edward I had also lost his sons John (1266-71) and Henry (1268-74) in childhood, and it may be that he did not wish to tempt fate by allowing his only surviving son to compete in a sport that could be truly dangerous. I don't know this for sure and might be wrong, of course; Edward II was the most unconventional of medieval kings and loved digging ditches, thatching roofs, working with metal, swimming and rowing, and perhaps his lack of interest in jousting was part of his defiant unconventionality.

Edward II, as king, often banned jousting tournaments, as indeed other medieval kings sometimes did as well, though (to my knowledge) not nearly as often. This says far more about Edward's turbulent reign than it does about his dislike of jousting. Tournaments allowed large groups of armed men to gather, which could be dangerous, and were sometimes used as a cover for more nefarious activities, such as the tournament held in Dunstable in the spring of 1309 which some of Edward's disgruntled barons used as an opportunity to meet and discuss their grievances against him. The Vita Edwardi Secundi states that Thomas, earl of Lancaster used jousting tournaments in the spring of 1312 as a plausible excuse to move large groups of armed men to the north of England, where Edward and Piers Gaveston were skulking, so that he could capture Gaveston.

The chancery rolls of Edward II's reign are full of proclamations forbidding tournaments, though there are also quite a few pardons to knights who had taken part in them "contrary to the king's proclamation," so they were certainly held on occasion. On 1 January 1319, for example, Edward (then in Yorkshire) sent two of his sergeants-at-arms "to arrest all persons attempting to hold a tournament" in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, and a few months later pardoned Sir Francis Aldham, Sir William Baud and Sir Ralph Cobham for taking part in a tournament, perhaps this one. In the autumn of 1323, Edward II permitted the holding of a tournament in Northampton at the request of his half-brothers Thomas and Edmund, then in their early twenties and evidently keen to prove their mettle as jousters. The king subsequently, however, changed his mind and forbade the tournament. No doubt there was much grumbling and gnashing of teeth.

9 comments:

Anerje said...

I've always believed Edward didn't joust because his father forbade him. Maybe when he became the King therefore he had no interest, and was indeed happy just to watch Piers Gaveston!

Kathryn Warner said...

And maybe, too, he knew he wouldn't be able to compete effectively against men who'd been practising and competing for years.

Ken Alexander said...

Better to stand back, watch and remain "undefeated", perhaps?

Kathryn Warner said...

Definitely!

Amanda said...

Wise advice I would have thought. Didn't the great numpty Henry VIII fall off his horse during a joust and nearly died? I think this was in early 1536 and Queen Anne Boleyn miscarried due to the shock of the news. Anyway, sweet Edward II distracted himself from jousting by participating in rural pursuits. I really do like Edward's character.

Kathryn Warner said...

<3 <3 <3

sami parkkonen said...

I have to disagree on this. Yes, Edward would have had his butt on the deck in jousting but in the melée competition he would have been at home as we saw in the real battle at Bannockburn. I believe he just did not like the whole thing, perhaps even thought that it was just dumb. I bet he said more than once: All these guys are willing to get hurt for a pot or a plate but not one dares to dig a ditch??

And I also think he did not like when Piers stole the show winning joustings and getting all the attention and rewards, smiling there like Tom Cruise on promo tour and all that s**t that comes with it when you are a star. For make no mistake here: tournaments and jousting matches were very popular among the elite and they had rankings like the pro boxers today. Younger knights and up coming stars tried to topple the old stars and names etc.

Naturally there is the thing: when a king is at the arena one has to ask himself very carefully DO I really need to put the king on a sick bed? Some kings, like Edward III, could actually get mad if they noticed that their jousts were fixed or that men did not do their best against him. So for the others it was most likely a big relief when Edward II stayed away. If they did not beat him for real, he could have gotten angry for that, and if they really did beat the king, they could get into reeeeeaaal trouble after the fact.

Kathryn Warner said...

Sami, those are great points, thank you. Always fab to hear different perspectives!

Anonymous said...

Interesting. However, I doubt that Edward I arguably forbidding his son from jousting would have had much to do with it. After the death of Arthur, Prince of Wales, Henry VII forbade his sole surviving son from jousting also .... and one of the first things Henry VIII started to do when he became king was joust! Also, Edward II was not alone --- Richard of Gloucester also fought bravely in battles, but did not joust. Maybe, some people who both saw some real fighting (Edward II would see it in Scotland even before Bannockburn)-- realized that killing people was serious and not something suitable for entertainment.

Esther