22 February, 2019

Eleanor of Lancaster, Lady Beaumont and Countess of Arundel

Eleanor of Lancaster was the fifth of the six daughters of Edward II's first cousin Henry of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster and Leicester. Here's a post about her.

Eleanor was born around 1316 or 1318 to Maud Chaworth (1282-1322), heir of her father Patrick (d. 1283), and the older half-sister of Hugh Despenser the Younger via their mother Isabella Beauchamp. Eleanor's father was Henry of Lancaster (b. 1280/81), who at the time of her birth was the heir of his older brother Thomas and who became earl of Leicester in 1324 and earl of Lancaster in 1327, after the death of his wife Maud Chaworth. Eleanor's older sisters were: Blanche, who married Lord Wake in 1316; Isabella, who entered Amesbury Priory in 1327 and later became its prioress; Maud, who married the earl of Ulster in 1327; and Joan, who married Lord Mowbray in 1328. Her younger sister was Mary, who married Henry, future Lord Percy in 1334, and she also had an older brother, Henry of Grosmont, who was their father Henry, mother Maud and uncle Thomas's heir. Eleanor may have been born in the year when her uncle Thomas, earl of Lancaster, made a peace settlement with his cousin Edward II in the village of East Leake near Loughborough on 9 August 1318. The seven Lancaster children were widely spaced: Blanche the eldest was born around 1302/5 and married in 1316 - so was almost certainly already married by the time her sister Eleanor was born - and Mary the youngest was born around 1320. Henry of Grosmont, the only boy, was born around 1310 or 1312, in the middle of six sisters. Whether or to what extent Eleanor knew her uncle Thomas is unknown, but she must have been aware that he was the wealthiest nobleman in the country, and she might just have been old enough to remember his execution in March 1322.

Sometime in September or October 1330 - that is, mere weeks before the downfall of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer - Eleanor of Lancaster married. Her new husband was John Beaumont, born on or around Christmas Day 1317 and thus about the same age as Eleanor herself, and twelve going on thirteen years old when they wed. He was the eldest son and heir of Henry, Lord Beaumont, a French nobleman who spent most of his life in England, and Alice Comyn, niece and heir of the earl of Buchan (d. 1308). John Beaumont's father was not in England at the time of his son's wedding; he had been forced to flee abroad after taking part in Henry of Lancaster's brief rebellion against Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer in late 1328/early 1329. He returned in late 1330 after Edward III overthrew his mother and Mortimer and pardoned all the English exiles on the continent. Also in 1330, in June or a little earlier, Eleanor of Lancaster's brother Henry of Grosmont married Isabella Beaumont, sister of Eleanor's husband.

Eleanor of Lancaster and John Beaumont's only child was Henry, born probably in late 1339 nine years after their wedding, when they were in their early twenties. He was named after both their fathers. Little Henry Beaumont was born in the duchy of Brabant, where his parents spent much time with Edward III and his queen, Philippa of Hainault, between 1338 and 1340. Heirs to lands in England, Wales and Ireland had to be born 'within the allegiance of the king of England', but because Edward and Philippa were thoroughly enjoying the company of the young Lancaster/Beaumont couple, when it became apparent in 1339 that Eleanor was pregnant, the royal couple persuaded her to stay on the continent with them rather than returning to England for the birth. This was to cause young Henry Beaumont legal problems in 1349 when his grandmother Alice Comyn died and he should have been returned as her heir (as the only son of her eldest son), but was not because his late father John had no heir of his body born within the allegiance of the king of England, i.e. England itself, Wales, Ireland or Gascony. In 1351, Edward III changed the law and Henry duly came into his inheritance when he was of age.

I wrote a post a few months ago about the death in 1342 of John, Lord Beaumont, who outlived his father by only two years and died at the age of twenty-four when his son was two and a half. Edward III was hugely fond of his cousin Eleanor of Lancaster, and allowed her to hold all the lands her husband had owned (the Beaumont inheritance minus the dower of John's mother Alice, who outlived him) rather than the third of it that was customary for widows. There is much evidence in the chancery rolls of Edward III's high regard and great affection for his kinswoman Eleanor; she interceded with him on many occasions and he granted her appointments and favours. Not only were Edward III and Eleanor closely related - she was the granddaughter of Blanche of Artois (d. 1302) from Blanche's second marriage and Edward was Blanche's great-grandson from her first - but their families intermarried. Eleanor's niece Elizabeth de Burgh, her sister Maud's daughter, married Edward and Queen Philippa's second son Lionel of Antwerp; another of her nieces, her brother Henry of Grosmont's daughter and ultimate heir Blanche of Lancaster, married the royal couple's third son John of Gaunt.

Eleanor married her second husband Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (b. c. 1313) on 5 February 1345 at Ditton in Buckinghamshire in the presence of Edward III and Queen Philippa. Arundel's first marriage to Eleanor's first cousin Isabella Despenser had been annulled a few weeks previously, which made Arundel and Isabella's son Edmund illegitimate. (I wrote a lot more about all this in my book Blood Roses, and there's lots more about Eleanor and her family in there too.) Eleanor was almost certainly already having a relationship with Arundel before his marriage to Isabella Despenser was annulled, but there is no reason to suppose that it began while John Beaumont was alive, as claimed by the Foundations for Medieval Genealogy website (see here and here). In widowhood Eleanor sometimes referred to herself by her first husband's family name, which implies that she remembered him with great affection. Other people, including her second husband, tended to refer to her as 'Alianore de Lancastre'.

Eleanor may already have been pregnant with her eldest child by Arundel in July 1345 when she asked the pope to legitimise their issue, present and future. In apparent birth order, as stated by an entry on the Fine Roll in the early 1400s, her Arundel children were: Joan, countess of Hereford, born late 1345 or early 1346; Richard, earl of Arundel, born before 1 March 1347; Alice, countess of Kent; John, marshal of England; and Thomas, bishop of Ely, then archbishop of York and later of Canterbury, who was twenty years old in August 1373 and was Eleanor's youngest child. Her elder daughter Joan married Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford, Essex and Northampton, a great-grandson of Edward I, and Joan and Humphrey were the maternal grandparents of Henry V. Eleanor's younger daughter Alice married Thomas Holland, earl of Kent, half-brother of Richard II, and they were the ancestors of, well, basically everyone, including Edward IV and Richard III. Eleanor of Lancaster's younger son John had seven children, and although most of them did not have children of their own, his eldest son John (b. 30 November 1364 when his father must have been painfully young) married Elizabeth Despenser, a great-granddaughter of Hugh Despenser the Younger, and their descendants became earls of Arundel. Eleanor's elder son Richard's male line ran out when his only surviving son, Earl Thomas, died without legitimate offspring in 1415, but Richard's daughters Eleanor Mowbray and Joan Beauchamp had plenty of descendants, including the Mowbray and Howard dukes of Norfolk and the earls of Ormond. Eleanor of Lancaster's eldest child Henry Beaumont died before she did, in September 1369, leaving his eight-year-old son John as the Beaumont heir, and the Beaumont line continued for many more generations. Eleanor's daughter Joan de Bohun was the last survivor of her children, living until 1419 when she was over seventy, six years into the reign of her grandson Henry V.

Eleanor of Lancaster, countess of Arundel, died on 11 January 1372, at the age of 54 or thereabouts, and was outlived by two of her older sisters - Blanche, Lady Wake (d. 1380), and Maud, dowager countess of Ulster (d. 1377). The effigies in Chichester Cathedral which can still be seen today and which inspired Philip Larkin's brilliant poem 'An Arundel Tomb' are usually assumed to be Eleanor and her second husband the earl of Arundel.

14 February, 2019

Edward II and Isabella of France, 1322-1326

After the Tynemouth incident in the autumn of 1322, when Isabella of France rather unfairly accused Hugh Despenser the Younger of deliberately leaving her at the priory there in danger from a Scottish army - Isabella conveniently forgot that Hugh's wife Eleanor was at Tynemouth with her and he was hardly likely to arrange for his own wife to be captured by the Scots or to abandon her to her fate - it seems that there might have been a temporary rift in the royal marriage. On 23 December 1322, Edward II announced that the queen was going on a pilgrimage to various sites around the country, something she seems not actually to have done, so this might have been a politic excuse to explain her absence from court. The king also declared on 26 December that Isabella's clerk William Boudon was to travel to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain "to fufil a vow made by Queen Isabella", and to my mind this vow to leave her husband's realm seems likely to have been something Isabella shouted in the middle of a quarrel with Edward. [CPR 1321-4, pp. 227, 229] It might not have been, of course, but the timing of Isabella's declaration that she wanted to go on pilgrimage to Santiago seems a little suspicious to me. ("So you're taking Hugh's side over mine, huh? I'm going to leave England and go to Santiago and THEN you'll be sorry!")

The royal couple seem not to have spent Christmas 1322 together in York, though they did keep in touch via letter: Edward paid the queen's messenger Jack Stillego ten shillings for bringing her letters to him on 19 December. It is entirely possible that there was a temporary rift in Edward and Isabella's marriage, probably caused, at least in part, by the queen's blaming Hugh Despenser for abandoning her at Tynemouth and the king's refusal to accept that Hugh had done anything wrong. It was at Christmas 1322 that Edward shouted threats at his own niece Elizabeth de Burgh and tried to force her to give up some of her lands to Hugh Despenser, something which is hardly likely to have endeared Isabella to her husband. As for Eleanor Despenser, however, she and Hugh conceived a child shortly after Eleanor and the queen had supposedly been 'abandoned' at Tynemouth by their respective husbands, and the couple seem to have been getting on perfectly well - even, apparently, after Eleanor must have witnessed her husband and uncle bullying her sister Elizabeth.

For the first few weeks of 1323, until early March or thereabouts, Isabella was in London, and Eleanor Despenser (pregnant for at least the ninth time) was there with her. There's really no reason to think that Eleanor was the queen's jailer or a spy, as two fourteenth-century chronicles claim and has been repeated as though it's certain fact ever since. Isabella was not a helpless passive victim who could be forced to spend time - over many years - with an attendant she loathed, and it does her a disservice to paint her as such. One of the chronicles who makes this claim, Lanercost, was written decades later, and although it's an excellent source for events in the north of England and in Scotland, there's no particular reason why a monk cloistered at Lanercost Priory in the far north of England would have been privy to what was happening at Edward II's court in the 1320s. The other chronicle is the Flores Historiarum of Westminster, far closer both in time and place to Edward II's court, but written after his deposition perhaps with the aim of justifying it and of blackwashing Edward as much as possible, and therefore not entirely to be trusted. Eleanor Despenser is first recorded as attending Isabella in the autumn of 1310, and had probably done so since the young queen arrived in England in February 1308. In 1311/12, a year when Isabella's accounts fortuitously survive, Eleanor spent many weeks in her company and they travelled around the north of England together. The two women had been on excellent terms for many years, and to me it does not seem that the queen held Eleanor responsible for her husband's misdeeds or held a grudge against Eleanor because of Hugh's behaviour. On the contrary, it seems that she enjoyed Eleanor's company.

Isabella of France and Eleanor Despenser wrote virtually identical letters in support of Joan Mortimer on 17 February 1323, when they asked the chancellor to ensure that the money promised to Joan and her attendants during her husband Roger Mortimer of Wigmore's incarceration was paid promptly. [SC 1/37/4 and 1/37/45] On 5 March 1323, Edward II, in Knaresborough in Yorkshire, sent Eleanor's horses down to London, so apparently she was still with the queen then. Isabella's letter on behalf of Joan Mortimer is sometimes used as evidence that she was in cahoots with Roger Mortimer, imprisoned in the Tower of London, but Eleanor Despenser sent the exact same letter on the exact same date from the exact same place, so it hardly seems reasonable to use the queen's letter as evidence of her collusion with Roger while ignoring Eleanor's. The two women were staying at the Tower of London when they dictated their letters in support of Joan, which does not automatically imply that Roger had any contact with Isabella, or with Eleanor, for that matter. The prison cells of the Tower were far away from the royal apartments, and besides, Joan Mortimer was perfectly capable of petitioning the queen and the queen's niece-in-law herself, and Eleanor and Isabella were both perfectly capable of deciding to help an imprisoned noblewoman off their own bat without requiring any male involvement. Roger Mortimer escaped from the Tower on 1 August 1323, and Eleanor Despenser, at Cowick in Yorkshire with her husband, her uncle the king and perhaps with the queen, gave birth to a child on almost the same day. Isabella's itinerary is difficult to establish for most of the rest of 1323 and for a large part of 1324, but that in itself doesn't mean a great deal, or necessarily prove anything; her itinerary is also almost entirely unknown for a few other years of her husband's reign and even during her own period of power early in her son's reign. Same with Edward III's queen Philippa for much of her forty-year marriage.

On 1 January 1324, Queen Isabella was with King Edward at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, and they exchanged gifts on that date, as they always had (each gave the other a cup - don't you hate it when that happens?). Eleanor Despenser was also at Kenilworth and exchanged gifts with her uncle. (For the record, also cups.) If Edward and Eleanor's husband Hugh the Younger also gave each other presents, it's not recorded in Edward's surviving accounts that I've ever seen - but then, I suppose Edward's gift to Hugh of "Here you go, rule my kingdom and dictate my foreign policy and do whatever the heck you like to anyone" was a bit tricky for the royal clerks to record. Around this time, the queen sent letters to the royal justice John Stonor on behalf of Eleanor Despenser's chaplain John Sadington. Eleanor herself wrote to Stonor about her chaplain on 6 February 1324, and mentioned the letters sent to him on the subject by 'our very dear lady the queen'. [SC 1/46/4] This is one example of Isabella and Eleanor's closeness, and another is that Eleanor 'talked great good' of one of the queen's household squires to the king in 1325 and Edward gave him a cash bonus. Isabella sent another letter from Westminster on 27 February 1324, and Edward II was at Westminster on that day as well. [SC 1/36/38]

At Christmas 1324, Edward and Isabella were together at Nottingham, and again exchanged gifts on 1 January 1325, though this year the royal clerks didn't record what the gifts were. Edward gave a total of 100 shillings to three of his wife's female attendants on Christmas Day. The king and Hugh Despenser went to Derbyshire just before the New Year, while Isabella and Eleanor Despenser went to Kenilworth together, and the two women sent Edward his New Year gifts via two servants called Adam and Robynet (q' mena au Roi son nouel don de ma dame la Roigne, 'who brought the king his new gift from my lady the queen'). Isabella sent Edward at least three letters, on 6, 11 and 18 January 1325, during the period they were apart. Whether he reciprocated, I don't know, as the queen's own accounts don't survive and therefore there are no records of payments she might have made to the king's messengers. I'm not sure when the two were reunited, but they were together at the Tower of London in late February and early March 1325, before Isabella set off for France on 9 March. Unfortunately her letters to her husband don't survive either, only records of the payments Edward made to her messengers for bringing them to him, though a long extent letter from Isabella to Edward dated 31 March 1325 when she was in France reveals that she addressed him five times as "my very sweet heart" (mon tresdouz cuer).

Of course it's impossible to know from the extant records how Edward and Isabella were getting on, though they do seem to have spent a lot of time together after their apparent spat in late 1322; where Isabella's location is known between 1323 and 1325, she was in the same place as her husband, except for the first few weeks of 1323 and for part of January 1325. Being in the same place doesn't automatically mean that all was well between the two, of course, though the exchanging of gifts at New Year 1324 and again in 1325 might at least imply that they were trying. Edward, unkindly and unjustly, confiscated his wife's lands in September 1324 during his war against her brother Charles IV of France, which Isabella was clearly (and understandably) incandescent about, and, unlike earlier in his reign, she doesn't appear in the chancery rolls between 1322 and 1325 interceding with him on behalf of others, as she had often done before. It does seem that something had gone badly wrong between them, even though Edward didn't 'steal' their children from her custody in 1324 (that's one of those wretched myths that refuses to die). Judging by Isabella's speech to the French court in late 1325 as recorded in the Vita Edwardi Secundi, the queen believed a third party to have come between her husband and herself, and spoke on several occasions of her fear of Hugh Despenser the Younger to the point where she believed her life to be in danger from him. She threatened to destroy him, and when Edward II ignored her ultimatum to send Hugh away from him, she allied with Despenser's baronial enemies on the continent to bring him down. 

The 9th of March 1325 when the queen sailed to France - or rather, several days before this, as Edward did not travel to Dover with his wife but remained in London - may well have been the last time Edward and Isabella ever saw each other in person. Edward heard of Isabella's refusal to return to him from France by mid-November 1325 when he cut off her funding, and had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom on 8 February 1326 that she had made an alliance with the English rebels who had fled to the continent, led by Roger Mortimer of Wigmore. Throughout 1326, Edward's fury with Isabella is apparent from the way he called her simply 'the king's wife' or 'his [Charles IV of France's] sister, our wife'. In his last known letter to her, dated at the beginning of December 1325, he addressed her abruptly as Dame or 'Lady', as in "And you know for truth, Lady, that..."). The royal couple were furious with each other in 1325/6, Isabella because Edward confiscated her lands and treated her like an enemy alien despite all her years of loyal support, and because of his excessive favouritism to a man she loathed; and Edward because Isabella actually decided to do something about the whole unpleasant situation and didn't just accept it, and because she allied with men he deemed his enemies.

One Flemish chronicle says that Edward II and Isabella of France met in person several weeks after the queen's invasion of her husband's kingdom on 24 September 1326. Supposedly Isabella fell to her knees in front of Edward and begged for his forgiveness, but he refused to talk to her or even to look at her. We don't know for sure that the two ever met after the queen's invasion and no other chronicle states that they did, though it certainly isn't impossible. Edward's chamber account was only kept until 31 October, and he definitely hadn't met the queen in person before that, though did pay spies on a few occasions for keeping him informed of her movements. In this reading, the unwillingness to reconcile and to try to rebuild their broken relationship came from Edward's side, not Isabella's. In the conventional interpretation of the dramatic events of 1325/26, Isabella is now no longer the helpless victim of her cruel neglectful husband and his nasty lover. It's Edward II who is now presented as a passive victim of his wife, who refuses to see him and who despises him and his sexuality and is deeply in love and lust with Roger Mortimer. It's always assumed that it was Isabella who was calling the shots and who made the decision not to return to Edward, Isabella who was in charge and who decided that their marriage was dead and that she'd prefer to live with her manly virile heterosexual lover Mortimer, thankyouverymuch. The Flemish chronicle cited above puts an entirely different spin on the matter. Whether you believe the evidence of this chronicle or not, it's a reminder that we don't really, truly know even things that we think we know; a reminder that a lot of Edward II and Isabella of France's story is a narrative that's been constructed with a considerable amount of hindsight and that has had a particular spin put on it. It's so easy and so tempting to repeat a story whereby a woman is the long-suffering victim of a cruel husband and his male lovers and comes to hate him and who falls in love with a manly heterosexual lover who heals her pain by giving her lots of awesome sex and helps her get revenge on her husband and his minion, but that doesn't necessarily make it true. Isabella of France was surely absolutely furious and exasperated with her husband in and after the autumn of 1322 and especially after he confiscated her lands in September 1324, and she had very good reasons to be, but it's a pretty big step from being angry with your husband and the father of your children to actually ordering his murder.

10 February, 2019

The Date of Birth of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester (1291-1314)

Gilbert was the eldest grandchild of Edward I and only seven years younger than his uncle Edward II, and was the only son and heir of arguably the greatest English nobleman of the late thirteenth century, Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester (1243-1295). Gilbert 'the Red' married Edward I's second daughter Joan of Acre on 30 April 1290, and their first child, Gilbert, was born a year later. Exactly when the younger Gilbert was born is not entirely certain, though his date of birth fell somewhere between 23 April and 13 May 1291; here's a post about it.

The inquisition post mortem of Gilbert 'the Red' was taken in late 1295 and early 1296, soon after Gilbert's death at age 52 in early December 1295. He had held lands in every county of the south of England, Wales, and Ireland. The jurors in each English county had a pretty good general idea of his son and heir's age and approximate date of birth, and realised that the young Gilbert was either four or five years old (he was actually four), but their stated dates of birth for him vary somewhat. The Sussex jurors thought that Gilbert turned five at the feast of the Annunciation, 23 Edward I, which is 25 March 1295. This would place Gilbert’s birth around 25 March 1290, over a month before his parents even married. Buckinghamshire said he was 'aged five at the feast of St Mark last', which gives a date of birth of 25 April 1290, five days before his parents' wedding and also impossible. Somerset said 'aged four at the feast of St George last', or 23 April 1291. Wiltshire and Hampshire just said 'aged four and more', Worcestershire, Berkshire and Gloucestershire 'aged four and nine months' and Devon 'aged four at the Invention of Holy Cross last', which gives a date of birth of 3 May 1291. Surrey, Kent, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire all said that Gilbert was five or 'five and more' and Hertfordshire that he was 'aged five at Whitsunday next', which would give a date of birth of 13 May 1291. Suffolk said he was four and a half years old at the beginning of January 1296, and Norfolk, impossibly, that Gilbert was 'six and more'.

The inquisition post mortem of Gilbert's mother Joan of Acre was taken in June 1307 a few weeks after her death (and shortly before her father Edward I died). Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire both said that Gilbert was 'aged 17 on 11 May last', which again is a year too old, though jurors on two other Buckinghamshire inquisitions both said 'aged 16 on 11 May last'. Half a dozen inquisitions in Gloucestershire also said either '16 on 11 May last' or '17 on 11 May last'. Berkshire and Sussex said 17 and more, Cambridgeshire, Somerset, Essex and Kent said 16 and more, and Wiltshire and Norfolk thought he was, impossibly, 18. Northamptonshire and Dorset said 'age unknown' and Devon didn't mention Gilbert's age. Hertfordshire said 'aged 16 on 1 May last' and Glamorgan said 'aged 16 on the first Friday in May last', i.e. they thought Gilbert was born on 5 May 1291.

All of this gives us a date of birth for the young earl of Gloucester sometime between 23 April and 13 May 1291. We see that all the jurors on both his parents' IPMs, except Northamptonshire, Dorset and Devon who failed to come up with an age in 1307, had a not too inaccurate idea of how old Gilbert was. Perhaps they thought he was five in 1295 when he was actually only four, or thought he was seventeen in June 1307 when he was actually sixteen, but none of them thought he might be eight or thirteen or seventeen in 1295, or conversely, that he was only eight or eleven or fourteen in 1307. Quite a lot of them also had a pretty good idea of the time of year he was born, late April or early May. So, although we don't know the exact date of Gilbert de Clare's birth, we can narrow it down to a three-week period a year after his parents' wedding.

The date of Gilbert's death at the battle of Bannockburn is certain: 24 June 1314, when he was twenty-three years old. He was buried at his family's mausoleum of Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire. As he and his wife Maud de Burgh had no children, the heirs to his vast inheritance were his three younger sisters: Eleanor Despenser, born c. 14 October 1292; Margaret Gaveston, probably born sometime in the first half of 1294; and Elizabeth de Burgh, born 16 September 1295. At Gilbert's own IPM in July/August 1314, the jurors gamely had a stab at guessing his sisters' ages. Eleanor was actually twenty-one going on twenty-two at the time, and the estimates of her age varied between twenty and twenty-five; Margaret was probably twenty, and the estimates varied between eighteen and twenty-two; and Elizabeth was eighteen going on nineteen, and the estimates varied between sixteen and twenty. Some of the jurors copped out and just said that all three women were 'of full age' or 'aged sixteen and more', and a few counties weren't sure if they really were Gloucester's heirs, as his widow was thought to be pregnant. Again, although the estimated ages of the de Clare sisters vary, they weren't massively inaccurate, and all the jurors knew their correct birth order.

Sources: CIPM 1291-1300, no. 371; CIPM 1300-07, no. 435; CIPM 1307-17, no. 538.

06 February, 2019

Edward II and Sailors and Fishermen in 1325

Two of Edward II's chamber accounts from 1324 to 1326 still exist*, and reveal that on several occasions in 1325, the king spent time with groups of sailors, carpenters, and fishermen. On 2 March 1325, when Edward was at the Tower of London, he gave twenty-four shillings to six sailors for 'remaining in the king's company at his command' (demorantz en la compaignie le Roi p' son comandement) for the previous sixteen days. The sailors were named as Adam Cogger, Adam Furnival, John Osebern, John of Shordyche (i.e. Shoreditch), Hugh 'Huchon' Shene and John Baudekyn, and they are described as 'sailors of Sandwich' in Kent. Adam Cogger, captain of a ship called the Godyer, i.e. 'Goodyear' in modern English, is often mentioned in Edward II's accounts, and in June 1325 dined with Edward on four separate occasions.

[* The National Archives, E 101/380/4; Society of Antiquaries of London, MS 122]

Shortly after the six sailors spent sixteen days with him, Edward II gave all of them and two of their other crew-mates a set of clothes each at Burgundy, the cottage within the precincts of Westminster Abbey which he'd acquired c. 1320 and where he spent quite a lot of time in 1325. Some weeks earlier, the king had to pay a year's wages each to his squires Giles of Spain and Burgeys Tilh, as compensation because the two men burned themselves quite badly while performing some kind of act with fire for his entertainment at Burgundy. A 'valet' of the king's chamber called Litel Colle or 'Little Colin' was also said to be 'playing before the king' at Burgundy in February 1325 and received ten shillings for his performance, and it seems that at least some of the king's household staff were expected to be entertainers for the king. Litel Colle, in addition to working in the king's chamber and being a performer in his spare time, was the captain of a barge which had once belonged to Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke (d. June 1324) and passed to Edward II. Colle's mum was called Anneis, and she came to visit him at court in June 1325.

A fisherman of the Thames was called Nichol 'Colle' Herron. On 20 August 1325, he and three other fishermen called Will, John and Richard were said to be 'remaining in the king's company' for a week, and on 21 August, Colle Herron received twenty shillings from Edward to replace his goods which were burned by accident 'the last time he was with the king'. There are various entries in Edward's accounts of 1324/25 which reveal that sailors were present in the king's bedchamber on various occasions when he went to sleep. One of them was Richard Councedieu, who, like Adam Cogger, came from Sandwich in Kent but lived in the Tower ward of London as of 1319 or earlier, and another was William 'Willecok' Lucas, who came from Andover in Hampshire and lived in Portchester in the same county.

02 February, 2019

Queen Isabella and Edward II's Male 'Favourites'

One thing I noticed - yet again - while watching Danny Dyer's BBC1 programme Right Royal Family recently, and reading the responses to it on Twitter, is the way Roger Mortimer is always, always, always called Isabella of France's 'lover', while Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser are virtually never called Edward II's 'lovers' but his 'favourites' or 'companions' or 'friends'. There's really no more evidence that Roger and Isabella had a sexual relationship than there is for Edward, Piers and Hugh. Even Right Royal Family, where Dyer rather touchingly displayed his sympathy for Edward's sexuality and called Hugh Despenser the Younger the love of Edward's life, shied away from using the word 'lover' to describe Despenser and Gaveston, while happily using the word for Roger Mortimer. In the year 2019, are people still really so squeamish about the idea that some men have sex with other men?

Anyway, this is a post about Queen Isabella's possible attitude to her husband Edward II's male 'favourites', or lovers - as they most likely were, even though we can't conclusively prove it - Piers Gaveston, Roger Damory and Hugh Audley. (I'll come to Hugh Despenser the Younger later in the post.) It's often assumed that Isabella of France must necessarily have been hostile to these men, that she must have considered them, or at least Piers, to be her rivals for Edward's affections, that she must have been delighted when Piers was killed in 1312, and that if Edward II loved Piers Gaveston, as he so obviously did, that there must have been less room in his heart for Isabella and that she came a distant second.

Human relationships are complex, and tend not to lend themselves to simplistic assumptions. People's hearts are not cakes, whereby if Piers Gaveston had a large 'slice' of Edward's, that automatically means that Edward had less love left for Isabella. Some, or many, people are polyamorous and are perfectly capable of deeply loving more than one person at the same time, and I'm convinced that Edward loved Isabella, not in the same way that he loved Piers, to be sure, but nonetheless. I'm a member of various history groups on Facebook, including several about Edward II and Isabella's grandson John of Gaunt (1340-99) and Katherine Swynford, John's long-term lover and later his third wife. I find it rather astonishing to see how many people see John's relationships through a kind of lens of competitiveness, and feel the need to 'prove' somehow that John loved Katherine best of all. It's as though John's undoubted love for his first wife Blanche of Lancaster and his wish to be buried with her somehow detracts from his love for Katherine and makes it less 'special'. I wonder if Isabella of France's 'fans' feel the same way, that Edward II's love for various men means that he didn't love her alone and uniquely as she deserved to be loved, or something.

As I've pointed out before, there's really no reason to suppose that Isabella was particularly hostile to Piers Gaveston. A letter often quoted by modern writers that she supposedly sent to her father Philip IV complaining that Edward was 'an entire stranger to her bed' and that Gaveston was alienating her husband from her was invented many decades later by chronicler Thomas Walsingham. After Piers was exiled from England for the third time in late 1311, Isabella wrote to her receiver in the French county of Ponthieu (which Edward II gave to her in 1308) "concerning the affairs of the earl of Cornwall." Her naming Piers as earl of Cornwall, when the title had been stripped from him, demonstrates respect, and she may well have agreed to aid him financially during the exile. I can't imagine that Isabella was overwhelmingly thrilled after Gaveston's return to England in early 1312 that her husband the king skulked in the north with him while his furious barons plotted Gaveston's capture, but she was certainly there with them, and the story that Edward abandoned her weeping at Tynemouth in early May 1312 is certainly not true. Neither is the very silly tale that Edward gave all of Isabella's wedding gifts and jewels to Piers Gaveston, an invention of the nineteenth century. Isabella may have found Gaveston as irritating as a lot of other people did; she may have been hugely fond of him, and mourned for him and missed him when he was gone. We just don't know, and we can't automatically assume that she saw Piers as her rival in love.

Sir Roger Damory was high in Edward's favour between 1315 and 1319 or thereabouts, and Edward arranged Damory's wedding to his twice-widowed niece Elizabeth de Burgh in 1317. Was he Edward's lover? Who knows; quite possibly. Isabella certainly tolerated Damory, and at an uncertain date gave him splendid gifts for his chapel: a chasuble of red cloth of Tarsus "sprinkled with diverse flowers of Indian colour, together with alb and amesse, stole and maniple, and two frontals of the same sort." [CPR 1327-30, pp. 439-40] The queen's itinerary, where it is known, reveals that in the 1310s Isabella was in the same location as the king far, far more often than not, and on the rare occasions when the couple were apart, they exchanged letters (Isabella sent Edward no fewer than three letters when they were apart for four days in early March 1312, for example). Edward and Isabella conceived their second son John of Eltham and first daughter Eleanor of Woodstock in 1315 and 1317, while Edward was in some way involved with Roger Damory. Sir Hugh Audley was also high in Edward's favour at the same time as Damory, and was the only one of Edward's male lovers (assuming he was) who survived the reign. In 1327 during her period of power early in her son Edward III's reign, Isabella appointed Audley as an envoy to her brother Charles IV of France, and granted requests that he made of her, such as approving the second marriage of his widowed sister Alice Greystoke to Lord Neville. This all implies that if the queen knew or believed that Hugh Audley had been her husband's lover a decade previously, she didn't bear him a grudge for it, and she appears to have liked and trusted him.

On the other hand, there is no doubt whatsoever that Isabella absolutely loathed Hugh Despenser the Younger, her husband's chamberlain and last and most powerful lover (?). Given that she accepted Gaveston, Damory and Audley and did them favours on occasion, clearly she did not hate them or refuse to tolerate their presence anywhere near her, simply because all three men had very close and probably sexual relations with her husband. It is obvious, however, that Isabella feared and despised Despenser and claimed on several occasions that her life was in danger from him, and in c. late October 1325 she threatened to destroy him. The Vita Edwardi Secundi records an ultimatum she made to Edward while at her brother's court in Paris: either Edward must send Despenser away, or she would not return to him. Edward refused the ultimatum, and left Isabella with no choice but to stay in France and ally with the remnant of the Contrariant faction, who also wished nothing more than to destroy Hugh Despenser. On 24 November 1326, they did.

Edward II's relations with various men from the time of his marriage to Isabella in early 1308 until the beginning of the 1320s did not impede Isabella's access to her husband. She was in Edward's company almost all of the time for the first fourteen years or so of their marriage, and until 1322 often interceded with him on behalf of others, mediated for him with his barons, and even had the confidence to promote her own candidates to bishoprics in preference to Edward's choices. This all ended abruptly after Hugh Despenser's return to England in March 1322, whereupon Isabella disappears almost entirely from the chancery rolls. (She does appear in Edward's chamber and wardrobe accounts of the 1320s, and the couple did continue to spend much time together and to send each other letters when apart, and to exchange gifts on 1 January as they always had.) It was not Hugh Despenser's existence as her husband's lover that bothered Isabella, but that Hugh seems to have gone out of his way to limit her political influence and her role as an intercessor and even did his best to destroy her and Edward's marriage, something his previous male companions had not done.

It seems to me that, far from hating Edward II, Isabella accepted him the way he was for many years, and did her utmost to support him. I don't see any particular reason to believe that Isabella jumped into bed with Roger Mortimer in late 1325 or fell in love with him - it's certainly not impossible that they had an intimate relationship later, but I think in 1325/26 they simply needed each other to bring down Hugh Despenser - or that she ever hated Edward or wished him ill. I think Isabella loathed the hold Hugh Despenser had over her husband. I think Edward II was deeply in thrall to Despenser and that Edward's queen tried her utmost to break that hold. In doing so, and in destroying Hugh Despenser and his father, she brought her husband down as well, whether she had ever intended to do so or not.

25 January, 2019

Hugh Despenser the Elder (2)

Second part of a two-part post about Hugh Despenser the Elder; the first part is here.

As we saw in the first part, for twenty-one years from 1286 until the king's death in 1307, Edward I sent Hugh Despenser the Elder on more or less annual diplomatic visits to important people such as the pope, the king of France, the archbishop of Cologne, and so on, and evidently thought very highly of Hugh's abilities. As well as his loyal support of Edward I for many years, Hugh the Elder managed the difficult task of remaining a supporter and friend of Edward's son and heir Edward of Caernarfon as well in the last years of the old king's life. Edward of Caernarfon's extant correspondence of 1304/5 reveals that he called Hugh one of his friends and treated the older man with respect and affection. One letter states that Hugh had sent Edward a gift or raisins and wine, which, Edward declared, could not have arrived at a better time. Hugh was twenty-three years Edward of Caernarfon's senior, and possibly a kind of father figure to him.

Hugh the Elder's many years of excellent service to Edward I reaped great rewards for his elder son and heir Hugh the Younger, when King Edward I arranged the latter's marriage to his eldest granddaughter Eleanor de Clare in May 1306 and promised Hugh the Elder £2,000 for his son's marriage. Just days after this great triumph, however, Hugh the Elder suffered a great loss when his wife of twenty years, the earl of Warwick's sister Isabella née Beauchamp, died. She was only in her early forties or thereabouts, and Hugh forty-five, but although he outlived her by twenty years, he never re-married. His eldest grandchild, inevitably named Hugh Despenser but known by the nickname 'Huchon', was born in 1308 or early 1309, and became lord of Glamorgan on his mother Eleanor de Clare's death in 1337. Another grandson named after Hugh the Elder was his second daughter Isabella's son and heir Sir Hugh Hastings, probably born in 1310, and another was his youngest daughter Elizabeth's third and youngest son Sir Hugh Camoys, born around 1322/24. Hugh the Elder arranged good marriages for all his children. Alina, the eldest, wed Edward Burnell, a landowner in numerous counties and the great-nephew and heir of Robert Burnell, bishop of Bath and Wells, in 1302; Isabella wed Gilbert de Clare, lord of Thomond, in c. 1306 and secondly John, Lord Hastings, in c. 1308/9; Philip wed the Lincolnshire heiress Margaret Goushill in 1308; Margaret wed the Bedfordshire nobleman and law graduate John St Amand in 1313; and Elizabeth married the widowed Ralph Camoys, a long-term Despenser adherent, probably in 1316 or a little earlier. Via his five children who had children of their own - Hugh the Younger, Isabella, Philip, Margaret and Elizabeth - Hugh the Elder had at least twenty grandchildren, and has numerous modern-day descendants.

Edward I died in July 1307, and Hugh the Elder was one of the new king's closest allies in the difficult first year of his reign. He attended Edward II's wedding to Isabella of France in early 1308 and was one of two men invited to accompany the king in his barge when Edward came ashore at Dover on his return to England, a sign of the highest favour. The Vita Edwardi Secundi names Hugh the Elder as the king's only noble supporter in 1308 when many of the English barons demanded Piers Gaveston's exile, and although this is not strictly true, it does demonstrate how close Hugh was known to be to the king. Edward II made Hugh justice of the forest south of the River Trent for life, and Hugh held that position for much of the period from 1297, when Edward I first appointed him, until 1326. He was accused of brutality and corruption in his role as justice, and a man called Saer le Barber was imprisoned in Newgate in London in 1298 for stating that Hugh the Elder kept more robbers with him than any other man in England and was 'unworthy of praise'.

Hugh remained one of the king's closest allies throughout the difficult period in 1311/12 when the Lords Ordainer imposed forty-one reforms on Edward II's household and government, and when Piers Gaveston was abducted by Hugh's brother-in-law the earl of Warwick and killed. Hugh was one of the advisers who met Edward in London in the aftermath of Piers' murder (or execution), and in December 1312 accompanied the king to the continent when Edward met his father-in-law Philip IV of France. Edward II bestowed great honour on Hugh the Elder in November 1312 by making him one of the seven godfathers of his and Isabella's newborn son Edward of Windsor, the future Edward III.

Hugh the Elder, as I pointed out in a recent post, indulged himself in some pretty lawless behaviour in February 1312, when he abducted a girl called Elizabeth Hertrigg from the custody of her guardian George Percy in Dorset. The author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi criticised Hugh harshly for his brutal, corrupt behaviour, especially in his position as justice of the forest. In c. 1313, the Vita wrote that the whole of England had 'turned to hatred' of Hugh the Elder. He and his son Hugh the Younger fought for Edward II at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314, and were among the 500 or so knights who accompanied Edward during his long and desperate gallop to Dunbar Castle after the battle. Edward II's cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster, seems to have detested Hugh, and when Edward fell under his cousin's power after his defeat at Bannockburn, Thomas demanded that Hugh the Elder leave court. The evidence of charter witness lists reveals that he did: from August 1314 until May 1316, he was hardly ever at court, except for attending Piers Gaveston's funeral at the beginning of 1315 and making a brief visit to the king at Westminster a few months later.

Hugh the Elder's second son Philip had died in September 1313, aged barely twenty, leaving his five-month-old son Philip. The two manors in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire which Hugh had given to his second son, which he himself had inherited from his father Hugh the justiciar (d. 1265), reverted to him. Hugh the Elder already held a sizeable inheritance from his parents, grandfather and his father's cousin, and by 1321 had close to seventy manors in fifteen counties across England, though held some of them as wardships. Hugh's elder and only surviving son Hugh the Younger became probably even wealthier than his father in late 1317 when his wife Eleanor inherited many lands, including the lordship of Glamorgan, from her late brother the earl of Gloucester. The younger Hugh's appointment as the king's chamberlain a few months later - supposedly against the wishes of Edward II himself, who was hugely fond of Hugh the Elder but had never shown the slightest interest in his son, Edward's nephew-in-law - enabled him to exert a huge amount of influence. Hugh the Younger, according to the Despensers' enemies in 1321, supposedly also allowed his father to wield influence over the king to which he had no right, and by 1321 a few of the English barons - the Marcher lords, though few others at this point - were fed up with both Hugh Despensers.

The Marcher lords, the 'Contrariants' as Edward II soon took to calling them, attacked the lands of Hugh Despenser the Younger in South Wales and England in May 1321, and in June invaded and sacked the lands of Hugh the Elder as well, right across England. The scale of the violence, theft, murder and mayhem is hard to take in. At the parliament held in London in August 1321, the Marchers threateningly placed their armies by the gates into the city and demanded that Edward II exile both Despensers. With little other choice, Edward had to agree. Hugh the Younger became a pirate in the English Channel; Hugh the Elder went overseas somewhere, though where is not known. Natalie Fryde claimed in 1979 that he went to Bordeaux - one of Edward II's cities - which is certainly possible, though there is no evidence of it. The king had no intention of allowing his Contrariant enemies to dictate to him, conducted a successful campaign against them in the winter of 1321/22, and brought them both back.

Edward II made Hugh the Elder earl of Winchester in May 1322, when Hugh was sixty-one. This may well point to a connection between the Despensers and the de Quincys, the family who formerly held the earldom of Winchester; the identity of Hugh the Elder's grandmother, the mother of Hugh Despenser the justiciar (d. 1265) and wife of the Hugh Despenser who died in 1238, is uncertain, and it may be that she was a de Quincy. Alternatively, it may simply be that Winchester was a conveniently dormant earldom for Edward II to bestow on Hugh in 1322, and there was no connection between the two families.

Hugh's son Hugh the Younger was all-powerful in England between 1322 and 1326, and it seems from numerous petitions presented after the downfall of the two Despensers that Hugh the Elder was just about as enthusiastic about misusing power and grabbing whatever lands he could as his son was. The elder Hugh was accused of abducting the Scottish noblewoman and heiress Elizabeth Comyn (1299-1372) and imprisoning her for about eighteen months at his manor of Pirbright in Surrey until she handed three of her manors over to himself, his son and Edward II. It is possible that one favourite tactic of both Despensers was to accuse men of adherence to the executed Thomas, earl of Lancaster (d. 1322) as an excuse to take lands and money from them, and perhaps they did, or perhaps this proved to be a convenient fiction after both men's downfall when Thomas was being rehabilitated. I don't have space to go into all the claims against Hugh the Elder here, and it may be that on occasion his name was used in and after late 1326 as a way of getting a favourable response from the ruling regime to a petition. On the other hand, Hugh the Elder did have a history of unscrupulous means of adding to his already large inheritance, going back to the 1290s, so I'd be astonished if at least a few of the petitions complaining about him weren't true. See this one, for example, which I've more or less chosen at random from several dozen others, where Hugh the Elder is stated to have accused a parson of adherence to Roger Mortimer of Wigmore as a way of forcing him to exchange his benefice for a less valuable one. There was a pattern to the Despensers' behaviour in the 1320s, and even if some of the petitions were perhaps exaggerated or outright fabricated, not all of them can have been.

The evidence of charter witness lists, Edward II's accounts and the chancery rolls reveals that Hugh was at court pretty often between 1322 and 1326. Numerous letters dictated by his son survive and reveal that Hugh the Younger was basically in charge of the English government and of foreign policy, though it's a lot harder to say what Hugh the Elder was up to during the years of his son's dominance. The Vita Edwardi Secundi states in 1325 that everyone in England hated Hugh the Elder (as well as the author's comment a few years earlier that he had made himself widely hated), even Edward II's elder son and heir Edward of Windsor, so it seems that public opinion held him jointly responsible for Hugh the Younger's misdeeds. At any rate, Hugh the Elder was so close to his son and to the king that when Queen Isabella came to England to bring down Hugh the Younger, it destroyed Hugh the Elder as well. He was captured in Bristol on 27 October 1326, given a show trial at which he was not allowed to speak, and immediately hanged in his armour on the public gallows. His head was taken on a spear for public display in Winchester, where he was earl. He was sixty-five years old - not ninety, as invented by Jean le Bel and Jean Froissart - and his son survived him by less than a month. Hugh the Elder was certainly an intelligent and very able man, but his greed and his corruption got the better of him, and four decades of loyal service to Edward I and Edward II ended on the public gallows.

17 January, 2019

Book Review: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is a novel I've read several times over the years, and is a novel I both love and hate. In 2054, they've invented time travel (and, for reasons which are never explained, it's controlled by incompetent historians at Oxford University), and a young student called Kivrin goes back to 1320, during Edward II's reign - or so she thinks. In fact, she ends up in 1348 by mistake, and gets caught up in the first terrible epidemic of the Black Death.

The novel was published in 1992 and written in the late 1980s, and unfortunately the author did not anticipate mobile phones or email or the internet, with unintentionally hilarious results. It's supposed to be set in 2054, but a person who could sort the mess out is on a fishing holiday in Scotland and is therefore as unreachable as if he'd travelled to the far side of the universe, and there are more scenes than I can count where desperate people phone other people's landlines but they're not at home so they have to leave messages, but the people don't receive these urgent messages because the people who were meant to pass them on don't or because bits of paper where the urgent messages have been written down flutter to the ground and are missed, and so on. A scene where someone gasps out 'something is wrong' then conveniently faints or rushes off before he can explain what's wrong seems to happen about 147 times, and the astonishingly inept historians at Oxford who for unfathomable reasons have been put in charge of time travel finally clock that Kivrin is in 1348, not in 1320, on p. 405 of the 578-page novel. Basically, the whole thing makes much more sense if you assume it's set in an alternate reality 1954 where they have a time machine rather than in 2054. There's a quarantine going on in the Oxford of 2054, people wear ear muffs and shop at Woolworths, and the author seems to think that in British English a 'muffler' is a kind of scarf rather than a car part. The word 'muffler' in the context she uses it is so hilariously old-fashioned I'm not sure if even my great-grandparents would have used it, so the novel sometimes gives the impression of being set in 1854, never mind 1954. The last couple of times I've read Doomsday Book, I've skipped the weirdly dated supposedly futuristic scenes and just read all the fourteenth-century scenes, and it improved the experience immeasurably.

The names of a few of the characters throw me too. Why on earth is the main character from 2054 called 'Kivrin'? Why does a fourteenth-century English nobleman (whom we don't meet, Eliwys's husband and Imeyne's son) have a French name, Guillaume? Another thing I find deeply irritating is that fourteenth-century people are always referred to as 'the contemps', i.e. contemporaries. Could you not just call them 'people'? I also really did not warm to Kivrin as a character at all.

Early in the novel before Kivrin travels back in time, she talks to Dunworthy, her professor who has a fixation on her that I find deeply creepy. He tells her that no-one has ever travelled back to the fourteenth century before as it's too dangerous, as they 'were still burning witches in 1320'. Heh?? Burning witches in 1320? He says this again a bit later, when he comments that life expectancy was thirty-eight in the early fourteenth century and that was only if you didn't get burned alive for witchcraft. Why does this professional historian in charge of time travel not know the difference between 1320 and 1620? He also thinks that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in the fourteenth century. Errrrmmmm. People fret that Kivrin will get cholera, which didn't actually exist in England at the time, and the narrative tells us that we have No. Sources. Whatsoever! for people's lives in the Middle Ages except tax rolls and parish records and that therefore we don't know anything. This is nonsense on stilts. So many sources survive; we have thousands of wills from fourteenth-century England, the chancery rolls, lots of household accounts, letters, petitions, court rolls, parliament rolls, plea rolls, mayors' rolls, coroners' rolls, the London Assize of Nuisance, and much more. So, so much more. And the narrative endlessly contradicts itself by making wild sweeping generalisations that 'the contemps did X' and 'the contemps thought Y' and 'the contemps believed Z'. As one example of many, in 1348 a puppy dies, and Kivrin smugly tells us that 'the contemps disposed of dead animals by tossing them into the underbrush or dumping them in a stream,' as though she's canvassed every single medieval person's opinion on the matter. But I thought we had no sources and didn't know anything, so where are you getting this? Throughout, there's a tendency to portray the fourteenth century in the most cliched and negative way possible, so everyone and everything is filthy all the time, and a twelve-year-old character, Rosamund, who looks even younger than she is, is shortly to marry a man in his fifties. To me, it seemed as though Kivrin was looking at the people she met down her nose all the time and that the reader is meant to share her distaste of OH MY GOD LOOK AN ADOLESCENT CHILD HAS TO MARRY A MAN OLD ENOUGH TO BE HER GRANDFATHER AND OH MY GOD THEY HAVE FLEAS, HOW PRIMITIVE AND HORRIBLE THESE PEOPLE ARE.

When Kivrin first arrives in 1348, for the first few days she can't understand the Middle English the 'contemps' (heh) are speaking. Their speech appears on the page phonetically, the way Kivrin hears it. A lot of it, I can work out, but a lot I can't. Thanway maunhollp anhour means 'Then we must help [holpen] her', and Spaegun yovor tongawn glais? means 'Speak you our English tongue?', and Got tallon wottes means 'God alone knows'. Other bits, I can't get. Auf specherit darmayt is beyond me, except darmayt probably means 'the maid'. Or Maetinkerr woun dahest wexe hoordoumbe and Nor nayte boorcows derouthe. I really think Connie Willis should have explained and translated all this in an author's note at the end. It's very frustrating that it isn't.

Kivrin is seriously ill and burning up with fever when she arrives in the past, and hallucinates that the 'contemps' are burning her at the stake, because, you know, that's what people do for laughs in 1320 according to our stunningly brilliant historian Dunworthy; they encounter women in the woods and randomly burn them alive. A large part of the novel involves Kivrin lying in bed seriously ill, and she spends most of the rest of it wondering how she's going to locate and get back to 'the drop', i.e. the place where she arrived in the past, as she needs to be there at a certain pre-arranged time in order to return to 2054. The words 'the drop' and 'slippage' appear so often in the novel you could play a drinking game with them. You'd think that an advanced society able to invent time travel and to come up with a 'memory enhancer' in the brain which enables Kivrin to speak and understand Middle English might be clever enough to put some kind of locator on her so that they know exactly where and when she is. Instead, as noted above, they finally figure it out on page 405. Durrrrrrr. These are the people in charge of time travel. Or you'd expect them maybe to be able to open 'the net' that will bring her back to the twenty-first century anywhere, instead of requiring her to find the exact clearing in the large wood where she arrived, or even to realise that forcing Kivrin to find and identify a specific clearing in a large wood full of clearings and snow-covered trees and paths might not be the most efficient way of going about things, but maybe that's just me.

The first person Kivrin meets in 1348 (or 1320, as she thinks it is) is Father Roche, the simple but kindly and compassionate parish priest, whom Kivrin assumes for several chapters is a 'cut-throat' who wishes to harm her, for no reason that I could fathom except that somehow he has a face that makes him look like a cut-throat. 'Cut-throat', like 'the drop' and 'slippage', is a word that appears approximately 1,754 times throughout the novel, or at least that's what it feels like. Actually, when we get to meet him properly, Father Roche is a very well-drawn and sympathetic character. In one scene, Kivrin wanders into the church and hears him chatting to God, as though God is his friend, telling Him all about the villagers and what they're doing and how their health is. I thought that was lovely. The other main characters are Eliwys, a young noblewoman, her daughters Rosamund and Agnes, her mother-in-law Imeyne, their servant Maisry, and Gawyn, the man-servant of Eliwys's absent husband Guillaume. We also meet some of the villagers who live near the manor-house, envoys from the bishop, and Sir Bloet, the elderly future husband of Rosamund, and several members of his family.

Once the Black Death arrives in the village, just after Christmas 1348 - when Kivrin finally, 386 pages into a 578-page book, realises what year she's in - Doomsday Book packs a real emotional punch. Let's just say that Connie Willis isn't afraid to kill off her characters, and it's incredibly moving. Near the end of the novel, two people come through from the future to rescue Kivrin, and come across a black horse in the wood. Although they have no way of knowing it, the horse belongs to Gawyn, who rides off to fetch Sir Guillaume and never comes home. Eliwys, who loves Gawyn and is waiting for him, dies without ever seeing him again, without knowing that he fell from his horse and died just a couple of miles from home. At this stage in the novel, I am in absolute floods, and just thinking about it now makes me want to howl with grief. Then we have the villager who goes mad when he has to bury all five of his children and digs himself into their grave, and freezes to death there. Father Roche, who seems to be well enough to travel away from the village with Kivrin, but suddenly begins hallucinating and turns out to have a massive bubo in his groin, and who thinks that Kivrin is a saint come from heaven to save him. Little Agnes, who dies screaming for Kivrin to come, although Kivrin is right next to her. Ohhhh God. It really brings home the horror of what the Black Death must have been like, as we watch the characters we've got to know suffer and die and Kivrin's utter helplessness and hopelessness as she tries to do what she can for them. The last few chapters of the novel are so moving they almost make me forgive all the endless irritations up to that point.

Doomsday Book would have been an absolutely fantastic novel without the disconcertingly old-fashioned and almost entirely pointless future scenes, and if Kivrin had been a more proactive heroine who didn't have to spend half her scenes feverish in bed and most of the rest fretting about 'the drop'. There's a brilliant story here, unfortunately surrounded by about 500 pages of filler. 

12 January, 2019

Oliver of Bordeaux (c. 1290? - c. early 1360s)

Oliver of Bordeaux was a squire of Edward II's chamber, a Gascon who lived in England for most of his long life and who often appears in the English chancery rolls as 'Oliver de Burdeux' or 'Oliver de Burdegala', the Latin form of his name. Here's a post about him. (Second part of my post about Hugh Despenser the Elder is coming soon, by the way, but I'm still working on it.)

I've first found Oliver on record in England on 29 March 1308, when he is mentioned as a valet of Edward II's household, a few months after Edward's accession to the throne. [1] I assume, given how long Oliver lived - he was still alive in 1359/60 and perhaps later - that he was a very young man then, no more than eighteen or twenty or so, and perhaps had not long arrived in England. As a Gascon, from the territories ruled by the English kings in their capacity as dukes of Aquitaine, he was a subject of the English Crown, and plenty of other Gascon men served in Edward II's household throughout his reign. Oliver was one of four sons of the curiously-named Lop-Bergunh or Loup-Borgoun, a merchant from Morlaàs in Béarn, 115 miles south of Bordeaux and only about four miles from the village of Gabaston, where Piers Gaveston's family originated from. There is a reference on the fine roll of September 1243 to an Oliver de Bordeaux, burgess of Morlaàs, almost certainly an ancestor, and this book states that our Oliver "belonged to the great family which once governed the capital of Aquitaine" and that Pey (or Pierre) de Bordeaux, seneschal of Gascony in Henry III's reign, was also an ancestor.

Oliver's eldest brother, their father's heir, was also named Lop-Bergunh and was mayor of the city of Bordeaux for some of the 1310s; he was still alive in the early 1330s (see here for one of his many petitions to Edward III; his name is spelt 'Lopborgoign de Bordeux' and he refers to "Lord E., formerly king of England, your father, whom God absolve"). They had another brother called Guilhem or Guilhem-Bergunh, and a fourth whose name appears as 'Domengeon de Burdeaux' and who joined the Church in or before March 1308. [2] Oliver and his brothers Lop-Bergunh and Guilhem were all in England in 1315, and were said to be "on the king's service at Berwick-on-Tweed." [3] In the early years of his reign, Edward II gave Oliver almost 500 acres of land, pasture, meadow and wood, and houses and gardens, in Eton, Windsor and Old Windsor, and houses in Sevyng Lane, London (later called Seething Lane). [4] He was constable of Guildford Castle in Surrey and Windsor Castle in the late 1310s. [5]

As well as giving Oliver lands and frequent gifts of cash, Edward II arranged a very favourable marriage for him with a noblewoman called Maud Trussell, née Mainwaring, a widow with sons called John, William and Warin Trussell. The king personally attended Oliver and Maud’s wedding "at the door of the chapel within the park of Woodstock" near Oxford on 26 June 1317, gave them two rings worth thirty shillings each, and five days later on 1 July granted them an annual income of 100 marks (£66) from the Exchequer. [6] Maud was of noble birth and one of the three co-heirs of her father, while Oliver was the son of a merchant and not his father's eldest son or heir, and was never knighted. Assuming that Maud consented to the marriage and was not forced into it by Edward II, she was happy enough to marry a man of lower rank than she; perhaps Oliver was an attractive and personable man, and to be fair he was far from being a nobody but came from quite a prominent family of Béarn. Oliver must have paid out the £42, 14s, 1d it cost for Maud to travel to court in June 1317 and to stay there with the king before their wedding, as on 3 August 1317 Edward ordered that sum to be paid to him for Maud's expenses. [7]

Maud Trussell, née Mainwaring was the third and youngest daughter of Warin Mainwaring, sometimes spelt Meynwaring or Menwarin, who died at the end of May 1289. At Warin's inquisition post mortem on 23 June 1289, Maud was said to be "aged half a year and more," hence must have been born about the end of 1288 or thereabouts, and was twenty-eight when she married Oliver of Bordeaux in June 1317. (Her sisters Joan and Margery were five and three respectively in June 1289.) [8] Her second husband Oliver was probably about the same age. Maud Mainwaring married her first husband William Trussell sometime in the early 1300s. There were several Sir William Trussells active in England in the early fourteenth century, and I'm not entirely sure which one Maud married; obviously it can't have been the Sir William Trussell who read out the charges against Hugh Despenser the Younger in Hereford in November 1326 (and had done the same for Hugh the Elder a month earlier), as claimed on Wikipedia and here, as Maud married Oliver of Bordeaux in June 1317 when she was a widow. A William Trussell, perhaps the man of this name who was Maud's husband, was knighted with Edward of Caernarfon and more than 250 others on 22 May 1306. See here and here for posts in soc.genealogy.medieval about the family. There is no inquisition post mortem for William Trussell, and I haven't found any entries in the chanvery rolls relating to his death, so the date when he died is not clear; perhaps 1316 or early 1317, just a few months before his widow married Oliver.

There are numerous references to Oliver of Bordeaux in the chancery rolls, the chancery warrants, Edward II's chamber and wardrobe accounts, and so on, and it is apparent that he was very close to the king and favoured by him. Various entries in the chancery rolls in the 1310s and 1320s state that Edward II made grants or appointments "on the information of Oliver de Burdegala," revealing that the young Gascon had access to the king and was willing and able to intercede with him on others' behalf. Oliver accompanied Edward to the north of England in the autumn of 1310 when he went on an unsuccessful mission to defeat Robert Bruce, and on the day Edward heard of Piers Gaveston's murder a week after it happened, on 26 June 1312, the king ordered the keeper of the royal manor of Burstwick to give 'bay colts' from the stud there to Oliver of Bordeaux, Sir Edmund Mauley and Sir Henry Beaumont. [9] Oliver was with the king at Langley at the beginning of 1315, just after Gaveston's funeral, when he sent a letter to the chancellor, John Sandal. [10] He went on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in or soon after February 1316, the year before Edward II arranged his marriage to Maud Trussell, and in December 1316 was appointed keeper of the bastides of 'Froundeboef, Seint Gyn and Lieuz' in his native Gascony (though given that he got married in England a few months later, I assume he was an absentee keeper). Oliver took part in the king's campaign against the Contrariants in 1321/22, and was with Edward when the royal cousin Thomas of Lancaster was executed in Pontefract in March 1322. On one occasion, Edward II used Oliver's seal on a writ: "Because we did not have our privy seal near us when this letter was made, we used the seal of our dear valet Oliver de Burdeux." [11]

A curious entry in Edward II's chamber account states that at Harpley in Norfolk on 7 February 1326, Edward sat beside Oliver of Bordeaux's bed at "a little before midnight", and gave him a gift of twenty marks. (Earlier in his reign, on 4 March and 26 April 1311, Edward had given Oliver hugely generous gifts of 100 marks on each occasion, and another twenty marks on 6 September 1322.) [12] The 7th of February 1326 was the night before Edward had it proclaimed around his kingdom that his wife, Isabella, had made an alliance in France with the remnant of the Contrariant faction, led by Roger Mortimer of Wigmore. Perhaps Edward had just found out that his wife had allied with his enemies and was shocked and unable to sleep, and unburdened himself to Oliver (though of course I'm only speculating). Oliver of Bordeaux stayed with Edward until the bitter end after the queen's invasion, and on 10 November 1326 just six days before the king's capture, was one of the five men Edward appointed as envoys to the queen and her and Edward's son Edward of Windsor. [13] As noted above, a Sir William Trussell read out the charges against the two Hugh Despensers in October and November 1326, and he was surely a relative of Oliver's wife Maud. I'm not sure how; this William Trussell was a Contrariant in 1321/22, and Maud, born c. late 1288, would seem much too young to be his mother. At any rate, it is possible that Oliver and Maud's loyalties were somewhat divided in the autumn of 1326, though Oliver did remain with Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger until days before their capture, and did not abandon them as most others did.

After Edward II's downfall, Oliver joined his son Edward III's household, and is named as one of the king's squires in June 1328 and again in 1330. In 1329, Oliver was appointed keeper of the castle of Bayonne in his native Gascony, and on 15 December 1330 a few weeks after he overthrew his mother Isabella and took over control of his own kingdom, Edward III praised Oliver's "laudable service" to his father. It seems that Oliver appointed a deputy to act on his behalf, however, and remained in England. [14] In 1352, Oliver was apparently serving in the household of Edward III's eldest son Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales: on 7 November that year, there is a reference in the prince's account to 40 shillings being paid "by the hands of Oliver de Burdeux for play in the queen's [Philippa of Hainault's] chamber at Berkhamsted." [15]

Oliver of Bordeaux and Maud Trussell had no children together - Maud had three sons and apparently a daughter from her first marriage, so perhaps Oliver was infertile - and Maud died sometime before 23 May 1336, when an entry on the patent roll states "...inasmuch as the said Matilda [i.e. Maud] is now deceased leaving no heir of her body by the said Oliver...". She was still alive on 30 September 1334. [16] Edward III exempted Oliver for life in February 1342 from taking up knighthood and pardoned him for not having done so in the past; as Oliver had an annual income of £40 or more, he was qualified for knighthood and was obligated to become one, yet obviously did not wish to. In February 1331, he had his own squire, John le Taillour. [17] In 1336 and perhaps in other years, he acted as the attorney of his stepson, Sir William Trussell, second of Maud's three sons (John was the eldest, and Warin, named after Maud's father, the youngest). Oliver had also acted as the attorney of 'the burgesses of St Quitterie' in 1317. [18]

Edward III commissioned Oliver of Bordeaux and three other men "to survey the works in Windsor Castle" on 12 May 1351, and he was serving the king's eldest son in November 1352, so evidently Oliver was perfectly fit and healthy well over forty years after he had arrived in England. Oliver was still alive on 2 January 1359 when Sir William Trussell (either his stepson or his late wife Maud's grandson, I'm not sure) promised to pay £50 annually to hold various lands in and around Windsor "for the life of Oliver", and he was apparently also still alive on 1 June 1360, when Edward III pardoned a man "for the taking of twelve swans at Dorneyemore and in the water of [the River] Thames of Oliver de Burdeux." He was dead by 20 February 1365, when mention is made of "lands and meadows in Wychemere, Kyngefrede and Daylese, late of Oliver de Burdeux." [19] It seems that Oliver lived to be a good seventy years old or more, and he spent almost all his adult life in England. His name was remembered as late as 1473 - 1473, not 1373 - when a piece of land in Eton was said to be 'sometime of Oliver de Burdeux', a whopping 163 years after Edward II gave it to him and over 100 years after his death. [20] Over a century after he died, Oliver's name was still well-known in the parts of England where he had held lands. This book describes Oliver of Bordeaux as a "wise and able man," a judgement with which I can only concur.

Sources

1) Chancery Warrants 1308-48, p. 270; also CPR 1307-13, p. 66.
2) Chancery Warrants 1308-48, pp. 270, 417; and see the gasconrolls.org website.
3) Chancery Warrants 1308-48, pp. 407, 417.
4) CPR 1307-13, pp. 95, 271, 301, 386, 481, 494, 516; CPR 1317-21, pp. 259, 556; CPR 1324-7, p. 214; CPR 1327-30, pp. 236, 525; CCR 1318-23, p. 311.
5) CCR 1318-23, pp. 11, 158-9, 173 etc.
6) Thomas Stapleton, ‘A Brief Summary of the Wardrobe Accounts of the tenth, eleventh and fourteenth years of King Edward the Second’, Archaeologia, 26 (1836), p. 339; CPR 1313-7, p. 677.
7) CCR 1313-8, p. 490.
8) CIPM 1272-91, no. 742.
9) C 47/22/3/115; CCR 1307-13, p. 428.
10) SC 1/35/142.
11) CPR 1313-7, pp. 390, 396; Documents Relating to Scotland 1307-57, no. 747; Chancery Warrants 1308-48, p. 453.
12) SAL MS 122, p. 50; J. C. Davies, The Baronial Opposition to Edward II, p. 222.
13) CPR 1324-7, p. 336.
14) Memoranda Rolls Michaelmas 1326 - Michaelmas 1327, nos. 2270, 2271; Gascon Rolls, C 61/41, nos. 102-104, 213, 214.
15) Register of the Black Prince, vol. 4, p. 76.
16) CPR 1334-8, pp. 28, 271.
17) CPR 1340-3, p. 389; CCR 1330-3, p. 285.
18) CCR 1333-7, pp. 670, 685; CPR 1313-7, p. 640.
19) CPR 1350-4, p. 69; CPR 1358-61, pp. 148, 380; CPR 1364-7, p. 95.
20) CPR 1467-77, p. 394.

04 January, 2019

My New Article

The second volume of the peer-reviewed academic Journal of the Mortimer History Society is out now, and there's an article I wrote in it! As I write this blog post, the new volume hasn't been added to the Society's website, but here is the page for the first volume. If you'd like a copy of the journal and aren't a member of the MHS, you can buy one for five pounds, plus postage.

My article examines some of the extortions carried out by Edward II's powerful chamberlain Hugh Despenser the Younger in the 1320s. The first part of the title, 'We Might be Prepared to Harm You', comes from a letter Hugh wrote in c. October 1322, which I've translated (well, some of it...it's a seriously long letter). That's Hugh for you...threatening, blackmailing, extorting and imprisoning! As well as this article, there's also my new bio of Hugh. He was, let's face it, not the nicest person you could ever meet, but he was a fascinating one, and I've examined his misdeeds in detail and translated a lot of his extant letters to give the full flavour of the man.



31 December, 2018

Happy New Year

I'll post again properly soon! I'm working on the second part of my post about Hugh Despenser the Elder, and intend to keep posting regularly throughout 2019.

In the meantime, here is an article I wrote about Edward II for About-History.com! He spent 1 January 1319, 700 years ago, in Beverley in Yorkshire.