26 September, 2021

Hugh Despenser the Younger's Letters to and from Sir John Felton, 1324/25

Sir John Felton of Litcham in Norfolk was the son and heir of Sir Robert Felton, constable of the English-held Lochmaben Castle in Scotland and Scarborough Castle in Yorkshire, who was killed at Bannockburn in June 1314. John was already an adult when his father fell in battle; according to the Complete Peerage, he was knighted on 13 November 1310. [1] He was probably born sometime in the 1280s. John is perhaps most famous for holding out at Caerphilly Castle between November 1326 and March 1327 with Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser (b. 1308/9), eldest son and heir of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare, and as I pointed out in a recent blog post, he appears to have led Edward II's mysterious raid on Normandy in the late summer of 1326. Sir John Felton died in May 1344, according to this site; his heirs were his sons Hamo or Hamon (d. 1379) and Thomas (d. 1381) after his eldest son John the younger was murdered in or before 1334. [2]

At some point, I don't know when, John Felton joined the retinue of Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan, and it's interesting to see that after Hugh's death John did everything he could to protect the life of Hugh's son and heir, holding out during the siege of Caerphilly for months on end even though he had never been officially appointed as the custodian of the castle (though he had sworn an oath on the Gospels to Edward II that he would keep the castle and everything in it safe). [3] On 5 August 1326, Edward II gave John a gift of £5 for his good service to Hugh. [4] Sir John Felton was one of the many Englishmen sent to Gascony in south-west France during Edward II's war against his brother-in-law Charles IV of France in 1324/25, after Charles and his uncle Charles de Valois invaded Gascony in the summer of 1324. John acted as custodian of the castle of Saintes from October 1324 until the end of 1325. [5]


Dozens of the letters Hugh Despenser the Younger sent to men in Gascony during what is known as the War of Saint-Sardos of 1324/25 survive today, thanks in large part to Hugh's habit of keeping drafts of his own correspondence. They reveal a great deal about Hugh as a person, his enormous influence over Edward II and the way he wasn't shy about coupling himself with the king of England as though they were co-rulers, his astonishing arrogance, sense of entitlement and self-importance, and the fawningly obsequious way he was addressed by just about everyone, even men who were superior to him in rank, such as the earls of Kent and Surrey. See my book Hugh Despenser the Younger and Edward II: Downfall of a King's Favourite for numerous examples of all of this; my absolute favourite bit is Hugh telling John Travers, constable of Bordeaux, that "as a result of your good conduct, the king and ourselves may discuss continuing our goodwill towards you." Oh, the self-important haughtiness.

Despenser and John Felton exchanged eight letters in 1324/25 which still exist. In 1954, Professor Pierre Chaplais printed the letters, in the original Anglo-Norman, in his astonishingly useful volume The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, and the originals are in the National Archives. John Felton's first letter to Hugh Despenser was sent from Bordeaux on 17 October 1324, and the last letter, or at least the last surviving letter, from Hugh to John was sent around the end of April 1325. 

John Felton's letters to Hugh are highly illuminating about the reality on the ground in Gascony, and make it apparent that John was one of the royal chamberlain's informants (see my post about Hugh's informants and spies) and had been probably been handpicked as such. In his first letter of 17 October 1324 and again on 24 November, Felton warned Despenser that a "wicked faction", maveyse covine, was gathering around Edward II's half-brother and lieutenant in Gascony. This was Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, who in September 1324 had, perhaps rather tamely, surrendered to Charles, count of Valois, who was the uncle both of Charles IV of France and of Edmund himself (being the older half-brother of his late mother Marguerite of France). This faction was, according to Felton, putting all the blame for Kent's defeat on Hugh Despenser for failing to send enough money and soldiers to Gascony, and furthermore, they were "plotting as much evil against you [Hugh] as they can". Felton was excellent at communicating to Despenser precisely how many men and horses he thought were required in various situations, and at telling him frankly that Gascony would be lost to the English unless more men, victuals and money were sent there immediately. John stated on 24 November 1324, rather plaintively, that he had only received wages for forty days and that to raise enough money to provision the castle of Saintes, he had had to sell all his own horses (joe vendus mes chyvaus memis tous pur vitayller le chastel). [6]

Hugh Despenser the Younger must have been a very difficult, and genuinely quite terrifying, man to work for; in 1322/23, he took against his own adherent Sir John Inge, sheriff of Glamorgan, and imprisoned him and all the members of his council in Southwark, despite Inge's years of loyal and excellent service to him. Thomas Langdon, one of Inge's councillors, died in Hugh's prison. Hugh wrote to Inge, seemingly casually in the middle of one of his long, hectoring letters in c. October 1322, that "we trust you more the more you advise us, but we are very worried about having some reason for which we might be prepared to harm you" (see my Downfall of a King's Favourite). Sir John Felton must surely, therefore, have been intensely relieved when Hugh told him on 4 October 1324 how much he appreciated his diligence, loyalty and good conduct, and that he, Hugh, felt "much great joy", molt grand joie, when he heard good news of John, as if he were his own cousin (a taunt come si vous fuissez nostre cousin germain). John sent a reply to this letter on 3 December 1324, two months later, and thanked Hugh for "your amiable letters" and for telling him that "you are glad when you have good news of me". He promised that he would work as hard and as loyally as he possibly could to serve Edward II and Hugh. A few months later in April 1325, Hugh told John that the king "has greatly given you his heart" (vous ad done grandement son queor) because he was so pleased with John's service. [7] 

It seems to me that John Felton's letters to Hugh Despenser the Younger were less servile than other men's; they began simply "To his very honourable lord, honours and reverences" and ended "Lord, may God grant you a good and long life." His warnings to Hugh Despenser to be wary of Edmund, earl of Kent, and his "wicked faction", interest me very much. Kent himself sent five letters to Hugh the Younger while he was in Gascony, addressing him repeatedly as "dearest and beloved nephew" even though Hugh was a dozen years older than he (Hugh's wife Eleanor de Clare was the eldest granddaughter of Edward I, Kent's father). Hugh did not reciprocate this familiarity but addressed Edmund in conventionally polite though distant terms, except in one letter of 21 June 1325, when a letter from Hugh to the earl was written in such overblown and exaggeratedly obsequious fashion that I feel certain he was being sarcastic.

Sir John Felton survived Hugh Despenser the Younger's and Edward II's catastrophic downfall in 1326/27, and was pardoned in March 1327 for holding Caerphilly Castle against Queen Isabella and for "committing depredations" in Normandy. I've never found evidence that he took part in any of the plots to free the former king in 1327 and again in 1330, though on 14 October 1326 Felton was appointed to defend "the March of Wales" against the invading forces alongside one other man: Donald of Mar. [8] Donald, a close friend of Edward II despite being Robert Bruce's nephew, most certainly was involved in the plots to free Edward, and in 1329/30 offered to lead a massive Scottish army into England to help his friend, even years after Edward's supposed death. Given that John Felton had been so close to Hugh the Younger and helped to save his son's life after his death, and that he was still loyal to the king a few weeks after the invasion and was associated with Donald of Mar, it doesn't seem impossible that he might have been involved in the attempts to free the former king from captivity.

Sources

1) Complete Peerage, vol. 5, pp. 289-92.

2) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1377-84, nos. 339-43; CPR 1330-34, p. 552.

3) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-27, p. 430.

4) Society of Antiquaries of London Manuscript 122, p. 79.

5) Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, p. 274; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1324-27, p. 3.

6) Chaplais, War of Saint-Sardos, pp. 83, 106-7.

7) Chaplais, War of Saint-Sardos, pp. 79, 111, 115, 173-4.

8) CPR 1324-27, p. 332.

12 September, 2021

12 September 1316: Edward II's Letter to Elizabeth de Burgh

Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare was born on 16 September 1295 as the fourth and youngest child, and third daughter, of Edward I's daughter Joan of Acre (1272-1307) and her first husband Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford (1243-95). Elizabeth and her three older siblings were all closer in age to their uncle Edward II, born in April 1284, than their mother, his sister, was. Elizabeth was just two weeks past her thirteenth birthday when she married the earl of Ulster's eldest son and heir John de Burgh at the end of September 1308, and gave birth to their son William 'Donn' de Burgh, future earl of Ulster, on 17 September 1312, the day after her seventeenth birthday; she was widowed nine months later. In late 1315 or the beginning of 1316, Edward II ordered Elizabeth to return to England from Ireland, as she and her older sisters Eleanor Despenser and Margaret Gaveston were heirs to the vast fortune of their late brother the earl of Gloucester and Hertford (d. June 1314).

On Wednesday, 4 February 1316, the same day that she returned from Ireland, Elizabeth de Burgh was abducted from Bristol Castle by Theobald de Verdon (b. September 1278), a major noble landowner in the Midlands and former justiciar of Ireland, widower of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore's sister Maud Mortimer (d. 1312), and the father of three daughters. Theobald died less than six months after abducting and marrying Elizabeth, on 27 July 1316, but left her a few weeks pregnant; she gave birth to his fourth daughter and co-heir Isabella de Verdon, later Lady Ferrers, at Amesbury Priory on 21 March 1317.

Edward II was in Beverley, Yorkshire on Sunday, 12 September 1316 when he sent his steward Sir John Charlton to Elizabeth with a letter (this was four days before her twenty-first birthday). Edward was at this time infatuated with several court favourites: Sir Roger Damory, Sir Hugh Audley, and Sir William Montacute. Montacute was already married and the father of eleven children, but at some point in 1316 the king became determined to marry off his two widowed de Clare nieces, Elizabeth and her older sister Margaret Gaveston, to Damory and Audley. Evidently Edward didn't know on 12 September that Elizabeth was pregnant with Theobald de Verdon's posthumous child. Or if he did know, he didn't much care. For the record, when Theobald's inquisition post mortem was held in October 1316, the jurors in some counties hadn't yet heard of Elizabeth's pregnancy (though others had).

Below, Edward II's letter to his niece of 12 September 1316.

Edward claimed near the start of his letter that he favoured Elizabeth above his other nieces* ("Dearest and beloved niece, for the special affection that we have for you before all our other nieces..."), which was a manipulative lie. There is an absolute mountain of evidence to demonstrate that the king was intensely fond of Elizabeth's eldest sister Eleanor throughout his reign, and until the Contrariant rebellion of 1321/22 he also enjoyed the company of their other sister Margaret, but he rarely if ever showed any affection to Elizabeth, and in 1322 he outright threatened her and allowed her brother-in-law Hugh Despenser the Younger to take her valuable Welsh lordship of Usk from her. So pretending that Elizabeth was his favourite niece was simply empty flattery and a way of buttering her up to get her to do what he wanted.

[* Edward's eight nieces alive in 1316 were: Joan of Acre's daughters, i.e. Eleanor Despenser, Margaret Gaveston, Elizabeth de Burgh, Mary MacDuff, countess of Fife, and Joan de Monthermer; Jeanne de Bar, countess of Surrey, only daughter of his eldest sister Eleanor, countess of Bar; and Eleanor and Margaret de Bohun, daughters of his sister Elizabeth, countess of Hereford, who were born in c. 1310 and 1311. The daughters of his half-brothers Thomas and Edmund - Margaret and Alice of Norfolk and Joan of Kent - weren't born until the 1320s.]

What's really interesting about the letter is that it's written by three different hands and has a lot of crossings-out and additions above the line, indicating that Edward thought hard about what he wanted to say and dictated parts of it to three different clerks on different occasions. Although the letter does not specifically say that Edward wishes Elizabeth to marry Sir Roger Damory, given the way events were later to pan out, it's virtually certain that this is what the king had in mind, and it's also apparent from the letter that his steward John Charlton had been ordered to discuss matters with Elizabeth in person. The revisions Edward made to the letter, the above-the-line additions, made it sterner, more menacing and far less amicable, and one sentence written entirely above the line says "...do willingly what he [John Charlton] requests of you on our behalf if you wish to have generous lordship from us and wish us to take to heart all matters which concern you." This is clearly a veiled threat, or in fact not all that veiled, that Edward would not be a good lord to Elizabeth if she did not do what he wanted. It is also worth noting that there is no closing salutation in the letter, such as "Very dear niece, may the Holy Spirit have you in his keeping" or even a more abrupt "May God keep you", as would have been conventional and polite. This tends to give the lie to Edward's claim that he felt "special affection" for Elizabeth.

Edward II was not only Elizabeth de Burgh's king and liege lord, he was her closest living adult male relative, her father having died when she was only a few weeks old, her husband dead in 1313, and her only full brother Gilbert de Clare dead at Bannockburn in 1314 (her younger half-brothers Thomas and Edward de Monthermer were only fifteen and twelve in 1316). The Magna Carta of 1215 officially forbade the forced remarriage of noble widows, but there is no doubt at all that Edward II was in a position to put a great deal of pressure on Elizabeth to marry the man he was currently infatuated with, and that he did so. Although Sir Roger Damory was a knight of Oxfordshire with a solid pedigree going back centuries, he was far below Elizabeth in rank, and furthermore was not even his father's eldest son and heir. She, on the other hand, was the granddaughter and niece of kings, daughter and sister of two of the greatest noblemen in the country, and would have been countess of Ulster if her first husband had outlived his father. 

Elizabeth's reply to Edward doesn't survive, but at some point she consented to marry Roger Damory, whether willingly or not. Edward and Roger visited her at Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire, where she had born her daughter Isabella de Verdon on 21 March 1317 - and where her aunt, the king's sister Mary, was a nun - on c. 10 April 1317, just three weeks later. Elizabeth is most unlikely to have been purified, a ceremony which took place approximately thirty to forty days after childbirth, by that time. One of the jurors at Isabella de Verdon's proof of age a few years later when she turned fourteen recalled the king's and Damory's visit to Elizabeth, and although the date of it isn't recorded, Edward granted a favour to one Robert Scales at Elizabeth's request on 10 April 1317, so she was in his presence on or a little before that day. [Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1317-36, no. 395; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-1317, p. 641] Edward II's itinerary shows that he was at the royal palace of Clarendon near Salisbury on 10 April and in Andover on 11 April, and Amesbury would only have been a short detour. The date of Elizabeth de Burgh and Roger Damory's wedding isn't recorded, peculiarly, but her sister Margaret Gaveston married Sir Hugh Audley at Windsor Castle on 28 April 1317, and Elizabeth and Roger were certainly married by 3 May 1317, when an entry on the Patent Roll talks of "Roger Damory and Elizabeth his wife".

Edward II's letter to Elizabeth de Burgh doesn't, in my opinion, show him in a good light, but reveals him as a person who could be manipulative and ruthless when he wanted something. Which isn't, to be fair, something that was particularly unusual in a medieval king. Whether Elizabeth wanted to marry Roger Damory or not, they seem not to have had a bad marriage, all in all; it would take another blog post to detail why I think that, and maybe I'll find the time one of these days!

29 August, 2021

The Will of Isabel of Castile, Duchess of York, Countess of Cambridge (1355-92)

Isabel of Castile was born sometime in the year 1355 in Tordesillas in central Spain, probably in the royal monastery of Santa Clara, where her father and her grandfather Alfonso XI (b. 1311, r. 1312-50) had built a palace. Isabel was the third daughter of Pedro 'the Cruel', king of Castile and Leon (b. 1334, r. 1350-69) and his long-term mistress Doña María de Padilla, a Castilian noblewoman; her older sisters were Beatriz, born in Córdoba in southern Spain in 1353, who died sometime after 23 September 1366*, and Constanza, born in Castrojeriz in northern Spain in June or July 1354, later duchess of Lancaster. The sisters had a younger full brother, Alfonso, but he died at the age of three in 1362 in the city of Seville, and they had at least five other illegitimate half-siblings, born to Pedro's other lovers. The Cortes of Castile declared the three sisters legitimate after King Pedro pretended that he had married María de Padilla in 1352, the year before he wed his unfortunate French wife Blanche de Bourbon, whom he imprisoned shortly after their wedding and who died still in prison in 1361. Constanza, as the elder of the two surviving royal Castilian daughters, inherited her father's kingdoms, at least nominally, after Pedro was killed by his illegitimate half-brother and deadly enemy Enrique of Trastámara in March 1369. In reality, Trastámara became King Enrique II of Castile and Leon, and was succeeded by his son Juan I in 1379 and then his grandson Enrique III in 1390. 

* When King Pedro talked of "our three daughters" (tres filiae nostrae): Foedera 1361-77, pp. 805-6.

Constanza and Isabel of Castile moved to England in the early 1370s and married the royal brothers John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster and earl of Leicester, Lincoln, Derby and Richmond, and Edmund of Langley, earl of Cambridge, sons of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. If their elder sister Beatriz had still been alive at this point, she would have been their father's rightful heir, and John of Gaunt, who named himself king of Castile and Leon from 1372 onwards, would have married her, rather than Constanza. Edmund of Langley, born c. 5 June 1341, was fourteen years older than his new wife, and was thirty-one to her seventeen, or sixteen going on seventeen, when they married in July 1372. Isabel became a duchess in 1385 when Richard II granted his uncle Edmund the dukedom of York, and had three children: Edward, duke of York, killed at the battle of Agincourt in 1415; Constance, Lady Despenser and briefly countess of Gloucester (d. 1416); and Richard, earl of Cambridge (executed 1415), grandfather of Edward IV and Richard III. Duchess Isabel died at the age of only thirty-seven on 23 December 1392, leaving a will which she made in French a few weeks before her death, now held in the National Archives.

A translation of Isabel of Castile's will was printed in 1826 in the first volume of Testamenta Vetusta, but unfortunately it is much shortened and has led numerous writers, including myself, astray regarding the nature of Isabel's relationship with her husband. Isabel's entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states, entirely wrongly but understandably, that she made no legacies to her husband and that her will consists of "a few bequests of jewellery". Nope, really, really not. Having seen and read the entire will, it is astonishing to me just how abbreviated the Vetusta translation is; it's maybe 5% of the original text. The sub-title of Testamenta Vetusta does say Being Illustrations from Wills, and it doesn't claim to translate all the text of the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century wills it includes, but still, the translations are highly misleading because it isn't made clear that the editor translated every fifth or tenth or twentieth line of each will and left out the rest. Its 'illustration' of the 1380 will of Edmund Mortimer (1352-81), third earl of March, for example, takes up just two and a half pages of Vetusta, but the full will, printed in the original French in A Collection of All the Wills Now Known to be Extant of the Kings and Queens of England, Princes and Princesses of Wales, and Every Branch of the Blood Royal, runs to thirteen pages. John of Gaunt's will is twenty-eight pages in A Collection, but only five pages in Testamenta Vetusta; Edmund of Langley's will is less than a page in Vetusta and two and a half pages in A Collection. So I advise considerable caution if you're using Testamenta Vetusta as a source. 

That being the case, here's some more information about Isabel of Castile's will of 1392 and what she actually bequeathed, not the absurdly abbreviated and hopelessly confusing version of it in Vetusta. The duchess left items to the following people, named here in the order in which they appear in the will (in order of rank, according to the strict hierarchical etiquette of the era): her nephew-in-law Richard II, king of England; Richard's queen, Anne of Bohemia; Isabel's brother-in-law John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster; her husband Edmund of Langley, duke of York; all three of Isabel and Edmund's children, Edward, Constance and Richard; Eleanor de Bohun, duchess of Gloucester and the wife of Thomas of Woodstock, Edmund of Langley and John of Gaunt's youngest brother; and, rather intriguingly, John Holland, earl of Huntingdon. Isabel also left numerous items and gifts of cash to a long list of her servants and attendants, none of which are mentioned at all in the Vetusta abstract of her will, so you'd have no idea of her generosity and kindness to them unless you make the effort to locate and look at the original text of her will.

John Holland, earl of Huntingdon, was the only noble/royal person in the will who wasn't a close relative of the duchess of York by blood or marriage, though he was Richard II's half-brother and was married to John of Gaunt's daughter Elizabeth of Lancaster. It's also, to my mind, rather fascinating that Isabel left nothing at all to her older sister Constanza of Castile, duchess of Lancaster, and failed even to mention her, and although she left items to Eleanor, duchess of Gloucester, she gave nothing to Eleanor's husband Thomas of Woodstock, her (Isabel's) own brother-in-law.

To John Holland (al counte de Huntyngdon), Isabel left her two Bibles, and "the best fillet that I have". The meaning of 'fillet' in this context is unclear to me; it usually meant a decorative headband of interlaced wire or a string of jewels to be worn on the head, but this was not an item one would expect to see being bequeathed to a man. There's definitely no squiggle above the word counte, 'earl', however, to indicate that the word is abbreviated and that Isabel actually intended to refer to the countess, Elizabeth of Lancaster, and the al, 'to the [earl]', is in the masculine form anyway. As well as these items, Isabel left to her elder son Edward some valuable gifts which John Holland had given to her: a gold cup, a gold brooch with "very large pearls and three sapphires" and a gold chaplet with white flowers, all of which "the earl of Huntingdon gave me" (q' le counte de Huntyndon me donna). The gold cup Holland had given her was engraved with Isabel's arms - presumably she meant the arms of Castile - so evidently he had had it especially made for her. Given the theory that Isabel of Castile and John Holland had an affair, this does perhaps add some fuel to that particular fire. Although the English nobility did send each other gifts on a regular basis, the presents John Holland gave to her were the only ones Isabel mentioned in her will.

To Anne of Bohemia, "my very dread lady the queen" (ma tresredoutee dame la Royne), Isabel gave seven gold belts; to Anne's husband Richard II, she gave a drinking-horn studded with pearls; and to the man who was both her husband's brother and her sister's husband, John of Gaunt, whom she called "my very honoured brother of Lancaster", Isabel gave a tablet of jasper which "the king of Armonie gave me". That's a reference to Levon or Leo, king of Cilician Armenia, who had visited England some years before. Duchess Isabel also left several tablets of gold and a "psalter with the arms of Northampton" to "my very honoured sister of Gloucester", i.e. Eleanor de Bohun. The duchess's father Humphrey de Bohun (1342-73) had been earl of Northampton, which suggests that the psalter had been a gift to Isabel from a member of the de Bohun family in the first place (I might speculate that it was a wedding gift to Isabel from Humphrey in July 1372, a few months before he died, but obviously I can't know for sure).

Isabel referred to Edmund of Langley as her "very honoured lord and husband of York", and left him all her horses, all her beds (tous mez litz) including the cushions, bedspreads, canopies and everything else that went with them, her best brooch, her best gold cup, and her "large primer". It is emphatically not the case that she did not bequeath him anything, and why the translator/editor of Testamenta Vetusta left all of this out is beyond me (he also left out her bequests to John Holland). To her elder son Edward, earl of Rutland (counte de Ruttellond), Isabel left the items mentioned above which she had been given by John Holland, and her crown, leaving him strict instructions never to sell it or give it away but to keep it in the family. To "my beloved daughter [ma t'samee fille] Constance la Despenser", Isabel gave a fret, i.e. a head-covering of interlaced wire, with pearls, her best fillet, and her silver scelle, which could mean saddle or stool. She then asked her nephew-in-law the king to "take his humble godson [humble filiol] to heart", meaning her youngest child Richard of Conisbrough, who was a good bit younger than his two siblings and wasn't specifically left any bequests except his mother's "beautiful psalter".

Isabel also left items and gifts of money to numerous servants of hers, both men and women; just to pick out a couple of examples more or less at random, she gave thirty shillings to 'John of the Wardrobe', ten marks to Roger Palfrayman, and good brooches to Elianor Southfeld and Marie Weston. Another female attendant of Isabel's named in the will, to whom she left a gown and a cloak, is a woman stated by the chronicler Jean Froissart to have been the mistress of the duchess's brother-in-law John of Gaunt; more info is available in my biography of him, due out early next year.

19 August, 2021

Edward II's Attacks on Normandy and the French Fleet in August/September 1326

A post about a curious and little-known event which took place late in Edward II's reign: the king's attacks on the French duchy of Normandy and on Norman ships in the late summer of 1326. The whole affair is obscure and barely came to the attention of contemporary chroniclers, though there are some references to it in the chancery rolls and, in particular, in Edward II's chamber account of 1325/26. Natalie Fryde and Roy Martin Haines, two of the very few historians to discuss the incident, date the attack to the first half of September 1326, though it's clear from the royal chamber account that at least part of the engagement actually took place in August. [1] It's all very difficult to figure out, firstly because, as noted, the event is weirdly obscure; secondly because Edward II's summons for armed men to attack the French and/or Normandy are easily confused with his summons to repel Queen Isabella's invasion force, which landed in Suffolk on 24 September 1326; and thirdly because the sources we do have seem to contradict each other, or rather, seem to be describing several different events. Therefore, this post is probably somewhat incoherent, for which, my apologies.

The background, very briefly, is that Edward II again went to war against his brother-in-law Charles IV of France in the summer of 1326, and his wife Isabella and their teenage son Edward of Windsor had been in France since 1325 and were refusing to return to England (or at least, Isabella was, and was keeping her son with her in her homeland). The earliest reference I can find to something happening in Normandy dates to 6 August 1326, when Edward II was leaving Portchester on the Hampshire coast and was on his way to his palace of Clarendon just outside Salisbury in Wiltshire. His chamber account shows that he gave £10 on that date to two men: Jack Pyk of Winchelsea in Sussex, a valet of the royal chamber and the captain of a royal ship called the Blome, and Pey-Bernat de Pynsole from Bayonne, a Gascon sergeant-at-arms in the king's household and the captain of another royal ship called the Petre. This entry states that Jack and Pey-Bernat had sailed to Portchester "in two long boats" to inform Edward and Hugh Despenser the Younger of recent events, and arrived just before Edward's departure for Clarendon. They told the king and his chamberlain that an English fleet had conquis, i.e. 'defeated' or 'captured' or 'taken by force', 140 ships from Edward's "enemies of Normandy" (enemys de Normandie). Something pretty major had already happened at sea by early August 1326, and the English side evidently had the best of it, though frustratingly I can't find any other reference to this. You'd think, surely, that an English fleet capturing well over 100 French ships might have appeared in a chronicle somewhere.

Below, p. 80 of Edward II's chamber account of 1325/26, Manuscript 122 in the library of the Society of Antiquaries in London, talking about Jack Pyk and Pey-Bernat de Pynsole's visit to Edward and Hugh Despenser in Portchester in early August 1326.


The king spent much of August 1326 at his palace of Clarendon. While there on 18 August, Edward ordered his treasurer and the barons of the Exchequer to have the following provisions sent to Portchester Castle by "Saturday the morrow of the Decollation of St John the Baptist", i.e. 30 August: "100 cross-bows with windlass for two feet, 200 cross-bows for one foot, with baldrics and quarrells sufficient for them, 100 hand-bows, with 1,000 cords for the same, and 1,000 heads for arrows, and 20 lbs. of glue, 100 lbs. of thread fit for the strings of cross-bows, and a sufficient quantity of cat-gut". On the same day, the king sent letters to the mayor and bailiffs of numerous ports along the coast of the south of England, and ordered them to have all the ships in their jurisdiction able to carry "50 tuns and upwards" sent to Portsmouth also by 30 August, "to set out in the king's service against the attack of the French". 

Edward also sent letters on 12 August to the archbishops of Canterbury and York, Walter Reynolds (d. 1327) and William Melton (d. 1340). He declared that his aim was to "restrain the malice of the men of the king of France", who were allegedly detaining Edward's wife and son in France against their will - a convenient fiction - and who, rather more plausibly, were, he said, capturing English ships and slaying the sailors and merchants on board. Ten days later, still at Clarendon, Edward ordered the sheriff of Kent to send fifty-four "well-armed footmen" to Portsmouth. Thirty men would be under the command of Richard Haukyn, captain of a ship called the Mariot, and twenty-four under the command of Robert Frende, captain of the Alice. The sheriff of Hampshire was to send 200 armed footmen to Portsmouth in thirteen ships, and according to the annalist of St Paul's in London, one of the very few chroniclers who mentioned the Normandy incident (albeit extremely briefly), another 100 men went from London and 100 from Kent. [3] The admiral of the western fleet, Sir Nicholas Kyriel of Kent (b. December 1282) - whose surname is spelt in approximately 117 different ways in contemporary documents, including Cryel and Crioll - and Peter Barde, bailiff of the Kent port of Sandwich and captain of the king's ship the Cog John (and a future admiral), visited Edward on 27 August 1326. They were given 100 marks (£66.66) because they had purchased ships for an assault on Normandy. [4] On 26 and 29 August and again on 10 September, Edward II ordered the arrest of all French people living in England. [5]

Natalie Fryde (Tyranny and Fall of Edward II, p. 184) cites the Canterbury chronicler's statement that Edward II sent a fleet of 300 ships to attack Normandy. As is usually the case when medieval chroniclers give numbers, this seems likely to be an exaggeration. According to Edward III, after he had succeeded his father as king some months later, the assault on Normandy took place "while we [i.e. himself] were in those parts" (dum eramus in partibus illis). His statement occurred in the context of a royal pardon for Sir John Felton, a knight who had been in the retinue of the late Hugh Despenser the Younger and was staunchly loyal to him, for holding Caerphilly Castle against Queen Isabella and for "invading Normandy and committing depredations" while the young king was there. [6] I don't know whether Edward III meant that he was specifically in Normandy in August/September 1326 or whether "in those parts" meant France more generally, though Natalie Fryde speculates that Edward II intended to seize his son in Normandy and return him to England. It certainly seems possible that the king had received intelligence that his son was in Normandy, though in fact the thirteen-year-old duke of Aquitaine and his mother Isabella had arrived in the county of Hainault by 27 August 1326, on which date the young duke was betrothed to Philippa of Hainault. As for Sir John Felton, he doesn't appear in Edward II's chamber account in connection with the raid on Normandy, as far as I can tell, though on 5 August 1326, the king gave him £5 for his excellent service to Hugh Despenser the Younger. [7]

Several entries in the chamber account indicate that some kind of engagement between English and French ships took place off the coast of Brittany, which was ruled at the time by Edward II's kinsman Duke John III (1286-1341), grandson of Edward I's sister Beatrice (1242-75) and a man with whom Edward II appears to have been on perfectly amicable terms and with whom he was in occasional contact in 1326. The duchy of Brittany was, unlike the duchy of Normandy, independent from the kingdom of France. On 3, 6 and 9 September 1326, entries in the chamber account mention "two ships of Normandy" (ij niefs de Normandie) called La Dorre and Cog Seint Thomas which had been captured off the coast of Brittany and taken to the port of Winchelsea by John Pym and other sailors in August. Assuming that the 140 ships captured by the English fleet, as also stated in the chamber account, is an even remotely correct number and not a wild exaggeration, I have no idea what happened to the other 138 of them. The king sent a sailor called Litel John (i.e. Little John) to Winchelsea with letters for Stephen and Robert Alard - the Alards were a thirteenth/fourteenth-century naval family of Winchelsea whose tombs can still be seen in the church of St Thomas the Martyr in the town - ordering them to take La Dorre to Portsmouth. Stephen Alard received a gift of £5 from the king on 15 September 1326 because he "went to sea with the great fleet" (ala a la meer oue la g'de flote). Stephen was said to be staying in Portchester Castle around this time, ill, though whether that means he was injured at sea or in Normandy while fighting against the French, or maybe just had a head cold or something, isn't clarified.

Rauf Rosekyn, captain of a royal ship called the James, seized the sum of £15 from a French ship "at Oderne in the parts of Brittany", which I assume means Audierne, and gave it to Edward II on or before 20 September 1326. The port of Audierne lies in the south of Brittany, pretty far from Normandy, so how Rosekyn's action fits in with an assault on Normandy and with Edward II's possible intention to seize his thirteen-year-old son there, I have no idea. On 28 June 1326, Rauf Rosekyn, as captain of the James, had been one of a number of ships' captains "whom the king is sending to diverse parts to further business enjoined on him", as stated on the Patent Roll. The others were Jack Pyk of the Blome, Per-Bernat de Pynsole, now in command of the Seint Edward, and Peter Barde of the Cog John, all named above; Rauf's brother Andrew Rosekyn of the Marie; Richard 'Hick' Fille of the Despenser; John Dyn of the Nicholas; Bernard Prioret of the Alianore; Badin Fourne of a galley also called Seint Edward; and Robert Bataill of the Godyere ('Goodyear'). The combined crew of these men's ships totalled 780 men. A few weeks later on 23 July 1326, another four ships' captains - Richard Councedieu of the Valence, William Pouche of the Blithe, Roger Catour of the Cog Nostre Dame and Robert Metacre of the Maudeleyne - were sent "to diverse parts on the king's affairs" with a total crew of 220 men. As is frustratingly often the case in the chancery rolls, what the men were up to was not specified, but given that Rauf Rosekyn appears in Edward II's chamber account a couple of months later and had clearly been involved in some kind of skirmish with a French ship off the coast of Brittany, it seems reasonable to assume that the other captains were sent on the same mission.

On 7 September 1326, there's a reference in the chamber account to three sailors from Bayonne in Gascony, part of Edward II's domains, whose names were recorded as Will Bernard and Garsy and Ernaud Remond (I doubt the first man was actually called 'Will', but Edward's chamber clerks usually anglicised French names even though they were writing in French). The three sailors had paid £20 for a ship in which they sailed against "the king's enemies of Normandy in the month of August", and the captain of the ship was Thomas Springet of Greenwich, a sailor who often appears in Edward II's accounts and was close enough to him that he was allowed to talk to the king in person in Edward's private rooms. [8] A couple of years earlier in 1323/24, some of the townspeople of Bayonne were involved in a feud with sailors from Normandy, and were summoned to appear before the seneschal of Poitou to explain the damages they had inflicted on Norman ships at sea. Sir Ralph Basset, steward of Gascony, sent a letter to Edward II about the ryote (dispute or quarrel) between "your people of Bayonne and the people of Normandy" in January 1324. [9] An earlier dispute between Gascon and Norman mariners, back in 1293, blew up into a war between England and France.

The reasons for Edward II's attacks on Normandy and on French ships are not entirely clear, and the silence of most chroniclers does not help (perhaps the ever-useful Vita Edwardi Secundi would have given an account of the event, but unfortunately the text ends abruptly in late 1325). It may be that Edward's son was in Normandy or at least that he believed him to be, or perhaps the king intended a pre-emptive strike against the French, in the belief that Charles IV would aid his sister Isabella during her invasion of England. Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, told Edward in January 1326 that he had heard news of a hostile fleet gathering in Normandy. [10] That may be true, or it may simply have been one of the many rumours flying around at the end of Edward II's reign.

The sizeable numbers of men and ships gathered in Portsmouth at the end of August 1326, plus the 1,000 men in fifteen ships sent somewhere on the king's business in June and July and their activities off the coast of Brittany, plus the reference to the 140 French ships captured in or before early August, all suggest that Edward II was expecting a full-scale invasion by the French, or hoping to prevent one. The references in his chamber account, however, all talk about les enemys le Roi de Normandie, "the king's enemies of Normandy" specifically, not his "enemies of France", so maybe the whole thing had more to do with the quarrel between Gascon and Norman sailors in some way. Edward's itinerary shows that he arrived in Portchester, close to Portsmouth, on 30 August and remained in the port until 16 or 17 September. While there, his chamber account is full of entries about ships being repaired and refurbished, payments being made to fletchers for feathering arrows, Edward ordering a coat of mail to be made for himself and having his sword and its scabbard mended, etc. There's a general air of military preparation about the whole thing. Whether this was connected to an attack on Normandy or the expected arrival of the queen's invasion force isn't entirely clear, though the reference on 13 September to la guerre entre le Roi e les g'ntz de la t're, "the war between the king and the magnates of the land", suggests the latter. Edward II being Edward II, though, he still found time to pop into a forge and have a chat with local blacksmiths called Philip Darrington and William Dertemewe (i.e. Dartmouth), and several carpenters and fletchers were said to have done their work "in the king's presence".

What actually happened on the ground in Normandy is difficult to ascertain. Roy Martin Haines (King Edward II, p. 172) states that Edward gave the order for his fleet assembled at Portsmouth to "sail to Normandy and there inflict as much damage as possible...The force was repulsed immediately on landing and many men perished. Two days later at the Downs the flotilla was instructed by the king to hasten to Yarmouth, but during the night fifteen of the ships were lost with their men. It was a great disaster". The source appears to be the Canterbury chronicle, also cited by Natalie Fryde, as noted above, and in an endnote on pp. 443-4, Haines explains that the expedition probably landed at Barfleur and raided nearby Cherbourg Abbey. Haines also cites Charles de la Roncière's Histoire de la Marine Française, vol. 1, p. 384, if anyone's interested in digging any deeper.

In any event, according to Haines, the English "great fleet" was repulsed and many men and ships were lost. As he points out, the loss of many English ships was perhaps a reason for the utter failure of Edward II's fleet to prevent the landing of the queen's invasion force on 24 September 1326, though certainly the gross unpopularity of Hugh Despenser the Younger and of the king himself was also a major factor. As the French Chronicle of London says, "the mariners of England were not minded to prevent their coming, by reason of the great anger they entertained against Hugh Despenser [the Younger]." [11] Then again, what happened to all those French/Norman ships supposedly captured by the English sometime before 6 August 1326? Ultimately, I can find very little about this mysterious attack on Normandy, though Seymour Phillips is perhaps correct when he suggests it was a "commando-style raid" intended either to bring Edward II's teenage son back home or to forestall a French attack on England. [12] It is apparent from Edward III's pardon to Sir John Felton in February 1327 that some Englishmen went ashore in Normandy and "committed depredations" there, though how the naval engagement(s?) between English and Norman ships off the coast of Brittany fits into the whole scenario, I don't know.

Sources

1) Natalie Fryde, The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326 (1979), pp. 184-5, 265; Roy Martin Haines, King Edward II: His Life, His Reign, and Its Aftermath, 1284-1330 (2003), pp. 172, 228-9.
2) Society of Antiquaries of London Manuscript 122, p. 80.
3) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-27, pp. 640-43; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1324-27, pp. 308, 310; Foedera 1307-1327, p. 637; Annales Paulini in Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, ed. Stubbs, vol. 1, p. 313.
4) SAL MS 122, p. 92.
5) Foedera 1307-27, pp. 638, 641.
6) CPR 1327-30, p. 10.
7) SAL MS 122, p. 79.
8) SAL MS 122, pp. 74, 83-6, for the last three paragraphs; CPR 1327-30, pp. 276, 278-9, 300, for 28 June 1326.
9) The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, ed. Pierre Chaplais, pp. 7-18.
10) The National Archives SC 1/49/92.
11) Croniques de London, ed. G.J. Aungier, p. 51.
12) Seymour Phillips, Edward II, p. 503.

13 August, 2021

Edward II's Grandchildren

In birth order, here's a list of Edward II's fourteen grandchildren, the seven sons and five daughters of his son Edward III (1312-77), and the two sons of his elder daughter Eleanor of Woodstock (1318-55), duchess of Guelders. Edward's younger son John of Eltham (1316-36), earl of Cornwall, his younger daughter Joan of the Tower (1321-62), queen of Scotland, and his illegitimate son Adam (c. 1305/10-22) had no children.

Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales and Aquitaine, first duke of Cornwall, earl of Chester, b. 15 June 1330, d. 8 June 1376. The eldest child of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, born as heir to his teenage father's throne but died a year before the king; the father of Richard II (b. 1367).

Isabella of Woodstock, countess of Bedford and Soissons, Lady Coucy, b. c. 16 June 1332, d. 5 October 1382 (not, as often stated, in 1379). The eldest daughter of Edward III and Queen Philippa; married the French nobleman Enguerrand de Coucy (b. c. 1340) at the age of 33 in July 1365 and mother of Marie (b. 1366) and Philippa (b. 1367) de Coucy. Isabella was the only one of the king and queen's five daughters who had children.

Reynald III, duke of Guelders and count of Zutphen, b. 13 May 1333; the elder son of Eleanor of Woodstock, born the month before his mother's fifteenth birthday. He succeeded his father Duke Reynald II as a ten-year-old in October 1343, and died in December 1371 leaving no children from his marriage to Marie of Brabant, though did have at least two illegitimate children.

Joan of Woodstock, b. c. January 1334 or possibly at the end of 1333, second daughter of Edward III and Queen Philippa; died of plague in the summer of 1348 on her way to marry Pedro (b. August 1334), heir to the throne of Castile and Leon, later known as Pedro 'the Cruel'.

Eduard I, duke of Guelders and count of Zutphen, b. 12 March 1336, the younger son of Eleanor of Woodstock and named after his maternal grandfather Edward II. Deadly enemy of his older brother Reynald, with whom he battled for control of the duchy of Guelders, and died some months before Reynald in August 1371. Betrothed but never married to Katharina of Bavaria (a granddaughter of Queen Philippa's eldest sister Margareta of Hainault, Holy Roman Empress), and left no children.

William of Hatfield, b. c. early January 1337, d. in or before early February 1337; the second son of Edward III and Philippa. Named after his maternal grandfather William or Willem, count of Hainault and Holland.

Lionel of Antwerp, first duke of Clarence, earl of Ulster, b. 29 November 1338 in modern-day Belgium; third son of Edward and Philippa but the second eldest to live into adulthood. He married Elizabeth de Burgh on 15 August 1342 when he was still only three years old and she, born on 6 July 1332, was ten, and became a father on 16 August 1355 when he was sixteen. Lionel married his second wife Violante Visconti of Milan a few months before his death on 17 October 1368, aged twenty-nine.

John of Gaunt, titular king of Castile and Leon, second duke of Lancaster, earl of Richmond, Lincoln, Leicester and Derby, b. 6 March 1340 in Ghent in modern-day Belgium, and the third eldest royal son to live into adulthood. John married Blanche of Lancaster in May 1359, Pedro the Cruel's daughter and heir Constanza of Castile in September 1371, and his long-term lover Katherine Swynford in February 1396. John was the father of King Henry IV and grandfather of Henry V, and died on 3 February 1399 a month before his fifty-ninth birthday. Four sons and four daughters outlived him, including the queens of Portugal and Castile.

Edmund of Langley, first duke of York, earl of Cambridge, b. c. 5 June 1341, d. 1 August 1402; the fourth son in a row borne by Queen Philippa. Edmund was the last survivor of Edward III's children, and was the only one to live past 1400. He married Isabel of Castile, younger daughter of Pedro the Cruel, in July 1372, and the decades-younger Joan Holland, daughter of the earl of Kent, in c. November 1393. Edmund had two sons and a daughter from his first marriage.

Blanche of the Tower, b. either March or June 1342, d. in infancy in 1342. If she was born in March 1342, Queen Philippa's pregnancy, given that Edmund was born in June 1341, cannot have gone to term. Blanche was buried in Westminster Abbey in early 1343. Her eldest brother Edward of Woodstock referred to her, in a letter about her burial, as dame Blaunche nostre tres amee soer, 'Lady Blanche, our much loved sister'.

Mary of Waltham, b. 10 October 1344, d. after 1 October 1361; married John of Brittany (b. 1339), later Duke John IV of Brittany, but left no children.

Margaret of Windsor, b. 20 July 1346, d. after 1 October 1361; married John Hastings (b. 29 August 1347), heir to the earldom of Pembroke, but left no children.

William of Windsor, b. c. mid or late May 1348, d. before 5 September 1348; godson of his eldest brother Edward of Woodstock. 

Thomas of Woodstock, first duke of Gloucester, earl of Buckingham and Essex, b. 7 January 1355, d. c. 8 September 1397; the seventh son and the twelfth and youngest child of Edward and Philippa, many years younger than his siblings (after his sisters Mary and Margaret died when he was six or seven, the sibling closest to him in age was Edmund of Langley, thirteen and a half years his senior). Thomas married Eleanor de Bohun (b. 1366) in c. 1374 and had a son and three daughters; his son Humphrey died at the age of seventeen in 1399, and Thomas's sole heir was ultimately his eldest daughter Anne, countess of Stafford (1383-1438). Thomas was murdered in Calais on the orders of his nephew Richard II, most probably on or around 8 September 1397.

Incidentally, 'Thomas of Windsor', another son sometimes assigned to King Edward and Queen Philippa by modern writers, who was supposedly born in the summer of 1347 and died in the same year as his slightly younger brother William of Windsor, did not exist. The 1399 will of Thomas of Woodstock's widow Eleanor de Bohun specifically names her late husband as Edward III's seventh son, and if 'Thomas of Windsor' had ever existed, Woodstock would actually have been the eighth. The invented 'Thomas' has been given the birthplace of William of Windsor, the name of Thomas of Woodstock, and the burial place of Edmund of Langley (Langley Priory in Hertfordshire), and is thus a fictional composite of King Edward and Queen Philippa's three youngest sons.

26 July, 2021

Edward II's Sisters: New Book

My new book about Edward II's sisters is out now in the UK!

Astonishingly, Edward II might have had as many as eleven older sisters and certainly had at least ten, plus a much younger half-sister (plus three and perhaps four older brothers and two younger half-brothers). The names of two of his older sisters are not known, and the existence of his putative eldest sister, a child perhaps born to Eleanor of Castile in late May 1255 seven months after her wedding, is uncertain. 

The sisters were: Katherine (died young in 1264); Joan (d. young in 1265); Eleanor, countess of Bar (1269-98); an infant whose name is unknown (d. young in 1270 or 1271); Joan of Acre, countess of Gloucester (1272-1307); Margaret, duchess of Brabant (b. 1275, d. after March 1333); Berengaria (d. young in 1278); an infant whose name is unknown (d. young in 1278); Mary, nun of Amesbury (1279-1332); and Elizabeth, countess of Holland and Hereford (1282-1316). Edward II's half-sister Eleanor, the third child and only daughter of Edward I and Marguerite of France, was probably born on 6 May 1306 and was twenty-two years Edward II's junior, and died in the late summer or early autumn of 1311. By the time Edward II succeeded his father as king of England in July 1307, only three of his many older sisters were still alive, and only two of them were in England. In the last ten years of his reign, 1316 to 1326, his only sister still alive in England was Mary the nun, though Edward did keep in fairly regular contact with his only other living sister, Margaret, dowager duchess of Brabant (who did not die in 1318, as claimed by Mary Anne Everett Green in the nineteenth century and by numerous later writers who copy Green and don't check properly).

11 June, 2021

Blog Updates

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to update the Edward II blog for a few weeks, because my mother was taken seriously ill and was hospitalised on 8 May, and a few weeks later, on 31 May, she passed away. Her funeral took place three days ago, on 8 June, and as her only child, I arranged it and wrote and gave the eulogy. As I'm sure you understand, the worry over my mum's illness, and now my bereavement, have made it impossible for me to research and write blog posts. I do, however, hope to start updating the blog again sometime in the near future. So do please keep checking back, and in the meantime, I've posted something like 900 articles here, so I'm sure you'll find some interesting information to enjoy about Edward II and his fascinating life! All the best, Kathryn. 

02 May, 2021

Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger (2)

In the first part of this post, I looked at the way that Hugh Despenser the Younger, though Edward II's nephew-in-law from May 1306 onwards, was completely obscure and completely powerless for the first few years of Edward's reign; he held no lands at all until sometime after 1310 and had a comparatively tiny annual income of about £155, given to him by his father. Hugh was only very rarely at court, and his life until 1316 is, for the most part, so obscure that I can only rarely find him on record and have no idea where he lived or what he was up to (apart from building a large family with Eleanor; they had at least ten children between 1308/09 and 1325). Here, I take up Hugh's story from 1314.

Hugh the Younger and his father Hugh the Elder both fought at the battle of Bannockburn on 23 and 24 June 1314. The Lanercost chronicle states that Hugh the Younger was one of the 500 or so men who accompanied Edward II during his gallop to Dunbar Castle after losing the battle, and we know the names of the eleven men who went to Scotland with Hugh: John Haudlo of Strete, Simon de Lyndeseye, Walter Haket, William Walle, Henry de la Rue, William Byby, Nicholas de Sothynton, John de Glaston, John Tyger, John de la Haye and Richard Capel. [1] Nicholas de Sothynton or Sudington was, incidentally, one of the men who, a decade later, helped the two Hugh Despensers capture and imprison Elizabeth Comyn. And Hugh Despenser the Younger, as well as fighting at Bannockburn, was a keen jouster (who left England without permission in 1310 to joust overseas) and was first summoned to a military campaign in May 1306 when he was still a teenager and had just been knighted. He was also, of course, a pirate in the early 1320s, and a particularly merciless one at that. The idea you sometimes see in novels, that Hugh was some kind of swishy feeble court fop, is so far from the truth that it's laughable, and as I'll examine in a future post, he was a genuinely scary person.

The battle of Bannockburn changed Hugh the Younger's fortunes forever, because his extraordinarily wealthy brother-in-law Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, Edward I's eldest grandchild and the second richest nobleman (after Thomas of Lancaster) in England in the early 1300s, was killed there. As I've written about here before (see here and here), Gilbert's widow Maud de Burgh - who was Hugh Despenser the Younger's second cousin, incidentally - claimed to be pregnant for years, though either was not or lost her infant, and Gilbert's heirs were his three sisters: Hugh's wife Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth. Some writers have claimed that Hugh was already high in Edward II's favour as early as 1314, but he was definitely not. If he had been, Edward would have fallen over himself to give Hugh his and Eleanor's lands as hastily as possible, rather than forcing Hugh to beg him for the lands repeatedly for months on end. This theory also ignores the existence of Sir Roger Damory and Sir Hugh Audley, the influential court favourites of 1315 to 1318/19.

Despite claiming to believe in the dowager countess of Gloucester's years-long pregnancy, Edward II was forced to recognise Hugh the Younger's newfound importance as one of the late earl's co-heirs. Hugh witnessed his first-ever royal charter in May 1316, just under nine years into Edward II's reign; the evidence of charter witness lists reveals who was at court at the time and who was in the king's favour and important enough to be asked to witness the king's grants. Hugh witnessed his second royal charter two months later. [2] Interestingly, Roger Mortimer of Wigmore and his uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk witnessed the same charter of May 1316; according to the Vita Edwardi Secundi, Hugh the Younger had sworn revenge on the two men for the death of his grandfather Hugh Despenser the justiciar at the battle of Evesham in 1265, when Mortimer of Chirk's father Roger Mortimer of Wigmore (d. 1282) apparently stabbed the justiciar in the back. 

Eventually, in May 1317, just under three years after the earl of Gloucester's death at Bannockburn, Edward II was forced to stop pretending that he believed Countess Maud would bear her husband's posthumous child, and ordered the division of the massive de Clare inheritance among Gilbert's three sisters and their husbands. It took royal clerks six months to prepare the division, and the heirs received their lands in November 1317. Hugh Despenser the Younger, as the husband of the eldest sister, took the best share, which included the lordship of Glamorgan in South Wales. The neighbouring lordship of Gwynllwg, however, once part of Glamorgan, was now separated from it and given to Hugh's sister-in-law Margaret de Clare and her second husband Hugh Audley. Hugh Despenser, disgruntled about this, entered Gwynllwg sometime before 12 December 1317 (when the news reached Edward II's ears in Windsor) and took the homage of Margaret and Audley's tenants, as though they were his own. Edward II was having none of it, and on 30 January and 4 and 14 March 1318, ordered Hugh to withdraw from the lordship, which he had 'unlawfully taken'. [3] So we see that as late as March 1318, Hugh Despenser the Younger was still not high in Edward II's favour or affections. If he had been, Edward would have fondly waved off his machinations to gain control of lands that were not rightfully his, as the king was often to do in later years.

Now the wealthy lord of Glamorgan, Hugh the Younger was elected as Edward II's chamberlain by the English magnates - importantly, not by the king himself - in the summer or autumn of 1318. The exact date of his appointment is not recorded, but he was confirmed in the role by the parliament that began in York on 20 October 1318, and on 6 December that year appears as 'Hugh Despenser, chamberlain' in the ordinance made for the king's household. The later chronicler Geoffrey le Baker claimed that Hugh was made chamberlain against Edward's wishes, as he hated him. [4] Whether Edward really did hate Hugh, I don't know, and Baker's statement may be an exaggeration, but it seems clear that he didn't like him or trust him, despite his great affection for Hugh's wife and Hugh's father. Born probably in the late 1280s, Hugh the Younger was about thirty years old in 1318, incidentally.

Somehow, in the months and years following his appointment as chamberlain, Hugh Despenser the Younger worked his way into Edward II's affections until the king became - what? infatuated with him maybe, dependent on him in some way, in love and/or in lust with him, perhaps. There's no way of knowing for sure what happened between the two men, but they became remarkably close, and from 1319 to 1326, where Hugh's itinerary can be established, his location almost always coincided with the king's (see Appendix 2 of my Hugh Despenser the Younger and Edward II: Downfall of a King's Favourite). The Anonimalle chronicle says that 'the king loved [Hugh] dearly, with all his heart and mind, above all others', Geoffrey le Baker stated that Hugh enchanted Edward's heart, and the Scalacronica says that Edward 'loved and entirely trusted' Hugh. [5] 

It's frustrating that we don't have the kind of evidence that would tell us exactly how Hugh worked his way so strongly into the favour of a man who had never previously shown the slightest liking for him. Just about the earliest example I can find of Hugh's influence over the king dates to April 1319. Hugh complained to Edward about the archbishop of Canterbury, Walter Reynolds, excommunicating some of his officials in Wales because they had arrested a renegade monk of Ogbourne Priory in Wiltshire and delivered him to the prior. On 10 April 1319, Edward ordered Archbishop Reynolds to revoke the sentence of excommunication, and, not coincidentally, the prior of Ogbourne acknowledged that he owed Hugh the staggeringly vast sum of £2,220. Edward's previously influential 'favourite' (and lover?) Sir Roger Damory, meanwhile, witnessed his last royal charters on 4 February, 25 May and 19 July 1319; his disappearance from court and from royal favour is visible in the records, and by 1321 he had turned firmly against Edward. [6]

By September 1319, Hugh Despenser's hold over the king seems to have been quite secure. During the disastrously unsuccessful siege of Berwick-on-Tweed that month, Hugh sent the first of many long, demanding, hectoring letters to Sir John Inge, sheriff of Glamorgan. (I find it impossible to read any of the letters without wincing on poor Inge's behalf.) This long letter opened with Hugh announcing that he wished for the advancement of Inge's brother within Holy Church, and that 'we will put this wish into effect as soon as we can'. The (unnamed) brother had previously been given a church by Edward II at Hugh's request. Hugh had, however, since found out that the church was of little value and that therefore, he would arrange with Edward that the next good church which fell vacant would be given to the Inge brother instead. [7] In this letter, Hugh referred to Edward simply as le Roy, 'the king', rather than 'our lord the king' or 'the lord king', as would have been polite and conventional, and which he always did in his later letters to Inge. It gives me the impression that Hugh's attitude towards Edward II was rather dismissive, even perhaps rather disrespectful.

In the next post, I'll take a further look at Hugh and Edward's complex relationship, and at what happened between them after 1319.

Sources

1) The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. H. Maxwell (1913), p. 208; Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, vol. 5, Supplementary, no. 2961.

2) The National Archives C 53/102, no. 12; C 53/103, no. 58.

3) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1317-21, pp. 60, 103, 120-21; Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-18, pp. 531-2; TNA C 47/10/43/22.

4) Chronicon Galfridi de Baker de Swynebroke, ed. E.M. Thompson, p. 6.

5) The Anonimalle Chronicle 1307 to 1334, eds. W.R. Childs and J. Taylor, pp. 92-3; Galfridi de Baker, p. 10; Scalacronica: The Reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, ed. H. Maxwell, p. 70.

6) CCR 1318-23, pp. 132-3, 138; TNA SC 1/36/68, C 53/105, no, 31, C 53/106. no. 34.

7) The letter is printed in the original French in Cartae et Alia Munimenta quae ad Dominium Glamorgancia Pertinent, vol. 3, pp. 1063-5.

20 April, 2021

Foreign Parents of Earls in Edward II's Reign

It occurred to me recently how many of the English earls of Edward II's era had a non-English mother, and in a couple of cases, a non-English father. Edward II himself was the son of a half-Spanish, half-French mother, Leonor or Eleanor of Castile. His maternal grandfather Fernando III of Castile and Leon was Spanish, and both of his grandmothers, Joan of Ponthieu (often called Jeanne de Dammartin) and Eleanor of Provence, queens of Castile and England, were French. Of Edward's eight great-grandparents, only one, King John, was born in England, two were born in Spain, and five were born in France. Of his sixteen great-great-grandparents, thirteen were born in France, two in Spain and one in Portugal, and none were born in England.

The mother of Edward II's half-brothers Thomas of Brotherton, earl of Norfolk (1300-38) and Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent (1301-30), was French: Marguerite of France, daughter of Philip III from his second marriage to Marie of Brabant, and half-sister of Philip IV. 

The mother of Thomas (c. 1277/78-1322) and Henry (c. 1280/81-1345) of Lancaster, earls of Lancaster and Leicester, was French: Blanche of Artois, daughter of Robert, count of Artois; niece of Louis IX; widow of Enrique I of Navarre; mother-in-law of Philip IV; and grandmother of Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV of France and of Edward II's queen Isabella.

The mother of Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln (c. 1250-1311), was Italian: Alesia di Saluzzo, daughter of Manfredi, count of Saluzzo.

The mother of Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (1285-1326), was Italian: Alesia di Saluzzo the younger, niece of Henry de Lacy's mother of the same name, and daughter of Tommaso, count of Saluzzo.

The father of John of Brittany, earl of Richmond (c. 1266-1334) was, unsurprisingly, Breton: John II, duke of Brittany (1239-1305). John of Brittany's mother was Edward I's sister Beatrice (1242-75), making him Edward II's first cousin, and his older brother Arthur II (1262-1312) succeeded their father as duke of Brittany.

The father of Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke (1270s or early 1280s-1324) was French: William or Guillaume de Valence, earl of Pembroke (d. 1296). He was one of Henry III's Lusignan half-siblings, children of Hugues de Lusignan, count of La Marche, and King John's widow Isabelle of Angoulême.

The mother of Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex (c. 1276-1322) was French: Maud de Fiennes, daughter of Enguerrand, seigneur de Fiennes, and Isabelle de Condé. Humphrey married Edward II's sister Elizabeth of Rhuddlan (1282-1316).

The mother of Roger Mortimer, earl of March (1286/87-1330) was French: Marguerite de Fiennes, niece of Maud de Fiennes above, and daughter of Guillaume de Fiennes and Blanche de Brienne. When Marguerite died not long before 21 February 1334, incidentally, her heir was her great-grandson Roger Mortimer the younger, born November 1328 and later the second earl of March; she had outlived her son Roger, executed in November 1330, and Roger's eldest son Edmund, who died before 21 January 1332. [Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1327-36, nos. 387, 577] Marguerite's sister Jeanne de Fiennes (d. 1309) married John, Lord Wake (d. 1300) and was the mother of Margaret Wake, countess of Kent (d. 1349) and the grandmother of Joan of Kent, princess of Wales and Aquitaine (d. 1385), Richard II's mother.

Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall (1270s or early 1280s-1312), was of Gascon birth and heritage, and as Gascony was then ruled by the kings of England, was a subject of the English crown and not strictly French by the standards of the time. Piers' family name derives from Gabaston, now a commune in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department in the far south-west of France. He was the son of Arnaud de Gabaston/Gaveston and Claramonde de Marsan, and his grandfathers were Garsie de Gabaston and Arnaud-Guilhem de Marsan.

For the sake of completeness, the earl of Chester in Edward II's reign was his son Edward of Windsor, later Edward III (1312-77), whose mother was also, obviously, French: Isabella of France, daughter of Philip IV of France and Jeanne/Juana I, queen of Navarre.

The English earls of Edward II's era who had English parents were:

Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford (1291-1314), son of Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford  (1243-95) and Edward II's sister Joan of Acre (1272-1307).

John de Warenne, earl of Surrey and Sussex (1286-1347), son of William de Warenne (d. 1286) and Joan de Vere, daughter of the earl of Oxford; grandson and heir of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey and Sussex (1231-1304) and Alice de Lusignan, half-sister of Henry III and full sister of Guillaume de Valence.

Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (c. 1272/75-1315), son of William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1298) and Maud FitzJohn (d. 1301).

Hugh Despenser the Elder, earl of Winchester (1261-1326), son of Hugh Despenser, justiciar of England (d. 1265) and Aline Basset, countess of Norfolk (d. 1281).

Andrew Harclay, earl of Carlisle (c. 1270-1323), probably the eldest son of Sir Michael Harclay and Joan FitzJohn.

Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford (1257-1331), was the son of Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford (d. 1296) and Alice Sanford, and was the maternal uncle of John de Warenne (1286-1347).

11 April, 2021

English Earls Executed Between 1312 and 1330

It says so much about Edward II's turbulent reign that for centuries after William the Conqueror put the rebellious Waltheof to death in 1076, no English earls were executed, then in Edward's reign and just afterwards, the first three years and a few months of his son Edward III's reign - a period which to all extents and purposes belongs to Edward II's era - seven (seven!) earls were executed. Another two earls, meanwhile, died in battle: Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford, at Bannockburn in June 1314, and Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex, at Boroughbridge in March 1322. Furthermore, rumours were current in the fourteenth century that Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, was poisoned in August 1315 with the connivance of Edward II himself (in revenge for Guy's abduction of Piers Gaveston in June 1312). Quite honestly, to be an earl in Edward II's era and to die of natural causes was a real achievement. After Edward III took over the governance of his own kingdom from his mother in October 1330, no other English earl was executed for the remainder of his long reign. 

Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall was stabbed and beheaded on the orders of several of Edward II's disgruntled barons, including the earls of Warwick, Lancaster, Hereford and Arundel, at Blacklow Hill in Warwickshire on 19 June 1312. There was and is some dispute as to whether he was really earl of Cornwall when he died, as the title had been taken from him the previous autumn when he was exiled for the third time, but certainly, Edward II thought he was, having granted him the title and lands again in January 1312. The next earl of Cornwall was Edward's younger son, 12-year-old John of Eltham, granted the earldom by his mother Isabella and brother Edward III in October 1328; it's probably revealing of Edward II's feelings about Piers Gaveston that he didn't give anyone else the earldom once held by his beloved, not even his own son.

Thomas of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster and Leicester, was beheaded outside his own Yorkshire castle of Pontefract on 22 March 1322, having lost the battle of Boroughbridge six days earlier. Numerous fourteenth-century chroniclers pointed out that Edward II executed his cousin in revenge for Piers Gaveston's death just under a decade earlier. Probably born in late 1277 or early 1278, Thomas was forty-four when he was executed, and because he was of royal birth - his father was Edward I's only brother and his mother was the niece of Louis IX of France and the widow of Enrique I of Navarre - his death shocked contemporaries. If we decide that Piers Gaveston doesn't really 'count' as an earl, and he was Gascon and not English anyway, Thomas was the first English earl executed for 246 years.

Andrew Harclay, earl of Carlisle, was, as sheriff of Cumberland, the man chiefly responsible for destroying the Contrariant army at the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322, and shortly afterwards was rewarded with the new earldom of Carlisle by a grateful Edward II. Andrew soon fell foul of the king, however, when in early 1323, sick of the king's inability to protect the north of England from Scottish raids, he came to an agreement with Robert Bruce without Edward II's knowledge or consent. Andrew suffered the traitor's death in Carlisle on 3 March 1323, probably in his early fifties, having been earl of Carlisle for less than a year. The next earl of Carlisle was James Hay, a whole 300 years later in 1622.

Hugh Despenser the Elder, earl of Winchester, was hanged in Bristol on 27 October 1326, aged 65. Edward II had left him in Bristol to hold the city against Queen Isabella and her invasion force, but it fell to her after a few days, and Hugh was given a show trial and immediately hanged, then beheaded after death. His body was suspended for several days on the gallows by the arms, and then, horribly, fed to dogs, and his head was taken to Winchester for public display. He had been earl since May 1322, a little under four and a half years, and there was no other earl of Winchester until the 1470s.

Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, aged 41, was beheaded in Shrewsbury on 17 November 1326, also on the orders of Queen Isabella and Arundel's cousin Roger Mortimer. It seems that he wasn't even allowed the semblance of a trial before his death, which was a horribly slow and painful one: it took the incompetent executioner at least seventeen and perhaps more than twenty strokes of the axe to sever his head. Arundel, present at the execution of Piers Gaveston in 1312, had become a staunch ally of Edward II and the Despensers, and his son and heir Richard, who restored the family fortunes and then some in later years, was married to Hugh Despenser the Younger's eldest daughter Isabella.

Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, the youngest son of Edward I and half-brother of Edward II, and grandson of Philip III of France, was beheaded in Winchester on 19 March 1330, aged 28. He had been making attempts to free his supposedly dead half-brother the late king from captivity in Corfe Castle, Dorset, and was beheaded after being forced to wait around on the scaffold for many hours because the executioner had fled, unwilling to participate in the judicial murder of a king's son. His wife Margaret Wake was almost nine months pregnant with their son John at the time.

Roger Mortimer, earl of March, was hanged at Tyburn on 29 November 1330, aged 43 or 44, on the orders of Edward III. A list of fourteen charges was issued against him during parliament, which reveals the young king's fury that March's dominance of his government made him feel that he was "like a man living in custody". As with Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan, almost exactly four years earlier, March was accused of usurping royal power which did not belong to him.

The earls who died of natural causes were:

Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, died in 1311, aged about 50 or 52. Henry's heir was his daughter Alice (1281-1348).

Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, son of Henry III's half-brother William de Valence. He died in France in June 1324 in his forties or fifties, on his way to Charles IV's court in Paris, somewhat in disgrace with Edward II. Possibly Pembroke's sudden and unexpected death - he collapsed and died in the arms of an attendant without being shriven - spared him from later execution either by Edward II or Queen Isabella.

Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford (1257-1331): a weirdly obscure nobleman who played no role whatsoever in events of Edward II's reign, and at least part of the fact that he survived both the reign and Queen Isabella's regime unscathed was because he wasn't important enough for anyone to bother with.

John of Brittany, earl of Richmond (c. 1266-1334): a younger son of Edward I's sister Beatrice, and thus a first cousin of Edward II and of Thomas and Henry of Lancaster. Oddly, John never married. He was loyal to Edward until 1322, and later joined Isabella in France. Although he mostly grew up in England, where his relatives affectionately called him Briton, he was always something of an outsider in English politics.

John de Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex (1305-36): Edward II's nephew, and, with his younger brothers, a close ally of their cousin Edward III.

Thomas of Brotherton, earl of Norfolk (1300-38): Edward II's other half-brother; possibly, he survived Isabella and Roger Mortimer's regime because his son and heir was married to Mortimer's daughter Beatrice.

Henry of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster and Leicester (c. 1280-1345): brother and heir of Thomas, first cousin of Edward II, with whom he was somewhat in disgrace from 1322 to 1326. Henry played an important role in Edward's downfall in 1326/27, but two years later fell out badly with Isabella and Mortimer and rebelled, and again, was perhaps lucky not to be executed or judicially murdered.

John de Warenne, earl of Surrey and Sussex (1286-1347), nephew of the obscure Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, and nephew-in-law of Edward II: switched sides from Edward to the queen at the right moment in 1326 and thus saved himself from the horrible execution of his brother-in-law the earl of Arundel, and died the day before his 61st birthday in June 1347.

And finally, for the sake of completeness, I should also mention Edward III, who was made earl of Chester in late 1312 when he was a few days old.