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.

04 April, 2021

Margaret Gatesden, John Camoys and William Paynel

The fascinating story of a thirteenth-century noblewoman who left her husband and moved in with her lover, with, amazingly enough, her husband's blessing.

Margaret Gatesden (or Gatesdene or Gattisden, etc) was born sometime in the early or mid-1250s as the daughter of Sir John Gatesden, a landowner in Sussex and Surrey, and Hawise née Courtenay, widow of John Neville. Margaret had older half-brothers from her mother's first marriage, but was her father's only surviving child and heir, and inherited manors in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Sussex. She married Sir John Camoys, who was born around 1247/52: in November 1276 he was said to be 27 years old, and in April/May 1277, he was either 25, 26 or 30. John inherited lands in Surrey, Norfolk, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire. [1] Margaret Gatesden and John Camoys' son Ralph Camoys was born in or before November 1273: he paid homage to Edward I for a manor in November 1294, and must have been at least 21 then. [2] Ralph Camoys was a long-term adherent of Hugh Despenser the Elder, and in 1316 married Despenser's youngest daughter Elizabeth as his (decades-younger) second wife. Ralph's grandson Thomas Camoys was born around 1350 and lived until 1421, having commanded part of the English army at the battle of Agincourt in 1415. Thomas's daughter Alice Camoys, Margaret Gatesden's great-great-granddaughter, was the mother of Edward IV's friend William, Lord Hastings (d. 1483).

Sometime in or before 1277, according to the Complete Peerage, Margaret Camoys née Gatesden fell in love with another man, Sir William Paynel, lord of Trotton in Sussex, who many years later inherited lands in Wiltshire, Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey from his older brother Thomas Paynel (d. 1314). William was said to be 60 years old in 1314, so was born c. 1254 or rather earlier, and was therefore apparently around Margaret's own age. [3] Margaret left John Camoys and went to live with William. Rather remarkably, John accepted the situation and responded to the situation with astonishing kindness and benevolence. He stated on 11 June 1285 that 'I will and grant … that the aforesaid Margaret is to live and remain with the aforesaid Sir William', transferred his rights to the greater part of Margaret’s inheritance to Paynel, and gave up his claims to her goods and chattels. In 1300, it was said that Margaret 'lived with the same William … with the consent and by the will of the said John, then the husband of the same Margaret'. On 9 June 1281, there's a record of a '[f]eoffment by John de Cammays [Camoys] to John de Kirkeby of the manor and advowson of Cotherstok and the mills of Pireho with their suits, all of which Sir William Paynel, who enfeoffed the said John de Kirkeby thereof, had by his gift and feoffment.' [4]

After Sir John Camoys died, Margaret married Sir William Paynel, by then her lover for more than twenty years. Edward I’s government appeared far more upset about Margaret’s behaviour than her first husband did, claiming after John died that she had no right to dower as his widow because she had 'abandoned' him, was 'guilty of the crime of adultery', and 'is living in adultery rather than in any other proper or lawful manner'. Gilbert St Leofard, bishop of Chichester, however, acknowledged that in early 1296 Margaret had 'solemnly and canonically purged herself' of adultery before Gilbert’s dean and treasurer, the prioress of Easebourne, four ladies named as Margaret Martel, Isabel de Montfort, Hawise de Houtot and A. Corbet, and 'many other married women and young maidens of the neighbourhood'. The bishop therefore declared her innocent of the crime and requested that she might be restored to her good name. William Paynel had also legally purged himself of adultery before John Pecham, archbishop of Canterbury, in 1288. The reaction of Edward I's government to the Margaret Gatesden/William Paynel situation mentions a recent statute 'concerning women leaving their husbands and living with their adulterers and not reconciled freely and without ecclesiastical coercion before the deaths of their husbands … in which it is expressly contained that, if a wife freely leaves her husband and goes to live with her adulterer, she is to lose in perpetuity her action for claiming her dower which might belong to her'. [5] 

The awesome John Camoys, who evidently cared more about his wife's happiness than he did about his own reputation, died shortly before 4 June 1298, and Margaret married William Paynel in or before 1300. [6] They had no children during their long relationship, or at least, no children who survived. Margaret Gatesden Camoys Paynel was still alive on 16 June 1310 when she appears in an entry on the Close Roll, and died shortly before 4 January 1311, when Edward II ordered his escheator to take into his own hands the lands 'late of Margaret late the wife of John de Camoys, deceased'. [7] Her heir was her son Ralph Camoys. 

Margaret's widower William Paynel died on 1 April 1317, leaving his younger brother John, said in William's IPM to be anywhere between 40 and more than 60 years old (!!), as his heir. It seems more likely that John was much closer to 60 than to 40, and that the two younger Paynel brothers were born around 1254 and 1257. William was said on 7 June 1314 to be too physically weak to be able to travel to Edward II and perform homage for the lands he had inherited from his older brother Thomas, and by 14 June 1316, he was blind ('deprived of his sight'). [8] He had, however, married a second wife, Eve Dawtry, before 6 November 1314. She was the granddaughter and heir of William Dawtry and the widow of Roger Shelvestrode, with whom she had a son named John. [9] Eve married her third husband Sir Edward St John just a few weeks after William Paynel's death, sometime before 26 May 1317 when the king seized their lands because they had married without a royal licence. In February 1321, Edward II pardoned Eve, Edward St John and twenty men for supposedly abducting Eve from Cowdray in Sussex, "she being willing and assenting thereto". Edward's father John St John had acknowledged a debt of 72 marks to William Paynel in 1281, so the families had known each other for a long time. Many years William Paynel's junior, Eve did not die until August 1354, having outlived her eldest son John Shelvestrode. Her heir to her Paynel dower lands was William's niece Maud, daughter of his younger brother John; her primary heir was her grandson Roger Shelvestrode (b. 1334); and she had two sons with Edward St John as well, named John and Edward St John. 

William Paynel's stepson Sir Ralph Camoys died shortly before 17 September 1335, when his lands were taken into the king's hands. In June 1334, Ralph's eldest son Thomas Camoys (d. 1372), grandson of John Camoys and Margaret Gatesden, was one of the two godfathers of Roger Shelvestrode, grandson and heir of Eve Dawtry, second wife of Margaret Gadesden's widower, while Eve herself was her grandson's godmother. [10] This is a rather fascinating illustration of how the Camoys, Paynel and Dawtry/St John/Shelvestrode families remained close, decades after Margaret Gatesden left her husband John Camoys with his blessing to live with her lover William Paynel.


1) CIPM 1272-91, nos. 178, 212.

2) CFR 1272-1307, p. 349.

3) CIPM 1317-27, no. 456; Complete Peerage, vol. 10, pp. 319-31.

4) The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England: Original Documents, Edward I Parliaments, Roll 11; TNA E 40/9069.

5) Parliament Rolls.

6) CFR 1272-1307, pp. 76-8, 349, 400; Parliament Rolls.

7) CCR 1307-13, p. 217; CFR 1307-19, pp. 77, 81.

8) CIPM 1317-27, no. 46; CFR 1307-19, pp. 198, 321; CPR 1313-17, p. 472.

9) Complete Peerage, vol. 10, p. 330.

10) CFR 1307-19, p. 328; CPR 1317-21, pp. 559-60; CCR 1279-88, p. 130; CIPM 1352-60, nos. 189, 271; CFR 1327-37, p. 459.

28 March, 2021

Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger (1)

I'm not sure I've ever written a post about Edward II's relationship with Hugh Despenser the Younger, or at least not for a very long time. Here's the first part of two or three posts about the two men's relationship.

A later chronicler stated that Edward and Hugh were companions in childhood. There's no confirmation of this that I know of, though Hugh's older half-sister Maud Chaworth (b. 1282) was certainly one of Edward's noble companions in childhood. Hugh's maternal grandfather was William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (c. 1240-98), who was close to Edward I's age and was one of the great English magnates between the 1260s and late 1290s, and William's younger brother Sir Walter Beauchamp, Hugh Despenser's great-uncle, was steward of Edward I's household from 1289 until his death in 1303. Hugh's father Hugh the Elder was often at court from the mid-1280s until Edward I's death in 1307, and the king frequently sent him as an envoy overseas, to the pope, the king of France, and so on. So even if Edward of Caernarfon and Hugh weren't companions as such, Edward would certainly have known exactly who Hugh was from the earliest years of Hugh's life.

Hugh the Younger's date of birth isn't known, but his parents Hugh the Elder (b. 1261) and Isabella Chaworth née Beauchamp (b. c. 1263/65) married without a licence from Edward I in or shortly before December 1285, and he was almost certainly their second child after Alina, later Lady Burnell. So probably, in my opinion, Alina was born around 1286/87 and Hugh around 1288/89. If I'm correct on that, he was about four or five years younger than Edward II, and this would mean he was a bit too young to be a companion of Edward's in childhood and adolescence. None of Edward of Caernarfon's letters of 1304/05, a year when his correspondence fortuitously survives, mention Hugh the Younger, though Edward did correspond with his father Hugh the Elder. Edward, as prince of Wales and duke of Aquitaine, attended Hugh the Younger's wedding to his eldest niece Eleanor de Clare on 26 May 1306, four days after he had knighted Hugh (and more than 250 others) in Westminster Abbey shortly after his own knighting. Hugh the Younger was about 17 or 18 in 1306, and that year is the first time he appears on record that I've been able to find: he was knighted, married, and summoned to his first military campaign, receiving letters of protection on his wedding day from his new grandfather-in-law Edward I to fight in Scotland.

Although he was the grandson and nephew of earls of Warwick, Hugh wasn't in line to inherit the earldom, and although his father was a very wealthy baron, Hugh the Elder lived to a good age (he was sixty-five when he was executed in 1326) and Hugh the Younger never came into any of the extensive estates which Hugh the Elder inherited from his father Hugh (d. 1265) and his mother Aline Basset, countess of Norfolk (d. 1281). Sometime before early 1310, Hugh the Elder granted his son and heir the revenues of six of his manors in Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, but didn't actually give him the manors. Hugh the Elder had promised Edward I in 1306 that he would give his son and daughter-in-law Eleanor an income of £200 a year, though I've worked out that the combined revenues of the six manors only came to about £155 a year. So Hugh owned no lands at all, and had an income that was tiny by the standards of his peers and of his own family. By way of comparison, his brother-in-law the earl of Gloucester earned close to £7,000 a year, and Piers Gaveston, another brother-in-law, £4,000. As I pointed out in my bio of Hugh, his comparative poverty and his rather humiliating lack of any lands whatsoever until he was almost thirty might go some way to explaining his appalling behaviour as royal favourite in the late 1310s and 1320s. I don't mean that it justifies it - nothing can justify the things Hugh did: piracy, extortion, false imprisonment, and so on - but perhaps does go some way to explaining why he behaved like that.

But all of that lay years in the future, and I cannot possibly exaggerate just how obscure and completely powerless Hugh Despenser the Younger was for the first few years of Edward II's reign. For most of those years, I have no idea where he and Eleanor lived or what they were doing, apart from producing a large brood of offspring. Hugh attended the famous jousting tournament held in Dunstable in the spring of 1309, and it's revealing that all the knights in his retinue there were his father's knights, not his own. As the husband of Edward II's eldest niece, Hugh the Younger was a member of the royal family and one of the highest-ranking barons in England, but disappears from the record for years on end. Very occasionally, he appears in the chancery rolls when Edward II granted a favour at his request, and when I say 'occasionally', I mean once in 1309 and three times in 1312/13, and that's it. For all that Edward was deeply fond of Hugh's wife and often invited her to visit him, and Hugh's father was one of the king's closest and most allies, Edward almost completely ignored Hugh the Younger's existence. For the first few years of Edward's reign, Hugh the Elder was usually just called 'Hugh Despenser' as though he was the only one, though from about 1313 he became known as 'Hugh Despenser the father' or 'Hugh Despenser senior'. On the rare occasions when Hugh the Younger appeared on record, he was called 'Hugh son of Hugh Despenser'.

 According to the later chronicler Geoffrey le Baker, Edward II hated Hugh the Younger at first. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but I think it's blazingly obvious that for many years he neither liked nor trusted him, and for the most part, acted as though his nephew-in-law didn't even exist. Hugh was only very rarely at court: he was in Edward II's presence once, with his father, during the parliament held in Stamford, Lincolnshire in August 1309, and appears to have visited the king briefly at Windsor Castle in late 1312 also when his father was there, but he didn't witness a single royal charter until May 1316, almost nine years into Edward's reign. By 1326, he was witnessing almost all of them.

Hugh the Younger and his father both fought at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314, and were both among the 500 or so knights who accompanied Edward II during his gallop to Dunbar Castle to evade capture after the battle. It was Bannockburn that changed Hugh the Younger's fortunes forever, because his extraordinarily wealthy brother-in-law the earl of Gloucester was killed, and left no children (I've discussed his widow Maud's hilarious pretence to be pregnant for years on end here before). Some writers have claimed that Hugh was already Edward's 'favourite' at the time of Bannockburn, or rose in his affections shortly afterwards, but this is emphatically not the case. For one thing, it ignores the existence of the influential courtiers Roger Damory and Hugh Audley and their importance in the king's life between 1315 and 1318/19, and for another, it is apparent from the way Edward made Hugh the Younger beg over and over and over from 1315 to 1317 to receive his and Eleanor's share of her late brother's inheritance that the king still did not much like Hugh. If Hugh had already been a royal favourite, Edward would have fallen over himself to give him the lordship of Glamorgan as soon as possible, and wouldn't have repeatedly humiliated Hugh in public by pretending to believe that a woman was pregnant by her husband twenty months after his death.

In the next post, I'll take a look at what happened between Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger in and after 1316.

23 March, 2021

Eleanor Despenser, Edward II and Queen Isabella (2)

The first part of the post is here

Eleanor Despenser appears in Queen Isabella's extant accounts of 1311/12, when she attended the queen in the north of England for a while, and Isabella, rather hilariously, paid 12d for ale for Eleanor's breakfast on 31 July 1311. Twelve pence is a lot to spend on ale at a time when a gallon of it cost 1d, so I assume the drink was intended for some of Eleanor's retinue as well. She had her own damsels, chamberlain, John of Berkhamsted, carters, palfreymen, and other attendants while she was with the queen. [1] Isabella's accounts don't survive for most of her husband's reign so it's hard to know how much time Eleanor spent with her, and when, but it seems likely that Eleanor began attending the queen, at least on occasion, soon after Isabella's arrival in England in early February 1308. 

From Edward II's accounts and other sources, we know that the two women spent much time in each other's company in the 1320s: they were together at Tynemouth Priory in the autumn of 1322, in the Tower of London in February 1323, and at Nottingham Castle with Edward II for Christmas 1324. Shortly after Christmas, the two women left court and travelled together to Kenilworth Castle, where they spent New Year 1324/25 a couple of months before Isabella departed for France. There is no reason to think that Edward II imposed Eleanor on the queen against Isabella's will in c. 1324 as a couple of chroniclers claimed, evidently unaware that the two women had been companions for at least thirteen years by then, although the story has often been repeated uncritically by modern writers. As the king's eldest niece, Eleanor Despenser was one of the highest-ranking ladies in the realm and an entirely suitable person to attend the queen, and had done so for many years. Besides, the notion that the king forced his wife to accept a woman she disliked and didn't want anywhere near her as her chief companion paints Isabella as helpless and passive, which is the last thing she was. I mean, do people really think that a woman who brought down a king was incapable of ordering another woman out of her presence if she wanted to? How on earth does anyone imagine that the powerful and awesome Queen Isabella was that much of a feeble wet blanket?

There's also the idiotic idea, invented in the 1970s, that Edward II removed Isabella's children from her in September 1324 and gave custody of their second son, John of Eltham (b. August 1316), to Eleanor Despenser, intending to be cruel to the queen. No-one has ever explained how Eleanor managed to be in two places at once: constantly in Isabella's presence so that the queen had no privacy from her, reading her correspondence, and reporting on her movements to the king and Despenser; and at the same time, looking after Isabella's son somewhere away from the court so that Isabella could never see him. It should be obvious that these stories cannot both be true, and I believe they're both untrue. In fact, Eleanor had been looking after John of Eltham, her decades-younger first cousin, at least on occasion, since July 1322 or earlier (when she received 100 marks for the household expenses of herself and John), and he wasn't, as claimed, cruelly removed from his mother's custody in September 1324. [2] Why does anyone think the queen would have been the full-time sole carer of her children anyway? 

John of Eltham was the same age as some of Eleanor Despenser's own children, and her third daughter Eleanor Despenser the younger (b. c. late 1310s or early 1320s) was raised with Edward II and Isabella's daughters Eleanor of Woodstock (b. 1318) and Joan of the Tower (b. 1321). Her eldest son Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser, born in 1308 or 1309, spent time with Edward of Windsor, the heir to the throne, in July 1324 - when the king sent them both letters in Shoreham - and likely on other occasions as well. [3] Eleanor and Hugh the Younger's children were companions of the royal children, their first cousins once removed, when they were all growing up. This seems perfectly normal and natural to me; the Despenser children were great-grandchildren of Edward I and grandchildren of the earls of Gloucester and Winchester, so were perfectly suited to be the royal children's companions. And again, why do people think that Queen Isabella, of all people, was so utterly helpless and passive that she couldn't demand a say in how her own children were raised, and where, and by whom, and which noble offspring were raised with them? Why is there an assumption that her children were taken from her against her will and given into the care of people she disliked? Where's the evidence? The long list of charges against Hugh Despenser the Younger at his trial in November 1326 gives a good indication as to what Isabella blamed him for, and persuading the king to remove her children from her was not mentioned.

Writers who claim to like and admire Isabella of France do her a massive disservice in the way they write her as a helpless, feeble, endlessly put-upon victim. Poor Eleanor Despenser has also been really hard done by in fiction and even in non-fiction; she's usually depicted either as a wet, wimpy dishcloth of a person drifting helplessly around the court and totally under her husband's thumb, or as a sinister, malicious and physically unattractive figure doing her utmost to inflict as much cruelty as possible on Isabella. That both the king and queen enjoyed Eleanor's company for many years, which probably reveals that she was an appealing, fun and charming person, never seems to be considered. The idea that Eleanor and Hugh had at least ten children together and continued producing children long after the obligatory 'heir and the spare', right up to the mid-1320s - their last child was born in December 1325, though it's possible that Eleanor was pregnant again when Hugh was executed in November 1326 - which means that they spent a lot of time in each other's company and maintained an active sex life, never seems to be considered. In the 1320s during her husband's period of power, her itinerary, where I can establish it, shows that Eleanor was almost always at court, or at the very least she was just a few miles away and both Edward II and Hugh Despenser sent her frequent letters. If her husband and her uncle were lovers, it's hard to see how she could have been unaware of it. 

It seems that Queen Isabella and Eleanor Despenser remained close even after Hugh the Younger became Edward's favourite and perhaps lover, and did his best to come between the royal couple. Both Isabella and Eleanor gave Edward II gifts at Christmas 1324, though unfortunately, Edward's clerks didn't record what the gifts were. His chamber account of 1324/25 also shows that he gave generous gifts of cash to the two women's female attendants, making sure, as he always did, that Isabella and her servants received more money or more items than Eleanor and hers did. In June 1325, a while after Isabella had departed for her native France, Edward II gave 20 shillings to her household squire Matthew Berenal because Eleanor Despenser "talked great good of him to the king". [4] One of Isabella's attendants at Christmas 1324 was Cecile Chaucomb, who was married to a man named John Chaucomb. Possibly Cecile's husband was the man of this name whom Eleanor Despenser sent to Edward II with news of herself in October 1310. If so, this is another link between Isabella and Eleanor.

As I pointed out in the last post, the later chronicler Henry Knighton stated that while Isabella was away from England between March 1325 and September 1326, Eleanor Despenser was treated as though she was Edward II's queen, a rather cryptic statement which could be interpreted in several different ways. There is, bizarrely, some evidence that Edward and Eleanor might have had a relationship that went far beyond the usual uncle-niece connection, though there's no way of proving it conclusively. Eleanor was imprisoned in the Tower of London from November 1326 to February 1328, and given that she was her husband's loyal ally and seems to have been implicated in a good few of Hugh's acts of extortion and false imprisonment, this isn't too surprising. What is perhaps more surprising is that Isabella treated her with what appears to be a measure of spite and vindictiveness in and after 1326. A few months after Eleanor was freed from the Tower and restored to her own lands (the lordship of Glamorgan and many manors in southern England), she was accused of stealing high-value items from the Tower and was imprisoned again. Although this second imprisonment was, as far as I can make out, not a long one, her lands were taken from her, and most of them were used to dower Edward III's young queen Philippa of Hainault. Isabella kept the remainder of Eleanor's lands herself, and Eleanor only regained them after Isabella's downfall in October 1330.

At the beginning of 1327, the queen had Eleanor's third and fourth daughters Eleanor the younger and Margaret Despenser forcibly veiled as nuns at, respectively, Sempringham Priory in Lincolnshire and Watton Priory in Yorkshire. (Eleanor's eldest daughter Isabella was already married to the earl of Arundel's son; her youngest daughter Elizabeth was only a baby; her second daughter Joan became a nun at Shaftesbury Abbey in Dorset, but this is likely to have been Eleanor and Hugh's own decision after Joan's fiancé the earl of Kildare's son died in 1323, as 1) an order for her veiling in 1327 doesn't exist, and 2) Shaftesbury Abbey, founded by Alfred the Great in c. 888, was a very wealthy and prestigious house.) Eleanor the younger was somewhere between about five and eight years old and Margaret was only three when they were forced to take binding, lifelong vows as nuns. In addition, the queen had Eleanor's eldest son Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser, aged seventeen or eighteen, besieged for months inside Caerphilly Castle in 1326/27 with the aim of capturing and executing him. Luckily for the young man, the garrison held out and refused to surrender him to Isabella, and she eventually gave up and imprisoned him instead.

Probably at least some of this was a consequence of Queen Isabella's loathing for Hugh Despenser the Younger even after he was dead, though I do wonder if some of Isabella's actions against the Despenser family after Hugh's execution represent her lashing out at Eleanor Despenser rather than at Hugh. It seems to me that Isabella was angry with Eleanor for some reason, not only because Eleanor had been married to Hugh - I'm not sure the queen would have blamed Eleanor just for that - but because of something Eleanor herself had done. What that was, I don't know. Eleanor was surely relieved when her cousin Edward III overthrew his mother in October 1330, and for the remaining seven years of her life, it seems that the two women ignored each other and there is no sign at all that they ever regained their former closeness.


1) The Household Book of Queen Isabella of England for the Fifth Regnal Year of Edward II, ed. F.D. Blackley and G. Hermansen, pp. xiv, xv, xxvi, 19, 31, 157, 203.

2) Calendar of Memoranda Rolls, Michaelmas 1326 to Michaelmas 1327, no. 2133.

3) The National Archives E 101/380/4, fos. 10v, 16r.

4) Society of Antiquaries of London Manuscript 122, p. 8.

14 March, 2021

Eleanor Despenser, Edward II and Queen Isabella (1)

Edward II and his eldest niece Eleanor Despenser née de Clare were always close and often spent time together, but in the last couple of years or so of his reign, is it possible that their relationship had become something more? Something incestuous? One Flemish chronicle states outright that the two became lovers, and that the reason for Eleanor's imprisonment in the Tower of London after her uncle and her husband's downfall - she was incarcerated from November 1326 until February 1328 - was because she might be pregnant by the king. [1] No English chronicle, however, even hints at an incestuous affair, with the possible exception of the Leicester chronicler Henry Knighton. He wrote a few decades later, rather cryptically, that while Queen Isabella was staying in her native France in 1325/26, Eleanor behaved as though she were Edward II's queen (quae ut regina habebatur in regno dum regina in remotis agebat). [2] Despite the lack of information in chronicles on the matter, there is evidence from Edward II's extant chamber accounts of 1324 to 1326 which perhaps suggest that something more might have gone on between the two than mere familial affection. In two posts, I'll take a look at Eleanor's relations with her uncle, and also with her aunt-in-law, Isabella of France.

Born in Caerphilly Castle in October 1292 as the second child and eldest daughter of Edward I's second daughter Joan of Acre (b. 1272) and Gilbert 'the Red', earl of Gloucester and Hertford, Eleanor de Clare was only eight and a half years younger than Edward II (b. 25 April 1284). She and her younger sisters Margaret and Elizabeth were all closer in age to their uncle than their mother, his sister, was, and confusingly, Eleanor was about three years older than her aunt-in-law Queen Isabella. There is much evidence throughout Edward II's reign of his great affection for his eldest niece and his fondness for her company, though for many years he more or less ignored the existence of her husband Hugh Despenser the Younger. Given the closeness which developed between the two men in and after late 1318, Edward's distrust and dislike for Hugh for many years is fascinating and puzzling. Edward, as prince of Wales and duke of Aquitaine, attended Eleanor's wedding to Hugh in May 1306. I suspect he was the godfather of their second son Edward Despenser, born before November 1315 and possibly as early as 1310, but before Hugh rose to power as royal chamberlain and favourite in the late 1310s, information about the Despenser children is hard to come by.

On 1 April 1308, while Edward II was at Windsor Castle and fortifying it against his own barons who had demanded Piers Gaveston's exile, he found the time to send 20 marks to Eleanor Despenser to cover her expenses while staying at the royal castle of Rockingham, Northamptonshire. A few weeks later on 8 May, Edward gave Eleanor 10 marks to travel from Rockingham to visit him at Westminster. In 1313/14, a year when his accounts survive, Edward gave his eldest niece frequent sums of money, between £3 and £10 every few days or weeks, and this probably wasn't unusual. [3] On 21 October 1310 he gave a messenger 20 marks, a huge sum, for bringing him news of Eleanor - perhaps that she had given birth - and she must have visited him on or shortly before 7 March 1309, when he granted a favour to one of her damsels, Joan, at her request. [4] This means Johane 'Jonette' Priour; she and her mother Emma 'Emmote' Priour were Eleanor's attendants for many years, and Johane later went to work for Queen Philippa. On the other hand, from 1314 until 1317 Edward refused to partition the massive inheritance of his late nephew the earl of Gloucester, not even to benefit Eleanor, one of the earl's three sisters and co-heirs. The king's undoubted affection for Eleanor wasn't enough for him to hand over her lands to her and her husband until he absolutely had to. In an article of 2006, Michael Prestwich drew attention to an account of Edward II of 1319/20 in which he and Eleanor were linked together in a rather unusual way when medicines were bought for 'the king and Eleanor Despenser, when ill'. [5]

In or before 1323, Edward II acquired a ship which he named after Eleanor, La Alianore la Despensere, the contemporary spelling of her name. It was a Spanish ship, lost off the Isle of Wight, which the king bought or otherwise acquired, and renamed. Edward owned a ship named La Isabele presumably after his queen, but I've never seen any evidence that he had ships named after his sisters, his other nieces or even his children, so calling one the Alianore la Despensere is pretty revealing of his feelings. Edward also owned a ship called La Despenser, supposedly a gift to him from Hugh the Younger, but it was Edward who paid out £130 for it. Figures. [6]

Eleanor was with Edward and her husband at the royal manor of Cowick in Yorkshire when she gave birth to one of her many children at the beginning of August 1323 - just about on the date when, several hundred miles away, Roger Mortimer escaped from the Tower. The king gave her £100 for the expenses of 'her childbed' (son gesine). [7] This was Eleanor and Hugh's fourth daughter, Margaret Despenser. She spent her early years in the care of a Yorkshire knight named Sir Thomas Houk, whose manor of Hook lay just eight miles from Cowick. At Christmas 1324, Edward II sent Houk a gift of 20 marks. [8] Earlier that year, Eleanor had been in the Tower of London with Queen Isabella: on 17 February 1323, the two women sent virtually identical letters on behalf of Roger Mortimer's wife Joan Geneville. Eleanor was then several months pregnant. As of 1324 or earlier, Eleanor and Hugh's third daughter, Eleanor, was in the care of Hugh's sister Lady Hastings, with the king and queen's two daughters.

On 26 October 1324, as I wrote in a recent post, Edward II crossed the Thames from the Tower to a house called La Rosere in Southwark, to make love in private with a woman whose identity is unknown. A few days later, on or before 1 November 1324, Eleanor Despenser sent her uncle a gift of clothes made of medley cloth and lined with expensive miniver fur. In Edward's account, when he gave Eleanor's servant 40 shillings for bringing him the clothes, they were described as j robe de iiij garnamenz, i.e. a complete set of clothes. [9] On 2 December 1325, Edward visited the heavily pregnant Eleanor at the royal manor-house of Sheen and dined with her, and sailed along the Thames back to Westminster. He gave an offering of 30 shillings to the Virgin Mary on or before 14 December in gratitude that God had granted Eleanor a prompt delivery of her child. On 3 December the day after Edward's visit, Eleanor again sent a servant to her uncle with vne robe de iiij garnamenz, a set of clothes, and the servant received 20 shillings this time. [10] So hmmmmm. A coincidence? 

Several things occur to me. In 1325, Eleanor and Hugh Despenser owned manors right across the south of England and also held most of South Wales, so I wonder why Edward accommodated his niece at one of his own manors for the last two months of her pregnancy when there were untold dozens of her own manors where she could have given birth. Eleanor moved into Sheen on or just before 12 October 1325, and Edward visited her there from 12 to 17 October, gave her money for her expenses, bought firewood for her chamber, and gave her gifts of caged goldfinches, caged larks and three swans. A few weeks earlier on 16 September, Eleanor had sent Edward letters while she was staying at Tonbridge in Kent, a castle which by right belonged to her sister Margaret and Margaret's husband Hugh Audley, but Audley was in prison and Margaret had been held at Sempringham Priory in Lincolnshire since May 1322. 

Eleanor sending the king gifts of clothes on two occasions seems an oddly wifely thing to do, and for Edward to visit his niece days before she gave birth (or possibly on the day she gave birth) also seems a little unusual, perhaps. On 9 April 1325, he had given her a gift of 100 marks, and on 8 July bought her two gallons of honey to make a sweet called sucre de plate. [11] A child born around 2 or 14 December would have been conceived around early or mid-March, and it is possible that Eleanor had just learned that she was pregnant on 9 April 1325 (this was at least her ninth or tenth pregnancy), and perhaps three months later craved something sweet. Hugh Despenser, by the way, was at Westminster on 28 and 30 November and on 3 December, and his and Eleanor's eldest son Huchon was also at court in December 1325. Hugh was also with the king and Eleanor at Sheen on 16 October. [12] Eleanor probably remained at Sheen for a while recovering from the birth while Edward II and Hugh Despenser spent the festive season in Suffolk, and on 1 January 1326, Eleanor sent her uncle a dappled-grey palfrey horse with saddle and equipment. She also sent him letters, and Edward sent her letters in early February. Later in 1326, she and Edward's younger son John of Eltham, her cousin, who turned ten years old in mid-August 1326, travelled together from Sheen to Kenilworth Castle and stayed there for a while.

In early June 1326, Eleanor Despenser was staying at Leeds Castle while Edward II and Hugh Despenser were a few miles away at Saltwood Castle meeting the pope's envoys, and Edward sent Eleanor a gift of 20 marks. He sent twenty-five crew members of the ship La Despenser to bring her to him at the Tower of London in a barge on 17 June, and they and Hugh Despenser stayed there for a few days. Edward and Eleanor dined secretly or privately - that word priuement again, which is used to describe the king's encounter with his lover in October 1324 - in the park of Windsor Castle on 11 July 1326. Exactly two weeks later they sailed along the Thames together: Edward sent letters to Eleanor's husband Hugh, who had made a quick visit to Wales, while he and Eleanor were in a boat near the bridge of Kingston-on-Thames, and spent 18d on roach and dace for Eleanor in Byfleet. On 28 July, they were still together in Henley-on-Thames (it was a terribly hot dry summer, and it seems that the king was sailing rather aimlessly along the Thames a lot that month, presumably because it was cooler on the river).

On 25 July 1326, when Edward II gave out three shillings in alms to a group of fisherwomen in Kennington, his account states that the women received the money en la p[re]sence le Roi e ma dame, 'in the presence of the king and my lady'. [13] Ma dame here means Eleanor Despenser. In every other document of Edward II's reign, ma dame or la dame used alone without a name always meant Queen Isabella. The same applies to Edward I's household ordinance of 1279, where la dame means Queen Eleanor, and in Edward III's accounts, where ma dame means Queen Philippa. [14] This perhaps tends to give weight to Henry Knighton's statement that Eleanor Despenser was treated as though she were Edward's queen in 1325/26. In Edward II's accounts, his daughters Eleanor of Woodstock and Joan of the Tower, his niece Jeanne de Bar, countess of Surrey, and his sister-in-law Alice Hales, countess of Norfolk, were not called ma dame. It's unfortunate that Edward II's only surviving sister in England, Mary the nun, doesn't appear in his accounts of 1324 to 1326, which would provide a useful comparison. Although they were children, Edward II's daughters outranked Edward II's niece, so you might expect them to be addressed as ma dame as well. They weren't. Eleanor Despenser was. And so was Queen Isabella. They were the only two ladies thus named. 

As Edward II's extremely illuminating chamber accounts unfortunately don't survive from before 1322 (assuming they ever existed), and then only in fragments until 1324, it's hard to tell whether the numerous references to Eleanor Despenser in the extant accounts of 1324 to 1326 are unusual. Her gifts of clothes to the king do, however, strike me as a bit odd, and the timing of the first delivery of them, just days after Edward made love with an unknown lover, might be revealing, given that we know she sent him clothes just after his visit to her on 2 December 1325. Was his lover of October 1324 Eleanor? That would certainly provide an explanation for why he wanted to keep her identity hidden from his household staff. And although, as far as I can work out, the custom for royal and noble ladies to seclude themselves for weeks before giving birth was a later development, it seems odd for a royal man to visit a heavily pregnant royal woman days before she bore a child, or even on the day she bore the child, if he wasn't the father. I honestly don't know. I can't prove conclusively, of course, that Edward II and his eldest niece had an incestuous relationship, but I will say that Henry Knighton's statement makes more sense in the light of what I've found in Edward's accounts.


1) See Seymour Phillips, Edward II, p. 483.

2) Chronicon Henrici Knighton, Monachi Leycestrensis, vol. 1. ed. J.R. Lumby, p. 434.

3) James Conway Davies, The Baronial Opposition to Edward II: Its Character and Policy, p. 91, notes 3 and 7.

4) Issues of the Exchequer, ed. F. Devon, p. 124; Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 283.

5) Michael Prestwich, 'The Court of Edward II', The Reign of Edward II: New Perspectives, ed. Gwilym Dodd and Anthony Musson. p. 71.

6) The National Archives E 101/379/7, fo. 7; E 101/380/4, fos. 19r, 32v; Society of Antiquaries of London Manuscript 122, pp. 4, 7, 16.

7) TNA E 101/379/17, membrane 2.

8) E 101/380/4, fo. 22r.

9) E 101/380/4, fo. 19v.

10) SAL MS 122, pp. 40, 41, 43.

11) E 101/380/4, fo. 31r; SAL MS 122, pp. 9, 14, 28-9, 36.

12) TNA SC 1/49/146, 146A, 147 and 148.

13) SAL MS 122, pp. 45-6, 51, 66, 75, 78-9.

14) T.F. Tout, Chapters in the Administrative History of Medieval England, vol. 2, p. 162; Life-Records of Chaucer, ed. M.M. Crow and C.C. Olson, pp. 164, 169.

08 March, 2021

John of Gaunt and the Lancastrian Inheritance

Recently it was the anniversary of John of Gaunt's birth on 6 March 1340. John, the fourth but third eldest surviving son* of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, was born in the abbey of St Bavo in Ghent, in modern-day Belgium. Ghent was called 'Gaunt' in England in the fourteenth century and afterwards, and therefore John of Ghent has always been known as John of Gaunt.

* His older brothers were Edward of Woodstock (b. June 1330), William of Hatfield (b. and d. early 1337) and Lionel of Antwerp (b. November 1338). His older sisters were Isabella of Woodstock (b. June 1332) and Joan of Woodstock (b. c. January 1334).

Below, from the parliament rolls in 1383: la ville de Gaunt, 'the town of Ghent'.

A lot of people, I noticed in the flurry of posts and articles about him recently, misunderstand John of Gaunt's possession of the Lancastrian lands, so here's some information about it. John married his first wife Blanche of Lancaster (c. 25 March 1342 - 12 September 1368) in Reading on 19 May 1359. Blanche was the younger daughter and co-heir, with her sister Maud (b. c. 4 April 1340), duchess of Lower Bavaria and countess of Hainault and Holland, of her father Henry of Grosmont (b. c. 1310/12), first duke of Lancaster and earl of Lincoln, Leicester and Derby. After Henry's death on 23 March 1361, his lands in thirty-four English counties and in Wales were divided equally between his two daughters. Although there's no record of her death, Maud and Blanche's mother Isabella Beaumont must have died before Henry, because otherwise she would have been assigned dower, and, as a third of the Lancastrian lands, it would have been considerable and we would have a record of it. 

Blanche and her husband John of Gaunt received the Lancastrian lands in the north of England and some of the lands in the Midlands, including the Yorkshire castles of Pontefract and Pickering, the Lincolnshire castle of Bolingbroke, the Staffordshire castle of Tutbury, and Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland, built in the 1310s and early 1320s by Blanche's great-uncle Thomas of Lancaster. Maud, who in 1352 married Wilhelm von Wittelsbach, a son of the late Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig or Louis of Bavaria, and lived on the continent, received the lands in Wales, the south of England and some in the Midlands, including five castles in South Wales and the castles of Newcastle-under-Lyme and Leicester. In an inquisition of 1362, the Savoy Palace in London, re-built on a magnificently opulent scale by Duke Henry after he inherited it from his father in 1345 but described rather hilariously in the inquisition as 'certain tenements called the Saveye', was said to have been held jointly by Maud and her brother-in-law John of Gaunt in the year since Henry's death. Maud also received the French lordship of Beaufort, once held by her great-uncle John of Lancaster (d. 1317). As well as the Lancastrian estates held by their father Duke Henry, grandfather Earl Henry, great-uncles Thomas and John of Lancaster and great-grandfather Edmund of Lancaster, the two sisters also inherited the lands of the de Lacy family which formerly belonged to their father's aunt-in-law Alice de Lacy, countess of Lincoln (1281-1348), and the lands and lordships in England and Wales once held by their paternal grandmother Maud Chaworth (1282-1322). See family trees below.

Maud of Lancaster outlived her father by only a year, and died at the age of 22 on 9 or 10 April 1362. According to a continental chronicle, she was buried in the Benedictine abbey of Rijnsburg near Leiden, a city now in the South Holland province of the Netherlands. She and her husband Wilhelm (b. 1330), duke of Lower Bavaria and count of Hainault and Holland, had had a daughter in 1356 when Maud was 16, but the little girl died in infancy. Wilhelm of Bavaria, incidentally, was John of Gaunt's first cousin: Wilhelm's mother Margareta of Hainault (1310-56), Holy Roman Empress, was the eldest sister of John's mother Queen Philippa. The unfortunate Wilhelm became insane around 1357/58 and had to be incarcerated for his own safety, and Edward III sometimes addressed letters to Wilhelm’s younger brother and heir Albrecht as the man in charge of looking after him. For thirty years until his death in 1388, poor Wilhelm was held in a tower of Le Quesnoy Castle (Le Quesnoy is a town now in the Nord department of France near the Belgian border), and Maud of Lancaster - the situation was so awful and tragic for both of them - lost her husband in all but name when she was still only a teenager. She remained near her husband on the continent, however, and the fact that she was buried in Rijnsburg surely indicates that she didn't die in England. Poor Maud, despite the unimaginable wealth she inherited, her life was short and sad. Incidentally, I'm not even going to bother to deal with the rumour that John of Gaunt had his sister-in-law poisoned; it's too silly to waste my time on. In Maud's inquisition post mortem of April/May 1362, jurors announced that "[t]he lady Blanche of Lancaster her sister, aged 20 years and married to Sir John, earl of Richmond, is her heir." Blanche and John now held all the Lancastrian inheritance, and John was made the second duke of Lancaster in November 1362 when his father Edward III celebrated his fiftieth birthday by raising his three middle sons to higher titles.

The Lancastrian heir after Blanche was her and John of Gaunt's only surviving son Henry of Lancaster (or Henry of Bolingbroke, as Shakespeare calls him), later King Henry IV, born in Bolingbroke, Lincolnshire in April 1367. A medieval custom called the 'courtesy of England' allowed a man who married an heiress to keep her entire inheritance after her death, for the rest of his own life, as long as they had at least one child together who lived long enough to take a breath. (Women, by contrast, held only a third of their late husband's lands as dower, but this right applied in all circumstances and not only when a couple had children.) John of Gaunt was the father of Blanche of Lancaster's children, and therefore, had the right to hold all her lands after her death at the age of 26 in September 1368 until his own death thirty years later in February 1399. John did not and could not inherit the Lancastrian estate, because he was not the child of Henry of Grosmont. His wife and his son, not John himself, were the Lancastrian heirs. 

On John's death in February 1399, his and Blanche's son Henry of Lancaster should have come into his inheritance from his long-dead mother, though in fact did not because his cousin Richard II had exiled him from England some months earlier. As well as the extensive Lancastrian lands, Henry held another rich estate. His wife Mary de Bohun (c. 1370-94) was the co-heir, with her older sister Eleanor (c. 1366-99), of their father Humphrey de Bohun (1342-73), earl of Hereford, Essex and Northampton. Like his father, Henry of Lancaster benefited from the 'courtesy of England', because he was the father of Mary's children. After her death in 1394, therefore, he was entitled to hold Mary's one-third of the de Bohun inheritance for the rest of his life; another third was held by his sister-in-law Eleanor and her husband Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, John of Gaunt's youngest brother; and the remaining third was held by Eleanor and Mary's long-lived mother Joan Fitzalan, Humphrey de Bohun's widow, as dower. When Joan died in 1419, her dower lands were shared out between two of her grandchildren: Henry V, Mary de Bohun's eldest son and heir, and Anne, countess of Stafford, Eleanor de Bohun's only living secular child and heir. Another beneficiary of the 'courtesy of England' was John of Gaunt's older brother Lionel of Antwerp (1338-68), whose first wife Elizabeth de Burgh (1332-63) inherited the earldom of Ulster and a third of the earldom of Gloucester, and another was Gaunt's nephew-in-law Edmund Mortimer, earl of March (1352-81), who outlived his wife Philippa of Clarence (1355- c. 1379), Lionel and Elizabeth's daughter and heir.

There were several factors which neither John of Gaunt nor anyone else could have anticipated which allowed him to hold *all* the Lancaster lands for decades: the early death of his sister-in-law Maud at age 22; the death in infancy of Maud's only daughter some years earlier; and the insanity of Maud's husband Wilhelm von Wittelsbach, duke of Lower Bavaria and count of Hainault and Holland, and the fact that Wilhelm had to be incarcerated in c. 1358 for the remaining thirty years of his life. Otherwise, assuming that Maud and Wilhelm's daughter wasn't stillborn, Wilhelm would have been entitled, as Maud's widower and the father of her child, to hold half of the Lancastrian estate until his death in 1388. He was, however, unable to travel to England and claim his late wife's lands. Obviously, Wilhelm wasn't English, but there was a process called denization that allowed foreigners to hold, though not to inherit, lands in England. Two of the many people granted denization were Lucia Visconti, widow of Edmund Holland, earl of Kent (d. 1408), and Beatriz of Portugal, widow of Thomas Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (d. 1415), so that they could hold their dower lands from their late husbands. I'm not entirely certain about the law regarding the holding of lands in the case of insanity, though there are numerous examples in the chancery rolls of guardians being appointed to look after lands held by those deemed to suffer from 'idiocy' (not my word). Even if Wilhelm had been able to leave his tower at le Quesnoy and travel to England, given his condition it seems doubtful that he would have been able to hold Maud's lands. Certainly, there's no record of him ever receiving any income from them. It may be that his and Maud's daughter was stillborn in 1356, and if that was the case, the little girl's birth wouldn't have 'counted' for the purposes of the courtesy of England.

And finally, let's examine what would have happened if John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster had had no children. This, admittedly, is a big what-if, as it wipes out Blanche's son Henry IV, his son Henry V, her daughter Philippa, queen of Portugal, and Philippa's Portuguese children the Illustrious Generation, among numerous others. Primogeniture, whereby the eldest son inherited everything, did not apply to female heirs, who inherited equal parts of an estate, and being the eldest daughter conferred no advantage. This was why Maud and Blanche of Lancaster were joint and equal heirs to their father Henry of Grosmont in 1361. They had an older sister, Isabella of Lancaster, who is mentioned on record in 1338/39 but who must have died young; if she had lived, Isabella would have been another joint and equal heir to the Lancastrian fortune. 

If Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster, had had younger brothers, the eldest of the brothers if alive, or his children if dead, would have been heir to a putative childless Blanche. Duke Henry, however, had no brothers, but six sisters: in birth order, they were Blanche (d. 1380), Isabella (d. 1348/9), Maud (d. 1377), Joan (d. 1349), Eleanor (d. 1372) and Mary (d. 1362). Blanche the eldest was married to Thomas, Lord Wake for thirty-three years but had no children, and Isabella the second was veiled as a nun of Amesbury Priory and became its prioress. Maud's heirs were her daughters, Elizabeth de Burgh, duchess of Clarence and countess of Ulster (1332-63), and Maud Ufford, countess of Oxford (1345/6-1413); Joan's heir was her only son, John, Lord Mowbray (1340-68); Eleanor's heir was her eldest son, Henry, Lord Beaumont (1339-69); and Mary's heir was her eldest son, Henry, Lord Percy, later the first earl of Northumberland (1341-1408). 

If, for whatever reason, Blanche of Lancaster had never had children, her surviving aunts and the children of her other aunts would have been co-heirs to the vast Lancastrian estate on her death, in line with the law that female heirs, or their children if they were dead, received equal portions of an inheritance. If John of Gaunt and Blanche had had no child who lived long enough to take a breath, John would have had no claim to any part of his wife's lands after her death. 'Old John of Gaunt, time-honoured Lancaster' would not have been Lancaster. And finally, assuming that John and Blanche did have their children but that Wilhelm von Wittelsbach and Maud of Lancaster's daughter lived for a while after her birth in 1356 and Wilhelm didn't become incapacitated in c. 1358, John would have had to share the Lancastrian estate with his German cousin and brother-in-law until Wilhelm's death in 1388.

Sources: Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1361-65, nos. 118, 299; Calendar of Close Rolls 1360-64, pp. 201-11.

28 February, 2021

Laurence Hastings, Earl of Pembroke (d. 1348) and his Illegitimate Brother Sir William Hastings (d. 1349)

Laurence Hastings, earl of Pembroke, was born in Allesley, Warwickshire either on 20 March 1320 or 20 March 1321. His proof of age says that he was born on "the feast of St Cuthbert, 14 Edward II", which is 20 March 1321 (Edward II's fourteenth regnal year ran from 8 July 1320 to 7 July 1321), but confusingly, the proof was taken in May 1341 and says that Laurence was then "21 years of age and more". Edward III allowed Laurence to take possession of his late father's inheritance, because he had proved his age and sworn homage, on 24 May 1341. So most probably, the jurors who took part in the proof of age erred on Edward II's regnal year and meant to say that Laurence was born on 20 March 1320, i.e. the feast of St Cuthbert, 13 Edward II. Because things are rarely as straightforward in medieval inquisitions post mortem and proofs of age as you'd hope, an inquisition in Bedfordshire on 23 April 1325 stated that Laurence Hastings was "aged 6 about the feast of the Annunciation last", which gives a date of birth of c. 25 March 1319, not 1320. Inquisitions in Shropshire and Monmouth in July 1325, however, said that Laurence was "aged 5 on the feast of St Cuthbert last". [1] Given Laurence's unusual first name, which doesn't appear previously in the Hastings family (and the feast of St Laurence is 10 August, not in March), I assume he was named after a godfather. Pity his parents didn't call him Cuthbert.

Laurence was the sole heir of his mother Juliana Leyb(o)urne (1303/4-67), a landowner in Kent and countess of Huntingdon by her third marriage, though, in the end, Juliana outlived her son by nearly twenty years; the sole heir of his father John, Lord Hastings (1286-1325) and his grandfather John, Lord Hastings (1262-1313); and the co-heir, with his father's cousins Joan and Elizabeth Comyn, of his great-uncle Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke (d. 1324). Laurence was betrothed in 1325, aged five, to Hugh Despenser the Younger's third daughter Eleanor, Edward II's great-niece, but Queen Isabella forced Eleanor into a nunnery a few weeks after Hugh's execution. In 1328 or 1329* Laurence married Agnes, one of the eight daughters of Roger Mortimer and Joan Geneville, first earl and countess of March, instead. Their only son and Laurence's heir, John Hastings, earl of Pembroke, was born in Sutton Valence, Kent on 29 August 1347, and his godparents were William, prior of Leeds in Kent, Sir John Pulteney (d. 1349), former mayor of London, and Maud Say. Laurence died sometime between 28 and 31 August 1348 when his son was exactly a year old, and the boy became a royal ward. John Hastings married firstly Edward III and Queen Philippa's fifth and youngest daughter Margaret of Windsor (b. 20 July 1346), who died in the early 1360s most probably before the couple were old enough to consummate the marriage, and secondly, Anne Manny or Mauny (b. c. 24 July 1354), co-heir of her mother Margaret, countess of Norfolk, and a great-granddaughter of Edward I. John and Anne's only child and heir, another John Hastings, was born on c. 11 November 1372. [2] 

* Chronicler Adam Murimuth states that Laurence and Agnes married in late May or early June 1328, but as Roger Mortimer's biographer Ian Mortimer points out in his Greatest Traitor (pp. 294, 323), it is perhaps unlikely that Agnes would have married such a great heir as Laurence Hastings before Roger himself became an earl in October 1328. Inquisitions taken in Kent, Berkshire and Herefordshire in 1349 state that Laurence married Agnes Mortimer "in his seventh year", though this also seems too early. [3] At any rate, Laurence and Agnes married when they were both still children, most probably in 1329. Agnes's date of birth and her place in the birth order of Roger Mortimer and Joan Geneville's many children are unknown, but it is unlikely that she was much older than Laurence, and might have been selected as his bride because she was the Mortimer daughter closest to his age. The same applies to Laurence's first fiancée, Hugh Despenser and Eleanor de Clare's third daughter Eleanor Despenser: she was raised with Edward II and Queen Isabella's daughters Eleanor of Woodstock (b. 1318) and Joan of the Tower (b. 1321), implying that she was of similar age to them and to Laurence Hastings. Roger Mortimer was granted Laurence's marriage, presumably by Queen Isabella, on 17 February 1327. [4]

Sometime around 9 or 12 March 1349 a few months after Earl Laurence died, a man named Sir William Hastings died as well, perhaps of the plague which was then raging in England. William's inquisition post mortem and various entries in the chancery rolls state that he was 1) illegitimate ("he has no heir because he was a bastard") and 2) Laurence's brother. Helen Matthews' The Legitimacy of Bastards: The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England (2019) claims that William was Laurence's illegitimate son. Laurence, however, was himself only born in 1320 and was only 28 when he died in 1348, so was far too young to have fathered a son who was old enough to be a knight and a landowner by the time of his death in 1349. An inquisition held in Abergavenny in early 1354 states outright that William was Laurence's brother ("...giving the values at the time of the deaths of the said earl and William de Hastings, his brother, and at the present time"). [5] On 2 September 1348 just days after Laurence died, the following entry appears on the Fine Roll: "Grant to William de Hastynges, brother of Laurence de Hastynges, earl of Pembroke, and Robert de Elford, executors of the will...". [6] A petition Laurence sent to Pope Clement VI, which Clement only granted in June 1349 a few months after Laurence's death, also confirms the two men's relationship: "Laurence de Hastings, earl of Pembroke. For plenary remission to himself, his wife, William de Hastings his brother, and John de Reygate, knights...". [7] 

William's identity is, therefore, beyond all doubt: he was a brother of Laurence, earl of Pembroke, he was a "bastard", and he used the name Hastings, and therefore he must have been an illegitimate son of Laurence's father John, Lord Hastings. There is much evidence that Laurence was on excellent terms with and extremely close to his illegitimate half-brother, and after Laurence turned 21 in the early 1340s and came into his inheritance, he gave William several of his manors in Kent, Berkshire, Surrey, Herefordshire and Wales, for William to hold for the rest of his life when they would revert to Laurence and his rightful heirs. William's IPM duly stated that the heir to the manors he had held from Laurence was Laurence's son John, who turned two years old in August 1349. In one of the manors William had held, Paddington ('Padingden'), it was stated on 16 April 1349 that all his tenants there "are now dead, except ten" - a horrifying example of the awful reality of the Black Death. [8] 

Laurence's father John, Lord Hastings, born c. 29 September 1286, was seventeen or eighteen years older than his wife Juliana Leybourne - she was said to be three years old in July/September 1307 and six in March/April 1310 - and had to wait a long time until she was old enough to consummate their marriage. [9] The date of their wedding is not recorded, though there's a reference to "John de Hastinges and Juliana his wife" on 8 June 1319, and on 3 April 1319 Edward II referred to a previous grant of four manors which Juliana's grandmother, Juliana Leybourne the elder, had made to John Hastings. [10] Juliana was still only fifteen, perhaps recently sixteen, when she gave birth to Laurence in March 1320, and had no more children with any of her three husbands; perhaps Laurence's birth was a difficult one. Given her youth, it's not really surprising to learn that John Hastings had a relationship with another woman that resulted in a child, assuming that William Hastings was conceived and born in the period when Juliana Leybourne was too young to sleep with her husband. John died on 20 January 1325, aged thirty-eight, two months before his son's fifth birthday.

John, Lord Hastings apparently named his illegitimate son after his older brother William Hastings, who was born in October 1282 and for many years was the Hastings heir, but died not long before 1 March 1311 leaving no children from his marriage to Eleanor Martin, two years before his and John's father John the elder died in February 1313. [11] The inquisition post mortem of the illegitimate Sir William Hastings in 1349 calls him William de Hastynges le neveu, 'the nephew', presumably to differentiate him from the long-dead William Hastings (d. 1311), his uncle. Confusingly, an entry on the Close Roll assigning dower lands to Agnes Mortimer as the widow of Laurence Hastings in July 1349 calls William both le neveu and le frere, 'the brother'. [12] Presumably, this means nephew of William Hastings (d. 1311) and brother of Laurence, the late earl of Pembroke. On 3 September 1348 six months before he died, the illegitimate Sir William Hastings was one of two people who acknowledged a debt of 400 marks to Laurence Hastings' stepfather William Clinton, earl of Huntingdon (d. 1354), Juliana's third husband; the other man was Laurence's co-executor Robert El(le)ford. [13] The 3rd of September 1348 was just days after Laurence died.

Again confusingly, a grant in May 1345 by Laurence Hastings to his mother Juliana Leybourne and stepfather William Clinton talks of "Alice late the wife of William de Hastynges, Laurence's uncle." [14] As the illegitimate Sir William Hastings was still alive, this Alice can't have been his widow as the wording indicates, so this must mean the legitimate William Hastings who died in 1311 and was indeed Laurence's uncle. This William's widow was in fact named Eleanor, née Martin, and she died in December 1342 after outliving her husband for more than thirty years. It would seem therefore that 'Alice' was an error for Eleanor Hastings née Martin. I can't see any evidence that the illegitimate Sir William Hastings ever married, and his inquisition post mortem states that he died without an heir of his body. 

As for Laurence's widow Agnes Mortimer, she married her second husband John Hakelut or Haclut sometime before 12 November 1351; on 28 October 1348, he had been one of the three attorneys she appointed to receive her Hastings dower lands. Edward III exempted John Hakelut "from knighthood, for life" in May 1342. On 1 March 1354, Edward ordered an investigation into the "very many damages, grievances, injuries, extortions and oppressions" which the couple and their officials had committed in eleven manors in the Welsh lordship of Abergavenny "which came into his [the king's] hands as escheats by the death of William de Hastynges" and were part of the inheritance of Agnes's then six-year-old son John Hastings. [15] John Hakelut died before 12 February 1357, and Agnes died on 25 July 1368, a few weeks before her son turned twenty-one. She had dictated her will at her house in London on 10 October 1367 requesting burial at the Minoresses' house in the city, and left a suit of green cloth of gold to the Priory of Abergavenny, "where my lord [Laurence Hastings] lies buried". [16] Laurence's father John was also buried there in 1325, and his wooden effigy can still be seen today. Agnes's will mentions her daughter Joan, to whom she left "the benefit of the marriage of Ralph de Greystoke, and a bed with her father's arms". I'm not sure whether Joan's father was Laurence Hastings, earl of Pembroke, or John Hakelut, and if anyone does know, please tell me. Agnes can't have been much more than about thirty-two, thirty-three or so when she wed Hakelut in c. 1351 and might only have been in her late twenties, so was certainly still young enough to have another child. She probably named her daughter after her mother Joan Geneville, dowager countess of March (d. 1356), and her will referred to "John de Hastings, my son" and "Joan, my daughter" without a last name, which perhaps indicates that Joan was John Hakelut's daughter.


1) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1317-27, no. 612; CIPM 1336-46, no. 337; Calendar of Close Rolls 1341-3, p. 95; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1337-47, p. 117.

2) CIPM 1347-52, no. 118; CIPM 1365-9, no. 266; CIPM 1370-3, no. 148; CIPM 1374-7, no. 148; CIPM 1384-92, nos. 11-31.

3) CIPM 1347-52, no. 287.

4) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1327-30, p. 22.

5) CIPM 1347-52, nos. 118, 287, 497; CFR 1347-56, pp. 113, 330, 352, 354; CCR 1349-54, p. 550; Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1348-77, no. 78.

6) CFR 1347-56, p. 95.

7) Petitions to the Pope 1342-1419, p. 162.

8) CIPM 1347-52, nos. 118, 287, 497; CPR 1340-3, p. 515; CPR 1348-50, pp. 191, 274; CPR 1350-4, p. 329; CPR 1354-8, p. 58; CCR 1349-54, pp. 28, 40.

9) CIPM 1300-07, no. 410; CIPM 1307-17, nos. 220, 412.

10) CPR 1317-21, pp. 324, 375.

11) CFR 1307-19, p. 83.

12) CFR 1347-56, p. 118; CCR 1349-54, p. 40.

13) CCR 1346-9, p. 587.

14) CCR 1343-6, pp. 567-8.

15) CPR 1340-3, p. 426; CPR 1350-4, p. 199; CPR 1354-8, p. 58; CIPM 1347-52, no. 118.

16) CFR 1356-68, p. 33; CIPM 1365-9, no. 226; Testamenta Vetusta, vol. 1, pp. 71-2.

25 February, 2021

The Relationship of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer (4)

Part one; part two; part three.

Here are some examples of the accounts of Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer's relationship that appear even in books published as non-fiction. And yes, all the following extracts are from non-fiction, not novels, published in the twenty-first century.

Firstly, in works of non-fiction, it's usually assumed that sources will be cited to back up an author's statements. I'd love to see a source for the allegations that Edward II fantasised about Piers Gaveston when making love with his wife, and that Roger "took Isabella roughly then tenderly'". Secondly, I loathe the sexism inherent in the idea that men "take" women, as though women are passive recipients and not active agents in their own sex lives. The Middle Ages used gendered intimate language that described women as being "taken" by men, sure; but we live in the twenty-first century. Thirdly, why is not possible that Edward might have enjoyed making love with Piers and with Isabella? Does bisexuality not exist? Edward fathered an illegitimate child, after all, as did Piers, and I found evidence that Edward made love with a woman in London in 1324 (see blog post).

Fourthly, what the actual freaking heck is a "heated warrior"? A warrior who's been standing in front of a radiator? Or who appears in a recipe for Warrior Stroganoff or something? "Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Cook the warrior for 120 minutes or until thoroughly heated." Fifthly, like so much of the nonsense written about Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, this paragraph comes off as the writer's fantasy. "Eeeeewwww, it'd be so disgusting to have to sleep with a man who has sex with men, but imagine getting to have awesome rough sex then tender lovemaking with a hawt hyper-masculine warrior instead! Phwoooarrrrr!" Sixthly, the absurdity of Edward II of all people, the man described by chroniclers as "one of the strongest men in his realm" and "of enormous strength", who famously dug ditches, thatched roofs, worked with metal and went rowing, having "smooth, girlish hands". What on earth is that based on except stereotypes and prejudices about gay men? Sexism and homophobia in one ghastly paragraph.

"Physical attraction there clearly was". Excuse me, but where is this clear? Because of the "emotional logic" that a beautiful woman and a man claimed without a source to be "athletic" simply must have fallen in lust and in love? The author assumes that Isabella and Roger's relationship was "an all-consuming bond" and "a passionate affair" even though, as is correctly pointed out, there's little evidence for any of these claims. If I wrote such exaggerated stuff about Edward II and Piers Gaveston or Hugh Despenser the Younger, about the all-consuming bond the men formed and the combustible combination of their temperaments and the depth of their shared political interests and the sheer obviousness of their physical attraction and the way they absolutely must have had a passionately sexual affair, people would express cynicism and demand to see some references, and they'd be absolutely right to do so. Somehow, though, when it comes to Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, sources are not deemed necessary, and any objectivity goes out of the window. The alleged "emotional logic" of their association is all that matters. As I said in a previous post, the idea that Isabella of France rejected Edward II because she'd fallen in love and lust with Roger Mortimer is a narrative that's been created. Despite numerous writers' efforts to claim otherwise, it is not a fact, though it's usually treated like one, and as such an undeniable fact that sources are not required. This extract is at least better written and less obviously a fantasy than the first extract, above, but it's equally unsourced and equally over-romanticised.

Nobody knows what happened between Isabella and Roger in private, and we have no way of knowing. We have no idea, none at all, that their relationship was "passionate" or even that they had a mutual physical attraction. Sure, they might well have done. But it's not certain, as claimed. It also strikes me as rather superficial to claim that simply because Isabella was a "famous beauty" that Roger Mortimer must necessarily have wanted to have sex with her, or that because Roger was allegedly "athletic", Isabella must necessarily have wanted to have sex with him. Edward II himself was described as handsome and physically impressive by chroniclers, but I've never seen anyone assuming that any man or woman he encountered must have wanted to have sex with him for that reason. He and Piers Gaveston, and Hugh Despenser, were "of an age", and Edward and Hugh had "shared political interests" and were involved in a "power play" in the 1320s, and Piers was also an "athletic figure" (unlike Roger, we do at least have a fourteenth-century chronicle that calls Piers that). None of that is evidence that Edward II had passionate sex and an all-consuming bond with Piers and Hugh. It's not evidence that Queen Isabella had passionate sex and an all-consuming bond with Roger Mortimer either.

We have "fiery passion", stated as a fact, their sexual relationship beginning while they were in France in 1325/26 stated as a fact, Isabella's "devotion" to Roger for the remaining thirty-two years of her life after 1326 stated as a fact. How can we possibly know that? Telepathy? The relationship with Roger "gave Isabella personal satisfaction", apparently. Where's that from, the recently-discovered "Secret Diary of Queen Isabella Aged 30¾"? And the bit about Isabella thinking that Roger's threat to stab her being proof of the depth of his feelings for her makes me cringe. Yet again, this is the typical modern narrative that's been created and is entirely unsourced, that Isabella's marriage had always been loveless and unsatisfactory, then she finds this awesome passionate lover who feels so strongly about her and is so possessive, jealous and domineering that he threatens to stab her if she leaves him. The bit about threatening to kill Isabella with a knife at least has a footnote or endnote and a reference, because it was one of the charges against Roger at his trial in November 1330; notice that's the only endnote in the entire section. This is entirely typical of modern narratives about the alleged relationship between Isabella and Roger; either no sources at all are cited, or on the rare occasions when they are, as I pointed out in the first part of this post, they don't at all say what modern writers claim they say.

Isabella and Edward's marriage certainly went badly wrong in and after 1322, thanks mostly to Edward allowing Hugh Despenser to come between them, but how do we know it was "loveless"? How do we know it lacked passion? Isabella repeatedly called Edward "my very sweet heart" (mon tresdouz coer) in a letter to him in 1325, and in another letter of 1326 called him "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend". In late 1325, distressed at the state of her marriage and Hugh Despenser the Younger's intrusion into it, she forced Edward to choose between herself and Hugh by offering him an ultimatum; but, alas, he chose Hugh. But somehow, modern writers just know that she was lying about her fear of Hugh and her desire to return to her husband, and when she said, twice that we know of, that she wanted Edward to send Hugh away so that she felt safe enough to go back to him and resume their marriage, what she really meant was "I'm in love with Roger Mortimer and having awesome sex with him, and Edward repulses me". It seems that in 1325/26, it was Edward rejecting Isabella, spurning her attempts to heal their marriage and demonstrating his preference for Hugh, reinforcing Isabella's loathing for Hugh and her determination to destroy him, and leaving her with little choice but to remain in France and press on with her attempts to do so. So maybe we should write lots of fevered prose about Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger's awesome sex life and amazing all-consuming bond and how the sex Edward had with Hugh was obviously superior to the sex he had with Isabella, and pretend this is some kind of fact.

The pics below are from a book published in 2005, in which we learn that Edward II and Piers Gaveston fathering children proves that they were capable of "normal sexual relations", with the obvious implication that their own relationship was abnormal, that Edward's relationship with Hugh Despenser was "perverted", and that Edward consummating his marriage means he "had at last played the man". So that's nice. We also learn that a man having a relationship with another man is an insult to "femininity", whatever that means, and that the awesome and powerful Queen Isabella was a helpless heroine in a pirate romance that the 1950s would have rejected as outdated and regressive, who "succumbs to a strong and lusty adventurer" and "surrenders herself to his embraces". Notice that Isabella's alleged "profound revulsion" for her husband is stated as though it's a fact, and the way a man who lived 700 years ago is described as "unequivocally heterosexual" as though anyone could possibly know that. Like the first example, above, this comes across as a classic case of projection; wow, this hyper-masculine manly virile heterosexual audacious strong lusty adventurer is so darn hawt and sexy, and I'd find it so icky and horrible to have a husband who liked men, and I just know Isabella must have felt the same!

Below: hey, look what I stumbled on in the archives! An actual photo from 1326 of Queen Isabella succumbing to her Strong And Lusty Adventurer! (Or, as one of my Facebook friends said, possibly recoiling from his halitosis.)

21 February, 2021

Edward II's Secret (Female) Lover, October 1324

I've talked before about a house in Southwark, more or less opposite the Tower of London and more or less where City Hall now stands in central London, called La Rosere. Edward II acquired La Rosere in October 1324 from Agnes Dunley (Anneys de Doneleye as her name appears in Edward's accounts) and another house called La Cage, next to it, from William Latimer in February 1325. Edward's accounts from October 1324 until the summer of 1326 are full of references to both houses, and La Rosere in particular: he spent a lot of money restoring the property, having the kitchen plastered and tiled, planting shrubs around it, building a jetty, and so on, and spent quite a bit of time there.

Edward, who was now forty years old, held a parliament in London from 20 October to 10 November 1324. An entry in his chamber account, dated 26 October 1324 during this parliament, states that the king crossed the River Thames from the Tower of London to La Rosere, and fist p[ri]uement son deduyt a cele place encont[re] la Tour, "secretly took his pleasure in that place opposite the Tower" or "privately made love in that place opposite the Tower". Another entry a couple of days later states that a man named Robin Carter was given two shillings because he "came promptly to the Tower with his boat to bring the king across the Thames to the place which the king bought there". [The National Archives E 101/380/4, fos. 19r, 20r] The intriguing statement about lovemaking appears at the end of what I thought at first was a rather tedious entry about buying fish. It turns out that two of Edward's clerks, William Langley and Piers Pulford, who compiled this account which is now held in the National Archives, recorded the purchase of eels, lampreys, stockfish, unsmoked herring, oysters, roach and smelt, plus butter and onions, for the king and the other person to share after they made love. The fishermen who sold the fish and seafood were called, for the record, Wille Swayncherche, Robyn Sharp, Wille Cros and Cock Swete (I kid you not). Oooooh, this was an exciting find.

Pic below: large eels, 10d for four large stockfish, herring, 5d for oysters, smelt, onions, OK, yeah yeah, this isn't very exciting, just a typical purchase of fish and seafood, le Roy fist p'uement son deduyt...wait, WHAT?!

Faire son deduit, or deduyt or dedoit, is translated in the online Anglo-Norman Dictionary - which, incidentally, is a terrific resource for which I'm very grateful - as "to have one's pleasure (of a woman)". Edward's crossing of the Thames to La Rosere was dated several months before Queen Isabella departed for her homeland in early March 1325, but as the king made love 'secretly' or 'privately' or 'discreetly' (priuement), Isabella surely cannot be the person in question. Whether the royal couple had much of a sex life after 1322, when their marriage began to go wrong, is a question we will never be able to answer. Their youngest child, Joan of the Tower, was born in July 1321; that they had no more children after this year, when Edward was thirty-seven and Isabella was twenty-six, might mean that the fertility of one or both of them had declined, or it might mean that their intimate relations had become sporadic or non-existent. As for Hugh Despenser the Younger, as royal chamberlain he was the boss of the two clerks of the royal chamber who wrote this account, and he would have been mentioned if it had been he who crossed the Thames to La Rosere with the king. And, as the Anglo-Norman Dictionary states, the phrasing used almost certainly means that Edward II's lover was a woman.

Edward had a household of something like 500 people; he had a bodyguard of eight or more archers around him all the time; he had numerous valets, pages, clerks, knights, ushers, squires, sergeants-at-arms, marshals and so on; he must have been surrounded by people at just about every moment. There's evidence that six of Edward's chamber valets slept inside his chamber, or at the very least just outside: in 1326, they were paid for waking up at night every time that the king himself awoke. Another six men, four of the king's sergeants-at-arms and two ushers, were meant to sleep just outside the door of his bedchamber, according to Edward's Household Ordinance of December 1318. Many of Edward's servants must, therefore, have known exactly when, where and with whom the king had intimate relations. Privacy was all but impossible for him, and of course for other medieval royals for the same reason.

It's really interesting therefore to note that during the parliament held in the autumn of 1324, Edward II left his entire enormous household behind in the Tower where he stayed from 16 to 28 October, and crossed the river to a house he'd only very recently acquired, in order to make love with someone secretly or privately or discreetly. Evidently, he didn't want anyone, besides his two clerks, to know who he was having sex with. Who the heck was it? Alas, William Langley and Piers Pulford were too discreet to say, or perhaps didn't even know.

In her Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others (third edition, 2017, pp. 4-5), Ruth Mazo Karras points out the gendered nature of intimate language in the Middle Ages. In modern English, the words 'make love', 'have sex' and 'f*ck' are words we can use about both men and women; we can say 'she f*cked him' or 'she had sex with her' or whatever. The words imply something we do with someone, not to them. In contrast, the Middle English word swive(n), i.e. to have intercourse, meant something a man did to a woman. Karras also gives the example of the modern French word foutre, which means 'to f*ck' and like in English can refer to both men and women, but in medieval French, meant 'to penetrate' and was also only used to talk about what a man did to a woman. This is the reason, Karras says, that the subtitle of her book is Doing Unto Others; medieval people generally understood sexual acts as an active subject, inevitably a man, doing something to a passive object, almost inevitably a woman. The Anglo-Norman Dictionary translates faire lur deduit, literally 'make their pleasure', as 'to make love', i.e. this was something that two people did together, taking their pleasure, together. By contrast, the phrase used in Edward II's account of October 1324 is faire son deduyt, which literally means 'make his (sexual) pleasure' and is an example of a gendered phrase: something that Edward, as a man, is doing to someone, a woman.

The Westminster Abbey chronicle Flores Historiarum thundered in its account of events in 1324 that Edward II enjoyed "illicit intercourse [or copulations], full of sin" (concubitus illicitos peccatis plenos). It goes on to say that for this reason, Edward removed Queen Isabella and her "sweet conjugal embraces" (dulces amplexus conjugales) from his side. [Flores Historiarum, ed. H.R. Luard, vol. 3, p. 229] Although this may simply be a coincidence, Westminster Abbey is only a couple of miles from the Tower of London, from where Edward sneaked off to meet a lover secretly; perhaps the author of the Flores heard rumours.

The nature of Edward II's sexuality is something that can be endlessly debated, and it's impossible ever to know for certain. We have no way of knowing what Edward thought of his own sexuality, and there is no way of proving who he had sex with and when, unless the sexual act was procreative: we know he must have had intercourse with Queen Isabella approximately nine months before the births of their children, and we know he must have had intercourse with the unidentified woman who was the mother of his illegitimate son Adam. That's all that we can ever know for sure, however likely we think it might be that he had sex with Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, and perhaps with Roger Damory and Hugh Audley. One assumes that Edward, born as the son of a reigning king and heir to his father's throne from the age of four months, was entirely accustomed to the lack of privacy in his life, and accustomed to the reality that many people would have known when he took a person to bed. He was, however, keen to keep the identity of the woman with whom he made love at La Rosere in October 1324 hidden, and we can only speculate as to the reasons for that.

Although Edward II is sometimes depicted in modern writing as a gay man who would have shunned sexual intercourse with women - and who therefore cannot possibly have been the father of Queen Isabella's children - we know that he had a sexual relationship with a woman sometime around 1305/10 which resulted in their son Adam (d. 1322). That Edward acknowledged Adam as his child indicates that this relationship was one of some duration and seriousness: after all, if a man has a one-night stand with a woman he's never met before, and a few weeks later she seeks him out and says "I'm pregnant and it's yours", if he doesn't know her, how can he be sure that the child really is his? And here in October 1324 is an example of the forty-year-old king having sex with another woman, a woman he didn't have to have sex with (i.e. unlike the queen, she was never going to be the mother of his heirs) but did have sex with, because he wanted to. Another fact to slot into the life of this complex man, and a reminder that the simplistic narratives about him created by many modern writers are just that: simplistic narratives that don't come anywhere close to the reality of who Edward II was.