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.

14 February, 2021

The Relationship of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer (3)

First part; second part. In the last post, I looked at what chroniclers said about Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer's relationship, and also what lots of them didn't say about it. Evidence that their association was flagrant and scandalous, as so often claimed by later writers, is decidedly lacking, and if the two were lovers, it seems vastly more likely that they were very discreet.

Also on the subject of what people didn't say about their relationship, if Isabella and Roger's adultery was so notorious and blatant while they were in France in 1325/26 and it was widely known that they were involved sexually and romantically by Christmas 1325, as is often stated, it's hard to understand why Isabella's cousin Philip VI never used her adulterous affair as a weapon against her son Edward III. After all, Philip was there while Isabella was at her brother Charles IV's court supposedly flaunting her affair with Roger Mortimer in front of everyone, and Edward III claimed Philip's throne in 1337. The French cooked up some pretty desperate propaganda to discredit Edward III, most notably a claim that he'd raped the countess of Salisbury. [1] Wouldn't his mother's adultery have been a really obvious weapon to use? Wouldn't Philip have tried to embarrass Edward with his mother's scandalous behaviour, and furthermore, suggested that Edward might not be Edward II's son and therefore not even the rightful king of England, never mind king of France? But Philip VI never said a word about Isabella's alleged adultery.

Isabella's uncle Henry of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster and Leicester, led a brief and unsuccessful revolt in late 1328 and early 1329, and cited his points of dissatisfaction with the governance of Isabella and Roger Mortimer during Edward III's minority. Henry's complaints appear in the Plea and Memoranda Rolls of London, and he said a great deal about the bad advice to which the underage Edward III was being subjected, his (Henry's) quarrel with Roger Mortimer, the question of Philippa of Hainault's dower and much else, but not a word about Isabella's reliance on Roger or about their private relationship. [2] No-one ever claimed that Edward III was not Edward II's son until the late twentieth century, and it seems odd, if Isabella was known to have committed adultery, that rumours didn't spread in their own lifetimes. After all, if Isabella was known to have had sexual relations with Roger Mortimer in and after 1325/26, some people might have thought that she slept with him, or with another man, a few years earlier as well. Even the contemporary chroniclers who said they'd heard rumours of Isabella and Roger's 'liaison' never cast the slightest doubt on Edward III's paternity, which perhaps leads one to wonder if they truly believed the rumours. Another question that occurs to me: would Isabella have had as much support from the English bishops in and after 1326 as she did if she'd been parading her adulterous affair with Roger? It's all very well saying they knew about the affair but just ignored it, but would they really have done that? Would chronicler Jean le Bel have said that Roger Mortimer "more than anyone was suspected of being the father" of Isabella's alleged unborn child in 1330 if their sexual relationship was known to everyone? If their affair was so notorious, who else was going to be the father? I don't really think that "Oh, but people didn't dare to talk about the queen's adultery and therefore they kept silent" as an explanation of chroniclers' reticence on the subject is much of an argument. We could argue till the cows come home what chroniclers and others might have said about anything, but the evidence we have is the evidence we have.

Pic below: one writer a few years ago, stating that "Queen Isabella was an acknowledged adulteress." Oh really? Acknowledged by whom? Herself? Nope, never. Or is there some kind of committee that officially acknowledges adulteresses? And Edward II "may have been the father of his supposed offspring." Oh, such generosity. This is really insulting to Isabella too, to suggest that a woman with her profound and even sacred sense of her own royalty might have been willing to foist a child she had conceived with a non-royal man on the throne. This is yet another example of what I talked about in the last post, where the idea that Isabella was an "adulteress" is elevated to the status of a certain fact and treated with the reverence often accorded to Holy Writ. There's a constant assumption that because Isabella was a woman and Roger was a man, their relationship must have been romantic and sexual. The idea that they might have been close political allies and not lovers at all, at least in the early stages of their association, is almost never considered.



Thomas Costain's perenially popular The Three Edwards states that it is all but certain that Isabella and Mortimer first met in the Tower of London in 1321. Hahaha, no. Roger attended Isabella's wedding to Edward II in Boulogne on 25 January 1308, and at their coronation a month later, he played an important role in the ceremonial procession into Westminster Abbey: he and three other men carried the royal robes. Roger spent much of his career in the 1310s in Ireland, so he and the queen probably didn't come face to face that often, but charter witness lists show that he visited court on occasion, and obviously Isabella would have known exactly who the lord of Wigmore was long before 1321. A lot of novels, weirdly, follow Costain's idea and have Isabella and Roger first being introduced in the Tower when he's a prisoner there.

There's also a common idea that Isabella began her affair with Roger Mortimer in the Tower of London, shortly after she supposedly first met him there. This idea comes from a misreading of dates: Isabella gave birth to her youngest child, Joan, later queen of Scotland, in the Tower on 5 July 1321, and Roger and his uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk were imprisoned in the Tower on 13 February 1322. An earlier generation of historians misdated either the birth or the onset of the imprisonment and thought that Isabella and Roger were in the Tower at the same time, and that somehow this was evidence for the beginning of their passionate sexual relationship. Because as we all know, women who have just given birth are famous for being really keen to begin a passionate sexual relationship with a new lover, and any two people who are in the same place at the same time are bound to have sex together. And you know, the Tower of London is a pretty darn big place, a massive sprawling fortification with lots of towers; I think there were twenty-one in the 1300s, or something like that. The royal apartments were absolutely nowhere near the prison cells, and there were workshops within the Tower grounds, where carpenters, masons, armourers, etc were at work, so there were always lots of people coming and going. One novel, hilariously, has the queen of England sneaking off to have sex with Roger in his prison cell, and no-one ever notices, because - get this - she wears a cloak with a hood. Obviously, she stole Harry Potter's invisibility cloak.

Other than one medieval French chronicle, the playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564-93), in his c. 1592 play about Edward II, was the first person to suggest that Isabella was involved in Roger Mortimer's escape from the Tower on 1 August 1323. [3] There's no evidence whatsoever that she helped him escape or that he was important to her in any way back then, and to my mind the notion that they were plotting against Edward II together as early as 1322/23 is merely hindsight, projecting knowledge of their relationship back several years, coupled with a romantic wish that Isabella had always loved Roger and helped him escape to fight another day. On 17 February 1323, while staying in the Tower, Isabella sent a letter to the treasurer of England, Walter de Norwich, about Roger's wife Joan Geneville. Since Roger's own arrest in early 1322, Joan had been held under house arrest with eight servants, and the queen asked the treasurer to ensure that she received the money allocated for her own and her servants' sustenance as promptly as possible. This has often been taken as proof of Isabella's collusion with Roger Mortimer, but the rather inconvenient fact is that she was staying in the Tower with Eleanor Despenser, niece of Edward II and wife of Hugh the Younger, and Eleanor sent the same letter about Joan's money, almost exactly word for word, also on 17 February 1323. [4] So if we take the queen's letter as evidence of her plotting against her husband with Roger, presumably Eleanor was also plotting with him against her husband and uncle. This doesn't seem terribly likely.

Edward III's arrest of Roger Mortimer in Nottingham Castle on 19 October 1330 is also very often misunderstood. Not long ago, someone snapped at me on social media that it's absurd to think that Roger and Isabella might not have been lovers when the king and his friends caught them together in Isabella's bedchamber. Um. No. They weren't alone in Isabella's bed, being intimate, but were having a meeting with their few remaining allies, including Roger's son Geoffrey Mortimer and the bishop of Lincoln, Henry Burghersh.

I think a lot of people nowadays assume that Edward II and Isabella of France's relationship was nothing but tragically awful and disastrous from start to finish, which is wildly inaccurate anyway. Then they assume that Isabella and Roger's relationship must necessarily have been the exact opposite of that, and write Isabella as though she's a fictional character escaping an unsatisfactory marriage into a wonderfully fulfilling affair. It's become an extremely popular interpretation, but that doesn't make it true. Isabella, Roger and Edward were real people, not fictional characters, and certainly not archetypes marked 'Abusive Gay Husband', 'Adoring Straight Lover' and 'Sad Lonely Heroine In Need Of A Real Man's Love'. Their lives were their own and were messy and complicated, not the plot of a romance novel where Edward makes Isabella endlessly unhappy until Roger emerges stage left to show her what true love and sexual satisfaction are. 

The complex politics of the 1320s, the aftershocks of the Contrariant rebellion, Edward II's incompetence, his complicity in Hugh Despenser the Younger's tyranny and extortion, all the rest of it, are reduced to a fairy-tale about a neglected woman and her adoring lover. Roger here also appears not as a person in his own right, but simply as The Hetero Lover, the anti-Edward II who is claimed to have been "everything that Edward II was not" and who later becomes the unscrupulous villain who makes Isabella do bad things and thus becomes The Scapegoat. Where is Isabella's agency? Where is the powerful, awesome politician who brings down a king? Nowhere; Isabella is treated as little more than the simpering heroine of a 1950s Mills and Boon romance who "succumbs to the strong and lusty adventurer" and "surrenders herself to the embraces" of her strong, manly, virile lover. This panting Victorian nonsense was published in the twenty-first century. Give me strength.


To claim that Edward II of all people, the man who was called "one of the strongest men in his realm" by chroniclers, was not strong makes clear that this narrative has little to do with reality. And now could anyone 700 years later possibly know whether Roger Mortimer was "unequivocally heterosexual" or not? There are people I know really well and talk to a lot, and I wouldn't have the faintest clue if they're "unequivocally heterosexual" or not.  

Another assumption is that Isabella, now madly in love and lust with the wonderful strong manly virile audacious superlatively heterosexual lover who gives her great orgasms or whatever, automatically now despises Edward II ("it is easy to understand that Isabella could feel nothing but profound revulsion for her husband"). This appears to be a classic case of projection, and is a simplistic way of understanding human relationships, as though Isabella was capable of feeling only one emotion for the man who was her husband for almost two decades and was the father of her children. And who was as royal as she herself was. Let's not forget that Isabella of France was a woman with a strong and sacred sense of her own royalty. Although of course she was a human being too, with needs and desires, her profound sense of her royalty is often dismissed or underestimated. And yes, I know perfectly well that a century later Katherine de Valois, daughter of the king of France and widow and mother of kings of England, had a long-term sexual and romantic relationship with Owen Tudor, a squire. I'm not talking about Katherine de Valois; I'm not claiming that no queen who has ever lived on this planet could possibly commit adultery or fall in love with a man well beneath her in rank. I'm talking about Isabella of France, specifically, as an individual. I'm not quite sure that "Oh, you see, this person did something, so a completely different person a century earlier might have done it too" is much of an argument, even though people have often made that argument to me.

For what it's worth, my feeling is that at first, in 1325/26, Isabella and Roger were political allies whose goals coincided; they, Roger's Contrariant allies such as John Maltravers and William Trussell, and untold numbers of people in England, desperately wanted to bring Hugh Despenser the Younger down. This achieved, it became obvious that Edward II's support had collapsed and that he could no longer continue to be king, and Isabella kept Roger as her adviser through the unprecedented times that followed. I  personally doubt that Isabella slept with Roger while Edward II was alive or at least still officially alive, i.e. until September 1327. Once she was a widow, or at least officially a widow, she might have been more open to a sexual or romantic relationship of some kind with Roger. If they did, they must have been reasonably discreet, and maybe their intimacy was only occasional. I have no doubt that Isabella had feelings for Roger, feelings of trust and affection, and perhaps more, though whether she was ever in love with him is impossible to know for certain. Roger's own feelings are also impossible to assess with any degree of certainty. Given how much he got out of his relationship with the queen, e.g. granting himself a grandiose earldom, arranging marriages for his daughters with the most eligible heirs in the kingdom, becoming involved with politics at the highest level, and so on, it would seem a mighty coincidence if he just happened to fall madly in love with Isabella in late 1325, just as one would reasonably doubt that Hugh Despenser just happened to fall madly in love with Edward II in c. late 1318. I'm sure that Isabella of France trusted Roger Mortimer and had genuine feelings for him. Whether those feelings included passionate lust and passionate love, I'm not at all convinced, and the notion that Roger loved Isabella passionately doesn't convince me either. To me, Roger Mortimer's marriage of almost three decades to Joan Geneville, the often forgotten woman who bore him a dozen children and supported him loyally through thick and thin, is a far more appealing love story than fantasies about an "unequivocally heterosexual" baron seducing a cruelly neglected queen.

Sources

1) Antonia Gransden, 'The Alleged Rape by Edward III of the Countess of Salisbury', English Historical Review, 87 (1972), pp. 341, 344.

2) Calendar of Select Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London, ed. A.H. Thomas, vol. 1, pp. 77-83.

3) Seymour Phillips, Edward II, p. 490.

4) The National Archives SC 1/37/45 is Isabella's letter; SC 1/37/4 is Eleanor's.

10 February, 2021

The Relationship of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer (2)

In the last post, I looked at what we know and can prove about the relationship or alliance between Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer in 1325/26, looking at some of the primary-source evidence. The alliance that Queen Isabella made with the English exiles in France bore fruit, and she, her son Edward of Windsor, Roger Mortimer, Edward II's half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, the count of Hainault's brother Sir John Beaumont, Edward II's former household steward Sir John Cromwell, and around 1500 others landed in Suffolk on 24 September 1326. Exactly two months to the day later, Hugh Despenser the Younger was executed in Hereford in Isabella's presence; she surely exulted at her victory over the man she hated and feared. 

On 16 November 1326, Edward II was captured and placed in the custody of Henry, earl of Lancaster and Leicester, his cousin and Isabella's uncle. Henry took the king to Kenilworth Castle, though as Lady D has pointed out, Henry was in Hereford for Hugh Despenser the Younger's trial and execution a few days later, so where was Edward then? As far as the official record shows, Edward II and Queen Isabella never saw each other again after 9 March 1325, when Isabella departed for her homeland to negotiate a peace settlement between her husband and her brother. As far as we can prove, the couple never came into each other's presence after Isabella's invasion, though, as Edward was in Henry of Lancaster's custody, and Henry was in Hereford with the queen to see Despenser tried and executed, it's possible that they did. The Bridlington chronicle, however, says that after the invasion, Edward's "counsellors", which must mean the Despensers and perhaps the earl of Arundel, prevented him from meeting the queen. [1]

An anonymous chronicle from Flanders gives a detailed and mostly accurate account of events in England in 1326. It says that sometime after Isabella's invasion - possibly after the executions of the two Hugh Despensers and the earl of Arundel - she and Edward met in his chamber, and she fell to her knees in front of her husband and begged him to "cool his anger" with her. Edward, however, refused to talk to her or to make any response at all, and wouldn't even look at her. [2] Whether Isabella, even at this late date, wished to reconcile with Edward is not clear, but at the very least she wished his forgiveness, if this chronicle can be taken as in any way accurate, and still accepted his authority as her lord to whom she owed obeisance. Edward, however, was so furious he couldn't look at her, and indeed, his anger is amply demonstrated by the way he referred to Isabella throughout 1326 simply as "our wife".

I find this account really interesting because narratives of the events of 1326 almost always assume that Edward II was just reacting to whatever Isabella did. It's taken for granted that the decision whether to resume their marriage or not lay with her, and she rejected him because she was in love with Roger Mortimer and was either actively 'repulsed' by her husband or at least indifferent to him, and angry because of his supposed cruelty to her over the previous few years. In this telling, Edward II is the one who's rejecting Isabella and is the one who's angry with her, and is an active agent in his fate and hers, at least as far as their personal relationship is concerned. Whether this meeting where Isabella fell to her knees in front of Edward happened or not, it's a reminder that we don't really, actually know what was going on between the couple behind the scenes and we can't see into their heads. The idea that Isabella rejected Edward because she'd fallen in love with Roger Mortimer is a narrative that's been created; it's not a 'fact'.

Michèle Schindler made an excellent point to me when we discussed Isabella's letter of 5 February 1326, where the queen stated that she wished nothing more than to be with her husband, but dared not return to him because she feared that her life was in danger from Hugh Despenser the Younger. Modern writers heap all kinds of invented trauma on Isabella and are desperate to turn her into the long-suffering tragic victim of her nasty cruel husband: Despenser raped or sexually assaulted her, her husband stole their children from her, insulted her by deliberately arriving late for their wedding, gave her wedding gifts to Gaveston, abandoned her when she was pregnant to save Gaveston, and so on and so on, ad nauseam. There's no evidence that Isabella herself thought that any of this happened. But when she says "yes, actually, I do feel like a victim of this man who controls my husband and his entire kingdom, and he terrifies me to the point where I believe he might even be the devil and might kill me," it's claimed that she's lying and making it all up because she needs an excuse to continue sleeping with Roger Mortimer. 

I'll look now at the chronicle evidence for Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer's relationship. Let's begin with the chronicles which state that something intimate did happen, or at least might have happened, between Isabella and Roger. The Chronicle of Lanercost, written at Lanercost Priory in the far north-west of England sometime after 1346, states in its account of Roger Mortimer's downfall in 1330 that "there was a liaison suspected between him and the lady queen-mother, as according to public report". [3] Geoffrey le Baker's Vita et Mors Edwardi Secundi, written some decades after the events of 1325 to 1330, says that in France in 1325/26, Isabella was "in the illicit embraces of Mortimer". [4] This is the most definitive statement on Isabella and Roger's relationship in an English chronicle. Adam Murimuth, a royal clerk and chronicler who knew Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer very well between 1327 and 1330, states that while they were in France in 1325/26, Isabella and Roger had an "excessive familiarity" or "remarkable intimacy" (nimiam familiaritatem), and that because of Roger and the other English exiles in France, the queen did not want to return to England. He hedges this bit of the chronicle slightly with the remark "it is said". Later in his work, Murimuth gives a long account of the charges against Roger at his trial in November 1330 including that he had Edward II suffocated to death at Berkeley Castle, but does not mention his relationship with Isabella again. [5]

Jean le Bel, from Liège in modern-day Belgium, served in Edward III's army during the disastrous campaign against Robert Bruce in 1327. He's a useful source as he was in England in the year of Edward II's deposition and reported death, though he didn't write up his account until decades later: he talks of "the duke of Lancaster who is currently one of the finest, worthiest knights alive". He must therefore have written his chronicle sometime between 1351, when Henry of Grosmont was made the first duke of Lancaster, and 1361, when Henry died. In his account of 1329/30, le Bel writes that "a rivalry began to grow between the noble earl of Kent, a most worthy and likeable gentleman, and Lord Mortimer, a strikingly strong and impressive knight who, rumour had it, was intimate with the king's mother both in secret and otherwise." He continues a few paragraphs later that "soon after [the earl of Kent's execution in March 1330], a dreadful rumour started - whether it was true I don't know - that the Queen Mother was pregnant, and Lord Mortimer more than anyone was suspected of being the father." [6] Chronicler Jean Froissart also states that Isabella was pregnant in 1330, but Froissart wasn't even born until about 1337 or 1338 and relied very heavily on Jean le Bel for his account of events in England from 1326 to 1330, so is not an independent source. No English chronicler so much as hints that Isabella was pregnant by Roger Mortimer at any time.

In his 2003 biography of Edward II, Roy Martin Haines says "A rumour had circulated that Mortimer, Isabella's "amasius" (lover), planned to usurp the kingdom." There is an endnote, but it states only "The same word [i.e. amasius] was used to describe Gaveston." [7] As no source is provided, I'm not sure if this is a direct quotation from a chronicle, or is just Haines using the word to describe what he thinks Roger was to Isabella. Jochen Burgtorf has pointed out that three chronicles indeed used the word amasius or 'lover' to describe Piers Gaveston's relationship to Edward II, albeit, as Burgtorf says, chronicles written decades after the two men's lifetimes. [8]

A greater number of chronicles do not say that Isabella and Roger had an intimate association. The Scalacronica of Sir Thomas Gray, whose father of the same name fought for Edward II at Bannockburn and later served in the retinue of Hugh Despenser the Younger (though Gray Jr fails to mention this embarrassing fact) talks of "the queen and her son and Roger de Mortimer, then chief of her council" when discussing the invasion of 1326. During Isabella and her son's time in France in 1325/26, Gray states "they entered into a conspiracy against their liege lord, husband and father, with the support of the people banished from England, the Lord of Mortimer and others." In its summary of the early years of Edward III's reign, the Scalacronica says that Edward was "in all things governed, and his realm also, by his mother and by Roger de Mortimer" and "Queen Isabella and Mortimer governed all England". While making it perfectly clear that Mortimer was the queen's co-ruler from 1327 to 1330, the chronicle says not a word about their personal relationship. [9] 

The French Chronicle of London does not mention Roger together with Isabella in any context until the arrival of their invasion in September 1326: "the queen of England and her son and the Mortimer [la reigne d'Engletere et son fitz et le Mortimer] and a great company of great lords and men-at-arms." In its account of 1328, it states that "Lady Isabella the queen, the king's mother, and Sir Roger Mortimer and others of their faction" (dame Isabele la roygne la mere au roy et sir Rogier Mortimer et autres de lour covyne) took part in the negotiations for Joan of the Tower's marriage to David Bruce of Scotland. These are the only things this chronicler says about Roger in connection to the queen. [10] Ranulph Higden's Polychronicon states that Isabella, her son Edward of Windsor and Roger Mortimer, "who had escaped from the Tower of London," landed in England with an armed force of Hainaulters in 1326. It says a bit later that Roger Mortimer, who made people call him earl of March, was arrested in Nottingham, taken to London and hanged, and well, um, that's it. [11]

The Bridlington chronicle Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon states that during the period when Edward of Windsor was betrothed to Philippa of Hainault in the summer of 1326, Roger Mortimer "adhered to the queen", and names Roger as one of the men accompanying Isabella and her son during the invasion. The next mention of him is when he and Oliver Ingham, John Maltravers [sic], Simon Bereford, and Henry Burghersh, bishop of Lincoln, are arrested at Nottingham Castle in October 1330, and it says Roger was hanged. That's all the chronicler has to say about Roger Mortimer between 1325 and his death. [12] The Annales Paulini mentions Roger's involvement in the Contrariant rebellion and his escape from the Tower, and he's named in the list of the queen's adherents during the invasion, after the count of Hainault's brother and the earl of Kent, and before John Cromwell, Thomas Roscelyn and William Trussell. He's named as being present at the trials of both Hugh Despensers on 27 October and 24 November 1326, and there's a short account of his visit to the Guildhall in London in January 1327 before Edward II's deposition. His elevation to the earldom of March in 1328 appears, and a few weeks later he, Edward III and Queens Isabella and Philippa visit London. There's an account of his arrest and execution, but not a word about his relationship with the queen. [13]

The Middle English Brut says that while in France in 1325/26, Isabella allied herself with "the knights that were exiled out of England...that is to say, Sir Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, Sir William Trussell, Sir John Cromwell, and many other great knights". In its account of Isabella's journey to Hainault and Edward of Windsor's betrothal to Philippa, Roger appears fifth in the list of eight people who were arranging it. As other chroniclers also do, the Brut holds Roger partially accountable for the deeply unpopular marriage of Edward III's sister Joan of the Tower and Robert Bruce's son David in 1328, there's a long section about his pride and haughtiness and then his responsibility for the earl of Kent's execution/judicial murder in March 1330, and a detailed account of his downfall. It says almost nothing about Roger's relationship with Isabella except that he folwede [followed] Dame Isabell the Quene's court, was wonder privee with the Quene Isabell, and that Isabella made miche sorwe in hert (much sorrow in heart) when her son arrested him in October 1330. She asked the king and his friends to do Roger no harm, because he was our wel bilouede frende and our dere cosyn (well-beloved friend and dear cousin). [14] Wonder privee means that Roger was Isabella's close confidant and trusted adviser. The Brut (p. 257) also says that the Lancastrian knight Sir Robert Holland, killed by other Lancastrian knights in October 1328, was wonder pryve with Isabella, so if this expression is interpreted to mean that she was having an affair with Roger Mortimer, it must also mean that she was having an affair with Robert Holland. It also states that the men who killed Robert Holland had to hide from Isabella because she louede him wonder miche, she loved Holland exceedingly much, which is more than it says about her feelings for Roger Mortimer.

To me, this all seems like a pretty thin basis to be talking, as so many modern writers do (I mean writers of non-fiction, not novelists), about a flagrant affair that scandalised Europe, a relationship that was notorious and blatant, two people openly living together in adultery, an all-consuming bond, the great and passionate love affair of a lifetime, intense physical attraction, fiery passion. William Stubbs pointed out back in 1896 that "on the relations of the queen and Mortimer the chronicles of the time are very reticent." [15] With the exception of the Vita et Mors Edwardi Secundi, the chroniclers who do say that Isabella and Roger had or might have had an intimate relationship hedge it all about with "there was a suspicion", "rumour had it", "according to report", "I don't know if it's true", "it is said". Even assuming that fourteenth-century chroniclers exercised a bit of caution regarding what they wrote about Edward III's royal mother, the discrepancy between what they say and what modern writers say is remarkable. An article in the English Historical Review a few years ago states "it was notorious that Queen Isabella enjoyed an intimate relationship with Roger Mortimer" in 1327, without ever explaining where and among whom it was 'notorious', and how the author knows this. It's as though Isabella and Roger's sex life is such an established fact that even academic historians writing in prestigious peer-reviewed journals don't feel any need to cite sources for it. The article continues: "the queen's relationship with Mortimer could not be openly referred to; but rumourmongers may have whispered that this was the underlying motive for her refusal to return to her husband." Well, people may have said lots of things in 1327 for all we know, but did they? Is this an article in an academic journal of history or a piece in a celebrity gossip magazine? Another statement in an academic article states, also without citing a source, that Isabella's liaison with Roger "became public knowledge around Christmas 1325", and a third academic article of recent years states that at the time Isabella gave her famous 'three people in my marriage' speech in c. October 1325, she "had begun a liaison" with Roger Mortimer. Surprise surprise, no source is cited.  

In a book published by Cambridge University Press some decades ago, one author stated that Isabella "became the mistress" of Roger Mortimer when they were in France, and that "[t]here is no reason to doubt [Adam] Murimuth's statement that this was the case since he was, in the years 1327-30, a close confidant of Mortimer and Isabella." The reference given is p. 45 of Murimuth's chronicle, which says, as noted above, that the two had an excessive familiarity. It's entirely possible that Murimuth was dealing in euphemism, but claiming that he states outright that Isabella became Roger's "mistress" strikes me as quite a leap. Perhaps he meant his "excessive familiarity" remark in the same sense as the Brut's wonder privee and the Scalacronica's "chief of her council". Edward II's proclamation of 8 February 1326 and his letter to his son of 19 March 1326 both say that Isabella had taken on Roger Mortimer as her adviser.

One modern writer claims that Isabella and Roger "plunged headlong into an adulterous affair" in 1325, citing Adam Murimuth and the Vita Edwardi Secundi. The Vita does not say a single word about their association. The last mention of Roger Mortimer in the text is his submission to Edward II in January 1322 - he and his uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk "deserted their allies and threw themselves on the king's mercy" and the remaining Contrariants were "in tears" when they told the earl of Lancaster about it - though a leaf of the manuscript is missing from 1323 where it might have discussed his escape from the Tower. And again, Murimuth's statement about the familiarity/intimacy between Isabella and Roger is doing a lot of heavy lifting: it's now been upgraded to "plunged headlong into an adulterous affair". I keep seeing all these non-fiction accounts which state that Isabella and Mortimer were openly together in a passionately loving and sexual relationship by Christmas 1325 and that lots of people knew it, but either no sources are cited, or when they are, they don't actually say what modern writers claim they say. 

A book review published in The Guardian a few years ago says that Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger's relationship was "certainly not sexual". This is asserted with such utter conviction that I assume the author watched eight years of webcam footage from Edward's bedchamber. The review also states that Edward's relationship with Piers Gaveston was "probably not sexual", but twice in the piece, Roger Mortimer is called Isabella's "lover" as though this is a certain fact and the reviewer saw them in bed together. An academic article calls Isabella "the only certain adulteress" among medieval English queens (and later mentions her "known adultery"), and in the very next line states that the "striking lack of contemporary tales of her adultery" is puzzling. This writer, and another author a few years earlier, assume that the contemporary "silence" over Isabella's adulterous relationship with Roger Mortimer was deliberate, because a) Edward II was humiliated at being cuckolded and did not wish to make the fact public, b) Edward III, as a king born in a hereditary monarchy, had obvious reasons to conceal his mother's adultery, or c) English writers also had good reasons to conceal the fact that their king might not have been the son of Edward II, especially after he claimed the throne of France. Nowhere is the possibility raised that a majority of fourteenth-century chronicles are "silent" on Isabella's adultery because they hadn't heard that she'd committed adultery, or even, perhaps, just maybe, there's the tiniest sliver of the tiniest chance that there was no adultery. I know, I know, crazy talk. This happens over and over and over and over and over in modern writing. Every piece of evidence that Edward II might have loved Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser romantically and/or sexually - the important presence of Roger Damory and Hugh Audley in his life between 1315 and c. 1318/19 is usually ignored - is placed under a microscope, examined in isolation, and nitpicked out of existence. By contrast, the notion that Roger Mortimer was Queen Isabella's "lover" and that she was a "certain adulteress" is treated with the unquestioning reverence that some people accord to Holy Writ, and has become essentially unfalsifiable: the "puzzling" silence of contemporaries on the matter and the absence of compelling evidence are taken as evidence that adultery certainly occurred.

The idea that Isabella and Roger fell in love is an assumption. It's not an unreasonable one, and their relationship, or association, lasted from c. early 1326 until Roger's arrest in October 1330, so it endured for a number of years and seems to have been very close. There's no doubt whatsoever that Roger wielded considerable influence from 1326/27 to 1330 as a result of his personal relationship with the dowager queen and her own relationship with her underage son Edward III. But does this automatically mean that he and Isabella were in love and/or having sex? Hugh Despenser the Younger also wielded considerable influence from c. late 1318 or early 1319 until November 1326 as a result of his personal relationship with Edward II. Do we also assume that the two men absolutely must have been lovers and must have had a passionate, fiery love affair for the ages? I think it's beyond doubt that Edward had feelings for Hugh and Isabella had feelings for Roger, and it's definitely possible that both the king and queen fell in love with and had sex with their respective 'favourites'. But where's all the evidence that Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer had an adulterous affair that was so notorious and flagrant and scandalous and conducted so openly and blatantly that numerous writers don't even feel the need to cite a source when they talk about it?

Sources

1) Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 2, pp. 86-7.
2) Extraits d'une Chronique Anonyme intitulée Ancienne Chroniques de Flandre in Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de France, ed. M. Bouquet et al, vol. 22, p. 425.
3) The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. H. Maxwell, pp. 266-7.
4) Vita et Mors Edwardi Secundi, in Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 1, p. 307.
5) Adae Murimuth Continuatio Chronicarum, ed. E.M. Thompson, pp. 45-6, 61-4.
6) The True Chronicles of Jean le Bel 1290-1360, trans. N. Bryant, pp. 28, 58-9.
7) Roy Martin Haines, King Edward II: His Life, His Reign, and Its Aftermath, 1284-1330, pp. 216, 462 note 214.
8) Jochen Burgtorf, 'With my Life, his Joyes Began and Ended: Piers Gaveston and King Edward II of England Revisited', Fourteenth Century England V, ed. Nigel Saul, p. 40.
9) Scalacronica: The Reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III as Recorded by Sir Thomas Gray, ed. and trans. H. Maxwell, pp. 71-2, 79, 82-4, 86-7.
10) Croniques de London, ed. G. J. Aungier, pp. 51, 61.
11) Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden, vol. 8, ed. J.R. Lumby, pp. 319-21, 327-9.
12) Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon, pp. 85-6, 101-2.
13) Annales Paulini, in Stubbs, Chronicles of the Reigns, vol. 1, pp. 314, 317, 319, 322, 342-3, 352.
14) The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F.W.D. Brie, part 1, pp. 233-4, 246-7, 257, 261-2, 268-71.
15) Cited in F.D. Blackley, 'Isabella and the Bishop of Exeter', Studies in Medieval History Presented to Bertie Wilkinson, ed. T.A. Sandquist and M.R. Powicke, p. 221.

05 February, 2021

The Relationship of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer (1)

In this post and several others to follow, I'm taking a look at what we actually, really know about the relationship, or association or whatever we want to call it, between Edward II's queen Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore and later the first earl of March. I'm focusing on the primary source, contemporary or near-contemporary, evidence for what went on between them, and this is the first part of maybe three or four posts on the subject, and deals with events of 1325/26. In future posts, I'll look at chronicle evidence for their relationship, examine if anything might have happened between the two before c. late 1325, look at events of 1327 to 1330, and anything else that occurs to me as I go on. Strap yourselves in; it's going to be a long ride. 

The first real indication of a major crisis in the king and queen of England's marriage is Isabella's famous 'there are three people in my marriage' speech, made at her brother Charles IV's court in Paris in response to Edward II's order to her and their son Edward of Windsor to come back to England. The speech is recorded only in the Vita Edwardi Secundi, which does not give the date, though it would appear to have been made sometime between about mid-October and early November 1325. Isabella said:

"I feel that marriage is a union of a man and a woman, holding fast to the practice of a life together, and that someone has come between my husband and myself and is trying to break this bond; I declare that I will not return until this intruder is removed, but, discarding my marriage garment, shall put on the robes of widowhood and mourning until I am avenged of this Pharisee." [1]

This is an ultimatum to Edward II: another person has come between us, and I feel like a widow and am mourning the end of our marriage. I will not return to you and resume our married life until you send this person away. (Isabella could not even bring herself to utter his name, but the person must be Hugh Despenser the Younger.) However later writers might have interpreted her words, that is what her speech says. It says nothing at all about hating Edward or wanting to bring him down or being in love with Roger Mortimer or even leaving Edward permanently. Whether Isabella really believed that her husband would send Hugh away and she could go back to him, there's no way of knowing without mental telepathy or holding a seance, but that is what she said. It's possible that she used Despenser's intrusion into her marriage as an excuse to rebel against Edward. It's also possible that she genuinely wanted to go back to her husband and to resume their marriage, hoped to return to the pre-1322 era before Hugh Despenser came between herself and her husband in both the private and public arenas, and truly believed that Edward would send Hugh away as she wished. Edward had, after all, grown tired of his previous male 'favourites' Roger Damory and Hugh Audley in c. 1318/19, and although he had grieved for Piers Gaveston for a long time, he had come to terms with it and he and Isabella managed to build a successful and seemingly happy partnership. Perhaps she intended to shock Edward into action, and assumed that if it came down to it and she forced him to make a decision, he would choose her and their son over Hugh Despenser, and would eventually get over the loss of Hugh as he had got over the loss of Gaveston, Damory and Audley. But he didn't choose Isabella; Edward demonstrated over the next few months that keeping Hugh close to him, and defending him against any and all accusations, was his number one priority. 

Had Isabella known, or guessed, beforehand that Edward would refuse, and hoped that he would because she didn't want to return to him, as a few later writers have claimed? We don't know. We simply don't. It wasn't only herself she was asking Edward to choose over Hugh; she had their elder son, Edward of Windsor, with her in France. I find it hard to imagine that Isabella thought Edward would prefer it if his son and heir remained in a hostile country rather than give up Despenser, or that she thought he would reject his own son, even if he rejected her. Lisa Benz St John has speculated that as Edward II sent Isabella to France in March 1325 to negotiate a peace settlement on his behalf, the queen might have believed that Edward still relied on her and needed her, despite Hugh Despenser's prominent presence in his life. Benz St John further suggests that Hugh persuading Edward II not to travel to France in September 1325 (see my post) to pay homage to Charles IV for his French lands "must have been the ultimate sign to Isabella that Despenser had supplanted her in a way that Gaveston never had." [2] Indeed, the fact that Hugh Despenser the Younger now had so much power that he could persuade the king of England not to meet the king of France might well have shocked Isabella profoundly, however much she had grown used to Hugh's political dominance over the previous few years. Although the royal marriage had certainly been going wrong for a good while, and Edward had even confiscated Isabella's lands in September 1324 when he was at war with her brother as though his own wife and queen was an enemy alien, perhaps Edward's failure to travel to France at Hugh's instigation was the final straw which forced Isabella into offering her husband an ultimatum. It may be that even in 1325 Isabella hadn't yet truly grasped just how strong Hugh Despenser's hold over Edward was, until he did Hugh's bidding and agreed not to travel to France. This makes more sense to me than some notion that Isabella was inventing her loathing of Despenser and her distress at the state of her marriage because she and Roger Mortimer were having hawt sex in Paris and she needed an excuse not to go back to Edward. Isabella of France was highly intelligent, competent and a canny politician, not to mention the crowned and anointed queen of England, not some teenager making up a story to her parents because she wanted to sneak out with her boyfriend.

Edward II responded to the queen's declaration during a parliament held in Westminster and London between 18 November and 5 December 1325. No official record of this parliament exists, and again, we have to rely on the Vita Edwardi Secundi. It says that Edward defended Hugh Despenser and claimed that Hugh had never done anything bad to Isabella, and that the queen had once seemed to get on well with Hugh but that now, "someone has changed her attitude". The identity of this person(s?) wasn't specified, and it may be that Edward neither knew nor cared but just thought that 'someone' must have manipulated Isabella. During this parliament, the king ordered all the English bishops to send the queen a letter, which the Vita cites, though the letter itself no longer exists. (The text of the Vita ends abruptly soon after this, perhaps because the author was dead or incapacitated.) The bishops' letter stated, in part, "But as for what you [Isabella] have written, that what your brother the king of France and your other friends of that country intend to do on your behalf, will turn out not to the prejudice of the lord king [Edward II] or anyone else, but to the destruction of Hugh alone...". [3]

Here we see that Queen Isabella, in a letter which also no longer exists, had stated that she wished the 'destruction' of Hugh Despenser the Younger, and that her brother Charles IV and other French people would help her achieve it. Isabella, still in Paris, wrote (or rather, dictated) a letter to Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, on 5 February 1326, in response to the letter recently sent to her by the English bishops. She referred to Edward II as "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend", which is highly unconventional and speaks to Isabella's feelings for her husband (conventional would simply have been "our very dear lord", and in a letter to Edward of March 1325 she repeatedly addressed him as "our very sweet heart"). Isabella called Hugh Despenser the Younger nostre mauvoillant, literally "our evil-wisher" though it can also mean devil, and told Reynolds that the only reason for her failure to return to Edward was that she lived in mortal terror of Hugh. Although she wished nothing more than to be in her husband's company and 'to live and die there', she dared not because Hugh, who was in charge of the king and the whole realm, might hurt and even kill her. She admitted that she had faked friendship towards Hugh before she left England to protect herself, and ended the letter by saying that she was so distressed about the whole situation that she could write no more of it. [4] 

Again, however modern writers might interpret her words, or state that the queen was using her fear of Hugh as a plausible excuse to avoid going back to her husband because she was involved in a passionate relationship with Roger Mortimer, this is what she actually said. Much of the modern interpretation of Isabella's speech of c. October 1325 and her letter of February 1326 involves claiming that she didn't really mean what she said, and claiming that she was only pretending to hate and fear Hugh but actually hated her husband, and didn't want to resume her marriage because she'd fallen in love or lust with Roger. I don't know though. Maybe she did mean what she said? Isn't that at least possible? Hugh Despenser the Younger, who threatened to have barons hanged if they didn't give him the lands he wanted and who imprisoned his own loyal supporters and said he would hurt them if they didn't follow his instructions to the last dot on the i, was a pretty darn scary person, after all. He wasn't Piers Gaveston, who irritated a lot of people but who was, basically, harmless. He wasn't Roger Damory, whose relationship with Edward II bothered Isabella so little that she gave him a lot of expensive gifts, or Hugh Audley, whose relationship with Edward II bothered Isabella so little that Audley was one of her closest allies and high in her favour in 1326/27, after the invasion. None of those men threatened Isabella's relationship with Edward or her position as queen. Hugh Despenser the Younger, on the other hand, was ruthless, calculating, manipulative and frightening beyond the telling of it, and to me, it's entirely possible that Isabella had come to believe both that he might harm her, and that Edward was so much in thrall to Hugh that she couldn't rely on her husband to protect her. I see no reason to think that her fear of him was fake.

Below, Isabella calls Edward II nostre treschier e tresdouche seignur e amy, "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend", and Hugh Despenser the Younger nostre mauvoillant.


The first real evidence for Isabella's association with Roger Mortimer and others comes from a proclamation Edward II ordered all the sheriffs of England to make on 8 February 1326; whether coincidentally or not, this was just three days after Isabella wrote her letter to the archbishop. He stated "...the queen is adopting the counsel of the Mortimer, the king's notorious enemy and rebel, and of other rebels, and that she is making alliances with the men of those parts and other strangers...to come in force with the king's son against England, to aggrieve and destroy the king's men and his people. In case the queen and Edward [of Windsor, their son] come in the ships sent for them by the king with their household only in good manner, according to the king's will and commandment, the sheriff is ordered to receive them honourably and courteously." [5]

Notice here that there's no suggestion of any intimacy; Edward is referring to Isabella making an alliance with Roger Mortimer and other English exiles, i.e. the other noblemen and knights who had fled from England in and after 1322 following the failure of the Contrariant rebellion (see also below). It's telling that in a biography of Isabella published a few years ago, which is keen to push the idea that by now Isabella was madly in love with Roger Mortimer and repulsed by her husband, the words "and of other rebels" are omitted from this quotation from the Close Rolls, as though Edward was talking about Roger alone. Needless to say, the book also fails to mention that Isabella called her husband "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend", and says that Isabella was lying to her husband in her speech and her letter as though this is a certain fact established by asking her in person.


In this proclamation, Edward says that his queen intends to "destroy the king's men". Almost certainly this is a reference to Isabella's threat some months earlier to destroy Hugh Despenser the Younger. In this context, it's worth noting that sometime not long after 8 November 1325, Edward II came to believe that Hugh had been murdered in Wales, and hastily sent three men there to ascertain what had happened. They returned on 20 November with the news that Hugh was alive and well. [6] It seems that Edward, and others, thought that his wife had followed through on her threat to destroy Hugh; it was Edward's chamber valet Jack Pyk who told the king that Hugh had been killed (Jak Pyk counta au Roi q’ le dit mons’ Hugh fust tue), presumably repeating a rumour he had heard. 

Roger Mortimer wasn't the only enemy of Edward II at large on the Continent - Sir John Maltravers, Sir William Trussell and Sir Thomas Roscelyn were some of the others - but, until Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent joined them sometime in 1326, he was the highest-ranking of them. Roger was assumed in England, surely with good reason, to be the leader of the band of exiles, and the correspondence of Edward II himself, Hugh Despenser the Younger and other allies of the king almost always referred to the men as "Mortimer and the others" between 1323 and 1326 (Edward and several others often just called Roger "the Mortimer", as above, though interestingly, Hugh Despenser the Younger gave him his full name and title, "Sir Roger Mortimer"). 

The (blurred!) pic below is part of a letter from Hugh the Younger in Octobr 1324, where he talks of "Sir Roger Mortimer and the other exiles" (sire Rogier de Mortymer e les autres bannis).


Another blurred pic - my camera is really having a bad day - of a letter sent to Edward II by his envoys in France in late 1323, talking of "Roger Mortimer and other enemies of our lord the king" (Rogier le Mortimer et autres les enemys nostre seignur le roi).


In Edward's proclamation of 8 February, Roger is the only 'rebel' named because it's following the pattern of just about every other reference to the Englishmen on the Continent between 1323 and 1326, and note that Edward says Isabella is adopting the counsel of "the other rebels" too. Roger is not being singled out here, and Edward is not stating that Isabella is being intimate with him, he's shocked that his own wife has now allied herself with men he deems his deadly enemies and is taking advice from them, and he realises that she and they are serious about bringing down Hugh Despenser. Roger Mortimer and the other English exiles loathed Hugh and wanted him dead as much as Isabella did. While he was alive, they would forever be exiles, separated from their families, lands, income, homeland, and influence. Edward II's proclamation makes clear that by 8 February 1326, he had not heard that the queen's relationship with Roger, or indeed with Maltravers, Trussell and the others, was anything untoward. You'd think that if Isabella's affair with Roger had begun the previous autumn, as some writers believe, Edward II would have heard about it three or four months later.

Many of the English servants Isabella had with her in France, whom she was unable to pay because Edward cut off her funding in mid-November 1325, made their way back to England, where Edward II greeted them with gifts of cash and re-assigned them to positions in his own household. The earliest example of this I can find is one of the queen's cooks, John de la Marche, who returned to England on 30 November 1325 (Isabella's other cook was Will Balsham, who also went back to England sometime in late 1325 or in 1326 and became one of Edward's cooks). Thomas Gurton, one of Isabella's chamber valets, John Dene, usher of her chamber, and Henry Pletour, who looked after her horses, were back in England by 3 December, and on 9 December Robert Sendal, marshal of the queen's hall, returned too. Brother Roger Querndon, confessor of Edward and Isabella's teenage son Edward of Windsor, was back in England by 12 January 1326, Isabella's squire Nicholas de la Despense was back by 20 January, and in late 1325 and early 1326 other servants of the queen also made their way home. The latest reference I can find is to a returned servant is Thomas Martel, one of Isabella's huntsmen, re-assigned as one of the valets of Edward II's household on or before 12 April 1326. [7] There were, therefore, numerous people who had worked for Isabella in France and then went to work for Edward II, who would have been able to tell the king (or someone in his retinue) if they had seen anything amiss in the queen's association with Roger Mortimer and the other English exiles. Apparently, by 8 February 1326 no-one had, and the claim by one author that Edward paid the men generous sums of money because they brought him news of his wife's affair with Mortimer is unsupported. These men hadn't been paid for weeks; there's no reason to invent some hidden scandalous reason for Edward giving them money and jobs. The way Jack Pyk, chamber valet, told the king in November 1325 that he had heard Hugh Despenser had been killed in Wales shows how Edward's servants were able to share bad news with him, even bad news that affected him personally.

Edward II sent a letter to his and Isabella's thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor on 18 March 1326, addressing him affectionately as Beaufuitz or 'fair son'. [8] By now, the king had given up writing to his queen and did not, as far as the extant record shows, contact Isabella again directly after 1 December 1325. His utter fury with Isabella is apparent in the way he referred to her throughout 1326 abruptly as "our wife", rather than as "Lady Isabella, queen of England, our dearest wife" as he had done before. The king devoted part of this letter to defending Hugh Despenser, and said, in the translation that appears in the Close Rolls, that Isabella "draws to her and retains in her company of her council the Mortimer, the king's traitor and mortal enemy, attainted and adjudged in full parliament, and keeps his company within and without house...[and] she has delivered you [Edward of Windsor] to the company of our said enemy, and makes him your councillor".

The part "she keeps his company within and without house" has often been interpreted as Edward II telling his son that Isabella was committing adultery with Roger Mortimer. In the original French, Edward wrote lui se acompaigne en houstel e de hors, often assumed to be a euphemistic way of saying that Isabella had taken Roger as her lover. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't. De hors meant 'outside' or 'outside the royal court' more specifically, or 'in public'; houstel meant a house or household, including the royal household; and se acompaigner could mean 'band together' in the sense of taking an ally as well as 'keep someone's company'. Edward also wrote en sa compaigne lui retient de son conseilEn sa compaignie literally means 'in her/his company', but compaignie also means affinity or staff, and Edward II's accounts often use en sa compaignie to refer to his servants when they were being paid their wages every couple of weeks: they had spent the last fourteen days en sa compaignie, i.e. 'with him' or 'working for him'. De son conseil means 'of her council', i.e. the group of Isabella's advisers, and retient means 'retains' in the sense of retaining or engaging a person in your service. So sure, the letter might indeed be Edward II implicitly telling his son that Isabella had taken Roger Mortimer as her lover and was with him 'inside'. It might simply be the king expressing his astonishment and fury that his wife had taken on a man he deemed a traitor and his mortal enemy as her adviser and as a member of her retinue, and furthermore, permitted him to act as their son's counsellor. It might mean that Isabella was not only taking Roger's advice within her own court, but had made her retention of him as a member of her council and as her chief ally against the loathed Hugh Despenser publicly known in Paris.

Edward II sent another letter to his son on 19 June 1326, in which, although he still called his son Beaufitz, he warned him of the dire consequences of disobeying his lord and father ("you will feel it all the days of your life", vous le sentirez a touz les jours de vostre vie). [9] Edward had by now heard that his wife and son had been accompanied by Roger Mortimer during the recent coronation of Charles IV's third wife Jeanne of Evreux: "you notoriously kept company with and adhered, and your mother also, to the Mortimer, our traitor and mortal enemy, in the company of your mother, and elsewhere". Evidently Edward of Windsor had sent at least one letter to his father, which does not survive, in which he protested that Mortimer was not an adherent of himself or his mother. As Roger had, however, during the coronation, publicly carried vostre suyte, "your suit of clothes", the teenage boy's father knew he was being untruthful. So this is evidence that by May/June 1326, Isabella was willing to appear in public with Roger Mortimer, and also that Roger had taken on an official role with her son as well and was spending time with him, on some occasions without his mother there. I suppose this is the kind of evidence that, if you want it to be, proves that Isabella was flaunting her affair with Roger in front of her family and French courtiers. If you don't, it's simply the queen and her son spending time during a public ceremony with an English baron who's an adviser to them both, who shares their dismay at Hugh Despenser's dominance of their husband/father, and who, like them, is desperate to see him gone.

One of the charges that was presented at Roger Mortimer's trial in November 1330, but must be referring to 1326 or 1327, states:

"Item, the said Roger falsely and maliciously initiated discord between the father of our lord the king and the queen his consort, and he caused her to believe that if she came to him he would have killed her with a knife or murdered her in another manner. Because of which, for that reason, and by his other subtle scheming, he caused the said queen not to come to her said lord." [10]

The bit about the knife says, in the original French, si ele feust venue a lui q'il la eust tuez d'un cotel ou en autre manere murdre. In both the original and in translation, the meaning of the 'he' or il who would stab Isabella if she went back to her husband is unclear; does it mean Roger Mortimer, or Edward II? In my view, it's more likely to be a reference to Edward; in 1326/27, some people, especially churchmen, grew uneasy at Isabella's failure to return to and live with her husband (before and after his deposition). Her ally Adam Orleton, bishop of Hereford, came up with the idea that the queen would be in danger of violence from Edward if she returned to him, as a plausible reason for her living apart from him. Supposedly Orleton claimed in a sermon that Edward carried a knife in his hose to kill his wife, and said that if he had no other weapon he would "crush her with his teeth". [11]

Even if it does mean Roger, there are other reasons besides sexual jealousy why he might have reacted with murderous fury if Isabella decided to go back to her husband sometime in 1326 before they'd gathered forces and ships to launch their invasion. Roger had been on the run since his escape from the Tower in August 1323, and without Isabella and her control of her adolescent son, he and the other English exiles would have no chance of bringing down Hugh Despenser (and ultimately Edward II as well, if that was their plan). They'd remain exiles on the Continent who could never go home or see their families. Hugh Despenser the Younger heard as early as October 1324 that the English exiles intended to land with their forces in Norfolk or Suffolk, as indeed they did, just under two years later (Hugh had a spy in the exiles' company who sent him information about them). He knew they were talking to the count of Hainault and asking him to help them. [12] But before Isabella joined them, they didn't invade England, because how would they pay for soldiers and ships without the marriage of the future king of England to sell to the count of Hainault, and why would he help them unless he got something pretty massive from them in return? A previous attempt to send assassins after Hugh and his father had also failed. [13] It's hardly a wonder if Roger raged at the prospect of Isabella and her son going back to England and taking no further part in the rebellion.

This post is going to peter out lamely now as I've run out of energy to research or write any more, haha. But there's absolutely tons more to come soon!

Sources

1) Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. Wendy Childs, p. 243.
2) Lisa Benz St John, 'In the Best Interest of the Queen: Isabella of France, Edward II, and the Image of a Functional Relationship', Fourteenth Century England VIII, ed. J.S. Hamilton (2014), pp. 37-40.
3) Vita, ed. Childs, pp. 245-7.
4) Historiae Anglicanae Scriptores Decem, ed. Roger Twysden (1652), column 2767-8.
5) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-27, p. 543.
6) Society of Antiquaries of London, Manuscript 122, pp. 34, 37-8.
7) SAL MS 122, pp. 40-42, 46, 49, 59.
8) CCR 1323-27, p. 578; Foedera 1307-27, p. 623.
9) CCR 1323-27, pp. 576-7; Foedera 1307-27, pp. 630-31.
10) The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. Chris Given-Wilson et al, November 1330 parliament.
11) Roy Martin Haines, 'The Stamford Council of April 1327', English Historical Review, 122 (2007), pp. 142-4; PROME, January 1327 parliament.
12) Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, p. 72.
13) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-24, p. 349.