22 March, 2018

March Anniversaries

Important Edward II-related events that happened in the month of March.

1 March 1261: Birth of Hugh Despenser 'the Elder', made earl of Winchester by Edward II in May 1322, and father of the king's notorious chamberlain and favourite Hugh the Younger. Hugh the Elder was only four years old when his father - inevitably also called Hugh, the justiciar of England - was killed at the battle of Evesham fighting for Simon de Montfort in August 1265.

2 March 1297, or a little earlier: Wedding of Edward's first cousin Henry of Lancaster, second son of Edward I's younger brother Edmund of Lancaster and Blanche of Artois, and Maud Chaworth. Much later, Henry succeeded his elder brother Thomas as earl of Lancaster and Leicester. Five of his and Maud's seven children had children of their own, and the couple were the ancestors of much of the English nobility by the second half of the fourteenth century.

2 March 1316: Death of Robert Bruce, king of Scotland's eldest child Marjorie, who died giving birth to the first Stewart king of Scotland, Robert II.

3 March 1322: Hugh Despenser father and son openly re-joined the king and took part in the campaign against the Contrariants, only six months after they had been sent into supposedly perpetual exile from England.

3 March 1323: Execution of Sir Andrew Harclay, earl of Carlisle (see also below) after negotiating with Robert Bruce without Edward II's permission. Andrew was hanged, drawn and quartered in the town of Carlisle.

4 March 1309: Edward II sent a letter to his father-in-law Philip IV, stating that Philip's daughter, his wife Isabella, was "in good health and will, God willing, be fruitful." Given Isabella's extreme youth - she was then thirteen - it is highly unlikely that they were regularly sleeping together yet.

5 March 1324: Birth of Robert Bruce's son the future King David II of Scotland, born when Robert was almost fifty (he was born on 11 July 1274). David married Edward II's youngest daughter Joan of the Tower in July 1328 when he was four, and became king of Scotland the next year. David's mother was the earl of Ulster's daughter Elizabeth de Burgh. He was the decades-younger half-brother of Marjorie, above, and his half-nephew Robert II was eight years older than he was.

9 March 2325: Departure of Queen Isabella for her native France to arrange a peace settlement with her brother Charles IV. Contrary to the daft witterings of Jean Froissart decades later, too often repeated since as though they're in any way accurate, Isabella left the country with a large retinue and, of course, her husband's knowledge and consent, and did not secretly flee from cruel persecution after pretending to go on pilgrimage to Canterbury.

10 March 1310: Edward gave half a dozen manors in Essex, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk back to Hugh Despenser the Elder, their owner. He had seized them on hearing that Hugh Despenser the Younger had gone overseas to joust contrary to the king's prohibition, believing them to be the younger Hugh's, but it transpired that the elder Hugh owned them and had given their revenues to his son. (Yet another example of many which reveals that Edward II did not much like Hugh Despenser the Younger before 1318/19.)

11 March 1326: Edward gave two and a half pounds to his painter Jack of St Albans for dancing on a table and making him laugh, "in aid of him, his wife and his children."

12 or 13 March 1322: Death of Edward's nephew-in-law and former infatuation Sir Roger Damory, whom Edward had married to his niece Elizabeth de Clare née de Burgh in 1317. The date of Roger's death is not totally clear; chroniclers give 13 or 14 March, but Roger's widow Elizabeth kept it as 12 March, the feast day of St Gregory. Roger died of wounds sustained fighting against the royal army at Burton-on-Trent during the Contrariant rebellion.

14 March 1318: Edward attended the funeral of his stepmother Queen Marguerite at the Greyfriars church in London. His sister Mary the nun of Amesbury was also there, as was the king's current infatuation Sir Roger Damory, for whom Edward purchased cloth for the occasion. (As I type that, I wonder if Edward brought Damory along deliberately as a kind of 'up yours' gesture to the late Marguerite, who had financially supported the opposition to his beloved Piers Gaveston in 1308?)

15 March 1314: Philip IV had Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, burned alive on an island in the Seine in Paris, the day before his daughter Isabella arrived in the city to discuss certain matters with her father on her husband's behalf.

16 March 1310: Edward was forced to consent to the formation of the Lords Ordainer, a group of earls, bishops and barons, who appointed themselves to reform the royal household and government.

16 March 1322: Edward II's first cousin and enemy Thomas, earl of Lancaster, was defeated at the battle of Boroughbridge in Yorkshire by Sir Andrew Harclay, sheriff of Cumberland. The king's brother-in-law Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford, widower of Edward's sister Elizabeth (1282-1316), was killed during the battle.

16 March 1322: Edward ordered his newly-widowed niece Elizabeth de Burgh, days after the death of her husband Damory, not to leave the gates of Barking Abbey, and kept her incarcerated there for some months.

18 March 1326: Edward II sent a letter to his thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor, in France with his mother Isabella, ordering him home.

19 March 1286: Death of Edward's uncle-in-law King Alexander III of Scotland, widower of Edward's aunt Margaret of England (1240-75). From 1289 until her death in 1290, Edward was betrothed to Alexander's granddaughter and heir Margaret of Norway.

19 March 1330: Execution of Edward II's twenty-eight-year-old half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, for the 'crime' of trying to free the supposedly dead Edward from captivity.

20 March 1327: End of the four-month or longer siege of Caerphilly Castle, when Queen Isabella finally agreed not to execute Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser, eldest son and heir of the late Hugh Despenser the Younger. He was imprisoned until July 1331.

21 March 1317: Birth of Edward's great-niece Isabella de Verdon, second child of his niece Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare. Edward sent a silver cup as a christening gift, and Queen Isabella was the chief sponsor or godmother of the infant, who was named after her.

22 March 1322: Execution of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, outside his own castle of Pontefract.

23 March 1322: Execution in York of the Contrariants John, Lord Mowbray, Roger, Lord Clifford, and Sir Jocelyn Deyville.

25 March 1306: Coronation of Robert Bruce as king of Scotland at Scone Abbey.

25 March 1322: Sir Andrew Harclay was made earl of Carlisle as a reward for his defeat of the Contrariant army at Boroughbridge nine days earlier.

25 March 1342: According to the evidence in the Inquisition Post Mortem of Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster and son and heir of Henry of Lancaster and Maud Chaworth, above, his younger daughter and ultimate heir Blanche was born on this date. Blanche married Edward II's grandson John of Gaunt and was the mother of Henry IV.

26 March 1324: Death of Marie of Luxembourg, second wife of Queen Isabella's brother Charles IV and sister of John 'the Blind', king of Bohemia, after prematurely giving birth to a son who also died.

27 March 1316: Edward paid gave twenty pounds to John Fleg, horse dealer of London, for a bay horse "to carry the litter of the lady the queen" during her pregnancy with their second son John of Eltham.

27 March 1321: Edward sent letters to the disaffected Marcher lords, and also Hugh Despenser the Younger in an obvious attempt to look like he wasn't taking sides, ordering them "not to permit any assemblies to be made whereby the king’s peace or the tranquillity of the king’s people of those parts may be disturbed." It was much too late; the Despenser War began a few weeks later.

31 March 1325: Queen Isabella, in France negotiating a peace settlement with her brother Charles IV, sent Edward a letter calling him "my very sweet heart" five times.

16 March, 2018

Did Edward II and Isabella of France Meet in November 1326?

As far as the evidence from English sources goes, Edward II and Isabella of France never saw each other again after early March 1325. The couple were together at the Tower of London at that time, then the queen set off for Dover and sailed to her native France on 9 March 1325 to negotiate a peace settlement between her husband and her brother Charles IV. Isabella remained overseas for eighteen months, and her invasion force arrived in England on 24 September 1326. Edward II, the two Hugh Despensers and a handful of other allies set off from London to South Wales on 3 October, pursued at some distance by the invasion force. There is no possibility that the royal couple could have met until after 16 November 1326, when Edward and the younger Despenser were captured in South Wales. Officially, Edward II was placed in the custody of his cousin Henry of Lancaster and taken, via Henry's castle of  Monmouth, to Kenilworth in Warwickshire, where he arrived on or before 5 December.

Hugh Despenser the Younger, meanwhile, was taken to Hereford and executed on 24 November, and one of his judges was Henry of Lancaster. It seems possible, therefore, though no source places him there, that Edward II was also in Hereford in Henry's custody when his chamberlain and 'favourite' was grotesquely executed. Given that no chronicle mentions his presence during Hugh's trial (or rather, 'trial' in inverted commas) and execution, if the king was indeed there, presumably he was kept hidden away and was not seen in public. Edward's last chamber account ends on 31 October 1326 at Caerphilly Castle when his clerks gave up writing it (or fled from Caerphilly and abandoned Edward, perhaps), and after that date it becomes much trickier to ascertain his whereabouts. If he was not in Hereford in Henry of Lancaster's custody, then the question arises as to who was deputed to take care of him while Henry went to take part in Hugh's trial. It must have been someone important, as you wouldn't give custody of the king of England himself to just anybody, but assuming this was done, there is no known record of it.

Last year, I read a chronicle from Flanders*, written in French, which gives an intriguingly different take on events in England in 1326 after the queen's invasion. The chronicle states that Isabella went to see Edward in his chamber after his capture, and fell to her knees in front of him. She begged him to "cool his anger" with her, but, obviously in an unforgiving and furious mood, Edward refused to talk or even to look at her. The chronology in the chronicle is not clear, and it is not stated where or when this alleged meeting took place. Presumably, it was before Hugh Despenser the Younger's execution on 24 November 1326; Isabella was hardly likely - in my opinion - to ask her husband to "cool his anger" with her after she had had his beloved chamberlain, companion and perhaps lover torn apart in public. The chronicle gives an otherwise correct and quite full account of what happened in England in the autumn of 1326.

Whether this meeting ever actually happened cannot be conclusively proved; no English chronicler states that the king and queen met in November 1326, and as noted above, Edward II's itinerary after the end of October 1326 is difficult to piece together accurately. Did he remain in Henry of Lancaster's custody the whole time from the time of his capture on 16 November 1326 onwards, or not? If the royal couple did meet, Isabella's falling to her knees in front of her husband and begging him not to be angry with her puts quite a different complexion on events of that momentous year than we usually read (i.e. the story of the poor tragic neglected queen falling desperately in love with Roger Mortimer and dying for revenge on the nasty hateful gay husband she loathed and despised). The Anonimalle chronicle (ed. Childs and Taylor, pp. 124-7, 129-30) says that in the autumn of 1326 "the king would not leave the company of his enemies," and that Isabella pursued him to make him leave the Despensers and because she wanted "to re-join her lord [husband] if she could." This implies that Isabella pursued her husband not out of any hatred or desire for vengeance or a wish to capture him and make him give up his throne to their son, but because she wished to capture Hugh Despenser and his father. In this reading, Edward refuses to abandon the two Hugh Despensers, and it is the Despensers rather than the king whom Isabella and her allies are pursuing. It does make me wonder what would have happened if Edward had left the Despensers and gone to meet Isabella without them.

Isabella had been stating for months that her argument was with Hugh Despenser the Younger, not with her husband, and that she wished above all else to return to Edward but dared not because she felt in physical danger from Hugh. Her famous speech to the French court in c. late October 1325 recorded by the author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi states outright that a third party had come between her husband and herself and that she would not return to Edward until this 'intruder' was removed, nor allow their young son Edward of Windsor to do so. Basically, assuming the Vita is reporting Isabella's speech accurately (and unfortunately there's no other record of it), Isabella was giving Edward II an ultimatum: choose between me and Hugh Despenser. Edward refused to send Hugh away from him, and so chose Hugh over his wife. Isabella wrote a letter to the archbishop of Canterbury on 5 February 1326 in which she repeated that she wished very much to return to her husband but dared not because Hugh Despenser might harm her physically if she did so, and stated that the whole situation was causing her great distress. 

It's often assumed nowadays that Isabella was lying, or, in stating her distress about the destruction of her marriage and her inability to be in her husband's company because the person who had intruded into her marriage would do her harm, was defying her husband and declaring her love for Roger Mortimer. (No, that interpretation doesn't make any sense to me either.) Here's a hot take: what if Isabella wasn't lying, and wasn't using any old excuse she could think of not to go back to her husband so that she could stay in the arms of her manly virile lover, but meant every word? After all, she didn't have to write that letter to the archbishop of Canterbury explaining herself, and it was for the archbishop's eyes, not for public consumption so that she could present herself to her husband's subjects as a loyal but wronged wife while sneakily having an affair with Roger. Perhaps the speech to the French court means exactly what it says: Edward, send Hugh Despenser away from you, because he frightens me and he has damaged our relationship, and I want to come back to you and resume the happy marriage we used to have till he stuck his oar in. Perhaps her letter of February 1326 means exactly what it says: Hugh Despenser frightens me, but now I know that my husband has refused my ultimatum and I can't go back to him even though I want to more than anything, and it's causing me great distress. Maybe we should do Isabella the respect of listening to what she actually said?

Logistically at least, it seems plausible that Edward II and Isabella of France met in Hereford in mid-November 1326. Hereford is only twenty miles more or less directly north of Monmouth where Henry of Lancaster took Edward on their way to Kenilworth. Edward was captured probably near Llantrisant on 16 November, and was at Kenilworth by 5 December, maybe a little before. Llantrisant to Kenilworth is about 115 miles, and we know that Henry of Lancaster detoured to Hereford to be present at Hugh Despenser's trial, so it's not impossible that he took Edward with him. Nor does the timing make it impossible that Edward was in Hereford for a day or several, and had the chance to see his wife there. Llantrisant is only fifty-five or so miles away from Hereford. Hugh Despenser the Younger was taken on that journey deliberately slowly - it took as much as a week or even eight days - to show off the hated royal favourite to as many people as possible. Henry of Lancaster could have taken Edward to Hereford a few days before Hugh himself arrived there, tied on a shabby little nag and refusing all food and drink, and pelted with rubbish by the populace. Chronicler Jean le Bel, who was there, says that Hugh was executed in the main town square of Hereford - he was dragged there through the streets by four horses and presumably his trial had taken place outside the castle - and does not mention that the king was present. It's a little curious that neither le Bel nor any English chronicler mentions that Edward II was in Hereford at this time, but perhaps if he was there, his presence was deliberately concealed and kept secret.

Ultimately, I don't know whether Edward II met his wife Isabella after his capture in November 1326, and I don't imagine that we ever will know for sure, but it doesn't seem impossible. One chronicler certainly thought it was plausible that Isabella knelt before her husband and begged his forgiveness. At the very least, the chronicler's story is a reminder that events of 1326 were complex as well as momentous, and the people involved were complex, and we shouldn't reduce them and their actions to overly simplistic narratives or assume we understand all their emotions and thoughts and motivations.

Extraits d'une Chronique Anonyme intitulée Ancienne Chroniques de Flandre; full details in my book Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II. It says la royne...entra dans la chambre ou il estoit et s'agenoulla devant lui, et lui request que pour Dieu il voulaist reffroidier son yre; main oncques le roy ne lui vault faire responce ne regarder sur elle.

11 March, 2018

Book Review: 'The Pearl of France' by Caroline Newark

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I'm often pretty harsh on novels which feature Edward II and Isabella of France as characters, and I tend to approach them with extreme caution. (At the library recently, I picked up a novel published in 2016 which described Piers Gaveston as "effeminate," at which I sighed loudly and put it back on the shelf. Can we really not get past such prejudiced, stereotypical nonsense well into the second decade of the twenty-first century?). Conversely, I'm also truly delighted on the rare occasions when I find novels about Edward which I enjoy, and was thrilled to come across Caroline Newark's recently-published The Pearl of France, which is narrated in the first person by Edward II's stepmother Marguerite of France. She married sixty-year-old Edward I as his second wife in September 1299 when she was twenty, and was younger than many of his children, though was about five years older than his fourth but only surviving son the future Edward II. It's an excellent novel with likeable, very well-depicted main characters, and thoroughly researched. (This blog is listed at the end of the book as one of the author's sources.) I've read far too many Edward II novels with absurdly one-sided and biased characterisation or where all the characters are horrible, malicious, ugly and uninteresting *cough Maurice Druon cough*. The Pearl of France is a novel in which the author has succeeded in making all her main characters complex and sympathetic, yet also flawed and very human. I felt strongly that she respected, cared about and liked all the historical figures she was writing about, which I appreciated very much.

We meet Marguerite in her youth at the court of her almost inhumanly cold half-brother Philip IV of France, and see the negotiations for her marriage to Edward I of England, a man forty years her senior, as a way of making peace between England and France (Marguerite's niece Isabella is betrothed to Edward's son Edward of Caernarfon at the same time). When Marguerite arrives in England in the late summer of 1299, she meets her stepchildren Ned (Edward of Caernarfon), who's fifteen, Joan of Acre who's a few years her senior, Mary the nun, and, a little later, Elizabeth of Rhuddlan after she's widowed from her first husband the count of Holland. Edward I's nephew Henry of Lancaster (b. 1280/81) also appears briefly, which I really enjoyed; I'm a big fan of Henry, and can't remember ever seeing him as a fictional character before. His sister-in-law Alice de Lacy appears more often and is a confidante of Queen Marguerite, as does Elizabeth of Rhuddlan's second husband, the good-looking and charming Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford. Joan of Acre's three Clare daughters Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth, Marguerite's step-granddaughters, briefly appear, and Joan says proudly that Eleanor is "as sharp as a needle." Robert Bruce, king of Scotland from 1306, is also a character. The novel takes us through the eight years of Marguerite's marriage, and the narrative ends soon after the death of Edward I and the accession of Marguerite's stepson Edward II in 1307. A brief epilogue after the dowager queen's death in 1318 closes the novel.

Both Edward I and his son Ned are vividly drawn, complex and fascinating characters. I loved the scene with the king and Marguerite shortly after their wedding where Edward I asks her to "look at me as a man," a man she can desire. Marguerite expects to find an elderly and frail dotard, and instead meets a fearsome and powerful warrior. Edward I is still mourning for his first, beloved wife Eleanor of Castile, and often talks of her and even sometimes calls his second wife by his first wife's name. I felt much sympathy for Marguerite, who never really feels like Edward's true wife, and who often struggles to know how to behave around Edward. He's capable on occasion of the most affectionate tenderness towards her - which was lovely, actually - but also often capable of taking her innocently-meant words and actions the wrong way and snapping at her. He never hurts her physically, but she often feels she has to tread on eggshells around him, and feels that she cannot compete with his amazing first wife. We see both the stern and terrifying warrior and the loving husband, and I felt I saw a side of 'Longshanks' I'd never seen before.

Edward of Caernarfon or 'Ned' is portrayed exactly as he really was, a far cry from the caricatured feeble, camp court fop inept writers so frequently resort to: he's hugely strong and handsome, and loves taking part in pastimes such as rowing, swimming, digging and thatching that baffle and annoy his family. His swim at Windsor with his Fool Robert Bussard in February 1303 (historical fact!) appears here, with Marguerite having to tear her eyes away from the pleasant spectacle of her nearly naked and extremely attractive teenage stepson. On another occasion, she sees Ned digging at his palace of Langley, and is again baffled at the overly familiar manner he allows his low-born fellow workers to adopt towards him. Piers Gaveston also appears in the novel, not that often, but it's clear how much Ned adores him. Edward I exiles Piers from England in 1307 after Ned asks permission to give him his county of Ponthieu, and Ned gets hopelessly drunk and tells his stepmother exactly how the loss of Piers makes him feel. It's an incredibly moving scene that brought me to tears. Ned is immensely likeable, but it's clear how unsuited he is to his position as prince of Wales and heir to the throne, and the tensions between him and his barons which will come to the fore a little later when he's king are also made apparent. Whatever pleasant characteristics he has, the novel makes it clear that he's entirely unlike his father and not a man who can make his barons respect and fear him. All in all, a very accurate and very fair depiction of the future Edward II, as far as I'm concerned, and it's not often I say that. I have to admit that I'm not particularly a fan of the real Queen Marguerite, but The Pearl of France made me like her a heck of a lot more than I did before.

A very well-written and compelling novel with some really excellent characterisation. Highly recommended!

04 March, 2018

The Four Daughters of Theobald de Verdon (1278-1316)

Theobald de Verdon or Verdun (8 September 1278 - 27 July 1316) was the second son of Theobald de Verdon the elder (d. 1309), and became his father's heir when his elder brother John died in June 1297. His mother was Margery de Bohun, and he was a first cousin of Edward II's brother-in-law Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford (c. 1276-1322). Edward I sent a letter to the elder Theobald de Verdon which was callous and remarkably unsympathetic even by his standards in July 1297, stating that he was "much displeased" with him for failing to attend him as ordered, owing to Verdon's "infirmity" and the death of his eldest son John. The elder Theobald's Inquisition Post Mortem was held in September 1309, and his heir the younger Theobald was said to be "aged 31 at the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary last," i.e. Theobald was born on or around 8 September 1278. (The jurors of Buckinghamshire thought he was "22 and more," and Oxfordshire "24 and more." Ahhhh, IPMs.)

 Theobald de Verdon's main seat was Alton in Staffordshire, and he also inherited lands in Shropshire, Wiltshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Theobald married firstly Maud Mortimer (d. 1312), daughter of Edmund Mortimer and Margaret Fiennes and sister of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, later the first earl of March, and secondly Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare (d. 1360), whom he abducted from Bristol Castle in early February 1316. Maud Mortimer was the mother of Theobald's three eldest daughters, Elizabeth de Burgh of the fourth and youngest. All four de Verdon daughters shared their father's inheritance jointly and equally, a fact which was to lead to much ill-tempered squabbling and legal wrangles among them and their husbands in the early 1330s after all the women had come of age.

Theobald died a few weeks before his thirty-eighth birthday on 27 July 1316 - Elizabeth de Burgh's biographer Frances Underhill speculates that he died of typhoid, which is possible but unprovable - leaving his widow Elizabeth about one month pregnant. He was buried at Croxden Abbey in Staffordshire just a couple of miles from Alton, and thirty-nine years later Elizabeth de Burgh left the abbey money in her will. Theobald's Inquisition Post Mortem was held in October 1316 in all the counties where he had held lands. Jurors in some counties knew that his widow Elizabeth was pregnant with his posthumous child, while others did not. The ones who did pointed out correctly that Theobald's three living daughters were his heirs only if Elizabeth did not bear a son (which she did not). I'm really going to have to write a post sometime about Theobald's abduction of Elizabeth. Frances Underhill considers that Elizabeth was probably a willing participant and had arranged it with Theobald beforehand, but I find it hard to agree.

1) Joan de Verdon

Joan de Verdon, Theobald and Maud Mortimer's eldest daughter, was born at Wootton in Stanton Lacy, near Ludlow in Shropshire, on 9 August 1303. She was baptised at St Mary's Church in nearby Onibury, a village near Stokesay Castle. Her maternal grandmother Margaret Mortimer née Fiennes stayed at Stanton Lacy four miles from Onibury from around 29 September 1303 until 24 June 1304 (the feast of St Michael until the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist), presumably to be near and to support Maud de Verdon née Mortimer after the birth of her first child. Maud's date of birth is not known, but her brother Roger Mortimer of Wigmore was born in April 1287, and Maud was probably only in her mid-teens or thereabouts when she bore her first child Joan and was a few years younger than her husband, who was almost twenty-five when his eldest daughter was born. Joan de Verdon's maternal grandfather Edmund Mortimer of Wigmore died on 17 July 1304, and perhaps the knowledge that her husband was very ill was the reason for Margaret's departure from Stanton Lacy around 24 June 1304.

Joan was nine when she lost her mother, and twelve and a half when her father abducted and married the king's niece in early 1316. She herself married John Montacute, born in 1299 as the eldest son and heir of Sir William Montacute (d. 1319), in Edward II's presence at Windsor on 28 April 1317. This was just over a month after her half-sister Isabella was born, and William Montacute knew that Joan was one of her father's four heirs; if Elizabeth de Burgh had borne a boy, this would have disinherited Joan and her two sisters, Montacute might have married her to one of his younger sons, William or Edward, instead. Joan was widowed when John Montacute died unexpectedly in August 1317, the month she turned fourteen, and six months later married her second husband Thomas Furnival. Their only son William Furnival was born at Alton eight and a half years after their wedding on 23 August 1326 (as Theobald's eldest daughter, Joan inherited his main seat). Joan died in October 1334 aged thirty-one, having outlived her maternal grandmother Margaret Mortimer by only a few months. Like her father, she was buried at Croxden Abbey.

2) Elizabeth de Verdon

I haven't been able to find Elizabeth's proof of age which would gave her exact date of birth; apparently it is no longer extant. She was the second of Theobald and Maud's three daughters and her sisters were born in 1303 and 1310, and her father's IPM, taken in October 1316, states that Elizabeth was either ten or twelve then. A letter dated 11 June 1320 states that she had already proved her age, and as she was already married, 'proving her age' means proving that she had turned fourteen. Elizabeth was therefore certainly born before 11 June 1306, late in Edward I's reign, and probably not too long before as her coming of age appears to have been the major factor in prompting her husband to petition Edward II complaining about Alton being given to Joan de Verdon and Thomas Furnival, which the king responded to in the letter of 11 June 1320.

Edward II gave the marriage rights of Elizabeth and her younger sister Margery to his court favourite and nephew-in-law Sir Roger Damory in 1318. Sometime before 11 June 1320, Elizabeth married Bartholomew, Lord Burghersh, whose mother Maud Badlesmere was the sister of Bartholomew Badlesmere, executed by Edward II as a Contrariant in April 1322. Elizabeth de Verdon and Bartholomew Burghersh's daughter Joan Mohun née Burghersh lived until 1404 and was the mother-in-law of William Montacute, earl of Salisbury (d. 1397) and Edward of York, second duke of York (d. 1415), and their granddaughter Elizabeth Burghersh (d. 1409) married Edward, Lord Despenser (1336-75) and was the mother of Thomas Despenser, earl of Gloucester (1373-1400). Elizabeth Burghersh née de Verdon died in May 1360.

3) Margery de Verdon

Maud Mortimer's youngest daughter, Margery was born at Alton, Staffordshire on 10 August 1310 (the feast of St Laurence in Edward II's fourth regnal year) and named after her paternal grandmother Margery de Verdon née de Bohun. Unlike her two elder sisters, she was born after the death of her paternal grandfather Theobald the elder in 1309 and therefore after her father had inherited the Verdon lands. Margery was baptised at Alton on the day of her birth, and a John de Hodinet announced her birth to her father at Croxden, two miles away; a Henry de Athelaxton was in Theobald's presence at the time and also heard the announcement, as he stated when Margery proved her age in February 1327. Later on 10 August 1310, Theobald de Verdon went hunting near Alton with a Richard de Dolverne, and Dolverne shot a buck. Possibly the hunt was intended for Theobald to celebrate his daughter's birth, or perhaps, given the general attitude of the time, to commiserate with himself that he now had three daughters but no son. Margery de Verdon was only two years old when she lost her mother, and five and a half when her father abducted his second wife.

Margery married firstly Sir William le Blount, an adherent of Henry, earl of Lancaster and Leicester (d. 1345) and his attorney, secondly Sir Mark Husee, and thirdly Sir John Crophull. She might have lived until as late as 1377. William le Blount witnessed a charter of Henry, earl of Lancaster on 1 July 1332, and had gone overseas in the earl's company in 1329/30 with Henry Ferrers of Groby, husband of Margery's younger half-sister Isabella de Verdon. He was dead by November 1337, apparently (going by a couple of entries on the Patent Roll which I assume is him) killed in Liverpool while he was sheriff of Lancashire. Otherwise, I know very little about Margery's husbands, or about her life.

4) Isabella de Verdon

Theobald's youngest daughter, born on 21 March 1317 eight months after his death, to his second wife Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare. Isabella de Verdon was born at Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire and named after her godmother Queen Isabella, who was escorted the few miles to the priory from the royal palace of Clarendon to attend the christening on the same day as the birth. Isabella's other godmother was her great-aunt, Edward II's sister Mary the nun of Amesbury, and her christening was conducted by Roger Martival, bishop of Salisbury. Edward II himself sent a silver cup as a christening gift. As well as her three older de Verdon half-sisters, Isabella was also the younger half-sister of William de Burgh, earl of Ulster (1312-1333), and the older half-sister of Elizabeth, Lady Bardolf, née Damory (1318-1361/62), the only (surviving) child of her mother's third marriage.

Isabella married Henry, Lord Ferrers of Groby in the late 1320s or 1330. Like her brother-in-law William le Blount, Henry was a staunch Lancastrian adherent. Their son and heir was William, Lord Ferrers (1333-71) and they had daughters Elizabeth, titular countess of Atholl, and Philippa, who would have been countess of Warwick but her husband Guy Beauchamp died in 1360 in his father's lifetime. Henry Ferrers of Groby presented a petition at an unknown date complaining that Roger Mortimer, first earl of March, had engineered an unfair division of the Verdon estate, benefiting his three nieces Joan, Elizabeth and Margery to the exclusion of their half-sister Isabella, who was not his niece. Isabella Ferrers née de Verdon died in July 1349 at age thirty-two, possibly a victim of the Black Death. Her mother Elizabeth de Burgh outlived her by more than eleven years.


Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1307-17, no. 187.
Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1317-27, no. 54.
Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1327-26, no. 83-86, 389, 395.

02 March, 2018

The Marriage of Edward II and Isabella of France: A Reconsideration

There's an article by me in Mortimer Matters, the quarterly newsletter of the Mortimer History Society, about the relationship of Edward II and Isabella of France. The newsletter can be downloaded as a PDF on this page, number 32, dated February 2018.

I am grateful to author Caroline Newark for sending me a copy of her new novel, The Pearl of France, about Edward II's stepmother Marguerite (1278/79-1318). I'm thoroughly enjoying it so far! Her depiction of Edward of Caernarfon is brilliant, absolutely spot-on. Amazon link here (it's only £3.99 on Kindle at the moment).

22 February, 2018

The Will of Richard, Earl of Arundel (c. 1313-1376)

Richard, earl of Arundel - often called Richard Fitzalan by modern writers, though he himself did not use that name - was the son and heir of Edmund, earl of Arundel (1285-1326), and the nephew and heir of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey (1286-1347). Richard's date of birth is not known, but in December 1344 when annulling his first marriage to Hugh Despenser the Younger's daughter Isabella he claimed to have been seven at the time of their wedding on 9 February 1321, so he was probably born in 1313 or the beginning of 1314. On 5 February 1345 at Ditton in Buckinghamshire, Richard married his second wife Eleanor, fifth of the six daughters of Henry, earl of Lancaster (who died a few months later, on 22 September 1345). Eleanor was the widow of John, Lord Beaumont, who died in c. April/May 1342. Richard's son Edmund from his first marriage to Isabella Despenser was made illegitimate by the annulment of his parents' marriage in late 1344. I've written before about Richard's callous and revolting treatment of his eldest child, whom he nastily referred to as "that certain Edmund who claims himself to be my son."

Richard and Eleanor of Lancaster had five children: Richard, earl of Arundel; John, admiral of England; Thomas, bishop of Ely, archbishop of York then archbishop of Canterbury; Joan, countess of Hereford (and Henry V's grandmother); and Alice, countess of Kent. Eleanor of Lancaster, Lady Beaumont and countess of Arundel, died in January 1372, and Richard followed her to the grave almost exactly four years later, in his sixties. He was probably the richest man in England in the entire fourteenth century, or at least one of the top two or three (his brother-in-law, Eleanor's only brother Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster, was another). Richard wrote his will at Arundel Castle in Sussex on 5 December 1375, a few weeks before he died, asking to be buried at Lewes Priory next to his wife 'Alianore de Lancastre.'  His and Eleanor's children married and had their own children very young, and Arundel was a grandfather many times over when he died; his eldest grandchild was born in 1364. He was particularly fond of his second son John's children, and left John's (unnamed in the will) eldest daughter 1,000 marks or £666. John's younger sons Henry, Edward and William were left 500 marks each. John's eldest son and Arundel's eldest grandchild, also John (b. 1364), was left nothing, and neither were any of Arundel's other grandchildren. They included the great heiresses Eleanor and Mary de Bohun (daughters of the earl of Hereford and Arundel's elder daughter Joan), Elizabeth Fitzalan or Arundel, future countess of Nottingham, countess marshal and duchess of Norfolk (wife of the Thomas Mowbray who was exiled by Richard II in 1398, and eldest child of Arundel's eldest son and successor Richard), and the Holland children of Arundel's younger daughter Alice and her husband Thomas, Richard II's half-brother and earl of Kent, though only two or three of them had been born by late 1375.

The earl of Arundel left 5,000 marks and his house in London called Bermondsey Inn to his second son John, and gave his third son Thomas, then bishop of Ely, 2,000 marks. He also gave his best coronet to his eldest son and successor Richard, his second best coronet to his elder daughter Joan and the third best to his younger daughter Alice. Arundel's sister 'Dame Alaine Lestrange', one of the daughters of Edmund, earl of Arundel executed in 1326, outlived him, and he left her and her children a total of 1,500 marks on top of the 1,000 marks he had given them already. The will also mentions his uncle 'John Arundell.' I don't know who this is, but likely an illegitimate son of Arundel's grandfather Richard, earl of Arundel (1267-1302) and presumably born near the end of that earl of Arundel's life given that he was still alive in 1375. (John wasn't the legitimate son of that earl of Arundel, who joined the Church: see here.)

Richard, earl of Arundel, was massively generous to the people he loved, and told his executors to be "good to my children." That sounds nice, but he did not include his eldest son Edmund (who was already close to fifty when his father died in 1376) whom he had made illegitimate and sneered at as "that certain Edmund who claims himself to be my son." Needless to say, neither Edmund nor his three daughters from his marriage to the earl of Salisbury's daughter Sybil Montacute received anything in the will.

18 February, 2018

Coming on 30 October 2018: My Bio of Hugh Despenser the Younger

My next published book will be my biography of Edward II's mighty chamberlain and favourite, Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan. Its current title is Downfall of a King's Favourite: Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger, and will be published by Pen and Sword on 30 October 2018. It's the first ever biography of Hugh, and there isn't even an academic thesis about him, so I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to write this one. Plenty of new info about Hugh, insights into his extortions, translations of his letters, plus much, much more!

My sixth book, out maybe also at the end of this year or early next year, will be Blood Roses: A History of the Houses of Lancaster and York, 1245-1400. Plenty of new stuff in this one too, including a section I've just written this weekend about the abduction of Alice de Lacy, countess of Lincoln and dowager countess of Lancaster, in early 1336. Plenty about the seven children of Henry, earl of Lancaster (d. 1345), and the first section is all about Henry's father Edmund, first earl of Lancaster (1245-96), a man rather neglected by historians. It's my first book about a family rather than an individual, and I've had a lot of fun writing it. One project I now have a contract for is The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family: The Despensers 1261-1439, and I'm also thoroughly enjoying writing a joint bio of Edward II's three de Clare nieces, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth, which will be out next year sometime,

10 February, 2018

English Place-Names in Edward II's Accounts

One of the funniest (to my mind, anyway) things about Edward II's chamber accounts and other documents of the era is that his clerks translated English place-names into French, or rather Anglo-Norman, wherever possible. So Newcastle-on-Tyne appears as Noef Chastel sur Tyne, Bury St Edmunds is Bourgh Seint Esmon, Robertsbridge is Pount Robert (the modern French word for bridge is 'pont'), Horsham St Faith is Seinte Foy, and Battle in Sussex is Bataylle. The name of the River Thames was always written Tamyse, London was Loundres, Westminster was Westmoster or Westmouster, Pontefract was Pountfreit, and Lincoln, oddly enough, was always called Nicole or Nichole. In a letter sent by Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall, to his retainer Sir Robert Darcy in 1308, Windsor came out as the rather magnificent 'Wyndelesoures' (it was usually spelt 'Wyndesore').

04 February, 2018

Fourteenth Century England X

I'm delighted to announce that I have an article in the tenth edition of the biennial peer-reviewed academic essay collection Fourteenth Century England! It comes out on 16 February 2018, in twelve days, and is available from Amazon and the publisher, Boydell and Brewer (academic books are hugely expensive, unfortunately).

28 January, 2018

The Singing Women of Lambeth and the Siege of Pevensey

A couple of nice entries I've come across in Edward II's chamber account of 1324/25.

When Edward II was in Sussex in late August 1324, he passed near Pevensey and its castle. Edward paid six pence to "a poor man of Pevensey who told the king how the castle of Pevensey was besieged by the son of Sir Simond Montfort." This is a reference to 1264, when Simon, second son of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, besieged Pevensey Castle during the baronial wars of those years. Edward II's father the future Edward I turned twenty-five in 1264, and the king of England was Henry III, Edward II's grandfather and the brother-in-law of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester (who was killed at the battle of Evesham in August 1265). The entry implies that Edward II, who wasn't born until twenty years after these events, had never heard about the siege of Pevensey before. Simon de Montfort the younger, who carried out the siege, was his father's first cousin. Sixty years later, the locals were still talking about it.

There are at least three and possibly even more entries in the account to fisherwomen of Lambeth, "singing often in the Thames" whenever Edward II passed there between his palace of Sheen and Westminster. On 24 May 1324, Edward gave the women five shillings for "singing in the company of Burgeys de Till," one of his chamber squires. On 3 June they got another three shillings for "singing in the Thames," given to them by Edward's chamber valet Syme Lawe. And on 4 November they were at it again, when they got two shillings for "singing often in the Thames" whenever the king passed them. Isn't this adorable? It reminds me of another entry in Edward's chamber account of July 1326, when he gave money to a fisherman called John of Walton (i.e. Walton-on-Thames) "who sang before the king every time he passed through these parts by water."

One more rather random but very cute thing: one of Edward's many chamber valets was called Little Colin. His name is sometimes written in English, Litel Colle, and sometimes in French, the language of the chamber account, Petit Colle.

And finally, I've written before about Anneis de May and Johane Traghs, wives of two of Edward's chamber valets who themselves were admitted to wages - the same wages as their husbands - and worked in the king's chamber for a few months in 1325/26. The wives of the chamber valets John Goes and Robin Curre also worked in the chamber in November 1324, both of them for one week. Robin Curre's wife was called Alis, and John's was called Beatrice. Both women were paid three pence daily, the same as their husbands, and hence were given twenty-one pence at the end of the week. As I said, Edward II, pioneer of equal pay for women...!