17 December, 2006

The Childhood of Edward II

Edward II was born on 25 April 1284 in Caernarfon Castle, one of his father’s great Welsh fortresses, unfinished at this time. His mother Eleanor of Castile, daughter of King Fernando III, was probably forty-two at the time – she seems to have been born in late 1241 – and Edward was her sixteenth and youngest child. His father, King Edward I, was almost forty-five.

Edward’s first nurse was the Welshwoman Mary, or Mariota, Maunsel, who fell ill and was replaced by Alice de Leygrave in the summer of 1284, when Edward was taken from Caernarfon to Chester. Although she had only looked after him for the first few months of his life, Edward never forgot about Mary. In 1307, he gave her 73 acres of land, to hold rent-free for the rest of her life, and in 1312, granted her a hundred shillings per year for life 'out of the yearly issues of the king's mills at Karnarvan'. Alice de Leygrave and her daughter Cecily later joined Queen Isabella’s household as damsels, and Edward also granted them and other family members land and favours. Alice was described in a document of 1313 as "the king's mother...who suckled him in his youth."

In April 1284, the heir to the throne was Edward’s brother Alfonso, born in November 1273 and thus ten and a half when his little brother was born. The King and Queen had already lost two sons (John, aged five, in 1271 and Henry, aged six, in 1274) but Alfonso seems to have been healthy – his marriage to Margarete, daughter of Count Floris V of Holland, was being arranged this year, and the Alfonso Psalter was in preparation, presumably to celebrate the wedding. His death on 19 August 1284 seems to have come out of the blue and been a terrible shock, not only to his parents, but to the country as a whole – the populace was used to thinking of him as their future king. (it’s worth bearing in mind that if he had lived to become king, ‘Alfonso’ would be a common English name!)

At the age of not quite four months, Edward became heir to the throne. Little is known about his early life, but he had his own household from a very young age, as was common for royal boys. His sisters, or some of them, presumably lived with him, but as heir to the throne, Edward was the centre of the household. He lived most of the time at Langley, near St Albans (known since 1428 as King's Langley), which his mother Queen Eleanor held of the king’s cousin, Earl Edmund of Cornwall, and which was granted to Edward himself in 1302. Langley was a manor house on a hill, attractively arranged around three courtyards.

Edward's tutor was Sir Guy Ferre, who seems to have failed to impose any discipline on Edward - he went to bed when he liked, developed a taste for gambling, and - more significantly - a predilection for 'peasant' activities such as digging, thatching and shoeing horses, which would earn him huge censure later in life.

Just past his second birthday, in May 1286, his parents departed England for Gascony, which was ruled by the English crown. They would not return for more than three years - which had a huge impact on the young Edward's relationship with his parents. Fifteen months after their return, Queen Eleanor was dead, and King Edward I gradually became an increasingly remote and terrifying figure. Without wanting to be too psychoanalytical, Edward's whole life shows his desperate need to love and be loved, probably because of the lack of parental affection in his childhood.

In July 1289, the five-year-old Edward was taken, with four of his five sisters, to Dover to greet their parents on their return from Gascony. The sisters were: Eleanor, aged 20; Joan, aged 17; Margaret, aged 14; and Elizabeth, aged almost 7. The missing sister was Mary, aged 10, who was at Amesbury Priory with the children’s grandmother, Queen Eleanor of Provence. It must have been a nerve-racking occasion for the little boy, to meet the formidable parents he surely couldn’t remember. As the heir to the throne, he was more important than his older sisters, and one imagines that the king examined his only surviving son anxiously. There were few concerns, however; Edward, as he would remain all his life, was a healthy, sturdy boy.

Edward I started to make arrangements for Edward’s marriage - an issue of great importance. (See my previous post on the Maid of Norway). He also started marrying off his daughters. On 28 November 1290, a couple of months after the death of the little Maid, Queen Eleanor died suddenly in Harby, Notts. She was in her late forties. Edward, as her only surviving son, inherited her lands and became Count of Ponthieu and Montreuil at the age of six.

A few months later, on 26 June 1291, his grandmother Eleanor of Provence also died, in her late sixties. Eleanor was the widow of Henry III, who had died in 1272. For all her faults, Queen Eleanor was a devoted mother and grandmother, always concerned about her grandchildren, and her death deprived little Edward of a kindly, affectionate figure who always did her best for him. On 1 September 1290, she sent a letter to her son, Edward I, who was planning to take his six-year-old son to the north (presumably to meet the Maid on her arrival in Scotland, though that's not certain):
"We feel uneasy about his going. When we were there, we could not avoid being ill, on account of the bad climate. We pray you therefore, deign to provide some place in the south, where he can have a good and temperate climate, and dwell there while you visit the north."

1290 and 1291, in fact, were bad years for Edward and his family relations. His mother and grandmother died, his sisters Joan and Margaret married, another sister, Mary, was veiled as a nun. In 1293, his eldest sister Eleanor finally married too. The remaining sister, Elizabeth, who was only twenty months older than Edward, probably stayed at Langley with him until her own wedding in February 1297.

It's possible that her future husband Jan, son and heir of Count Floris V of Holland (Jan’s sister Margarete had been betrothed to Alfonso) also lived with them at Langley. Jan was born sometime in 1284, so was the same age as Edward, and grew up in England. He succeeded his father in June 1296, and returned to England in early 1297 to marry Elizabeth. She was fourteen and a half, and he twelve. Always a sickly youth, he died in 1299, childless.

Later in the 1290s, ten boys were placed in Edward's household as his companions and royal wards, or pueri in custodia, accompanied by their tutors. Hugh le Despenser the younger was one. Another was Piers Gaveston, who was placed in Edward’s household sometime at the end of the 1290s – a fateful decision by King Edward I. The Gavestons or Gabestons were minor nobility from Gascony (Piers was emphatically not a peasant and Edward's 'bit of rough', as he's often portrayed) and the family of Piers' mother, Claramunde de Marsan, were landowners in Bearn. His father Arnaud's tomb in Winchester Cathedral still exists. Piers was probably a year or two older than Edward, handsome, athletic, witty and a great jouster and soldier. Edward fell deeply in love.

The records for Edward’s household still survive for the year 1292/93, when he was eight/nine years old. They show that he lived at Langley from 23 November 1292 to 13 April 1293, then went on a typical 'royal progress' across Southern England, staying one or two nights in each place - the enormous size of his household, hundreds of people, meant that longer stays were generally not welcomed by the local populace. In 1294, the Dunstable annalist commented about Edward: "Whatever he spent on himself and his followers, he took without paying for it. His officials carried off all the victuals that came to market...not only whatever was for sale, but even things not for sale..." It's worth remembering that Edward was barely ten years old at the time!

Edward spent eight nights in Bristol in late September 1293 for his eldest sister Eleanor’s wedding to Count Henri III of Bar (they then stayed with him for a few weeks before travelling to Bar) His cousins Thomas and Henry of Lancaster - sons of Edward I's brother, Earl Edmund of Lancaster - stayed with him for a few days in June 1293. They were about three and six years his senior, so about twelve and fifteen, and brought a large retinue with them, who had to be fed at the expense of Edward's household. Also in their company was the future Duke Jan II of Brabant, who was eighteen in 1293 and had married Edward’s sister Margaret in 1290. Jan also grew up at the English court, and lived in England till his father died in the spring of 1294 (at a tournament in Bar, arranged by Count Henri to celebrate his marriage to Eleanor). All together, the three young men brought sixty horses and forty-three grooms, and Edward's clerk (who recorded the expenses) fumed over it. Every day, he wrote "They are still here" and on the last day "Here they are still. And this day is burdensome...because strangers joined them in large numbers".

As he gew older, Edward spent more and more time with his father, often in Scotland. He took part in the siege of Caerlaverock in 1300, when he was sixteen. The herald-poet wrote of Edward in the Caerlaverock Roll of Arms: "...He was of a well proportioned and handsome person/Of a courteous disposition, and well bred". On 7 February 1301, still aged sixteen, Edward was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, during Parliament at Lincoln. This was a huge territorial endowment, composed of all the royal lands in Wales and the rich lands of the earldom of Chester. Edward, Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester, Count of Ponthieu and Montreuil, was now a great feudal magnate in his own right; and his lonely childhood was over.


Gabriele Campbell said...

With that background, one mustn't wonder Edward developed a crush on Piers.

And what would have his alternative been? Conutry girls? That would have given him the renown of a philanderer ('no father could be sure of his duaghter's honour ....'), not much better than being interested too much in peasants' tools and men.

Susan Higginbotham said...

I love that line from the clerk.

Kathryn Warner said...

Me too, Susan - I can just seeing him writing it with gritted teeth. "When - will - they - EVER - leave??!"

Gabriele - yes, I think Edward's intense feelings for Piers are entirely understandable, all things considered.

ilya said...

had edward become interested in country girls he would have probably been like henry 4th of france: people might have criticized him but they loved him. it was normal in those days for men to sleep around, just look at the most popular kings and if you make a statistic you'll see that most of them were philanderers. it just added to the charm.

Carla said...

I like the clerk too! Isn't there a reference somewhere in one of the Icelandic sagas to getting rid of guests who had outstayed their welcome by serving them food that had spoiled in storage and telling them that was all there was left? The clerk would probably have dearly liked to have tried that.

It's curious that Edward I and/or Eleanor didn't pay more attention to Edward's education (the tutor who let him do as he liked), since they knew Edward was the heir from such an early age. I could understand being lackadaisical in bringing up an umpteenth son (who would probably marry abroad and be someone else's problem), but it seems odd to let the heir grow up to do as he pleases - after all, there were no constraints on a medieval king except self-discipline or armed revolt, and Edward I had seen the latter with his own inept father Henry III. Curious.

It doesn't seem surprising that Edward developed a crush on Gaveston, does it? What's perhaps surprising is that the crush lasted so long and was so intense. I wonder if the ten boys were the first people in Edward's life who were his approximate social equals and stayed for any length of time?

Nobody would have minded if Edward II had tumbled country girls at every opportunity, indeed it would have been expected of him, and if he was generous with gifts even the girls and their families wouldn't have minded. Rich young men were supposed to be Hooray Henrys and sow their wild oats and all that.

Kathryn Warner said...

What a great way to get rid of unwanted guests! Maybe Ed's household didn't quite dare to do that to the king's nephews and son-in-law, even if they thought about it!

I read something in the bio of Eleanor of Castile about her concern for her children's education, especially Ed's - I suppose if she'd lived longer, his life would have been more structured. His upbringing does seem oddly slapdash, especially considering he was the only survivor of four brothers - which should have made Ed I more grateful to have him and more aware of his importance - at least, I would have assumed. Maybe the king was distracted in Scotland, but I find it really strange that he didn't try to curb Ed's interest in 'peasant' hobbies, and to promote a more conventional interest in jousting and martial activities.

It's quite likely that the ten boys/wards were the first long-term, noble companions Ed had ever had - unless his future brother-in-law Count Jan of Holland lived in the same household, and I'm not sure about that.

It was a pretty big part of Ed's personality, to develop extremely intense and long-lasting feelings for one person (man) to the exclusion of all others - later, it was the same with Hugh Despenser. Quite an attractive trait, IMO, if pretty foolish in a king! As you say, tumbling country wenches wouldn't have attracted nearly as much criticism - quite the contrary. He must have had a relationship with one woman, at least - the mother of his illegitimate son.

Word verif: mipysofa. Cute. :)