07 July, 2007

It Was 700 Years Ago Today...

...that Edward II taught England to play! 7 July 1307 was the day that Edward I died and Edward II acceded as King of England. Even I - arguably the biggest Edward II fan* who has ever walked the planet - have to admit that his accession was hardly a cause for celebration...;)

[*apart from Piers Gaveston, of course, and probably Susan Higginbotham.]

On 7 July 1307, King Edward I was at Burgh-by-Sands, near Carlisle and the Scottish border, riding north to attempt to deal further with Robert Bruce, the crowned King of Scotland since the previous year. The old King was sixty-eight years old - born 17 June 1239 - and had reigned for almost thirty-five years. Around 3pm in the afternoon, his attendants raised him from his bed to eat, and he died in their arms.

The new King, twenty-three-year-old Edward II, heard the news on 11 July. He was in or close to London, meaning that it took the royal messengers four days to travel about 315 miles. Royal messengers had relays of horses, and could travel faster than anyone else in the kingdom. Edward set off for the north, and reached Carlisle on 18 July, travelling via Lambeth, Edgware, Dunstable, Northampton, Leicester, Rufford (between Ormskirk and Preston in Lancashire), Pontefract, Leeming (near Thirsk and Northallerton) and Brough (south of Penrith).

[Off-topic here, but tracing medieval journeys can be fascinating. This particular trip seems very zig-zaggy, presumably to take advantage of waterways for transportation and suitable places to stay overnight - though a lot of the places where Edward II stayed during his reign are tiny even today. I'd never even heard of Rufford and Leeming before.]

On the day Edward reached Carlisle, he received a message from Piers Gaveston's servant Alan of Cornwall, presumably announcing the imminent return of Piers from the continent. He was proclaimed King Edward II at Carlisle Castle on 20 July. However, written confirmation of Edward I's death didn't reach London until 25 July, two weeks after Edward heard the news, and the Chancellor Ralph Baldock was still using Edward I's seal on documents until the end of July.
[EDIT: Thanks to Gabriele for writing a post on Carlisle Castle, with a photo.]

Although it can't be proved, it's almost certain that one of Edward's first acts as King - possibly the very first - was to recall Piers Gaveston from his curious exile. Edward I had ordered Piers out of the country on 26 February, but evidently wasn't angry with him personally, as he didn't have to leave England until 30 April, was given a generous income of 100 marks a year, and was told to wait for his recall. It's likely that Edward I was alarmed at Piers' influence on his son, and as he obviously couldn't send his heir out of the country, he sent Piers instead. Piers spent his exile in the county of Ponthieu - Edward's inheritance from his mother - cutting a dashing figure on the jousting circuit (Edward had given him two splendiferous pearl-strewn tourneying outfits and five horses).

Piers was back in London within two weeks of Edward I's death, and set off for Scotland to meet Edward II; the two men were reunited in early August, in what was surely an emotional occasion. At Dumfries on 6 August, Piers was created Earl of Cornwall. Although the other English earls later complained vociferously about Piers' elevation, it's notable that seven of them fixed their seals to the charter of enfeoffment.

Edward II soon abandoned the Scottish campaign, and returned to the south of England in early September. Robert Bruce claimed that he feared the dead king more than the living one, a reasonable enough statement!

Meanwhile, Edward I's body was slowly brought south, and lay in state at Waltham Abbey in Essex from 14 August to 24 October. It was then taken to Westminster Abbey, where the funeral took place on Friday 27 October, with the Bishop of Durham, Anthony Bek, presiding. Edward's tomb was opened in 1774; he'd been embalmed, wrapped in cerecloth (waxed linen cloth), dressed in robes of red and gold with a gilt crown and holding a sceptre, and placed inside a coffin of Purbeck marble. The tomb opening proved that his nickname of 'Longshanks' was justified: he measured six feet two inches.

Edward (according to a much later chronicler) had ordered his son to boil down his corpse until only the bones remained, then carry the bones at the head of a great army, not to be buried until the Holy Land was conquered. Edward II, rather sensibly, ignored these instructions, being, as usual, far more concerned with Piers Gaveston. Edward's itinerary shows that he left Westminster on 29 October, and travelled via St Albans to Berkhamsted Castle, which now belonged to Piers. On 1 November 1307, a mere five days after his father's funeral, Edward took part in the great ceremony that marked Piers' wedding to Edward's thirteen-year-old niece Margaret de Clare. (My post on Margaret contains more information on the wedding.) It hardly seems that Edward was grief-stricken at the loss of his father, which is perhaps understandable, as their relationship had been a very difficult one.

Edward II and Piers Gaveston spent most of the rest of the year together; they were at Edward's favourite manor of (King's) Langley for most of November and the first part of December, and spent Christmas together at Wye in Kent, a manor of the Abbot of Battle. They were accompanied, among others, by Edward's cousin Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and Roger Mortimer - both men, of course, later counted among Edward's deadliest enemies.

Piers, always a keen jouster, held a great tournament for around two hundred knights at Wallingford Castle - another of his new possessions - on 2 December. Oddly, Edward II's itinerary shows him to have been at Langley then - at least, his Wardrobe and Privy Seal were there. Langley is about forty-five miles from Wallingford, more than a day's ride away, and the well-informed author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi doesn't say that Edward was there. It's probable that the new King was distracted by the ongoing Knights Templar situation; on 1 December, after heavy Papal pressure, he ordered the arrest of all the Templars in England. On 4 December, however, he wote to the Kings of Castile, Aragón, Portugal and Sicily, and Pope Clement V himself, expressing his doubts about the Templars' guilt. [Edward II and the Templars will get a dedicated post, sometime.]

At Wallingford, Piers' team of young, athletic knights carried the day against the earls who participated, namely Arundel, Surrey and Hereford. These men are often portrayed as the 'older' team at the tournament, but in fact Arundel and Surrey were younger than Piers (twenty-two and twenty-one respectively) and Hereford was only thirty-one. Piers' defeat of these men was said to be an important factor in their growing hatred of him.

I don't know where Margaret de Clare was while her new husband was with Edward II, but I strongly suspect that she was still too young to be living with Piers as his full wife. Although she's usually depicted as 'tragically married' to Piers, there's no reason to assume this. She was probably having a whale of a time living it up as the chatelaine of Piers' many castles, waiting until she was physically mature enough for her marriage to be consummated (she's not known to have been pregnant until the spring of 1311). At only thirteen - or possibly just turned fourteen - she was married to a man who stood high in favour with the King and who was one of the richest and most influential men in the country besides. She was also Countess of Cornwall and one of the first ladies of England. Probably she was present at Wallingford to see her handsome and athletic husband send some of the greatest men in England tumbling from their horses.

Edward and Piers spent most of January 1308 in Kent, and on 22 January - apparently leaving several days late - Edward sailed to France from Dover, paid homage to Philip IV for Gascony and Ponthieu on the 24th, and married Isabella at Boulogne on the 25th. Piers Gaveston was left as Keeper of the Realm, custos regni, a very controversial appointment which caused widespread astonishment and anger. As the Vita Edwardi Secundi says, "An astonishing thing, that he who had lately been an exile and outcast from England should now be made ruler and guardian of the realm."

Edward's extreme dependence on and favouritism towards Piers started to cause enormous discontent, and while at Boulogne, many earls and barons set their seals to the Boulogne Agreement, which differentiated between their loyalty to the Crown, and to the King as a man. Edward II had been wildly popular at the start of his reign, with a huge amount of goodwill towards him, yet within a few months, had alienated most of his influential supporters and, by the spring of 1308, was facing war. He started his reign as he continued it and as he ended it, putting his favourites above everything, allowing his personal feelings to dictate his policy. Edward II was completely unable, or unwilling, to separate his personal self from his kingship. He spent much of his reign lurching from one crisis to another, crises usually of his own making.

But I love him anyway. :-) Happy 700th Kingly Anniversary to Edward II!


Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding repetitive and boring....great post Alianore!

I wish I could see all the knights at Wallingford. What a sight that would have been; and if only some description of Gaveston's pearl strewn tourneying outfit remained. How wonderful.

It really shows a terrible lapse in judgment (or something else ;) ) for Edward to make Piers guardian of the realm. He must have really wanted to make a statement, not only to the country, but to Piers himself. Dear Edward. Sounds like he just wanted to be loved.

Little did he realise that 700 years after his accession we would still be talking about him!

Susan Higginbotham said...

Happy 700th, Ed!

It seems a shame to have put all those pearls on an outfit that was bound to get mussed during jousting, though, doesn't it?

sxscuke--where's my salad?

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Kate! Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to travel back in time and visit the tournament? *Sighs with longing*

For the record, Piers' tourneying outfits were: "one of green velvet embroidered with pearls and gold and silver lining, with aigulettes and bearing Gaveston's arms, the other of green sindon, also bearing his arms." [Quoting from the bio of Piers by JS Hamilton.] Fabulous. :-)

Piers' appointment as regent of England was pretty shocking to his contemporaries - Edward 'should' have chosen one of his young half-brothers, or at least his cousin the earl of Lancaster. Having said that, the earls seemed to be more offended by the appointment in retrospect than they were at the time (like with Piers' elevation to the earldom of Cornwall).

I know, my dear sweet Ned...he just wanted to love and be loved. ;)

Kathryn Warner said...

Susan - I thought about that, too! I wonder if people went scrabbling round in the mud for any that might have come off while Piers was jousting?

Susan Higginbotham said...

James I's favorite Buckingham (who makes Gaveston look positively shy and retiring) is said to have worn, on a trip to Paris to bring Charles I's bride to England, an outfit with multitudes of pearls purposely so loosely attached that when he walked, they fell off. (Needless to say, he attracted quite a following!)

Gabriele Campbell said...

I think Edward wanted a regent whom he could trust, and never thought he'd alienate half of the nobles by appointing Piers. Piers could well have been an able regent (the man was not stupid, after all) but those pesky nobles never gave him a chance.

Daphne said...

I agree with Kate - another great post! This is really not related too much, but wouldn't that have been 07/07/07 as well (since we typically drop the first two years of the century from the date)??

Gabriele Campbell said...

Btw, I posted about Carlisle Castle. With a pic. :)

Kathryn Warner said...

Susan: what a great story!

Gabriele: you make a good point. Piers was in Ireland from summer 1308 to summer 1309, as Edward's Lord Lieutenant, and made a damn good job of it (which annoyed his enemies even more, as they'd wanted him sent abroad in disgrace). 700 years later, it's hard to see exactly what he did that hacked the barons off so much. Yes, he monopolised Ed's company, and controlled too much royal patronage - but nothing that seems to deserve two exiles and execution!

Thanks for the Carlisle link! I have been to the city, but never to the castle, unfortunately.

Daphne: thank you! I was thinking after I'd posted this that in fact it's not exactly 700 years later after all, because of the switch to the Gregorian calendar in the 18C. Oh well. ;) In England at this time, they rarely if ever gave the date as '1307', say - it was always '1 Edward II'. And though the date was often given as '7 July', for example, it was also often 'Saturday next after the feast of the Assumption' or similar.

Daphne said...

Oh well (I forgot about some of those little calendar issues!). I just thought it was a cool "coincidence".

Carla said...

I know Leeming, but that's because it's on the road north to the hills :-) I wonder if there was a castle there controlling the road? It's on the A1 which has been a stategic route at least since the Romans.

Do you suppose there was a queue round the block of volunteers to help clear up after the tournament?

"it's hard to see exactly what he did that hacked the barons off so much." Not One Of Us, perhaps? People in an exclusive club often close ranks against an outsider.

Kathryn Warner said...

Daphne: maybe it did occur to them. ;) In France at this time, they did use the calendar years the same way we do.

Carla: I can't find any refs to a castle in Leeming. Interesting about it being on the A1 - maybe it was more strategically important back then.

Hehe, cleaning up after 200-odd knights and all the spectators must have been quite a job. ;)

Certainly there was an element of Piers not being One Of Us, as he came from Gascony. I can understand the irritation towards him for monopolising Ed and not being of sufficiently high birth (though he was a Gascon nobleman) - I just don't quite get the intense hatred of him, or why the earls of Warwick and Lancaster thought that he deserved to be killed.

Carla said...

Humiliating defeat at the Wallingford tourney might well count as a mortal insult in a society where status mattered so much, especially if Piers crowed about it and rubbed it in.

Maybe they hated Piers not so much because of what he had done, but what they feared he might do, and were getting their retaliation in first? In theory the king had absolute power, and Piers' influence over Edward meant that Piers potentially had some of that power. Perhaps if Edward had been a more sensible ruler, Piers wouldn't have been seen as such a threat and they might have lived happily ever after (though Isabella might have had something to say about that...)

Kathryn Warner said...

Yep, one problem with Piers was his arrogance and habit of rubbing his intimacy with Ed in the barons' faces - even after he returned from his (second) exile in 1309, he hadn't learnt his lesson, and annoyed the earls even more by giving them insulting nicknames. (Pembroke was Joseph the Jew, Lincoln was Mister Burst-Belly, and so on.) If he'd learnt a bit of humility and discretion, he wouldn't have ticked them off half so much.

Piers' execution/murder strikes me as something that got out of hand - and some of the earls didn't support it at all. Pembroke was furious, as he'd sworn an oath to protect Piers, and some of the others went back to Ed's side after the murder.

By killing Piers, all the earls achieved was to open the door for men who were far worse than he was (notably Hugh Despenser, also Roger Damory). And I suppose the fact that both Isabella and Piers' wife Margaret de Clare gave birth in 1312 is proof that the men's closeness didn't prevent them from having marital relations with their wives, at least (however their wives might have felt about that. ;)

If Ed had been a competent ruler, and militarily successful in Scotland, and more willing to take advice from anyone besides Piers, I'm sure the barons would mostly have turned a blind eye to their relationship.

But this is turning into an essay. ;) I feel a blog post coming on sometime!