26 January, 2008

The Early Life of Edward II

Before starting the post, I'd like to draw your attention to the very talented artist Mark Satchiwill, who's posted portraits of various personalities of Edward II's reign on his blog recently. Here are links to his portraits of: Edward II; Queen Isabella; Piers Gaveston; Roger Mortimer, Hugh Despenser the Younger. I especially love the Edward one - it's gorgeous. I could look at it all day (and probably will!).

OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming...

King Edward I and Queen Eleanor spent Easter 1284 at Caernarfon in North Wales, just seven weeks after the Statute of Rhuddlan was passed. The king's great castle of Caernarfon was in the very early stages of construction, so the royal couple probably stayed in the old timber castle that until recently had belonged to the Princes of Gwynedd.

Shortly afterwards, Edward I left for Rhuddlan, perhaps to check progress on yet another of the great castles he was having built. Queen Eleanor remained at Caernarfon, where just over two weeks after Easter, on Tuesday, 25 April, she gave birth to Lord Edward, the youngest of her fifteen or sixteen children. She was probably forty-two.

[Edward II is often said to have had younger sisters Beatrice and Blanche, born 1286 and 1290, who died young, but these children appear to be an invention of later centuries, and no contemporary evidence documents their existence. There's a lot of confusion over the children of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile; they're often said to have had daughters named Juliana and Alice, who didn't exist either (the name 'Alice' was a misreading for 'Alfonso'), and the date of birth of Edward's eldest surviving sister Eleanor is often given as 1264, instead of 1269, the correct date. The daughter alive in 1264 was Katherine, who died that year.]

The young Welsh knight Sir Gruffydd Llywd rode the forty miles to Rhuddlan to inform the proud papa, who rewarded him with the manor of Dinorwig. Nearly four decades later, Llywd would play a vital role in Edward II's war against his Marcher lords, sacking the lands and castles of Edward's enemies, most notably the Mortimers. Llywd spent about eighteen months in prison in Caernarfon during Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella's regime for his loyalty to the deposed king, whose birth he had announced, and his son Ieuan joined the earl of Kent's conspiracy in 1330.

Llywd's name is sometimes spelt 'Thloyt' in contemporary documents, an interesting indication of how they pronounced it, and how clueless English scribes were about the spelling of Welsh names!

Edward was baptised on 1 May 1284, though unfortunately I don't know who his godparents were. Edward I gave out nine pounds in charity on the day of his son's birth, and ten pounds on the day of the baptism. The baby's nurse was called 'Marolla' or Mary, Maunsel, almost certainly a Welshwoman, who had to leave her post that summer because of illness. In 1307, Edward II gave her 73 acres of land at Caernarfon, rent-free, for life, and in 1312, granted her five pounds a year, a very high salary for a woman. Edward's generosity towards a woman who had looked after him for only about the first three or four months of his life is notable.

Mary Maunsel was replaced as Edward's nurse by Alice de Leygrave, an Englishwoman. She was still a member of Edward's household in 1307, when he became king, and later joined the household of Queen Isabella, with her daughter Cecily. Edward was extremely generous to the "king's mother, who suckled him when he was young", and her family; for example, Cecily was granted the huge sum of a hundred pounds when she got married.

In August 1284, Edward and his much older sisters Eleanor and Joan, aged fifteen and twelve, travelled to Bristol to meet their father. It might have been here that Edward I heard the terrible news that his son Alfonso had died suddenly, probably at Windsor Castle, at the age of ten and nine months. Negotiations were ongoing for his marriage to the daughter of Count Floris V of Holland, so his death must have come as a real shock to his parents. At four months, little Lord Edward was now heir to the throne, the sole survivor of his parents' four sons.

The future king lived with his sisters, at the centre of an enormous household, whose expenses amounted to well over two thousand pounds a year. The royal children spent winters, November to March, at the manor house of Langley near St Albans, which would be Edward's favourite residence for the rest of his life. From spring to autumn, the children went on the typical contemporary peregrinations of royal and noble households, travelling all over the south of England as far west as Bristol, as far east as Canterbury, and as far north as Wiltshire. They rarely spent more than two or three nights in any one place, and just one night was usual. [These frequent moves probably resulted from the huge demand in feeding the hundreds of members of their household, and horses, which placed a real burden on the villages where they stayed].

Sixteen-month-old Edward was present at his six-year-old sister Mary's consecration at Amesbury Priory in August 1285, where she joined their cousin Eleanor of Brittany and their grandmother, Dowager Queen Eleanor of Provence, who had taken the veil there. He was just two years old when his parents left England to visit Gascony, and five when they finally returned.

Edward and four of his five sisters - only Mary was missing - were taken to meet Edward I and Eleanor of Castile when they returned to England, at Dover in the summer of 1289. Their journey from Langley to Dover, a little over a hundred miles, took an agonisingly slow two weeks, less than walking speed. After his return, Edward I set about the important task of arranging his children's marriages, particularly Edward's, the most important of all.

The fact that three of his four sons were dead was clearly preying on Edward I's mind. In April 1290, he forced the earl of Gloucester to swear an oath on the saints that he would uphold the succession to the kingdom, before he married Edward's second daughter Joan. The document shows that Edward I was prepared for one of his daughters to inherit his kingdom, should he and little Edward die without male heirs. I'll take a look at that in the next post!

24 January, 2008

Royal Connections of Edward II

I can't remember now where I read it, but one non-fiction book on Edward II (or possibly a general fourteenth-century history) makes the extraordinary claim that Edward, unlike his wife Isabella, had few family connections to European royalty and nobility. This is emphatically not true, as this post will prove.

Athe time of his birth in April 1284, Edward II was closely related to the following:

- King Sancho IV of Castile and León was his first cousin, both of them grandsons of King Fernando III. Edward's uncle King Alfonso X died exactly three weeks before he (Edward, obviously) was born, that is, 4 April 1284.

- King Philip III of France was the first cousin of his father Edward I (their mothers Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence were sisters).

- King Diniz of Portugal was his mother Eleanor of Castile's first cousin once removed, son of an illegitimate daughter of Alfonso X of Castile.

- The King of Sicily and Naples, Charles of Anjou, was his father's uncle by marriage, husband of Beatrice of Provence.

-The future King Alfonso III of Aragón was betrothed to Edward's eldest sister. Alfonso succeeded his father in November 1285.

- King Alexander III of Scotland was Edward's uncle by marriage, widower of Edward I's sister Margaret.

- The future Duke Jean II of Brittany was Edward's uncle by marriage, widower of Edward I's sister Beatrice. Jean succeeded his father in October 1286.

- The Dowager Queen of Navarre and Countess of Champagne, Blanche of Artois, was Edward's aunt by marriage, married to Edward I's brother Edmund of Lancaster. Blanche was also the grandmother of Edward's wife Queen Isabella.

- His first cousin doña Violante of Castile, granddaughter of Fernando III, married dom Afonso of Portugal, brother of King Diniz.

- His first cousin don Juan Manuel, grandson of Fernando III, was Duke of Peñafiel and one of the most important Spanish writers of the Middle Ages.

- His first cousins Marie and Blanche, daughters of Duke Jean II of Brittany and Edward I's sister Beatrice, were Countesses of St Pol and Artois. Another of their sisters, Eleanor, was Abbess of Fontevrault.

- By the time Edward was twelve, his sisters had married Duke Jan II of Brabant, Count Henri III of Bar, and Count Jan I of Holland.

Some other relatives who were dead by the time Edward was born:

- Edward's Castilian uncles don Sancho and don Felipe were Archbishops of Toledo and Seville, respectively.

- His father's aunt Isabella, sister of Henry III of England, married Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor.

- His father's uncle Richard of Cornwall, brother of Henry III, was elected King of the Romans, i.e. Germany, in 1257.

Other first cousins of Edward I, and therefore first cousins once removed of Edward II, include:

- Isabelle (or Elisabeth) of Anjou, daughter of Beatrice of Provence: Queen of Hungary, the wife of László IV.

- Beatrice of Anjou, daughter of Beatrice of Provence: titular Empress of Constantinople, the wife of Philip de Courtenay.

- Agnes of France, daughter of Marguerite of Provence: Duchess of Burgundy, wife of Duke Robert II.

- Margaret of Sicily, also known as Margarete von Hohenstaufen, daughter of Henry III's sister Isabella: Landgravine of Thuringia and Countess Palatine of Saxony, wife of Albrecht von Meissen.

- Philip of Anjou: Prince of Achaïea and Morea, and titular King of Thessalonica, by right of his wife Isabelle de Villehardouin.

Edward II was not well-connected to European royalty?? Pffft!

20 January, 2008

Joan and Elizabeth Comyn

Another post spotlighting the women of Edward II's reign. This one features the sisters Joan and Elizabeth Comyn, born circa 1295 and 1299, relatives of Edward II and close to the throne of Scotland.

Joan and Elizabeth were the daughters of John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, known as the 'Red Comyn' to distinguish him from his father, the Black Comyn. The Comyns dominated Scottish politics in the fourteenth century, holding several earldoms. John the Red Comyn was the nephew of John Baliol, king of Scotland from 1292; his family were the hereditary enemies of the Bruces. He was also the cousin of the earl of Buchan, another John Comyn, who features as a cruel and unpleasant wife-beater in Barbara Erskine's Lady of Hay. By the rule of primogeniture, the Red Comyn had a better claim to the throne of Scotland than Robert Bruce, which he passed on to his children. (The Comyns/Baliols were descended from the eldest daughter of David of Scotland, earl of Huntingdon, while the Bruces descended from the second daughter.)

On 10 February 1306, Robert Bruce stabbed the Red Comyn to death in the Greyfriars church in Dumfries. The truth of exactly what happened is unclear, whether the deed was premeditated murder, or an argument that got out of hand. What is certain is that Robert Bruce could never have become king of Scotland while Comyn was alive, and he was crowned king within weeks of the murder, on 25 March 1306. The woman who crowned him was Isabel MacDuff, wife of John Comyn, earl of Buchan. Pope Clement V excommunicated Bruce for the murder.

Joan and Elizabeth Comyn's mother was Joan de Valence, daughter of Henry III's half-brother William de Valence, and sister of Aymer, Earl of Pembroke in Edward II's reign. They were therefore the second cousins of Edward II. They had a brother, also John. Only Elizabeth's date of birth is known, 1 November 1299; Joan and John were older.

After their father's murder, little John, Joan and Elizabeth were sent to England for safety. John the younger was killed at Bannockburn in 1314, fighting on Edward II's side, naturally, against the man who had murdered his father. The younger John's little son Aymer, who died in 1316, was the last of the Comyns in the male line. John's widow Margaret Wake married Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent eleven and a half years later, and became the mother of the Fair Maid of Kent and the grandmother of Richard II.

Joan Comyn, probably born around 1295, was married to David Strathbogie (or Strabolgi), the Scottish earl of Atholl. His father John had participated in Robert Bruce's coronation, and was hideously executed by Edward I in London on 7 November 1306. He was hanged on a high gallows, and his head stuck on London Bridge.

Despite this, his son David remained loyal to Edward II ("Your dad horribly killed mine! Can I be your friend?"). Through his mother Marjory or Margaret, David was the first cousin of Donald of Mar, another Scottish earl utterly loyal to Edward II. David was the one of the men who condemned Thomas, earl of Lancaster, to death in March 1322.

Joan and David's eldest son David was born on 1 February 1309, and married Katherine Beaumont, daughter of Edward II's cousin Henry, Lord Beaumont. Joan's grandson David, 1332-1369, married Elizabeth Ferrers, granddaughter of Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Clare. Joan Comyn and David Strathbogie both died young in 1326, David on 28 December, shortly after the downfall of his friend and ally Edward II.

Elizabeth, the youngest of the Comyns, is far more famous than her siblings, as a victim of the land-grabbing schemes of Hugh Despenser the Younger. In 1324, the Comyns' uncle Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, died childless. Elizabeth and Joan, and their cousin John Hastings, son of another of Pembroke's sisters, were his heirs. (Primogeniture did not apply to women, so as these cousins were children of Pembroke's sisters, they inherited equally with no precedence given to the male heirs. If Pembroke had had a brother, the situation would have been different).

Historian Natalie Fryde in The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II comments on Elizabeth's 1325 imprisonment by the younger Despenser, but makes a few errors: she confuses Elizabeth's Hastings cousins, and calls Elizabeth a teenager, which she wasn't, being in her mid-twenties. It's rather odd that she was still unmarried at such an advanced age. Fryde speculates that Elizabeth was betrothed to the younger Despenser's youngest son, but as that young man was born in 1308 or 1309 and thus a decade younger than Elizabeth, that seems rather unlikely. I've been discussing the Elizabeth situation lately with Jules of Lady Despenser's Scribery, and she's preparing a post about it all, so I won't discuss it here.

Between July 1326 and February 1327, Elizabeth finally got married, to Sir Richard Talbot, who was several years her junior, probably born around 1302. He fought against Edward II during the Marcher campaign of 1321/22 and was captured at the battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, but was released and made his peace with the king and the Despensers, serving in the younger Despenser's retinue. Richard was in fact a second cousin of Despenser, both of them great-grandsons of Sir William Beauchamp of Elmley.

Elizabeth and Richard's son, Gilbert, was born in 1332 (and was thus the same age as David Strathbogie, grandson of Elizabeth's sister Joan). He married Pernel, or Petronilla, Butler, daughter of Edward II's niece Eleanor de Bohun. Sir Richard Talbot thrived in the reign of Edward III, played a large part in Edward's Scottish and French wars, and served as Steward of the royal household in the 1340s.

Richard Talbot died on 23 October 1356, and Elizabeth Comyn married again, sometime around 1357 or 1360, to Sir John Bromwich. She died on 20 November 1372, at the age of seventy-three. Her great-grandson John Talbot, known as 'the Great Talbot', became the first earl of Shrewsbury, and her great-great-granddaughter Eleanor Butler, née Talbot, was supposedly pre-contracted to Edward IV, according to Richard III in 1483.

12 January, 2008

Seven Random Facts About Queen Isabella

Recent searches that brought readers to this blog:

unknown to him, mortimer has summoned a hit man from abroad Completely irrelevant to this post, but I loved that one.

What did Queen Isabella do for a job? Believe it or not, she was emperor of England (see below).

critical comments on queen isabella of edward the second Critical of Isabella? Moi?

18th century princesse to be the next queen isabella Actually, I think one was enough.

why did queen isabella believe it was important to give a tall bed as a gift rather than a short bed? I'm afraid I have no idea, but if anyone knows the answer, I'm on tenterhooks.

what did queen isabella want The question that Edward II couldn't or wouldn't answer, and Roger Mortimer could and did.

"cuckolding me" Closely related to above.

eduard 11 of england and Isabella of france now emperor of the kingdom

And lots, lots more searches for her. Given that Isabella seems to be very much in demand at the moment, here are seven random facts about the lady herself, Eduard II's wife, emperor of the kingdom of England...;)

- Isabella was the third daughter of Philip IV of France and Queen Jeanne of Navarre, but the only one to survive early childhood; her sisters were Marguerite (1288 or 1290 to 1294) and Blanche (circa 1290/94 to 1295). Both Marguerite, and then Blanche after Marguerite's death, were betrothed to Edward II's first cousin once removed Fernando IV of Castile (born 1285), who eventually married Constança of Portugal. Isabella also had a younger brother Robert, who died in July 1308, probably aged eleven, six months after Isabella married Edward II. Her three elder brothers all reigned as kings of France.

- Like her husband, Isabella was an avid reader*, and owned more than thirty books by the time of her death, a large number for the fourteenth century. Among them were: at least ten romances, two history books, a book on the genealogy of her family, an encyclopedia, and numerous religious volumes including a Bible, several Books of Hours and a book of sermons. Edward II was also a history fan, owning a Latin history of the kings of England and a French biography of Edward the Confessor. (Wonder what he'd make of people reading about him 700 years later, in English?)

Edward II founded King's Hall at Cambridge University (which was later refounded by Henry VIII as Trinity College) in 1317, and gave books on canon and civil law, worth ten pounds, to the Master. During her regency, Isabella, ahem, 'borrowed' the books, and never returned them.

[* it was usual in the Middle Ages for royalty/nobility to be read to by their clerks, rather than to read silently by themselves. However, it's highly likely that Isabella was indeed literate.]

- On a visit to France in 1313 (the one where Edward spent vast sums on clothes and wine), the pavilion where Edward II and Isabella were staying in caught fire. Edward scooped up Isabella and ran outside with her, both of them naked. However, poor Isabella suffered burns to her hand and arm, which her physician was still treating with olive oil, rosewater and lead plasters (lead plasters?) some time later.

- During the same trip, Edward and Isabella were late for a meeting with her father Philip IV, as they had overslept. (You'd think someone could have woken them up.)

- Both Isabella and Edward II revered St Thomas Becket, and made frequent pilgrimages to Canterbury. In October 1311, Isabella made an offering to the saint's shrine of a gold nugget, worth four pounds, six shillings and eight pence.

- For Isabella's churching after the birth of her second child John in 1316, her tailor Stephen Taloise made her a robe out of five pieces of white velvet. Edward II gave her lands and jewellery in gratitude for bearing him another son.

- Isabella had a household of around 180 people, double the size of previous queens' households, thanks to Edward II's generosity in providing for his wife. They included: three cooks; two apothecaries and a physician; an almoner; two watchmen; thirty-nine grooms; twenty-five palfreymen; twenty-two sumptermen; five messengers; twenty-eight squires.

07 January, 2008

Seven Random Facts About Edward II

Another history meme that's doing the rounds, via Carla Nayland and Gabriele Campbell: here are seven random, weird or obscure facts about Edward II. Sticking to seven was really difficult, and I have cheated a bit by sometimes including several related facts within the same heading...

- Despite owning the vast Palace of Westminster, the Tower of London, and several other royal palaces within a few miles of London, Edward II built himself a hut - yes, a hut - in the precincts of Westminster palace. He lived there sometimes, called it Burgundy (Bourgogne) and referred to himself as the 'king of Burgundy'. Now that's eccentric.

- Edward's barge-master was called Absalom. Edward travelled up and down the Thames in his barge, buying cabbages from peasants along the route, for making soup.

- In 1310, on his way to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Edward gave a pound to a 'woman he drank with'. That's a lot of money, a few months' wages for most people in the country then. Sadly, there are no details on who the woman was, or where they drank together, or why! (I have a vivid mental image of Edward sprawled in a seat in some seedy tavern, banging his tankard on the table and slurring 'I really love Piers, y'know. I mean, I really, really love him." But that's just me.)

Edward II frequently consumed too much alcohol, and was criticised for spilling state secrets to all and sundry when he was in his cups.

- Edward enjoyed the company of lowborn people, a fact incomprehensible to most of his contemporaries and often sneered at. For example, in 1325 he dined privately with two carpenters, and ten sailors on another occasion. In the autumn of 1315, spent the best part of a month at Fen Ditton near Cambridge 'with a large crowd of country people', swimming and boating. In 1322, men called Wat Cowherd, Robin Dyer and Robin and Simon Hod spent two weeks with him. (Although Edward's native language was French, this does imply that he was fluent in English, as cowherds, dyers and carpenters would not have spoken French, the language of the elite.)

- Although Edward had a taste for 'peasant' activities such as digging, building and thatching, spent time with the lowborn, lived in a hut and ate soup, he also revelled in costly and magnificent clothes, jewels, food and wine. On a month-long trip to France with Queen Isabella in 1313, he spent close to a thousand pounds on clothes and jewels. His bill for buying presents for his French hosts came to over three thousand pounds, and he spent a mind-boggling £4468, nineteen shillings and four pence just on wine. To put these sums into perspective, bear in mind that most people in England at the time earned somewhere in the region of two to five pounds a year.

- In 1304, twenty-year-old Edward bought the stud farm of the recently deceased earl of Surrey, which was located in Ditchling, Sussex. During his reign, he often sent men to Spain to buy horses for him. When one of his prized stallions bit a stable boy, Edward gave the enormous sum of fifty pounds to Peter, the surgeon who treated him (and I hope some compensation to the boy too!)

- Before his accession, his father Edward I gave food to many hundreds of paupers on Edward's birthday, 25 April, St Mark's Day; for example, on Edward's thirteenth birthday in 1297, 700 were fed in honour of St Mark and 1400 "for Lord Edward, the king's son, who is entering the fourteenth year of his life on this day". On his sixteenth birthday in 1300, 500 people were fed plus 1700 for the year of Edward's life.

For more random facts on Edward II, see my post from a year ago, and see here for more on his character and hobbies.

05 January, 2008

Happy New Year 2008

Happy New Year! Hope you all had a great festive season. I'll write a proper post as soon as I get my life organised, but in the meantime, here's a short one...

First of all, a belated "Thank You!" to Carla Nayland for giving me a 'Roar for Powerful Words' blog award. *Is very pleased and honoured*.

Here's an interesting article in The Times about Edward II's tomb.

Kevin Bradford has set up a great blog on the Plantagenet dynasty, which looks like a really helpful resource. Also, thanks to Kevin for his intelligent and thought-provoking comments here on the blog, and I'm looking forward to continuing our discussions.

I was very happy to receive an email from Tony Pratt, honorary historian of the Lackham Museum of Agriculture and Rural Life Trust, who's researching the medieval Bluet family and is also interested in the Gascelyn family, including Edmund Gascelyn, their home Sheldon Manor, and the town of Chippenham in Wiltshire. Edmund Gascelyn was a member of the Dunheved gang, and I'm delighted that someone else is taking an interest in him!

I've been reading Eleanor Herman's gossipy and extremely readable Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics. Who can resist a title like that? Great stuff, except for her comment that Queen Isabella "had known only the smooth girlish hands of Edward [II] on her..." Pffft! Would a man who dug ditches, built walls, thatched roofs and went rowing have smooth girlish hands? I think not. Should have done more research, Ms Herman.

I also giggled at her depiction of Isabella and Roger Mortimer's affair: "And now this heated warrior took her, roughly at first, then tenderly. And he never, ever, imagined she was a man." Unlike poor Edward II, who "must have fantasized that he was actually making love to Piers Gaveston." She does describe Mortimer, though, as the "heterosexual version of the Despensers. Greedy, arrogant, and ambitious, he too confiscated estates from their rightful owners." Ah well, these heated warriors with their rough and tender lovemaking, they can't help grabbing an estate or two dozen.

Despite the above comments, I do actually recommend the book! It's wildly entertaining and enormous fun.

EDIT: just noticed a bit where Herman says that Edward II "allowed her [Isabella] to rule England for him" and in 1321, Isabella "had ruled a nation for almost a decade". That's so, sooo not the case. Edward II didn't give Isabella any political power, and she certainly wasn't ruling the country!

I've also just started Nancy Goldstone's Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe, about Edward II's grandmother Eleanor of Provence, and his great-aunts Marguerite, queen of France, Sanchia, queen of the Romans (Germany), and Beatrice, queen of Sicily. A most enjoyable and informative read.

2008 will be a busy year on the blog, as we're hitting a lot of the 700th anniversaries of Edward II's life and reign: his wedding to Isabella, his coronation, Piers Gaveston's second exile, the start of Edward's deadly conflict with his cousin Thomas of Lancaster, and many more!