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!


Carla said...

Those are wonderful portraits!

'Thloyt' for Llywd - I suppose that's similar to Shakespeare spelling Llewelyn as 'Fluellen'?

I wonder what effect never staying more than a few nights in the same place had on young children? It might have been both exciting and unsettling, though at least most of the people around them would have been the same.

Kathryn Warner said...

Haha, I'd forgotten about Fluellen. Same principle, I suppose!

There probably wasn't too much difference for the children, as medieval households usually took all their possessions with them, even beds! The constant travelling must have been a pain, but I suppose if you grow up with it, it was just normal.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that losing Alfonso must have been a particularly terrible shock for Eleanor since she had her heart buried with him when she died.

I wish I could have visited Alfonso's tomb. I need a time machine!

Kathryn Warner said...

Alison: yes, it implies that she was closer to Alfonso than her other children, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Love the portrait of EdII. Mark has made him look slightly rough, mildly petulant, and very handsome! I love his mouth. So moody. Thanks Alianore for the link, and thanks Mark for your amazing talent for us all to enjoy.

Gabriele Campbell said...

That pic of Ed is gorgeous indeed.

And it looks like it takes the attention away from the rest of your post. Damn drooling fangirls. :)

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: It's OK - anything that makes people drool over Ed II is fine by me. :)