16 April, 2008

Edward II is Extraordinarily Exasperating, and Intensely Annoyed

Rather a hotch-potch of a post today, but I was just thinking recently how even seemingly dry and dull letters and other primary sources of the fourteenth century can give us an insight into Edward II's character, attitudes and knowledge. Here are some examples...

Edward asked Robert Winchelsey, archbishop of Canterbury, to meet him at Westminster in late February 1310, to discuss a letter the Pope had recently sent him. Winchelsey duly arrived for the meeting, which Edward promptly postponed until 15 March. The day came and went, and Edward failed to summon Winchelsey to him for the meeting. Forced to hang around at Westminster waiting for Edward's summons, Winchelsey sent a messenger to the king, asking him for another appointment to discuss the letter. Edward sent his confessor John de Lenham to tell the archbishop that he needed more time to think about it. Finally, at the end of March, he sent word to Winchelsey that he would write to the Pope directly, and had no need to meet the archbishop after all. [Source: Winchelsey's Register]

Edward had kept Winchelsey hanging around fruitlessly at Westminster for an entire month. I bet the good archbishop muttered a few ungodly curses under his breath at his exasperating monarch.

In a letter to Philippe IV of France on 3 August 1309, Edward showed his intense annoyance with his father-in-law. Edward I and Edward II refused to acknowledge Robert Bruce as king of Scots (Popes Clement V and John XXII didn't either), but one of Philippe's messengers showed Edward letters in which Philippe referred to Bruce as 'king of Scots' in letters to Bruce himself, but as 'earl of Carrick' - Bruce's previous title - in letters to Edward.

Edward's letters to Philippe usually begin along the lines of "To the most excellent and most puissant prince, the noble king of France, our very dear and beloved lord and father, greetings and very dear affection". This one, about Philippe's letters to Bruce, opens abruptly with "To the king of France, greetings." (Al Roy de France, saluz). Quite a difference! Rather snippily, Edward tells his father-in-law "Regarding this matter, sire, kindly have regard for the honour of yourself and us." His letters to Philippe usually close with something like "very dear sire and father, may our lord grant you a good and long life", but this one contains no closing line at all. Edward couldn't express his displeasure with Philippe as directly as he would have liked, but all the same, his annoyance is as obvious as if he'd screamed it from the rooftops. [Source: Foedera]

For all his irritation with the French king, however, Edward himself was not averse to offering to acknowledge Bruce as king of Scots, when it served Piers Gaveston's interests. And in October 1311, Edward wrote to Philippe after Piers had been ordered into exile for the third time, asking for his support. This letter, not at all surprisingly, opens with flowery declarations of Philippe's all-round wonderfulness and Edward's great and undying affection for his beloved father. Hehehe. [Foedera]

On 11 June 1312, Edward sent Philippe a letter, declaring, amusingly, that he was "grievously annoyed by his subjects". Not, however, as annoyed as he would be a few days later, when the earls of Lancaster, Warwick, Hereford and Arundel killed Piers Gaveston. And probably not half as grievously annoyed as his subjects were with him. [Foedera]

On 16 October 1307, Edward sent a letter to the ruler of the Tartars, calling him "the most excellent prince, Dolgietus, illustrious king of the Tartars". Six weeks later, however, when he sent another letter, the ruler was upgraded to 'emperor' and not named: "To the most serene prince, the most puissant lord, emperor of the Tartars". Apparently, Edward and his advisers were uncertain of the current political situation in distant Tartary - not unreasonably. At the same time, he sent a letter to the king of Armenia, and although said king is called Edward's "dearest friend" (amico suo karissimo), he isn't named either. This is probably because King Leo and his predecessor and regent Hetoum were murdered in August 1307, and no-one at Edward's court knew who their successor was. (It was Oshin.)

(Google brings up zero results for 'Dolgietus', except this post, presumably.)

When it came to Castilian politics, however, Edward was on much firmer ground. His cousin Fernando IV died in 1312, and was succeeded by his baby son Alfonso XI. For the next few years, a variety of regents battled it out for control of the kingdom, including doña María de Molina, don Pedro, don Juan, don Felipe, don Juan Manuel, don Juan el Tuerto, and doña María Díaz de Haro. All of these people were close relatives of Edward, one way or another, and his letters to Castile show a good knowledge of their relationships, positions and titles, and who was in power at any one time.

On 6 February 1325, Edward sent a letter to doña María Díaz de Haro, Lady of Biscay, who was his second cousin and the widow of his first cousin don Juan, regarding the planned marriage of his daughter Eleanor of Woodstock to Alfonso XI. The letter states:

"The king is cognisant of her good will towards him and that she is prepared to further the king's honour, as experience of the past has shown...He [Edward] rejoices greatly at the clinging together of such progeny sprung from his and her common stock, whilst they applaud each other with mutual honours and cherish each other with mutual counsel and aid." [Close Rolls]

It's the Edward II and Lady of Biscay Mutual Appreciation Society!


Susan Higginbotham said...

Love it, especially that last one! (Sounds like a bad Victorian novel with that progeny clinging together.)

Gabriele Campbell said...

Lol, Ed's always good for a grin. He reminds me a bit of an ex-boss who used to dictate really irate letters he later edited into a more polite version. My coworker hated those days while I loved typing the angry stuff, it was a lot of fun. Once he said, "and he can li... well, wash my behind," and I couldn't resist commenting, "he'd lick it gladly enough if that got him the job." At which point the boss burst into laughter and went on to dictate a civilised letter that nonetheless told the recipient he would not get the position.

Out of curiosity, what sort of dealings die Edward have with the Tartars?

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Susan. (I'm not sure whether to go 'aww!' or 'eww!' at that 'clinging together of progeny' bit!)

Gabriele: bless him, he's far more entertaining than most kings. ;)

Those 2 letters to the Tartars are the only ones I've found. The first one tells Dolgietus that Ed is happy to learn of Dolgietus' measures for peace - with whom, I'm not sure. In the second one, Ed recommends the bishop of Lidda to help the emperor with 'extirpating the (sordid, detestable, profane) sect of the Mahometans'!

Gabriele Campbell said...

Well, maybe he was afraid the barons would send Piers into exile among the Tartars and wanted to be on good terms with them. :)

Jules Frusher said...

That line of progeny clinging together put me strangely in mind of frog-spawn! Ewwwwww!

I can so just imagine Ed being very, very annoyed and the scribes sitting there wondering whether they can leave out the swear words and put something more diplomatic instead hehe!

Anonymous said...

Alianore and Gabriele:

The name Dolgietus is probably a Latinized version of the original Mongol name, for Western European people to be able to spell and pronounce it. The real name is Oljeitu (with several variants of spelling), also known as Muhammad Khodabandeh (1280-1316), of the Persian Ilkhanid dinasty. He wrote letters to King Philippe of France and Edward I of England in 1305 asking for their support against the Mamluks.

This is an excerpt from the letter (French National Archives):

« Maintenant Timour Khagan, Tchapar, Toctoga, Togba et nous, principaux descendants de Tchinguiz-Khaqan, nous tous, aisés et cadets, nous sommes réconciliés par l'inspiration et avec l'aide de Dieu; en sorte que depuis le pays des Nangkiyan (la Chine) à l'Orient, jusqu'au lac de Dala, nos peuples sont unis et les chemins sont ouverts. »

There was talk in Europe about starting another crusade for this reason, but it came to nothing.

Maybe this is why Edward II wrote a letter to the Persian ruler.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and you can find more about it here:

Sorry, I couldn't enter it as a proper link.

Kathryn Warner said...

Lady D: yeah, the original draft of the letter would be interesting to read. ;)

Thanks, Elflady - I was wondering who Dolgietus could be. Ed's first letter opens with an acknowledgement of the letters sent by Dolgietus/Oljeitu, which I suppose were the ones about the Mamluks.

Anonymous said...

You girls have so much knowledge I am awestruck. The only thing I have to say about Ed II and his moods is that he sounds like my petulant pre-teen son!

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: I can just see Piers introducing fashionable jousting clothes to the Tartars. ;)

Kate: LOL! You're right though - in some ways, Ed never grew up!

Carla said...

Now I wonder how much the scribes wrote exactly to dictation and how much they modified/smoothed over/edited/improved.

And, yes, you will be pleased to know that Google has found and indexed your post, which is indeed the only one on 'Dolgietus'. Google-whackers, please note :-)

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla: I'd imagine the scribes made Ed's letters a lot more diplomatic than he intended. ;)

Yes, I noticed that Google has indeed found the post and it's now the only result! (After I'd posted this, I couldn't resist checking, and Google found it within minutes of posting. ;)