24 June, 2008


Today is the 694th anniversary of the second day of the battle of Bannockburn, fought near Stirling Castle on 23 and 24 June 1314. I don't have a lot to say on the battle itself - my brain is incapable of understanding military tactics and battles, and besides, there are lots of books and websites about it - so here are some lesser-known facts about the event.

Edward mustered a great army at Berwick, of between 15,000 and 20,000 men. It wasn't entirely an English army - there were archers from Wales, Irish soldiers, and knights from all over Europe. Some of Robert Bruce's Scottish enemies fought for Edward II too, including the young John Comyn, whose father John the Red Comyn had been stabbed to death by Robert Bruce in 1306. Comyn was killed. It's not clear if the earl of Ulster fought at Bannockburn, but he was with Edward II a month before the battle when Edward was mustering his army. Ulster was in a dificult position, as the father-in-law of Bruce, but also of Edward's nephew the earl of Gloucester.

Only three of Edward's earls fought for him at Bannockburn - his brother-in-law Hereford, who had drawn close to the king since his presence at Piers Gaveston's death, his nephew Gloucester, and his cousin Pembroke. Gloucester was killed, as he forgot to put on the surcoat identifying him as an earl. If the Scottish soldiers had known who he was, they would have captured him for ransom. Robert Bruce treated Gloucester's body with the utmost respect, and personally kept an overnight vigil over it. Although the men had never met (as far as I know), they were second cousins - Bruce's grandmother was a de Clare - and were married to sisters, Elizabeth and Maud de Burgh. Bruce sent Gloucester's body back to England with full honours and without demanding payment, as he had every right to do.

Many English barons fought for Edward II, however: Roger Mortimer, twenty-seven, and his uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk, in his late fifties and a veteran of Edward I's Welsh wars of the late 1270s and early 1280s. Thomas, Lord Berkeley, who was almost seventy (he was born in 1245), his son Maurice, grandsons Thomas and Maurice, and grandson-in-law John Maltravers - yes, the Thomas Berkeley and John Maltravers of 1327 - Edward's French cousin Henry Beaumont, Hugh Despenser the Elder and Younger, Robert Clifford (who had besieged Piers Gaveston at Scarborough Castle in 1312), and Edward's steward Edmund Mauley, were some of the others. Clifford and Mauley were killed, the earls of Hereford and Angus taken prisoner.

Edward marched into Scotland with a baggage train that stretched back twenty leagues, including jewellery, napery, costly plate, and ecclesiastical vestments for celebrating the victory. He also ordered ships to Edinburgh with more things, and the personal possessions of the earl of Hereford alone required an entire ship. Edward, and others, acted as though all they had to do was turn up and they would win. This, of course, was a horrible mistake. The Lanercost Chronicle says that Edward marched with great pomp and elaborate state, purveying goods from monasteries as he passed, and, oddly, that he "did and said things to the prejudice and injury of the saints."

For all Edward's incompetence as a general, his personal courage in the battle is beyond question, and the chronicler Trokelowe says that he fought like a lion. At one point, his horse was killed beneath him, and Scottish soldiers rushed forward to capture him. Edward’s knights surrounded him, beating them off, and Edward managed to mount another horse, from the many running around the battlefield. Again, Scottish soldiers pressed forward to try to capture him, grabbing hold of his horse’s trappings. Edward "struck out so vigorously behind him with his mace there was none whom he touched that he did not fell to the ground" according to the Scalacronica of Sir Thomas Gray, whose father was captured at the battle.

After some hours, the ground wet with blood, dead bodies of horses and men underfoot, the earl of Pembroke realised the battle was lost. He grabbed Edward's reins and dragged, him, protesting, from the field. 500 knights, including Henry Beaumont and the younger Despenser, surrounded him, their only thought: protect the king. Philip Mowbray, the constable of Stirling Castle (Scottish but on Edward's side) refused to let them enter, sensibly, as Edward would be trapped there, surrounded by the Scottish army. All they could do was gallop the fifty miles to Dunbar, which must have taken many hours. Bruce's friend Sir James Douglas followed them all the way, picking off stragglers, so close that it was said the men had no time even to stop and pass water.

Edward and his men reached Dunbar, where his ally Patrick, earl of Dunbar, opened up the castle drawbridge for them. Edward and his knights jumped off their horses, leaving them outside, and ran inside the castle. Earl Patrick found a fishing boat, and Edward made his way to Bamburgh with a handful of attendants. From there, he made his way to Berwick overland. His remaining knights were forced to ride to Berwick, with James Douglas and his men close behind them, shedding their armour to speed their way. Edward was incredibly lucky to escape capture by Douglas, and in gratitude, founded Oriel College at Oxford some years later, according to Geoffrey le Baker.

And so the king returned to Berwick not at the head of a victorious army, but in flight, forced to travel by fishing boat. Queen Isabella supported Edward with her usual loyalty, and lent him her seal so that government business could continue, Edward's having been lost on the battlefield (Bruce returned it). She tended to his wounds herself, and even cleaned his armour.

The Vita says this about the defeat of Bannockburn: "O day of vengeance and disaster, day of utter loss and shame, evil and accursed day, not to be reckoned in our calendar; that blemished the reputation of the English."

As utterly humiliating as Edward's flight from the battlefield was, it was infinitely preferable to the two alternatives, his capture or his death. Being captured would have meant a cripplingly huge ransom, and the commentators who castigate him for his lack of military ability and cowardice would instead castigate him for his lack of military ability and his reckless stupidity. In fact, accusations of cowardice are grossly unfair, as even men who had no reason to like Edward admitted his bravery during the battle.

Edward's death in battle would have brought his nineteen-month-old son to the throne, which meant a regency of many years standing. And as events were shortly to prove, the men who replaced Edward in power were not one whit more competent than he was. A regency would have meant struggles for power, jockeying for position, while Bruce took advantage of the chaos.

Still, for the king of England, galloping away in ignominious flight from a battle he fully expected to win, the realisation that he had at least spared his country a crippling ransom or the perils of a long regency was probably no consolation whatsoever.

19 June, 2008

The Death of Piers Gaveston

Today is the 696th anniversary of the death of Piers Gaveston, run through with a sword and beheaded at Blacklow Hill, Warwickshire, on 19 June 1312.

The story of Piers' death - abducted from the earl of Pembroke's custody by the earl of Warwick and killed in the presence of the earls of Lancaster, Hereford and Arundel - has been told so often I'm not going to bother repeating it here. Instead, I'll look at some lesser-known aspects of the whole sordid business.

According to the Vita Edwardi Secundi, Piers is meant to have said before being killed:

"Oh! Where are the presents that bought me so many intimate friends, and with which I thought to have sufficient power? Where are my friends, in whom was my trust, the protection of my body, and my whole hope of safety; whose lusty youth, unbeaten valour, and courage was always aflame for hard tasks? They had promised to stand by me in war, to suffer imprisonment, and not to shun death. Indeed my pride, the arrogance that one single promise of theirs has nourished, the king’s favour and the king’s court, have brought me to this sorry plight. I have no help, every remedy is in vain, let the will of the earls be done."

To me, this sounds far more like something the author – who strongly disapproved of Piers – thinks he should have said, rather than anything the courageous and bitingly witty Gascon really would say. Except possibly the ‘lusty youth’ part.

On the day of Piers' death, Edward II was at Burstwick near Hull with Queen Isabella, who was about four months pregnant. The king and queen stayed at Burstwick until 21 June, and were in Beverley on the 22nd, Pocklington on the 23rd, and York on the 24th. It is not known when Edward heard the news of Piers' death, or which poor messenger had the unfortunate task of telling him. I'd imagine that the earl of Pembroke sent the message, rather than the earls present at Piers' death ("Dear Ned, we've killed your best friend. Hope you're well. Love, Tom, Guy, Humph and Edmund.")

Warwick to York/Beverley is around 150 miles, a journey a fast rider could have made in three, or maybe only two days (given that the hours of daylight are extremely long in June, when it's light by 4am and still light enough to ride at 10.30 or 11pm).

The fact that Isabella was with Edward when he received the news has been missed by almost every writer on the subject (but is certainly true, as a quick glance at The Itinerary of Edward II and The Household Book of Queen Isabella proves). The queen's reaction is not recorded, but whatever her private feelings might have been, it is unthinkable that she would have gloated to Edward about the death, and we can probably assume that she did her best to comfort him, and expressed her sympathy and support. If nothing else, she was clever enough to know that Edward would never forgive her if she openly demonstrated any pleasure at the killing of his beloved. It goes without saying that she had nothing whatsoever to do with Piers' death.

As for Edward, from his later actions it is clear that his primary reaction to Piers' murder was utter rage. His grief at the loss of his beloved must have been shattering. He had loved Piers for at least twelve years, and been emotionally reliant on him to an extraordinary degree. Losing him must have been like losing part of himself.

Not that you'd guess it from his first words on the subject, which, according to the ever-useful Vita, were:

"By God’s soul, he acted as a fool. If he had taken my advice he would never have fallen into the hands of the earls. This is what I always told him not to do. For I guessed that what has now happened would occur. What was he doing with the earl of Warwick, who was known never to have liked him? I knew for certain that if the earl caught him, Piers would never escape from his hands."

('By God's soul' was Edward's favourite oath.)

This is such an odd thing for Edward to say, it rings true. I can only imagine that shock and grief do not lend themselves to eloquence, or that he managed to control his emotions in public for once, however much he mourned and raged and howled in public.

The Vita goes on to say, with notable compassion for a man who wasn't a great fan of Edward II, "when this light utterance of the king was made public it moved many to derision. But I am certain the king grieved for Piers as a father grieves for his son. For the greater the love, the greater the sorrow." That Edward loved Piers as a son is stated again in the Vita: "they put to death a great earl whom the king had adopted as brother, whom the king cherished as a son, whom the king regarded as friend and ally." I think it's safe to say that whatever Edward II felt for Piers, it wasn't paternal, but then, the author of the Vita could hardly write 'whom the king loved as his lover...'

Edward swore revenge on the men responsible. At first, he mostly blamed the earl of Warwick, and the Vita says that Edward swore either to have Warwick's head, or to banish him from the kingdom. Later on, though, the earl of Lancaster became the main focus for Edward's rage and need for revenge. Oddly, Edward did not blame the earl of Arundel, who was certainly present when Piers was killed. In October 1313, Edward finally pardoned everyone involved in "all causes of anger, indignation, suits, accusations etc arisen in any manner on account of Piers Gaveston..." Over 350 men were pardoned (all the names are listed in the Patent Rolls and Foedera), but Arundel was not one of them. Maybe Arundel spoke up for Piers, or tried to save him - or at least, persuaded Edward that he did.

Edward left York on 28 June and travelled to London, via Lincolnshire. He left Queen Isabella behind, probably to keep his pregnant wife out of the way of danger - for a while, it seemed as though the country would slide into war. The day after Edward left York, Isabella sent him a letter, the contents of which are unknown, unfortunately. In late July, Edward sent Isabella an escort to bring her south, but she had to travel very slowly because of her pregnancy, and didn't reach London until 9 September. A few days later, she and Edward retired to Windsor Castle and spent most of the next eight months there together. Two chronicles, the Vita and Trokelowe, say that Edward's joy at the birth of his son on 13 November went some way to assuaging his terrible grief.

Many people in England rejoiced at the death of the flamboyant favourite. A contemporary song reads:

"Celebrate, my tongue, the death of Piers who disturbed England,
Whom the king in his love placed all over Cornwall
Hence in his pride he would be called earl and not Piers…
Now he no longer behaves himself as an earl, or a king;
The unworthy man, worthy of death, undergoes the death he merits…
Glory be to the Creator! Glory be to the earls
Who have made Piers die with his charms!
Henceforth may there be peace and rejoicing throughout England!"

And according to the Vita:

"When Piers had met his end, and the voice of the people had dinned his death into the ears of all, the country rejoiced, and all its inhabitants were glad. I may assert with confidence that the death of one man, unless he had been a burden upon the state, had never before been acceptable to so many. The land rejoices, its inhabitants rejoice that they have found peace in Piers' death..."

To say that 'all the inhabitants' rejoiced is an exaggeration. Many did, but others were horrified at the earls’ brutal act and the violent illegality of it, and a groundswell of sympathy for the king swept the country. Piers' death strengthened Edward’s position, especially as the earls of Surrey and Pembroke came back to his side, appalled by the murder. Edward did not blame Pembroke for his role in the death of his friend; several months later, he gave his cousin some of Piers' falcons. The reaction of Piers' widow Margaret de Clare is, inevitably, not recorded, but she and Edward paid for two clerks to watch over his embalmed body, which was dressed in cloth-of-gold.

On 3 January 1315, Edward finally buried Piers. At the time of his death, Piers could not be buried, as he died excommunicate. This must have been lifted, which probably happened in September 1312, when Piers' elder brother Arnaud-Guillaume de Marsan visited Pope Clement V at Avignon. (Arnaud-Guillaume was Piers' full brother, but used the name of their mother, Claramonde de Marsan.)

However, Edward still waited more than two years to bury his friend, partly because (I assume) he couldn't bear to commit the body to the ground, but also because he had sworn "first to avenge Piers, and then consign his body to the grave", according to the Vita.

Revenge would have to wait a while longer. But Edward never forgot his promise. In September 1319, during the siege of Berwick, he said "When this wretched business is over, we will turn our hands to other matters. For I have not forgotten the wrong that was done to my brother Piers." Ominous words, and in March 1322, three months short of ten years after Piers' death, he finally had the earl of Lancaster beheaded.

Piers Gaveston was about twenty-nine or thirty when he died, father of a five-month-old daughter and, apparently, an illegitimate daughter, age unknown. So many centuries later, it's hard to see exactly what he did that merited death. But the murder of this flamboyant, charismatic, handsome and aggravating young man on 19 June 1312 was to have the most profound impact on political events for the rest of Edward II's reign.

14 June, 2008

Sisters of Edward II (5): Elizabeth

Elizabeth, the fourteenth or fifteenth child of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, and the fifth to survive childhood, was born at Rhuddlan in North Wales sometime in August 1282. She was three and half years younger than her closest sibling, Mary, and just twenty months older than Edward II. The name Elizabeth was unknown in the royal family before her birth, none of her relatives bore the name, and evidently Edward and Eleanor chose the name just because they liked it - very unusual!

Elizabeth was present at Caernarfon when her brother Edward was born in April 1284. The siblings spent much time together in childhood, sharing a household and attendants, and travelled everywhere together. In 1290, when Elizabeth and Edward were eight and six respectively, she gave him a silver cup (on what occasion, I don't know).

In April 1285, Elizabeth, aged two years and eight months, was betrothed to Jan, son and heir of Count Floris V of Holland. Jan was born sometime in 1284, so was a little younger than Elizabeth, and a baby at the time of his betrothal. Jan was sent to live in England at some point, in the late 1280s or beginning of the 1290s, and presumably was a companion of Edward of Caernarfon, who was the same age. His father was murdered in June 1296, and Jan, aged eleven or twelve, succeeded as Count Jan I of Holland. He returned to his homeland, leaving his fiancée behind in England.

Jan returned to England in early 1297 to marry Elizabeth, and their wedding took place in Ipawich on 18 January 1297. Elizabeth was fourteen and a half, Jan twelve. Her brother Edward, also twelve, gave them a gold cup as a wedding gift. Jan returned to Holland ten days after the wedding, but Elizabeth refused to leave England - taking a leaf out of her sister Margaret's book, as she had refused to depart for Brabant with her husband in 1294. Margaret sailed with her brother-in-law to finally join her husband Duke Jan II in Brussels, after more than two and a half years apart.

It was probably on this occasion that Edward I, sick of his daughters' wilfulness - two who refused to travel abroad with their husbands, and, soon after, another who married a squire without the king's consent - tore the jewelled coronet from Elizabeth's head and threw it on the fire. It was hurriedly retrieved, and Edward paid for the stones to be replaced. Elizabeth must have looked pretty spectacular at her wedding anyway - thirty-five tailors worked for four days and four nights to make her gown.

Elizabeth spent the next few months with her brother Edward, mostly at Windsor and Langley, and received a visit from her sister Mary in July. She finally departed for Holland on 23 August 1297, accompanying her father on one of his numerous military campaigns. Thirteen-year-old Edward remained behind as the (nominal) regent of England in their father's absence. Elizabeth was still in no rush to join her youthful husband, however, and stayed with her father until Christmas 1297.

Little is know about Elizabeth's life as countess of Holland and Zealand and lady of Friesland, except that she mostly lived in the Hague. Her husband was, of course, too young to rule in his own right, and died on 10 November 1299 at the age of fifteen. He was always a sickly boy, and given his ill health and his youth, it's quite probable that their marriage was never consummated.

Elizabeth was a widow at seventeen, and returned to England in 1300, visiting her sister Margaret in Brabant on the way. She travelled to Cawood in Yorkshire in August, to meet her stepmother Queen Marguerite, who had recently given birth to Elizabeth's half-brother Thomas of Brotherton. Marguerite had married Edward I the previous September, and the two women were around the same age. Elizabeth must also have seen her brother Edward, who sent her a sorrel horse for Christmas/New Year 1300/1301.

On 14 November 1302, at Westminster Abbey, twenty-year-old Elizabeth married Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex, who was about twenty-six. This would prove to be a very fruitful union: Elizabeth bore ten children in thirteen and a half years.

Fortunately for posterity, Edward of Caernarfon's letters for 1304 and 1305 happen to survive - over 700 of them. He sent six to Elizabeth, and wrote another four concerning her affairs, addressing her as 'very dear sister' (treschere soer) which was merely conventional, and also as 'fair sister' (bele soer), which wasn't. In 1304, Edward sent Elizabeth two 'beautiful mares' from his stud, and their foals. Around this time, he also asked Elizabeth to send him her white greyhound bitch to mate with Edward's greyhound, as 'we greatly wish to have puppies from them'.

The following year, Edward asked her to ask Queen Marguerite to intercede with their father to return Piers Gaveston and Gilbert de Clare to him; along with most of the rest of his household, they had been ordered away from him at the orders of his father, with whom he had quarrelled passionately.

Elizabeth, as is usually the case with women, especially married ones, mostly disappears from the records after the early 1300s. In February 1308, she was present at Dover to welcome her brother and new sister-in-law Isabella to England after their wedding, and presumably attended their coronation a few weeks later. In June 1312, her husband Hereford was present at Piers Gaveston's murder. How Elizabeth felt about her husband's role in the death of her brother's great love can only be surmised. What kind of relationship she had with her brother after his accession, what she thought about his infatuation with Piers and the terrible conflict it caused, can only be surmised. Considering she was the sister closest to him in age, and had been his companion for much of their childhood, it's a real shame that we don't know more about their relationship as adults.

Elizabeth, as dowager countess of Holland, was entitled to a large dower, which should have been paid by Jan I's successors - his father's cousin Jan II and Jan II's son Willem III (father of Philippa of Hainault, who married Edward III). They proved most reluctant to pay it, and Edward II spent years chasing it up. As late as July 1315, nearly sixteen years after Jan I's death, a frustrated Edward was still sending letters to Willem, asking for his sister's rights, invoking Willem's sister Alicia, widow of the earl of Norfolk. The letters say, in effect, "You wouldn't like it if I withheld your sister's dower, so why are you withholding my sister's?"

Elizabeth died on 5 May 1316, at the age of thirty-three, shortly after giving birth to her tenth and youngest child Isabel, who also died. Her Wikipedia page says, oddly, "During Christmas 1315 Elizabeth, who was pregnant with her 10th child, was visited by her sister-in-law Isabella of France. This was a great honour, but the stress of it may have caused unknown health problems that later contributed to Elizabeth's death in childbirth." I really doubt that. Giving birth in the Middle Ages was somewhat akin to playing Russian roulette, and there's no need to blame poor Isabella for Elizabeth's death!

Elizabeth's children:

- Margaret, born late September 1303, died before 1 February 1304.

- Eleanor, countess of Ormond, born 17 October 1304, died 7 October 1363. Married James Butler and Thomas Dagworth, two sons and two daughters (and a son who died young).

- Humphrey, born about 20 October 1305, died 28 October 1305.

- John, earl of Hereford, born 23 November 1306, died 20 January 1336, married the earl of Arundel's daughter Alice in 1325 and Margaret Basset in 1331, died childless.

- Humphrey, earl of Hereford, born 6 December 1309, died 15 October 1361, unmarried and childless.

- Margaret, countess of Devon, born 3 April 1311, died 16 December 1391, married Hugh Courtenay and had about 94 children. (OK, about seventeen.) Margaret was the last-surviving grandchild of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile.

- William, earl of Northampton, born 1312 or 1313, died 16 September 1360. Married Elizabeth Badlesmere, widow of Roger Mortimer's son Edmund, and had one son and one daughter. His son Humphrey (1342-1372) succeeded his uncle Humphrey as earl of Hereford and Essex and his father as earl of Northampton, and was the half-brother of Roger Mortimer, second earl of March (1328-1360).

- Edward, born 1312 or 1313 (twin of William), married Margaret Ros, drowned on campaign in Soctland in 1334 while trying to rescue a drowning man-at-arms, died childless.

- Aeneas, born 1314 or 1315, oddly named and oddly obscure, still alive at his father's death in 1322, died before 20 September 1331.

- Isabel, born 5 May 1316, and died that day or shortly after.

07 June, 2008

Sisters of Edward II (4): Mary

Mary was the twelfth or thirteenth child of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, and the fourth to survive childhood. She was born at Woodstock on 11 or 12 March 1279, fourteen months after her closest sibling, a girl whose name name is unknown, born in January 1278 and died soon after, and three years younger than Berengaria, born May 1276 and died June 1278 (Edward I and Eleanor lost two daughters in 1278). After Mary's birth, however, Eleanor of Castile had a well-deserved break from her almost yearly pregnancies, and there was a gap of three and a half years to the next child, Elizabeth. (There's a theory, which I don't believe, that Eleanor gave birth to a son in 1280 or 1281.) In the ten years between June 1269 and March 1279, Edward I and Queen Eleanor had eight children, of whom only one (Alfonso) was male.

Mary's grandmother Jeanne de Dammartin, countess of Ponthieu and dowager queen of Castile and Leon, died five days after her birth. In 1285, her other grandmother Eleanor of Provence, widow of Henry III, retired to the priory of Amesbury in Wiltshire, and decided to take two of her granddaughters with her for company. One was Mary; the other was Eleanor of Brittany, daughter of Edward I's sister Beatrice and Duke John II of Brittany, and sister of Arthur, duke of Brittany and John, earl of Richmond. Young Eleanor later became abbess of Fontevrault, the mother house of Amesbury. Unfortunately, Mary had no vocation whatsoever, and her mother Eleanor of Castile was most reluctant for her to become a nun. However, Eleanor of Provence prevailed.

Mary went to live at Amesbury in 1285, and was veiled as a nun in late 1291, aged twelve, in the presence of her father and siblings, including seven-year-old Edward of Caernarfon. For most of her life, Mary spent almost as much time away from Amesbury priory as she spent in it, visiting family, the courts of her father and brother, and going on pilgrimage. This was tolerated by the abbess, because of Mary's high birth - as daughter and sister of kings, she could wield a great deal of influence. Her father granted her an income of £100 a year, later raised to £200.

Mary lived the life of a great lady, not that of a nun. She had private rooms at Amesbury, with a magnificent bed hung with velvet and tapestry, and sheets of linen. On one occasion, her father sent her over two hundred ells of fine cloth via the bishop of Chester, and at another time, two thousand stock-fish. Mary travelled to court with damsels, attendants, and between twenty-four and thirty horses and grooms for them. Her father and brother often paid her gambling debts. She also owned hunting dogs.

Mary had a strong sense of family. In a period of just over three months in 1305, she visited her little half-brothers Thomas and Edmund (sons of Edward I and Marguerite of France, twenty-one and twenty-two years her junior) no fewer than eleven times, staying for up to five days each time. On at least one occasion, her brother Edward of Caernarfon accompanied her. Mary also had the chance to enjoy the company of many of her female relatives at Amesbury. Her niece Joan de Monthermer, Joan of Acre's daughter, and her cousin Isabel, daughter of Henry of Lancaster, were also veiled as nuns at Amesbury (Isabel of Lancaster later became the abbess). In addition, some royal girls not destined to become nuns grew up at Amesbury: Mary's little half-sister Eleanor, who died in 1311 at the age of five, her niece Eleanor de Bohun, daughter of her sister Elizabeth, and her great-niece Joan Gaveston, Joan of Acre's granddaughter. (It's also possible that other royal girls grew up at Amesbury, but evidence is lacking). Mary seems to have been especially close to her niece Elizabeth de Clare, another daughter of Joan of Acre. In late 1316 or early 1317, Elizabeth retired to Amesbury and gave birth to her daughter Isabella de Verdon there. A few weeks later, Mary, Elizabeth and Isabel of Lancaster went on pilgrimage to Canterbury together.

There is much evidence of great affection between Mary and her brother Edward II, five years her junior, and they visited each other often in childhood and adolescence. In 1304, Edward sent Mary a gift of a greyhound - evidently his favourite breed of dog - and in 1307, she sent him a falcon. A nice letter of Edward's survives from 1304, where he apologises to Mary for not sending gifts of several tuns of wine and an organ to her as promised, but the only wine his agents could find to buy was not of sufficiently high quality, and the organ had arrived broken and he was sending it for repair. In 1305, when Edward quarrelled with his father and had his income cut drastically, Mary invited him to stay with her - though unlike her feistier elder sister Joan of Acre, she made sure she got their father's permission first.

After Edward's accession in 1307, Mary continued to visit court often, with her numerous attendants. He often sent her gifts, too; in 1318, he bought expensive Lucca cloth for three people, himself, his current favourite Roger Damory, and Mary. For New Year 1317, he sent her a ring worth ten pounds (and also sent rings to his nieces Margaret and Elizabeth de Clare, his great-niece Joan Gaveston, and his sons Edward and John - rather oddly in the last case, as John was only a few months old).

Queen Isabella corresponded with Mary fairly often, and in 1316, they went on pilgrimage to Canterbury together, offering cloth of gold, saffron and other spices at the shrine. Edward II paid all the expenses of his wife and sister. Edward took a keen interest in Mary's welfare, and paid her expenses when she came to visit him. For example: in January 1313 he ordered the sheriff of Wiltshire to pay her twelve pounds, seven shillings and sixpence "which the king owes her for hay, oats, litter, farriery, and the wages of her grooms" when she stayed with him at Windsor the previous Christmas. He also granted her the manor of Ludgershall (not sure whether that's the Wiltshire one or the Buckinghamshire one) and sent her ten tuns of wine (9540 litres, or about 2510 US gallons) every year.

The only letter I've been able to find from Mary to Edward concerns the election of a new abbess of Amesbury, and begins "To the very high and noble prince, her dearest lord and brother, my lord Edward, by the grace of God king of England, his sister Mary wishes health, and all manner of honour and reverence." It ends "May Jesus Christ grant you a long life, my very dear brother."

Mary, the great lady forced to live as a nun, died at Amesbury on 29 May 1332 at the age of fifty-three, and was buried there. In 1344, John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, renewing his long-term efforts to divorce Jeanne de Bar, his wife of the last thirty-eight years, claimed to have had an affair with Mary before his marriage - his wife's aunt, thus making the marriage incestuous. The story is most unlikely to be true, not least because Mary was seven years older than Surrey. No doubt he chose her because she was so closely related to his wife, was dead, and had no children or surviving siblings to take offence at his claims. But it's pretty damn amusing anyway.

02 June, 2008

Sisters of Edward II (3): Margaret

Margaret was the ninth or tenth child of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, and the third to survive into adulthood. She was born at Windsor Castle on 15 March 1275, sixteen months younger than her brother Alfonso and thirteen and a half months older than her sister Berengaria, and nine years older than Edward II. As part of the huge confusion over the children of Edward and Eleanor, she was often identified in the past as 'Isabella'. Edward and Eleanor had no daughter of this name; their youngest daughter Elizabeth was occasionally called 'Isabella' as well. Margaret is often said to have been born on 11 September 1275, which is impossible, as her sister Berengaria was born in May 1276.

Margaret was betrothed in early childhood to the son and heir of Duke Jan I of Brabant and Margareta of Flanders. Duke Jan's son, also called Jan, inevitably, was born on 27 September 1275, so was six months younger than Margaret. Their betrothal was arranged in 1278, when they were both toddlers. Both King Edward and Duke Jan were very keen for the marriage to go ahead: Edward promised Jan I that if Margaret was not able to wed young Jan, her next eldest sister would be substituted instead, and Jan promised Edward that if his son did not marry Margaret, he would pay him 40,000 livres tournois, or £10,000 sterling. (The medieval duchy of Brabant covered part of modern-day Belgium and the Netherlands: see this map).

Young Jan of Brabant arrived in England in 1284, the year his future brother-in-law Edward II was born, when he was eight or nine, and lived there for the next ten years. In about 1285, he wrote in a letter to Edward I "Dear sire, I pray you to take council that I may marry soon, as I greatly desire it. Command me at your will as your son." (He was still only nine or ten). He sometimes lived in the same household as his future brother-in-law Edward of Caernarfon (maybe he played the role of elder brother?), sometimes with the king, sometimes with Edward I's Lancaster nephews, and sometimes alone. Jan was described by a contemporary as "stout, handsome, gracious, and well-made." (No description of Margaret, or indeed any of her sisters, exists.)

On 8 July 1290, Margaret and Jan married at Westminster Abbey. She was fifteen and a few months, he still only fourteen. The wedding was a splendid, lavish affair. Jan's retinue consisted of eighty knights and sixty ladies, wearing costumes of Brabant. Margaret's six-year-old brother Lord Edward of Caernarfon was followed by a retinue of eighty knights, her brother-in-law the earl of Gloucester's retinue was 103 knights and sixty ladies, and the other earls also brought huge retinues of their own. 700 knights and 1000 citizens of London took part in the procession, and the guests were entertained by 400 minstrels and musicians. The royal family changed clothes three times during the course of the day, and the highlight was a banquet held in Westminster Hall, where Lord Edward's personal cook presented an edible replica of a castle.

In subsequent letters to Duke Jan I, Edward I usually referred to the couple as "John, your son and ours, and his wife Margaret, our daughter and yours" (Johan vostre fiz e le nostre, & Margarete sa femme nostre fille e la vostre). In 1290, young Jan and Margaret sent a letter to her father, stating that they were using Jan's seal and the seal of her mother Queen Eleanor, as her own "seal is not well known" (en la nom la avauntdite Margarete (poor ceo que son seal n’est mie conu) avoms prie estre mis le seal la noble dame Alianore, reigne d’Engleterre). Jan was always called 'the king's son' after 1290, and called himself "his [Edward I's] son and son of the duke of Brabant."

In 1292/93, Jan was sharing the household of Thomas and Henry of Lancaster, nephews of Edward I and cousins of Margaret. They spent a few days staying with Jan's brother-in-law, nine-year-old Edward of Caernarfon, on several occasions. Although Jan and Margaret were now seventeen/eighteen, evidently they were still not living together.

In March 1294, Margaret and her brother Edward were very ill with the 'tertian fever', but fortunately both recovered. A few weeks later, on 3 May, Jan's father Duke Jan I was killed at a jousting tournament at Bar-le-Duc, arranged by Count Henri III of Bar to celebrate his marriage to Margaret's sister Eleanor. Eighteen-year-old Jan succeeded as duke of Brabant, and in late June 1294, returned to his homeland in a merchant's ship, sailing from Harwich.

However, Margaret remained in England for several years, and wasn't reunited her husband until early 1297, when Count Jan I of Holland married her sister Elizabeth, and she sailed with him. Margaret was presented with jewels before her departure, which she haughtily rejected, saying that they "did not please her." She had spent much of the time between June 1294 and January 1297 living with her brother Edward, and Elizabeth. The long separation seems to suggest that Margaret and Jan's marriage was not a particularly successful one. Jan consoled himself in her absence, and fathered four illegitimate sons, who, brilliantly, were all called Jan, and a daughter called Johanna. It's also possible that Jan's illegitimate children, or some of them, were born after he was reunited with Margaret, of course. Mary Anne Everett Green says in her Lives of the Princesses of England (1857) that Margaret was "doomed to the mortification of being perpetually surrounded by the bastard sons of her husband."

Margaret and Jan's only child, the future Jan III of Brabant, was born sometime in late 1300, when Margaret was twenty-five. The news was greeted with joy in England: Edward I gave a gift of a hundred marks (sixty-six pounds) to the messenger who informed him, Margaret's stepmother Queen Marguerite fifty marks, Edward of Caernarfon forty, and their sister Elizabeth twenty. (So, well worth the messenger's trouble in crossing to England.)

Duke Jan and Duchess Margaret attended the wedding of Edward II and Isabella of France at Boulogne on 25 January 1308, and also attended their coronation at Westminster a month later. This is, as far as I know, the last time Margaret ever visited England. She and Edward remained in contact, and Edward's relations with Brabant were warm throughout his reign, though somehow I get the impression that Edward was not as close to Margaret as he was to his other sisters. In October 1311, however, he asked Margaret and Jan to receive Piers Gaveston during his third exile.

Duke Jan II died on 27 October 1312, supposedly of kidney stones, at the age of only thirty-seven, and Margaret's twelve-year-old son succeeded as Jan III. A contemporary Flemish chronicle says, inexplicably, that Margaret died in 1318, and this is still often repeated today. However, it's perfectly clear that Margaret lived far beyond 1318, as she was still in touch with her brother via letters in the 1320s, and also her nephew Edward III.

In 1330, Margaret was still alive when the enemies of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer gathered in Brabant, plotting an invasion of England. The Fieschi Letter claims that Brabant was one of the places that the former Edward II visited after his escape from Berkeley Castle, in about 1331.

The date of Margaret's death is unknown, but she was still alive in March 1333, when she sent a letter to Edward III. At this time, she was almost fifty-eight. She was the last survivor of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile's children (except the non-murdered-in-1327 Edward II!). Of all Edward I's children, only her half-brother Thomas of Brotherton outlived her, with the same proviso regarding Edward II. Margaret was buried in Brussels, next to her husband.

Her only son Duke Jan III married Marie d'Évreux, niece of Philippe IV of France (her sister Jeanne married their first cousin Charles IV, Queen Isabella's brother, in 1325), and died on 5 December 1355. His three sons had all pre-deceased him, so he was succeeded by Johanna, the eldest of his three daughters. He also fathered a whopping twenty illegitimate children, which probably means that numerous people in the Low Countries today are descendants of Duchess Margaret.