30 July, 2008

Lots Of Dead Earls

The turbulent reign of Edward II and its immediate aftermath - the first few years of his son's reign, before he took over the governance of his kingdom himself - saw no fewer than six earls executed in eighteen years. This is especially astonishing given that the last English earl executed before Edward II's time was Waltheof, way back in 1076 - although the Scottish earl of Atholl, John de Strathbogie, was executed in London in November 1306, near the end of Edward I's reign.

The six earls were:

- Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall at the time of his death on 19 June 1312 (at least, Edward II thought he was). Run through with a sword then beheaded on Blacklow Hill after his third return from exile. He was about twenty-nine or thirty.

- Thomas of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster, Leicester, Derby, Lincoln and Salisbury, executed on 22 March 1322, officially for treason - or for killing Piers Gaveston ten years earlier, depending on your point of view. He was taken out of his castle of Pontefract on a horse described as a "lean white jade without bridle" to a hill nearby - apparently because Edward II was deliberately arranging his execution as a parody of Gaveston's - and pelted with snowballs by a jeering crowd. He was made to kneel facing Scotland, as he'd been accused of treacherously conspiring with the Scots, and beheaded, Edward having respited the punishments of hanging, drawing and quartering in consideration of his royal blood. He was about forty-three or forty-four.

- Andrew Harclay, earl of Carlisle, hanged, drawn and quartered at Carlisle on 3 March 1323, for overstepping his authority by agreeing peace terms with Robert Bruce. Previously, he had been stripped of his earldom by having his sword ungirded and his spurs cut from his heels. His head was sent to Edward II at Knaresborough for inspection, then placed on London Bridge, while the quarters of his body were displayed in Carlisle, Newcastle, Bristol and Shrewsbury. In 1328, his sister finally received permission to bury his remains. The earldom of Carlisle, which Harclay had been granted slightly less than a year before his death, lay dormant until 1622. He was probably in his early fifties.

- Hugh Despenser the Elder, earl of Winchester, hanged, drawn and quartered at Bristol on 26 October 1326 at the orders of Roger Mortimer, Queen Isabella, Henry of Lancaster, and others. One of his crimes was complicity in the earl of Lancaster's execution; the fact that the earl of Kent, one of his judges, had also condemned Lancaster to death doesn't seem to have bothered anybody. His head was sent to Winchester, "where you were earl against law and reason," and his body thrown to dogs. He was sixty-five.

- Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, beheaded in Hereford on 17 November 1326 on the orders of Roger Mortimer, evidently without a trial. According to the Llandaff chronicle, a "worthless wretch" wielded the axe, and took twenty-two strokes to sever his head. Arundel's body was later moved to Haughmond Abbey near Shrewsbury, to lie with his ancestors, and his son restored to the inheritance by Edward III in late 1330. He was forty-one.

- Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, beheaded on 19 March 1330 at Winchester for attempting to rescue his half-brother Edward II from prison. He was kept around waiting all day, as the executioner fled, and nobody willing to perform the sentence on a king's son whose execution was nothing more than judicial murder could be found. Finally, a latrine cleaner under sentence of death himself beheaded him in exchange for his own freedom. Kent was twenty-eight.

- Roger Mortimer, earl of March, dragged from the Tower to Tyburn and hanged naked on 29 November 1330, having been accused of numerous crimes by Edward III. He was forty-three.

In addition to these six earls, two others died in battle: Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford, who fell at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314, and Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex, who died a terrible death at Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322.

The earls of Edward II's reign who died a natural death, at least as far as we know - Lincoln in 1311, Warwick in 1315, Pembroke in 1324, Norfolk in 1338, Henry, earl of Lancaster and Leicester in 1345, Surrey in 1347 - could count their blessings!

24 July, 2008

Edward II's Possessions, 1326

Following the post on Edward II's treasure of 1312, here's one on the possessions he took to Wales with him in 1326.

In autumn that year, Edward fled to South Wales after Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer's invasion forces landed in Suffolk. He and Hugh Despenser spent some time at Despenser's castle of Caerphilly. After they left (and were captured) the castle held out under siege until March 1327, when the garrison finally surrendered on being promised pardons.

An inventory was made of Edward II and Hugh Despenser's possessions found within the castle, which is printed in full (translated into English) in William Rees's Caerphilly Castle and its Place in the Annals of Glamorgan. Here are some of the many thousands of things listed:

- 26 barrels, each containing £500, and another barrel containing £1000, which was Despenser's

- a counterpane of red sendal, lined with green sendal (a fine silk) for Edward's bed

- a coverlet lined with minver (expensive fur)

- a canopy and curtains of red sendal, for the bed

- 4 cushions of purple velvet and 4 of red samite (another kind of silk, heavier than sendal)

- 2 caps of white beaver, 1 lined with black velvet and powdered with gold trefoils, the other lined with green velvet

- a black cap lined with red velvet, powdered with butterflies and "diverse beasts" in white pearls

- Edward's red retiring-robe, decorated with threads of saffron, and bears (cuuuuute!)

- a silver-gilt goblet, enamelled, engraved with baboons

- the 4 gospels, painted (?), for use in Edward's chamber

- 3 pairs of Gascon spurs, gilt, with silk cords

- an ornamented chain for greyhounds

- a sword garnished with silver-gilt, with the arms of Castile, and a girdle and scabbard with the same pattern

- a fine sword with a girdle and scabbard of gold, embroidered with silver eaglets

- 7 sacks for clothes, of which 4 were worn and 2 of those 4 had no straps

- 2 rolls and 9 ells of worsted, in green, red and saffron

- 18 towels, of which 12 were very worn

- vast amounts of food, including: 64 new carcases of oxen and 14 old carcases, 14 score carcases of mutton, 20 new and 52 old hams, 1956 stockfish (they counted every one!), 71 and a half quarters of new beans and 41 quarters of old beans, 4 score and 11 salted ox-hides, 3 tuns of vinegar and 3 of honey

- 6 tuns of red wine and 1 of white, of which 10 inches were lacking, and 1 tun of raspay, of which 7 inches were lacking (wine from Raspay, not far from Alicante, on the south-eastern coast of Spain).

- a silver boat, with 4 silver wheels and 2 dragons' heads, at each end

- 44 silver goblets, 272 silver dishes and 279 silver saucers marked with a leopard

- 1 chest of hide (leather) for 2 urinals

- Many thousands of items of military clothing and equipment, including: 40 aketons, 1 of which was of green camaca covered with red kid; 35 hauberks; 1 pair of 'frettes' with 50 pewter eyelets; 2 pieces of white stag's hide for 1 sword girdle; 1130 bolts with hedgehog quills; 1 pair of large gauntlets of doeskin, lined with coney; and about 5 zillion other things that mean absolutely nothing to me. (Gisarmes? Ventails? Gasingales? Jazerants? Pisans? Bidowes? '4 sutturres, twisted, of red silk' and '9 Gascon sutturres'?)

Again, it's great that this detailed inventory has survived to give us an insight into fourteenth-century possessions! (Even though I'm admittedly clueless about lots of it.)

18 July, 2008

Time Travelling, and Terrible Kings

My favourite historian, Ian Mortimer, has a new book coming out in October, called The Time-Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. It's a brilliantly original concept - a travel guide to fourteenth-century England as though it were a place you could visit, with tons of information on what to wear, what to eat and where to stay, how to greet people in the street, what you'll see when you enter a town or travel through the countryside, and loads more. It's available for pre-order on Amazon, and you should definitely buy it, because it's absolutely fantastic. There's more info on the author's website.

I've just finished reading Marc Morris's new biography of Edward II's dad, A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain, which I enjoyed a lot. Definitely recommended, it provides a thorough chronological overview of Edward's long and extremely eventful life, with his campaigns in Wales and Scotland, his survival of an assassination attempt in the Holy Land, his struggles against Simon de Montfort in the 1260s, and all the rest.

Finally, an article appeared in the British newspaper the Daily Mail a couple of days ago - the ten worst monarchs in British history. With his great-grandson Richard II, Edward II is only the joint fourth worst king ever! Yay! Disappointingly, but by no means unexpectedly, the article repeats the red-hot poker myth as fact, and describes Edward as "the utterly pathetic bisexual Edward II." It describes the red-hot poker method as "A nasty way to go, but if anyone deserved it, it was he." That's pretty horrible. How could anyone deserve to die in such a hideous manner? (It also gets Hugh Despenser's date of death wrong, she said pedantically.)

Hope the weather's better where you are. It's a whopping 16 degrees here, barely even 60F. In the middle of July!

13 July, 2008

Edward II and Piers Gaveston's Treasure, 1312

In early May 1312, Edward II and Piers Gaveston fled from Tynemouth to Scarborough - a distance of about ninety miles - in order to escape Edward's cousin, Thomas, earl of Lancaster, who was slowly making his way north in order to capture Piers after his return to England from his third exile. The Vita Edwardi Secundi says, poetically, about Lancaster's journey, "Thus Thomas flies by night and hides by day/And to check rumour slowly wends his way." (In the original Latin: Sic Thomas de nocte uolat, sub luce moratur/ Ut lateat, modicum cursum ne fama loquatur).

Lancaster's arrival took Edward and Piers completely by surprise, and they escaped him by only a few hours. In doing so, they were forced to leave behind their enormous baggage train, which Lancaster duly took possession of. Edward fumed over the loss of his many valuable belongings, and pointed out a few months later that "if any lesser man had done it, he could be found guilty of theft and rightly condemned by a verdict of robbery with violence." Lancaster made an inventory of the possessions and claimed that he fully intended to return them to the king, though Edward had to wait until the end of February 1313 before he received them.

The full list of Edward and Piers' possessions - most of them were Edward's - is given in Foedera, and is also printed (in the French original) in Pierre Chaplais' Piers Gaveston: Edward II's Adoptive Brother, and in English in J. S. Hamilton's Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall 1307-1312. Edward's possessions were finally returned to him on 23 February 1313, and four days later, he also received an inventory of everything Lancaster had taken.

The inventory includes many hundreds of splendid and costly items, including:

- sixty-three horses: forty-one destriers and coursers, one palfrey, nine pack horses and twelve cart horses.

- a gold cup, enamelled with jewels, bequeathed to Edward "with her blessing" by Eleanor of Castile, the mother he had barely known, which must have held great sentimental value for him.

- several items that Edward's sisters had given him: two "stones with enamelled sides" and a gold clasp from Margaret, duchess of Brabant; another gold clasp from Elizabeth, countess of Hereford; an enamelled silver mirror and relic from Eleanor, countess of Bar, who died in 1298 when Edward was fourteen.

- a buckle of gold with two emeralds, two rubies, two sapphires and eleven pearls, with a cameo in the middle, a present to Edward from the queen of Germany (I presume this means either Elisabeth of Görz-Tirol, wife of Albrecht I, or Margaret of Brabant, wife of Heinrich VII; Elisabeth attended Edward's wedding, and Margaret was the sister of Edward's brother-in-law Duke Jan II of Brabant).

- a gold ring containing a great ruby called 'the Cherry' (la cerise), belonging to Edward. The name gives a good indication of how big it must have been.

- another great ruby set in gold, worth a staggering £1000, which was found on Piers' body after his execution, I mean murder, and was probably a gift to him from Edward. Also found on Piers' body were "three large rubies in rings, an emerald, a diamond of great value, in a silver box," and "two vessels, a large and a small, and in the small a hanging key, a sterling cord and a chalcedony." (Whatever a 'sterling cord' is.)

- a belt "decorated with ivory, notched with a purse hanging down from it, with a Saracen face," a belt made of lion skin, decorated in gold with a cameo, one of silver with enamelled silver escutcheons, one with bands of silver and gold, and two of silk, covered with pearls.

- a gold crown encrusted with jewels, worth 100 marks.

- a gold ring with a sapphire, which St Dunstan (archbishop of Canterbury, died 988) supposedly "forged with his own hands."

- a gold eagle with rubies, emeralds, sapphires and pearls, containing relics of St Richard of Chichester (died 1253), and a gold dragon with enamelled wings.

- numerous silver salt cellars, spoons, cups, goblets, saucers and pots, numerous gold-plated silver pots and cups, and a pair of gold-plated silver basins, belonging to Piers, with his coat of arms on them.

-a silver ship with four gold oars, enamelled on the sides.

- three silver forks, for eating pears (trois furchestes dargent pur mangier poires; these belonged to Piers, and he was famous for them, a good 300 years before forks caught on in England!)

- 100 silver shields, marked with an eagle, a suit of armour belonging to Piers, and two pairs of iron leg-armour (jambers).

- various garments embroidered with Piers' arms, the shoulders decorated and embroidered with pearls, and twenty-five pieces of cloth from diverse garments, of diverse colours.

- a fur-backed altar frontal of green cloth, powdered (poudre) with gold birds and fishes.

And many hundreds of other luxurious and expensive items. The sheer number of rings and jewels is truly astonishing. Edward II must have walked around positively dripping with wildly expensive jewellery. However, the inventory also lists a handful of rather less desirable objects:

- a helmet, brown with neglect (un bacenet burny od surcils).

- a remnant of green silk.

- an old banner embroidered with Piers' arms (six eaglets).

- a plate of scrap silver.

- an old enamelled vessel, and three chaplets "of little value."

For all Edward II's annoyance with his cousin Lancaster for seizing his belongings, I can only say, thank goodness he did, or otherwise we wouldn't have this fascinating insight into the kinds of things very rich people of the fourteenth century owned and prized.

05 July, 2008

The Saint's Two Bodies

In which Edward II puzzles over the fact that St Alban appears to be buried in two places

In late March and early April 1314, Edward II spent a few days at St Albans Abbey, which was only eight miles from his childhood residence of (Kings) Langley and must have been a place he knew well. Edward made an offering to the abbey of a gold cross decorated with precious stones, supposedly containing relics of St Alban himself (he was the first British Christian martyr, and probably died in the early fourth century). While there, Edward learned that his father had intended to rebuild the choir, and gave the monks a hundred marks and quantities of timber for the purpose, ordering that no expense should be spared in honouring God and St Alban.

Edward then moved on the seventy miles to Ely near Cambridge, where he celebrated Easter Sunday, 7 April, at the cathedral. St Albans Abbey possessed the body of St Alban, but Ely Cathedral owned a reliquary which they described as ‘St Alban’s.’ According to the St Albans monks/chroniclers Trokelowe and Walsingham, a curious Edward ordered the monks to open the reliquary, telling John Ketton, bishop of Ely, "You know that my brothers of St Albans believe that they possess the body of the martyr. In this place the monks say that they have the body of the same saint. By God’s soul, I want to see in which place I ought chiefly to pay reverence to the remains of that holy body."

The monks went pale, assuming that either they would be accused of deceit, or forced to give up the relics, which brought in large revenues from pilgrims, to St Albans Abbey. Edward raised the lid of the reliquary himself, and discovered that it was full of rough cloth, spattered with blood that appeared fresh, as if spilt only the day before, and declared that it was the clothes worn by the saint at the time of his maryrdom, a millennium earlier. All the spectators fell to their knees at this miracle, including Edward, presumably - though he was the only one who had the nerve to close the lid.

Edward spent the remainder of his stay at Ely in high spirits, talking much of St Alban and praising the divine providence that had allowed two locations to possess relics of the famous martyr. On his departure, he gave the monks of Ely many gifts and told them, "Rejoice in the gift of God, rejoice in the sanctity and merits of so great a martyr; for if, as you say, God does many miracles here by reason of his garment, you may believe that at St Albans he does more, by reason of the most holy body that rests there."

For all the contemporary criticism of him - that he lost Bannockburn because he didn't spend enough time hearing Mass, and the odd comment by the Lanercost chronicler in 1314 that he "did and said things to the prejudice and injury of the saints" - there's no doubt that Edward II was sincerely and genuinely pious. He and Queen Isabella especially venerated St Thomas Becket, and often went on pilgrimage to Canterbury. In May 1300, when he'd just turned sixteen, Edward and his father stayed at Bury St Edmunds Abbey in Suffolk. Edward I soon left, but Edward stayed on a week longer, enjoying the peace and solitude. According to the St Edmundsbury Chronicle, "He became our brother in chapter. The magnificence of the place and the frequent recreations of the brethren pleased him greatly. Every day, moreover, he asked to be served with a monk's portion such as the brothers take in refectory."

The statement "The magnificence of the place and the frequent recreations of the brethren pleased him greatly" sums up the contradictory Edward nicely - a man who loved costly and luxurious clothes, jewels and surroundings and was described by the chronicler Ranulph Higden as "bountiful and splendid in living," yet who also loved rustic pursuits like digging and thatching, and who built himself a hut to live in at Westminster.

In December 1308, when he was twenty-four, Edward founded the Dominican priory at Langley where he later buried Piers Gaveston, and endowed it generously. Apparently, the foundation was "in fulfilment of a vow made by the king in peril" (Patent Rolls), whenever that might have been. In 1326, he founded a college of Carmelite friars at Oxford, supposedly in gratitude for escaping from the field of Bannockburn (according to the fourteenth-century chronicler Geoffrey le Baker), which became Oriel College.

Edward strongly favoured the Dominicans (the Friars Preacher or Blackfriars), who reciprocated his support in full measure, and often stayed at one of their houses when attending parliament, for example at Stamford in the summer of 1309 and in London in the autumn of 1311. It was of course the Dominicans of Oxford who took care of Piers Gaveston's body between June 1312 and his burial in January 1315. This is not a coincidence.

Edward often asked the Dominicans to pray for himself, "our very dear consort" the queen, and their children, for example on 30 August 1316, fifteen days after the birth of their second son John of Eltham: "To the prior-provincial of the order of the friars preacher of England...Request for their prayers on behalf of the king, his very dear consort queen Isabella, Edward de Wyndesore [Windsor], the king's eldest son, and John de Eltham, his youngest son, especially on account of John." (Close Rolls/Foedera; I find that last bit really sweet!)

In April 1317, Edward even asked the Dominicans of Pamplona, for some reason, to pray for the royal family: "To the master and diffinitores of the chapter-general of the Friars Preacher about to assemble in Pampeluna in Arragon. Request for their prayers for the good estate of the king, his very dear consort queen Isabella, Edward de Wyndesore his eldest son, and John de Eltham his youngest son, and that they will cause them to be commended in like wise by the other friars of their order."

Edward II also enjoyed excellent relations with the papacy throughout his reign, and several of his bishops, William Melton, archbishop of York, Stephen Gravesend of London, John Ros of Carlisle, and Hamo Hethe of Rochester, had a genuine and long-lasting affection for him - not to mention all the clerics of various orders who gladly joined the Dunheved gang in 1327 and Kent's conspiracy in 1330 to fight (and die) for him. I do wonder sometimes how Edward reconciled his deep and sincere religious beliefs with the fact that he loved men, which the Church of course considered sinful and evil. Maybe it caused him a great deal of emotional pain and torment. Given how many churchmen served Edward faithfully, I can only suppose that they were willing to overlook his 'sin' - and it's worth pointing out that one of the men most dedicated to helping Edward in 1327 was Thomas Dunheved, his former confessor.

01 July, 2008


Some great news - a new novel on Edward II and Piers Gaveston, The Ruling Passion by David Pownall, is coming out very soon. The blurb says "England, 1303: When Edward, prince of Wales, met Piers Gaveston, it was the start of a passionate and defiant relationship that was to bring England to the brink of civil war." Yay! There can never be enough books on Edward and Piers, in my opinion. I'm dying to read this one.

A book I strongly recommend is Leslie Carroll's Royal Affairs, which was published a few weeks ago. It's a look at English royal adultery down the centuries, beginning with the Angevins and ending with Prince Charles and Camilla - the kind of book you can either read cover to cover, or dip in and out of. Royal Affairs is one of those rare history books that manages to be both impeccably researched and historically accurate, and wildly entertaining. I loved it.

Another good book I've read recently is D. J. Birmingham's The Queen's Tale, published by Xlibris, which tells the story of John de Bermingham, earl of Louth, in Edward II's reign. A very well-written and interesting novel, which helpfully includes genealogical tables, and portrays Edward II rather sympathetically. I don't want to give the story away, but let's just say that the author doesn't follow the traditional narrative of Edward's death...Definitely recommended.

I read another novel recently, which shall remain nameless, wherein Edward II is not the biological father of Edward III. This, unfortunately, led to a book-wall interface. That's at least six novels/films now that claim Edward was not his son's father, and I AM SICK TO DEATH OF IT. In this one, Isabella conceives her son while she and Edward are apart for months on end. Are we supposed to believe that people in the fourteenth century were so ignorant they wouldn't have noticed? And if anyone else is thinking of including this incredibly unlikely scenario in a novel, can they please read this post first?

Candidates for for the father of Edward III, born 13 November 1312:

- William Wallace, in that Hollywood film, you know the one I mean, executed 23 August 1305.

- Edward I, died 7 July 1307, from this page, where it's stated "most historians DO believe it was Edward Longshanks that fathered the child, and not Edward II." Yes, because they had the technology to freeze sperm 700 years ago.

- Roger Mortimer, in a 1982 novel, and the self-published novel mentioned above: this would be pretty miraculous, as he was in Ireland when Edward III was conceived. And also in the page linked above, "At the time of Edward III's birth, she [Isabella] was pretty much exclusive with Roger Mortimer." Funny, I didn't know Isabella and Mortimer were American teenagers. The problem is, this kind of uninformed and ignorant crap stays online forever, and goodness knows how many people read it and believe it.

- an unnamed Scotsman, in a 2006 novel, when Isabella was abandoned in Scotland by her husband: Isabella was nowhere near Scotland when she became pregnant.

And finally, on a lighter note, here are some recent blog searches:

causes of elibeth 1s reighn

knights templar arrested 1307 o'clock Philip IV checked his watch and said "Right lads, it's just after 1pm. Time to go get 'em."

last bishop strangled entrails tyrant

queen isabella and her gay.. Gay what?

Did queen isabella have an affair will william wallece Again!!!

letter from a wife to husband blaming him to be impartial to his own relatives a

king john's penis entrails Eeeewwww!!

Meet your 27th cousin, once removed, - Edward William Fitzalan-Howard, current and 18th Duke of Norfolk.

after a few minutes he died suffocating to death

facts on edwand from life with derek

Which Princess was sent by her father to live in the castle of the Marcher Lords?