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!


Jules Frusher said...

I bet after that lot, future earls found it rather difficult to get any life insurance ;-)

ilya said...

it sounds a lot like what's happening today. i mean, today they are supposedly getting a fair trial but did anyone really expect saddam hussein to be released? (not that i'm saying that saddam hussein was an innocent man killed for nothing, but sometimes i wonder why they bother trying them when we all know they're gonna be found guilty *rolls eyes*)

Kathryn Warner said...

Lady D: *giggles*

Ilya: kind of like the show trials under, say, Henry VIII or Stalin. Executing people without allowing them to speak in their own defence at their 'trial' - they were convicted by notoriety - was unfortunately common in Ed II's reign and just after.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Did they get burial plots at the same time they were given their earldoms?

Google, you're supposed to be telling me when a new post goes up here!

Carla said...

Six does seem rather a lot when there hadn't been any in the previous couple of centuries :-) Do you suppose this was just chance, or was the faction fighting carried out differently in Edward II's reign? Being an earl was a dangerous job in other times, but they tended to die in battle rather than by execution (Simon de Montfort leaps to mind, and what was the bag at Bannockburn and in the rest of the Wars of Independence?)

Anerje said...

I have often wondered if Warwick, having seized Piers, earl of Cornwall (that title was his :>) didn't quite know what to do with him. His 'execution' - murder in reality - was a real cloak and dagger affair, with Warwick refusing to have him executed on his lands. I think Lancaster was the prime mover in the execution - although I'm sure had not Warwick died, Ed would have taken revenge on him as well as he did on Lancaster. Ed certainly bided his time, eh?

After the cowardly way Piers was murdered, it was no surprise Warwick would not receive the body.

Anerje said...

Alianore - do you know how many earls there were at this time? was it about 12?

Hereford was disembowelled by a pike, I believe.

The most poignant has to be Kent - so sad. And what happened to the Elder Despencer was awful as well.

Is it right that Ed didn't make Hugh Despencer an earl? If so, why not? Maybe because he would inherit his father's title, and acquire Gloucester's lands through his marriage?

Gabriele Campbell said...

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.

Hehe, that's politcs for you. Some things never change.

I think there's a little plotbunny hiding in the story of Kent's execution.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Did they get burial plots at the same time they were given their earldoms?

Probably not, since most of them were distributed all over England. :)

Anonymous said...

"Did they get burial plots at the same time they were given their earldoms?"

"Probably not, since most of them were distributed all over England. :)"

Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford, killed by a pike up his *** at Boroughbridge, was buried at Friars Preachers in Yorkshire, but his effigy is in Exeter Cathedral. (Photo on my Webshots album.) Not sure why his memorial is at Exeter, when most of his ancestors were buried at Llanthony Secunda in Gloucester.

Roger Mortimer's family and ancestors were mostly buried at Wigmore Abbey (been there), but he might be at the defunct Greyfriars in London, unmarked.

Don't know Gilbert de Clare's gravesite, but his wife Joan of Acre was entombed at Austin Friars in Suffolk.

My bizarre, morbid side-hobby of genealogy is to find and photograph ancestor burials on my vacation trips to UK. So I started an Excel file of people, dates, and places of interment. I have hundreds of entries. Since I don't have a website of my own, I'm not sure how to share it!

Kathryn Warner said...

Susan: Google Alerts playing up again?

Carla: Ed II's reign was the first period in English history which saw large numbers of English noblemen executed - to the horror of contemporaries. (It became normal later, of course - the precedent had been set!)

Gloucester was the only earl killed at Bannockburn, on either side.

Kathryn Warner said...

Anerje: yes, Ed was not a man to forgive and forget, and waited patiently for 10 years for revenge!

There were between about 8 and 13 earls at any one time - in 1310 there were 11, for example. Lincoln died in 1311, and the following year, Ed made his newborn son earl of Chester, and his half-brother Thomas earl of Norfolk. Then Warwick died in 1315, so the numbers fluctuated a fair bit.

No, the younger Despenser didn't receive the earldom of Gloucester, though he could expect to inherit his father's one day - although Winchester was considerably less prestigious than Gloucester. It's not clear why he didn't get the earldom - either because he and Ed were being sensible for once, or, more likely, because he was so powerful and so dominant in Wales after 1322 that even the earldom of Gloucester wouldn't have been enough.

Gabriele: there's a great big plotbunny there, I think. ;)

Kathryn Warner said...

Christy: thanks for the info about Hereford - I didn't know that.

Roger Mortimer was either buried at the Greyfriars in Coventry or Shrewsbury - not London, despite the romantic myth that Isabella chose to be buried next to him. (Sadly, not true.) He might have been moved to Wigmore, but it's not certain.

Gilbert de Clare (who died at Bannockburn) is buried at Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire, with his father, grandfather, and lots of other de Clares. Lots of the Despensers, including Hugh the younger and his wife Eleanor de Clare, are buried there too.

Have you thought about starting a blog, to share your info? It's free and really easy to set up.

Anerje said...

Thanks Alianore for clarifying the situation of the number of earls. And yes, I'm sure Despencer was rich enough without an earldom, and, just maybe, Ed decided there was room for only one earl in hs heart hehehe! More likely he expected Despencer to inherit his father's title and wanted to avoid the controversy of creating his favourite an earl ofter what happened to Piers.

I read today in my newspaper about current political squabbling, and there was a great quote which seems suited to Ed's reign - 'if you want loyalty, get a dog' - but not the Black Hound of Arden.....

Anerje said...

Christy - would be wonderful if you could share your research.

andante said...

Let me second the motion. I've often longed to indulge my own 'morbid side-hobby' and do exactly as you've done, Christy.

See that 'create blog' link at the upper right corner? Click it and get started! It's free and very easy. Post as much at a time or as little as you please.

And DEFINITEL7 let Alianore know where we can find it!

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, do let me know, both of you, if and when you set up blogs, and I'll link to them here! Andante: would love to know more about your 'morbid hobby'....;)

andante said...

Oh, same as Christy's without (sigh!) the travel. Just a very amateur genealogist with a burning curiosity to see the tombs of 'the ancestors', even if it's just photos. So many seem to have disappeared during The Dissolution.

Kathryn Warner said...

The Dissolution has a lot to answer for. I've read C. J. Sansom's novels set during that period, and reading about the destruction of fine old buildings, and ancient manuscripts being burnt or used to wipe down horses or as chopping boards or as insulation, just makes me want to cry.

Fortunately, a lot of old tombs did survive, even if the statues on them were destroyed or vandalised...