05 September, 2008

Knowledge of Far-Flung Places

A post about letters Edward II sent to distant places!

I've mentioned in a previous post that Edward sent a letter in October 1307 to 'Dolgietus, king of the Tartars'. Six weeks later, he sent a letter to the same man, except that now he was addressed 'emperor of the Tartars' and not named. The letters thanked 'Dolgietus' for sending letters to Edward I - who had died in July that year - and talked diplomatically of Edward's pleasure at the friendship and peace between himself and Dolgietus.

'Dolgietus' is better known as Oljeitu or Öljaitü, also called Mohammed Khadobandeh, great-great-great-grandson of Genghis Khan and the ruler of the Il-Khanate from 1304 to his death in 1316. The Il-Khanate was one of the four khanates of the Mongol Empire, and covered modern-day Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and western Pakistan. (The Mongol Empire was the second greatest empire the world has ever seen, only behind the British Empire in terms of territory, and not by much: see this map for its development.)

Early in his reign, Edward II also sent two letters to the king of Armenia, one on behalf of the bishop of Lidda and a group of English Dominicans going to Armenia to preach against Islam (!!) and the second thanking the king for his gift - sadly not specified - and promising to attend to his unspecified requests at a later date. (He didn't.) In the first letter, the king is not named, but in the second, dated 1 March 1308, he's addressed as Leo; in fact, King Leo III of Armenia had been murdered the previous August.

And on 20 May 1313, Edward II sent a letter to four eminent men:

- Oljeitu, his old correspondent, now addressed as 'emperor of the Persians' (and not named)
- David, king of Georgia (or 'king of the Georgians', Jurgiani)
- the emperor of Trebizond (not named)
- the emperor of Cathay (not named)

Edward sent the letter recommending a friar called Guillerinus de Villanova, travelling to these places to spread the word of Christ among the infidels, as Edward called them. Unfortunately, Edward's information was somewhat out of date, and Davit VIII, king of Georgia, had died two years previously and been succeeded by his young son Giorgi VI, the Little, who was appointed by Oljeitu. (Davit's father was King Demetre II, called 'the Self-Sacrificing'). The Emperor of Cathay, i.e. China, was Renzong, or Ayurbarwada Buyantu Khan, of the Yuan dynasty, who died in 1320. The Empire of Trebizond was a successor state to the Byzantine Empire, founded in 1204 on the shores of the Black Sea in modern-day Turkey. Its emperor in 1313 was Alexios II, son of John II and Eudokia Palaiologina, and nephew of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos.

Unfortunately, it's not clear if Edward's messengers reached these distant places safely, or when they returned to England, or what the reaction was to the preachy Friar Guillerinus de Villanova.

In 1313, Edward made strenuous attempts to free the English knight Sir Giles Argentein - said to be the third greatest knight in Europe, after the Holy Roman Emperor and Robert Bruce - who had been captured in Thessalonika on his way back from the Holy Land. On 12 October 1313, Edward sent letters to the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos, his son and co-emperor Michael, his second wife the Empress Eirene, born Yolande of Montferrat, and another of his sons, Theodore, marquis of Montferrat. He also sent a letter on Argentein's behalf to Federico III, king of Sicily, the son of Pedro III of Aragon. This major diplomatic effort worked, and Giles Argentein returned to England - to be killed at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314.

In August 1320, Edward wrote to the king of Cyprus, asking him to protect three Dominicans going there to preach to the Saracens. The king is not named in the letter, which says "To the magnificent lord prince..., by the grace of God illustrious king of Cyprus, Edward, etc, greetings...", as though no-one knew the king's name but left a gap in the hope that they could find someone to fill it in. In fact, he was Henry II de Lusignan.

Since 1291, several had men claimed the title of 'king of Jerusalem', one of them being Henry of Cyprus. Tactfully, however, Edward II also acknowledged the claims of a rival king and addressed him as 'king of Jerusalem' - this was Robert the Wise, king of Naples, titular king of Sicily as well as Jerusalem, duke of Calabria and count of Provence and Forcalquier, and the grandson of Beatrice of Provence, sister of Edward II's grandmother Eleanor, and thus Edward's second cousin. He was the brother of Philip, prince of Archaea and Taranto, who sent his minstrel to play for Edward in 1316. Edward sometimes asked Robert the Wise to intercede with the pope for him, for example in 1316 and 1317, when he wrote to John XXII at least ten times asking him to inaugurate William Melton as archbishop of York. Robert died in 1343.

As well as the usual suspects with whom Edward corresponded frequently - for example, the king of France, the counts of Hainault, Flanders, Bar, the duke of Brabant - he wrote occasionally to Haakon V, king of Norway, uncle of Edward's first fiancée, Margaret the Maid of Norway. On 12 June 1319, Edward addressed a letter to Haakon, asking him to ensure that the debts a Norwegian bishop owed to the merchants of Lynn (Norfolk) were paid - unaware that Haakon had died on 8 May. Edward also corresponded rather infrequently with Jaime II, king of Aragon, King Diniz of Portugal, his cousin - Diniz's mother Beatriz being the illegitimate daughter of Alfonso X of Castile, Edward's uncle - and Diniz's wife Isabel of Aragon and his successor Afonso IV. Edward also showed an excellent knowledge of intricate Castilian politics and precisely who was wielding power at any given time during the minority of Alfonso XI, though his knowledge of Aragonese affairs was not quite as impressive: in October 1325, he was forced to write to the archbishop of Zaragoza to apologise that his envoys had not presented themselves or communicated their affairs to the archbishop on their recent visit to Aragon.

And finally, Edward, a great supporter of the Dominican order, often asked Dominican chapters in other countries to pray for himself, Queen Isabella and their children - in Toulouse, Pamplona, Marseilles, Rouen, Paris, Florence, Venice and Barcelona.

- Foedera, Conventiones, Litterae et Cujuscunque Acta Publica, ed. Thomas Rymer, volume II, i, pp. 8, 17, 18, 37, 39, 216, 288, 324, 385, 400, 405, 421, 433, 466, 470.
- Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-1318, pp. 71, 76, 462.
- Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 187, 363, 699.
- Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, pp. 353, 516-517, 556.
- W. R. Childs, 'England in Europe in the Reign of Edward II' in The Reign of Edward II: New Perspectives, ed. Gwilym Dodd and Anthony Musson (2006), pp. 97-118.


Susan Higginbotham said...

Fascinating! His messengers must have had a lot of catching up on news to do when they returned . . .

Anerje said...

Amazing the places Ed sent letters to - and just imagine waiting for the reply!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Alianore, for your translations and all the care you have devoted to the research represented in your blog. Details like this breathe life back into their dust!

When you think about the difficulties of travel and the extreme risk of robbery and mayhem to a royal courier, how many messages never made it to the destination? I've heard that the most important messages were copied and sent separately to increase the chance of delivery. Are the letters you're referring to copies from the "sent" file of Ed's clerks? Or are they just recording that they produced a document that was sent?

Kathryn Warner said...

I wonder how many years it took Ed's messenger to return from China! The mind boggles. Probably got back to discover that Ed wasn't king any longer...!

Thanks, Christy! I'd imagine it was reasonably common for messages to go astray - such as during the War of St Sardos in 1324/25, when it's clear from the surviving letters that a lot of messages and supplies weren't getting through from England to Gascony. In Nov 1330, the pope sent 2 copies of a letter to Ed III after he heard of Mortimer's arrest, to make sure it arrived!

Foedera is a collection of letters sent by and to Ed, mostly about foreign relations - copies of the original letters in French and Latin. The Close Rolls usually summarise the letters (and many other things) Ed sent, rather than writing them out word for word.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Lol, wouldn't it be fascinating to imagine what 'international' politics had looked like the Midde Ages if the guys had had email?

Edward II to Pope: Urgent (no it's not spam). Isa's after us with an army.

Pope to Isabella: Let Edward alone or I'll get angry. You don't want to be excommunicated, now, do you?

Isabella - forwards Pope's mail to Mortimer: What shall we do?

Mortimer to Isa: Bloody meddlesome bastard. (no copy in Sent File)

Mortimer to Isa: Try to talk him into giving us Hugh at least.

Isa to Pope: I'm sorry to have transgressed. It's Hugh I'm after, not the king. Can I have Hugh's head; pretty please?

Pope to Isa: I have hear a few things about Hugh. I'll mail Ed about the problem.


Jules Frusher said...

That was quite a foreign office he was running there!

I do wonder about al those preaching monks though - I bet (depending on where they were going) they didn't have a great life expectancy!

Monk: Excuse me - are you the infidel?

'Infidel': *Hits monk over the head with a sharp pointy object for being so rude*

Gabrielle: LOL!!!!

Anonymous said...

Glad I wasn't a pen-pal of Ed's. Him writing you a letter was like the kiss of death.

Anonymous said...

Paul: Haha! Like that Angela Lansbury detective show, "Murder, She Wrote." She was a crime novelist, and it seemed very unhealthy to be called her friend, as you'd turn up dead.

Anonymous said...

On a more serious note (more serious than death?). I recently read that Roman Empire road maps were closer to the written directions on MapQuest than a graphic depiction.

I've seen the Mappa Mundi (ca1300--did Ed I or Ed II know of it?) at Hereford Cathedral, and a Byzantine mosaic map at Madaba, Jordan. But those maps were not really for navigation. I've always thought that couriers traveled city to city, religious house to religious house (for accommodation), and perhaps got directions one day at a time. But for the vast distances across Asia... ???

Carla said...

Maybe the messenger joined a silk caravan, or something like that, for travelling to China? Safety in numbers, plus the caravan would know where it was going.

Anonymous said...

"He was the brother of Philip, prince of Archaea and Taranto"

That would be Filippo, prince of Taranto, by his first marriage prince of Achaia and despote of Epirus, lord of the Etolic League and prince of Corfù.

Later he repudiated his greek wife Thamar Angela Comnena Ducena, princess of Epire, and married Catherine of Valois, his cousin. One of their daughter, another Catherine, married Edward Balliol and later Francesco del Balzo prince of Andria, who by another wife was to be an ancestor of Elizabeth Woodville. This other wife, Sveva Orsini, was the grand-grand-grand daughter of Simon de Montfort through his son Guy (known mainly for being a sacrilegious murderer.)

Sorry to intrude again :)


fu principe di Taranto, despota dell'Epiro, principe d'Acaia ed imperatore titolare di Costantinopoli.

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: LOL! That would make a great post! :-)

Paul: Ed was the kiss of death to a lot of people, especially his friends! ;)

Christy: I'd like to think that Ed saw the Mappa Mundi - he certainly visited Hereford.

Carla: I'm sure you're right - surely a messenger travelling alone would find it almost impossible to reach China, never mind the dangers along the way.

Silvia: no need to apologise! Thanks for the info - I didn't know any of that, and it's fascinating.

Manly Wodge said...

Marco Polo's Book, "The Description of the World" had been printed by then, and the silk road was well known.so, a messenger would have no trouble in joining the caravan to travel. It would take him years though, and his sucsess would depend on the political situation in the countries along the way.