Here's a list of books owned by Edward II:
- A romance (which meant any kind of fiction, not necessarily a love story) in French, which had belonged to his grandmother Eleanor of Provence and was delivered to him in 1298, when he was fourteen.
- An illuminated biography of Edward the Confessor in French, which cost 58 shillings from William, bookbinder of London, in May 1302.
- A Latin primer, which cost two pounds, made for "the use of the Lord Edward, the king's son" in 1299 by William the bookbinder. (I can't help imagining Edward as a bored, sulky adolescent, forced to sit and listen to droning Latin at Langley and staring out of the window, thinking about all the things he'd rather be doing instead, like repairing a wall or thatching a roof, but OK, that's just me.)
- A book bound in red leather described as De Regimine Regum, On the Ruling of Kings, which might mean Giles of Rome's De Regimine Principum, written c. 1280 for the future Philip IV of France.
- Edward I bought a book for his son in February 1301, maybe to commemorate his becoming prince of Wales, called De Gestis Regum Angliae, The Deeds of the Kings of England.
- In October 1326, Edward gave a manuscript of Tristan and Isolde, the famous story of doomed love, to his favourite Hugh Despenser.
- In November 1315, Edward paid five pounds to one Nicholas Percy for making a book about the life and times of Edward I for him.
In December 1320, he paid William the bookbinder of London - probably the same man who had made the Latin primer and the biography of Edward the Confessor - three shillings and four pence "for binding and newly repairing the book of Domesday, in which is contained the counties of Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk." This manuscript is now known as 'Little Domesday'. Kudos to Edward for helping to preserve an important piece of England's heritage!
Walter Stapeldon, bishop of Exeter and treasurer of England, made an inventory of the Exchequer in 1323. In a coffer painted green and fastened with iron hinges were found the following:
- a booklet written "in a language unknown to the English," which was in fact Welsh and appears to have been a collection of poetry.
- De regula Templariorum, the Rule of the Knights Templar.
- De Vita sancti Patricii, the Life of St Patrick.
- the chronicle of don Rodrigo Jimenez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo, who died in 1247. (Edward II's uncle Sancho became archbishop of Toledo in 1251 at the age of eighteen.) This presumably was Rada's De Rebus Hispaniae.
Stapeldon also found an unfastened plain iron coffer, containing many other documents in Welsh, which his baffled clerk, clueless as to what language it actually was, described as "an idiom very strange to the English." (Totally off-topic here, but English ignorance about Wales in the fourteenth century is nicely illustrated by the statement in the French Chronicle of London and the Anonimalle that Edward II was captured in November 1326 "near Snowdon," i. e. in North Wales. He was taken near Neath, 150 miles away in South Wales.)
In August 1313, Edward ordered the treasurer and the barons of the exchequer to deliver to Friar Philip Baston, who was then to deliver them to Edward at Windsor Park, the following:
"three books of the Institutes with a little volume, four sums of the Decretals, two new Digests with four old Digests, a Forsad, two apparatus of the Decretals of Innocent IV, two lectures upon the new Digest, two books of Decretals, a book of Decretals, two lectures of the Codex, a book of lectures of law, a book called Actor et Reus, a book of autentica of the constitution of the emperor Justinian, an antiphoner with two quires of the dedication of churches, a sum of Tanered, three codices, and one book of diverse lectures of the Codex and other books of the Corpus Juris."
Apparently Edward felt like a bit of light reading! Seriously, he probably gave some of them to Langley Priory, which he had founded in 1308, and certainly gave books on canon and civil law worth ten pounds to his foundation of King's Hall at Cambridge in 1317, most probably including some of the books mentioned here.
- Edward once borrowed two books - the lives of St Thomas Becket and St Anselm - from the library at Canterbury Cathedral, and failed to return them. There was a royal library in the Tower of London, containing at least 340 volumes, which Edward no doubt used on occasion.
When Edward fled from London in the autumn of 1326 after the arrival of his wife's invasion force, he left some items behind in the care of the merchant Simon Swanland (who became mayor of London in 1329 and who was the recipient of William Melton's letter of 1329 or 1330, saying that Edward was still alive). The items included:
- two 'good and fine' Bibles, one covered in red leather and the other in tanned leather.
- this entry is unfortunately damaged: "the sixth book of ...vel, well-glossed, covered with untanned leather." This probably means that the book was written in Latin and glossed into French.
- a missal with a cover of black leather.
Edward probably owned far more books that were never recorded anywhere, or the records haven't survived. Queen Isabella owned a good many books herself, including an encyclopedia, a genealogy of the French royal family, lots of religious works, and the romances The Deeds of Arthur and Percival and Gawain. (Unlike his wife, father and son, Edward II seemed to have had little interest in the exploits of King Arthur.) Isabella bequeathed her book/manuscript collection in 1358 to her two surviving children, Edward III and Joan, queen of Scotland.
- Susan Cavanaugh, 'Royal Books: King John to Richard II', The Library, 5th series, 10 (1988), pp. 305-309.
- Hilda Johnstone, Edward of Carnarvon 1284-1307 (1946), p. 18.
- Ian Mortimer, The Time-Traveller's Guide to Medieval England (2008), pp. 271-272.
- May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century 1307-1399 (1959), p. 2.
- J. Harvey Bloom, 'Simon de Swanland and King Edward II', Notes and Queries, 11th series, 4 (1911), pp. 1-2.
- Michael Prestwich, 'The Court of Edward II', in The Reign of Edward II: New Perspectives, ed. Gwilym Dodd and Anthony Musson (2006), p. 69.
- Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 10.
- Frederick Devon, Issues of the Exchequer: Being A Collection of Payments Made Out of His Majesty’s Revenue from King Henry III to King Henry VI Inclusive (1837), p. 135.
- Constance Bullock-Davies, A Register of Royal and Baronial Domestic Minstrels 1272-1327 (1986), p. 147.