07 February, 2009

Edward II's Return to England, February 1308

Today marks the 701st anniversary of Edward II's return to England after marrying Isabella of France in Boulogne. On 7 February 1308, around three in the afternoon ('the ninth hour'), the king and his bride arrived in Dover, and Isabella got her first look at the country that would be her home for the next half a century.

Edward and Isabella's arrival is mostly famous, or infamous, for Edward's greeting of his friend Piers Gaveston, whom he had - scandalously - left behind as regent. Ignoring everyone else, Edward is said to have "run to Piers among them, giving him kisses and repeated embraces; he was adored with a singular familiarity. Which special familiarity, already known to the magnates, furnished fuel to their jealousy." [1] The fourteenth century was a tactile age when demonstrative greetings were entirely normal, and the king's behaviour doesn't necessarily imply that the men were lovers - it was the fact that Edward singled Piers out for attention that was the problem.

A scene where a horrified/angry/disgusted/shocked Isabella watches her new husband hug and kiss his Gascon friend is practically obligatory in novels featuring Edward II, and in a few works of non-fiction too. But this entry on the Fine Roll makes it clear that Edward and Isabella didn't land ashore together:

"Be it remembered that on Wednesday after the Purification, 1 Edward II, the king, returning from beyond seas, to wit, from Boulogne-sur-Mer, where he took to wife Isabel, daughter of the king of France, touched at Dover in his barge about the ninth hour, Hugh le Despenser [the Elder] and the lord of Castellione in Gascony being in his company, and the queen a little afterward touched there with certain ladies accompanying her." [2]

So whether Isabella even saw Edward hug and kiss Piers is debatable. (Though possibly this became a common enough sight for her over the next few years.) A group of noblemen and women greeted the king and queen on their arrival:

- Edward's sister Elizabeth, countess of Hereford.
- Alicia, dowager countess of Norfolk and sister of the count of Hainault and Holland. Her niece Philippa of Hainault would marry Edward and Isabella's son twenty years later.
- Henry, brother of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, Isabella's uncle and Edward's first cousin.
- Robert Mohaut and Amaury St Amand. Why those two men particularly, I don't know - they seem kind of random.

Evidently, the king and queen arrived later than expected - Piers Gaveston, as regent, had sent out orders to the above on 22 January to be at Dover on the Sunday after the Purification, three days before Edward and Isabella in fact arrived. [3]

The royal couple spent two or three days at Dover, then travelled through Kent towards London. On the way, they spent five days at the palace of Eltham, which Anthony Bek, bishop of Durham and patriarch of Jerusalem, had given to Edward in 1305. Edward granted it to Isabella in 1311. On 21 February, the mayor and aldermen of London rode out to greet the new king and queen, and in great procession, cheered by a crowd of thousands, Edward and Isabella rode through the city to the Tower. London was rather less filthy than usual and the streets had been lavishly decorated, so that the city annalist wrote with pride and enormous exaggeration that it resembled "a new Jerusalem." [4] Edward and Isabella spent three nights at the Tower of London, then moved on to Westminster, where on Sunday 25 February their coronation and the farcical banquet took place.


1) Chronica monasterii S. Albani. Johannis de Trokelowe, et Henrici de Blaneforde, monachorum S. Albani, p. 65.
2) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 14.
3) Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-1313, p. 51.
4) Annales Londoniensis, p. 152.


Jules Frusher said...

A nice, timely post :-). from what I remember (from reading, not because I was there lol) - I think Eleanor de Clare Despenser was at Dover to greet the queen too - as one of her chief ladies in waiting.

As for the Ed/Piers hug - far too much salacious drama has been made out of that. I personally doubt that Isabella saw it at all. Even if she had, she probably wouldn't have seen it as anything other than a greeting between two good friends. As you said, the problem was with the barons being jealous of Piers's prominent position both as regent and his closeness to Edward.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Guilty of having Piers and Edward giving a big hug! But at least Ed did make sure that Isabella had a grand welcome to her new country.

Clement Glen said...

".......run to Piers among them, giving him kisses and repeated embraces; he was adored with a singular familiarity."

Did they play Premiership football????

Carla said...

Why "in his barge"? I associate barges with river traffic, rather than cross-channel shipping. Did ships dock some way off shore and passengers transfer to a smaller boat to get ashore?

Kathryn Warner said...

Lady D: I don't know if Eleanor was there or not - maybe, but she's not mentioned. Because Isabella's household records are missing until 1311, it's hard to say for sure if Eleanor was her lady-in-waiting as early as 1308 or not (she most likely was, though).

Susan: to judge from chronicles, there's no doubt that Ed did hug and kiss Piers - only that it's impossible to say for sure if Isa witnessed it.

Clement: *grins*

Carla: it certainly sounds that like that was the case, though I don't know if this was a typical way of arriving at Dover.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Medieaval times were different. Two men sharing a bed was nothing unusual, though I won't be surprised if that close proximity led to a few experiments that would not have taken place in other circumstances. ;) So yes, public embraces and kisses were a symbolic action, not a sexual one. But the symbolic impact in this case surely angered the barons who were reduced to second rank that way.

Anerje said...

Did they play Premiership football????

LMAO Clem!

I expect Isa clapped eyes on Piers and thought 'OMG, he's gorgeous' - and fully understood Ed hugging and kissing him. Now, a historical novel from that perspective would be so much more refreshing. Great post Alianore - but you have killed off a great Ed myth:)

Hannah Kilpatrick said...

IIRC, the "proof" that Richard I was having a homosexual relationship with Philip of France comes down largely to a report that they were sharing a bed - but that, as Gabriele says, isn't proof of a sexual relationship, since beds were often shared out of necessity or friendship. Reports of Philip's father getting absolutely furious over it are more likely to be because of the political implications of the act - which would, of course, have been done with that in mind - than sexual ones.

And that does apply here too. Many historians (and, I'd guess, historical fiction writers, though I confess I haven't read any Ed fiction!) make a whole lot of capital over that description, or the lines in the Vita about Edward loving Piers more than Jonathan loved David, which you quote somewhere in your sidebar. And they do look like they imply that, taken out of context - the more so because they are written as if they were relating a scandal. Just - the scandal needn't be the scandal we'd read into it, ie, homosexuality. In context, the scandal the author of the Vita is complaining about is Edward's elevation of Piers above those who ought to be his betters, and the singularity of his dependence on him to the exclusion of all others' counsel. And really, that's more than enough to be an enormous scandal. It's jsut not... salacious enough for us. :)

So, yes. Long rambling agreement! We clearly feel the need to spice things up, shape the scandal to modern eyes.

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: *grin* Good point!

Anerje: that would make a great novel. ;) It is possible that Isa did see Ed kiss Piers - only it's not a 'fact', as stated in so many books. (Which is true of many things endlessly repeated as 'fact' about Ed II, which are anything but when you look at the primary sources.)

Ceirseach: yes, there's the sharing a bed bit - and the statement that Richard confessed that he was guilty of sodomy - which has been taken to mean sex with men, and although it might mean that, sodomy had a much wider meaning in the Middle Ages than in modern English. There's also a statement that he passed on his discarded mistresses to his men and had( female) prostitutes brought to him on his death-bed, so if he did have male lovers, he evidently had plenty of female ones, too. Edward IV shared his bed with Lord Hastings and the duke of Somerset (maybe not at the same time, though!) as a sign of respect and trust.

It's beyond doubt that Ed loved Piers, and Hugh Despenser, but how he loved them is hard to say for sure. I'm putting up a post tomorrow which includes a bit about Piers G loving the earl of Richmond 'beyond measure', which no-one at the time or since has taken as evidence that the men were having an affair. Ditto the earl of Lancaster's statement that he loved Robert Holland 'so much', after Holland betrayed him in 1322. Autre temps, autre moeurs...

There really is a heck of a lot of salacious writing about Ed's reign, in fiction and even non-fiction - such as the recent theory that Ed, Despenser, Eleanor D and Isa indulged in wife-swapping!!?? Stretching the evidence to breaking-point, methinks.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Well, there's that saying Gelegenheit macht Diebe (chance makes thieves) and esp. in case of Ed and Piers who both were at an age when boys experiment sexually I'm pretty sure they tried - and liked - it. Which doesn't mean they didn't enjoy sex with women as well.

But not every bed-sharing ended up naughty. :)