25 March, 2009

The Dunheved Brothers

A post about the Dunheved brothers, Stephen and Thomas, fanatical supporters of Edward II and leaders of the group of men who temporarily freed the former king from Berkeley Castle in 1327. You can also read about them, their allies and their plot to free Edward here, here and here.

Stephen Dunheved

Stephen was the eldest son of John Dunheved of Dunchurch, Warwickshire, though I have no idea when he and his siblings were born - presumably between 1275 and 1295. Stephen's paternal grandmother Christiane, daughter of Jordan Butler, was born before 1223, and his father John Dunheved was born sometime before 1260 and died between May 1305 and March 1309, leaving a widow Eustachia, Stephen's mother or stepmother. [1] Stephen inherited the manor of Dunchurch, on Dunsmore Heath near Rugby, on his father's death. He was certainly not a Dominican friar and Edward II's confessor, as stated in Paul Doherty's The Darkening Glass and in the author's note at the end.

Stephen is extremely difficult to trace before 1322, unlike his younger brother John, who was frequently in trouble with the law and was accused of rape and assault, pardoned for outlawry, and murdered a man with a crossbow in 1325. At some date, probably in 1321, Stephen committed a serious felony (murder?) and abjured the realm, that is, voluntarily exiled himself from England for life to avoid execution. He had returned by mid-February 1322, when he is found as a 'valet' of Edward II's chamber, and Edward appointed him custodian of Lyonshall Castle and ordered him to make inquisition into the goods and chattels of four of the king’s baronial enemies. [2] I have a theory about Stephen: Hugh Despenser the Younger, banished from England by the Marcher lords in August 1321, became a pirate in the English channel, and I think Stephen may have joined him. I can't prove it, but the pardon for the felony and permission to return to England after abjuring the realm could only have been granted by Edward II, and as Stephen not only returned to England but entered Edward's household, this suggests royal favour. Stephen also appeared as a member of Edward's household at about the same time that Despenser returned to England, and it may be that Despenser asked Edward to give Stephen the pardon and a position in the royal household. That's only speculation, though. Maybe I'm just being imaginative.

Stephen only acted as constable of Lyonshall Castle for a couple of months, and thereafter, is pretty obscure for the rest of Edward's reign. I presume, however, from later events, that he must have remained close to the king. Stephen's brother Thomas was with Edward when the king was wandering around Wales at the end of his reign, and it may be that the 'Stephen Dun' pardoned in March 1327 as one of the garrison who held out at Caerphilly - stronghold of Hugh Despenser and the only centre of resistance to the new regime - was in fact Stephen Dunheved. (Or maybe not.) [3] Other men who joined the brothers in freeing the former king in 1327 were still in Wales with Edward in late 1326, for example Roger atte Watre, another member of the Caerphilly garrison, and Thomas de la Haye, one of Edward's sergeant-at-arms.

It was probably in mid or late June 1327 that the Dunheved brothers and their allies attacked Berkeley Castle and succeeded, temporarily at least, in taking the former Edward II. Lord Berkeley wrote a letter to the chancellor John Hothum on 27 July, saying that the Dunheveds and their allies ravi Edward from his custody, which can be translated as 'abducted', 'seized' or 'snatched away'.

Either the gang were forced to flee without Edward or they got him out of the castle but he was recaptured shortly afterwards, and the men scattered; there are many entries on the calendared rolls in the summer and autumn of 1327 ordering the arrest of 'malefactors' and those who helped them evade capture in places as far apart as Cheshire, Dorset and Bedfordshire, and references to 'enemies of the realm' who had escaped abroad and were 'betraying the secrets of the realm'. Stephen Dunheved fled to London, and on 1 July, the mayor and sheriffs of the city were ordered to arrest him. [4] The Annales Paulini confirms that he was captured in the city. [5] Stephen was sent to Newgate prison, but managed to escape shortly before 7 June 1329, when an entry on the Close Roll says that he "wanders at large against the king's will." [6] Perhaps in response to this, Newgate was ordered to be strengthened and repaired some months later, as it was "so weak and threatened with ruin that the prisoners therein cannot be kept safely." [7] Stephen is next found on 31 March 1330, when his name appears on a list of dozens of men to be arrested for aiding the earl of Kent in his attempts to free the supposedly dead Edward II and restore him to the throne. [8]

I haven't been able to trace Stephen at all after this date. In a way, this is positive, in a 'no news is good news' kind of way, as it implies that he went into hiding or fled the country, because if he had been found and arrested, there would probably be references to it somewhere. Other men who joined the Dunheveds in 1327 - Peter de la Rokele and Roger atte Watre - disappear from the records between the summer of 1327 and late 1330 and crop up again in early 1331, which perhaps implies that they had fled abroad and returned after Edward III overthrew Roger Mortimer in October 1330, or had been imprisoned and were released. (More speculation, but given the secrecy of the Dunheveds' plot to free Edward and the subsequent disappearance of most of the men who took part in it, there's not much else I can do.) But Stephen doesn't appear again in any record that I've found. I hope he had gone overseas and decided to stay there and make a new life for himself. I hope he thrived.

Thomas Dunheved

Thomas, one of Stephen's three brothers, was a Dominican friar, an order much favoured and patronised by Edward II. Several secondary sources claim that he was Edward's confessor, but I haven't found any evidence to confirm that (Edward had three confessors during his reign: John Lenham, Robert Duffield and Luke Woodford). Thomas was made a papal chaplain in September 1325, which evidently went to his head, as John XXII wrote to the prior provincial of the Dominicans in July 1326 asking him to "keep under obedience and correct" Thomas, who, since becoming papal chaplain, "considers himself thereby freed from observance of the rule." [9] The Lanercost chronicle calls Thomas "a man of religion, acting irreligiously." [10] Given that Thomas was heavily involved in the attack on Berkeley Castle in 1327 and that the pope chastised him for disobeying the rule of his order, that seems a reasonable enough comment.

Edward sent Thomas with letters to the pope in 1325, and Lanercost and Annales Paulini report an improbable rumour that the king had sent him to persuade John XXII to annul his marriage to Isabella. [11] I'm not going to go into the many reasons why it is almost impossible to believe that Edward would have done this in 1324 or 1325, not least because there is no corroborating evidence whatsoever, and John XXII's own letter to Edward makes it clear that the king had in fact sent Thomas to the pope with letters spelling out his grievances against Alexander Bicknor, archbishop of Dublin. [12]

Thomas remained with Edward II in Wales in late 1326, and was paid for carrying the king's letters to Hugh Despenser (the Younger) - which itself is interesting, as it obviously means that Edward and Despenser were apart at least some of the time shortly before their arrest and downfall. [13] After Edward's deposition, Lanercost says that Thomas "travelled through England, not only secretly but even openly, stirring up the people of the south and north to rise for the deposed and imprisoned king and restore the kingdom to him." The Brut says that the "Friar Preachers [Dominicans] to him [Edward] were good friends evermore, and cast and ordained, both night and day, how they might bring him out of prison," and that Thomas "ordained and gathered a great company of folk for to help at that need." [14]

According to the Annales Paulini, Thomas was captured at Budbrooke in Warwickshire after the attack on Berkeley, though the date the annalist gives for his capture, c. 11 June 1327, cannot be correct, as Thomas was still at liberty when Thomas Berkeley wrote his letter on 27 July naming him as one of the attackers, and 11 June probably predates the attack on Berkeley Castle anyway. Thomas was taken to Queen Isabella, then sent to prison at Pontefract, where he tried to escape and was thrown into a dungeon and died in misery. Several other chronicles noticed his demise and the reasons for it: Lanercost, Croniques de London and the Brut, though the Croniques says he and many of his co-conspirators were "put in hard prison" at York (mis en dure prisoun a Everwik), thirty miles from Pontefract. [15] Although Lanercost says that Thomas,"that foolish friar," died in prison, it also claims that he played a role in Kent's conspiracy of 1330, by raising a devil who told Kent that Edward II was still alive. [16] Plausibility of devil-raising aside, I think it's highly likely - unfortunately - that Thomas was in fact dead by 1330. Thomas and Stephen's brother John was still alive in February 1338, when he acknowledged a debt of 200 pounds to Henry Beaumont. He had played no role in their plot to free Edward, and in fact was pardoned, probably for his 1325 murder of (his cousin?) Oliver Dunheved, on 5 May 1327, the day after Stephen was to be arrested and taken to Isabella. [17]


1) http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=57101; Calendar of Close Rolls 1302-1307, p. 269; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-1313, p. 97.
2) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-1327, pp. 95, 101.
3) Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, p. 38.
4) Cal Close Rolls 1327-1330, p. 146.
5) Annales Paulini, in Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, ed. W. Stubbs, vol. 1, p. 337.
6) Cal Close Rolls 1327-1330, p. 549.
7) Cal Close Rolls 1330-1333, pp. 1, 47.
8) Cal Fine Rolls 1327-1337, p. 169.
9) Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-1342, pp. 253, 479.
10) The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 249.
11) Annales Paulini, p. 337; Lanercost, p. 249.
12) Cal Papal Letters, p. 474.
13) SAL MS 122, folio 34.
14) Lanercost, pp. 258-9; The Brut, ed. F. W. D. Brie, p. 249.
15) Annales Paulini, p. 337; Lanercost, p. 259; Croniques de London Depuis L'an 44 Hen. III. Jusqu' à L'an 17 Edw. III, ed. J. G. Aungier, p. 58; Brut, p. 249.
16) Lanercost, pp. 264-5.
17) Cal Close Rolls 1337-1339, p. 383; Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 51, 99.


Rowan said...

A pleasure to read and most interesting again.
Thank you.

Clement Glen said...

I have been enjoying reading your detailed accounts of the rescue of Edward by the Dunheved brothers.

I have heard of these outlaws before, but never expected so much detail. Caroline Bingham gives a brief account in her book but you have added much colour to what appears to have been an episode straight out of a Technicolor costume drama.

I see that Edward used Stephen as a valet of his chamber. Ed seemed quite keen on doing this. In July 1323 he had Robyn Hode working in the Royal Chamber!

Brian Wainwright said...

An amazing story, proof of the old saw that fact is often stranger than fiction.

Gabriele Campbell said...

So, one man disappearing, another dead and raising a devil .... I think you'll have to look into that vampire theory. :D

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Ashmodai!

Clement: glad you liked the posts! There was quite a bit there, really, when I started digging, though there's a heck of a lot of details and information I can only speculate about.

Brian: yeah, if you tried to make this story up in a novel...!

Gabriele: great plan for my million-seller! :)

Jules Frusher said...

Fantastic post (whoops, just wrote that originally as 'fanatic' post lol!). Your details and referencing are brilliant - and loads of sources too! And you've made me admire Stephen all over again!

Jules Frusher said...

P.S. Thanks for the award too! :-)

Kathryn Warner said...

Lady D: Well, 'fanatic' works too. :) Glad you liked the post!

Anerje said...

I find all your research on the Dunheved gang fascinating - you've really 'dug deep'! Oh, and thanks for the award.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Fascinating! I do hope Stephen survived and did well.

Carla said...

Your Despenser theory sounds reasonably plausible to me, even if there isn't any actual evidence to speak of. How about Stephen going abroad with, or shortly after, Edward II and keeping an eye on him when he settled in the monastery with Giovanni?

Satima Flavell said...

Thanks for the nice award as well as the great posts, Alianore!

Christy K Robinson said...

Just catching up with your posts of late March through mid-April. I missed so much while I had guests, played at the Calif. beach with sweet guy, drove 360 miles to Arizona the next weekend to go "jeeping" with same cute guy... :) So what a nice run of luck I had, including your bestowal of the blog award while I was playing. Thank you! I hope that someday when I grow up, I'll be as great a researcher and writer as you, Alianore.

Kathryn Warner said...

Satima, Christy: you're both very welcome, and thanks for the nice compliments! Look forward to reading more of your excellent blog posts. Christy, the jeeping sounds like a lot of fun. ;)

炒米粉Ken said...
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