02 July, 2009

Edward II Laughs (And Even Plays Ball-Games!) In The Face Of Impending Disaster

Here's my third post (part one; part two) about entries in Edward II's chamber journal of 1325/26: glimpses at what Edward was up to in the last few months before his disastrous downfall. Although he knew that an invasion by Queen Isabella and her favourite Roger Mortimer was coming, life went on as normal for Edward to a great extent.

- Edward attended the wedding of Hugh Despenser the Younger's niece Margaret Hastings to Sir Robert Wateville at Marlborough on 19 May 1326, and gave a gift of a pound to Will Muleward, valet of the bride's mother Lady Hastings. The reason? Will "was for some time with the king and made him laugh greatly," fust ascun temps od le Roi e lui fist g’ntement rire. Edward II's willingness to talk and joke and laugh with those of low (or lowish) birth is still apparent even near the end of his reign - this was about three months after he gave a year's wages to Jack of St Albans also for "making him laugh very greatly," by dancing on a table.

- at Saltwood Castle in Kent on 1 June 1326, Edward went out into the park to play some kind of ball-game - iewer a pelot, it says, literally 'playing at ball' - with Robert Wateville, his steward Thomas le Blount and unnamed others. (Blount got twenty marks from Edward for this; maybe he was a demon goal-scorer.) Edward had gone to Saltwood on the very serious business of meeting the pope's envoys, the archbishop of Vienne and the bishop of Orange, who had travelled to England in an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the king and his estranged wife Isabella. Edward II being Edward II, he still found time to have a bit of fun and take some outdoor exercise.

And if anyone wants to know why I so vastly prefer Edward to any other king of England and am completely infatuated with him, there are two reasons, right there. Can you imagine other English kings having a laugh with a servant or kicking a ball around or actually being fun to spend time with? Can you imagine Isabella, for all her undoubtedly fine qualities, actually being fun to spend time with? I can't; I can only picture her looking down her perfectly-formed aristocratic little nose in disgust and disbelief as she watches Edward roaring with laughter and joking around with some carpenter or cowherd or fisherman. Edward might have been a disastrous king, completely out of step with contemporary expectations of a ruler and lacking in regal dignity, but at least he was a person you can imagine having a right good laugh with, the life and soul of the party.

- Hugh Despenser, by comparison, evidently wasn't coping well with the stress of Isabella and Mortimer's impending invasion. In late February 1326, one of his squires received five pounds for some unspecified prompt action he took when Hugh "made a small affray" at Rothwell in Northamptonshire, whatever that means.

- on 20 January 1326, Edward paid thirty shillings to a draper of Norwich for fourteen ells of 'cloth of Coggeshall' - a town in Essex famed in the Middle Ages for its production of cloth - to make tunics (cotes) for the wives of five of his porters.

- the cloth, however, turned out to be "too stiff" for this purpose, and was sent to Edward's wardrobe to be used for something else. Edward bought instead eighteen ells of "bright blue English cloth," at twenty pence an ell, from a draper of Leicester, to make cotes hardies and hoods for the five women.

- 29 April 1326: "Item, paid to Little Will Fisher [Litel Wille Fyssher], page of the king's chamber, who remains at Kenilworth, ill, of the king's gift, for what he did when the king mounted his horse, five shillings." Edward left Kenilworth for Stratford-on-Avon that day.

-same date: "Item, paid to Hick Mereworth, valet of the king's chamber, who has the king's permission to go to Henley to his house with his wife, who came to Kenilworth great with child [grosse denfaunt], for his expenses in going, of the king's gift, for what he did at Kenilworth before the king left there, twenty shillings. Item, paid to Joan, wife of the said Hick, who came to her baron [i.e. husband] at the said Kenilworth great with child as is said above, because she had heard that her said baron was ill, of the king's gift, for her expenses in returning, forty shillings."

- so the couple got three pounds from Edward, a lot of money. A few other members of the king's household were ill at this time, so presumably something was going around at Kenilworth. An entry of 30 June, which calls Hick by his real name of Richard, says that he got Edward's permission to leave the royal household again after receiving news that "his goods were stolen from his house." He got another pound for his expenses on that occasion.

- Edward often gave generous gifts of several pounds to his knights and squires for "that done when the king ate" or for "what he did in the king's bedchamber when the king went to sleep." Annoyingly, what these rituals might have involved are not specified. Ditto what Little Will did "when the king mounted his horse."

- on 10 July 1326, the day before he ate in the park at Windsor with his niece Eleanor, Edward gave a pound to "John, minstrel of Spain, who played on the guitar and the lute" (a la gytarre e la lute) for him.

- Edward gave an enormously generous gift of a pound on 13 July, by his own hands, to one Alis de la Churche, who came to him while he was travelling between Chertsey and Shepperton and gave him a "great pike." Hick le Fisher, who also gave the king a pike at this time, for some reason received only six pence - one-fortieth of Alis's gift. (Maybe it was a much smaller and inferior pike, or maybe Edward just liked the look of Alis.) Considering how wildly unpopular Edward is meant to have been in 1326 among all classes of society, there was certainly no shortage of people willing to give him presents when he showed up in their part of the country; they appear on numerous pages of his chamber journal.

- on 15 July, Edward de Shepperton gave the king a gift of twelve chickens. Yep, that's The King Everyone Hated receiving yet another present.

- on 4 February 1326, Edward spent two pounds on "masts, cables and other equipment for ships" from a merchant of Lynn in Norfolk. His clerk recorded these items as being "for the use of the king."

- in this context, it's probably relevant that in late March, Edward invited various shipwrights (the word appears in English, shipwreghtes) of London, named vaguely as 'Adam, Martyn his brother and others', to come to him at Kenilworth. The Scalacronica says that Edward "amused himself with ships, among mariners, and in other irregular occupation unworthy of his station, and scarcely concerned himself with other honour or profit, whereby he lost the affection of his people." (But not the people who owned chickens and caught fish, apparently.)

- Edward dined with his sister-in-law Alice, countess of Norfolk, on 30 January 1326 at Burgh in Suffolk. He gave a pound each to Henry Newsom, harper, and Richardyn, citoler, who "made their minstrelsy" before them as they ate.

- there's a surprisingly large number of references to fish and fishing in the journal - or maybe it's not surprising, for a king who bought his own fish and stood by a river in November 1322 to watch men fishing. On 24 January 1326, Edward gave three shillings to Edmund 'Monde' Fisher, who is normally described as the king's valet and here as his fisherman (peschour), as per his name, to buy himself "boots for the water," presumably the fourteenth-century equivalent of waders. Monde sadly didn't have long to enjoy his new boots, as he was dead by 11 August that year.

- Edward spent a pound playing cross and pile (the medieval version of heads and tails) on 10 May 1326, and on the same day returned five shillings to his barber, Henry, which Henry had lent to him to play cross and pile at some earlier date.

- The king lost eight shillings playing cross and pile against Robert Wateville on 22 May, which was only three days after Robert's wedding - shouldn't he have had better things to do than chuck coins around with the king? (And shouldn't Edward also have had better things to do, like worry about the invasion or even, you know, govern his kingdom?) A couple of months later, Edward lost another two shillings playing cross and pile, yet again, with Peter Bernard, usher of his chamber. Peter, incidentally, was one of the men who joined the earl of Kent's 1330 conspiracy to restore Edward to the throne.


Rowan said...

Ah, delight!
Thanks for that, Alienor!
"For what he did when the king..."
I love Edward!
Yes, and he seemed to like fish and fishing a lot.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Great stuff! Loved the bit about Lady Hastings' valet. I do wish someone would have had the decency to explain HDY's affray. Clerks just were too circumspect about these things!

Gabriele Campbell said...

I totally agree with you, Alianonr. Ed was surely fun to hang out with, and I won't be surprised if not many lowborn liked him for his easygoing ways. They probably didn't understand that he messed up his job.

It's a bit like that with some of the maligned Roman emperors who also were popular with the people while the senators looked down their patrician noses at emperors fighting in the arena, trying to win Roman Idol and whatnot.

BurtonReview said...

Enjoyed the post & just wanted to say so :)

Anerje said...

Ed was undoubtedly very generous. To think that if Prince Charles were to have a laugh and a joke with workmen or a kickbout with his servants, he'd endear himself so much to the public - whilst poor Ed was lambasted. Being 'in touch with the real world' is seen as a much desired asset tody. Dare we say Ed was ahead of his time?

Anerje said...

and of course, thanks again Alianore for such a well-researched post.

Christy K Robinson said...

I make people laugh all the time, and nobody gives me money!

Were any of these financial gifts enough to buy one's way out of serfdom?

Jules Frusher said...

What a fascinating and intimate insight into Edward's life. He certainly was generous to those around him.

I also would love to know how Hugh caused an affray - and also what illness was doing the rounds at Kenilworth.

Thanks again for revealing these things :-)

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, all!

Ashmodai: music to my ears! I love him too. :)

Susan: once more, the deeply annoying vagueness of medieval clerks!

Gabriele: exactly. Ed was a boon companion and talked to anyone and everyone!

Marie: thank you!

Anerje: I really think he was. For example, in 1315 he went on a swimming holiday and the Flores chronicle sneered at him for 'refreshing his soul with many waters', which the writer obviously thought was an odd thing to do - but how many millions of people these days take relaxing holidays by the sea??

Christy: shame you didn't live at Ed's court, or you'd be quids in! :) His gifts were generous but not that generous, but then, working in the king's household was such a coveted and well-paid position that it's doubtful many people would have wanted to escape from it.

Lady D: I keep finding more refs to Ed and Hugh's staff being ill, right up to June 1326, and Ed buying pomegranates for two of Hugh's household - sweet! Would love to know too what the affray involved...

Carla said...

Displacement activity? On the lines of, if you ignore a problem long enough it will go away by itself.

He seems like much too nice a person to be an effective king.

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla: I think Ed was living in Cloud Cuckoo Land in 1326, completely failing to recognise that the threat against was him was genuine and extremely serious.

Hmmm, I did think when I read your comment that maybe I've portrayed Ed too favourably, because in many ways he wasn't nice at all - but what the heck, people can read negative depictions of Ed absolutely everywhere. :)